Posted by: sean | January 23, 2009

Qadaffi and the one-state solution

Readers of this blog should know by now that I’m a proponent of the one-state solution for Israel and Palestine. So I was amused yesterday to see the Times run an op-ed piece by none other than Libya’s Brotherly Leader, Muammar Qadaffi. Despite the ridiculous name of “Israstine” (if Belgium and Norway can have different names in their official languages, then why not Israel/Palestine?), I agree with most of what Qadaffi has to say. The readership of the Times though, it should go without saying, mostly did not.

One letter to the editor, however, was surprising in its candor and levelheadedness:

Kudos to The New York Times for printing the Op-Ed article from Muammar Qaddafi, which challenges the political orthodoxy in this country that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution.

While there are undoubtedly huge obstacles to a realistic one-state solution — one of which is the hatred of Jewish people, which has now been engendered in large parts of the non-Jewish population of this area — the two-state solution depends upon a doctrinal base that we should always reject: that one ethnic-religious group is entitled to rights superior to another.

It is baffling to me that people of good will who would denounce this doctrine in any other context are willing to accept it when it comes to Israel.

There is no doubt that the Jewish people have been subjected to horrendous persecution throughout history, with this evil reaching its apex in the 20th century, but the answer to such oppression must not be the oppression of others.

Most of the rest of the letters are full of outrage that Qadaffi would even be given a voice in the Times (of course, I imagine there was no such outrage over articles by Begin or Sharon, who have more than their fair share of blood on their hands) or shrill accusations about how Qadaffi wants to “destroy Israel.” Lockerbie was, of course, brought up, despite more recent developments in that case. One letter, however, was so silly that it deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

To the Editor:

An ingenious and diabolical solution to Middle Eastern turmoil: the creation of “Isratine,” or “one state for all.” All that it requires is the eradication of Israel. Perhaps Muammar Qaddafi would consider a trial run with “Libgypt.”

Jerold S. Auerbach
Wellesley, Mass., Jan. 22, 2009

The writer is a professor of history at Wellesley College.

This letter is stupid on several levels. First of all, there is no parallel here between Egypt and Libya on the one hand and Palestine in Israel on the other. In case Auerbach hasn’t noticed, Egypt is a sovereign nation that is not occupied by Libya. Also, while to the best of my knowledge Libya has never tried to merge with Egypt, it has announced plans to merge with two of its other neighbors, Chad and Sudan. The case of Chad was a belligerent grab for more “living space” that bears some resemblance to Israel’s brief seizure of the Sinai in 1956, whereas plans to unite Sudan and Libya were put forth by the governments in both Khartoum and Tripoli.

I don’t want to give the impression here that I like Qadaffi. On the contrary, authoritarian regimes should be opposed, and if you need any other reasons to dislike the regime in Tripoli, Hisham Matar’s story offers plenty.

Yesterday, in fact, I joked with some friends of mine that being supported by Qadaffi actually probably does more harm than good to the prospects of the one-state solution. But be that as it may, credit where credit’s due: Qadaffi and I agree.


  1. S-

    Qaddafi’s Libya has tried to “unite” with almost every country in the Arab League & several African ones, incl. Egypt.

    As for the one-state solution — how would you do it in practical terms, i.e. to ensure that neither Israelis screw over Palestinians nor vice versa?

    So far, I haven’t heard/read a single proposal that offered any practical solution. Do you have one?



  2. Though we have only heard of self righteous Israeli reactions to the outrage in Gaza there might be some awareness there that the rest of the world is increasingly listening to the sound of a different drummer. Hence the following move:

    “Israel recruits ‘army of bloggers’ to combat anti-Zionist Web sites

    By Cnaan Liphshiz

    The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

    The program’s first volunteer was Sandrine Pitousi, 31, from Kfar Maimon, situated five kilometers from Gaza. “I heard about the project over the radio and decided to join because I’m living in the middle of the conflict,” she said.

    Before hanging up the phone prematurely following a Color Red rocket alert, Pitousi, who immigrated to Israel from France in 1993, said she had some experience with public relations from managing a production company.

