by Mitchell Plitnick
A poll conducted in September and October shows a growing acceptance by the American public of a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians. This position is considered anathema in much of the United States and certainly on Capitol Hill.
Yet according to the University of Maryland’s latest critical issues poll, 35 percent of Americans support a single, democratic state with equal rights for all as compared to 36 percent who still support the two-state solution. This parallels a low point in both Israeli and Palestinian support for two states. A joint Palestinian-Israeli poll released in August showed that only 43 percent of each side still supported the two-state program.
These results clearly demonstrate that the idea of a single, democratic state in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is within the mainstream of American opinion. Yet when Palestinian-American Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib expressed her view that “It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work,” last August, her view was swiftly condemned. A group calling itself the Progressive Zionists of the California Democratic Party said that it was “deeply disappointed” with Tlaib’s statements.
“They are inconsistent with the platform of the Democratic Party, which clearly opposes BDS and supports a just peace, a two-state solution, and the safety, dignity, and sovereignty of Israelis and Palestinians,” the group said. “We hope that Congresswoman Tlaib is willing to engage with people within and outside of her district as well as other representatives in the House who are troubled by her extreme views.”
Yet just as many Americans support Tlaib’s view of a one-state solution as those who support a two-state solution. So, it is not “extreme,” despite what Progressive Zionists of the California Democratic Party says.
One State Reality
The discourse in the United States largely ignores the fact that the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel are functionally one state right now. There is one governing authority, Israel, which holds all the power of force and finance as well as licensure and law in the West Bank. It holds Gaza, in partnership with Egypt, under a siege that puts the very means of daily survival in Israel’s hands. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas controls its own borders, waters, airspace, or economy and finance. These are not, by any reasonable definition, governments.
It follows from this indisputable reality that any state that can possibly be defined as a liberal democracy must grant fully equal rights to all of those under its jurisdiction. Clearly, Israel fails to do that for Palestinians. Tlaib has argued that Palestinians living under Israeli rule deserve the same rights as those enjoyed by Israeli Jews. Characterizing such a case as “extreme” says a lot more about the so-called “Progressive Zionists” than it does about Tlaib.
A two-state solution is never technically impossible. However, as more settlements are built, as the Palestinian leadership division becomes more entrenched, as it becomes more difficult for a pro-peace Israeli leadership to win elections, the cost of such a solution rises. Were a Palestinian state to be created tomorrow, it would cost far more money, be far more difficult politically, and put a far greater strain on both peoples than it would have 10 years ago, when it was much more expensive than 10 years before that.
It’s fair to argue that the price for two states is already too high. It has certainly grown so difficult and complicated that suggesting a single, democratic state with equal rights for all is not a radical or extreme idea. The two-state solution will always have some merit because it addresses the problem of the strong national identities of Israelis and Palestinians, something that has caused other multinational states to descend into terrible violence. It also offers both Israelis and Palestinians the greatest opportunity for national self-determination.
Every approach to this vexing conflict is going to have its advantages and drawbacks. But it is absurd to draw arbitrary boundaries around acceptable discourse to exclude solutions simply because one side or the other disagrees with it.
Let’s not forget that what today is considered so “moderate” a position as the two-state solution was once considered anathema in American discourse as well. In May 1998, Hillary Clinton ignited a huge controversy by saying, ”Well, I think that it will be in the long-term interest of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state, to be a state that is responsible for its citizens’ well-being, a state that has responsibility for providing education and health care and economic opportunity to its citizens.” Her husband’s office distanced itself from the remarks almost before she’d finished making them.
That was five years into the Oslo process and Hillary got blasted for that remark. Today, no one would blink at it. Things change.
But a U.S. citizen advocating equal rights is not something that should require change to justify it. Tlaib’s support for Palestinians’ rights shouldn’t even be controversial. Disagree with it if you like, but to say that it cannot even be discussed, or that advocating equal rights is political poison, is unethical and contrary to every value Americans claim to hold dear.
Rights Above All
Two weeks ago, former Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said that opponents of the occupation must be patient. “There’s much work to do both for Israelis and Palestinians. There are no instant solutions at hand, and easy, self-righteous slogans won’t help.”
I can’t imagine how it must have felt to a Palestinian to read those words. The occupation is in its fifty-second year and has only become more entrenched. That’s nearly 52 years of Israel holding millions of Palestinians without rights. For many in the West Bank and Gaza it’s been three generations.
There is so much “work to do” because the politics around ending the occupation are based, first and foremost on Israel’s stated security concerns. Those concerns have always trumped Palestinian rights, because the United States has agreed that they should. That is what Tlaib, and millions of Palestinians and their genuine supporters, is objecting to. It is fundamentally what is driving polls showing more Democrats—and, notably, more American Jews—diverging from Israel’s positions. Those are groups that place human and civil rights high in their political ideologies.
The University of Maryland poll showed that when asked to choose between Israel’s Jewish identity and its democratic character, Democrats went with democracy by a margin of 78 percent to 12 percent. Notably, Independents favored democracy 64 percent to 26 percent and even Republicans slightly favored democracy, 48 percent to 42 percent.
Yet the United States has permitted Palestinians to languish for over half a century under Israeli dominance without rights while basing the diplomatic process on preserving Israel’s Jewish character even at the expense of its democracy. The polls show that this is not what Americans want, and certainly not what Democrats want.
I’ve said for decades that I really don’t care what the solution is, as long as it brings a just peace to Israelis and Palestinians. If people think a single state will end badly—and it might—make the argument, but don’t try to silence those who envision a different result.
A debate limited to two states or perpetual occupation and apartheid has delivered the grim reality of 2018. The only boundary to insist upon, one that has have never erected, is full respect for the inalienable rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike.