Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Denial and Disingenuousness

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, May 23, 2017 --  

A one-state solution would bring a quick end to the Jewish state.

President Trump's strange statement about being open to a "one-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has analysts scratching their head three months later.1 The off-the-cuff remark had policy wonks reeling. Had the president really abandoned America's commitment to an independent Palestinian state as a solution to the conflict?

Trump's quip was a nod to right wingers in both Israel and the United States. Rightists oppose the two-state solution sought by Clinton, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak in the 2000 Camp David Summit, preferring the dream of a Greater Israel that controls all of the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

But there's a problem with a Greater Israel from right-wing perspective: all those pesky Palestinians. As a peace initiative, a one-state solution inevitably involves giving citizenship to millions of Palestinians and creating a nation of two cultures. This would end the Jewish majority.

By some accounts, the Jewish population ceased to be a majority in the lands under Israeli control seven years ago.2 So why on earth would right-wing Israelis support a one-state solution? Two reasons: denial and disingenuousness.

Many believe that God gave the land of Israel, including the West Bank provinces of Judea and Samaria, to the Jews as a matter of faith. They simply don't want to believe Jews could be a minority in their own land. What's more, they know that the widespread belief that higher birthrates amongst Palestinians ensure an eventual Jewish minority bolster the case for a two-state solution and hurt public support for the dream of a Greater Israel. For both reasons, demography has become highly politicized.3

Conservative Israelis have attacked the validity of official statistics not just from Palestinian sources, but also from Israeli ones. This makes right-wing denial of demographics the Israeli equivalent of denying global warming. In addition to calling official statistics unreliable, right-wing Israelis dispute fertility predictions, and inflate projected Jewish immigration as well as Palestinian emigration. They have invoked creative accounting techniques like ignoring all of the Palestinians in Gaza (because Israel no longer wants to annex that territory) and those who live in refugee camps outside the West Bank (because Israel should never allow them to return.)4

It's not hard to see where this kind of thinking leads. In a one-state solution governed by Israeli rightists, citizenship and voting would be denied for political reasons in order to bolster a tenuous Jewish majority. How do you say Jim Crow in Hebrew?

Less zealous Israeli conservatives know this will never work. For them, the dream of the one-state solution is a disingenuous ruse dangled before true believers. Its only purpose is to prolong the status quo -- occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip with no civil rights for the Palestinians. This status quo is increasingly popular with Israelis. The economy is doing well and building walls around Palestinians has been effective in quelling Palestinian attacks.

Israelis who are not demographic deniers know the status quo isn't sustainable. A growing Palestinian population must eventually be separated from the Israeli state or be allowed to dominate. But for the Israeli public, the status quo still feels good. And for leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, it allows deferring painful and unpopular choices until the next guy is in office.

The truth of demographics is not lost on the Palestinians. A surprising one third of them support a one-state solution5, probably because they suspect they would ultimately come to control a bi-national state. And while a strong majority opposes such a union with Israel, a majority also believes a two-state solution is no longer practical due to the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.6

No matter how great of a dealmaker President Trump thinks he is, there are terrible conditions for making peace. Netanyahu doesn't want a two state solution because his political base opposes it. And he doesn't want a one-state solution because he knows, unlike the deniers, that it is demographic suicide. Meanwhile, Abbas won't consider any deal that doesn't give the right of return of Palestinian refugees -- in the 1948 war, his family fled their home in northern Israel and has yet been able to return. But implementing this right of return would only accelerate Israel's demographic disaster.

None of this is to say that the one-state solution isn't a fair way to bring justice to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be great if similar numbers of Arabs and Jews could live peacefully in the same country with full civil rights. But after 70 years of being on top, Israeli Jews are unlikely to put their dominance at risk any time soon. Without a more acute reminder of Israelis' coming disaster, a peace deal -- either with one state or two -- is simply not on the horizon.

Related Web Columns:

The Unspeakable Exodus, June 22, 2010

Abandoning a Sinking Ship, April 16, 2002


1. The Guardian, Donald Trump Says US Not Committed to Two-State Israel-Palestine Solution, February 16, 2017

2. See: The Unspeakable Exodus, June 22, 2010

3. Middle East Journal, What Counts is the Counting: Statistical Manipulation as a Solution to Israel's "Demographic Problem", April 5, 2016

4. Jerusalem Post, Experts Clash Over Palestinian Demographic Statistics, January 1, 2015

5. Palestinian Center for Public Policy Research, Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No - 56, June 4-6, 2016

6. Ibid.