One state or two?
Page last updated 26 Oct 2015
Since 1988 the dominant approach to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict has been the so-called two-state solution, though that has always had vociferous critics. The PLO traditionally called for a “secular democratic state” which Israelis generally interpreted as a rejection of Israel’s “right to exist”. In 1988, the PLO accepted an Israel within the 1967 borders, the remaining lands west of the Jordan (including of course the Gaza strip) to form the new Palestinian state. Recent developments, however, have led a number of supporters of two states, within Israel and elsewhere, to question its continued viability as an option. The articles below give a flavour of this on-going discussion.
The links below (except the last) are old, largely dating from soon after the collapse of peace talks and the start of the second intifada. They are all still interesting and the lines of argument then are very similar to those today: it is almost too late for a two-state solution because of the expansion of the settlements; two states are impossible because Israel and the occupied territories are now so integrated separation is impossible; one-state is utopian, unacceptable to the Israelis; we have one-state already, all that is at stake is what kind of one-state; the international community is wedded to two states so anything else is a non-starter; Palestinians want a state of their own, as do Israelis; two states or one, what matters is to end the occupation now…
There are many websites that offer a range of links to discussions about one-state and federal proposals, for example here.
And, to repeat, what is said on the Negotiating for peace page: there are also many people whose lives have been devoted to commenting on and intervening in the dynamic of Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. We link to some of their general contributions in a General commentaries section under the heading of International Politics.
1. Before it’s too late
Terje Roed-Larsen, Ha’aretz, Oct 2002
The author was one of the facilitators of the 1993 Oslo Accords and now serves as the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. “To the international community, I say – it is time to move decisively to put this peace process back on track and reach a two-state solution. Otherwise we must be prepared to address the consequences of its death.”
Bitterlemons.org is a website that presents Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on prominent issues of concern… It is produced, edited and partially written by Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian, and Yossi Alpher, an Israeli. Its Edition 25, 8th July 2002 was devoted to the question: “Is the two state solution still realistic?” Ghassan Khatib argued that Palestinians have no incentives to recognise Israel’s right to exist if they are not granted self-determination in the rest of historic Palestine, Yossi Alpher that the two-state option is “receding fast… because of unprecedented Palestinian population growth, coupled with the folly of Israeli settlement and the hardening of both Israeli and Palestinian peace conditions in the shadow of the intifada”. Prof Asher Susser (head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University) puts the problem succinctly in his conclusion: “Failure to take these steps [i.e. steps leading to a two-state solution] will sooner or later lead Israel into the South Africa model. No longer two states for two peoples, but rather one country between the river and the sea where Palestinian Arabs are a growing majority. At that point Israel will find itself struggling with a Palestinian demand that is already being heard on both sides of the Green Line, for majority rule in a single country…”
3. Cry, the beloved two-state solution
Meron Benvenisti and Haim Hanegbi, introduced by Ari Shavit Ha’aretz, 7 Aug 2003
Benvenisti’s roots lie deep in the old Zionist establishment. He was the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek’s right-hand man… Hanegbi, in contrast, is a retired revolutionary.
Each of them separately has come to believe that the time has come to establish one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: a binational state.
4. The Bi-national State: The Wolf Shall Dwell With The Lamb
Uri Avnery, 12 Jul 2003
The ideas in this article express the profound disagreement between Hanegbi (see previous entry) and Avnery. Avnery writes, for instance: “There is no chance at all that the present, post-holocaust, Israeli generation, or its successor, will accept this solution, which conflicts absolutely with the myth and the ethos of Israel.”
5. One-state awakening
Peter Hirschberg, Ha’aretz, 10 Dec 2003
The story of life-long Zionist Daniel Gavron’s latest book The Other Side of Despair: Jews and Arabs in the Promised Land in which he concludes that after 55 years of Jewish sovereignty, the time has come to dissolve the Jewish state and establish, in its place, a single Israeli-Palestinian state.
6. Israel: The Alternative
Tony Judt, New York Review of Books, 23 Oct 2003
To the fury of many, another long-time two-state advocate has changed his mind…
“A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.”
7. The One-State Solution
Virginia Tilley, New York Review of Books, 6 Nov 2003
Following on from Tony Judt, Tilley provides a careful analysis of the current situation, the impasse of the two-state solution and the problems – and advantages – of a one-state solution which would recast “disputes as ethnic arguments within a democratic polity rather than between polarised and mutually demonised Others”. It is, for Tilley the only solution “that the international community can responsibly now entertain”.
Meron Benvenisti, Ha’aretz, 20 Nov 2003
Benevenisti looks briefly at what binationalism can mean. Rejecting a unitary model, he briefly introduces four other ‘more attractive’ alternatives: “consociational democracy”; power sharing and division into federated cantons; cultural and civic local autonomy; and what he calls “undeclared binationalism”, a unitary state controlled by one dominant national group – more or less what exists now…
A passionate rejection of the two-state solution: “Rejecting relative humanity from any side, and insisting on ethical consistency, I believe that the most moral means of achieving a just and enduring peace in the ancient land of Palestine is to establish a secular democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, anchored in equal humanity and, accordingly, equal rights. The one-state solution, whether bi-national — a notion which is largely based on a false premise that the second nation in question is defined  — or secular-democratic, offers a true chance for decolonization of Palestine without turning the Palestinians into oppressors of their former oppressors. The vicious cycle launched by the Holocaust must come to an end altogether”.
10. Justice for Palestine?
Noam Chomsky, Interview by Stephen R. Shalom and Justin Podur, ZNet, 30 Mar 30 2004
A searing attack on one-state proponents:
“There has never been a legitimate proposal for a democratic secular state from any significant Palestinian (or of course Israeli) group. One can debate, abstractly, whether it is ‘desirable’. But it is completely unrealistic. There is no meaningful international support for it, and within Israel, opposition to it is close to universal. It is understood that this would soon become a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, and with no guarantee for either democracy or secularism (even if the minority status would be accepted, which it would not). Those who are now calling for a democratic secular state are, in my opinion, in effect providing weapons to the most extreme and violent elements in Israel and the US.”
11. The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel
Joel Beinen, Merip, Aug 2002
A review of three recent books. Beinen’s comments on Jeremy Ben-Ami captures well the view that, while the two-state soltuion is being undermined, there really is no desirable alternative:
“Ben-Ami will never cease spinning his wheels calling for two states. For unalterably committed liberal Zionists, it will always ‘soon be too late’ to achieve that vision. But the hour will never arrive, and nonetheless these same people will always disparage sanctions against Israel as ‘counter-productive’.”
12. One state or two states?
Arthur Goodman JfJfP, Jun 2015
A detailed argument as to why the “two state” solution is the only practical possibility or, as Goodman sums it up: “the least impossible solution”.
Contents of this section
c) Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?
d) What is Zionism today?
e) The nature of the nakba
f) One state or two?
g) Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?
h) Right of return and law of return
i) The role of the JNF