Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Let the Debate Begin

Sari Nusseibeh–president of Al-Quds University, and a moderate, soft-spoken Palestinian thinker–is apparently rethinking the “two state solution.” Or so he says in an interview with Akiva Eldar:

I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but to the extent that you discover it’s not practical anymore or that it’s not going to happen, you start to think about what the alternatives are. I think that the feeling is there are two courses taking place that are opposed to one another. On one hand, there is what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There is the sense that we are running out of time, that if we want a two-state solution, we need to implement it quickly.

But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is happening on the ground, in Israel and the occupied territories, you see things happening in the opposite direction, as if they are not connected to reality. Thought is running in one direction, reality in the other.

Nusseibe’s new formula for co-existence is the one with which Palestinians have been threatening Israel for quite a while now: the one-state solution. As David Hazony noted here two days ago, “top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei threatened that if Israel does not accede to all the Palestinian demands regarding borders and refugees, then ‘we might demand Israeli citizenship.’”

I think Hazony was dead wrong when he said that “Such a change of heart on the part of the Palestinians would devastate their international standing,” but he was right in predicting that “There is probably nothing that could more successfully unite the Israeli public against the Palestinians than the demand for a binational state.” Israelis will oppose it for many good reasons, among them the lesson of reality: for states to be stable, political coherence is needed. If you want to know what happens to states in which there’s no clear majority–and in which populations with no shared vision are trying to live together, a large chunk of them committed to terrorism–look at Lebanon.

But the question for now about the Palestinians’ recent statements is this: are they just ventilating frustrations, trying to put pressure on Israel by pointing to the one-state-solution–or is it really the beginning a serious discussion?

Nusseibeh tries to have it both ways. On the one hand, serious analysis:

It is time maybe to rethink, to bring Fatah around to a new idea, the old-new idea, of one state. 

But on the other, tactical threat: 

That’s an ultimatum. Unless a major breakthrough happens by the end of this year, in my opinion we should start trying to strive for equality. 

Nusseibeh lays out the way this will be done:

“We can fight for equal rights, rights of existence, return and equality, and we could take it slowly over the years and there could be a peaceful movement – like in South Africa,” he notes. “I think one should maybe begin on the Palestinian side, to begin a debate, to reengage in the idea of one state.”

One can easily dismiss him as semi-delusional. Saying first that events on the ground are “not connected to reality” but then suggesting with a straight face that the Palestinians will have a “peaceful movement” raises the question of how well Nusseibeh himself is connected to reality.

However, Nusseibeh should not be dismissed, because what he says represents a growing tendency among Palestinians to try and overcome their failures by imposing this new and exciting formula of Israeli-citizenship-for-all. In the meantime, Israel, at least rhetorically, is sticking with the “old” idea–but it’s time to recognize that’s an idea that will not be viable if the other side sincerely decides to obstruct it. It’s time for Israel to rethink whether the old formula is still viable. It should be done to be used as an “ultimatum” (for the Palestinian Authority to get its act together)–but also as a serious “debate.” After all, If Palestinians are on the way to changing their goal, and presenting the world with a new vision for their future, Israel shouldn’t be lagging behind and leaving them the stage without preparing its own new goals.