    “During the war, we looked for a way to contribute to the effort,” the ministry’s director general, Erez Halfon, told Haaretz. “We turned to this enormous reservoir of more than a million people with a second mother tongue.” Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.

    Halfon said volunteers who send the Absorption Ministry their contact details by e-mail, at, will be registered according to language, and then passed on to the Foreign Ministry’s media department, whose personnel will direct the volunteers to Web sites deemed “problematic.”

    Within 30 minutes of announcing the program, which was approved by the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, five volunteers were already in touch, Halfon said. ”

  3. MSK: Well, I think there are plenty of examples of how to and how not to create a bi/multi national state, ranging from Canada and Belgium on one side and Cyprus and Lebanon on the other, with South Africa somewhere in the middle.

    But a constitution would be a good place to start — one that ensured equal rights for all, regardless of race or creed. After that, there could be a bicameral parliament along the lines of the UK in which the “House of Lords” could work on a sectarian system with a “House of Commons” that works on purely popular votes. This isn’t ideal, and any sectarian system should be implemented as a stopgap, but I think it could be a fair way of distributing legislative power for the time being.

    The executive branch would be trickier, but I think it’s generally a good idea to stay away from a PM and President. Likewise, the idea of an alternating presidency is a bad one but may have to be put in place for the short-to-medium term.

    Israel/Palestine would have to have electoral districts, and these districts would have to have a good amount of autonomy within the federal state. Although this autonomy would be trumped by the national constitution’s safeguards for minority rights.

    These are only a few ideas off the cuff, but to my mind, these are issues that need to be hashed out sooner rather than later, because even if there’s a two-state solution, that can only be a temporary reprieve, since most demographic studies predict an Arab majority even in pre-67 borders within the next few decades.

    If Israelis and Palestinians can start preparing themselves for the inevitability of living together, that will save everyone a lot of headache in the not-so-distant future.

  4. Dear Sean-

    Call me overly pessimistic, but your proposal doesn’t look like a workable one to me, or at least not within the foreseeable future.

    Canada & Belgium work as long as economic disparities between groups are not too blatant. And Belgium may very well fall apart any day now. Also, in both countries none of the groups (Anglos/French, Dutch/French/Germans) perceives the other as “invaders” – as far as they are concerned, each has the same claim to the land. And the native population in Canada had subjugated to the point where they are no threat to the dominant groups, and where the settler-state can even afford to give some (i.e. the Inuit) some sort of cute autonomy.

    South Africa is the only place that comes close to comparison with Israel (settler colony where new arrivals dominated but only partially displaced the indigenous population and eventually agreed on a “we gotta live together” formula) but there are significant differences:
    – the original inhabitants never advocated “throwing the whites into the sea”
    – neighboring/regional states never even came close to pose a military threat to Apartheid SA, nor was that ever seriously contemplated
    – the land/soil in & of itself does not play such a big symbolic role

    As for Israel/Palestine, you seem to lay out a sort of federal state where the overruling constitution then guarantees minority rights within the federal parts.

    This is all very nice, but I am asking how in reality this is going to be implemented. How can you guarantee that the executive and judiciary will remain impartial and treat each citizen the same? Do you want to have, for a certain period, mandatory mixed police units, Arab/Jewish co-judges and prosecutors, etc?

    Constitutions are nice. Lebanon has one, for example. That doesn’t prevent everybody and their ‘ammu to blatantly ignore it …



  5. The last letter is stupid on another level you neglected to mention: another asshole professor who shouldn’t be teaching any kind of history.

    My uni had a panel on the Gaza crisis, and one guy from the political science department (tenured, no less!) made his introduction by pulling out the tired old Meir quote, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

    Fortunately he was promptly shot down by an adjunct from the history department.

  6. Hello Sean. This is a rather late comment but I’ve just discovered your blog. Actually Gaddafi was one of the few people in the world who supported the one state solution that was first put forward by Palestinian and Israeli politicians. I’m sorry I can’t remember their names, but they used to meet in secret because of the ‘danger’ surrounding such a suggestion.
    The grab for Chad -as you call it- was never for ‘living space’.

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