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A one-state solution

A one-state solution

Ahmad Samih Khalidi

A unitary Arab-Jewish homeland could bring lasting peace to the Middle East.

Something is stirring in Israel these days. After a long hiatus, the country's left is gearing up for a new ideological offensive. Major figures, including the writer David Grossman and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, have recently spoken out against the right-wing policies of Ariel Sharon. Their impassioned pleas for a radical alternative cannot but impress all those who genuinely seek a way out of the deadly cycle of Palestinian-Israeli violence.


But there is something poignant about the Zionist left's continuous attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. Its criticisms of Sharon hark back to an idealised notion of a Jewish state in which democracy, decency and tolerance are the guiding principles. In moving forwards towards peace with the Palestinians, the left seeks to take a few steps back; consolidating the Jewish state, preserving its Jewish character, withdrawing from the quagmire of occupation and reinstating the values of a democratic and humane society. But to Palestinian ears there is something inherently wrong here: for us, there is a basic and inescapable contradiction between Zionism and democracy. If Zionism means anything, it means a Jewish state with a clear Jewish majority - and in Palestine this has necessarily been at the expense of Palestinian Arab rights.


The question of whether Zionism can be reconciled with democracy has always been at the heart of the debate on the Palestinian problem. But it has dropped off the broader political agenda partly because a majority of Israeli Jews have been resistant to anything that smacks of a challenge to the very premise on which the Zionist enterprise was built, and partly due to the belief (on both sides) that the Palestinian problem is ultimately resolvable via a territorial partition that would separate the mass of Arabs from Jews.


However, a number of recent developments have challenged these assumptions. With an unbridled settlement policy now matched by a "separation wall" that merely consecrates the divide between Palestinians and Israeli settlers within the occupied West Bank, Sharon and his predecessors have all but destroyed the possibility of a viable and sustainable territorial settlement along national lines.


There is also a growing realisation that demographic trends will redefine the Arab-Jewish population balance in the territory of historic Palestine between the Mediterranean sea and the river Jordan. We already have rough parity between the two populations today; by 2020 the balance is likely to be 60-40 in favour of the Arabs.


But that is not all; the moral terms of Palestinian-Israeli debate have also changed. Thus former Mossad head and national security adviser Ephraim Halevy believes that Israel's real post-Oslo mistake has been to accept a trade-off whereby the Israelis acknowledge Palestinian rights (such as that of "statehood"), while the Palestinians merely concede contingent realities which, by implication, they could overturn at a later date. Henceforth, he says, the Palestinians must accept Israeli-Jewish rights, and the moral legitimacy of their presence in Palestine.


But there are no conceivable circumstances in which any Palestinian can concede their own history in favour of the Zionist narrative. It would mean that they would have to accept that for 1,400 years the Arab-Muslim presence in Palestine was transient and unlawful, and based on the false premise that continuity of habitation conferred rights of ownership. Furthermore, the Palestinians would have to accept that the pulverisation of Arab Palestine in 1948, and the 50-odd years of subsequent dispersal and occupation, are the rightful outcome of an illegal struggle against the real owners of the land. Simply put, Halevy wants Palestinians to become good Zionists.


Palestinians cannot confer legitimacy on the Zionist narrative and should not be asked to do so, or vice versa. But if the two-state solution is no longer physically possible, and demography is creating its own inexorable facts, what are we left with that can serve as a framework for a settlement?


A move from the dominance of the territorial struggle to a redefinition of the national struggle, from the discourse of self-determination to that of freedom and democracy, provides one way out. If history cannot serve as a common basis for legitimisation, let us consider doing so on the basis of mutuality and equality. In other words, on the basis of equal political and civic rights in one state, with one-man, one-vote.


One can almost hear the sheer panic in former prime minister Ehud Barak's voice as he argues that the Palestinians may demand not two states for two peoples, but one state west of the Jordan river: "But," he warns, "that single state will have to be in the spirit of the 21st century: democratic, secular, one-man, one-vote. One-man, one-vote? Remind you of something? Yes. South Africa. And that's no accident. It's precisely their intention."


