Unilateralism vs. binationalism


TEL AVIV (JTA) – The concept of a binational solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quietly gaining currency and support among Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, in Asian, European and Arab capitals, and in think tanks, academic circles and NGOs around the world.

Only the continuing talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, however fruitless, are keeping the binationalist movement at bay – but not for long. The battle for, or more critically against, a binational state most likely will become Israel’s primary political challenge in the first half of the 21st century.

The blueprint already is in place. The simplistic argument for “one (wo)man, one vote” will be at its core. Palestinians will relinquish their demand for a separate Palestinian state, insisting instead on the outright annexation of the West Bank – and perhaps of the Gaza Strip as well – along with equal rights and full citizenship for the millions of Palestinians living in the territories. Their demands will be buttressed by a campaign of boycott and disinvestment modeled along the successful lines of the global anti-apartheid campaign that brought South Africa to its knees in the 1980s.

Israeli officials and policymakers are deeply concerned. Only a few of them believe in a workable agreement with either the belligerent Hamas or the ineffectual Fatah. Sooner or later they will have to decide whether to risk weathering the binational campaign, as it gathers momentum, or revert to the effort to cut the Gordian knot by reviving the policy of unilateral withdrawals.

It is a concept that until recently was the vogue in Israel’s political parlance but has since fallen to disrepute. Israel’s era of unilateralism lasted from 2000 to 2006. Hamas’ violent seizure of Gaza last summer retroactively marred the August 2005 disengagement from the strip, and Israel’s ill-fated 2006 Second Lebanon War retrospectively tarnished the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Israelis, who once had enthusiastically supported one-sided moves, cheered when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced in August 2006 that his plan for a unilateral “convergence” in the West Bank was no longer relevant.

But it is a policy destined to return, mainly for lack of a better alternative. Unilateralism, after all, was born as a direct consequence of the 2000 Camp David summit, which showed that Israel has no serious Palestinian partner for a permanent solution. Unilateralism was also born of the parallel understanding, driven home by two intifadas, that the territories and their inhabitants captured in the 1967 Six-Day War were, in fact, a poisoned chalice.

The main manifestation of Israel’s unilateralist approach was not, as widely perceived, the withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, but the erection of the widely popular and largely effective West Bank security fence. The separation barrier was foisted on a reluctant Israeli government by a public consensus that had come to the conclusion that Israel must determine its own fate and its own borders.

The inescapable logic of unilateralism has not changed. It is destined to return in the upcoming political war because – notwithstanding the danger that Hamas will take over more territory – the deceptive claim for a binational state is perhaps the most insidious weapon ever used by Israel’s enemies to bring about the dismantling of the Jewish state.

(Chemi Shalev is the deputy editor and a political analyst for the Israeli daily Israel Hayom.)



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