Virginia Tilley: The One-State Solution
A breakthrough for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock (The University of Michigan Press – 2005)

by Sam Ayache

Virginia Tilley is an American academic specialized in the comparative study of racial and ethnic conflicts. She has been in charge of the South African project on Governance and Democracy at the Council for Research in Human Sciences. The comparison she makes – she is not the only one to have done so – between the bantustans of the South African apartheid regime and the status of Palestinian occupied Territories is based on her accurate knowledge of the situation in South Africa.

John Strawson of East London University (United Kingdom) is one of those who oppose any comparison between the State of Israel and the Apartheid regime. Strawson (1) promotes the Oslo Accords and advocates the recognition of the State of Israel. He criticizes Virginia Tilley's paper saying that she ignores religious tensions, non-existent in South Africa, but which run high in Palestine. He affirms that the context has bred religious extremism, also unknown in South Africa. He says that comparing South Africa to Palestine is casual, unhistorical, and ultimately unhelpful.

Has Mr Strawson indeed read Ms Tilley's work? The criticisms which he articulates are wholly unfounded. Ms Tilley explains that the devastating terror attacks are the result of Palestinian Bantustans, which are sealed vessels designed to doom the Palestinians to mounting poverty and social disintegration. Contrary to what Mr Strawson argues, Virginia Tilley correctly points to the root cause of the violence: social disintegration in Palestinian Bantustans are the breeding ground of violence and tensions in Palestine. She specifies that a Bantustan state could not possibly generate a stable peace.

Did Ms Tilley oppose the two state solution after the Oslo Accords I and II (1993 and 1995)? She says that the solution appeared as a possibility to some hopeful observers. But, when her book was published in 2005, Virginia considered that the solution was a fantasy theory involving non-existent conditions.

The book was published in 2005, shortly before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (September 2005) and long before Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Prime Minister launched the process of unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) aimed at securing the recognition of the State of Palestine by the international Community, i.e. the major powers represented in the United Nation System. True, the PA's move failed - as could have been foreseen - at the Security Council, but the PA received the support of a number of European Union diplomats in a vote at the UNESCO last November (2).

Ms Tilley wonders what part the European Union could play in order to counter the US policies of support to Israel, the organizing of the economic boycott of Israel, mentioning the resolutions voted at the European Parliament in 2002 and 2003. She thinks that the EU is no passive recipient of U.S. wishes. On that point at least, recent events in Libya show that she overestimated the EU's desires for independence.

And today, nothing has been solved: Salam Fayyad's approach has come to a dead end, mirroring all the previous attempts to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine in the framework of the Two state solution.

Since her book was published, Ms Tilley has been able to clarify her arguments in favour of the One state solution in various symposiums and particularly in a paper entitled A Palestinian Declaration of Independence: Implications for Peace

The two-state solution impasse

Virginia Tilley wishes to be objective. She observes that the different projects of two state solution do not fit in with realities on the ground. Israeli colonization in the West Bank has considerably developed in comparison with the 1990s. The very dense grid of colonization has transformed the West Bank, its infrastructures, its economy and the living conditions of all its inhabitants, Jewish and Arab. It has made the two state solution unfeasible. To support this observation, Virginia Tilley quotes President Bush's April 14th 2004 speech …. The realities on the ground and in the region have changed greatly over the last several decades and any final settlement must take into account those realities and be agreeable to the parties.

Taking into account the realities on the ground and in the region makes Virginia Tilley's approach original and she does not bind herself to accepting the confined framework of UN sponsored accords, which are far from those realities. These objective conditions have reduced to nil the viability of a Palestinian state de facto, subjected to the state of Israel and totally deprived of the means to exist as an independent state. Ms Tilley concluded that the one state solution, excluding any other possibility, has been imposed for practical reasons taking realities into account.

Facing Facts

For Virginia Tilley Facing Facts is the primary concern (it is the title of the first chapter) rather than the trusting of the Oslo Accord promises which she calls the skilled diplomatic maneuvering by Rabin.

Does partitioning Palestine afford the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The first plan for partition was mapped out at the UN as early as 1947, with the blessing of the West's major powers, along with Stalin’s. But it ignored the will of the Palestinian people opposed to partition. Since 1948, other plans for partition were devised and constantly updated during the Camp David accords (1978), the Madrid Conference (1991), the Oslo Accords (1993 and 1995) and in the various road maps imagined by US presidents – both Republican and Democrat – one after the other over the recent decades.

Virginia Tilley’s assessment is starkly clear: the peace processes defined subsequently to the Oslo Accords have run into a dead end and the road maps for peace have led nowhere.

