Between the One-State and the Two-State Solution

Between the One-State and the Two-State Solution

Independence is Not a Luxury, it is a Necessity

At times, the tragic choices to be made in the context of and the political dilemmas posed by the struggle for the freedom and rights of the Palestinian people generate ideas, conferences and initiatives which run against a just peace and block the light at the end of the tunnel. These ideas are based on exaggeration and are advanced by despairing and lazy intellectuals who prefer the comfortable studio and the lights of TV cameras over the hard work required by real political struggle.

I cannot propose the idea of one-state for both peoples, which appears in our political arena every now and then, as an alternative to continuing our struggle for a Palestinian state and the right of return. I consider this idea, in the current context, as an expression of intellectual despair and yearning for comfort. For clarity, however, I would like to emphasize that this judgment does not apply to those who have always argued for a one-state solution. Treatment of their arguments and theses is a complex and different matter which is beyond the scope of this article.

It is important to underline that the slogan of “two-states for two peoples” does not mean that we are about to establish two states, one now and one tomorrow, since one of the two states already exists on a land area that stretches even beyond the borders originally set for it. What is really meant by the slogan calling for two-states is the call for a historical, humanist and national solution to the cause of the Palestinian people. It is a way to end the criminal expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland and the denial of their right to freedom and independence.

Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa’), the Palestinian Prime Minister, was mistaken when he threatened Israel (8 December 2004) by stating that Palestinians will demand one-state for both peoples if Israel does not give the Palestinians their rights, i.e. the right to establish their state, and that Palestinians will demand their right to vote for the Knesset or a joint parliament.

Some vocal supporters of peace have joined the calls for one-state as an alternative to the two-state solution. Such calls have, for instance, been published in an interview by Ari Shavit with Haim Hanegbi, a supporter of a one-state solution and a member of the progressive Matzpen organization and active in the peace and labor movements, and Meron Benvenisti, former deputy of the Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, academic researcher and member of Meretz. (Ha'aretz, 5 August 2003).

Who would have objected to the establishment of a single independent democratic state in Palestine after the end of the British mandate? The economically crushed Palestinian Arabs? The economically crushed among the Palestinian Jews? No one consulted these people. There is no doubt that a single state, based on the principals of equality, democracy and social justice, is the dream of any intelligent person who is not racist. “The only way for the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine to lead a peaceful and serene life is to liberate themselves from all the exterior influence and develop a democratic Palestine [one-state]”. This is what the Palestinian Communist party suggested in 1944 with the support of all its members. Also the National Liberation League, which included the Arab communists, called in the same year for “ending the British mandate and establishing an independent democratic Palestinian government”.

The historic account with the British mandate has not yet been settled. The British mandate over Palestine derived from a decision of the League of Nations, and during its mandate Britain handed over Palestine to the Zionist movement. Furthermore, British colonialism was no less Zionist that the Zionist movement itself. Many political forces have worked hard to undermine the Palestinian democratic project for the benefit of the Zionist movement in the region and the benefit of British, and subsequently, American imperialism. All of them justified their policies with arguments based on the metaphysics of a biblical promise, the European complex of guilt after the Nazi crimes, or their interests in control of the oil market and domination of the Middle East.

The collapse of the Palestinian democratic (one-state) project was necessarily replaced by another project, i.e. the plan to end the British mandate by implementing the principle of self-determination for both peoples in the land. This project is known as “The Partition Plan” and was supported by Arab and Jewish communists in Palestine in order to prevent the imperial Zionist project which later became rooted in Palestine. The slogan of “two-states for two peoples” in its latest form (post-1967) can be credited to the communists, who adhered to the fundamental principle of the Partition Plan of 1947, namely, the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people once Israel had been established .

