It is neither outrageous nor controversial to say that the two-state solution is dead. The land supposedly allocated for a Palestinian state has become little more than shattered islands surrounded by walls, security zones, checkpoints, and Israel’s colonial expansion. The so-called ‘peace process’ has entrenched the Israeli government’s multi-layered occupation and marginalized key issues like the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that any Palestinian state that does come out of ‘negotiations’ must be de-militarized and will not enjoy sovereignty over its borders or natural resources, effectively creating a chimerical state.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has been raging since 1947-48, when a largely European Jewish force ethnically cleansed Palestine and expelled its indigenous inhabitants. Today, the conflict is poised to transform into a regional war should Israel decide to strike Iran. This precarious state of affairs requires a solution to the crisis that is comprehensive, all-encompassing, and goes far enough to sooth the deep scars inflicted on the region’s people by the years of colonialism which facilitated Israel’s creation.
Such a solution includes challenging the perceived supremacy of the two-state solution and fostering appreciation for its unparalleled impracticality. In the United States, where the government has substantial power over determining the contours of the solution, this project is particularly necessary.
In an unprecedented move to build this awareness, a group of students recently convened ‘The One State Conference’ at Harvard University, an institution known for its traditional support for Zionism. The event brought together diverse speakers to reaffirm the importance of embracing one state for Palestinians and Israelis that places both on equal terms. The conference also served as a reminder that, while many powerful states pay lip-service to the two-state solution, they do so for reasons unconnected with realizing justice for past crimes or with fostering safety and security for Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
The Two-State Solution Is Dead
Before discussing the one-state solution, a brief explanation as to why the two-state solution will not work is in order.
The two-state solution has its roots in the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan. The Plan, which is itself problematic, ignored the sentiments of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian population and gave more land to the foreign Jewish community, many of whom immigrated to Palestine illegally or were forced to come to Palestine from Europe. The UN plan emphasized economic union, a shared Jerusalem, and the protection of minorities in two states divided between the Palestinians and European Jews (Arab Jews were not accounted for in this plan). Pro-Israel supporters point out that the “Arabs” did not accept the plan. These same individuals ignore the fact that Zionist forces also violated the plan by ethnically cleansing non-Jews and conquering more territory than was allotted to them by the UN.
By 1967, Israel had occupied the rest of mandate Palestine and had begun entrenching its occupation and colonial expansion to facilitate a subtle and gradual form of ethnic cleansing by making life exceedingly unbearable for the remaining Palestinians.
Prior to the 1990s, negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were virtually non-existent, mainly due to Israeli disinterest and justified by claims that there was no partner for peace. The First Intifada, from December 1987 to 1993, highlighted the plight of the Palestinians under occupation, and finally forced the Israelis to the table . The result was the Oslo Accords, an agreement signed by Fatah, an organization desperate to re-assert itself into the Palestinian political scene. The Accords ultimately outsourced Israel’s security to the Palestinian Authority, strengthened the nature of Israel’s occupation, and ignored much of international law.
After Oslo, the promise of a Palestinian state on the 1967-borders continued to be eaten away by expanding Israeli colonies, as the Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and within Israel, experienced greater forms of discrimination. The Israeli authorities also engaged in armed attacks against the civilian Palestinian population, violence that was much more devastating than the responses from the militant Palestinian groups, who were and are restricted in their ability to defend themselves from either the Israeli military or heavily-armed, fanatical Jewish settlers.
At the present time, the Israelis have complete control over mandate Palestine. The right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu has ensured that whatever remains of the Oslo Accords, regardless of its advantages for the Israelis, will be ripped apart. The two-state solution has been transformed into a call for land swaps, which allows for the further ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities within Israel, and total Israeli control of borders, trade, and natural resources in a divided de-militarized Palestinian state. This approach to resolving the conflict deprives millions of Palestinian refugees of compensation and prevents them from realizing their inalienable right to return to their former homes.
