It is the most intractable of international conflicts. Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in sectarian violence since Israel was established back in 1948 as a geopolitical response to the Nazi horrors exposed during the Second World War.
The struggle for rights and opportunities in a place that two distinct groups consider their homeland is further complicated as it is laced with religious overtones that emanate from Jerusalem, the city that Muslims, Jews and Christians alike consider sacred.
Th current conflict, though, has some different aspects that may bode for a sea change in the way we address the issue. Intense public criticism has been leveled at both Hamas and the Netanyahu government for their blatantly political objectives in perpetuating this cycle of violence on which hundreds of lives—mostly Palestinian—have been sacrificed.
One important difference this time is violence in Israeli streets prompted in part by the way Palestinians have set aside their differences and offered a united cry for justice for all Palestinians in the face of what amounts to a modern-day system of apartheid. As Arab scholar Yousef Munayyer wrote in the New York Times, “as Palestinians took to the streets in recent weeks, defiantly raising their national flags and chanting against their subjugation, Israelis awoke to the reality that for Palestinians, the divisions between Gazans, residents of the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel do not exist.”
Outside Israel, it is often overlooked that about 21% of the Israeli population is ethnically Arab. While still a distinct minority, social scientists tell us that the difference in birthrates among Arabs and Jews in Israel clearly points to that moment in the not-too-distant future when Israeli Arabs will outnumber Jews, thereby threatening democratic rule in that country.
As tensions rise between these two communities, the prospect of governing the nation to benefit all its citizens becomes increasingly difficult, prompting advocates for peace on both sides of the equation to look beyond the traditional two-state solution which, after forty years, has clearly failed.
Rather, as the Carnegie Endowment has pointed out in a recent study, the goal should be a single state solution where everyone (i.e., Arab and Jew alike) is guaranteed equal rights and equal opportunity. The approach, the report is summarizes, “would prioritize protecting the rights and human security of Palestinians and Israelis over maintaining a peace process and attempting short-term fixes. It would reaffirm and safeguard Israeli rights to security and peace while paying equal attention to long-neglected Palestinian rights, including freedom of movement and freedom from violence, dispossession, discrimination, and occupation—whether in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, or, in specific ways, inside Israel.”
Such thinking about a single state solution with equal rights for all is a radical departure for American policy makers and will require a reset of pronouncements and priorities in Washington and throughout the US. But, as the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise points out, “Israeli Jews and Arabs have surprisingly little contact with each other. Most young people study at different elementary and secondary schools and may not come into contact with one another until college; by then, many preconceived opinions have been formed. This lack of interaction exacerbates tensions between the two communities.” Perhaps the solidarity expressed by Palestinians in the midst of the current violence, can prompt us all to look with new eyes at this very old problem.