Bi-nationalism é the idea of two national groups living in one state — is becoming a realistic solution in the face of illegal Israeli settlements. The settlements, which are strategically spread throughout Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, have made physical separation impossible. And while many bi-nationalists thought that a two-state solution would be the prerequisite to this inevitable reality, expanding illegal settlements may be pushing the two sides into living together more intimately and sooner than could have been imagined.
Illegal Israeli settlements have long been recognized as a thorn in the side of Middle East peace. They’ve been referred to as war crimes by International Committee of the Red Cross head, Rene Kosirnik, since the Geneva Convention forbids resettling individuals on occupied lands. Even then-President Ronald Reagan proposed a peace plan in 1982 that required freezing such settlements. “The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed,” Reagan said.
Twenty years later, the settlement building continues, and leaders from both Labor and Likud have never taken a reprieve since occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. In fact, there was more settlement building under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak than there was under rightwing predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israel’s Peace Now. Barak é often credited for his “generous” offer to Palestinians at Cam! p David é clearly reneged on prior declarations of freezing settlement expansion.
Numerous reasons have been cited by Israelis for the need to build Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, including the need for more housing to accommodate Jewish “immigrants.” But last year, the Israeli Housing Ministry admitted that almost a quarter of all units built by the government in the West Bank between 1989 and 1992 had never been occupied.
Jewish settlers will tell you that their presence in the West Bank, known as Judea and Samaria to religious Jews, is necessary because God said the land must belong to the Jews even if it means ridding the land of its inhabitants.
Some say that the settlements in the Occupied Territories are necessary to protect Israel’s security. However, Binyamin Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a prominent voice in the rightwing Likud party stated that “In strategic terms, the settlements are of no importance.” Adding, “they constitute an obstacle, an insurmountable obstacle to the establishment of an independent Arab State west of the river Jordan.”
But nobody expressed the objective of settlements better than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who once urged that, “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours.”
Indeed, Sharon, Begin and other supporters of Israeli settlements are correct that a viable Palestinian Arab state cannot be established west of the river Jordan. The settlements and the exclusively Jewish bypass roads leading up to the settlements have left Palestinian areas looking like Swiss cheese.
It is doubtful that bi-nationalism was in the cards either. Bi-nationalism is perhaps the greatest fear of those who wish to maintain the Jewish character of Israel since Palestinians would become the majority.
However, short of transfer or the deportation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, an idea which has sadly gained the support of nearly 50% of Israelis, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. And in 2002, it is difficult to imagine that the world would sit by while truckloads of Palestinians are transported to neighboring countries.
I would also like to raise one interesting thought raised by a Jewish acquaintance. He said, “As long as there is a state which describes itself as ‘the state of the Jewish people,’ I cannot feel fully secure as a Jew elsewhere, and it is in my immediate interest to challenge this.”
Ultimately, there is no question that Israeli settlements have affected Palestinian daily life and impact long-term Palestinian developmental needs.
And this much is known: Palestinians aren’t leaving and Israelis aren’t leaving. They share the same land and the same natural resources. Their economies are linked. Israeli settlements have made physical separation impossible. The only solution is a democratic bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis live as equals and are forced to make it work.
Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.