12 August 2008 - Binational versus single state: is there a difference?
Earlier this week, Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei warned that if present negotiations toward a two-state solution fail, then the Palestinians would seek "the alternative solution...that is a single binationalist state."
Qurei managed to confuse--deliberately, perhaps--these two concepts. To students of the history of the binational idea, they are two distinct ideas. The binational idea, which was popular among some Zionists prior to 1948, involved power-sharing between Jews and Arabs, where each would enjoy some form of autonomy--something similar, perhaps, to the Czechoslvakian arrangement.
The single-state solution is something else entirely. Palestinians have long wanted a single state--and not just a unitary state of all Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is a somewhat recent idea, but a single Arab state, which was the Arab position at the UN in 1947 and remains the position for Hamas (plus Islamic law) and other Palestinian factions as well.
The binational state has resurfaced in recent years on the academic left as a possible solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it reflects a decline of the political fortunes of Zionism in the West rather than a practical answer for the two nations. That is especially true when one considers the shallow roots of binationalism on the Arab side--it had little support even prior to 1948--and the casual way in which Qurei elides the binational idea into the single-state solution.
The only tenable form of the binational idea is for each side to recognize the special minority rights of Arabs within Israel and Jews within Palestine. This would be a reciprocal recognition not just of each side's national legitimacy, but of a reciprocal duty to honor the rights of minorities. Those tempted by the binational idea should not fall for Qurei's strategically clever but ultimately empty formulation.