One State Solution: A greater Palestine?

Perhaps “Palestine” should be declared to include Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan

A Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza is no longer on the cards, irrespective of the make-up of the
coming Israeli government. Israel instead has created the strategic
conditions, including a near Israeli public consensus, for the expulsion of
the Palestinians from the West Bank. This is what the wall and the
planned retention of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and large settlement
blocks foretell. Israel will likely let eviction happen by haemorrhage,
rather than engineer a 1948-style ethnic cleansing. It may not feel
impelled to act soon, waiting for the fall of the Hashemite monarchy, which
Israel seems to anticipate and which could only be hastened by the
continuous exit of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. Ariel Sharon’s
wish for a Palestine state in Jordan thus would be fulfilled. Gaza
could dissolve imperceptibly into populous Egypt. Such a momentous
“checkmate”, however, is not destiny for the Palestinians. The
 leadership needs to think beyond the mental checkpoints around
Ramallah and devise a new political vision and a commensurate strategy of
This vision, I submit, must rest on turning the current demographic
fragmentation of the Palestinians into an asset, by redefining their
geopolitical space to encompass a state in Greater Palestine, the territory
that was Palestine before Winston Churchill in 1922 split it by fiat
into Palestine and Transjordan. Today there are approximately eight
million Palestinians in that area: 1.2 millions in Israel, 1.15 millions in
Gaza, two millions in the West Bank and 3.2 millions in Jordan. In 30
years or so, they will double to 16 million strong. If the last century
of strife has taught us anything, it is that they will fight fiercely
for a state in which they are equal citizens. At a time when the
advocacy of democracy has become a political mantra in the region, it is
historically retrograde that the people who constitute the majority in
Greater Palestine remain subject to dispossession by Israel and sub-citizens
in Jordan.
Demography matters. In countries where aggrieved nationalities are
concentrated in one area, we observe a centrifugal pressure towards
secession or at least a demand for autonomy. The splitting of Czechoslovakia
and Cyprus exemplify this conclusion. Quebec in Canada, the Basque
region in Spain, and Kurdistan in Iraq and Turkey are further illustrations.
Where ethnicities are more evenly spread and intermingled, only
democratic accommodation can begin to tackle social tensions; South Africa
stands out. Yet, in a third situation where the same nationality exists in
two separate states, re-unification may be sought. Witness the two
Germanys, North and South Koreas, Mainland China and Taiwan. In Greater
Palestine “the demographic effect” is mixed. The diffusion of the
Palestinian communities throughout the territory is a unifying factor, although
their prolonged isolation from each other cedes the formation of
distinct identities. The Jewish and East Jordanian concentration
 west and east of the Jordan River, in contrast, pulls in the opposite
direction — separation.
By now it should be evident that establishing a third, Palestinian
state, in addition to Israel and Jordan, faces insurmountable hurdles.
Apart from the Bantustanisation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel adamantly
rejects the Palestinian right of return. This means that even if a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza were established, there would
be a large number of Palestinians left in Jordan. Although the Hashemite
monarchy offered the Palestinians citizenship, acquiring in the bargain
the West Bank and helping to obliterate “Palestine” from the map, it
has failed to make them equal partners. East Jordanians, in turn,
continue to fear a Palestinian takeover. The recent scare in Jordan caused by
the news leak that two top Israeli military commanders predicted the
demise of the Hashemite regime is indicative of the ethnically induced
volatility of Jordanian politics.
In addition to the Palestinians in Jordan, there would be the
Palestinians who are Israeli citizens but unable to overcome their third-class
citizenship status in a state that insists on being a “Jewish state”. In
Greater Palestine we have not only the Palestinian predicament, but
Jewish and East Jordanians dilemmas as well, for the presence of a
Palestinian majority confronts both Jordan and Israel, and will ever more so,
with a central question of how to co-exist with this majority. Both
states have been apprehensive that a viable Palestinian state only would
embolden the Palestinians under their tutelage to press them for
fundamental political concessions. That apprehension explains why they have
never genuinely contemplated permitting the emergence of such a state.
Seeing that a Palestinian state is untenable in the tattered West Bank
geography, and that what was emerging was a South Africa-like apartheid
system, some have begun to revive the old idea of a bi-national,
Israeli-Palestinian state. But a tri-ethnic state in Greater Palestine is no
different in its requisites from that of a bi-national state and, it
can be argued, presents superior opportunities. Such an expanded state
would be large enough for everybody; no one has to be squeezed out. It
allows people to move into places where their heart or their pocket feels
at home. The question of return of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan
becomes a matter of normal movement within a country. With a decrease in
competition for space, the Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon
would be given the option of finding home in the proposed state. The
Palestinian right of return for the major refugee clustres thus can be
resolved as regards residence, identity and political status,
 rendering other aspects, such as compensation, easier to tackle.
The only other way the refugees’ right of return could possibly be met
is to implement the 1947 UN partition plan. This plan, in fact, is the
sole international legal document that defines borders for Israeli and
Palestinian states; the land that Israel has come to control by
military conquest. Israel needs to choose between demographic advantage and
state size; to insist on having both is to invite strife. In a state
within 1947 borders Jews would be a majority, but Israel is not satisfied
with the area it controlled on the eve of the 1967 War. A tri- ethnic
state in Greater Palestine would enable Jews to live in Eretz Israel
(Land of Israel), as Israelis call Greater Palestine. Jews for millennia
lived amongst Arabs and Muslims and thrived economically and culturally
in their midst. Yes, they experienced episodes of misfortune, which
often struck the Arabs themselves too. The creation of Israel disrupted a
largely admirable, long-shared cultural history. Anti-Semitism is
 a European-spawned demon that caught in its claws first the Jews and
then the Palestinians. The fog of present hostilities prevents
envisioning a tolerant, inclusive political order; however, it is not, or at
least we must believe it is not, impossible. Israel bears a special
responsibility for bringing it about; the choices it makes will largely
determine the course of the conflict.
With my sincere admiration for Jordan’s historical heritage, I should
think that it is loftier for East Jordanians to belong to a state that
encompasses Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. The Hashemites began
their career on a high rhetorical note of pan-Arabism, which has diminished
into the parochial and divisive, “Jordan first”. They and Zionism
divided up Greater Palestine and undertook to suppress Palestinian
nationalism. In the process, a deep Palestinian-East Jordanian cleavage evolved
that kept the two peoples suspicious of each other. Yet, considering
the cultural affinities between them, in the long run they could forge a
common identity, although the example of Iraq must be borne in mind.
The Palestinians must reassure the East Jordanians that they won’t simply
reverse roles. They ought to recall how their hyper-nationalist
displays after the 1967 War frightened East Jordanians, and how the government
harnessed that fear in 1970 to end the Palestinian military
 and political presence in Jordan.
The vision of a single state in Greater Palestine could only come to
fruition through Palestinian mass mobilisation. The Palestine Liberation
Organisation (PLO) needs to reconstitute itself as a non-corrupt
Palestine Reunification Organisation (PRO). The PLO, even though it had
earned the support of the majority of Palestinians, was never able to
harness Palestinian energies. It became absorbed in local battles where the
leadership happened to be headquartered. The latest manifestation of
this tendency is the ascent of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the decline
of the PLO, and the concomitant inattention to Palestinians outside
Israeli-controlled territory. Whether this development was engendered by
the maladroit behaviour of leaders or by deliberate policy to downgrade
the “right of return”, the net outcome has been the weakening of the
position of those under occupation as well of those in exile.
The PA thus finds itself at the mercy of politically driven foreign
aid, which can be withheld when the authority does not comply with the
political diktat of donors. In Jordan, the Palestinians, among other
things, were blocked from publicly demonstrating their support for the
recent Intifada. The time has come to rectify this structural failure. Two
West Bank intellectuals, Ali Jarbawi and George Giacaman, have advocated
one option that deserves serious debate. On their suggestion, the PA,
whose main function of negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state
has been superseded, ought to be disbanded while the PLO is
reconstituted. The West Bank and Gaza could be led once more by informal
institutions, as was the case before the Oslo accords.
“Armed struggle”, however, would have to be re-evaluated since the aim
is not to separate, but put together. A strategy of non-violence,
according to Palestinian and international activists, is more likely to
convince the current adversaries of the sincerity of Palestinian
intentions, to garner global allies, and to keep the Palestinians themselves
engaged. What I want to underline is that President Mahmoud Abbas, with his
international credibility and forthrightness, could be an ideal
shepherd for a creative, peaceful resistance. But he still clings to the
belief or hope that diplomacy and reason could bring about a Palestinian
state and the right of return, without first mustering the strength
necessary for negotiating such a political feat. The rationalist “engineer of
Oslo” would render his people a lasting service, if he drew a different
conclusion. The Palestinians have before them great counsellors: Nelson
Mandela and the African National Congress.
This proposal of a single state in Greater Palestine hardly arises out
of some wide-eyed optimism. It is easy to stack up objections regarding
practicality, or shrug shoulders at its apparent utopia. But if it’s
impractical, why hasn’t something more practical materialised? And if
it’s a utopia, mustn’t it be weighed against the dystopia of interminable
* The writer is an associate professor of political science at the
American University in Cairo