The one state myth?

Following Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s recent call in the New York Times for Israelis and Palestinians to share a state, Isratine, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery responds in the International Herald Tribune:

It is always pleasing to hear Muammar Qaddafi coming forward with a new idea. He is the joker in the pack of Middle Eastern leaders, appearing in the most unexpected places. He looks at things with fresh eyes. Unfortunately, his ideas are not always the most practical.

Now he is putting forward the idea that Jews and Arabs in our country should live together in one joint state, to be called Isratine.

That is a fetching, if not altogether original idea. Qaddafi has always been a great unifier. In 1972, early in his 40-year rule, he initiated the idea of the union of Libya, Egypt and Syria into one state. In 1974, he started work toward a union of Libya and Tunisia. He also proposed the creation of a big Saharan Islamic State.

After these failures, one would have to be a very determined optimist to believe in the union of Israel and Palestine. After all, the peoples of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are very closely related, profess the same religion, speak the same language and share the same social mores, while Israelis and Palestinians are not related, speak different languages, have different beliefs and are both fiercely nationalistic.

It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to believe that Israelis and Palestinians will come together tomorrow, serve in the same army, enact the same laws and pay the same taxes. One wonders how such a state would function.

Israelis might misunderstand the intentions of our Libyan friend and think that he is asking them to dismantle their state, take in six million Palestinian refugees and resign themselves to live as a minority in an Arab-majority Isratine. They will be tempted to answer: Thanks, but no thanks. If there is one point on which 99 percent of Israelis are in agreement, it is their desire to live in a Hebrew-speaking state of their own.

Palestinians might react quite similarly. After enduring the Zionist onslaught for so long, they also want to be masters of their fate, in a state of their own, under their own flag. They might not take kindly to Qaddafi’s contention that their brutal oppression and exploitation by fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank constitutes a “successful assimilation” and that in 1948 “Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians.” (As a soldier in that war, this comes as quite a surprise to me, too.)

At the end of that terrible war, my friends and I proposed the Two-State Solution. Not a hundred people around the globe accepted that. Now there is a world-wide consensus. The great majority of both Israelis and Palestinian, as well as the members of the Arab League and all the great powers, are convinced that this is the only viable way to achieve a lasting peace.

Qaddafi is quite right about the shortcomings of this solution and the difficulties in achieving it, including those created by successive Israeli governments which have paid lip-service to it while doing everything in their power to obstruct it. But all these obstacles are nothing compared to those lying on the road to a One-State Illusion, which is no solution at all.

The Two-State Solution is achievable right now, in 2009, if President Barack Obama is determined to implement it “aggressively,” as he says. He will find many allies in Israel.

Uri Avnery, Tel Aviv Former member of the Knesset, and a leader of the Israeli Peace Bloc

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