Israel-Palestine: Two States or One Holy Land?

Oct 14, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Now that the UN has begun to take measures against the use of poison gas in the civil war in Syria, US foreign policy in the Middle East has begun to refocus on the long-delayed goal of achieving a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. But after witnessing what has happened, especially in Egypt and Syria since the advent of the "Arab Spring," I have begun to question, more and more, whether such a "solution" is either possible or even desirable -- at least in the long run.

My thinking on this matter is hardly new. Having spent nearly four months, back in 1980, living within practically a stone's throw from the "Green Line" that separates the State of Israel from the occupied Palestinian "West Bank" seized by Israel in the 1967 War, I found myself, even back then, more and more thinking about what might be a feasible solution. On the one hand, it was obvious that while Israeli drive and modernization was sorely needed in the West Bank, at the same time, it was clear to me that already there was a serious rift within Israeli society between those who envisioned the State of Israel as a restoration of the religion-dominated kingdoms of David and Solomon, as contrasted to the view of more or less secular Jews who saw the future of Israel as a modern nondenominational democracy. For these latter, although it would continue to function as a safe-haven or even homeland for Jews from around the world, it would nevertheless be open to citizenship for people of any ethnic or religious background -- a view which, I have since learned, even though he at first resisted the idea of "Jewish state", was also held by Albert Einstein.

Not that a two state solution is entirely impossible. In fact, a friend of mine, raised in the Sephardic Jewish community in Istanbul, now holding a Ph.D. in applied physics and teaching and working here in the USA, has recently teamed up one of his boyhood acquaintances, a Muslim M.D. still living in Turkey, in drawing up a very thoughtfully constructed plan as to how a two-state solution might be made to work gainfully for both the Israeli and Palestinian populations. (Their plan, worked out, thanks to the internet, and with the help of my friend's daughter who is majoring in Middle-Eastern Studies, can be found at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/350207.)

Nevertheless, despite my admiration for their efforts, I have my doubts. These second thoughts are reinforced even more now that we have seen what has happened in Egypt and Syria -- as if we shouldn't have known since our intervention in Iraq -- about the feasibility, much more the desirability, of any state in the modern world being officially identified with this or that particular religion. It seems to me that the efforts to establish any nation on that basis is an attempt to return to the past which the world, in its present state, can ill afford, unless we are keen on repeating the racial pogroms and religious persecutions of the past with many, if not quite all, of their atrocities.

It may be true, as the great historian Arnold Toynbee claimed, that no major civilization of the past came to be without the unifying factor of religion, but I think it has become evident, with populations that far exceed those of ancient times, that any nation, if it is to take its place peacefully, in this contemporary world, must adhere to the 1948 United Nations "Universal Declaration on Human Rights", which (in Article 18) among other things, insists that

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion: this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others in public or in private, to manifest his religion in belief, practice, worship, or observance."

Interestingly, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and even Pakistan, gave their agreement to this declaration at that time, while Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union were conspicuously absent. Nor has the modern state of Israel, even though it owed its initial existence to the UN, and which still lacks a constitution, although Israeli law, which although it identifies Israel as a Jewish state, claims to protect religious minorities. Meanwhile, in 1990, Egypt was host to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which issued its own "Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam", which claims that all these rights can be seen as contained within, but also (at least within Islamic countries) as subject to the restrictions of Islamic law or Sharia. This can hardly be reassuring for Palestinian Christians whose ancestral roots reach farther back in the Holy Land's history a half a millennium before the Arab invasion or even a thousand or more years before the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern state of Israel.

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that when it comes to the Middle East, rather than the universal goal regarding human rights that the UN had in mind ever being achieved, the proposed two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while it might prove a temporary solution, in the end will only prolong the outworn and divisive situation.