In the rush of refreshing statements heard lately, the
warnings have come from the length of the political spectrum
- from Ami Ayalon to Ehud Olmert and the Geneva accord initiators
and Jewish intellectuals in America - Israel faces "a
threat that could spell the end of the Jewish state,"
meaning the danger of the binational state. Within a few
years, there will be a Palestinian majority between the
Jordan and the Mediterranean and according to Olmert "more
and more Palestinians are no longer interested in a solution
of two states for two peoples." The result is "a
disaster - one state for two people."
The vast majority of public opinion rejects that option
and the academic sector is revolted by the binational concept,
"which hasn't solved any conflict in the world and
does not work anywhere except in Switzerland." The
opposition is so strong and emotional that seemingly there's
no need to even define what kind of regime it would be and
what the term "one state for two peoples" might
mean. Examining various regimes included in the binational
model might show perhaps that one or more of the options
could actually please some of those who meanwhile so vehemently
denounce the binational approach as a disaster.
The connection between losing the Jewish demographic majority
and the fear of the demand for equal voting rights for everyone
- one man, one vote - that would bring an end to the Jewish
state shows that the type of regime identified with binationalism
is a classic liberal regime of individual rights in a unitary,
centralized state, without any regard for ethnic-collective
That's the kind of regime that replaced the apartheid government
in South Africa and it works with relative success. If the
Palestinians do indeed force the Israelis to impose such
a model, as the blacks did in South Africa, it would indeed
spell the end of the Jewish state in the sense of its ethnic
dominance and other national privileges.
However, it is difficult to assume that such a situation
would evolve in reality because the State of Israel today
without the territories seemingly has a liberal democracy,
but the Jewish community in it made sure to impose an "ethnic
democracy" that gave the Arabs second class citizenship.
The fear of the loss of the majority has already yielded
plans for campaigns against the danger, such as the projects
for increasing the Jewish birth rate, granting voting rights
to expatriates or even to Jews wherever they may be. The
chance of fulfilling the unitary model is nil. But the effort
to identify binationalism only with that model is deliberate,
meant to prevent any debate about other, more attractive
One such alternative is a system that recognizes collective
ethnic-national rights and maintains power sharing on the
national-central level, with defined political rights for
the minority and sometimes territorial-cantonal divisions.
That model, called "consociational democracy"
has not succeeded in many places, but lately has been applied
successfully to reach agreements in ancient ethnic-national
conflicts such as Bosnia, through the Dayton agreement,
and Northern Ireland, with the Good Friday agreement. That
should be food for thought for the experts who contemptuously
wave off the binational option.
Why did arrangements based on one state for two peoples
work in various methods and places - South Africa, Bosnia,
and Northern Ireland - while the Oslo accords, based on
territorial division, achieved at the same time, collapsed?
The option of power sharing and division into federated
cantons is closer to the model of the territorial division
of two states but it avoids the surgery, so it allows the
existence of soft borders, and creates a deliberate blurring
that eases dealing with symbolic issues, the status of Jerusalem
or the questions of refugees and the settlers. The mutual
recognition allows preservation of the national-cultural
character on the national level and preservation of the
ethnically homogenous regions. Everything depends, of course,
on recognition being mutual and symmetric.
Those who don't recognize and accept intercommunal equality
propose a third model of binationalism - even though they
rise up against the very idea. They suggest cultural and
civic local autonomy, but without voting in the Knesset,
or alternatively, voting in Jordan, the "real Palestinian
state." That is Menachem Begin's original autonomy
plan, or the "functional partition" proposed by
Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, a plan being implemented nowadays
through the Palestinian Authority. That model has another
version in the form of the "Palestinian state"
defined by the separation fence: four cantons under Israel's
indirect control. That's also a model for binationalism
camouflaged by the division into "two states."
And there's a fourth model, which can be called "undeclared
binationalism." It's a unitary state controlled by
one dominant national group, which leaves the other national
group disenfranchised and subject to laws "for natives
only," which for the purposes of respectability and
international law are known as laws of "belligerent
occupation." The convenience of this model of binationalism
is that it can be applied over a long period of time, meanwhile
debating the threat of the "one state" and the
advantages of the "two states," without doing
a thing. That's the situation nowadays. But the process
is apparently inevitable. Israel and the Palestinians are
sinking together into the mud of the "one state."
The question is no longer whether it will be binational,
but which model to choose.