On the basis of this assessment and of the reality of the country, Ms Tilley considers that any two state solution should be abandoned, because such a solution is not viable and does not solve one single cause of the conflict: neither the Golan issue (a Syrian territory annexed by the State of Israel) nor the issue of East Jerusalem (reunified and annexed by the State of Israel), let alone the fundamental issue of the right to return for Palestinian refugees of 1948, and of all those who have been expelled since that date.

The collective myth of an honest broker

United Nation Security Council Resolution 446 (March 1979) affirms that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal according to international law and an obstacle to reach a just and lasting peace in the Middle East

Virginia Tilley explains that UN resolutions 242 and 238, accepted by US foreign policies have created The collective myth of an 'honest broker'. But she calls attention to the Bush administration's move in 2004 publicly stamping approval on the « larger Jewish settlement blocs while unilaterally removing from negotiations the Palestinians’ right of return within Israel”.

It is common knowledge that UN resolutions dealing with Palestinian rights are never implemented. What is the use of those resolutions, except for easing the conscience of the major powers, which Ms Tilley calls a diplomatic fig leaf?

Deliberately encouraged by each US administration and the Israeli government one after the other, colonization in the West Bank has been stepped up irrespective of UN resolutions.

Virginia Tilley substantiates her argument that Israeli settlements have always been part and parcel of the prospect of colonization of Palestine which is basic to Zionism. Settlements in the West Bank have always been funded by official agencies such as the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization or ministries- such as the ministry of housing, of industry and commerce, of defense, of transport and education. These agencies have always been associated to, if not fully part of, the Israeli State's administration, ever since it was founded.

Instead of restricting her arguments to these general and widely recognized factors, Virginia Tilley prefers to cite the precise example of the project called Bloc Rehan crafted in 1988, whose implementation zone straddled the Green Line pioneering the annexation by Israel of a sizeable portion of the West Bank: ... in 1988 the Jewish Agency reported that the region known to Arabs as Wadi Ara and on Zionist maps as Nahal Eron remains with a sparse Jewish population noting that an area of about 180 square kilometers is inhabited by less than 1,000 Jews amidst an Arab population of 160,000.

Virginia Tilley gives the details of the financial set-up of the Bloc Rehan: The total projected cost of the Rehan Bloc was US$7,982,000. The WZO alone, in charge of settlement construction on the West Bank side, was to supply $2,975,000 of this amount. But because the project straddled the Green Line, each component of the project had to be orchestrated through a strategic collaboration. The Jewish Agency’s legal setup confined its authority to Israel’s side of the Green Line; the WZO would have to supervise settlements on the West Bank side. Other agencies, however, could operate on both sides.

The project was carried out with the assent of Israeli authorities: a report of the Department in charge of settlements appointed the Israeli government in office at the time the task of funding the education chapter to the tune of US $150,000 out of a total US $425,000, the balance to be obtained from the regional settler council, the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Education.

Besides, Virginia Tilley has provided ample proof that the State of Israel gives support to the settlers in the form of individual loans at ridiculously low rates to acquire housing, to invest in commerce and industry, in transports and job creation, in social and educational structures for children, clinics, sports and cultural centers and so on. In the building of these infrastructures, housing units and roads, the State of Israel has invested billions of dollars in the West Bank settlements.

Since the end of the 1990s, the West Bank's economy has almost entirely relied on its exchanges with Israel: In 1999, 97 percent of West Bank exports went to Israel. That statistic does not include the private Israeli investment in Jewish settlements, which includes shopping malls, cinemas, and industry.

The State of Israel has no political will to give up these infrastructures, or even to exchange them for a promise of lasting peace. Ms Tilley notes that when Israel withdrew from Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt, Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, organized the blasting of the Yamit settlement (located on Egyptian territory) rather than see Jewish buildings handed out to Arabs. In the West Bank, blasting Israeli settlements would turn the country into a wasteland and the State of Israel starkly refuses to let Jewish people be administrated by Arab authorities.

Virginia Tilley writes: Having Jews live in the biblical territory under Palestinian (alien) rule would only return the settlers to the condition of Jewish life under the Romans, the Babylonians, or any of the unreliable, oppressive, and sometimes lethally dangerous alien rulers in Jewish collective memory through two millennia. Such a prospect is viewed with fear and anathema.

Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has facilitated settlements in the West Bank.

Many observers consider that Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is an encouraging example of what should be done to achieve the two-state solution. The Israeli withdrawal, announced by Ariel Sharon as early as 2003, was achieved at the end of 2005, shortly after Ms Tilley's book was published. Here is what she thinks of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip: .... withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is both politically desirable and feasible for Israel. Sharon is indeed one of those keenly aware that withdrawing from Gaza will in several ways facilitate Israel’s hold on the West Bank.

If the Gaza Strip was part of British Mandate Palestine, Virginia Tilley notes that Zionism was never much attracted by this portion of Palestine, as the Gaza Strip did not have the same symbolic value as the West Bank. Contrary to the West Bank, which Zionist call Judea and Samaria to link it to the biblical tale of the legendary kingdoms of David and Solomon, the Gaza Strip was never part of any Judean or Israeli kingdom in the antiquity.

