The One-State Nightmare

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This week brings yet another op-ed from The Times calling for the creation of "Isratine" (the coinage of a certain Muammar Qaddafi, whose career as an opinion writer was cut short by the Libyan people), this one from Saree Makdisi, an English professor at UCLA  To be fair to Makdisi, the Israeli right handed him his narrative, by making it as difficult as humanly possible to imagine the creation of a Palestinian on the West Bank and in Gaza. I, too, have argued that a one-state "solution" is an eventual possibility if the Israeli government doesn't reverse the West Bank settlement project (and, of course, if the Palestinians show a continued dislinclination toward compromise).

What is remarkable about Makdisi's column is what is remarkable about all calls for a one-state solution: He writes as if a) the Jewish people do not deserve a state in even a part of their historic homeland; b) the Palestinians were never offered a state of their own (why can't, just for once, an advocate of the one-state solution acknowledge the fact that the United Nations offered the Arabs their own state in Palestine in 1947, an offer their leaders rejected? Not to mention offers made to Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas?) and c) the one-state solution is actually a solution. Here is Makdisi's view of the Jewish fate in what would become the Middle East's 23rd Arab-majority country: 

Israeli Jews will pay what will turn out to be only a short-term price in exchange for many long-term gains. Like Palestinians, they will lose the dream and the prospect of a state exclusively their own. But -- also like Palestinians -- what they will gain in turn is the right to live in peace.

I don't know Makdisi, so I don't know if he's Pollynannish or cynical. But one state is an impossibility, and not only because it would require the acquiescence of six million Jews who show no inclination to support such an idea. (Israelis are not unaware of the endemic anti-Semitism of the Middle East; the persecution and discrimination directed at Jews living under Arab rule in many countries and in many periods; and the general intolerance in the Middle East for ethnic and religious minorities.) The tensions built into a single state solution would be unbearable. This is from a recent column of mine that featured the analysis of the Israeli left-wing writer Gershom Gorenberg:

...Gorenberg, in his new book, "The Unmaking of Israel," a jeremiad directed at the Jewish settlement movement, writes at length about the absurdity at the heart of the proposal.
"Palestinians will demand the return of property lost in 1948 and perhaps the rebuilding of destroyed villages. Except for the drawing of borders, virtually every question that bedevils Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will become a domestic problem setting the new political entity aflame."

Gorenberg predicts that Israelis of means would flee this new state, leaving it economically crippled. "Financing development in majority-Palestinian areas and bringing Palestinians into Israel's social welfare network would require Jews to pay higher taxes or receive fewer services. But the engine of the Israeli economy is high-tech, an entirely portable industry. Both individuals and companies will leave."

In the best case, this new dystopia by the sea would be paralyzed by endless argument: "Two nationalities who have desperately sought a political frame for cultural and social independence would wrestle over control of language, art, street names, and schools." In the worst case, Gorenberg writes, political tensions "would ignite as violence."

Will there eventually be one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River? Maybe. I can't say no for certain. Would it be a success? No. It would be a nightmare.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly 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.

Goldberg's 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. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. 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.

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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