Israel’s effective annexation of the West Bank, and its refusal to define its territorial borders, has brought it and Palestine to a point in history where neither the one state nor the two state solutions can work. Hannah Arendt offers another way.
Current discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process finds itself caught between two alternatives – the one state and the two state solutions. While the State of Israel refuses to define its borders, and while two peoples claim ownership of the same land, peace is not possible. Reflections on the solution to the conflict therefore return again and again to these two options. Yet the problem for the present is that neither of these are any longer real solutions; history has rendered them both obsolete and continued discussion is both academic and a distraction from reality. As Hannah Arendt predicted in the 1940s, the partition of Palestine has resulted in the destruction of the Arab Palestinian entity. Certainly, Israel’s effective annexation of the West Bank has ensured that Palestine cannot now function as a viable autonomous state.
This reality leaves us with a more complex problem than that with which Arendt was engaged. At every stage of Israel’s takeover of Palestine it has simultaneously demanded that the world recognise its right to exist while consciously and systematically eroding the possibility of Palestine’s existence. Our two options for peace have been reduced to one – another one state solution; that of an Israeli state built on the complete annihilation of Palestine. Such is the logical end of the historical trajectory between 1948 and now. Palestine will cease to exist; leaving a Palestinian population dispossessed of its land and trapped permanently as a stateless people in a state that refuses to recognise its right to exist.
Arendt’s criticism of this was that the very idea of the Jewish State was a misguided response to European antisemitism and would become, when realised, a product of the colonialism and antisemitism it sought to resist. Nationhood – for her – was not the solution. Arendt considered two alternatives to the state, a bi-nationalism in Palestine with Arabs and Jews or a federalist Arab-Jewish state where both Palestinians and Jews’ right to exist were acknowledged and respected. Given the present situation of Palestine, this and its complete obliteration appear – for the moment – to be the only two solutions that will lead to peace.
As the destruction of Palestine cannot be considered by the international community it makes sense that there is an increased interest in the work of Arendt on bi-nationalism and federalism. She recognised that Jewish identity was a European identity and that the establishment of the State of Israel was a colonial project with the Palestinians its victims. The impasse is precisely in the problem that now neither Israel nor Palestine can be removed, and any solution must take into account what we have – that is Palestine and Israel. Reconsidering ideas of bi-nationalism can overcome historical injustices by allowing both the coloniser and the colonised to recognise each other as realities. This may be the only solution left, as continuing conflict – as Arendt also predicted – would lead only to mutual destruction.
Raz-Krakotzkin, Amnon. “Jewish peoplehood,” Jewish politics, and political responsibility: Arendt on Zionism and Partitions.” College Literature 38, no. 1 (2011): 57-74.