The Two-State Solution is dead. It’s time for One Democratic State.

The Two-State Solution is dead. It’s time for One Democratic State.

One Democratic State is a realistic peace-and-justice plan that promises a future for Palestinians as well as Israelis. (Pictured: Palestinians in the village of Haris protest, July 2020)

The “two-state solution” is no longer a viable option – if it ever was. Meet the campaign for a more just, long lasting solution: One Democratic State for Palestine and Israel.

by Kathryn Shihadah

For over 70 years, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, originally known as Palestine, has been a place of strife between two people groups: the indigenous and the colonizer. The issue is thorny, as neither party intends to give in.

Over time, the proposal known as the Two-State Solution (TSS) gained popularity, and was assumed to be the only reasonable solution. Today, many human rights organizations (both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel) and nearly every American politician (both progressive and conservative) holds out TSS as the answer.

When politicians – regardless of party – use the phrase, it serves to reassure everyone in the room that Palestinian rights are being balanced equally with those of Israelis. Whatever jeopardizes a future two-state solution is “bad,” whatever preserves the two-state option must be “good.”

President Joe Biden has indicated his intention to “support a mutually agreed, two-state solution, in which Israel lives in peace and security, alongside a viable Palestinian state,” and sees TSS as “the only path forward.”

For some in places of power, endorsement of TSS is a fig leaf – a pretext of egalitarianism that hides support for Israeli oppression. Many of Israel’s most fervent partisans are strong backers of TSS. For example, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who calls himself a “guardian of Israel” endorses TSS.

But a number of analysts have long insisted that TSS is really no solution at all, at least for Palestinians. A new movement is now in the works that has the potential to bring, if not true justice, at least something closer than what TSS offers. In addition, many people feel it has the best potential for bringing longterm peace.

Since the United States is deeply involved in the Israel-Palestine issue – giving Israel over $10 million a day in military aid – Americans ought to be informed about TSS and the other option on the table.

To begin with, many Americans lack a basic understanding of the geography and history of the region.

Quick history lesson

The region known after WWI as Mandatory Palestine (under British administration) reached from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In the late 1800s, a faction of Jews in Europe began a movement to create a Jewish state somewhere in the world (it is noteworthy that most Jews around the world were opposed to this movement). After considering a number of locations, the group decided on Palestine, the traditional site of a short-lived, ancient Israelite state.

Small numbers of Jews emigrated to Palestine, where they found a highly-developed population about 80% Muslim, 15% Christian, and 5% indigenous Jews – most of the Jews then in Palestine were not in favor of statehood.

But the Jewish settlers came with the intention of taking over Palestine and making it their own. An official Israeli government website explains:

The First Zionist Congress [1897] adopted the Basel Program, which stated: “Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home [i.e.state] in Palestine.” [“Palestine” was used at that time as a geographical term, with all residents, including the Jews living there, called Palestinians. The area itself was under Ottoman rule. 

These early Zionists (like modern Zionists and other settler-colonialist movements) had convinced themselves that the land actually belonged to them. The indigenous Palestinians (Muslim, Christian, and even some Jews) were irrelevant to the narrative, and needed to be disposed of. Many observant Jews considered the movement heretical, and some still do.

map of shrinking palestine
Before Israel was created (left), a small number of Jews lived mostly in the north of Palestine. After the 1948 war  (center), Israel controlled 78% of the land. although some Palestinians remained. Today, Israel controls 100% of the land. Roughly 5 million Palestinians live in the green regions (Palestinian territories), 2 million more live inside Israel.

In 1948 (with the blessing of an early pro-Israel lobby in the US, but over the objections of the US State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence agencies), these Jewish immigrants declared the State of Israel on Palestinian land.

After local Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian (with token help from Arab neighbors) – fought in an attempt to keep their land, the victorious State of Israel claimed about 78% of historic Palestine.

