Saturday, September 20, 2003

The bi-national state
In Friday's Yediot Aharonot, Shlomo Avineri explains why a bi-national state is not a feasible solution. We often hear this idea from people from outside of the region who have no idea what they're talking about. Avineri discusses the tiny percentage of Israelis who believe in this solution. I believe this issue is important enough for me to make the effort of translating the article myself. So here it is

Fata Morgana
Shlomo Avineri

The difficulties of renewing the peace process, as well as the stubbornness of the Palestinian opposition to reconciliation with Israel as a Jewish state, have of late brought some Israelis to again bring up the idea of a bi-national state as an alternative solution to the concept of "Two States for Two Peoples", that has been for many years the guideline of the Israeli left.

This is proven quack medicine. But before we turn to analyzing the issue itself, we should first say a few words about the ideological background of those who bring up such notions.

These belong mainly to two kinds: The first kind is made up of the remnants of the old anti-Zionist left: Veterans of the Communist Party, members of "Matzpen" and Trotskyite or Maoist cells. As far as they are concerned, the idea of a bi-national state is nothing new, because they have always disagreed with the right of Jewish self-definition, seeing Zionism as an extension of Western Imperialism and opposing the very existence of the State of Israel. The pathetic aspect of their viewpoint is that after their vision of a Communist Brotherhood of Nations descended into the Stalinist horror and the Soviet Union itself collapsed, all that remains of their old ideology is the opposition to the existence of the State of Israel. It can be said of them, just as Carl Marx said of the Bourbons, the former kings of France: They have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

As opposed to them, the other group that advocates the idea of a bi-national state comes from another background, from inside the Zionist left. What has happened to them is that they have simply been broken by the stubbornness and refusal of the Palestinians, as well as their willingness for sacrifice, and have reached the conclusion that, in the face of such determination, Zionism has no chance, and it would be better to give it up. It is painful to witness the process of some of this group being broken, for some of them surely are the salt of the earth. But such a process often takes place in nations facing dangers and difficult challenges.

But beyond that, the thing is that the proposed solution is not feasible.

Simply stated: There is no place in the world where a conflict between two national movements was solved by compressing the two national movements, each clutching at the other’s throat, into the one cauldron of a bi-national state. The main claim of those now bringing up the idea is that the vision of "Two States for Two Peoples" doesn’t work. It’s true – the difficulties are immense. But where has the idea of a bi-national state worked? The supporters of the idea have brought no example of the success of the solution they suggest, because there simply isn’t one. It is easy and elegant to suggest ideas that sound nice and even politically correct: But they can’t be taken seriously, when there is not one successful historical example.

Once the Communist oppression was gone, all the Eastern European attempts at creating bi-national or multi-national frameworks as solutions for national conflicts collapsed: Thus the Soviet Union collapsed, as did Yugoslavia (amid blood and fire), and Czechoslovakia. Even in Cyprus, our neighbor, the idea of a bi-national state was not a success. Canada and Belgium – two veteran bi-national states – are facing great difficulties, in which the last word has not yet been said, even though no one has been murdered or killed there for over 150 years.

The reason for the difficulties is simple – and this is what the supporters of the bi-national state are ignoring. If such a state should be established (assuming that it will be possible to agree on its name), the problems will just have begun:
* How will it be possible to run a state in which half of the population will see the fifteenth of May as a holiday, and the other half as a tragedy, a day of national mourning: What will be celebrated exactly?
* What will be taught in mixed state schools, for instance, about Herzl: Founder of a national movement or western colonialist? What will be taught about the Mufti (of Jerusalem in the period of the British Mandate – I.J.): National hero or collaborator with the Nazis? Or maybe one thing will be taught in the Jewish schools and another in the Arab schools?
* Will it be permitted to name streets after Hovevei Tzion (a group of ninteenth century Jewish settlers – I.J.), Herzl, Bialik (Israel’s national poet – I.J.), Ben Gurion or (heaven help us) Jabotinsky (founder of the right wing Revisionist Party, that provided the ideological basis for the Etzel and the Lehi Organizations – I.J.)? Will roads be named after Izzadin A-Kassam and Haj Amin al-Husseini? Will Zionism Bvd. in Haifa change its name to something "neutral" (Avineri obviously brings this example because this road used to be called UN Bvd. and its name was changed in 1975 when the UN passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism – I.J.)? Or will a parallel road be named "Hamas Bvd.", for the sake of balance?
* What will be taught about the Holocaust? A terrible crime or a Jewish "invention"?
* How will the history of the 1948 war be taught? What will be said in schools about the suicide bombers: Murderers or heroes of the War of Independence?
* If organizations, Jewish or Arab, threatening violent action, will be established, which police force exactly will deal with them?
*If the state has an army, what will it be called exactly? Or maybe there will be two armies, the IDF and the PLA?

The more we continue with these examples, it becomes more and more clear that the slogan "bi-national state" is an empty solution, and worse: A recipe for an internal civil war, maybe bloodier than any of the wars between Israel and Ishmael. Therefore it is no coincidence that the supporters of the bi-national state prefer to talk in slogans and avoid discussing the practical content of their suggestion.

There is room to criticize the policies of the current Israeli government. It is also understandable why there are those whose spirit has been broken. It is only human. But they shouldn't force-feed us with slogans that are both purposefully misleading and full of ignorance.