The Growing Probability of a One State Solution

The unstoppable force of Israel’s settlement movement is about to hit the immovable object of Israel’s desire to be a Jewish-majority democracy.

Israeli politicians may have paid a whole lot of lip-service to the notion of a two-state solution over the years, but they continue to carve up and settle the very land that that Palestinian state would be founded upon.

Mahmoud Abbas is calling their bet. He is now threatening to disband the Palestinian authority and hand over control of the West Bank to Israel in retaliation for Israel’s ongoing settlement building activities:

Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he will hand over responsibilty for the West Bank to Israel if peace talks are not renewed after Israel’s elections, Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Abbas said he would relinquish control and disband the Palestinian authority if there was no progress after January 22.

This — if carried through — is quite literally the single smartest thing any Palestinian leader has ever done. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted back in November:

There is a strategy the Palestinians could implement immediately that would help move them toward independence: They could give up their dream of independence.

It’s a very simple idea. When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn’t ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: “Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular.We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel’s rulers.”

Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.

This is the very best chance that the Palestinians have of getting a state, and if not a state at least equal democratic rights and some kind of peace. By accepting Israeli rule, Israel would be forced to choose between offering citizenship to the millions of Arabs living in the land it controls (endangering Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority state), or losing its status as a democracy (by denying West Bank Arabs votes) which has brought it significant international support and millions of dollars of aid. Goldberg’s theory is that Israel would choose to remain Jewish-majority, bring the settlement movement under control and relinquish land to the West Bank Arabs to found a Palestinian state.

But I don’t think that Israelis will overwhelmingly choose to abandon the settlements and retreat to the ’67 borders. The growth of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party which advocates for a one state solution where West Bank Arabs are left without voting rights illustrates this very well. So too does Likud’s recent transformation into a party largely opposed to the two-state solution, under the control of hardliners like Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon.

Indeed, the religious right in Israel appears wholly committed to the idea of not giving up an inch of the biblical land of Israel:


The interesting thing is that Gaza is not part of that historic territory. It is often said that including the entirety of the Palestinian territories, Jews and Arabs are very close in population — according to 2007 data, there are 5,300,000 Arabs, and 6,000,000 Jews. However discluding Gaza, Jews retain a large majority — 6,000,000 against just 3,700,000 Arabs. What this means is that by withdrawing from Gaza as Sharon did, Israel could in theory annex the West Bank, grant full-citizenship to the Arab residents (and so remain a democracy), and remain heavily Jewish-majority for the foreseeable future.

This simple fact means that the likeliest compromise between Israel’s settlement movement and its desire to portray itself as a Jewish-majority democracy is the annexation of only the West Bank, leaving Gaza to either merge with Egypt — increasingly likely given the well-known ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood — or to exist as the Palestinian state.

While some like Naftali Bennett may push to keep West Bank Arabs from getting Knesset votes, Israel’s Jewish-majority status would not be threatened by every single West Bank Arab receiving a Knesset vote. This may very well be the best that West Bank Arabs can hope for — they are already under Israeli rule backed by overwhelming Israeli military superiority, and a diehard settlement movement, and have been for almost fifty years. And although there is significant discrimination against Arabs under Israeli rule — indeed, a majority of Israeli Jews openly advocate it —  a larger Arab voting bloc would minimise this.

Mahmoud Abbas’ threat is a wise acceptance of this reality. Israeli settlements are not going anywhere. The two state solution is effectively dead. Palestinians in the West Bank can either continue fighting futilely against an overwhelming enemy, or work toward equal rights in the state in which they now live.

18 thoughts on “The Growing Probability of a One State Solution

  1. War.

    A single State with two opposing peoples won’t work.

    The future of the Jews is at stake. Democracy will corrupt the Politicians that preside over this “2 Peoples” State.

    Do they dig in and fight, or do they “submit” to democratisation of their institutions and leadership.

    If Palestinians and Jews became more “Western” i.e. secular agnostics, then this new system would work. But I doubt it. Not in my lifetime.

    What we need is iPhones and Facebook for the young in both camps, then they will “friend’ each other. And move on.

    • War.

      A single State with two opposing peoples won’t work.

      Northern Ireland is working out reasonably well.

      The status quo isn’t working for Palestinians. And hey, it seems like the Palestinian leadership is finally wising up to the reality. They can’t get rid of the settlers. The real-world alternative to this is collapse of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the rise of Hamas and naked Israeli military rule, which is another kind of “one state solution”.

      • But everybody opposes each other, at least to some degree! Best friends or even family members often believe ideas that oppose each other, but nevertheless remain on good terms, but when the natural divergence of human opinion occurs amongst masses of strangers, that is harder to account for, much less allow for without producing highly antagonistic results, lest there be some overriding principle which allows for said strangers to (naturally) coagulate around, like profit or the principle of private property in the form of self-governane, which only a lunatic would deny!

        Interesting to note the line of thought between Locke, Darwin and Smith

        Adam Darwin: Emergent Order in Biology and Economics | Matt Ridley

        Matt was non-executive chairman of Northern Rock at the time of its collapse in 2007 and was blamed by the UK Parliament for ‘harming the reputation of the British banking industry’ as a result of his actions.

  2. I would not discount the ability of the Palestinian leadership to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory. In this particular case, the motives to keep the status quo going are strong, since the PA doubtless encompasses many bureaucratic jobs and payoffs to connected people. These are not even funded by taxation. You are correct in saying that self-dissolution of the PA and a non-violent civil rights movement would make things very difficult for the present Israeli leadership, but many people have a great deal invested in things as they are.

  3. Why would Israel play along?
    States don’t automatically annexe neighboring areas without government.
    Otherwise Mexico could declare itself out of existence and become states 51-55 of the USA….

    Hell, China could and become states 51-200……

    Jordan is a far more likely power to seize the arab regions, and would be a far less pleasant ruler than Israel.

    As for NI, I assume you have never been?

    • Your response is predicated upon the fallacy that the West Bank is a “neighbouring area”.

      West Bank is under Israeli control. They have already effectively annexed it — they control borders, checkpoints, airspace, water, etc. The region is known in Israeli politics as Judea and Samaria. They have ceded token control of domestic policing to the PA, but fundamentally it is under IDF control.

      To illustrate this as lucidly as possible — if Jordan attempted to annex the West Bank, it would effectively be a declaration of war against Israel, because Israel controls the territory of the West Bank.

  4. If you can detect the common denominator in this discussion, then you must look at the legal and philosophical underpinnings of the nation-state itself. The notion that an institution can be created that would own people born within its political boundaries is completely absurd.

    So, it might make a great deal of sense than everything that might follow would have at its foundation, pure lunacy, with a sprig of delusion, a pinch of sophistry, a dusting of science, and a shitload of hopium folded in.

  5. the missing piece, i believe, is that israel is not above genocide and deportation, aside from not giving citizenship, i.e. voting rights to those that will be branded as “terrorists” in the west bank and elsewhere.
    do you need examples? czechs deporting germans from west bohemia, slovaks deporting gypsies to hungary, etc.

    • I don’t rule out that kind of policy from those who are looking to inherit from Netanyahu — Avigdor Lieberman, Danny Danon, Naftali Bennett. But if that happened, support for Israel around the world would fall to unprecedented levels.

  6. “Israel’s desire to be a Jewish-majority democracy.” Wait a moment . . . isn’t that racist? And then there is Saudi Arabia’s virtual refusal to allow citizenship to anyone other than those born there: even worse. But why the complete silence from self-styled “anti-racists”? When the BNP expresses sentiments similar to the above Isreali or Saudi ones, the British political left starts foaming at the mouth. Why the inconsistency?

    My theory is that the nearest the political left can get to an imaginative idea is vandalising its own neighbourhood. But I’m open to other theories. And for something on the stupidity of both the political right and left, see:

    • What about our dear allies the Japanese. I am bamboozled by international inconsistency.

      Do they deliberately do it to annoy intellectuals?

  7. The dynamics here are sad but powerful.
    The extremist on either side manipulate the majorities of the other to a non-agreement that perpetuate the conflict.
    — 1–
    How abut the fine folks of the PA (Gaza and the West Bank) stop violence against Israel. Stop firing missiles and bombing the Israeli civilian population would be a nice start.

    The PA insisting on its right (practically speaking) to attack Israel is a non-starter to any meaningful progress from the Israeli majority.
    It is important to understand that the violence against Israel is based on broad support of the Palestinian public. Describing the Palestinian militants as a fringe group may sound nice, but it is not true.
    Changing this dynamics to a more peaceful tack is a major shift that is yet to happen.

    Put it another way, there is a clear majority in Israel for a two state solution.
    This is the case for decades.
    However, this support of two-state-solution has been conditioned on assurance of Israel’s security.
    The events in the past 10 or so years blocked progress from this standpoint. The thinking goes, if Gaza fires missiles at Israel, then it must be ten time worse once Israel has no sufficient control of the West Bank. “Sufficient” meaning sufficient to weed out major attacks like firing missiles, not necessarily full control of any aspect of live and governing.

    Like it or not, this thinking is understandable to say the least.
    — 2–
    However, Israel stuck with the West Bank opens the door for its extremist to keep up the settlements, which are over-hyped by the extremists of both sides (interestingly so). Still, settlements they are.
    It is interesting that the Israeli majority dislikes the settlements and does not support them. Only the Palestinians dislike them with more passion. Once should understand that from the Israeli majority standpoint the settlements are nonsensical (both economically and due to their impact on the relationship with the Palestinians).
    So the dynamics goes as follows:
    The Palestinians aggression towards Israel holds the Israeli majority from taking a decisive action in support of a two-state-solution. They are understandably worried about the West-Bank becoming a launch pad for attacks like Gaza.
    While the West-Bank is under Israeli control, it gives the settlement camp the opportunity to settle – and more importantly – to broadcast that they settle.
    One way out of this loop is for the Palestinians to stop attacking Israel.
    This is a major shift in how the Palestinian public has been operating!
    They have to be vocal about this, so Israeli’s will hear and hopefully internalize this shift.

    This is an unlikely change in direction.
    The trend during the past decade seems to have been accelerating towards more hostility.
    To summarize the game-theory trends seems to be self enforcing towards continued conflict.
    If things follow the current trajectories things will come to a head when the Palestinians gather sufficient strength to get rid of the IDF and probably Israel all together.

    Will it ever come to that?
    And, suppose that the Palestinians are successful at destroying Israel, would that be actually good for their people?
    Would the people themselves have better life because of that?
    I kind of skeptic, but since when the people care about the people?

  8. Pingback: The Growing Probability of a One State Solution | My Blog

  9. The Palestinian votes would not be counted. This is the Levant we’re talking about here.

    “If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.” – Emma Goldman

    The US needs to withdraw support for Israel. Then Israel would have some skin in the game.

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