With more voices calling for a ‘one-state solution’ for Israel and the Palestinians ( see here, here and here) it is time to re-visit this article by Einat Wilf in Fathom. Wilf wrote it in 2016 as a rebuttal to a piece by Perry Anderson. She reminds him that dhimmi Jews have never been treated as equals by Arabs, nor have they ever been recognised as a nation deserving of self-determination. A one-state solution would not resolve the conflict, but re-invent it as a Jewish-Arab civil war. (With thanks: Petra Marquardt-Bigman)
Einat Wilf: Arabs never accepted two states for two peoples
The intellectual argument for a one-state solution collapses if any
of the sides can demonstrate they have good reason to believe that the
single-state framework would deny them justice and equality. When
religious supremacist Jews argue for a one-state solution, conveniently
excluding Palestinians in Gaza and the Diaspora and offering convoluted
responses to the questions of whether there will be civic equality for
all, Arabs can make a very strong case that such a ‘solution’ is not
promoted in good faith, and that Palestinian Arabs could not expect to
be treated justly or equally in such a state.
That is more than enough to reject any such plans.
The reverse is equally true: when Arab Palestinians, or left-wing
intellectuals who claim to uphold the Arab Palestinian cause, promote a
one-state solution (even if only as a rallying cry), in which, as a
result of immigration and growth rates, Arabs would quickly be the
majority and Jews would live as a minority, the burden of proof lies
squarely with the Arabs. Jews have every right to ask if they would be
treated justly and equally in a single Arab majority state.
Can they make a compelling case that they can be entrusted with the
equal treatment of Jews in a single state in which the Arabs are a
To be fair, even today, very few countries in the world could make
such a compelling case. (It is for precisely this reason that the Jews
insist on realising their universal right to self determination.) Even
those very few countries that could demonstrate their ability to treat
Jews as equals and protect their rights, have only fully done so in
recent decades, and among them even fewer countries appear substantially
secure from the danger of reversal of their equal treatment of Jews.
Indeed, the very few countries on this list are the only ones where Jews
live and prosper in large numbers.
No Arab country is on that list. Jews, as individuals, have never
been treated as the equals of Arabs in any country where Arabs have been
a majority. Jews, as a collective, were never accepted as an equal
people: equal to Arabs in their claim to their ancestral land or equal
in their claim to any part of the decaying Ottoman Empire, where they
both lived. Arab society has continuously denied the idea that the Jews
are their equals as individuals, and have certainly and violently denied
the notion that the Jews are a people and a nation, of equal standing
to the great Arab nation or the various Arab nations.
A mythology reigns in some circles, promulgated at times by the Arabs
themselves, that Jews and Muslims lived for centuries in harmony in
Arab lands. The implication is that were it not for Zionism, this could
have continued. It is akin to the myth promulgated by Margaret Mitchell
of the harmony of blacks and whites in Gone with the Wind. To
the extent any such harmony existed between Jews and Muslims in the Arab
world, it emerged from Jews acknowledging and accepting their
subordinate status as inferior ‘Dhimmis’, tolerated and protected by
Muslims as ‘people of the book’ (rather than being killed or forcefully
converted as infidels). As long as Jews accepted their status as
‘protected subservient people’ to the Arab Muslims, and it was clear who
was the master and called the shots, they could live in relative
harmony. It is a harmony that could only endure as long as those
considered inferior did not have the gall to claim their equality.
The Arab Muslim world can definitely demonstrate extended periods in
history when it treated the Jews better than had Christian Europeans,
and could pride itself on not having committed industrial genocide of
the Jews – albeit that is quite a low bar – but it cannot make any claim
that it ever saw or treated the Jews as genuine equals.
The so-called harmony between subordinate and superior was indeed
disturbed when the Jews, first under colonial rule, which introduced the
idea of emancipation, and later with the rise of Zionism, dared to
claim their equality. The preposterous Jewish claim to equality with
Muslims in Arab lands led to the rise of violence, blood libels and
pogroms against the Jews, culminating in the ethnic cleansing, property
confiscation and expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands – approximately
one million in number, some in communities which pre-dated Islam – in
revenge for the greatest transgression of all: the Jewish insistence
that they are a people and a nation, no less than Arabs. Moreover, that
they have a right to a sovereign state of their own in a small corner of
the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, which also happens to be their
ancestral homeland, and which the Arabs have considered their own, since
their conquest of it in the seventh century.
Ever since, Arab society has continually denied that the Jewish
people are their equals as a people, accepting them as members of a
religion only, and denying their collective rights in their land,
arguing that the Jews are not a people of the land, but foreigners, with
no connection to it. Zionism was not the source of Muslim Arab attitude
towards Jews – it merely forced that attitude into sharp relief.
The 1947 UN partition, and all other subsequent offers and
opportunities of partition between a Jewish state and an Arab state were
denied, not on account of the inequitable division of the land, but on
account that a Jewish state in any part of the land – whether it be on 1
per cent or 99 – was considered an insult. The Jewish claim of equality
with the Arabs as a people has been the fountain of the persistent
refusal of Arab and Palestinian leaders to accept any two-state
solution, whether in 1947, 1967, 2000 or 2008.
The casual assumption that Arab Palestinian leaders have at any point
truly accepted the two-state (as in a Jewish state and an Arab state)
solution, and that Israel is at fault for killing off this option
through settlement building – rehearsed here by Anderson – conveniently
ignores the fact that the Arab Palestinians never accepted the two
states for two peoples solution, nor any agreement that would create a
Palestinian state – if such an agreement entails the final acceptance
that the land would be shared with a Jewish state. At least in 1947 the
Arab states had the integrity to publicly admit that their rejection of
partition was based on the conviction that any Jewish state, of any size, was an intolerable insult.
But perhaps Jews should ignore all this baleful history and look with
optimism to the present? Unfortunately, there is little in today’s Arab
world which inspires confidence that the Arabs are transcending their
past and are willing to include and protect minorities. Anderson ignores
the blunt truth: today, violence is engulfing the Arab world and is
leading to the ethnic cleansing and genocide of minorities who are
considered inferior to (Sunni) Muslim Arabs. Ancient Christian peoples
and sects are being expelled and killed, and the only minorities capable
of avoiding this fate are those which possess arms.
So if no-one can point to a moment in history when Jews were treated
as equals by Arabs, whether individually or as a collective, and the
present appears even worse than the past, on what grounds should we
follow Anderson and urge the Jews to ‘rely on the kindness of
strangers’, entrusting their fate to those who refuse to recognise them
as a people with a legitimate claim to the land and well as their
The partisans of the so-called ‘one-state solution’ are blind to the
necessary condition for two peoples living peacefully in one state:
mutually accepted collective and individual equality. Since that
necessary condition does not exist, the one state framework would merely
serve to change the title of the conflict from the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict to the Jewish-Arab civil war. It would solve nothing.
Ultimately, there are two peoples, tribes, and nations on this land.
Whatever argument each side makes about the invented nature of the
other, it is clear that at the very least, each side sees itself as
distinct and different from the other people in that land. Both believe
they have the legal, emotional, historical, and just claim to the
entirety of the land. Save for a few rare and courageous individuals,
the Palestinians believe that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the
land. The Jews are generally divided on the issue of the legitimacy of
the Arab claim. This says nothing about their respective moral nature –
merely their differing regional realities. The Jews are keenly aware of
their minority status in the region; they can ill afford to ignore the
Arabs. The Palestinians, who live in a region where Arabs enjoy
predominance, believe they can continue to imagine that the Jews are
foreigners and crusaders who will not endure.