Is Binationalism Coming?


It has been a New Year's resolution of mine to try to be optimistic about the Middle East. Don't ask me why -- maybe it's just my sunny disposition bursting through the gloom. But Goldblog deputy-editor-for-apocalypse-coverage Adam Chandler insists on darkness, so I'm letting him have at it:

The two-state remedy (one Israel and one Palestine) no longer seems fashionable to rhapsodize about. It's become its own bad movie franchise; there are no riffs or improvs left, at this point, it's just fatigue.The actors can't even deliver their lines convincingly.

Accordingly, the injection of binationalism into the conversation is only natural. The expanding settlements in the West Bank have blurred what was supposed to be the focus of the last twenty years--a Palestinian state, the conflict's end. Making matters worse, the settlements have also distanced Israel from some of its best supporters abroad (for example, those who are both critical and loving of Israel and those who feel pretty lukewarm about Armageddon).

On the other side, the fallout from Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 (and Lebanon in 2000, if we're stacking-up bad things), upon which many hung their hopes for peace, put territorial compromise for many Israelis on rhetorical par with appeasement. Instead of bringing peace, the evacuation of Gaza gave rise to Hamas, brought about incessant rocket-fire onto Israeli towns, and begot a war so unspeakably dispiriting that no one bothers commemorating it (three years ago last week).

All of this, somberly mixed with Arafat's rejection of negotiations at Camp David in 2000, Abu Mazen's non-rejection rejection of Ehud Olmert's offer in 2008, and the subsequent fracturing of the Palestinian leadership, has paralyzed the two-state camp.  

In Haaretz, the Israeli novelist/playwright A.B. Yehoshua published a sobering essay that grapples with the possibility that Israel will become a binational state. He isn't advocating for binationalism (he doesn't even seem bi-curious about it), but rather, he turns the mirror on a country that he feels should imagine what it might be a couple years down the line. Yehoshua, who has made a career of writing excellent fiction, is not so bold as to predict that binationalism is coming to the Levant tomorrow, but he does something that very few of the many who talk about a one-state reality do: he asks a reader to envision it:
Apart from the religious camp (owing to the structure of its religious identity), apart from the camp of the secular extremist right (owing to the violence of its fantasies), and apart from the post-Zionist left (owing to its humanitarian-cosmopolitan vision), all other political and ideological camps in Israel grasp and articulate the fact that a binational state in Eretz Israel is a dangerous and unfavorable possibility, both in the short term and (more particularly) in the long term.

Despite this fact, we stride, as though out of necessity, toward the establishment of a binational state, an entity which at some stages of Zionist history was viewed as a plausible possibility, and even as a laudable one in some circles.

Even if many of us believe that it is possible to prevent the creation of such a state through forceful political steps, there still remains an obligation to prepare for it, both intellectually and emotionally, just as we prepare for other states of emergency. The aim of such preparation is to guarantee that a binational state will not undermine Israel's democratic structure, and will not completely destroy the Jewish-Israeli collective identity that took shape over the past several decades.
Of course, if Israel were to become a binational state, it would cease to be the homeland that Yehoshua (who is a decade older than his country) and most Jews/Israelis sought in its founding and tending:
But for those who believed in and dreamed of an independent Jewish-Israeli identity which, for better or for worse, stands up to the test of dealing with a national-territorial reality entirely its own, a binational state represents a broken dream, a surefire source of demoralizing conflicts in the future, as was proven by the failure of binational experiments around the world that involved peoples who were closer to one another than are Jews and Palestinians in terms of religion, economics, values and history.
By bringing to mind more than just the contours of binationalism, by citing its historical legacy of failure, by describing its attractiveness to Palestinians as Zionism's kryptonite, by placing it within the existential hash marks of Israel's playing field, and by asking Israelis to imagine living inside of it, Yehoshua does a novelist's work and gives the problem its terrifying color.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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