Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Single State Solution to Israel/Palestine?

The LA Times today ran this piece relating to the 60th anniversary of Israel's birth. As someone who has for years been hostile to the idea of Israelis sharing land -- not to mention power -- with the Arabs, this was a bitter pill of an article. The thinking goes that the conventional "two-state" solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has been the aim of elected leaders on both sides and of the United States, is untenable. So long as Israel insists on unilateral power over Israeli land, so long as Israel refuses absolutely to allow the "right of return" of Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948, so long as Israel refuses absolutely to allow the sharing of Jerusalem as the capital city of both states, the two-state solution is essentially dead. No amount of US CPR can revive it. And an increasing number of mostly-younger Israelis and Arabs are coming to this realization.

On the other hand, if the boundaries between Israel proper and the West Bank and Gaza were to be dissolved, it's believed that Arabs will within a generation constitute a majority of the population in the new single state. Last November, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that, rid of the territories, Israel would have a sustainable majority and Israel could preserve its Jewish character. But, he said, "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, the state of Israel is finished."

Of course, sensible people reject the idea of denying human beings the right to determine their own destinies. And, of course, my own fears and prejudices get in the way of my accepting this idea. The distrust is practically in my blood. Still, the article points out that many Arab supporters of the idea say they could easily live side-by-side, as equals, with Jews, so long as "Jews were to give up their superior status and allow Palestinians the right to vote and move about the country." They assert that Islamic extremism (what I see as jihadism) would lose its appeal because, presumably, there would be no reason to embrace it.

I struggle to take in this last idea. As I see it, jihadism isn't sustained by a struggle for independence for Palestinians, although I can acknowledge it has some influence. The jihadist identity is more deeply rooted in a Koran-inspired hostility/hatred for all things "infidel," whether it be Jews, Christians, or even Muslims of different stripes (Shia, Sunni). Not to borrow too much from the neoconservative lexicon, but to me jihadism is a cult of death, a religious movement that sees death by martyrdom by any Muslim -- men, women, or even children -- as the purest way to paradise. Therefore, I don't see Hamas, a group whose identity is centered around the destruction of Israel, as quietly fading away as moderate Arabs decide to co-exist peacefully with the Israelis. I see Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades, and al Qaeda stepping up attacks on both Israelis and moderate Arabs. I see more bloodshed, not less.

Despite my skepticism, I agree that peaceful co-existence is the only solution. Prolonged warfare will weigh heavily on both sides. Israelis will eventually tire of the onslaught of Islamic extremism, and Arabs will tire of the constant incursions of Israeli troops and tanks into their territories, not to mention continued settlement and a border wall. However, I'm not sure that such a reality can be manifest in my lifetime. I'm afraid that it will require that jihadism fall out of favor globally.

One can hope.

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