Bibi and I Discuss the One-State Solution

03/25/2015 10:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2015

My recent post, "Israel Palestine: A Constitutional Democracy" rejected the two-state solution to the problem of Israel and Palestine. This was a busy time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was schmoozing with U.S. Republicans while campaigning to consolidate his position as prime minister of Israel. Nevertheless, within two weeks of my post, he too rejected the two-state solution.

There will never be a Palestinian state, Netanyahu made clear, certainly not as long as he is prime minister. Not going to happen.

Exactly right, Bibi (if I may). Despite your post-election clarification that in your more philosophical moments you can imagine a hypothetical universe in which Palestinians and Jews live peacefully side-by-side, we both know there will be no two-state solution. The pursuit of an independent Palestinian state has been going nowhere for generations and will continue to go nowhere.

So where does that leave us? I don't hear anyone proposing a three-state solution, nor is there talk about four or more states. No one is proposing anarchy -- the no-state solution. Mathematically, that leaves us with the one-state solution. More precisely, it leaves us with many possible one-state solutions, and plenty to discuss.

Shall we continue our discussion here? The key question, it seems to me, is the specific form of the state. Do you see the single state as a liberal democracy, a Jewish theocracy, some compromise between these, or something else entirely? I must admit your answer to this question is somewhat obscure. I hear you talk about democracy, but I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. Perhaps we need to clarify our terms.

By a liberal democracy I mean a system of government that respects the equal rights and liberties of all individuals. The majority rules on most matters, but fundamental human rights are constitutionally protected such that they cannot be voted away. Individuals may believe what they choose, say what they believe, and affiliate freely with others. The government is religiously neutral, neither favoring nor disfavoring any religion or religion in general, while protecting the free exercise of all religions.

By a Jewish theocracy I mean a system of government that recognizes or gives special status to Jewish religious law. Because Jewish religious law defines Jews on the basis of maternal ancestry, reliance on Jewish law favors some individuals over others on the basis of ancestry, thus incorporating an element of racial or ethnic discrimination into the law.

Of course, a theocracy need not forbid or directly restrict alternative religions. Establishment of a state religion is consistent with respect for the free exercise of other religions. Still, not many want to live in a theocracy that isn't their own, even if they are free to exercise their own religion.

A state preference for Jews, moreover, creates problems of ethnic discrimination. Israeli law, following Jewish law, defines Jews on the basis of ancestry and accords differential rights on this basis. Jews can vote even if they move to the West Bank, for example, but West Bank Palestinians cannot.

Consider, moreover, the right of return. Under current Israeli law, persons defined as Jews on the basis of their ancestry have a right to "return" to Israel regardless of their religious beliefs even if neither they nor any ancestor they can name ever lived there. Persons of Arab ancestry, in contrast, have no right of return even if they literally have the key to the house from which their family fled or was forced in 1948.

This sort of ethnic discrimination is obviously inconsistent with liberal democracy. But perhaps liberal democracy is not your thing. I'm eager to hear what you think of it, and what you may see as an alternative one-state solution.

Thanks again, Bibi, for your prompt response to my earlier post. I look forward to hearing your reaction to this one.