Democratic Underground  

Bi-Nationalism : A Roadmap to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, or a Mere Pipe Dream?
April 4, 2003
By Brian Kupfer

Oppressive nationalism must be conquered... I can see a future for Palestine only on the basis of peaceful cooperation between the two peoples who are at home in the country... come together they must in spite of all. - Albert Einstein, January 8, 1930.

George W. Bush recently announced a "road map for peace" in the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Drawing a roadmap for peace in there is like charting a course through a minefield for a blindfolded sap on roller blades. Whether or not something as intricate and convoluted as this horrific tragedy can be understood, let alone solved by Mr. Bush is anyone's guess.

The bitter reality of the Bush "roadmap" is that if it does what it is designed to do, it will only bring the parties back to the same point they were in the summer of 2000. Will Ariel Sharon be better equipped to cut a deal than the dovish Ehud Barak? The most polite name most Palestinians have for the man is to call him "The Tank." Furthermore, if George W. Bush was not able to get France on board for a war against an evil tyrant, how in the world will he ever get the Palestinians to surrender their request for a right of return?

As a guess, I would place the chances of the Bush "roadmap" succeeding at slightly less than that of Dick Cheney entering and winning the New York, Los Angeles, and Boston marathons for 10 consecutive years. It is not even a pipe dream. It is more like an intellectual pipe bomb designed to suppress any effort to alter the preferred status quo. Sharon needs the Intifada. It is his powerbase and has served to minimize his pro-peace opposition into political paperweights, thus paving the way for what has always been his goal: settlement expansion as a means of territorial maximization.

The Bush Administration has proven to be more than willing to feed the Israeli war machine the capital that serves as its lifeblood. It has weakened a United Nations body that could have been extremely helpful in the peace making arena.

Then there is the vacuum that is the Palestinian "leadership." The Palestinian Authority is the "Emperor's New Clothes" of governance. Hamas serves as a defacto government-like institution, but sadly holds the baggage of being a terrorist organization that has a peculiar craving for littering streets with destroyed civilian buses and charred children.

These problems are mere semantics in the face of negotiating Jerusalem, the granddaddy of divisive issues. But that's another story for another day. For now, the outcome of the al-Aqsa Intifada is that hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians that were alive during the Camp David II negotiations are now dead because of its failure.

The new reality is that the Oslo peace process is as now as dead as the dismembered Palestinian and Israeli children who flood both peoples' streets. Oslo's death means the idea of a two-state solution is buried with it. With its funeral should come a reappraisal of goals by both camps. Both peoples desire, and deserve, independence and peace. But the lesson of Oslo may be that these goals are not compatible. Ehud Barak offered the best deal any Israeli Prime Minister is going to offer, yet he did not move far enough to satisfy the Palestinians' desire for a just solution to this conflict.

It may be that the only way out of the current state of affairs is through a democratic binational state that unites greater Israel. The logistics of constructing and implementing such an entity would be maddening, yet there may be no alternative. How can two peoples with such deep-rooted contempt for one another ever live as a single nation?

For a model I offer the example of Switzerland. Yes, you did read the name Switzerland. This may sound silly on the surface, considering that the Swiss comprise a nation that enjoys both peace and order, two attributes that are painfully absent in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. However, there are a few important similarities. Take into account that Switzerland is approximately 41,000 km has a population of nearly 6 million, just like Israel. Additionally, the two nations have similar systems of military mobilization and reserve service.

Switzerland was born through an extensive period of war that lasted hundreds of years. They have a highly diverse population that, like Israel, has 3 national languages. They come from diverse backgrounds as well. According the 2002 CIA World Fact Book, 65% of the Swiss people are German, 18% are French, 10% are Italian, 1% is Romansch, and another 6% are listed as "other." To further complicate things, the same source states that 46.1% are Roman Catholic, another 40% Protestant, 8.9% are Atheist and 5% belong to another religious affiliation.

In order to effectively deal with their diversity, the Swiss constructed a strong and effective form of Federalism. They have a system of 26 cantons that have full sovereignty, their own constitution as well as legislature. These cantons are able to achieve a satisfactory level of effectiveness through local control and the system runs fairly smoothly.

Were Israel to annex the occupied territories and create a binational federation of cantons that takes into effect the variety of ethnicities, it might look something like this. The nation would have a reasonably even split between Jews and Muslims, with a small Christian minority. There also would be a nationality division between Israelis, Palestinians, Druze, and Bedouin. A strong Federal system could take this diversity into account and perhaps make it manageable.

The dream of a Jewish state is very reasonable following the horrible fate of 6 million Jews during the 1940's. Some Jewish people wanted to control their own destinies so that an event like the Holocaust would never occur again. But have they been successful in preventing the meaningless death of Jews? The body bags that lined the streets of Haifa filled with the Jewish children killed when Egged bus No. 37 blew up on March 5, 2003 illustrate that Jews are no safer in their assessorial homeland than they have been anywhere else throughout their troubled history.

The Palestinians' desire to return to their homeland is reasonable as well. After all, they had been living there until they were removed from their homes, some forcibly, by a foreign and permanently occupying army. The country is littered with evidence of their residence in the forms of mosques, churches, and the more than 1,000,000 people that remains citizens of Israel. There are millions of Palestinian refugees that were displaced as a result of Israel's 1948 drive toward statehood. A number of these people and their descendents are living under curfew in refugee camps, while holding onto the keys for their apartments in Haifa, Nazareth, and Jerusalem.

The Israelis cannot grant this right because the end goal of Zionism is a Jewish majority. The influx of millions of non-Jewish Arabs would cause a demographic unbalance that would destroy the current Jewish majority. There are roughly 5 million Jewish citizens in Israel today, and 1.2 million non-Jewish citizens, most of whom are Muslim. Any increase in its Palestinian population takes away from Israel's interests of maintaining a Jewish majority.

There are essentially two conceivable alternatives. The first is the two-state solution, which, due to the strategic placement of settlements, incredible birth rate disparities, and an ever-failing sense of compromise, looks less and less likely everyday. It may still come to be, but it is almost inconceivable at the moment. If Mr. Bush's "roadmap" is implemented to its utmost potential, they will only be as close as they were in the summer of 2000 at Camp David. The same "redlines" will be drawn in the sand.

The second alternative is the status quo. This entails the continued Israeli occupation and suppression of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leading to Palestinian militancy and suicide attacks against scores of innocent civilians, in turn causing Israeli over-retaliation and continued occupation of these territories. It is a cycle that has no conceivable end besides complete annihilation.

The notion of a binational state is, at the moment, a pipe dream. Then again, so are hopes for peace. The essence of what both parties are looking for is a just end to the conflict that brings territorial autonomy and a cessation of bloodshed. Jerusalem could be a united capital to be enjoyed by everyone. Refugees could return to their homes. Jews could live in peace on their ancestral homeland, with a good degree of self rule. This idea may be the only true roadmap that doesn't end in an overabundance of funerals.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage