A commenter on my post about how growing numbers of Palestinians in East Jerusalem would prefer to be Israelis wonders what would happen if the Palestinians of the West Bank (and Gaza) were to take the same line. What then? The question demonstrated to me once again how detached the reality in this area is from the discussion of it elsewhere. Set aside the malicious observers who seek somehow to roll back a century of Zionist success or millennia of Jewish aspirations, and revert to a Mideast without those pesky Jews. I'm not relating to them, but rather to the more-or-less well-meaning foreigners, Jews and non-Jews, who think there are theoretical principles that can be applied in an academic manner to the problems of this region, and they'll be resolved.
Here then is a description of the major development on the ground; there are other parallel developments that are pulling in other directions, but this most significant of them seems to be remarkably unremarked on.
Between1967 and 1987 the various territories of what had once been Mandatory Palestine were in a process of slow but noticeable convergence. It was all one political unit. There were no internal borders. Everyone roamed freely throughout. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the territories worked in Israel, mostly in construction and other low-skill jobs. A growing number of Israelis were moving to the territories - though their percentage among Israeli Jews was always very small. The Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and the ones without were slowly growing closer; about 100,000 West Bank and Gaza Palestinians moved into Israel, often by marrying Israeli Palestinians (so the transfer of Jewish and Arab populations across the Green Line was roughly balanced).
In summer 1987 Sari Nusseibah went on Israeli television to announce that he and other Palestinians were playing with the idea of dropping their demand for Palestinian independence: "You Israelis are making partition impossible, so let's accept it and have a bi-national state", he said. Israelis of the Left (I was one, in those days) were horrified. This means the end of Jewish sovereignty, we warned; within a generation there will be an Arab majority, and by-and-by Zionism will be over.
In November 1987 the first Intifada broke out. This may have meant that Nusseibah was never reading his own community correctly, or it may have meant something else; I don't know. I do know that it changed the direction of the momentum. The Israelis stopped going to the West Bank (Gaza had been uninteresting all along), fewer and fewer Palestinian men came to work in Israel, Israel began importing Phillipinos and Thais in their place, and, perhaps most important, mainstream Israelis accepted that someday the Palestinians would have their own state and the settlements were a gamble that had lost. The convergence ended, and seperation emerged.
20-some years later, the separation is largely a done thing. Israel's radical Left still loves to tell about the Israeli occupation of Gaza, but they don't do facts. There is no meaningful way in which Gaza can be counted as part of the same political unit as Israel, and certainly not the same social or cultural unit. The West Bank is not far behind. Israelis, except for settlers and a dramatically dwindling number of IDF troops, never go to the West Bank (the current number of IDF forces there is smaller than at anytime since 1987). Palestinians effectively don't travel to Israel, except a small number of businessmen,and a large number (tens of thousands) who travel to Israeli hospitals. The ties between Israeli Palestinians and the rest are limited. The Israelis have a ramshackle and highly ornery political system, but at the end of the day it functions far better than most democratic governments these days, and under far greater pressures. The Freedom House report that came out last week places Israel solidly among the free. The Gazans have a ghastly theocratic police state, while the West Banker's have an inefficient kleptocracy under an unelected prime minister who seems to mean well. Freedom House puts them both near the bottom, deep in the Not Free category.
The Palestinian territories do not yet have political sovereignty, and there still are Israelis on the West Bank. So the partition is far from complete, clearly. But the major trends are clear. Societies create and maintain nation states when they've got some common denominator, a common something that enables them to act together, to live together, to accept political compromises. When they don't, sooner or later they either do, or they fall apart. India is a case for the former, Belgium is a case for the latter.
My point is that the geographical unit that was once Mandatory Palestine doesn't. The advocates of a One State Solution may chatter on to their heart's content; the reality on the ground is that with every passing month their option is getting further away. Jews and Palestinians never shared a language, history, a religion, culture, political tradition,a sense of common purpose - nothing. The Jews and the Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship (and to a lesser extent this includes the Palestinians of Est Jerusalem) are slowly and haltingly forging such a commonality. The Jews outside Israel still share a lot with the Israelis, though I fear the links may be weakening. The rest of the Palestinians, in the West Bank, Gaza, not to mention in the rest of the Arab World, are taking a different road. The moment when there could have been convergence has passed, and there's currently nothing to suggest it will ever be back.