As it happens, having espoused the two states for some three decades, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are desperately clinging to the fading prospects of a viable partition. But let us suppose that the Palestinians do "demand" one-man, one-vote as in South Africa. What is the argument against?


Barak is not alone in not really having an answer. The best that the influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman can do is caution his American Jewish readers that if they think it is hard to defend Israel on college campuses today, "imagine what it will be like when their kids have to argue against the principle of one-man, one-vote".


The truth is that the Zionists want it both ways: a secular political existence for Jewish communities everywhere and equality of rights as the underpinning of global Jewish security, yet an ethnic state in Israel that is built on the converse. As that canny veteran Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery has observed, Israel is not really a "Jewish democratic state" but a "Jewish demographic state".


By positing one homeland for both sides, the one-state solution not only does away with the conflict over history and mutual legitimisation, but has practical political implications as well. Both sides can maintain their "right of return" without this being at the expense of the other, and Israeli settlers would not need to be removed from where they are today. Jerusalem could truly become the shared capital of a unitary Arab-Jewish state.


It would be sheer illusion to pretend that this idealised vision is about to wean Israel away from Zionism. Neither can the Palestinian national impulse be easily melded into some kind of fuzzy warm-hearted version of semitic brotherhood. But if the two-state solution simply is not to be, some truly serious questions must soon be asked: what is more important, democracy, or the Jewishness of the state? A Jewish state, or a homeland for Jews and Arabs alike? What is better: no Palestinian state at all, or a single state that provides them with equal rights alongside Jews?


There are alternatives to the one state/two-state paradigm; a slide towards apartheid, for example, or a drift towards ever-escalating resistance and violence, and the chances are that both sides will pursue them to the bitter end.


But the resilience of the democratic option should not be discounted. Unlike the two-state solution, its viability is not contingent on developments on the ground, but really is a matter of a change of hearts and minds. And yes, we do have the example of South Africa.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Israel and Palestine: A True One-State Solution

Israel and Palestine: A True One-State Solution

George Bisharat

This op-ed was published by the Washington Post on 3 September 2010.

"Where is the Palestinian Mandela?" pundits occasionally ask. But after these latest Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington fail -- as they inevitably will -- the more pressing question may be: "Where is the Israeli de Klerk?" Will an Israeli leader emerge with the former South African president's moral courage and foresight to dismantle a discriminatory regime and foster democracy based on equal rights?

For decades, the international community has assumed that historic Palestine must be divided between Jews and Palestinians. Yet no satisfactory division of the land has been reached. Israel has aggravated the problem by settling roughly 500,000 Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, eliminating the land base for a viable Palestinian state.

A de facto one-state reality has emerged, with Israel effectively ruling virtually all of the former Palestine. Yet only Jews enjoy full rights in this functionally unitary political system. In contrast, Palestinian citizens of Israel endure more than 35 laws that explicitly privilege Jews as well as policies that deliberately marginalize them. West Bank Palestinians cannot drive on roads built for Israeli settlers, while Palestinians in Gaza watch as their children's intellectual and physical growth are stunted by an Israeli siege that has limited educational opportunities and deepened poverty to acute levels.

Palestinian refugees have lived in exile for 62 years, their right to return to their homes denied, while Jews from anywhere can freely immigrate to Israel.

Israeli leaders Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have admitted that permanent Israeli rule over disenfranchised Palestinians would be tantamount to apartheid. Other observers, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have said that apartheid has already taken root in the region.

Clearly, Palestinians and Israeli Jews will continue to live together. The question is: under what terms? Palestinians will no more accept permanent subordination than would any other people.

The answer is for Israelis and Palestinians to formalize their de facto one-state reality but on principles of equal rights rather than ethnic privilege. A carefully crafted multiyear transition including mechanisms for reconciliation would be mandatory. Israel/Palestine should have a secular, bilingual government elected on the basis of one person, one vote as well as strong constitutional guarantees of equality and protection of minorities, bolstered by international guarantees. Immigration should follow nondiscriminatory criteria. Civil marriage between members of different ethnic or religious groups should be permitted. Citizens should be free to reside in any part of the country, and public symbols, education and holidays should reflect the population's diversity.

