A One-State Solution for Israel and Why It Will Work

west bank mural

With Netanyahu’s latest victory, the prospects of a peaceful outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy seem ever more distant. But it’s not like they were ever very close anyhow. While it’s alleged over and over again that Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, or specifically its right to exist as a Jewish state, there’s a far more damning fact: Israel isn’t just rhetorically denying the right of a Palestinian state to exist. It has done so in the past, continues to do so, and doesn’t appear to be changing course anytime soon.

Israel has been actively occupying and oppressing the Palestinian people for decades now, though not equally. As Yousef Munayyer notes, only 27% of Palestinians under Israeli rule can vote. That 27% are the Palestinians within the 1948 borders of Israel—basically, excluding the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip—who hold Israeli citizenship, and vote, even if ‘their’ Prime Minister has demonstrated that a good way to win elections in Israel’s ethnic democracy is by race-baiting and fear-mongering. Meanwhile, horrified pundits pretend no such thing has happened before.

Though, let’s be fair: Israeli Palestinians who can vote nevertheless live as second-class citizens. On the other hand, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who number some 200,000, cannot vote; their neighborhoods have been annexed to Israel, even though international law and the international community recognize that East Jerusalem would belong to a Palestinian state, assuming it were to have existed.

We need even more hands to write this story out: The West Bank is cut open and torn apart by settlements, many of whose inhabitants are fervent ideologues. But not all of them. Some settlers prefer the convenience of cheaper housing, without any apparent concern for how their desire for an affordable place to live jeopardizes the security of their country and the viability of their state. And that’s not even getting to Gaza.

All this trouble, with the continued delusion that somehow it can be sustained, somehow it’ll be made to work, somehow if we just bomb them every few years, and punish them for their desire to be free, we will have achieved a reasonable and acceptable status quo.

But although I welcome the forwardness with which we are beginning to confront the ugly realities of ongoing occupation—as well as the racism and ethnocentrism that are necessarily enhanced in the course of such conflict—I don’t think we quite understand the desperate urgency of the situation. Israel’s elite believe a combination of periodic aerial bombardment, increased settlement construction, ever more partisan alliance with the American right wing, and a healthy dose of indifference to the wider world will somehow preserve an expansionist project. But that is not going to happen.

A recent European Union report states that tensions in Jerusalem are at their highest in years. It’s about time the United States joins the international community in expressing real, and consequential, disapproval of this state of affairs. The relationship between America and Israel isn’t one of alliance so much as one of patron and client. When we, as Americans, could be devoting time and energy to building cooperation around issues of national concern—climate change, for example—we have to beg, persuade and harangue our allies not to turn to the United Nations to censure Israel, or to ask the European Union and the Arab League to keep the Palestinian Authority afloat.

Why are we spending so much political capital on a country that does not hold to our ideals (political idealism), and offers us little in return (political realism)?

For what reason should we continue to devote our diplomatic energies defending an ally that is openly disrespectful of our elected leadership, and only shares our values if we are speaking of the United States from several decades ago? Is it really worth it? And do we not have some kind of moral responsibility to warn a country that has long been our ally of the perils of its chosen path? The longer the occupation grinds on, the more Israel will have to assault Palestinian populations in wars that cause disproportionately high civilian casualties—witness this summer’s brutal exercise—leaving it further isolated internationally. The consequences go beyond the rhetorical.

Amazingly, Netanyahu points to the threat posed by ISIS and Hezbollah alike, despite the fact that they are enemies, and that his support for the Iraq War helped to create the conditions in which and through which ISIS emerged. (Then he has the temerity to ask us to put our soldiers, civilians, and security at risk by pursuing another ill-advised conflict.)

Netanyahu doesn’t just use anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment to win votes, justify occupation, or call for war—the violent consequences of his Islamophobia—but he also deliberately provokes anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment. Then he travels to Europe and declares that he is not just leader of Israel, but leader of all Jews.

If I were Jewish, this would horrify me—as much as the declarations, by unsavory Muslim leaders, that they somehow represent Islam. (At least they don’t try to represent me, or show up in my country and tell me to go back to their own, a message that uncritically and unconsciously mimics the worst kinds of anti-Semitic language.)

As a Muslim, I am likewise disgusted by the anti-Semitism that I see, and the conflation of Israel’s political policies with Jews and Judaism generally. In a reciprocal way, anger over Israel’s occupation of Palestine has been seized by radical groups to justify an all-encompassing hatred of Jews. The longer this conflict drags on, the worse it is likely to get.

But there are ways out—though that window is quickly closing.

It is not true that, as Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times (‘Netanyahu Will Make History’), that there is either ‘only one state,’ in which Israel ‘cannot be Jewish,’ or a two-state solution, an Israel and Palestine living side-by-side. Get over it, folks. Not happening. The time for a two-state solution passed in the previous millennium. Friedman didn’t just miss the window of opportunity, he’s missed the closing credits, too. It’s highly unlikely Israel will uproot its settlers, especially considering the strength of support they can summon in election after election.

Not to mention, I do not believe Palestinians would accept the kind of state that’s condescendingly offered to them in any such conversation about two-state ‘solutions’. Any Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, and who, really, would accept that—that’s not sovereignty, that’s (at best) autonomy, and if you’re going to be merely autonomous, why even uphold the fiction of statehood?

Think about it: If you had been militarily occupied and attacked for years by the same country, would you accept a ‘sovereign’ state which had no ability to defend itself?  Palestinians, furthermore, don’t just have every reason to be wary of Israel’s intentions, and its powerful military, but of many of their neighbors’ as well.

For an idea of what a ‘demilitarized’ Palestine might mean, just look at Gaza. While, yes, the Israeli army withdrew settlers from the coastal territory, it remains under a crippling blockade. And don’t forget that Egypt’s dictator, Sisi, has closed his side of the border too, essentially trapping well over a million people.

No people in the world would tolerate living like that. (We Americans most certainly wouldn’t.) Is this what would become of the West Bank, too—a nominally self-governing state with no control of its borders, at the whims of Israel and Jordan? So with two-states down we appear only to have one-state, but Friedman says no, not that either. He says a ‘one state’ solution would be impossible, because it would mean death by a million votes.

Only if Friedman means, by a one-state solution, a unitary state that makes no distinctions between its citizens. One option is a one-state, but one which would respect the right of Palestinians to return to their country without threatening the deeply felt and understandable Jewish desire for a state—a federation of two states, whose dividing lines are not geographic so much as they are communal and cultural. (I study South Asia’s recent history, especially before and after partition, so trust me, creating ‘homogenous’ territories would only open the door to horrific violence on a scale Mandatory Palestine hasn’t yet seen.)

Two communities with high degrees of autonomy, giving Palestinians their deserved right of return, if they so wished of course, but without threatening the Jewish character of Israel. The two communities would live side-by-side, but not together. Not yet at least. The period of adjustment would naturally be long, painful, and hurtful.

But otherwise Israel doesn’t just hurtle towards disaster, it votes Likud back in and gives that tragedy a mandate to form a government. Insofar as we are more patron than ally to Israel we have the right to ask what else our money and support are for—and what our responsibilities are.

If denial is one of the stages of grief, and Hegel was right about the stages of history, then Netanyahu is an embodiment of denial, the unwillingness of much of Israel—and her supporters—to admit that the longer they resist, the worse the outcome will be. For everyone.

I don’t think we’ve fully comprehended how much worse the situation is than it appears to be. You can march triumphantly into your own grave, the Germans say. We’ve left the two-state solution long behind. God forbid we leave the one-state behind, too.