It is true that the slogan of the two-state solution was rejected by the Palestinian people and even more so by Israel. The idea was subsequently distorted by Israel and its allies to the point that Colin Powell wrote in his response to Abu Ala: “the United States is working for a solution based on two-states” (9 December 2004). President Bush, in his guarantees to Ariel Sharon, further distorted this solution by recognizing Israel’s settlement blocks and the racist separation wall. He also talked about the right of return to the disfigured Palestinian entity which is to become the Palestinian state according to the U.S. administration’s conception of the two-state solution. And Sharon reached out far, in his speech to the UN General Assembly (15 June 2005), when he spoke of the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state, after he had affirmed that “united” Jerusalem will remain the “eternal capital of Israel”, and that the “Jewish people have a right to all the land of Israel”. He spoke in the language of extreme Zionism about how conceding a cliff and a hill top means to give up part of the living body of the biblical land.

Has the two-state solution actually become a Zionist-Israeli solution? Only the naive and the stupid can think so, irrespective of the fact that regional and international powers pose a challenge and threat and are trying to change the facts on the ground and render impossible our conception of the two-state solution. This is the goal behind the racist separation wall, intensified settlement in the West Bank, isolation of Jerusalem and bisection of the northern and southern West Bank through the colonial project of connecting Jerusalem with Ma’ale Adumim. The same powers, moreover, are working to circumvent international law by creating new concepts and terms of reference for political consumption. President Bush’s vision, the “Road Map”, the “temporary Palestinian state without borders”, the “War on Terror”, the “disengagement plan”, Bush’s guarantees to Ariel Sharon, and Israel’s reservations to the Road Map, for example, represent recent efforts to distort international law and create new references for discussion.

If we combine the above factors, i.e. the changes imposed on the ‘reality on the ground’ and the lack of respect for international law, with the weakening of the peace camp in Israel, the alternatives proposed by the Israeli political right, the rising level of fundamentalism among Palestinians and Israel’s ongoing practice of destroying the legitimate Palestinian leadership, we realize that, indeed, our solution of two-states for two peoples faces significant obstacles. These obstacles have led some to runaway from the struggle and raise the slogan of one-state or the binational state. They camouflage their retreat as moving forward, as progress, as a step that will corner the Zionist imperial project, or – in the words of one apologist for the one-state solution – as “a necessary move towards relinquishing the fantasy of sovereignty”. Who exactly should relinquish sovereignty?

There is an essential difference between the concept of “one-state” and the concept of a “binational state”. I would only point out briefly that one-state means the state of its citizens, while the binational state means power-sharing between two nationalities based on a negotiated mechanism. If achieving “two-states for two peoples” entails ending the occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip and solving the difficult refugee question, what would the one-state solution entail as it requires reaching a more complex and in-depth settlement? I think that reaching a solution based on any one-state option is impossible in the present circumstances, unless we depend on the misguided hypothesis that Zionism will suddenly become morally principled, abandon its essential nature and convert to a civilized and human one. An alternative hypothesis, no less unrealistic and out-dated, maintains that the popular forces of revolution will stream from the wavy ocean across the revolutionary Arab Gulf and bring justice and democracy to Palestine.

It is interesting to note that the supporters of the one-state solution in Israeli society have declared their desperation at the struggle for change in their own society. Therefore, they resort to convincing the Palestinians to adapt to the inescapable, i.e. eternal occupation. According to this logic, the struggle is now about improving the conditions of the occupation and equal civil rights within one-state, rather than about self-determination and sovereignty. This logic is reminiscent of Shimon Peres’ old idea to establish a mechanism of “functional division” and Moshe Arens’ project in the 1980s aimed at maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by “improving the living conditions” there. It is perfectly clear to me that the supporters of a one-state solution, both Palestinians and Israelis, do not propose to cement the occupation by different means. On the contrary, they present the model of South Africa to prove the validity of their vision. However, is the comparison with the South African example valid? spellcaster make real work Black magic death spells powerful and fast result

The question of self-determination for two nations was not an issue in South Africa. The majority, the owners of the country, were excluded from power and rose up to take it. In Palestine, however, the original owners of the land in historical Palestine have become a minority. Would power-sharing with the present Israeli regime/occupation regime solve the problem in this case? Moreover, South Africans have resolved the issue of civil rights but economic and class issues have remained and the South African capital is still the hands of the whites. Blacks have the right to vote, but they still lack basic ingredients necessary for a dignified life. We know that stark differences exist in socio-economic conditions between the Jewish community in Israel and the Palestinian community in the occupied territories. Israel has turned these areas into a laboratory for experiments in repression, domination, poverty and unemployment, all the while maintaining a monopoly on political and military power and public relations. Given this extreme power imbalance, the establishment of one civil state does not even require Israel to negotiate or cooperate with the Palestinian people, its national leadership or political forces.