Although the one-state option is sometimes dismissed as utopian, it overcomes major obstacles bedeviling the two-state solution. Borders need not be drawn, Jerusalem would remain undivided and Jewish settlers could stay in the West Bank. Moreover, a single state could better accommodate the return of Palestinian refugees. A state based on principles of equality and inclusion would be more morally compelling than two states based on narrow ethnic nationalism. Furthermore, it would be more consistent with antidiscrimination provisions of international law. Israelis would enjoy the international acceptance that has long eluded them and the associated benefits of friendship, commerce and travel in the Arab world.

The main obstacle to a single-state solution is the belief that Israel must be a Jewish state. Jim Crow laws and South African apartheid were similarly entrenched virtually until the eves of their demise. History suggests that no version of ethnic privilege can ultimately persist in a multiethnic society.

Israeli perspectives are already beginning to shift, most intriguingly among right-wing leaders. Former defense minister Moshe Arens recently proposed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israel annex the West Bank and offer its residents citizenship. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin and Likud parliamentarian Tzipi Hotovely have also supported citizenship for West Bank Palestinians, according to the Haaretz. In July, Hotovely said of the Israeli government's policies of separation: "The result is a solution that perpetuates the conflict and turns us from occupiers into perpetrators of massacres, to put it bluntly."

Is one of these politicians the Israeli de Klerk? That remains to be seen. Gaza is pointedly excluded from the Israeli right's annexation debate. They still envision a Jewish state, simply one with a larger Palestinian minority. But their challenge to the two-state orthodoxy, which empirical experience has proven unrealistic, is healthy.

If Americans aspire to more than managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via perpetual and inconclusive negotiations, we should applaud this emerging discussion. Having overcome our own institutionalized racial discrimination, we can model the virtues of a vibrant, multicultural society based on equal rights. President Obama, moreover, would be a fitting emissary for this vital message.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.

A One-State Solution for Israel and Palestine

A One-State Solution for Israel and Palestine

George Bisharat

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post on 10 April 2012.

The international community has struggled for two decades to navigate Israelis and Palestinians toward an oasis of peace and stability. Yet it is increasingly clear that this oasis -- the two-state solution, whereby each of the two peoples would exercise sovereignty within their own state -- is in fact a mirage that continually recedes into the distance, always remaining just beyond reach. 

