The One-State Solution: An Alternative Vision for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

VOL. 40


No. 2
P. 62
The One-State Solution: An Alternative Vision for Israeli-Palestinian Peace


The One-State Solution   An Alternative Vision for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

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By Ghada Karmi

This essay examines the one-state alternative to the commonly accepted two-state solution, which has been the basis of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since 1993. It reviews the prospects for success of the two-state solution and sets out the arguments for and against such a settlement. The history and interpretation of the one-state alternative, whether binational or secular democratic, are explored, and the future chances of its success assessed. The author finds that to date no "road map" exists for how to implement the one-state solution, without which it is likely to remain an idealistic dream.

THIS ARTICLE IS WRITTEN against the background of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in Washington on 2 September 2010. The object of the talks, as of the peace process launched in 1993, is the termination of the conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state “alongside” Israel, that is, the two-state solution.

However, changes on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1993 threaten to make such a solution unlikely, if not impossible. The Israeli colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has so advanced as to make questionable the logistical possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state on the territory that remains. Yet there is an extraordinary reluctance on the part of most politicians concerned with the conflict to look the facts in the face and draw the obvious conclusion: A two-state solution that complies even with minimalist Palestinian requirements cannot emerge from the existing situation. Rather like Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the emperor’s new clothes, none of them is willing to see the naked truth.

As the feasibility of the two-state solution recedes, the debate has turned to the one-state alternative, often as an undesirable outcome of last resort failing implementation of the preferred option. Both sides have used it as a threat against those standing in the way of the two-state solution. Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert, for example, told Ha’Aretz on 30 November 2007 that if the two-state solution collapsed, leading to a South African-style struggle for equal rights, Israel would be “finished.” And former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurai‘ declared in 2004 that if the two-state solution became impossible, Palestinians would have to aim for one state.

Whatever the motivation, the idea of a unitary state has attracted renewed interest. In fact, the idea of sharing the land between Arabs and Jews is older than that of the two-state solution, which is a recent notion in Palestinian history that emerged in response to a series of defeats for the Palestinian national movement. Though never totally absent from the debate about a solution, the unitary state has increasingly become part of mainstream political discourse. A number of one-state groups have come into being, half a dozen conferences have been held, and a growing literature on the topic has appeared. Given the reality on the ground in what remains of Palestine, the uncertainty of success for peace negotiations aimed at two states, and the precariousness of the political situation, it would be irresponsible not to seriously examine the one-state alternative.


The two-state solution has become something of a mantra for all those involved in the peace process. But the proposition that it is the ultimate solution, to the point of obviating the need to consider others, is neither true nor consonant with elementary notions of justice. Not only does it divide the Palestinians’ historic homeland into grossly unequal parts, made possible by coercion and force of arms, it also forecloses any meaningful return for the refugees driven out. The idea that it could reasonably settle a conflict whose very basis is dispossession and injustice without addressing those issues is, to say the least, unrealistic.

The two-state solution is in fact a recent position for Palestinians, who always rejected the idea of partition as a device used by Britain and later the UN and Western states for accommodating Zionist ambitions in the country. Today’s Western support for a two-state solution springs fundamentally from the same motives. The Zionists first proposed partition to the Mandate authorities as far back as 1928, when the Jewish population of the country was 20 percent. In 1937 the Peel Commission, set up by the British Government to find a solution for the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Mandate Palestine, recommended that the country be divided into Jewish and Arab states. In 1947, the partition of Palestine was enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 18, which was passed thanks to overwhelming U.S. pressure and against strong Arab opposition.

The Palestinians at the time saw partition as an outrageous assault on the integrity of their country and an undeserved gift to a newly arrived immigrant Jewish minority imposed on them. This remained the Palestinian position after 1948, when the aim of the newly formed PLO in 1964 was “the recovery of the usurped homeland in its entirety,” as the preamble to the 1964 Palestine National Charter phrased it.

It was the 1967 war, which spectacularly demonstrated Israel’s superior military power, (not to mention its staunch Western support), that forced a change in the Palestinian position. The question of partition returned implicitly to the national agenda in 1974, precipitated by the peace negotiations that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, offering hope of a comprehensive settlement and a role for the PLO. At its twelfth meeting, the Palestine National Council (PNC) formally resolved to set up a “national, independent and fighting authority on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated” from Israeli occupation. Although there was no mention of a Palestinian state as such, the resolution paved the way for new thinking about the future. This was reflected in the next PNC meeting in 1977, which called for “an independent national state” on the land with no reference to its total liberation.

By 1981, the PNC had welcomed a Russian proposal for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the idea of a two-state solution was gaining ground. The 1982 Saudi-inspired Fez plan, which called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories (an implicit adoption of a two-state solution), also won Palestinian ...

GHADA KARMI is a Palestinian academic and writer. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK. Her most recent book is Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine (Pluto Press, 2007); parts of this article are based on sections of that book.

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