Peter Beinart Is Right—or, a One-State Solution Is Inevitable if Settlements Continue

A number of Goldblog readers have forwarded me this video of Peter Beinart speaking at the recent General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. These readers are critical of Peter's assertion that Israel is, in essence, forcing a one-state solution on itself by continuing the occupation and settlement of the West Bank. I watched the video, and, alas, I don't find much to dispute with what Peter says. This isn't the easiest thing for me to acknowledge; I disagree with much of Peter's Middle East political analysis, and I disagree with many of his peacemaking suggestions. But he's not wrong about the most crucial thing: Israel will soon enough be forced to face a choice: Grant citizenship to the Arabs of the West Bank, or cease to call itself a Jewish democracy. Here is a bit of what Peter said:

The Palestinians of the West Bank have been under Israeli sovereignty since 1967. So to my mind that makes them, whether we like it or not, till we have a Palestinian state, Israelis. There is only one state that has sovereignty and dominion over their lives.. That's the State of Israel...They're not Israeli citizens, but Israel is the state that controls much of their lives.

He goes on to say:

I want Israel to remain a Jewish state for my children and grandchildren as much as anyone in this room. Where I disagree with some people is at the core of Israel's legitimacy is the fact that it was founded as a democratic and Jewish state.. and delegitimization of Israel will rise in direct proportion to the degree that people believe that Israel is no longer living up to its own founding principles and If Israel can become again a country that offers citizenship to everybody in its borders, irrespective of race, religion, sex and ethnicity, it will not need P.R. firms, because although there will still be hardcore anti-Semites and lunatics out there..,pro-Israel people will be able to go into any room and debate anyone and win. Because democracy is the language of our time, democracy is the lingua franca of our time. you can see even in the Arab world... if Israel becomes in some fundamental way a non-democratic state, you can get 100 P.R. firms and you will gradually lose that debate and more and more empower those people who believe that the creation of a Jewish state was a mistake to begin with.

I think we're only a few years away, at most, from a total South-Africanization of this issue. And if Israelis believe that the vast majority of American Jews -- their most important supporters in the entire world -- are going to sit idly by and watch Israel permanently disenfranchise a permanently-occupied minority population, they're deluding themselves. A non-democratic Israel will not survive in this world. It's an impossibility. So Israel has a choice -- find a way to reverse the settlement process and bring about the conditions necessary to see the birth of a Palestinian state (I'm for unilateral closure of settlements but the military occupation's end will have to be negotiated with the Palestinians) or simply grant the Palestinians on the West Bank the right to vote in Israeli elections. Gaza is an entirely separate problem, but one not solvable so long as Hamas is in charge, but even without Gaza's Arabs, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state if West Bank Arabs became citizens.

It will be extremely difficult for any number of reasons for Israel to leave the West Bank, but it will be impossible for Israel to survive over the long-term if it remains an occupier of a group of people who don't want to be occupied. I understand the security consequences of an Israeli departure from most of the West Bank, but I also understand that there is ultimately no choice. I don't believe a one-state solution is any sort of solution at all; Israel/Palestine will devolve quickly into civil war. The only solution is a two-state solution.