Isratine Revisited: An Old-New Idea for the Old-New Land

The late, unlamented, former leader of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, was not known for his innovative ideas.  However, in one instance, what he had to say deserves a second look.  I refer to his essay on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, published as an op-ed in the NY Times on January 21, 2009, in which he proposed the creation of the state of “Isratine”, a one-state solution to this longstanding battle of rights (and wrongs done).

Admittedly, his essay is deeply flawed.  For example, his call for the repatriation of all Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948 as a prerequisite for peace would spell the doom of Israel as a Jewish-majority state.  That is a non-starter.

But, in many other ways, his essay shows remarkable sensitivity to how we Jews view our history leading up to the creation of the State of Israel and how Palestinians view theirs.

What is significant about the essay is that, years after its publication, the idea of a one-state solution deserves serious reconsideration, given the untrammeled religio-nationalist aspirations of large swaths of the Israeli and Palestinian populations and the apparent inability of leaders on both sides to achieve any kind of breakthrough to the political stalemate.

On the Israeli side, the continued growth of its settlements in the West Bank—and the fervent, if not zealous attachment of many of the settlers to staying put—have seemingly made an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories all but impossible, or possible only at the cost of a near civil war.  Even though a majority of Israelis remain committed to the two-state solution, the continued building of settlements makes an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank increasingly seem like a remote possibility.

And on the Palestinian side, a resurgent Hamas, still committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Arab state, can draw ideological nourishment from the Islamic successes of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt and elsewhere.  In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority languishes, caught between the ever-expanding Israeli settlements, the desire of its own people for liberation from the crippling Israeli occupation, and the seemingly futile pursuit of the two-state solution.  For many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the possibility of the two-state solution seems less and less feasible, and if achieved, it could be implemented only at the cost of much internecine war.

By contrast, “Isratine”—a Jewish majority state and a Palestinian majority state, in a federated or confederated association—may offer a way out of this impasse if it provides for restitution and/or resettlement of Palestinian refugees and enables many of the Israeli settlements to remain in situ.

It is ironic that Qaddafi, brutal dictator that he was, should have been so visionary about what the future for Israelis and Palestinians could hold:

“Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine.”

If the present interdependence and the historical fact of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence guide their leaders, and if they can see beyond the horizon of the recent violence and thirst for revenge toward a long-term solution, then these two peoples will come to realize, I hope sooner rather than later, that living under one roof is the only option for a lasting peace.