By Antony Loewenstein
The Palestinian finance minister recently warned that the two-state solution would be in crisis unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) immediately received more funds.
"The two state solution is in jeopardy if the PA is not able to continue to function," Nabeel Kassis said.
But Kassis was talking about an imaginary state, one largely funded by international donors. The World Bank announced last week that "sustainable economic growth" was impossible while Israel continued to control vast swathes of the West Bank.
Large protests against the PA by Palestinians indicates growing unrest over rising prices and the failure to realise any tangible political moves towards independence. This is why growing numbers of Palestinians under occupation are talking about adopting the one-state solution and pressuring their leaders to follow.
"The idea of one state is about … breaking apart the system of privilege that exists and being able to live as an equal," says Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and contributor to a book I have just co-edited, After Zionism.
During a recent visit, I heard many Palestinians say that the two-state solution was barely discussed seriously in Palestinian circles, but that the PA, currently too reliant on western support not to continue the fiction of state-building, as yet persists in believing in its inevitability. The status quo is beginning to crumble, though, with senior PA officials now talking about abandoning the two-state idea and pushing for a one-state equation. Hamas concurs. This will only grow.
The real issue in the Israel/Palestine conflict is barely mentioned in this American election cycle; the obsession with Iran has seen to that. Yet, it is increasingly addressed in public debates, opinion pieces and among both the Jewish and Arab communities that it is time to end the two-state industry. Nearly 20 years after the Oslo process, there are now up to 700,000 Jewish colonists living illegally in the West Bank. A just partition of the land, with a Palestinian right of return, is impossible. It is for this reason, among others, that a one-state solution is gaining traction, even within conservative circles.
Liberal Jews in the United States, firm believers in justice and human rights, are especially conflicted. The controversy surrounding writer Peter Beinart's recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, encapsulated their growing unease with blindly supporting the Jewish state, the occupation and a two-state solution – all once an article of faith. As Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian American, recently wrote, to blogger Jerome Slater:
"If the two-state outcome is exposed for fantasy, and Palestinians en masse demand civil rights, it is hard to see a sustained, western objection."
And among the "non-objection" camp would be many American Jews. Demographically, the two US groups most committed to maintaining the occupation are Christian evangelicals and Orthodox Jews. If a significant number of American Jews start peeling away from the US pro-Israel lobby, breaking with the tradition of pressuring the US Congress to back every Israeli policy, the Jewish state would potentially face economic crisis.
The challenges are profound – not least unwinding two decades of Oslo propaganda that dictates the two-state solution as the sole answer – but there are growing calls to imagine what a democratic, secular state in the Middle East might look like.
The effect of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements in the US, Europe and around the world, combined with a rise in Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, which is animated against both Palestinians and Africans, the logic of a democratic, one-state solution seems more desirable and less utopian by the day. A plan for its implementation – a state promising justice for all of its citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians or atheists – is already being mapped out.
The US political establishment largely backs the perpetuation of the two-state charade – witness former State Department official Aaron David Miller writing a few months ago that this outcome is the "only game in town" – but the unpredictability of today's Arab world means that alternative ideas have a chance to gain traction. Israel's ability to control events on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza is shifting, not least due to Egypt's new-found assertiveness.
There has never been serious international pressure to implement a two-state solution; instead, Israeli settlement has been indulged. But moving the one-state idea from the fringes to the mainstream obliges defenders of the current situation to explain their reasoning behind endorsing a so-called solution that entrenches discrimination against Arabs. Now is the time to break open the debate.