The recent statement made by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei concerning a binational state and resulting in such an uproar was not only a response to developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations, but also a response to growing debate inside Palestinian society and among various Palestinian political tendencies.
But before exploring the reasons for the statement, it is important to first clarify any misunderstanding. While many interpreted Qurei’s comments to be an expression of support for a binational state, this was not at all the context of his statement. Qurei was only intending to warn Israelis and the international community that if Israel’s settlement expansion policy continues on its current trajectory, it will remove in practice the possibility for an independent Palestinian state and with it a solution based on two states; thus Palestinians would have only one remaining option to achieve their rights as equal citizens of a country: the one state solution. Qurei’s warning stemmed, then, from his commitment to the two state solution, which remains the official position of the Palestinian people and their leadership.
Indeed, the binational state is not a solution. On the one hand, it contradicts a key element of Israel’s objectives, i.e., to have a Jewish state, and on the other it contradicts a fundamental Palestinian goal, which is to have a state of their own. That is why this option has never been promoted by the Palestinian leadership and will never be its chosen policy. It could, however, be the practical outcome of current Israeli practices in the occupied territories, the wall and settlement expansion, which are delaying the establishment of a Palestinian state and making its prospects dimmer by the day. These changes happening right under our nose will likely be irreversible: as the saying goes, a ton of regret never made an ounce of difference.
Inside the Palestinian territories, there has been a very vigorous debate on whether or not the Palestinian Authority should be maintained or dismantled. In the perception of Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, as it was established through the Oslo accords, was the nucleus and initial stage of the independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Now, a growing number of Palestinians are suggesting that because Israel insists on narrowing the physical boundaries of the Palestinian Authority and leaving it with no authority to speak of, this authority might eventually become a "middleman" for the Israeli occupation in the territories. These people are suggesting that, either this authority be ensured the prospect of developing into an actual state, or that it be disbanded and Israel forced to carry the full burden of occupation with no facade of a Palestinian companion. This step would also force Israel to face the consequences of shrinking the Palestinian dream of statehood, an outcome that will harm Palestinians but will also do great damage to Israelis.
The shortsighted right wing government of Israel, driven by ideological motives, is leading the two sides towards strategic options that are different from those that have characterized the conflict for decades. And once we reach that point, everyone is going to regret it dearly, in particular those who dreamed of peace and coexistence, because a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel is the prerequisite for a comprehensive, stable and lasting peace in the Middle East.