Robert Isaf (UWC AC 2007-2009), Ronia Salman-Lord (UWC AC 2006-2008), Maya Sikand (UWC AC 2006-2008), Zoë Miller-Vedam (UWC AC 2006-2008)
On Thursday November 1st, as a part of the Global Conflicts Focus Week, Bradenstoke Hall hosted an active-audience ‘panel debate’ concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As always seems to be the case, the evening ended with much yet unsaid, many points unaddressed and questions unanswered. We would like to take this opportunity to address one particular matter that was regrettably left hanging: the question of a ‘one-state’ versus a ‘two-state’ solution in the region.
On Thursday November 1st, as a part of the Global Conflicts Focus Week, Bradenstoke Hall hosted an active-audience ‘panel debate’ concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As always seems to be the case, the evening ended with much yet unsaid, many points unaddressed and questions unanswered. We would like to take this opportunity to address one particular matter that was regrettably left hanging: the question of a ‘one-state’ versus a ‘two-state’ solution in the region. There seems to be a general, subconscious assumption that a two-state solution is the only plausible one. It is the only course ever seriously discussed by politicians, and the only possibility we ever seem to hear of. Ever since the original *’48 partition, the world seems resigned to a divided Holy Land. We do not agree. There is a peaceful solution – there has to be – but it cannot be found in more division. The first truth to regard, the root problem and consideration, is that a two state solution could only ever be plausible if both states were completely, totally, and unquestionably equal; something, regrettably, which can never happen. On a purely geographic level, Palestine as it currently exists is many times smaller than Israel; is split into two almost completely unconnected regions, which could never be effectively run as one unified state; is further divided and hemmed-in by measures such as the Israeli ‘Security Wall’ and exclusively Jewish settlements and roads criss-crossing the West Bank; and is wildly overpopulated, especially in the Gaza strip **. No state could exist under such circumstances, and certainly could not exist as such on an equal footing with Israel. Moreover, Israel will not slacken the grip it currently – and undeniably – holds over the Palestinian people. How can a country claim on the one hand to support the creation of a free, equal, democratic neighbour state and then on the other do everything possible to strangle it in infancy – to abort it, even? If Israel is truly hoping for the Palestinian people to become ‘partners in peace,’ if it truly hopes to foster democracy in the refugee camps and slums, it must accept democracy and freedom in all its manifestations. To lay siege to Gaza – to starve it out – to cut its power and aid – because its people voted for ‘the wrong party;’ these are not the actions of an equal partner in peace and progress. The Israeli government has shown that it will only allow peace, progress, and a Palestinian state by its standards and under its thumb; two states with such a relationship cannot co-exist peacefully. Most importantly, perhaps, Palestine is still lacking many of the originally disputed regions; how much of modern Israel, of what under a two-state solution would become ‘the Jewish Homeland,’ separate from a lesser and almost certainly estranged Palestinian state, was taken in ‘48 from the innocent, agrarian ancestors of today’s angry, oppressed Palestinian refugees? These are issues that run deep into the very heart of the Palestinian-Israeli debate, and until they are addressed, until these historic, ancient, ancestral, and – in some minds – unjustly stolen fields and orchards can once more be tilled by the bloodline which ploughed them for centuries, the deep-rooted distrust and disdain that has clung to and poisoned the soil for near 60 years will not surrender its knots and crooked fingers to the ploughshares of any temporary, unequal peace. People talk of a two-state solution being possible, being just around the corner – and have been doing so for years. To hear the media tell it, we are always just one step away from a peace settlement. But have we not, in a way, been operating under a de-facto two-state solution for decades anyways? Whether or not there is an officially recognized state, Palestinian authorities have been dealing and negotiating with the world for years. Those authorities control Palestinian territory, albeit always with the handicaps listed above. Why then do we suppose that an official stamp of statehood will improve matters? The root problem is one of misunderstanding and separation.
Constantly throughout the Thursday debate, both sides seemed to reaffirm that if there was only one thing that needed to be done, it was to increase contact between the civilians of each side. ‘Palestinians’ and Jews coexisted peacefully in Palestine for centuries; it was only in the early 20th century, as Zionism began to gain ground in the British Mandate*, that tensions began to build. Here in our own college we see living proof that it is possible for Israelis and Palestinians to get along, even to become good friends on a personal level; it is only the governments’ policies of discrimination, separation and fear-mongering that prevent the same in the Middle East.