In 1967, Israel initiated another war that resulted in Israel’s capture and occupation of the remaining 22% of Palestine. The occupation has continued ever since: Israel controls the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and by different methods, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Israel has, since the beginning of the occupation, confiscated huge swaths of Palestinian land and gradually transferred more than 600,000 Israeli Jews to live on that land in settlements that are illegal under international law.

The theft continues to this day. Reports from the region indicate that every week, Israel or Israeli settlers appropriate another parcel of land from Palestinian farmers, or confiscate a home.

False assumptions

Many Americans are unaware of the basic fact that the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza are Palestinian territories. It is no surprise, then, that they incorrectly believe that Israel would give away some of its own land in a Two-State Solution.

(Extreme right-wing Israelis and Israel supporters in the US believe that all of the land is already and always has been Israel, in many cases because of a misguided Bible view first encouraged by a new interpretation of the Bible published in 1909.)

Because most Americans are unaware of these dynamics, they don’t know that the “conflict” in the region is actually a legitimate Palestinian resistance against historic and ongoing Israeli injustice.

Americans are also not aware that many Palestinians are Christians, and that resistance leaders through the years have been both Muslims and Christians.

What we don’t know about Palestinians and TSS

Many Americans know little or nothing about the Palestinian people. Mainstream media (influenced by pro-Israel power brokers) would have us believe that Israel is a relatively benevolent occupier of a population governed by terrorists and bent on the destruction of the Jewish State. Palestinians have been marketed as belligerent, antisemitic, and uninterested in peace.

In this fictional context, TSS would be a generous gift, ending the Palestinians’ self-destructive ways and giving them better than they deserve: a piece of Israel.

Palestinians are, of course, no different from any other people group: they want a good life for themselves and their children – which they can not achieve while under Israeli oppression.

Another aspect of the Israel-Palestine issue unknown to many Americans is fiscal: as mentioned earlier, the US gives Israel $10 million a day in aid, thanks to the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US, to subsidize the occupation and all that Israel does under it. The US could (in theory) bring the occupation to its knees by withholding aid. Congress has chosen instead to ignore the facts and keep the money flowing.

Perhaps most importantly, the Two-State Solution itself is misunderstood in the West. It would in fact not bring equality, peace, or neighborliness.

For Israelis wanting “security” (that is, freedom from having to worry about disgruntled neighbors), TSS would likewise prove unsatisfactory, as the injustice of the plan would keep Palestinians in a posture of resistance.

An ordinary person might be forgiven for not being aware of the background and the inadequacy of TSS – but world leaders and politicians surely know the score.

Israeli soldiers in occupied Palestine (ActiveStills.org)

What Israel doesn’t tell us about TSS

Israel has been keeping secrets about the Two-State Solution – the first of which is that talking is a useful strategy. It gives the illusion of wanting a remedy without actually enacting anything.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, every day that goes by without reining in Israel creates new – possibly irreversible – “facts on the ground,” locking more Palestinians into tiny, impoverished enclaves (now on just 15% of their country) and severing them from family and livelihood.

In Gaza, Israel’s crushing blockade drags on, causing an ever-deepening humanitarian crisis. In the “diaspora” (Palestinians who have emigrated around the world), hope grows dimmer for the exercise of their internationally recognized Right of Return after decades in exile.

Israel insists that the blockade and much of the state-sponsored violence against Palestinians is “self-defense,” but a well-kept secret is that long-term occupation is illegal under international law, and resistance against occupation – even violent resistance – is legal.

On a related note, the “rockets” that resistance groups in Gaza launch from time to time rarely cause damage or injury, while Israeli warplanes and snipers have killed thousands of Palestinians in the name of so-called “self defense.”

Other well-kept secrets: Israel consistently initiates violence, violates international laws on a daily basis, snubs the United Nations and International Criminal Court, and imprisons and tortures children. (This is just a partial list of Israel’s ongoing human rights violations and atrocities – some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.)