This is an absolute perversion of international law, human rights, morality, and justice, and is rendered even more absurd by arguments that the two-state solution is “practical” or “pragmatic”. Suppose we accept the idea of two states and suppose these two states strictly followed the pre-1967 borders. What of the Palestinian refugees? It is their inalienable right to receive compensation and to return to their former homes within present-day Israel. There is no negotiation or compromise on this matter. These refugee rights are enshrined within international law and have been affirmed hundreds of times in UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions with precedent in the Balkans, Kuwait, and elsewhere.
The arguments against the right of return stress the need to maintain a “Jewish majority” and imply that Palestinians are unable to fathom the mechanisms of democracy. They put aside legitimate criticisms regarding the flawed Biblical narrative and perceived purity of the ‘Jewish nation,’ which has been foundational to the Zionist ideology, and accept the Zionist narrative as unquestionable fact. Numerous historians, archeologists, academics, and others have persistently exposed the basic fallacies and artificiality in framing the Israeli nation-state as a state for all Jews. These include the two-state solution’s failure to adequately address the schisms within the Jewish community, particularly between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.
In effect, the two-state solution is a Band-Aid sitting a top a very deep and infected wound. The conflict affects not only the Palestinians and Israelis, but their neighbors, the region, and much of the world. An international issue, of such great importance, demands an equally worthy solution. This is where the one-state solution comes in.
Long Live the One State
The idea for one shared state is not new. It was first proposed in the 1940s, and has been mentioned sporadically over the intervening decades, mainly by the Arab side. Despite its popularity on the ground, it has been routinely ignored within the international political realm. As noted above, the need to maintain a “Jewish majority” in Israel has always taken precedence and muffled large-scale support for the one-state solution in the country.
Many of the arguments in favor of the one-state are geared towards resolving the two-state solution’s inherent problems and addressing the realities on the ground created by Israel. In a piece for Al Jazeera English, Ramzi el-Houry points out how the issue of distributing water resources alone makes it clear that “expecting a just two-state solution can almost be considered an impossibility.”
Rashid Khalidi, in an interview with the Israeli news agency Ha’aretz, notes that a one-state solution is already a fact on the ground. He argues there are already “two or three levels of citizenship or non-citizenship within the borders of that one sovereign state that’s in control, or at least the state that decides everything that is important.” He adds, “When I go in, I don’t go into a Palestinian state, I cross Israeli borders, whether it’s at the river or at Ben Gurion airport. So we have a one state solution and that’s what we’re going to have for the foreseeable future, unless the Israelis or people who have the ability will persuade the Israelis to reverse the dynamic that has made a two-state solution virtually impossible.”
This matrix has been noted further by Noura Erakat, who has written about the existence of a “singular legal regime” that applies Israeli law to non-citizen Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is this regime that has been at least partially responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Economics also enters into the equation. The economy within the occupied territories has lost its independence and, as a result of Oslo’s Paris Protocols, is completely intertwined with the larger Israeli economy. Israeli currency holds sway in the territories, with trade and work opportunities for the Palestinian population under Israeli control.
The one-state solution is very simple. It supports a shared state for Palestinians and Israelis where both parties are treated equally and their rights are secured. Separation of people, historically and contemporarily, does not end conflicts. Tying their fates together and giving them equal opportunity to express their desires, sentiments, and needs does. A one state solution ensures that millions of Palestinian refugees lingering in various refugee camps and elsewhere will have the ability to return to their homeland. More importantly, it challenges the acceptance of an ethno-nationalist state and the supremacy of the few over the many, allows for progress and collaborative growth between different communities, and bridges the gaps that have been created by the conflict. The one-state solution is also more practical and reasonable than a two-state solution. Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, a member of the Palestinian National Council, has written numerous times on how such a plan can easily be implemented.
As much as Israel, and even the United States, have attempted to hold negotiations hostage to their own terms, they have guaranteed the inevitability of one state. The two-state solution has become a relic of an old political-legal framework that does not tackle the crucial factors driving this conflict.
Politicians within the international political spheres tend to be slow in embracing creative ideas that challenge the status-quo. The one-state solution is one of those ideas. As the possibility of regional war draws closer, it is time now more than ever for the one-state solution to be explored.