Has President Abbas legitimatized the one state option?
In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made the following statement: “Freedom is coming and is inevitable, and occupation shall come to an end,” he said.
Abbas then said that in regard to his people, there are two choices: “It will either be the independence of the state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel on the 1967 borders, or equal rights for all of the inhabitants of the land of historic Palestine from the river to the sea.”
The idea that Abbas would legitimise the one-state option took some by surprise. Was it simply a tactic to get Israelis and Americans to double up support for the two-state solution or is the Palestinian president truly willing to entertain the concept of a single bi-national state?
A bi-national state is not new and makes a lot of sense. It was the original idea of the PLO, which was in favour of a secular democratic state in its early years. But at the time, the PLO failed to counter the Israeli claims that its aim was to destroy Israel and throw the Israelis out.
One of the weaknesses of the PLO argument at the time was that it never articulated what the status of Israeli Jews would be and whether it would accept all of them or simply those who lived in Palestine before the large emigration waves.
Even when pressed on that issue, the PLO would not say whether it was opposed to new immigrants who came after World War II or during the earlier immigration waves.
These issues are no longer relevant to many who are supportive of the one state solution.
They argue that with so many settlements and settlers in the West Bank, the two-state solution would not work, and if somehow it is agreed to, the Palestinian state would be very weak and extremely dependent on Israel, and unless a corridor is created between Gaza and the West Bank, it would be landlocked.
Furthermore, proponents of the one-state solution see it as being able to resolve the unique problems in Jerusalem and could also address the problem of the Palestinian refugees, many of whom already living in the West Bank and Gaza, or in nearby Jordan.
Supporters of the one-state solution also believe that in order for such a plan to work, it would need to be much more democratic than the system witnessed under the single power, be it Fateh in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza.
Because of the tensions that would occur, supporters argue, the guarantee for such a state would be democracy and the rule of law to settle potential individual or communal conflicts.
Of course, the problem with the one-state solution is that Israeli Zionists reject it because they want a Jewish state or at least a state with a clear Jewish majority.
There is no clear path to the one-state solution with the current thinking among Israelis, which means that something major needs to happen to shock Israelis into accepting a simple and democratic rule.
To make Israelis give equal rights to Palestinians living under their control, there should be a series of international punitive acts, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions regime.
The major difference between the current and the earlier call for one state is in the fact that current proponents believe that it needs to be totally and absolutely non-violent.
Supporters of BDS reject any form of violence and call for a strong and unified international campaign that would force Israelis to accept that all people in the country enjoy equal rights. Short of that, Israel rules through apartheid, which is a war crime.
Israel is a powerful country with powerful friends around the world. The chances of such a campaign to work effectively and quickly are very weak. But a process in this direction can reflect a new and creative thinking and if adhered to strictly (especially if it is totally non-violent), it can, over time, produce impressive results, as we saw in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Abbas may have given legitimacy to a movement that has strong support among young Palestinians and among intellectuals. Currently this movement is not strong enough to cause a dent in a powerful country such as Israel with a right wing government. But if nurtured and developed, it has the potential to produce dramatic change in thinking and behavior.