In 2005, I was invited to do something most Palestinians can only dream of: visit the house from which my family had been driven in 1948. Of all people, a New York Times correspondent discovered that his apartment was built over my old home.
When I met him there, the Jewish occupants who showed me around were almost apologetic, perhaps aware how that incident encapsulated the central story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the expulsion of Palestinians and their replacement by Jews. Yet when I asked the reporter how he could still write articles that betray this reality, he was evasive.
His evasion is part of an industry of denial called the Middle East "peace process." This industry feeds the current international consensus on the two-state solution as the only "comprehensive" settlement to the conflict. But there's a better solution, one that's slowly picking up steam among Palestinians and Israelis: a one-state model.
The two-state approach is flawed on two major counts. First, Israel's extensive colonization of the territories it seized in the 1967 war has made the creation of a Palestinian state there impossible. Israel was offering nothing more than "a mini-state of cantons," as Palestinian Authority negotiators recently complained. This leaves Israel in control of more than half of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. With the Israeli position largely unchallenged by the international community, the only route to a two-state settlement will be through pressure on the weaker Palestinian side.
This leads to the second flaw: The two-state solution reflects only Israeli interests. It proposes to partition historic Palestine – an area that includes present-day Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem – massively and inequitably in favor of Israel as a Jewish state. By definition, this rules out possibility of Palestinian return except to the tiny, segmented West Bank territory that Israeli colonization has created, and to an overcrowded Gaza, which cannot accommodate the returnees. Thus the "peace process" is really about making the Palestinians concede their basic rights to accommodate Israel's demands.
It also panders to Israel's paranoia over "demography," an ambiguous term that refers to the morally repugnant wish to preserve Israel's Jewish ethnic purity.
But the two-state solution's biggest flaw is that it ignores the main cause of the conflict: the Palestinian dispossession of 1948.
Today more than 5 million dispersed refugees and exiles long to return. It is fashionable to ignore this, as if Palestinians have less right to repatriation than the displaced Kosovars so ardently championed by NATO in 1999. As recognized by the Western powers then, the right to return was fundamental to peacemaking in the Bosnian crisis. It should be no less so in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yet the present peace process aims to preserve a colonialist Israel and make Palestinian dispossession permanent. This is not only illegal and unjust, it is also short-sighted. As the early Zionist thinker Vladimir Jabotinsky warned in 1923, native resistance to dispossession is irrepressible and Zionism would only survive with constant force to quell it.
Israel has heeded the lesson well. With an oppressive military occupation ruling over the West Bank and Gaza, it has herded Palestinians into ghettoes and prisons, aiming to paralyze any resistance. The response to this brutality is misery, expressed by some in violence against Israelis, and continuing instability in the region. American collusion with Israel has led to growing anti-Americanism among Arabs and Muslims.
If the aim of the peace process is to resolve the conflict properly, then we must tackle the root of the problem: the creation of an exclusive state for one people in another people's territory. The strife this caused will end only when the Palestinian rights to repatriation and compensation are addressed. This cannot happen in a situation of Israeli hegemony.
A different approach that puts the principles of equity and sharing above dominance and oppression is needed: a one-state solution. In such a state, no Jewish settler would have to move and no Palestinian would be under occupation. Resources could be shared, rather than hoarded by Israel. Jerusalem could be a city for both. Above all, the dispossessed Palestinians could finally return home.
Indulging Israel is a dangerous folly that postpones solution. It harms Palestinians, the region, and long-term Western interests. It even harms Israelis, who are less secure in Israel than anywhere else. Palestinian and Arab support for the two-state proposal only reflects resignation to Israel's superior power and fear of US reprisal, not conviction. The two-state proposal is unstable and cannot replace a durable solution based on equity, justice, and dignity.
A decade ago, the unitary state idea was ridiculed. Today, as the two-state solution recedes, a one-state solution is the stuff of mainstream discussion. Now it must become mainstream policy, too.