In fact, a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state will not be realized any time in the foreseeable future, and quite likely never will be. The obstacles to meaningful Palestinian statehood are constantly mounting, most tangibly in the form of Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some 600,000 Jewish settlers now reside there -- three times as many as at the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, and their numbers are growing rapidly.
Continuing to chase the two-state mirage under these circumstances will only enable continuing Israeli colonization of the West Bank and entrench a new form of systematic ethno-religious discrimination, where only Jews enjoy full rights -- to travel, housing, employment, education, and other basics of a free life.
As it stands, there is one effective sovereign between the Mediterranean Sea to the west, and the Jordan River to the east: Israel. It is the Israeli government whose actions most impact the lives not only of its 7.6 million citizens, but also of its 4.3 million subjects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As this functionally unitary state will not be divided, the question that looms is: on what principles will it be organized, ethnic privilege for Jews, as it is now, or equal rights? Ethnic privilege for Jews is currently institutionalized not only in the segregated Jewish communities Israel has established in the West Bank, but also in more than 35 laws within Israel that bestow benefits exclusively to its Jewish citizens.
A growing number of forward-looking Palestinians and Israelis are rejecting Jewish ethnic privilege as both ethically insupportable and politically unsustainable, and are opting for equal rights. That is the position of a number of the participants in a "one state" conference held recently at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School. Recognizing that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are destined to live together, the conference participants were seeking ways to share power equitably between the two communities.
Not all support for a single state emanates from progressive thinkers, however. Members of Israel's right wing are also beginning to seriously mull the advantages of a single state: no borders would have to be drawn, Jerusalem would remain undivided, and Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- at least if desegregated -- could remain where they are. Current Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, for example, stated in a 2010 interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "I would rather Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up." He further advocated "true partnership" between Jews and Palestinians and relations based on mutual respect and absolute equality.
Right-wing politicians in the United States appear to be following suit. Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, in a recent exchange with a young voter captured on, characterized the West Bank as "Israeli country" and asserted that "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they're not Palestinians. There is no 'Palestinian.'" As a descriptive matter, of course, he was flatly wrong -- Palestinian residents of the West Bank are not citizens of Israel and have no vote in Israeli elections. But as a normative statement, Santorum's could be read as endorsing the inclusion of Palestinians into the Israeli body politic.
In February the Republican National Committee passed a resolution sponsored by national committeewoman Cindy Costa of South Carolina that claimed "peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people." Elsewhere the resolution denied that Israel was "an occupier of the land of others," clarifying that the area to be governed under "one law" includes the West Bank. Two state legislatures, in South Carolina and Florida, have passed resolutions in the last year supporting a one-state solution and identifying the West Bank as part of Israel.
By abandoning the still-born two-state solution, the emerging Israeli and American conservative advocates of one-state achieve a form of progress. But real, on-the-ground progress will follow only if the state that ultimately emerges is solidly based on the principle of equal rights. Inequality, in contrast, is a formula for perpetual conflict.
It pays to remember that possibly the largest, and surely the safest and most prosperous Jewish community in the world, is in the United States. We abandoned racial privilege and formally committed ourselves to equal rights in adopting the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. Is a true democracy -- one in which all, not some, enjoy full rights of citizenship -- really so threatening to the interests of Israeli Jews? Would not a truly democratic state joining Jews and Palestinians become the "light unto nations" that Israel was always meant to be?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.

The Future of the Two State Solution

The Future of the Two State Solution

Chatham House

Ahmad Samih Khalidi on "The Future of the Two-State Solution" at Chatham House. 


The speakers will offer their perspectives on the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They will consider whether the two state solution is still a viable option for resolving the conflict, and whether or not there is any alternative. They will also reflect on the impact of the Palestinian issue on regional politics as well as the influence of relations between the US and Israel on the peace process.









The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.

The Palestine Problem and the One-State/Two-States Solution


This study is a contribution to the ongoing debate on the one-state and two-states solutions, especially in the light of the negotiation deadlock and dead-end settlement prospects. The successive Israeli governments have dealt a fatal blow to the two-states solution which has become illusive, while the one-state solution is neither possible nor achievable. Instead of the stalled projects, the author suggests moving from thinking about the solutions to thinking about the tools and power relations. Besides the analytical level, the study offers a short review of the history of the one-state idea in the Jewish and Zionist politics and thought on one hand, and in the Palestinian political thought on the other hand, showing the points of convergence and divergence. The study aims at enriching the Palestinian political thought and opening the debate prospects away from repeated frameworks and the current back and forth between the one-state and two-states solutions.

E edition: 
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Is a two-state solution still possible?

Is a two-state solution still possible?

Al Jazeera English

In the words of one Israeli opposition member of parliament: "When Jerusalem burns, everything burns". Nahman Shai fears a newly passed law in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, could lead to more unrest in the Middle East. The Israeli law makes it harder to divide the contested capital of Jerusalem in any future deal with the Palestinians. Israel says the city is its capital. Palestinian leaders say East Jerusalem has always been their capital. It all could have a dramatic impact on any peace deal between Israel and Palestine - with some saying its yet another fatal blow to a possible two-state solution. What are the consequences of the latest law?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Leading Palestinian intellectual: We already have a one-state solution

