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Biblio File: The “One State” Delusion

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Einat Wilf


Perry Anderson's long essay, "The House of Zion", was published in the November-December 2015 issue of New Left Review, the ‘flagship journal of the Western Left'. It was the Marxist equivalent of a Papal edict. Anderson was the journal's long-time editor, and is perhaps the most gifted intellectual historian of his time, author of numerous books including Lineages of the Absolutist State, Considerations on Western Marxism, The Origins of Postmodernity, and more. Over 14,000 words, he excommunicates the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anoints an alternative: "the demand for one state is now the best Palestinian option available."

Einat Wilf argues that partisans of the so-called "one-state solution" like Anderson are blind to the necessary conditions for two peoples living peacefully in one state: mutually accepted collective and individual equality.


If Jews and Arabs are to exist peacefully and achieve justice in the framework of a single democratic state, as proposed by Perry Anderson, the acceptance by both peoples of the equality of the other, both as collectives and as individuals, is a necessary condition.

If Jews and Arabs are to draft a constitution that would be more than a useless piece of paper and which would secure their joint lives together, they must recognise each other as equal claimants to the land, and must recognise each other as people of equal value, regardless of their differences. Such an agreement is necessary because both peoples would be forfeiting their universal right to self-determination in a nation state of their own, for the purpose of living together in a single state. Both would need to have assurances beyond reasonable doubt that their rights as individuals and as a collective would be secured in a single state.

If either Jews or Arabs living in a territory under a single governing framework operate under the belief that the other people as individuals, are not their equals, and that as a collective they do not possess the equal right to be in the territory of the state, they would merely use the mechanisms of the state, as well as violence, to oppress the other people and try to push them out of that territory. Peaceful democratic life together would not be possible.

The intellectual argument for a one-state solution collapses if any of the sides can demonstrate they have good reason to believe that the single-state framework would deny them justice and equality.
When religious supremacist Jews argue for a one-state solution, conveniently excluding Palestinians in Gaza and the Diaspora and offering convoluted responses to the questions of whether there will be civic equality for all, Arabs can make a very strong case that such a ‘solution' is not promoted in good faith, and that Palestinian Arabs could not expect to be treated justly or equally in such a state.

The reverse is equally true: when Palestinians, or left-wing intellectuals who claim to uphold the Palestinian cause, promote a one-state solution in which, as a result of immigration and growth rates, Arabs would quickly be the majority and Jews would live as a minority, the burden of proof lies squarely with the Arabs. Jews have every right to ask if they would be treated justly and equally in a single Arab-majority state.

Can they make a compelling case that they can be entrusted with the equal treatment of Jews in a single state in which the Arabs are a majority? No.

To be fair, even today, very few countries in the world could make such a compelling case. (It is for precisely this reason that the Jews insist on realising their universal right to self determination.) Even those very few countries that could demonstrate their ability to treat Jews as equals and protect their rights, have only fully done so in recent decades, and among them even fewer countries appear substantially secure from the danger of reversal of their equal treatment of Jews. Indeed, the very few countries on this list are the only ones where Jews live and prosper in large numbers.

No Arab country is on that list. Jews, as individuals, have never been treated as the equals of Arabs in any country where Arabs have been a majority. Arab society has continuously denied the idea that the Jews are their equals as individuals, and have certainly and violently denied the notion that the Jews are a people and a nation, of equal standing to the great Arab nation or the various Arab nations.

A mythology reigns in some circles, promulgated at times by the Arabs themselves, that Jews and Muslims lived for centuries in harmony in Arab lands. The implication is that were it not for Zionism, this could have continued. It is akin to the myth promulgated by Margaret Mitchell of the harmony of blacks and whites in Gone with the Wind. To the extent any such harmony existed between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world, it emerged from Jews acknowledging and accepting their subordinate status as inferior Dhimmis, tolerated and protected by Muslims as "people of the book" (rather than being killed or forcefully converted as infidels). As long as Jews accepted their status as ‘protected subservient people' to the Arab Muslims, and it was clear who was the master and called the shots, they could live in relative harmony. It is a harmony that could only endure as long as those considered inferior did not have the gall to claim equality.

The Arab Muslim world can definitely demonstrate extended periods in history when it treated the Jews better than Christian Europeans, and could pride itself on not having committed industrial genocide of the Jews - albeit that is quite a low bar - but it cannot make any claim that it ever saw or treated the Jews as genuine equals.

The so-called harmony between subordinate and superior was indeed disturbed when the Jews, first under colonial rule, which introduced the idea of emancipation, and later with the rise of Zionism, dared to claim their equality.

