In the American Prospect today, Gershom Gorenberg raises the key argument against a one-state solution: that nationalism is too strong on both the Jewish and Palestinian side for them to reasonably exist in a single state.

I agree with much of Gershom’s argument. But it is worth pointing something out, something I have been arguing forcefully about in my series of three articles this week (see them here, here and here). It is summed up in Gershom’s closing paragraph:

“The challenge to one-staters is to explain how two national groups, Jews and Palestinians, will peacefully put together a single state, live together in that state, and prevent it from ripping apart. Expecting that their nationalism will disappear is even less realistic than expecting the gold, red and blue flag to vanish from Catalonia.”

Yes, that is the challenge to one-staters. But where is the challenge to two-staters to explain how a Palestinian state with full sovereignty (meaning the right to self-defense and a total absence of Israeli forces in its territory), viability (where the area is not broken up by settlement blocs like Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim), connection between the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in East Jerusalem, and an acceptable resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue (which is both a human rights issue and a central issue in the very Palestinian nationalism Gershom discusses) is to be achieved under the two-state formula.

Oslo fails on all of those points. Yet somehow, for Gershom and many other sincere two-staters who recognize the need for Palestinian freedom and are not only concerned about Israeli security, this challenge does not have the same force as the one they bring up for one-staters. In my series, I explained why this is—because two-states has an international consensus behind it, arrived at by circumstance, happenstance and a 40-year old Palestinian decision, but not because it was necessarily the best path, while one state solutions have no political backing.

But the message for Gershom, Jeremy Ben-Ami and other purportedly pragmatic two-staters is how we get to a truly workable resolution if we begin from a point where we discount some possibilities because they have serious problems while ignoring problems of at least equal magnitude in other solutions simply because the latter is the path preferred by those enforcing an unhelpful and no longer viable consensus.


Photograph courtesy of Joe Mabel. Published under the GNU Free Documentation License.