Is it conceivable, based on the facts, that a negotiated one-state solution could result in a political system that rises above class domination and slavery? Is it conceivable that such a one-state would not strip the Palestinian people of national culture and heritage, their right to self-determination and their right of return?

Moreover, the Palestinian people and their national movement are not an economic or military project. Unlike Zionism for the United States and Britain, the Palestinian people do not represent a strategic reserve for a new global order imagined by imperial states. The Palestinian people are a natural phenomenon that exists in complete harmony with history, civilization and geography. They are a case of collective and individual memories that reach beyond defeated nostalgic ideas and they aim to recreate time, space and humanity as an independent entity.

Considering the current model of Arab Palestinian “citizenship” in Israel, could the equal right to vote in a one-state entail genuine power-sharing? There is a disproportionate balance of power between the two national groups in all aspects, including the socio-economic one, rendering the one-state solution no more than utopia. Furthermore, a number of important issues are suspiciously excluded from this debate, such as the refugee question.

One can thus rightly wonder whether the one-state solution can guarantee a solution for Palestinian refugees. In other terms, could a one-state solution produce results that differ from the present context and facilitate a solution for the refugees?

Would the one-state citizenship law provide an answer to the right of return of Palestinians and cancel the Israeli Law of Return which guarantees automatic citizenship to any Jew in the world? Would Israeli society agree to sacrifice the Jewish character of the state and end the primitive debate about Palestinian fertility and demographic concerns? Do those calling for ‘one-state now’ really believe that this slogan is more realistic than Israeli ‘concession’ of the West Bank and Jerusalem?

There is no Israeli partner for the one-state solution and such a partner cannot be expected anytime soon. Therefore advocating for the ‘one-state now’ is actually an invitation to the Palestinian people to give up their demands, their struggle and their right to self-determination without a promised land or a future.

Is it possible that now, following the collapse of the right-wing Zionist project of “redeeming all of the land of Israel” and the silencing of the songs of the Bitar movement (“the banks of the river Jordan ... this one is ours and the other one too...”), that Israeli peace forces will, despite their weakness, engage with some Palestinians to build unity after this fragmentation? Regardless of the motives, the one-state project is being driven by despair caused by the long and tough struggle.

Rough battles and struggle produce weakness and problems that may need short or long-term treatment. We make a serious mistake, however, if we take such weakness and problems as a sign of strength. The idea of the one-state from the river to the sea at this stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and especially after the creation of Israel, is the idea of those who do not recognize the existence of the other. Israeli peace forces cannot engage in this project which weakens their role. The liberation forces of the Palestinian people cannot promise their people to continue the struggle without having “some sweet grapes to offer to the guard”, the Israeli oppressor.

One-state is the dream of internationalists, a dead-end road with no way out. Unfortunately, massive defeats produce a need for such ideas. It is a democratic and intelligent idea that needs to be completely constructed. The deep and profound principles which underly this dream could be nourished in the framework of understanding between two independent states: an independent free Palestine and an Israel liberated from Zionism. The Palestinian people need healing, a chance to define their identity and economic development so that a free community can emerge after years of occupation, killing, oppression and dispossession. The tool needed for this to happen is an independent state with full sovereignty and unity accomplished by solving the refugee issue. Most nations on earth have enjoyed the taste of the right to self-determination, but not the Palestinian people. No one is entitled to suggest a bypass around it. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity that cannot be replaced by implausible options, whether it is the one-state or binational state.


Mohammad Baraka is the chairman of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. He is also a Knesset member and the chairman of the coalition formed by the Democratic Front and the Arab Movement for Change in the Knesset.