Scott Kennedy: Israel for 51st state

June 10, 2007 / SANTA CRUZ

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians seems hopeless. Two peoples claim the same land, each with strong moral, historical and legal justifications.

Two well-informed professors and forward-looking experts on the conflict spoke recently in Santa Cruz about the apparent demise of the “two state solution” Palestinian Salim Tamari and Israeli Jeff Halper agreed that Israeli-created “facts on the ground” during the past decade have rendered no longer achievable the goal of a state of Palestine coexisting alongside Israel.

Halper and Tamari argue persuasively that two states are not feasible because of continued expansion of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land and a system of Jews-only bypass roads vivisecting Palestinian territory into a series of disconnected cantons. Israel’s “separation barrier” or “apartheid wall [depending on your perspective] encroaches even further into the West Bank, seizing most Palestinian water sources and more agricultural land. They suggest we say goodbye to what has been held out by many as the only hope for a political settlement.

In his book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid,” former President Carter decries loss of this option, an especially regrettable turn of events because repeated public surveys indicate strong majorities of Israelis, Palestinians, the American public and Jewish-Americans favor two states.

While two states is the declared policy of the U.S. and Israel, the Bush and Olmert administrations and their predecessors have done little to push for a Palestinian state.

Ironically, it has only been in vogue to publicly voice support for a two states solution since its practicality has been ruled out by Israeli “facts on the ground”

If two states is dead, where do we go from here?

The bare minimum requirements for a sustainable solution are widely understood.
Israelis want security. Israelis want to board a bus or go to a shopping mall and send their kids to go to school without threat of a suicide bombing and to enjoy the outdoors or a night’s sleep without fear of random missile strikes. They don’t want to send their sons and daughters to war or for their country to be treated as a pariah by other nations. Israelis want their children to have a better life. Their demands are understandable and must be met.

Tragically, the last decade has increased Israelis’ sense of vulnerability and insecurity and reduced their trust in the neighbors with whom they must eventually make peace.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, want to enjoy the same rights and freedoms that we take for granted — to be able to visit friends or family or to do commerce with other Palestinian communities and to trade with and visit the rest of the world without checkpoints, curfews, constant restriction of movement, disruption of travel or fear of not being allowed to return home.

Palestinians want results of their democratic elections to be respected by other nations. They don’t want their elected and community leaders kidnapped, jailed or assassinated, or their families and neighbors killed as collateral damage. Palestinians want their children to have a better life. Their demands are understandable and must be met.

Since the Oslo “Peace Process” in the 1990s, the Palestinians’ economic, social and political situation has become more desperate. Poverty, malnutrition, hopelessness, extremism and violence are on the rise. Palestinians hold Israelis, with whom they must eventually make peace, as primarily responsible for their suffering. But they know the Israeli occupation could not continue without U.S. economic, diplomatic and military support.
Despite these bleak assessments, there is a way out.

The U.S. should adopt Israel as its 51st state. This idea is no stranger than adding Alaska or Hawaii to the Union.

Statehood would relieve problems that Israel has not solved in six decades. Israel has no Constitution, while ours has proven remarkably durable. Israel doesn’t have a Bill of Rights, while ours is the envy of many emerging states. As the 51st state, Israel would share our Constitution and Bill of Rights and all Israeli citizens would possess the same rights and freedoms we want to promote around the world. Israel currently doesn’t have official borders, while according to any atlas all 50 states do. So Israel would have to define its borders for the first time.

The biggest advantage would be a huge boost in security. Israel has always required a strong military, economic and diplomatic partner to cover its back. France did the trick beginning in 1956 and the U.S. since 1967. There’s no surer way of guaranteeing Israel’s security. With American statehood, any attack on Israel would, indeed, constitute an attack on the U.S. That would give pause to Israel’s most vehement foes.

All Israelis already study English, so language should pose no problem. Americans are free to practice their own religion, so the 51st state of Israel can be as Jewish as the 45th state of Utah is Mormon. No other state would even care. If people do or don’t like it they could move in to or out of the state.

Many people already hold both Israeli and U.S. citizenship and vote in elections in both countries. In November 1995, Israel even granted citizenship to jailed American Jonathan Pollard. Pollard is currently serving a life sentence for spying against the U.S. for Israel and passing highly classified intelligence to Israel that reportedly traded stolen U.S. intelligence documents to the Soviets in return for allowing a larger number of Jewish emigrants to Israel.

An Israeli general would no doubt sweep the Republican primary and probably be elected U.S. president.

But what’s in it for the Palestinians?

For the 750,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel, living in the 51st state would be a godsend. No more jockeying with Sephardic Jews or newly arrived Soviet immigrants about ranking in Israel’s socioeconomic pecking order. Arab and Israeli citizens would enjoy equal citizenship, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, equal funding for social services, comparable educational systems, and taxation with representation.

Current Arab citizens of Israel could even marry who they want and live with their spouse, two privileges currently denied hundreds of Israeli-Arabs. What could be better for Arab citizens of Israel than being citizens of the 51st American state?

Statehood would be an economic boost for the U.S., as well. Even though Israel is the 22nd or 29th richest country in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund or the CIA, currently 33 percent of all U.S. foreign aid flows to Israel. Were Israel a state, these resources could be diverted to rebuild Louisiana or to help more than 160 other more needy foreign countries.

Christian Zionists in the U.S. would be ecstatic, so to speak, as the two truest instruments of God’s will on Earth would join in even more perfect harmony.

What of the Palestinians who don’t live in Israel proper, those who languish in Gaza and the West Bank with no democratic rights and crumbling economies?

When finally drawing its state borders, the remaining 15 percent of what was Palestine that has not already been assimilated by Israel could easily be incorporated. Thus Palestinian people would be reunited with their water resources and fertile land already effectively annexed to Israel. Palestinians now under occupation would then get a Constitution, Bill of Rights, army, schools, sewer systems, equal access to water, electricity and public roads, courts, health facilities, the rule of law, and protection of their property rights. In other words, they would enjoy the rights and freedoms demanded by all Americans. This would represent an enormous improvement from the Palestinians’ present circumstance.

Our nation exalts Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel as the 51st state would be the perfect fit. It wouldn’t do to leave the Palestinians hanging in the wind, however. If Israel doesn’t want to annex the entire West Bank, the Palestinians could make the leap on their own and petition to become the 52nd state in the U.S.

This differently understood “two state solution” may be our only chance for a durable political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Scott Kennedy is coordinator of the Middle East program of the Resource Center for Nonviolence. He wrote this commentary to mark the 40th anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in June 1967.


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