Today, as the BBC confirms, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to apply to the United Nations for membership, and the United States is expected to veto this bid. Nevertheless the campaigning organisation Avaaz is continuing to appeal for support for the application. In an e-mail this morning (I can’t find the text on the Avaaz website but there is a copy online here) this is part of the argument they make:
growing numbers of Palestinians are giving up on two states and deciding to embrace a long term struggle — one they liken to South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle — for a single secular democratic state with equal rights for all ethnicities and faiths.
This, Avaaz implies, is a bad thing, a movement which should be undermined by granting to the Palestinian territories immediate statehood and separation from Israel.
But why? Does Avaaz really think that “a single secular democratic state with equal rights for all ethnicities and faiths” is a bad thing? Would it really be better to divide the country permanently on ethnic and religious lines?
Avaaz also notes that this would be “effectively the end of Israel as a Jewish state”. True enough. But it would not be the end of Jewish presence and influence in the land. Currently there are just more Jews (about 5.5 million) than Palestinian Arabs (about 5.3 million) living in Israel and the Palestinian territories taken together. That balance might change if Palestinians “return” from neighbouring countries – but then more Jews might move to a peaceful new nation, and any law of return would have to be even-handed. In practice neither side would be able to dominate the other.
So could this solution work? Of course it would not be easy to resolve decades of conflict and bitterness. But the comparison Avaaz makes with South Africa suggests how this could be done, through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Also a single state is more likely to succeed if it is a federal one, with large degrees of self-government for the continuing Jewish and Arab majority areas.
There are of course many obstacles to be faced before such a solution could be agreed, not least the probable strong opposition of extremists and religious fundamentalists in Israel and among the Palestinians – not to mention in America. However, those of us who are politically moderate and believe in the separation of the state from organised religion should see this as the most desirable long term outcome. But it will be jeopardised by any continuing moves to institutionalise the division of the land.
I support most of Avaaz’s campaigns. But in this case I believe they have got it wrong, and those like President Obama who reject full Palestinian statehood have the best policy.