Palestinians ultimate weapon

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jerusalem | As both the Israelis and Palestinians push unilateral moves, an old idea that has been dormant is stirring: the one-state solution.

For many Palestinian intellectuals, the binational threat is the ultimate weapon against Israel. It revives the Palestine Liberation Organization’s old demand for a secular-democratic state in all of the land between the Jordan and Mediterranean, including Israel.

The demand expresses a goal that would mean the elimination of Israel. Even if that proves unrealistic, it still could be useful as a means of pressuring Israel: The specter of a binational state, the thinking goes, could be used to wring concessions from Israel in negotiations for a two-state model.

When the Palestinian Authority prime minister warned recently that Palestinians might abandon their goal of an independent state and instead seek a single state of Arabs and Jews, Ahmed Qureia was playing one of his trump cards in the conflict with Israel.

Qureia’s binational threat came in an early January interview in response to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral moves.

If that means annexing land the Palestinians claim, Qureia declared that the Palestinians would have no choice but to press for a binational state because, he said, they would be left without enough land to establish a viable state of their own.

Though the Palestinians for now still officially favor a two-state solution, Palestinian Authority policy easily could switch to a binational state if conditions on the ground or the international stage change.

Besides the Palestinians, pressure for a binational state could come from Israeli Arabs and left-wing intellectuals in Europe and the United States. Azmi Beshara, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset and a leading Israeli Arab intellectual, has been touting the idea for years.

Over the past few months, binationalism also has been gaining ground in Western intellectual circles. In The New York Review of Books last October, New York University Professor Tony Judt caused a stir when he described Israel as “an anachronism” that ought to be replaced by a binational state with a Palestinian majority.

Support for a binational state among Jewish Israelis is confined to a left-wing fringe. When maverick left-winger Haim Hanegbi tried to circulate a paper in support of the idea among members of the radical Gush Shalom group last summer, he encountered wall-to-wall opposition and decided to leave the group.

Another maverick, Meron Benvenisti, vaguely proposes Jewish and Palestinian cantons but is not sure how this would work and says he still dreams of a sovereign Jewish state.

For most Israelis, the binational state is the ultimate nightmare because it spells the end of the Zionist dream of a homeland for the Jewish people. While Palestinians and some left-wing intellectuals may see this as the optimal outcome, many Israelis fear it could happen simply by default.

Haifa University geographer Arnon Sofer, one of the most active campaigners for separation between Israelis and Palestinians, warns that if Israeli leaders fail to act in time, they could wind up with a binational situation of their own making.

According to Sofer, the biggest threat to Israel is not Iran’s missiles or Syria’s chemical weapons, but what he calls the “demographic time bomb.” He says there already is a non-Jewish majority when Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are taken as a single unit.

If nothing is done to separate Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, he says, Israel could face an apartheid-like situation, with the Palestinian majority demanding one-man, one-vote in a binational state.

Sofer calls for immediate separation from the Palestinians and calls the security fence “a last, desperate attempt to save the state of Israel.”

The fear that Israel could become a pariah state facing international sanctions for occupying Palestinians while denying them political rights is driving Likud leaders like Sharon and his deputy, Ehud Olmert, to press for separation.

Olmert put his fears on the table when he called for unilateral separation.

“I am appalled at the thought that at the head of the campaign against us we will find the same liberal Jewish organizations that carried the struggle against apartheid in South Africa on their shoulders,’ he said in a December interview with Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.