I admit to being baffled by a recent poll suggesting that an increasing number of Palestinians are giving up on the two-state solution and embracing the idea of a single, bi-national Israel-Palestine state. True, we should be careful with this poll. For in the same breath that Palestinians seem to increasingly support a bi-national state, they still rank it as the most difficult solution to implement. And yet this isn’t the first time we’ve heard such talk from Palestinians. Their own president, Mahmoud Abbas, has often said that he was considering scrapping the whole idea of a two-state solution in favor of a bi-national state. Oddly enough, it sounded more like a threat than a dream.
But why would Palestinians want a bi-national state?
Help me out here. I mean, if the Palestinians are a people yearning for freedom, why would a one-state solution be an option? Take the Zionist example. Before 1948, the bi-national state was presented by some Jews as an alternative to Zionism’s insistence on a Jewish state, yet this view never really took hold among the Jews living in Palestine. Even after all the wars and bloodshed and suffering on both sides, today it still doesn’t appeal, with a recent poll showing Israeli supporters — including Arabs — at about 15 percent. The reason is real simple: Jews had suffered for millennia, it was felt, because they didn’t have a state of their own and had invested tireless efforts to building one in Palestine. Any bi-national solution was seen as giving up on their dream of freedom.
Why would Palestinians not see things the same way? Some people will chalk it up to Palestinian frustration with the occupation: seeing how slowly their independence is moving, Palestinians are looking for another solution. Another solution, yes — but to what problem?
There are only two possibilities. One is the way Palestinian lives look compared with those of Israelis next door, and especially Israeli Arabs, who enjoy a degree of freedom and prosperity not found anywhere in the Arab world. Indeed, a poll taken some years back suggests that of all the possible political regimes, most Palestinians would prefer democracy, and not just any democracy, but specifically a parliamentary democracy along the Israeli model. Perhaps they see joining Israel as a possible solution to their economic and civic plight? To roadblocks and unemployment?
The problem with this view is that Palestinians don’t seem to like Israelis very much, and it’s hard to believe that any of them want to live together in harmony with people who they’ve always been told are the devil incarnate. Nor does this approach match decades of internal Palestinian rhetoric, including Abbas’ own, which has rarely wavered in its long-term goal of redeeming all of Palestine and ridding the world of Israel. If what really concerned Palestinian leaders was their economic and civic plight, moreover, why are they so resistant to Western efforts to build their economic infrastructure? Why do they so imperatively demand that Israel stop building settlements, when they are the source of many thousands of Palestinian jobs? Why do they insist on supporting terrorism, which only triggers more Palestinian suffering? Why does no serious democratic movement emerge as an alternative to the Palestinian authority? And why does Hamas have such a strong appeal — even though Gazans under Hamas have suffered so horribly in economic terms compared with Palestinians in the West Bank?
The other possibility is that the problem they’re solving is Israel’s very existence. A bi-national state would solve that nominally, by eliminating the “Jewish” state in their midst, creating a huge Palestinian electoral force in the parliament of the new Israel-Palestine. And it would solve it substantively, through the long-term demographic advantage that Palestinians’ high birth rates would give — or more immediately, as millions of Palestinian refugees would flood the country as part of the “Right of Return” they would necessarily demand as a condition for creating such a state. It also explains the appeal of Hamas, because it, too, offers an alternative solution to the problem of Israel — destroy it through violence.
But if that’s the real meaning of a bi-national state in Palestinian eyes, doesn’t this call into question their motives in peace negotiations with Israel? No, I still don’t get it.