Besides, settlements in the Gaza Strip were small and involved few people. In 2005, the Jewish population established in the Gaza Strip numbered some 7,800 compared with over one million Palestinians. This demographic difference facilitated the transfer of the Jewish population – the Sharon administration however had to resort to force against reluctant settlers.

The territorial basis for a viable Palestinian state no longer exists

In 2005, when Ms Tilley's book was published, the two state solution - which was to be the completion of the partition plans formulated as early as 1947 – had already been made unfeasible because of the Israeli settlement grid in the West Bank. As Ms Tilley had foreseen, the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip at the end of 2005, far from ending Israeli settlements in the West Bank only boosted the settling drive. As of 2005, the case of East Jerusalem raised in itself an array of questions because of the implementation of a special law of annexation of the city to the State of Israel and of the settlement of numerous Israelis in the eastern part of the Old City.

In 2005, Virginia Tilley explained: At this writing, these territories hold some 230 settlements and some four hundred thousand Jewish settlers (about 10 percent of Israel’s population). Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and considers them as part of Eretez Israel (the land of Israel), Israeli sovereign territory….An Israeli withdrawal from the Golan engages the same questions as other regions – questions of ideology, security, and especially water (the Golan’s aquifer is crucial to Israel).

Since 2005, the situation has simply gone from bad to worse. In 2008, 192,000 Israelis were living in East Jerusalem with an estimated Arab population of 208,000. In 2009, a little less than 500,000 Israeli settlers had settled in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Estimates dated 2012 indicate that the half-million settlers benchmark was overtaken with 310,000 settlers in the West Bank and more than 200,000 Israeli people living in East Jerusalem where 270,000 Arab people still live.

In 2005, Virginia Tilley put forth two arguments showing the two state solution impasse: The Jewish settlements always recognized by the international community as an « obstacle to peace have accomplished their purpose : the territorial basis for a viable Palestinian state no longer exists…The two-state option has been eliminated as a practical solution in two senses. First and most graphically, Jewish settlements have carved Palestinian territory into a vestige too small to sustain a viable national society…By the end of the 1990s, however, the settlements were major urban complexes burrowed deep into Palestinian territory…230,000 settlers were embedded in the region, with jobs, children, social networks and full cultural lives… The second sense in which the two-state solution has died is that even if a Palestinian state were declared in this dismembered enclave, it can bring continuing instability. The resulting Palestinian statelet would be blocked off physically from the Israeli economy, its major cities would be cut off from each other, and its government would be unable to control the territory’s water resources, develop its agriculture, or manage its trade with neighboring states. It would comprise little more than a sealed vessel of growing poverty and demoralization.”

This 2005 balance sheet showing growing poverty and demoralization is the one which best depicts the situation in the Gaza Strip in 2012.

Reverting to the 1947 borders would be political suicide for Zionism

Virginia Tilley explains the reasons of Israeli leaders' opposition to any reversal to the 1947 borders: ...Menachim Begin asserted that Israel’s withdrawing to the 1967 border would be 'national suicide', Golda Meir denounced such a withdrawal as 'treasonable', and Abba Eban said that the 1967 border carried a 'memory of Auschwitz'.

Indeed, the two state solution would imply that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borderlines but this withdrawal clashes with the bases of Zionism which Ms Tilley coins as ethno-nationalism.

Ms Tilley notes that no court of the State of Israel ever agreed to recognize the existence of Israeli nationality: according to the law, the State of Israel only recognizes Jewish citizens who enjoy special rights (concerning landed property, housing and education subsidies) or Arab and non-Jewish (enjoying none of those rights). Blurring the lines between belonging to a nation and belonging to a religion, Zionism is founded on the supposed existence of a Jewish nation; the other nations are to recognize the right of this Jewish nation to have a Jewish state. Besides, this basic feature of Zionism accounts for the aggressive aspect of debates on upholding the Jewish character of the State of Israel which considers itself necessary as a vital sanctuary for the Jews in a world devastated by anti-Semitism.

Ms Tilley asks: If the two-state option is permanently crippled by the settlement grid, how can the conflict be resolved and the Middle East stabilized? The solution lies elsewhere…

Again, she quotes G. Bush's April 14th 2004 speech: The United States is strongly committed and I am strongly committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state.

And she concludes: This phrasing reflected the writers’ better understanding that is precisely the Jewishness of the Jewish state that is now on the table. For if a Jewish settlement in the West Bank has already expanded too far, then a Palestinian state is no longer viable, and the two-state solution promises only gathering crisis and possible explosion. And if the only alternative to that explosion is the one-state solution, then Zionism itself is approaching a crisis.

