Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Begin and Bi-Nationalism - A Comment by Meron Benvenesti

After the 1967 war the Israeli political Right played with the concept of bi-nationalism, in the shape that suited its ideology (the Autonomy Plan). Likud ideology rejected the” transitory” nature of Israeli occupation but its belief in “Greater Israel” clashed with the demographic reality, and liberal circles in Likud (led by Menachem Begin) struggled with the famous dilemma: a Jewish or democratic state? Begin’s answer was based on the (failed) system known to him in Eastern Europe after WW1—non- territorial, cultural and communal autonomy for ethnic minorities under the League of Nations minority treaties. Begin’s Autonomy Plan had been modified in the Camp David (1978) accords and territorial components were added. The Oslo model used many components (with major changes) of Begin’s Autonomy Plan, and the Oslo accords can be viewed as bi-national arrangements, because the territorial and legal powers of the Palestinian Authority are intentionally vague; the external envelope of the international boundaries , the economic system, even the registration of population, remained under Israeli control. Moreover, the complex agreements of Oslo necessitated close cooperation with Israel which, considering the huge power disparity between the PA and Israel, meant that the PA was merely a glorified municipal or provincial authority. So, in the absence of any political process, a de-facto bi-national structure, was willy-nilly, entrenched.

It is no longer arguable; the question is not if a binational entity be established but rather what kind of entity will it be. The historical process that began in the aftermath of the 1967 War brought about the gradual abrogation of the partition option, if it ever existed. Hence, bi-nationalism is not a political or ideological program so much as a de facto reality masquerading as a temporary state of affairs. It is a description of the current condition, not a prescription.

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