National Post (Latest Edition)
First to say two-state solution impossible
In the early 1980s, Meron Benvenisti, an outspoken Israeli historian, social scientist and author, became one of the first researchers to conclude that the occupation of Palestine and the growing settlement movement had effectively destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution.
Benvenisti, who died Sept. 20 at age 86, declared that a two-state solution could not succeed because Arabs and Jews would never surrender their claims to all of their homeland. He embraced a third alternative: a binational state where Israelis and Palestinians would share power while maintaining their cultural and religious traditions and communities.
Benvenisti was born in Jerusalem on April 21, 1934.
He did his compulsory military service on a kibbutz and became head of the National Union of Israeli Students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In the 1960s he helped direct Teddy Kollek’s first campaign for mayor of Jerusalem, a post Kollek would hold for 28 years.
After the Six- Day War, Kollek put him in charge of Arab East Jerusalem. It was in that position and later as a deputy mayor that Benvenisti said he began to see how Palestinians were consistently shortchanged in public welfare, education and economic development.
He quit city government, studied intercommunal conflicts at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, and returned home with a doctorate and a determination to influence debate over Israel.
In 1982, he founded the West Bank Data Base Project, funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, which gathered data from official documents that traced the growth of Jewish settlement and the state of demographic, legal, economic and political conditions in the occupied territories.
Exhausted, Benvenisti focused on writing columns for Haaretz and 10 books, ranging from history to archeology to memoir.
Benvenisti ladled out his contempt for leaders on both the Israeli right and left, but was fuzzy on the specifics of how a binational state could work. “I am not proposing solutions,” he told Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit in 2012. “That is not my job.”
Shavit wrote that “Benvenisti contains within him all the contradictions and all the vicissitudes and all the irreconcilables of the land with which he is engaged in a relentless wrestling match.”
Benvenisti died in Jerusalem of renal failure. Survivors include three children and six grandchildren. At the moment of interment, as the Jewish prayer for the dead was being chanted, the muezzin from a nearby Palestinian village began the Muslim call to prayer.
“It was as if the land was praying for his soul,” his son said.