Photo of West Bank mural by flickr user Jonas Hansel via Creative Commons


  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    America may be a primary enabler of the tragedy here, but that doesn’t mean we have any solutions. I think we should take it a step at a time, do what we can now. What we can do is heal the rift with Iran, another problem in the region that we had a major hand in causing. We are almost there. If a settlement is negotiated, and we start reducing sanctions and rebuilding ties to the people of Iran, that will be a major step toward peace in the region. Now is the opening. Israel doesn’t want peace, but right now they might be too preoccupied to stop it from coming if rational people in Iran and America can make it happen before Republicans can find a way to block it. This isn’t the solution to the Palestinian problem, but once we have established friendly ties to Iran the strategic back of our Christian Zionists will be broken, and things can get better in the region.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    The Israelis have effectively settled the occupied West Bank, and are continuing to do so despite the fact that they have no legal right or international recognition for their policy. To the best of my knowledge, they have never clearly identified their territorial claims. With the backing of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and others, they have been immunized from any sanctions or retaliation. I fully expect they will continue to build these illegal settlements, making a two-state solution impossible.
    On the other hand, I cannot see how this proposed one-state solution could work. If the Palestinians living within Israel were given full rights as citizens, it would become a birth-rate contest. Once the Muslim/Arabic portion of the population reached a clear majority, the special religious considerations given to the Jews would presumably be curtailed or restricted. That, in turn, would incite internal strife to the point of civil war – a condition not unlike the present circumstance. I see no future for Israel that does not include continuing bloodshed. Because it involves religion, many of the rational solutions receive little traction. It is a tragedy of our times.

  • RabbiRosenberg@bethamtampa.org' Rabbi Jason Rosenberg says:

    The core idea of this article–that it’s possible to create a hybrid, 1 state solution, with two people living side-by-side (mixed together, actually) with autonomous governments, sounds unrealistic to me. I’d love to learn more about it, but it’s hard for me to imagine that actually working (in any situation, not just one as fraught as Israel/Palestine).

    Unfortunately, the author takes an awfully long time to get to that interesting, yet controversial idea. Before that, he spends quite a bit of time unfairly putting all of the blame for the situation on Israel. It is not “alleged” that the Palestinians have long rejected Israel’s right to exist. It’s a pretty clear fact. And, no mention is made that the decades-old rejectionism of the Palestinian leadership is, almost without a doubt, one of the primary reasons for the rise of the right in Israel. The peacenick left was eviscerated in large part because their attempts to make peace were either undermined or cynically exploited by the Palestinians.

    It’s also a convenient distortion to lump Israeli-citizen Arabs in with the Arabs living in the Occupied Territories, thus coming up with the 27% voting eligibility statistic. Of course non-citizens can’t vote; in what country or situation can they? And, again, isn’t it important to mention that the reason for the Occupation has much to do (especially in its first few decades) with the absolute refusal of the Palestinian leadership to compromise or negotiate in any way? Ever since the ’67 war, the majority of Israelis were in favor of a land-for-peace deal, at least in principle. Has there even been a parallel among the Palestinians?

    You use Gaza as an example of how bad Israel is, but fail to mention that the blockade only began after Israel pulled out (uprooting settlements along the way) only to see Gazans elect Hamas (which is still openly and explicitly dedicated to destroying Israel) and turn Gaza into a launching pad for endless terrorist attacks. And so on.

    I’m no fan of Bibi, and I am, at my core, still a Peacenick. I long for a day when Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace. But, pretending that Israel is the willing, evil oppressor while the Palestinians are nothing except for victims of Zionist Imperialism is not true, and it’s not helpful, either.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    They are probably upset because they are blockaded everywhere, and the barriers keep multiplying and growing.

  • RabbiRosenberg@bethamtampa.org' Rabbi Jason Rosenberg says:

    Of course, we can’t really quantify it that way. I’m guessing that you know that, and that your question is sarcastic. But, let’s take that first statement: They are probably upset because they are blockaded everywhere.” Sounds reasonable.

    Why were they upset when, immediately after the ’67 war, Israel offered to start negotiations, and the Arab nations declared, together, that there would be “no peace, no negotiations, no recognition?” Why were they upset in ’05 when Israel pulled out of Gaza, before any blockade?

    Why were the upset in ’66, before the war and Occupation even began, when they formed the PLO and committed to destroying Israel? Unless you count all of pre-67 Israel as a manifestation of “Zionist Imperialism.”

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Whatever happened before, their land is being sliced to bits now and making it tough. As Americans, we need to take some responsibility because we are supplying the weapons and military support, and funding the situation.

    My choice would be just put it all on hold for now and concentrate on working something out with Iran. If that situation can be improved, the region will be better off.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    Mr. Haroon, I like your ideas and not just because you are a Muslim. I have been saying for a long time that there can only be one state. You are right. A federalist republic. There are two big issues. The biggest obstacle is that the Palestinian Arabs keep calling for a state and this despite the fact that everyone knows that state will be a launching pad for attacks against Israel. The Palestinians are chanting nationalism and their chants are causing them to be closed off from the mainstream of the major power in the region (Israel). The second obstacle is the Arab violence. I know, some will say it is justified, but the Palestinians need to get between the US and Israel. Once the rockets go off from Lebanon or Gaza, the US President, whoever is there at that moment, will rush to a podium to defend all Israeli aggression. The Arabs need to drop the nationalist talk, get some Muslim humility and demand Israeli citizenship. That is the position that will drive a wedge between Israel and its’ biggest benefactor. You are a smart man with a voice and hearing you convinces me I am not as crazy as I think I am sometimes.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    I am a Muslim, but not an Arab. I agree with your points, but in 2015, we often talk about disproportionate response and how it is fueled by racism. That is my answer. Mr. Haroon said the Palestinians have rhetorically rejected an Israeli state that is all to present and real, while Israelis reject the realilty of a Palestinian state. I think there should only be one state called Israel. It eventually won’t be Jewish. In a fair democracy, the religion of the government is not guaranteed. Be Jewish or democratic. Don’t lie and say you are both.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    the key to not having a civil war is that, like every place else in the world, the people of the region have to learn to fight with ballots instead of bullets and live with the results when they lose. This in turn means that in any future process, the Palestinians have to be watched closely to see if they can actually embrace a non-violent, MLK-type struggle. If they can’t, I really have no sympathy for them. Israel should always be a place that gives special protection to its Jewish citizens….but it is undemocratic to say it must be a Jewish state. Guaranteeing the religion of the government is undemocratic.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Israel is a nation of Immigrants. Only immigrants can be fully citizens, not those who lived there.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    mr. jim,,,sometimes we don’t listen to what we say. “only immigrants can be full citizens, not those who live there.”

    Because they are Arabs? Just maybe that sounds a tad racist?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Only immigrants can be full citizens. Those living there need to be pushed aside. I really do hate to say it because that strategy worked so well here in America. It seems to be a function of modern weaponry. We need to understand the situation before we can move on.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    This is a fair assessment, and I’m completely on the left regarding this issue, but it’s disingenuous to say that Palestinians have been innocent victims since the founding of Israel. I think that it was a slow process that started mostly after 1967 when the occupation began; and even then didn’t really become a large social justice issue on the part of Palestinians until the last 20 years.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    As I understand it, when Menachem Begin was a young Zionist, he was clearing out a town that was in the way. One night anyone who didn’t leave with their family, he wiped out the family in their hut. Many families ran, and then the next day nobody was allowed to return to their homes because they left so they no longer lived there. They have been without a home to this day.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    Yes, I believe this was during the Nakba, which is a different thing from the occupation.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    you are so revealing! the Palestinians are just like the Native Americans and we need another genocide to cleanse the land so it can be for Jews only…..thanks for letting us know where you stand….at least you are honest.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I didn’t say we need another genocide. I am just saying we need to see the situation as it is if we want to deal with it. Read it again. I think you have confused yourself.

  • grigalem@gmail.com' Pennywhistler says:

    Silly, one-sided propaganda piece. More mis-information, mis-direction and non-information than I can shake a stick at. Where is any mention of Hamas – the terrorist organization that rules Gaza and is dedicated to overthrowing the State of Israel?

    And where, by the way, is any “religion dispatch”?

    This should never have been published here.

  • grigalem@gmail.com' Pennywhistler says:

    “we often talk about disproportionate response and how it is fueled by racism”

    So bombing the source of terrorist attacks, rocket attacks on civilians AND THE POPULATION THAT PROVIDES PHYSICAL SUPPORT FOR TERRORISM* is “racist”, while the joint Arab list has the third highest number of seats in the Israeli Knesset is …. what?

    * Storing weapons in mosques and schools, anti-semitic school lessons

  • grigalem@gmail.com' Pennywhistler says:

    Do not forget the Arab rejection of the UN’s two-state solution in 1947-48.

  • grigalem@gmail.com' Pennywhistler says:

    Maybe, maybe not.

    Modern Israel came into existence on 14 May 1948 as the homeland for the Jewish people. It was also defined as a “Jewish state.”

    The Israeli Declaration of Independence declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. – Wikipedia

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    Penny I don’t quite understand you. Israel is for Jews only…is that what you are saying? Because of what happened in 1948? Or because that’s what’s in Wikipedia? These are reasons you are citing as grounds for denying the Arabs that live there any say in the government that rules them? Your excuse for being against democracy in the Middle East, is not very clear to me.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    We need to consider these things carefully because that might be Netanyahu propaganda.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Netanyahu just changed the game, so now we need to go by what happened in 2015, and not 1947. He changed the game by splitting the American support for Israel into a Republican vs. Democrat thing. This might take a while because we have a lot of Republican vs. Democrat issues to work out.

  • stein.susan0@gmail.com' Susan Stein says:

    A two-state solution is not dead. Americans voted for George W. Bush twice, but then voted for Obama. I personally would have voted for Labor or Meretz if I were Israeli, but I’m not. The Labor party can’t seem to get working class Israelis and Mizrachi Jews, Jews from Arab countries, to vote for them. it should be in their economic interest to do so, but they don’t for many reasons too complicated to list here.

    It also seems to me that people who declare a two-state solution dead, don’t really want Israel to exist.

  • stein.susan0@gmail.com' Susan Stein says:

    You know perfectly well that Jews are an ethnic group as well as a religion. It is perfectly possible to be an atheist Jew. Israel was created because assimilation had failed.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    Ms Susan, with all due respect, “both” is a contradiction. If you are a religion, then you are not an ethnicity because anyone can believe in Abraham’s God. If you are a blood line, then that is genetics and not faith. The contradiction I cite is that if you say you are a Jewish state, then you are saying that all non Jews that live among you don’t have rights….which is apartheid. Now if you wish to be a democracy in the American sense, you have to let everyone participate. Let me quickly add that today I know that would be Jewish suicide. Jews are a smart people. Protections MUST be put into place so that what has been built by the Jews remains secure even as you extend rights to the indigenous Arabs. I am all for the idea that Israel always and forever be a sanctuary to the Jewish people. I simply believe there is way to do this without demanding the government maintain a religion.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Things are different now that Netanyahu has declared the two state solution dead. If nothing else, the situation is now too poisoned to fix, so we should first concentrate on patching things up with Iran. If we can fix that one, it will be a major step forward. Hopefully we can ignore those calling for war, and concentrate on those who want a peaceful solution.

  • stein.susan0@gmail.com' Susan Stein says:

    According to Jewish law one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish. Of course one can always convert and one becomes not only Jewish, but part of the Jewish people as well.

    I think it is possible for a Jewish state to give full civil rights to all citizens whether they are Jews or not. I think the only way to maintain Israel as a Jewish state is a two-state solution. Netanyahu may have a fragile government and may not last. We don’t know.

    The Ultra-Orthodox parties have gotten power, because of Israel’s rather unique Parliamentary system even though most Israelis are secular. Most American Jews are neither Orthodox or completely secular, but that is still a rather new idea in Israel.

  • GregAbdul@comcast.net' GregAbdul says:

    ma’am I believe I am not an enemy of the Jewish people. The two state solution has always been a fig leaf for haters on both sides. Israel withdrew from Gaza and we all know how that has turned out. Do you want an even bigger Gaza on Israel’s eastern border? At this present time, the Palestinians who say they want a separate state and land only want those things as a way to attack the Jews and drive them out of Israel. They have no intention of sharing the region with Jews. Correct me if I am wrong. Withdrawal and giving up land has not created peace. Arab minds and hearts will have to be changed. A rational Arab not filled with hate will want to be a citizen of the state of Israel. You and I, our differences are small. I say, as an American, secular government is a great thing. I am a Muslim, but a Muslim government only works where you have 90 plus percent Muslims living in a state. I say the same thing for Israel. There are Jews and Muslims there in large numbers. Fairness for both is that the state is secular, BUT THAT IT PROTECTS THE JEWISH PEOPLE. The Arabs are angry and they have good reasons…but then they have some not good reasons. No one is going anywhere, so the real conversation should be about Jews and Arabs living together in Greater Israel.

  • stein.susan0@gmail.com' Susan Stein says:

    I think a one state solution can be a fig leaf for haters too. I don’t think you are a hater, but I don’t see how a state that is majority Arab would protect the Jewish people and allow Jews from endangered communities to automatically become Israeli citizens.

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