As widespread protests plunge Lebanon into political crisis mode once again, we are reminded that multi-ethnic democracies in the Middle East aren't exactly a model of good governance. Those looking for solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should take note, and this should give pause to advocates of the one-state solution.
As the name implies, the one-state solution centers on creating a harmonious binational state, with an almost certain Palestinian majority, between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. It is supported by prominent Palestinian-Americans like Women's March co-founder Linda Sarsour and Electronic Intifada head Ali Abunimah. Just as things were about to burst in Lebanon, Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, expanded on his vision of the idea in an article titled, "There Will Be A One-State Solution," published in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs.
Responsible actors who care about peace in the Middle East will not entertain this fairytale for even a minute. Lebanon is a good starting point as to why.
Since its creation, Lebanon has teetered on the brink of collapse. For 15 years, ethnic tensions fueled a bloody civil war as different branches of Islam, Islamic off-shoots, and Christianity vied for power. The convoluted power-sharing arrangement that ultimately ended the war, the Taif Agreement, has failed to turn Lebanon into a thriving society. As noted by The Economist, Lebanon has one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world. Sectarian strife keeps Lebanon mired in gridlock, which results in the kinds of inefficiencies driving the current protests. When painful compromises are made, such as giving the Shia Hezbollah terror organization effective veto power, they often prove fruitless.
Lebanon and Iraq exemplify the pitfalls of forging a multi-ethnic democracy in the Middle East.
One-staters may insist that we've learned much since the sectarian-based Taif Agreement was ratified into Lebanon's constitution 30 years ago. We haven't. Iraq's 2005 constitution eschews power-sharing on the basis of ethnicity, but Iraq is even worse off than Lebanon. From the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad, years of ceaseless suicide bombings, and ISIS atrocities against Shias and non-Muslims, Iraq exemplifies the pitfalls of attempting to forge a multi-ethnic democracy in the Middle East. Ironically, the one place that has not only functioned but thrived in Iraq is the Kurdish Regional Governorate, an ethnically homogeneous autonomous region.
While the cases of Lebanon and Iraq are highly illuminating, looking at the history of Israel and the Disputed Territories alone may suffice. From the end of World War I until Israel's independence in 1948, Jews and Arabs lived together under the single administration in the British Mandate of Palestine. It was a catastrophe.
Jews and Arabs lived together under a single administration in Mandatory Palestine for 28 years.
Events like the Jaffa Riots of 1921 (95 dead) and the Riots of 1929 (249 dead) were a common fixture. When all-out war inevitably emerged in 1948 due to Arab rejection of a Jewish state, it ended with the permanent exile of up to 90% of Palestinians from Israeli-controlled territory. Nothing unusual here. Population transfers are a common result of intrastate ethnic conflict. Those wishing to alleviate Palestinian hardship should consider this when contemplating a situation that would result in a power struggle similar to what emerged following the British Mandate.
And a power struggle it will be. One-staters envision shared governance between Jews and Arabs, who will work together under a liberal democratic framework, but the Palestinians have proven unable to do this even amongst themselves. Two years after Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas overthrew the PLO and instituted a totalitarian Islamist regime.
Things are not much better in the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas is now in his 15th year of a four-year term. The "occupation" cannot be blamed. After all, pre-state Israel somehow managed to uphold democratic norms under the brutality of the British Mandate. Democracy is simply not presently part of the Palestinian lexicon.
The same goes for the "liberal" part of "liberal democracy." Polls by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center show that the Palestinians hold beliefs vehemently at odds with an inclusive society. A majority support honor killings, and 93% of the population harbors antisemitic views, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Before the one-state solution as envisioned by Palestinian advocates is even discussed, Palestinians have a very long way to go. Looking at examples from the broader region, there's good reason to believe that an Israeli-Palestinian utopia will forever remain a pipe dream.
Understandably, as US President Donald Trump continues to delay his vision for resolving the conflict, ideas counter to the mainstream two-state solution will be discussed. Some are worse than others, but few are as bad as the one-state solution.
Matthew Mainen is a Washington-resident fellow at the Middle East Forum and graduate of Stanford Law School. Follow him on Twitter.