Ms Tilley devotes part of her book to the internecine rifts that have torn at the fabric of Zionism, a heterodox movement woven with disparate threads since it came into being. First she notes a growing polarization of Zionism pitting the liberal-secularists against the religious-nationalists, sometimes called neo-zionists who, she says, urge the settlements’ expansion toward a theocratic, territorially maximalist, and ethnically exclusive vision of Israel. And some extremists, whose uncompromising positions forbid any peaceful solution whatever, advocate mass expulsion of all the Palestinians from the West Bank. The power of the latter is spreading not only to circles of the Israeli government but especially under the form of powerful lobby with the US ruling elites. Ms Tilley insists on the fact that it is a Zionist lobby and not a Jewish lobby, many Jewish intellectuals like Noam Chomsky being opposed to Zionism and the Zionist lobby on its side being led by Christian Zionists connected to televangelists such as Pat Roberson and the ultra-conservative network of Fox-News.

In her analysis of the political agenda of the US neo-conservatives who support Israeli settlements, Virginia Tilley quotes an astonishingly relevant report, written by a Oded Yinon, published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organization. The report explicitly endorsed Arab-state fragmentation or « dissolution as Israel’s modus operandi”:

Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, and is already following this track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas, such as Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present-day Lebanon…This state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area in the long run, and that aim is already within our reach today.

The quote continues: Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic / religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities : Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shiite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.

The threats towards the fragmentation of Arab States were therefore clearly defined as early as 1982.

Virginia Tilley concludes her book on two important points.

She pays homage to the forerunners of the One state solution, the Ihud (Union) group formed in 1942 around Judah Magnes and Martin Buber. Moreover, as an appendix, she publishes the platform of Ihud which explains it adheres to the Zionist movement insofar as this seeks the establishment of the Jewish National Home for the Jewish People in Palestine, but regards a Union between the Jewish and Arab peoples as essential to the up building of Palestine and of cooperation between the Jewish world and the Arab world in all branches of life.

The founders of Ihud, opposed to the creation of a Jewish State excluding Arabs, the content of the National Home in the framework of close collaboration with the Arabs. If the platform of Ihud, always obscured by official Zionism, is so important, it is because it situates the current debate around a one state Palestine as the continuation of the democratic traditions of the West Jews among whom Judah Magnes, who, as early as 1917, had been active alongside socialist Eugene V. Debbs against the USA's entering the war and to support the Soviet revolution, had been one of the major figures.

At the end of her book, Ms Tilley lists the 9 points which she thinks could pre-condition the formation of a single state over the entire territory of Palestine, guaranteeing every citizen equal rights:

-Sustain the Law of Return for Jews, reflecting the special historical relationship of Jews and confirming Israel as a sanctuary.

-Detach any additional privileges (automatic citizenship and housing benefits) from the Law of Return. Revise the Citizenship Law to include ethnic-neutral criteria for naturalization.

-Curtail the activities of the WZO and the Jewish Agency while sustaining their activities supporting Jewish Diaspora life.

-Establish some parity principle for Palestinian return. Second and third generation Palestinians not born in the territory should be held to the same naturalization criteria applied to prospective immigrant Jews.

-Eliminate and prohibit all ethnic provisions regarding land tenure, allowing Arabs and all non-Jews full access to the state’s land.

-Abolish ethnic differences regarding military service, educational, health, or housing benefits.

-Transfer public authority over planning and development to non-Jewish-national state agencies. Restrict the domestic activities of the Jewish Agency to managing and promoting Jewish ethnic and religious matters, such as promoting cultural events and managing libraries and historical projects.

-Insure free access by all citizens and foreign pilgrims to holy sites.

Eliminate all national identities except the state identity as a status recognized under state law. Through the usual modes of iconography, new text-books and schooling, affirm and inculcate a sense of dignity and vision of the state identity as a cohesive multiethnic national identity.

This is a praiseworthy effort and she of course is aware of the obstacles to be overcome:

Fixed at a sensitive nerve centre of the Middle-East – the “holy land of three religions- the Zionist project of Jewish statehood has culminated in a powder keg for international security and a course of doom for Israel…Yet voices are raised to avert that disaster…”

Virginia Tilley considers hers is one of the voices which are being raised to prevent the powder keg from exploding.

1. An article published in May 2006 based on an intervention delivered to the NGO Avocats Sans Frontières (Defense counsels without borders) (December 2005)

2. Admitting Palestine to become a UNESCO member state resulted in the suspension of several dozen million dollar contribution that the USA was to pay to the Organization. The State of Israel also suspended its own contribution to UNESCO, froze dozens of million dollars of funds that should have been transferred to Palestine and started the process of cancelling its UNESCO membership. The Israeli government also decided to step up the settlement process by building 1,650 additional housing units in East Jerusalem plus another 350 housing units in the West Bank.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )