The stated goal of a single state would be a country where both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims can live with freedom, equality and self-determination. A few of the obstacles to this are the growing Israeli settler movement, the social and political discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Occupied Territories, the denial of a right of return to Palestinian refugees and the general distrust on both sides of the Green Line. Israel’s military might is insurmountable when compared to acts of violence and terrorism by Palestinians. And, the “magical thinking” (to quote Edward Said) of Palestinian terror groups will not make Israel withdraw from Gaza or the West Bank permanently. If anything, violence against Israelis serves to galvanize Israeli society and is met with wildly disproportional military response that only further harms Palestinians.
Israel has, for years, argued that any future Palestinian state must be demilitarized to eliminate security threats to Israel. Israel’s peace proposals have always cut out huge swaths of Palestinian land to protect this security. Further, Israelis have argued that a single state would necessarily force Israel to become undemocratic (i.e. suppress rights and freedoms of non-Jews to maintain the state’s Jewish identity) or that Israel would cease to exist (either by loss of its Jewish identity or in some other imagined scenario). Thus, the status quo is lately the preferred path for Israel. It may appear unsustainable, it may bring derision and exclusion internationally, but it is the best option. “To put it bluntly,” writes Noam Sheizaf, “the status quo should become really unsustainable.” The current state of affairs in untenable and “unacceptable on a permanent basis,” said former Chairman of the Yehsa Council of Settlements, Uri Elitzur.
So how, then, to bring pressure on the status quo?
The leading candidate seems to be the BDS Movement. Standing for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction, the BDS movement is an international grassroots organization that is calling for international commercial and political isolation of Israel. The boycott of Israeli goods and companies, divestment from national and international corporations or funds that invest in Israel or that finance Israeli companies and calling for the sanctioning of Israel in international diplomatic and economic forums for violations of international law. Essentially, BDS calls for the isolation of Israel from the global community as form of punishment for its occupation of Palestinian lands. “The combination of local pressure – mostly by Palestinians, with the support of some Israelis – together with international pressure, both on grassroots level and on diplomatic and official channels, is likely to make most of the Israeli public hostile, angry and bitter, but also more open to change, as the status quo seems less and less preferable,” writes Sheizaf. This was the model used against apartheid South Africa, and the generation who used these tactics against apartheid there, “learnt that the broadest possible coalition can be united for freedom and equality,” says Zackie Achmat.
There has, for some time now, been another grassroots organization that has been working to foster reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. The aptly named Seeds of Peace organization has been working since 1993 to bring children from both sides of the Green Line together to inspire them and teach them how to foster understanding and advance peace in their country. These “seeds,” who now number more than 3,000, then return to their homes with the hope of bringing about a change in the status quo. This generation will be critical in the success of any future state. It will be their leadership, and others like them, that will be needed to bring about, and sustain, a solution that provides freedom and equality to citizens of the blended state.
Resolution of the political situation will not, however, immediately resolve the fact that three major religions still stake a claim to Jerusalem and its surroundings. Organizations similar to Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core or the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel will be invaluable as Israelis and Palestinians blend together. In 2002, the region’s religious leaders attempted such cooperation when they convened in Cairo and signed a declaration encouraging a just peace leading to reconciliation in the region. Religion alone, even interfaith support, cannot solve the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians alone, of course, but where religion is so often used as a tool of terror on both sides of the Green Line, turning it into an instrument of peace can go a long way.
The argument between one state or two separate states is more active than ever before. Israeli society continues to struggle with international scrutiny regarding the treatment of Palestinians, with the label of apartheid state taking hold and as the constant need for heightened security and military readiness. Palestinians on the other hand, continue to struggle with the loss of their country and nationality, with deeper and deeper Israeli incursions into their towns and homes and worsening economic and social conditions. As discussions of a single state occur among Palestinians, Israeli citizens and settlers and both Jews and Palestinians in diaspora the single-state solution seems more viable that either two separate states and certainly preferable to the status quo.
The question remains, however, are Israelis and Palestinians ready to share the land in peace?By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist