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Return of single state option for Israel, Palestine

There are those who would argue that the two-state solution was dead long before the recent announcement of new settlements in the E1 area of East Jerusalem last month. But — should it go ahead — Tel Aviv’s controversial plans will be seen as a final nail in the coffin for a long-flawed and ever-distant prospect of a division of Israel and Palestine.
But in his response to the Palestine’s United Nations General Assembly success at the end of November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be playing a dangerous game. By building in E1 — considered a red line not only for the Palestinian Authority but for its EU allies — and in doing so destroying the prospect of a two-state solution, Netanyahu could be pushing Israel toward an even less desirable position for Tel Aviv; the single, federal, multiethnic, Israeli-Palestinian state.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is in effect aiming a cattle gun at the two-state solution,” said Hugh Lovatt, Israel/Palestine project coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It has become increasingly clear that the two-state solution is on life support — if not already dead.”
The E1 settlement — which could include 3,000 homes — will effectively create an Israeli settlement block stretching from East Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumin, in the heart of the West Bank, further bisecting any future Palestinian state and cutting it off from its prospective capital. As this drift toward a one-state outcome makes a two-state solution implausible, Lovatt said, Palestinians and Israelis from both sides of the political spectrum have begun exploring what a binational state would mean in practice.
The options for a single state has been dominated in recent years by the extreme right in Israel and the left amongst both Israelis and Palestinians, sides of the conflict that make extremely strange bedfellows. On the right, some Israeli settler groups see a single state option in the form of Greater Israel, with Palestinians granted individual — although not collective or national — rights and Israel remaining a Jewish state. On the left, both Israelis and Palestinians have proposed a utopian federal state, under which both groups have equal political rights and citizenship.
“In some ways, we are already seeing the emergence of a de facto one-state reality through Israel’s creeping annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank,” explained Lovatt. “Due to the current weight of Palestinian demographics, if such Israeli policies remain unchanged and the realization of a Palestinian state becomes impossible, a binational outcome will inevitably risk one of two mutually exclusive possibilities as Jews become a minority amongst an Arab majority population.
“Israel risks either becoming a Jewish ethnocracy based on a form of apartheid, or losing its Jewish essence in a fully democratic state.”
It is this factor, said Barak Seener, associate research fellow at RUSI, which makes the one-state solution so unpopular among Israeli centrists. Zionism always required an Israeli state to not only be democratic, but to be Jewish. It is ironic, then, that Netanyahu’s latest moves may actually push the debate toward an even stickier scenario. “Preventing Palestinian demographic contiguity from the northern and southern parts of the West Bank; plays into the hands of a one-state solution that undermines Israel’s Jewish identity,” Seener said.
There is also scant historial record for multiethnic states created in contested lands — particularly those with a history of violent conflict. Bosnia Herzegovina has faced political and economic stagnation since it was formed in the Dayton peace agreement. Kashmir, Cyprus and Kosovo also offer scarcely better examples. The only fully stabilizing settlement to the dilemma of coexistence, demonstrated by the longstanding civil war in Sri Lanka, appears to be the victory of a single party and the subjugation of the other.
Despite this, Ricardo Fabiani, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, points out that the one-state solution is actually relatively popular among Palestinians, giving them the freedom to exercise their rights either as citizens of Israel or of a federal Israeli-Palestinian state. If nothing else, it would give them the opportunity to push for greater representation from within the tent, rather than sectioned off behind the walls and fences of the West Bank and Gaza.
“Many Palestinians think that they would be better off exposing Israel’s apartheid policies within the framework of a single state, where they could force them to recognize their rights by means of nonviolence — not unlike South Africa, for example,” Fabiani said. “Moreover, many Palestinians are fed up with both Fatah and Hamas and think that a Palestinian state divided in two small territories divided by Israel would never be able to survive.”

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