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January 2004 • Vol 4, No. 1 •

One-State Awakening

By Peter Hirschberg

For almost his entire thinking life, Daniel Gavron has been a Zionist. The first inkling that he did not belong in the country of his birth, England, came at age 11, at a middle-class boarding school. “Lots of the kids there were the sons of farmers,” he recalls. “They had this very strong link with the land that I felt I lacked. Once I heard about Zionism, it all seemed to fit. That England was not my land and that my land was in another place—this country in the Middle East.”

Gavron’s bar mitzvah coincided with the creation of the state in 1948, magnifying a nascent sense that his destiny somehow meshed with that of the Jewish state. His father asked the guests to donate money to the fledgling state rather than bring presents.

Gavron got his first taste of the great drama unfolding in the Middle East, of which he so desperately wanted to be a part, when he arrived in Israel in 1954 as a member of the Habonim youth movement, for the year-long Machon leadership training program. “Our feeling was that we’d missed it all—the 1930s, building the kibbutzim, creating Tel Aviv,” he says. “We wondered how we were so unlucky to have missed the pioneering period.”

Seven years later, Gavron got the chance to live out that pioneering fantasy. Shortly after immigrating to Israel with his wife and young son, he joined the initial wave of settlers who established Arad in the Negev wilderness. “Since then Israel has been very much home,” he says. “It has never been an option for us to live anywhere else.”

He’s also been fully prepared to defend that home—in uniform in the Gaza Strip and the Arava in the 1960s and `70s, and as an emissary abroad. When Jewish students were desperately battling the fall-out of the United Nations’ Zionism-is-racism resolution on British campuses in the mid-’70s, Gavron was dispatched by the Jewish Agency to assist in making the case for the embattled Jewish state.

“They were kicking out Zionist and Jewish societies on British campuses,” he recalls. “I was supposed to be their secret weapon.”

He confesses, unabashedly, to a sense of heart-warming national pride after Israel’s swift victory in the Six-Day War, after its rearguard action in the Yom Kippur War, and when it sent its troops thousands of miles to rescue Jews at Entebbe. He talks of a connection to the land in romantic, A.D. Gordon-like terms. Driven by a desire to reacquaint himself with the country’s physical contours and its people, after several years in the Israel Radio English news department in Jerusalem, he set out to traverse Israel by foot. The result of 31 days of hiking from north to south, over several months, was “Walking Through Israel,” one of seven books he has written.

“It was a kind of Zionist mission,” he recalls, often peering into the distance as he formulates his answers in the spacious garden, shrouded in autumn sun, of his home in Motza, outside of Jerusalem. “I still belong to a walking group today, out of a love for Israel.”

His role model is veteran Labor Zionist Lova Eliav, whom he first met in Arad. Gavron, himself, hails from the ideological and cultural heartland of traditional Labor Zionism. He calls himself a “mainstream, orthodox Labor Zionist,” a member of the elite that shaped the country. What the founding fathers achieved, he says, “was a massive, huge, gigantic, inspiring achievement, in which I remain a very modest but a very proud participant.”

His own history certainly makes for textbook Zionist reading. But something has happened to Daniel Gavron. The momentous ideological shift he has experienced since the start of the Intifada is not immediately evident when you read his latest book, The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land (Rowman & Littlefield), which appeared in bookshops in mid-November. The first chapter lays out the historical background to the Middle East conflict, with the next six providing an engaging, if not novel, attempt to understand the violence through the deftly woven portraits of 16 Israelis and Palestinians. These include Eliav, Nasser Eddin Nashashibi, an elder of one of the dominant Palestinian clans, former Finance Minister Avraham “Beiga” Shohat, Palestinian civil rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, as well as Palestinian militants, Jewish settlers, bereaved parents on both sides, and Israel Defence Forces soldiers, one of whom refused to serve in the Territories.

But these chapters contain only a few vague hints of the heretical conclusion—for a life-long, traditional Zionist, that is—that Gavron has reached and which he presents to his unsuspecting readers in the book’s eighth and final chapter: After 55 years of Jewish sovereignty, the time has come to dissolve the Jewish state and establish, in its place, a single Israeli-Palestinian state.

“Having reached the conclusion that the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River must be shared, but cannot be sensibly partitioned,” he writes in his book, “we are left with only one alternative: Israeli-Palestinian coexistence in one nation.”

The only solution, to his mind, that could preserve the Jewish state—partition into two states, Israel and Palestine—is no longer tenable. The massive settlement construction in the West Bank has sealed its fate. If Israeli Jews now wish to secure their long-term future in the region, he explains, they must agree to abdicate Jewish sovereignty and move swiftly, while the balance of power still tilts in their favor, to a multiethnic democracy.

