Reading the NY Times online the other day, I was drawn toward a tailored “Recommended for You” item listed to the side of the screen (apparently a benefit of my subscription) about a Palestinian political activist being held in administrative detention, who is on a hunger strike which may lead to his death. This “Lede” blog story makes reference to a historic parallel in Northern Ireland, with the fatal hunger strike of Bobby Sands and other IRA prisoners in 1981, and the fact that a current leader of the IRA’s political arm, Sinn Fein, has called for the Palestinian’s release.

I’m troubled by the practice of administrative detention, but the fact that this individual, Khader Adnan, is evidently a political activist for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an extreme terrorist organization with much civilian Jewish blood on its hands, gives me pause from the other direction. So I’m not arguing strongly for either side in this matter, but I do hope that his life is spared and that administrative detention rules are relaxed enough to allow attorneys for detainees to effectively represent their clients in court.

What moves me to write is that this first post links to a 2010 Lede blog post by the same NY Times blogger, Robert Mackey, “Thinking Outside the Two-State Box,” (Sept. 7, 2010), which mentions right-wing elements within Israel calling for a one-state solution involving a single political entity for Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but excluding the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip would be excluded in order to insure either a Jewish majority or a more equal ethnic balance between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and presumably to isolate Hamas. This provision alone would probably make it a non-starter from the Palestinian point of view, but the unrealistic excision of Gaza is curiously not considered by the blogger.

One aches for a solution to a long-standing conflict that continues to bedevil Arabs and Jews on both sides of the divide, and in which neither side seems capable of making adequate concessions or accommodations to the other. Although recent Israeli governments have made territorial concessions and offers, they have still been too broadly ensconced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to satisfy minimal Palestinian needs and aspirations; and settlements expand in spurts but inexorably, on territory claimed by the Palestinians.

My general belief has been that a repartition of Palestine into two states is the only solution, and that one state–given the history of violence and the ethnic, religious and cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians–is no solution at all. Yet the intractable nature of the conflict to-date leaves me open to the possibility of “outside the box” ideas.  Still, it’s up to the one-state advocates to convince the majority of Israelis and Palestinians how one state would work.

Mackey concludes with several paragraphs quoting the late Tony Judt’s controversial NY Review of Books article in 2003 where he suggests the “unthinkable”; but Judt is highly abstract and meta-historical in this article. He overdraws a conclusion that Israel, as an “ethno-religious state” is “an anachronism,” referring to the European trend toward unification—a project which has recently stalled to the point where it may even reverse itself in the face of the current financial crisis. Curiously, Judt did not consider the reverse trend toward new-old ethnic states with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, nor was he yet aware of the sharpened ethnic divide developing between Walloons and Flemish within the very administrative seat of a “united Europe,” Belgium.

Would a single Israeli-Palestinian state be a unitary formation, with one parliament and cabinet (as suggested in the Lede blog post), or would it be more realistic to have a confederation? And if it’s a confederation, how would it deal administratively and politically with the Israeli-Jewish settlers within East Jerusalem and the West Bank? If it is recognized as a bi-national arrangement–which it must be–would both Israel’s Law of Return and a Palestinian Right of Return operate? I would think they would have to, if the interests of both peoples are to be dealt with in a single country—but how?

In the end, if this is the way to overcome decades of mutual violence, distrust and hatred, I’m all for it. But the very fact of this protracted and bitter conflict argues against it. Again, the burden is upon advocates of one state to convince everybody, especially most Israelis and Palestinians, how it could work.

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