1. The real question beyond the made-up Rashida Tlaib controversy
By now, all political players have already found their place in the manufactured battle surrounding Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib’s latest comments on Israel. Republicans were quick to find signs of anti-Semitism (there was none), Trump took to Twitter to admonish Tlaib and ask “what would happen if I ever said what she said” (he’s said worse things and everyone saw what happened), and the Democratic leadership went into full support mode, to defend Tlaib while accusing Trump of of “gross misrepresentation” and falling right into his trap.
Lost in the debate over a half sentence taken out of context (though its meaning in original context was also far from clear), were two real-world ideas raised by Tlaib, ideas that actually should be debated in the pro-Israel world.
First is the implicit claim made by Tlaib that the tragedy of the Holocaust was the sole reason behind the creation of the modern State of Israel. The claim ignores decades of Zionist activity prior to the mass murder of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis and undercuts the basic idea of a Jewish right to have a national state in their historical homeland. To be clear, it would be ridiculous to expect Tlaib, an American of Palestinian descent who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, to adopt or accept the Zionist narrative. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the fact that in the Democratic Party there are those who view the historical roots of the State of Israel in a different way than do Israelis, American Jews and most members of the Congress.
But the bigger point ignored in the heated debate was the issue Tlaib was originally trying to address: her support for a one-state solution.
The term may be a bit confusing. One-staters reject the idea of dividing the land currently held by Israel into two states: one, the Jewish state of Israel living within the borders that were roughly in place before the 1967 war, and the other, an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and parts of East Jerusalem. The idea behind the one-state solution, by contrast, is that since division into two states is either impractical (as Tlaib has been arguing) or undesirable, both sides would be better off sharing the entire land as one country and giving equal rights to Israelis and Palestinians (who currently live under Israeli rule but are not citizens and cannot vote). A major critique of this idea is that a one-person-one-vote system within a unified state would quickly lead to an Arab majority, in effect putting an end to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.
2. Is there support for a one-state solution in the U.S.?
No, not at all. Tlaib is, in fact, the first member of Congress to come out publicly for a one-state solution. Consecutive administrations have rejected the notion along with the vast majority of major political actors, most of the Jewish community (except for the very far left and right margins) and most of the Palestinian and Arab activists in America.
But wait a minute, aren’t we forgetting Trump, who famously said, “I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like”? And isn’t it Jared Kushner who won’t utter the term two-state in his “deal of the century”? And was it not the GOP that dropped the reference to a two-state solution from its platform before the 2016 elections?
It’s true that—even if they were only paying lip service—Trump, the Republican party and Netanyahu’s Likud in Israel are clearly moving away from the idea of two states, which would require Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But by dropping their endorsement of two states they are not becoming one-staters, at least not the kind Tlaib is. For them, the solution would be a status quo state: an independent Jewish state of Israel ruling both the pre- and post-1967 lands, with full rights for Jews and Arabs living in the pre-1967 areas, and no political rights for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. There are many names one could use to describe this solution, but that would just open a whole other debate. Either way, the one-state solution as a proposal in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal rights in the same country, is currently shared by very few. Tlaib, it seems, is about to become the leader of the pro-one-state movement in America.
3. But that might change
One-staters have never had a serious following, not in the region nor in the U.S.
But changes on the ground that have challenged the feasibility of a two-state solution could make a change. With an Israeli government unwilling to embrace the two-state solution and moving toward annexation of the West Bank and with an American administration that believes the term two states is toxic and “means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians,” as Kushner put it, the idea of giving up on division of the land and moving forward with a one-state solution could have its moment in the sun.
Think of a post-“deal of the century” situation. The U.S. has put forward a peace plan that, for the first time, refrains from calling on Israelis and Palestinians to draw a border and divide the land into two independent states, the plan will likely be rejected by Palestinians, and now what? With no other solution in sight, the one-state idea, or perhaps the one-state fantasy, all of a sudden seems to make sense.
4. Dems could be fighting two fronts to save the two-state solution
On the issue of Israel, Tlaib is an outlier and her embrace of a one-state solution is not part of the Democratic thinking on foreign policy. For most Democrats, especially those in Congress, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution is a key issue they’re prepared and willing to fight for. From Chuck Schumer to Eliot Engel, from Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders, all are staunch supporters of the idea, and all are now facing a double challenge: First, the need to reclaim the two-state solution as official U.S. policy in the era of Kushner’s plan. And second, the much smaller but potentially growing threat from the left, that has given up on a two-state solution and is looking fondly on post-national one-state ideas such as Tlaib’s.
5. The problem with the one-state idea
The problem with Tlaib’s version of a one-state solution is that it won’t work—at least not for Israelis.
Ideally, a one-state solution would be a utopian country in which Israelis and Palestinians live in intertwined communities, share the resources and decide collectively, through a democratic process, on issues relating to the future of their joint state. In her interview, Tlaib talked about a “safe haven” for Jews and about “love and equality.” But these aren’t necessarily the attributes that come to mind when discussing a one-state solution.
First, there will be extremists on both sides that see a one-state solution as an opportunity to exclude the other side. Would an Arab-majority state allow Jews to keep on living in West Bank settlements? If the majority is Jewish, would they allow Palestinians living abroad to return to the country?
And then there’s the bigger issue: A one-state solution would necessarily lead to the end of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, the end of the Zionist dream. Now, some would be just fine with that as long as Jews are assured equal rights in this future state. For many others, living as a minority, even if equal rights are ensured, isn’t what the State of Israel is about.