One State, No Solution


Today, almost the entire international community claims to support a Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority have signed up to Two States. So have most of their respective supporters in the US, Australia and elsewhere.

I have supported Two States for more than 25 years as the only solution that would potentially meet both the minimum security needs of Israel and the minimum national aspirations of the Palestinians. For me, Two States has always meant simply the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish State within roughly the pre-1967 Green Line borders, and equally, the right of the Palestinians to an independent State within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This means no coerced Jewish settlements within Palestinian territory, and equally no coerced return of Palestinian refugees within Green Line Israel.

However, there remain a number of serious practical barriers to any successful implementation of a two-state solution. Firstly, the continuing presence of 121 Israeli settlements and 260,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank (not counting East Jerusalem) including the large city of Ariel which has a population of more than 20,000 people.

Added to this is the growing influence and potential domination of Palestinian politics by Hamas, a racist religious fundamentalist group which is committed to the violent destruction of the State of Israel. Then there is the reluctance of any Israeli Government – whatever its political colour – to take active steps to dismantle the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, or even to prevent the growth and expansion of existing settlements and settler numbers.

Further, the continuing demand by all Palestinian political factions for a literal – rather than symbolic – Right of Return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel, rather than to the Palestinian Territories. And most destructively, the ongoing violence perpetrated by both sides including Israeli pre-emptive attacks on Palestinian militants which also impact on civilians within the Palestinian Territories, and Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks which specifically target civilians within Green Line Israel.

Given the above concerns, there has been some conjecture as to whether or not the Two State project is still viable. I personally believe that the five barriers cited can be overcome, but a detailed analysis of that complex debate necessarily belongs elsewhere. What follows here is a specific consideration of the alternative proposal for a One State or bi-national solution.

Today, One State supporters comprise of mostly Palestinians, but also a handful of Israelis and Diaspora Jews. Many of the key advocates including Ghada Karmi, Ilan Pappe, Joseph Mas’ad and Nur Masalha joined together in a London conference held in November 2007. Some supporters of this notion claim to be former supporters of Two States who are disillusioned with the lack of progress. However, most appear to be long-time supporters of a Greater Palestine whose principal agenda is not equal rights for both peoples, but rather the elimination of the State of Israel.

A number of the London conference presenters are closely associated with calls for an academic boycott of Israel which I have described elsewhere as based on a racial or ethnic stereotyping of all Israeli Jews – and all Israeli academics in particular – as an oppressor people. In my opinion, this group appear to be using the bi-national argument as a mere ruse to put a humanitarian face on what is an ethnocentric and even openly genocidal proposal. The political strategy is to simplistically limit the options for conflict resolution to either a Greater Israel – which is likely to become a pariah state due to denying national and civil rights to the Palestinians despite their demographic majority, or one unified state which will inevitably become a Greater Palestine due to the higher Palestinian birth rate. The Two State solution which would respect the national rights of both peoples is conveniently rejected.

Nevertheless, two recent books have expounded the One State solution in significant detail, and deserve to be examined on their merits. The One-State Solution: A breakthrough for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock, by US scholar Virginia Tilley argues that there are overwhelming territorial and political barriers to any Two State solution. She claims that Jewish settlements have removed the territorial basis for a viable Palestinian state. Any Palestinian entity carved out of the remaining enclaves would be "little more than a sealed vessel of growing poverty and demoralisation", and almost certainly a source of ongoing anger, political instability and violence.

In addition, Tilley claims that it is inconceivable that any Israeli Government would have the political will to dismantle the settlements. She notes that the settlements have prospered because they have enjoyed the ongoing patronage of Jewish national institutions such as the Jewish National Fund and all Israeli governments, whatever their political persuasion. This support also reflects the dependence of Israel on the key water aquifers in the West Bank, and the power of the settler movement which threatens to respond to any pullback by shattering the unity of Jews both inside and outside Israel. In short, she argues that the Greater Israel campaign to preclude any possibility of Palestinian national independence has won, and there is no prospect of establishing a new state of Palestine separate from Green Line Israel.

Tilley’s argument against the possibility of a Palestinian State conveniently excludes many significant counter-factors which she simply implies are either idealistic or naive. But more importantly her argument is completely Israeli-centred, and makes little reference to the impact of Palestinian political culture. She assumes that only Israeli decisions and actions preclude a Two State solution, and neglects to analyse Palestinian attitudes, actions and interests that may also enhance or hinder Two States. This one-sided analysis is also extended to her discussion of possible alternatives.

Tilley admits that a one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. But she then retreats to glib assertions, rather than facts. She acknowledges that many Jews fear that they could experience "marginalisation, oppression and even expulsion in a unified state". But she simplistically dismisses such concerns as not reflecting the reality of Palestinian beliefs and actions towards Israel, and/or as based on "racial stereotyping".

What Tilley doesn’t state here is the obvious: The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews will never willingly agree to give up the power of state sovereignty, and return to being a powerless minority. This consensus operates for two reasons. Firstly, there is the historical oppression in the West culminating in the Holocaust, and in the East culminating in the historic expulsion of Jews from Arab countries in the 1950s. Jews regard statehood as essential for defending their right to live free from actual or potential scape-goating as a minority group irrespective of the current decline of anti-Semitism in most of the global community.

Secondly, there has been 60 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict including ongoing Palestinian and Arab political and military attacks against the State of Israel and its civilian population. Whatever may be said about the complex causes of this conflict and the division of responsibility, many Jews believe that the Palestinians would attampt to slaughter the Jewish civilian population if they ever had the opportunity and means to do so. This fear may or may not be reasonable, but there is no way that the Israeli Jews will expose themselves to the possibility of that threat being fulfilled.

The second text by Palestinian American Ali Abunimah, One Country: A bold proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian impasse devotes more space to arguing the potential benefits of one unified state for both peoples. Abunimah claims to be a moderate and an advocate of non-violence who supports "a permanent, protected, and vibrant national Jewish presence in all of Israel-Palestine as partners and equals". He admits that he supported the Oslo Peace Accord, and the two-state solution that it appeared to promise. However, he joins Tilley in blaming Israel’s continued building of settlements for the failure of the Oslo peace negotiations. He also argues that Two States will not address the rights of the 1.35 million Palestinians who live inside Green Line Israel, or the four million Palestinian exiles who live outside Israel and the Territories.

Abuminah argues that the settlement process is not reversible. While acknowledging that a clear majority of Israelis and Palestinians favour Two States, he notes the important qualification that most Israelis would not support a full dismantling of the West Bank settlements. He suggests that the limitations of the Israeli position was confirmed by the Camp David negotiations of July 2000, and even by the unofficial Geneva Peace Accord signed by Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo in December 2003. For Abuminah, none of these two-state proposals meet minimum Palestinian demands for the dismantling of all settlements, and the unconditional return of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel.

Both Tilley and Abuminah are concerned with only one side of the conflict. They are passionate supporters of the Palestinian narrative, and at best pay lip-service to the Israeli counter narrative. Neither provides a serious political strategy for achieving their one-state objective. This is because it is arguably a solution based on despair and utopianism.

To use one comparable analogy, it is the equivalent of the East Timorese giving up the struggle for an independent state in the 1980s and 90s, and instead helplessly seeking to transfer the whole of Indonesia into a bi-national state of Indonesia and East Timor. If Israel can’t be persuaded by the international community to cede the Palestinians an independent state in the Territories, then there is absolutely no hope that the Israelis will be persuaded to go even further and completely dissolve their state. Two States remains the only viable option for achieving Palestinian self-determination.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.