What’s a liberal to do now that the 2 State Solution is dying or already dead on its deathbed? What are the alternatives out there already and are they any good? More and more it’s being argued that a “binational state” represents a far more just and practical alternative to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But here’s another view, a Palestinian rejection of binationalism. The conceptual advantage to this position is that it puts aside a lot of the cant that often comes with the binational idea. The problem with this position is that it rests (or pretends to rest) (or seeks to rest) on a principle of equality that its own understanding of nationhood undermines. In its view, there’s only one nation in Palestine.
This is the position of Omar Barghouti as sketched out in an interview online at Electronic Intifada. Even though he represents no actual, political constituency, Barghouti is nevertheless a big deal on the American and European university circuit around matters relating to a blanket boycott-divestment-sanction of Israel (BDS). He gets quoted a lot in the press, so that one could say that although he may not represent a constituency, he represents a point of view with a lot of currency nowadays. That’s what makes well worth a look his rejection of a binational 1 State solution.
Barghouti argues that a binational solution to the conflict would be based on the assumption that there are two genuine national movements that are party to the conflict. Barghouti rejects that assumption. He claims to base his own support of a single, democratic state on the principle of equality while opposing the claim that the Jews have a national right in Palestine. In the interview, Barghouti corrects his interlocutor who thinks that Barghouti supports a binational state. He answers, “Not a binational state — I am completely against binationalism. A secular, democratic state, yes, but not binational. There is a big difference.”
Claiming that BDS is a rights-based movement, not a solution-based one, Barghouti goes on to clarify that he himself is, “completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land and therefore, we have to accommodate both national rights.” A secular, democratic state in Palestine is one that “accommodates our inalienable rights as Palestinians with the acquired rights of Israeli Jews as settlers.”
The contradiction of this non-accommodating position would be in the claim that this is “obviously the most moral solution because it treats people as equals.” But there’s no genuine equality in this model, which is in fact an autochtonous. It models a polity in which the members of one group of people enjoy inalienable rights based on a prior hold on the land whereas the members of another group are left with the second class membership of an acquired right, not as citizens, but as “settlers.” The rights-based presupposition of this argument calling for the end of Israel is, as well, a demographic one. As Barghouti goes on to explain, the idea of a single, democratic state, one according to which the Jews are not actually sent back to Poland, is represented by no political party. He concedes, though, that “a return for [Palestinian] refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” while insisting that “The right of return is a basic right that cannot be given away; it’s inalienable.”
There may be some marginal Jewish support behind this model, but I don’t see how it wins a lot of mainstream Jewish support, or even liberal support across the university. The solution that Barghouti models is the inverse of the one currently maintained in Israel inside the Green Line. With the return of refugees, the end result is, indeed, a single state, not a binational one. This Palestine is an ethnocratic state with an Arab national majority that grants formal rights to a national-ethnic Jewish minority, no longer considered a people, but a population. It’s not much different in kind and not any better than the type of Zionism it wants to replace. In this ethnocracy, just like the ethnocracy rejected by Barghouti, inalienable or natural rights are recognized for some, i.e. for the majority, and not for others, i.e. the minority.
In theory, the idea of a 2 State Solution strikes me still as more fair. It is based on the mutual recognition of two nations with equal rights that need to be accommodated, one with the other, not one whose right is stacked against the other according to an abstract, formal hierarchy. If the 2 State Solution is now, indeed, dead, and if the arguments advanced by Barghouti or members of the radical left enjoy a certain prominence, it has less to do with either logic or morality, and more to do with the actions on the ground by the last two extreme rightwing governments in Israel and the settlement lobby whose interests they represent. One way or the other, it seems like the 1-Staters are winning the day to no good or reasonable end.