What currently exists in Israel is an effective state of Apartheid; Nobel Laureates Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela, a man who would know, have both said as much. Further partition and separation cannot bring understanding and peace, not when the root problem is one of partition and separation. Mandela’s own South Africa, while certainly not perfect itself, has shown us that coexistence, even after years of hatred and division, is possible. Specific details may differ; the solution must be the same. Israel-Palestine cannot exist with its people divided by walls; the walls will only grow bigger, until sooner or later only one group remains. That is the inevitable end of a two-state solution; one state, with one people, built on the bones of their brethren. There are some, undoubtedly, who do wish for such an end, who hide their intentions behind overtures of ‘partitioned peace’; they know that to be an oxymoron, an impossibility; they know what its implementation must mean. The point was made on the night of the debate that Israel would never be able to allow the thousands* of Palestinian refugees back into Israel proper because doing so would leave Jews a minority in their own homeland, would radically change the nature of the country, would destroy the very Jewish nature of the state. The question seemed to hang in the air: would we dare deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? The bait is offered; I will gladly take it. YES, I would deny Israel that right, the right to exist as a STRICTLY Jewish state, with a Jewish majority, with an overwhelmingly Jewish culture and government, if that ‘Jewish-ness’ can survive only by forcing out three millennia of ‘Arab-ness’; I would, in fact, go so far as to deny any state the right to exist at the expense of well over 5 million* other human beings. Should the land designated as ‘Israel-Palestine’ be a national homeland for Jews? Of course! But Israelis must understand that such a homeland can only ever exist with its original Palestinian occupants as an integral part of it. Palestinian refugees wish to live the lives that were taken from them, in the land their fathers tilled; why can’t they? Israeli idealists wish to live in the land their God promised to them, land their ancestors conquered; why can’t they? They are not contradictory dreams. ‘One state’ need not be an oppressive one, for either party. Perhaps the Palestinian, returning to his village after 60 years, will not be able to live on the same plot his family owned; perhaps the Israeli will have to be content simply living in the holy land, not ruling it himself*. Apartheid and its ilk fall in the face of freedom: freedom of movement and education, of interaction between groups, of speech and opinion. Allow equal rights to the second-and-third class in Israel and they will rebel no longer; allow them the same chance to raise themselves up alongside their Jewish brethren and they will. Does Israel fear excellence? – because given the chance, the refugees and ‘terrorists’ of today will excel as the citizens and businessmen of tomorrow. True, there will be those from both sides who find the very thought of coexistence unbearable; there will be hurdles to overcome. 12 years to the month after his murder, Rabin reminds us of that from his turbulent grave. Better one country united against internal sickness, though, than a splintered one, divided against itself in every direction. We seem always to doubt our own human potential for good; we assume peace is possible only across borders. Even were this true, though, borders must not separate a nation from its home. Israelis and Palestinians both lay claim to the same land, the same home; peace cannot be found by ripping that land apart. Palestine is not a cake. One state IS possible; coexistence exists, and can exist in Israel; unity can bring peace. These are not merely possibilities, though; they are necessities. Any viable state in that war-torn ‘holy land’ must be unified, unpartitioned; an oasis of co-existence, a shining example for the world to follow. Israelis and Palestinians both must understand and accept that they can either live in peace together, side-by-side, in one state – or not at all. In writing and signing this, we affirm all of these statements as true; these goals as necessities; these consequences as inevitabilities. We affirm our faith in the potential of Man to love, to unify, to act peaceably; we affirm our belief in the mutual greatness of these brother-Semites now divided, in their ability to live together if only given the chance. We refute those who will not work for the ideal for fear of failure; in an age of faltering idealism, we call on all men to take up this shining banner at least, as a cause that may yet be achieved. Now, as the 60th anniversary of partition in this Holy Land approaches, we call on the world that dismembered to re-assemble; to reanimate a dying region by allowing it to work in concert with itself. Perhaps the governments now installed there will not change their course, will insist on conflict eternal in the twisted knowledge hope that, when one side inevitably prevails, it will be theirs. Such governments serve no-one’s interests but their own; such governments cannot stand. We affirm that peace through unity is possible; we call on the world to enact unity, and support the seeds of peace as they blossom. We support One, Unified Palestinian-Israeli state – a homeland for all, a palace crafted immaculate, a foundation strong as the Rock; a finely-built bastion of peace.
– United World College Student Magazine –