The absence of governmental steadfastness in the face of the settlers’ ideological tenacity, along with the left’s lack of clarity, have added to Gavron’s conviction that the land is no longer divisible. “I do not see any government emerging that would withdraw more than a very minimal number of settlements,” he says. “We haven’t even managed to get rid of Netzarim, for God’s sake. I just don’t see any elected Israeli government having sufficient determination and sufficient clarity of vision to carry out the re-division of Palestine, Israel, the Land of Israel, whatever you want to call it. Friends of mine sometimes say the Americans will force us into it. They won’t. They’re not forcing us into anything... In a way, I’m saying the settlers have won. That is profoundly sad. But they have.”

The penalty for succumbing to the settlers’ singleminded pursuit of Greater Israel, Gavron writes, is the dissolution of the Jewish state. “Many Israelis, and other Jews, will argue that historic justice demands a Jewish state. They will insist that, particularly after centuries of horrendous Jewish suffering culminating in the Holocaust, there should be one place on Earth where the Jews can exercise their natural right to sovereignty. They are absolutely right, but, unfortunately, given the choice between sovereignty and land, we chose land. We have manifestly preferred settlement in the whole Land of Israel to a state of Israel in part of the land. It is irrelevant that the settlers are a small minority. The rest of us have permitted them to do what they wanted.”

‘A righteous cause’

Gavron is not the first to posit a bi-national solution to the Mideast conflict. Judah Magnes did it as early as the 1930s. Now, prompted by the paralysis of yet another U.S. peace plan and the countdown to Jewish-Arab demographic parity between the river and the sea, there has also been a profusion of articles around the world in recent months, re-invoking the one-state solution. But unlike many of the authors of these articles—anti-Zionist leftists who never accepted the legitimacy of a Jewish state, and Palestinian intellectuals advising their leaders to abandon partition for a demand for equal rights in a single state—Gavron has been a devout, lifelong Jewish nationalist. He still is, by his own admission.

“A righteous cause,” he says, borrowing a phrase from Winston Churchill to describe the Jewish national movement. “I believe in Zionism. I’m just saying that Zionism, like everything else, has to adapt itself to reality.”

Gavron also goes significantly further than most other writers who eulogize the two-state solution, or warn of its imminent extinction, offering a working model for a unitary state. It begins with the immediate annexation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, followed by elections based on a universal franchise. If Israeli Jews don’t adopt his model, he warns, the one-state reality will ultimately be imposed on them—in a slow but savage process.

While the Israeli left has often used the demographic issue as a doomsday weapon in an effort to convince the public to back a two-state solution, they have begun doing so with growing urgency in recent months as they see the one-state scenario looming ever larger. But the demographic fear has also begun to permeate right-wing thinking. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently told Ha’aretz that a growing number of Palestinians “are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against ‘occupation,’ in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle—and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.”

Olmert, along with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has begun to espouse a unilateralism that would likely include dismantling settlements. Gavron is unimpressed, by both the left and right: “Any Israeli government that can evacuate settlements—like Sharon’s—won’t want to,” he says. “And any Israeli government that wants to, can’t.”

He has not suddenly joined the ranks of the far left. In the introduction to his new book, he is as caustically critical of the Palestinians as he is of Israel. He calls Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 “insensitive,” but says it was “a pretty feeble excuse for the severity of the Palestinian demonstrations that followed.”

He says the Palestinians initiated the violence and must shoulder much of the blame. Yasser Arafat, he writes, “showed no manifest desire to calm the situation,” but he dismisses the accusation that the Palestinians never desired a settlement with Israel and planned the Intifada in advance. He also criticizes the Palestinians “for doing nothing to counter the impression [at Camp David] that they were rejecting the Israeli suggestions without putting forward alternative proposals of their own.” But, while he lauds Ehud Barak for making a courageous offer at the summit, he criticizes him for trying to railroad the Palestinians into accepting it.

He says Amnesty International has rightly described suicide bombings as “war crimes,” but that, at the same time, “it has to be admitted that the fingers of the Israeli soldiers have been appallingly heavy on the trigger.”

Gavron also hasn’t had a sudden attack of post-Zionism. Propagating the end of the Jewish state does not sit easy with him. “I’m very, very uncomfortable with it,” he says. “I came to the one-state solution very reluctantly. I’m a lifelong Zionist. But my answer is, I didn’t go and settle in Judea and Samaria.”

