On December 20, the Palestinian human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab published an important article in the Los Angeles Times, arguing that “A one-state solution in the [Israel-Palestine] area is not as farfetched as it might seem.”
Kuttab’s argument is mainly a demographic one–
With Israel in total control of the territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and unwilling to relinquish a significant part of the land, it’s time to consider the possibility that the current situation — one state, in effect — will continue. And although Jewish Israelis may control it now, birthrates suggest that, sooner or later, Jews will again be a minority in the territory…
He then argues that,
Strong, institutionalized mechanisms will be needed to prevent the “tyranny of 51%”…
Both Hebrew and Arabic will be designated as official languages, and governmental offices will be closed for Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays. New laws will be enacted that strengthen the secular civil courts in personal status matters…
Kuttab’s argument is an important one– and the L.A. Times is to be commended for consistently helping to open up the discussion in the American MSM on this issue, including by publishing contributions from one-stater Saree Makdisi and others.
For my part, I’ve pondered on (and written about) this issue a lot over the past decade. One of the first points I’d make is that the “demographic” argument that Jonthan Kuttab makes– which is one that’s also frequently made by Jewish Israelis who are arguing for a two-state outcome– is that it is already based on the disenfranchisement (or at the very least, the complete overlooking) of the rights and claims of that large portion of the Palestinian people who have been forced by Israeli policies to live outside their historic homeland altogether.
Palestinian refugees from 1948 living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or elswehere around the world… Those Palestinians who were made refugees during the great uprooting that occurred during and after the 1967 war… Those many additional hundreds of thousands of Palestinians previously resident in East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank, or Gaza who have been forced out of those territories during the 42 years of Israeli military occupation…. All those Palestinians have just as much claim on the land and resources of the area of Palestine/Israel as do the Palestinians who still reside there.
And they have just as much claim on that land and resources as any Jewish Israelis. That’s quite certain. So their claims to the land and resources of the area of Mandate Palestine cannot simply be waved away by Israel’s unilateral fiat.
In other words, the true demographic situation of people with a claim to Israel/Palestine is more like 67-33 in favor of the ethnic Palestinians, rather than being near any (purely Israeli defined) tipping point of 51-49.
So the need for constitutional protections of the true numerical minority would become, of course, even more urgent…
Having noted that, however, we also need to note that there remains strong opposition among Jewish Israelis– and among most of their supporters in other countries– to even holding any discussion of an outcome that would involve, as they say, “the destruction of the Jewish state.”
But it’s not so long ago that we were hearing exactly analogous arguments from many Afrikaners– members of the “white tribe of Africa” (in reality, a disgruntled group of white settlers in South Africa who had rebelled against their respective European metropoles.) The Afrikaners claimed they were a distinct “race”, that had been subjected to unique “persecution” at the hands of European powers… that they were nonetheless representatives of some higher form of western civilization, who needed their own state in order to protect themselves from the non-European hordes who threatened to engulf and quite likely slaughter them… Etc, etc, etc.
You don’t hear those claims any more. In fact, Afrikaners are still living quite well in the new, much more fully democratic South Africa in which their language is one of the twelve recognized national languages and they live as quite equal citizens with members of the non-“White” majority.
But before the Afrikaners got to that point, they went through a number of phases. The first was apartheid, which was a systematic attempt to deny any political rights within South Africa to people who not “White”, and to offload as many non-“Whites” as possible into the archipelago of almost completely rights-free Bantustans.
A second phase, as the tides of democracy and human equality rose higher and higher around them, was that some militant Afrikaners threatened to create their own little, completely homogenous statelet in the middle of South Africa. That was the project of one of the Afrikaner parties that competed in the landmark 1994 election… But at that point, it was roundly rejected by the majority of Afrikaners, who finally realized that they would fare far better as a minority with some good constitutional protections (and with all their legacy privileges of good education and good economic standing left quite intact) than they would as kings of a tiny rump state that would be shunned by just about the rest of the world.
Those transformations of thinking take time. And in South Africa, they depended on a lot of concessions being made by the ANC as it negotiated its way to power.
But the ANC never negotiated away the core principle of the political and legal equality of all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
One person, one vote. It’s been a powerful idea throughout history. No reason it can’t be equally powerful for Palestinians and Israelis as they think hard about the kind of homeland they want to build in the future…
One last point here. Since I do believe strongly in the fundamental principle of the equality of all human persons, I think that, as between Jewish Israelis and ethnic Palestinians in the area of Mandate Palestine, that equality could be expressed in the form of two co-equal states, one that would be majority Palestinian and the other majority Jewish, each of which would be equally viable and equally independent. Or, it could be expressed in the form of a single state, in which all the legitimate citizens (that is, all present Israelis and all present Palestinians) would have full political and legal equality.
But I’m not a direct stakeholder in this conflict. So I leave it to those who are to make their choice… That is, to all Israeli citizens and to all Palestinians… wherever they may currently be forced to live.