The "preposterous" Jewish claim to equality with Muslims in Arab lands led to the rise of violence, blood libels and pogroms against the Jews, culminating in the ethnic cleansing, property confiscation and expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands - approximately one million in number, some in communities which pre-dated Islam - in revenge for the greatest transgression of all: the Jewish insistence that they are a people and a nation, no less than Arabs.

Moreover, that they have a right to a sovereign state of their own in a small corner of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, which also happens to be their ancestral homeland.

Ever since, Arab society has continually denied that the Jewish people are their equals as a people, accepting them as members of a religion only, and denying their collective rights in their land, arguing that the Jews are not a people of the land, but foreigners, with no connection to it. Zionism was not the source of Muslim Arab attitude towards Jews - it merely forced that attitude into sharp relief.

The 1947 UN partition, and all other subsequent offers and opportunities of partition between a Jewish state and an Arab state were denied, not on account of the inequitable division of the land, but on account that a Jewish state in any part of the land - whether it be on 1% or 99% - was considered an insult. The Jewish claim of equality with the Arabs as a people has been the fountain of the persistent refusal of Arab and Palestinian leaders to accept any two-state solution, whether in 1947, 1967, 2000 or 2008.

The casual assumption that Arab Palestinian leaders have at any point truly accepted the two-state (as in a Jewish state and an Arab state) solution, and that Israel is at fault for killing off this option through settlement building - rehearsed by Anderson - conveniently ignores the fact that the Arab Palestinians never accepted the two states for two peoples solution, nor any agreement that would create a Palestinian state - if such an agreement entails the final acceptance that the land would be shared with a Jewish state.


But perhaps Jews should ignore all this baleful history and look with optimism to the present?
Unfortunately, there is little in today's Arab world which inspires confidence that the Arabs are transcending their past and are willing to include and protect minorities. Anderson ignores the blunt truth: today, violence is engulfing the Arab world and is leading to the ethnic cleansing and genocide of minorities who are considered inferior to (Sunni) Muslim Arabs. Ancient Christian peoples and sects are being expelled and killed, and the only minorities capable of avoiding this fate are those which possess arms.

So if no-one can point to a moment in history when Jews were treated as equals by Arabs, whether individually or as a collective, and the present appears even worse than the past, on what grounds should we follow Anderson and urge the Jews to "rely on the kindness of strangers", entrusting their fate to those who refuse to recognise them as a people with a legitimate claim to the land and well as their individual equals?


The partisans of the so-called "one-state solution" are blind to the necessary condition for two peoples living peacefully in one state: mutually accepted collective and individual equality. Since that necessary condition does not exist, the one-state framework would merely serve to change the title of the conflict from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Jewish-Arab civil war. It would solve nothing.

Ultimately, there are two peoples, tribes, and nations on this land. Whatever argument each side makes about the invented nature of the other, it is clear that at the very least, each side sees itself as distinct and different from the other people in that land. Both believe they have the legal, emotional, historical, and just claim to the entirety of the land. Save for a few rare and courageous individuals, the Palestinians believe that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the land. The Jews are generally divided on the issue of the legitimacy of the Arab claim. This says nothing about their respective moral nature - merely their differing regional realities. The Jews are keenly aware of their minority status in the region; they can ill afford to ignore the Arabs. The Palestinians, who live in a region where Arabs enjoy predominance, believe they can continue to imagine that the Jews are foreigners and crusaders who will not endure.


Justice and peace can only be served once both sides acknowledge the equal and legitimate claim of the other to the land, and their status as equals, both as collectives and as individuals. They will both have to accept that neither can have it all and that their right to all of the land is limited by the existence of another people with that equal right. This will happen one day, but not before each side has given up on the delusion that the other will somehow, someday be made to disappear.
Once both sides recognise the equal rights of the others as collectives and individuals to all of the land, and accept that neither can have it all, they can then figure out how best to organise their lives in a way that maximises their own hopes and dreams while leaving room for those of the other. After all, this is as much a necessary condition for the success of the two-state solution as it is for the one-state solution.

So whether the best way to organise the lives of Jews and Arabs in the land is by means of two states, one state, confederation, federation, economic union, or any other imagined idea, those are the details that can and should only be figured out by both sides. As much as the Jews need to be held to account on this issue of equality, it is time to demand that Arabs too demonstrate that they are willing to treat the Jews as their equal claimants to the land and as their individual equals. More than the fate of the people of Israel and Palestine depends on it: the fate of the entire Arab world, its liberty and prosperity, depends on whether Arabs in general, and Sunni Muslim Arabs in particular, can accept in their midst those who are different from them, both as collectives and as individuals, and treat them as their equals.

Dr. Einat Wilf is a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute and an Adjunct Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. She served as a member of the Knesset for the Labor and Independence parties from 2010 to 2013. Reprinted from Fathom magazine ( © Fathom, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.


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