The State of Jerusalem

It was at a parlor meeting on unilateral withdrawal, about a year into the Intifada, that Gavron had his epiphany. “I suddenly realized halfway through, while I was actually speaking, that I didn’t believe what I was saying. I had come to the conclusion that the two-state solution could not work anymore.”

He would still happily accept a two-state model if he could be convinced it could be implemented. He signed the petition of Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, and supports the Geneva Accord of Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo. But, in his view, these are likely to be among the last failed attempts at a two-state solution.

Having made the paradigm shift, Gavron now reads history—biblical and Zionist—in a way that gels with the one-state vision he offers. Ancient history, he contends, is far more supportive of the idea of a multiethnic society than an ethnocentric Jewish one. “King David, if the Bible is to be believed, conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites and then shared the city with them,” Gavron writes. “He made use of Canaanite officials, had a Hittite general, enjoyed good relations with the Phoenicians, and (after some bloody conflicts with them) deployed Philistine units in his army, the Cherethites and Pelethites.”

Judea, during the Second Temple period, also had a mixed population. “One can argue, then, that the establishment of a multicultural nation, rather than a specifically Jewish state, is a true expression of Zionism in that it is reconstructing a model similar to the historical entities of ancient Israel and Judea,” he posits.

Gavron even enlists the father of modern Zionism in explaining his shift to bi-nationalism. In “Altneuland,” he says, Herzl describes a political entity with a Jewish president and Arab vice president.

Having established the historical underpinnings of his new, multiethnic state, he lays out the steps needed to create it: Israel’s annexation of the territories, accompanied by a pledge of full equality for all residents of the new, enlarged state, and democratic elections within three months. These, he estimates, will produce some 40 Arab members in a 120-seat parliament. Drafting a constitution will be one of its first tasks.

As for the vexing problems that have frustrated all attempts so far to unlock the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—borders, Jerusalem, settlements, the Temple Mount—they all melt away once sovereignty over the land no longer needs to be split.

On the issue of citizenship, Gavron offers Jews and Palestinians a trade-off: Jews will agree to annul the Law of Return and Palestinians will forgo their insistence on the right of return. Anyone who wants to become a citizen of the new state will have to undergo a naturalization process akin to that in other Western countries.

Hebrew, Arabic and English—“the language in which most Israeli-Palestinian dialogues are held,” writes Gavron—can all be official languages. Since Israel and Palestine will both be mutually unacceptable names for the new country, he proposes the “state of Jerusalem,” “Yerushalayim” in Hebrew, “Ursalim al-Kuds” in Arabic.

Finally, Gavron suggests a governing structure that would allow maximum ethnic, religious, cultural and educational autonomy for the communities that will comprise the state of Jerusalem. “Apart from the Muslim Arabs and the secular Jews, this autonomy can be granted to communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jews with their special requirements. It will also solve the problems of the various Christian communities in the country. These include the Arab Christians, the significant number of Christians who have arrived from the former Soviet Union in the past decade, and the large community of foreign workers who have come in the same period.”

Nightmare scenario

Gavron, 68, is confident and unambiguous in laying out his vision. “In my book, I’m saying put up or shut up. If you want a two-state solution, then let’s go ahead and do it.”

He is never apologetic, even though he understands that at best, he will be accused of being naive, at worst vilified for being a traitor by fellow Jews, now that his ideas have entered the public domain. “I understand the people who say I’m naive and I even understand the people who say I’m a traitor. But all I am trying to do is recognize the reality of the situation. We have to adapt the Jewish national renaissance to the reality of today. The only realistic way to do this is to transform Israel into something else.”

For all the zeal emitted by someone who has undergone a mind-altering experience, Gavron does occasionally permit himself some self-doubt, usually tinged with self-deprecatory humor. His ideas, he concedes, are not about to inspire Israelis to dismantle their state overnight: “I haven’t convinced any of my friends, not even my wife,” he laughs.

When a passage from his book is read to him aloud, in which he ambitiously asserts that if Jews conduct themselves “in a wise manner” in the state of Jerusalem, then “there is no reason for concern,” he admits he may have overstated the case somewhat. “You have quoted me accurately from the book and my eyebrows shot up, metaphorically speaking. Of course, there is cause for concern. I’m exaggerating there. But I do believe that if we conduct ourselves wisely, we can bring it off.”

The vast majority of Israeli Jews are certain to demur, viewing Gavron’s ideas as a recipe for national suicide, not salvation. Many will argue that they live in a democratic society, enjoy freedom of the press, freedom to say almost anything they want, and have developed a modern economy and a functioning legal system. The Palestinians have none of these. Surely, as integration begins to loom large, those Israelis with a second passport will depart, and those who don’t will be clamoring to get one, fearful it will only be a matter of time until they come under the rule of a not-so-hospitable Arab majority.