Leading Palestinian intellectual: We already have a one-state solution

This article originally appeared on by Chemi Shalev. Dec. 5, 2011

Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi says nobody believes firing rockets is resistance that will liberate Palestine or that talking with the U.S. will deliver a just and lasting solution.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority should unite, unequivocally renounce violence and jettison the U.S.-led peace process which is “a corpse that has had formaldehyde pumped into its veins for over a decade” – this is the diagnosis and prescription of Professor Rashid Khalidi, one of the leading Palestinian intellectuals in the world.
“Nobody believes that firing rockets and getting 1,400 people killed in response is ‘resistance’ that is going to liberate Palestine, and nobody believes that talking with the U.S., with Dennis Ross putting his thumb on the scales in favor of Israel, which is already overwhelmingly superior, is going to produce an equitable and just and lasting solution of the Palestine question. If you still believe that - you have to have your head examined,” the U.S.-born Khalidi said.
Khalidi, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s, and one of the first proponents of a two-state solution expressed grave doubts about the chances for its implementation, because of what he describes as the “inexorable work of the bulldozers” and Israel’s “settlement-industrial complex”. In any case, he added, the two-state solution was but a “way station” that would not mean end-of-conflict and would still necessitate agreement on Palestinian refugees and on Israel’s “Palestinian minority” before a comprehensive settlement could be achieved.
A “one-state solution already exists," he added, because “there is only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which there are two or three levels of citizenship or non-citizenship within the borders of that one state that exerts total control.”
Laying much of the blame for their situation on the Palestinians themselves, he called on them to “re-imagine” the way a Palestinian state would work. “Why not have a Palestinian state in which Jews live? What’s wrong with that?” And in what might sound as an echo of Israeli complaints about the “Tel Aviv state”, Khalidi said that Palestinian leaders need to mobilize their people and “get them out their expensive Audis and Mercedes and out of their bubble in Ramallah where everyone is prosperous and there is no unemployment.”
Khalidi refused to discuss any aspect of his personal relations with U.S. President Obama, which featured so prominently in the 2008 presidential campaign and was used to criticize Obama’s attitude toward Israel. But Khalidi’s criticism of the President’s Middle East policies is withering: “I had low expectations and my low expectations were more than fulfilled. He’s done considerably worse than I would have expected.”
Khalidi said that Obama had squandered his chance of making meaningful changes during his first two years in office, when the Democrats still controlled Congress “and since they lost Congress a year and a half ago, Benjamin Netanyahu has more influence over these issues than the president does. Because he has a House and a Senate that will carry him on their shoulders as far as he wants to go. The President can’t do that.”
In a wide-ranging interview conducted in his office at Columbia University in New York, where he is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Khalidi also dismissed Israel’s existential fears of Iran as “fantasy” and said that the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are “pragmatic” and would not abrogate Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.
On the other hand, Khalidi expressed grave concern about the extremist Salafi party’s performance in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, which “shocked” him, and suggested that its success may be connected to Saudi funding. “There are several scores of Saudi princes who have personal budgets as large as medium-sized states. So there are 20 or 30 Saudi ‘foreign policies,'" he said.
At the same time, Khalidi believes that Islamist parties will have a hard time maintaining their current popularity in the Arab world, a development that already be seen in what he described as the Gaza public’s growing disenchantment with Hamas. “It’s perfectly fine to come in with a slogan that ‘Islam is the solution’, but try to solve a housing crisis, or infrastructure, or unemployment, with ‘Islam is the solution’, he said.
“This is a process that’s going to fall through – if it’s not short-circuited by hysterical people from the outside,” he added.
On Iran, Khalidi believes that “Ahmadinejad is a technician who has no real role in security or foreign policy or where the military is concerned. You try to convince Americans of that – as far as they are concerned, he’s Hitler’s little brother.”
He said that Israeli leaders are “cynically and irresponsibly” drumming up fears of Iran in order to “maintain Israel’s dominance over the region” and that Jerusalem must change its attitude towards Teheran “which means layers of hysteria, and lies and exaggeration and propaganda are going to have to be peeled back.”
“The idea that Israel is under any existential danger is fantasy. The idea that the Iranians would incinerate a 3,000-4,000 year old civilization for some apocalyptic reason and destroy themselves as a government, as a regime, and as individuals – is irrational,” Khalidi said.
Khalidi, who lived for many years in Beirut, also warned of an outbreak of “civil war and sectarian violence” in Syria, which would be “catastrophic for the whole region”. He accused the Gulf countries of stirring the pot in Syria and of drumming up sectarian animosity.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute for Palestine Studies.


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