One State, Two States: The Goal is Restorative Justice

A conversation concerning the desirability of one or two states for Israel and Palestine must start from clarity as to the goals we seek.  The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship affirms that the outcome must be grounded in Restorative Justice, providing justice for all, Israelis as well as Palestinians, achieved in a context that includes movement towards reconciliation between the parties to the conflict.

A two-state solution could provide justice for all, Israelis and Palestinians.  But the form of two-state outcome that could produce that result is adamantly opposed by the current leadership in Israel.  Through the occupation, the Israeli government is establishing “facts on the ground” that make it very difficult for there to be two separate states in any form other than bantustans.

A one-state solution could likewise produce an outcome that provides justice for all, Israelis and Palestinians.  But that form of one-state solution, where all have equal rights, would also be roundly rejected by the current Israeli leadership, since such a state would lose its essentially Jewish character.  Alternatively, a single state could be Jewish, like today’s Israel, apartheid, with Palestinians as second class citizens. Such an outcome would be rejected by Palestinians and by the international community and should be rejected by all American Christians.    

Alongside a choice between one state or two state options, there have been discussions over the years of alternative patterns of power-sharing, operating in the conceptual space between one and two states.   In various forms of federal arrangements, these have specified particular areas of authority assigned to each of the parties in particular locations, under a broader framework which maintains the overall authority and spells out the details of what each is authorized to do.  Recently, this discussion has been pushed in new directions by suggesting that this governing authority might be assigned not on the basis of geography but of citizenship of the individual.  This would mean that Israel would have authority over all Jews throughout Mandate Palestine, while the Palestinian government would have a similar authority over all Palestinians. This approach has been spelled out in a recent book, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States (Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg, editors). 

Such intermediate positions, whether in the form of federations or of parallel states, have the potential to provide good outcomes – to provide Restorative Justice – to both Israelis and to Palestinians.  In fact, it is hard to imagine any just outcome which did not build on one or more of these power-sharing arrangements.  Achieving that outcome, however, would require agreement on the part of both Israeli and Palestinian leadership that is most unlikely to be freely given by current leaders as to the allocation of authority between them, and the ways in which such decisions are made. 

This means that one could envisage either one state or two states or some intermediate solution where the rights of both Palestinians and Jews are equally respected; but each of those options is strongly opposed by the current Israeli leadership. In this situation, discussion as to which would be better is a waste of time, the counterpart to “peace negotiations,” which have long been a smoke screen enabling the occupation to continue to grow through endless years of talking.

This formulation should make clear that questioning PC(USA)’s commitment to a two-state solution in no sense implies an endorsement of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.  Rather it is based on a recognition that, as it is being implemented by the current Israeli leadership, the two-state solution is incapable of delivering an outcome which provides justice for all.  The escalation of Palestinian home demolitions, the on-going expansion of settlements and the continuing policy of harassment of Palestinians in Area C (61% of the West Bank, including most of the Jordan Valley) all demonstrate an unrelenting commitment to expanding the breadth and depth of the occupation.  Policy pronouncements by several leaders in the current Israeli government have expressed a commitment to continue those policies, with strong expressions by many that they have no intention of allowing for a separate and viable Palestinian state.                           

Any movement towards a solution of the Israel/Palestine conflict based on principles of restorative justice will require a change in the mindset of many people: in Israel, in Palestine, and in the United States.  Ultimately, such changes in people’s minds and hearts are the work of the Holy Spirit.  Seeking to bring about that type of change through the use of force will be counterproductive, entrenching those most firmly committed to winning by overpowering and defeating the other side.     

If changes are required in the mindset of Israelis to bring them to accept an outcome that respects the rights of Palestinians, change is also required of Palestinians.  It is true that there have been many statements over the years by Palestinian leaders, endorsed by those in the wider Arab and Muslim world, expressing a readiness to move towards full peaceful relations with Israel, if Palestinian rights in the West Bank and in Gaza are fully respected.  The lack of response on the part of the Israeli leadership has made it difficult for moderate Palestinians to maintain their commitment to a peaceful approach. Furthermore, not all Palestinians have expressed a willingness to reach such a settlement, and those who disagree have often been able to disrupt any progress towards just outcomes.  Corruption, nepotism, and political in-fighting have been continuing problems, made worse by external meddling in Palestinian affairs.  American churches must continue to encourage Palestinians to be consistent and persistent in their expressed willingness to enter into a just peace with Israel.

Two types of actions are called for on the part of American Christians and the US government to nurture the changes that are needed:                     

            a) Encouraging and supporting acts of reconciliation, in both micro (individual projects) and macro (larger policy) settings.  Such encouragement could include expressions and acts of solidarity as well as investments and financial incentives to reward steps in the right direction. 

            b) Imposing financial penalties and costs for moving in the wrong direction.  The most important of these fall under the headings, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.  Each of these (B, D and S) is now part of our denomination’s official policy towards Israel and Palestine.  It is more important than ever that they be implemented with increasing effectiveness and reach.                                        

Since the goal is not to overpower but to change the mindset, it is of great importance to combine actions of BDS with the work of reconciliation in ways that avoid adding to a “siege mentality.”  This means combining actions that challenge each side to change with continuing expressions of full commitment to the rights of all to live in security and in peace.                                        

Finally, if we are to move towards the changes in mindset required for Restorative Justice, some of the most important changes are required in the United State: among our political leaders, in the population at large, and among those in the church.  The worst set of policies from that point of view are ones that provide ever more military help to those engaged in the conflict.  Such military support only escalates the conflict, feeding the impression on each side that ultimately the result will be settled on the battlefield.  It will not.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine takes place in a region of the world increasingly fraught  with violence.  Israel finds itself surrounded by countries wrestling with terrorism.  It is understandable that Israelis feel threatened.  Yet their actions in relation to the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza cannot help but exacerbate the anger that their neighbors feel towards them.  The Palestinians and the Arab states as a whole have offered to Israel an opportunity to live in peace.  Israel has responded by making life ever more difficult for Palestinians in the territories captured in 1967.  Until the drive of the occupation is changed, it is hard to see any chance for restorative justice, and therefore for a meaningful peace between Israel and their neighbors.  A policy of BDS, which challenges the occupation, combined with encouragement and continuing positive incentives for both Israelis and Palestinians to engage in acts of reconciliation, provide the context for existing leaders to revise their thinking and for new leaders with a different mindset to come forward, which we see as offering the only meaningful pathway towards a just and lasting peace.