That dark scenario, Gavron argues, will come to pass if Jews resist the multiethnic solution he proposes and a one-state solution is forced on them further down the line when the demographic balance has tilted against them. “If the conflict continues, if we go on bombing them and they go on blowing us up with suicide bombs, this will escalate ultimately into a situation where the Arabs will want to kill the Jews, and when there are more of them, it will be easier for them to do it.”

He offers a palliative for these fears: At the outset of the new state, Jews will be in the majority, with control of parliament, government, the army, the civil service, the judiciary and other arms of state, and will get to set the rules. “If we start today, when we are in charge, it is up to us to create a society in which people want to remain,” he says. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it would degenerate into something inferior. The Palestinians are often called ‘the Jews of the Arab world.’ They are enterprising, they are intelligent, they are far more democratic than any other Arabs, they want democracy.”

He concedes that existential fears are legitimate, but insists “not every Palestinian has the aim in life of slaughtering Jews. If we create a society in which there are equal rights, democracy, the chance for education and for creativity and self-expression, there’s absolutely no reason why a very reasonable, enlightened society won’t emerge here. I don’t see a situation in which suddenly in 20 years, the Arabs have got 61 members of the Knesset, we’ve only got 59, and then they will turn round and slaughter us in our beds.”

As for the Jews who want to live in a Jewish state, Gavron believes the aspirations of Jewish history, religion and culture can all be fulfilled in his state of Jerusalem. “The Jews will be able to observe their national and religious festivals in their ancient homeland,” he writes. “They will be able to continue to create their unique Hebrew culture.”

By agreeing to annul the Law of Return, Gavron is surrendering one of the cardinal justifications for the creation of a Jewish state—the need for a safe haven for Jews. That’s because he now looks at the world and no longer sees Jews in distress as Jews. “With regard to one of the classic Zionist themes of a refuge for persecuted people, Israel fulfilled its task nobly. I’m deeply proud of it. But I do not think that at the present time, a refuge specifically for Jews is needed. It’s much more important to get around to solving the problem of Israel as it exists today. The Argentinean Jews haven’t come to Israel because they’re in danger as Jews. They’re fleeing from an economic catastrophe. The Russian Jews and many non-Jews who come here are fleeing from the chaos of reconstructing the Soviet Union.

“The main force for anti-Jewish feeling today, I don’t want to call it anti-Semitism, is in fact Israel and its actions. The paradox is ... that Israel is the most dangerous place for Jews today, and also that Israel is endangering Jews in other countries by its actions, by the tremendously militant policies, certainly of the last three years, that have caused huge hostility toward Israel and toward Jews. In that sense Israel, which was a vital haven for the Jews, has now become a liability to Jews.”

Palestinian allies

Unlike Gavron, the Palestinians in his book have not lost faith in a two-state solution, or at least have not abandoned the idea. “It isn’t true that we want to throw the Jews into the sea,” says Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander of Fatah in Bethlehem. “I want to establish a Palestinian state inside the 1967 borders. And, believe me, that is what will happen in the end.”

Lawyer Jonathan Kuttab tells Gavron the two-state solution is an inferior formula to one state for both peoples, but is more realistic. “I don’t want to say to the Israelis, ‘I deny your hopes and dreams, your goals, your ideology, your legitimacy. If that’s what you want, you are entitled to it.’ Let there be a two-state solution. That is a practical and pragmatic compromise.”

But Gavron, who heaps most of the blame for the demise of the two-state option on Israel’s settlement policy, does not exonerate the Palestinians. Despite their demand for an independent state, he writes, “They reacted with something approaching panic whenever they got close to achieving it.”

In 1947, they rejected the UN partition plan; in 1967 they rejected Israel’s willingness to withdraw from the Territories in exchange for peace; in 1977 they “scornfully” turned down Anwar Sadat’s invitation to join his peace initiative; and at Camp David in 2000 they “failed to come up with a counterproposal to Barak’s unprecedented suggestions for a settlement that offered them an independent state. So, if the Jews have not been sufficiently enthusiastic about an independent state, the Palestinians have been almost pathological in their rejection of one.”

But maybe Gavron has misread Palestinian intentions. Maybe the Israeli right is correct—that the culmination of the PLO’s strategy is a Palestinian state in all of historical Palestine. Arafat is, after all, on record for saying “the womb of the Arab woman is my best weapon.”

“I do think that the Palestinian national movement, the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, were sincere in accepting the idea of a two-state solution,” says Gavron. “There might be an element of truth in the fact that the Palestinians always had in the back of their minds that their womb would become triumphant. But what’s the answer to that? I don’t see myself as trying to win the argument with the Palestinians. I see myself as trying to get the best possible deal for the Jewish society, the Jewish Israeli Zionist society that has emerged here. I believe that with wisdom we can create a society here that is free and democratic, and ultimately the Palestinian womb would ‘slow down.’ When the level of education goes up, birth rates go down. It has happened already to an extent with Israeli Arabs, certainly with Israeli Christian Arabs.”

For the Palestinians, the advantage of the state of Jerusalem is that they “gain immediate access to a relatively modern, free, democratic state,” Gavron writes. “The advantage for the Israelis is that, as the current majority, they get to set the rules.”

He is likely to find more takers on the Palestinian side. In fact, a growing number of Palestinian intellectuals have begun talking recently of the need to shift to a one-state model. Waging a struggle for civil liberties in a bi-national state, rather than for national self-determination, they argue, will be far more effective, especially when it comes to world opinion. Some are already advising Palestinian leaders to set a time frame for negotiating a two-state settlement with Israel, with the caveat that if it fails, then the two peoples will meet down the line in a single state.

That thinking has begun to take hold among political leaders, too. Gavron quotes Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti shouting to reporters in the courtroom at the start of his trial in August 2002: “Two states for two peoples—that is the only solution.” But just a year later, in closing remarks at his trial, Barghouti warned Israelis that if they did not relinquish control of the Territories, they would bury the Jewish state. “If an occupation does not end unilaterally or through negotiations, then there is only one solution: one state for two peoples,” he said.

It is unclear to what extent Barghouti’s comments represent a strategic shift in Palestinian thinking or merely a scare tactic aimed at forcing Israelis to negotiate a deal before they are overwhelmed by demographics. Gavron, of course, is undaunted by this prospect, having already accepted what he sees as the inevitability of the one-state solution. “We shouldn’t be afraid of this. We should meet the challenge and say, ‘Okay, let’s set our constitution in steel’—this is going to ensure full human rights for everybody. And minority rights as well, because we might be a minority one day.”

Other side of despair?

Having conceded victory to the settlers, Gavron says the battleground has to be shifted: “I’m saying to the settlers, ‘Okay, you’ve won, let’s have one state. But don’t tell me we’re not going to be democratic. Don’t tell me the Palestinians are going to vote in Jordan any more than the Mexicans vote for the U.S. Senate.’”

He gives short shrift in his book to another possible solution, a third way to ensure a long-term Jewish majority—transfer. Amit Segal, one of two second-generation settlers profiled in the book and the son of journalist and former Jewish underground member Hagai Segal, tells Gavron that in the event of peace, “the Palestinians can stay, but if they go on attacking Israelis, there will be escalating conflict and many of them may be forced out.”

If Gavron marvels at the settlers’ ideological clarity and conviction, he is confident they will not succeed in galvanizing enough public support to forcibly remove a large number of Palestinians from their homes, even if terror escalates. “The Israeli majority is very woolly minded and insufficiently clear in its vision, but I don’t think it would countenance any sort of large-scale transfer ... I think also the Palestinians have learned their lesson. In 1948 they were stampeded and panicked. I think this time they’re going to dig in and stay.”

For the state of Jerusalem to succeed, it would require a degree of trust and goodwill that only a star-struck messianic would believe possible after the bloodletting of the last three years. Gavron himself writes that the violence has resulted “in irreparable harm to both national psyches.”

He is sober about the prospects of his vision. In fact, he expects the violence to continue and for the two sides to stumble bloodily into a one-state reality. “My nightmare is that the scenario of the one-state solution is going to happen the wrong way. We will fence off the Palestinians, continue to clash with them, they will continue to mount terrorist attacks against us, and we will continue retaliating. De facto it will become one state, without it being properly defined or properly envisaged. At a certain stage it will come under the control of the majority. Then, all the fears people express to me about my ideas will come true.”

The scenario he sees emerging—he’s certainly not the first to say it—is disturbingly similar to the old South Africa, in which a minority Israeli government rules over an Arab majority bereft of political rights. Israel will become increasingly isolated, emigration will grow and the economy will worsen.

“What we have here is not apartheid, but there is a danger of it emerging if something very drastic isn’t done... I think the miracle of Israel was a greater miracle than the one now required to create what I’m proposing. The creation of the state was much less likely, much more fraught with danger, and much harder to achieve. What I’m proposing is simply a switch in thinking and conception. This is much, much easier to achieve. Whether we are going to do it is another question. But we can.”

Ha’aretz, December 12, 2003





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