Israel partisans have been saying for years that “Israel will have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.” In reality, it has already chosen: it is a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, and an implicitly apartheid state for the rest. A democracy in this context is impossible.

This is the unacceptable and untenable outcome of the world’s failure to negotiate something better, and of Israel’s exploitation of the opportunity.

But some say TSS was never intended to see the light of day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

TSS has always been an illusion

Many hardcore Israel advocates are not interested in any solution that includes a Palestinian state. In 2019, Israel’s foreign minister explained his standard: “[N]othing is going to be handed over [to the Palestinians]” – a startling statement, considering that the region he is referring to (so-called “Judea and Samaria,” i.e. the West Bank) is Palestinian territory. 

As illogical as it may be to vow to keep what isn’t yours, other leaders have done the same. Benjamin Netanyahu recently declared, “A Palestinian state will not be created, not like the one people are talking about. It won’t happen.”

Many historians and analysts indicate that Israel never had any intention of “partitioning” the land – the essence of the two-state solution.

For example, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, indicated that partition would be a first step to “possession of the land as a whole”; political scientist and activist Norman Finkelstein explains that the so-called peace process “never intended to achieve a two-state settlement.”

Indeed, Israel has “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make a just peace.

The expectation in Israel’s halls of power has always been that, at best, Palestinians would be herded into “less than a state” (Rabin) or a “state minus” (Netanyahu), amounting to bantustans under the watchful eye of Israel.

Perks (for Israel) of a Two-State Solution

If TSS ever did materialize, it would have several positive features for Israel.

Permanence: TSS would formalize Israel as the Jewish State – Under TSS, Palestinians would have a “state,” and Jews would have a State.

Palestinians and their allies would finally be stifled, and their struggle for justice would be over – with no justice and no power to demand it.

TSS would, supposedly, bring closure to the issue of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees produced in the creation of Israel. They and their descendants would be hermetically sealed on the outside of their land, and it would be officially, indelibly part of the Jewish State. Israel would keep the $5.3 trillion (adjusted for inflation) worth of Palestinian property: homes, orchards, farmland, buildings, businesses it confiscated in 1948 and after.

Under TSS, the so-called “Palestinian state” would in reality be only a tiny, demilitarized statelet with non-contiguous land and no real sovereignty. Palestinians would have a fraction of their pre-1948 land (the Trump plan left about 15%), and Israel would control all of Palestinian borders, maritime boundaries (where billions of dollars in natural gas is waiting to be tapped), and air space.

Bottom line: no actual Palestinian state, and therefore no “Two-State Solution.”

While a large number of Palestinians still reflexively long for their own state, a growing number see the handwriting on the wall: a Palestinian “state” within the TSS paradigm would be unjust and crushing. They would be left with little land, few resources, and no freedom.

Palestinian workers wait in line at an Israeli military checkpoint near the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. (Emil Salman)

One Democratic State

For years, visionaries have been proposing a different solution: one democratic state that treats all people equally regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.

A number of authors have discussed this in detail: Mazin Qumsiyeh in 2004, Virginia Tilley in 2005, and Ali Abunimah in 2007.

Recently, the concept has been taken up again: Ian Lustick wrote about it in 2019, as did Jeff Halper this year.

In 2018, Awad Abdelfattah and others started the One Democratic State Campaign (ODS), which promotes the vision of a single, decolonized state, “including everyone living between the River and the Sea, including Palestinian refugees who choose to return to their homeland.”

The Palestinian-led initiative includes Palestinian and Jewish activists, intellectuals, and academics.

Importantly, the plan does not suggest the elimination of Israel itself, but of Zionism – that is, Zionism is incompatible with justice and peace. ODS does not require “getting rid of all Jews” or “pushing Jews into the sea.”

Rather, it seeks to “[replace] ethno-religious nationalism with a constitutional democracy based on common citizenship.”

The campaign describes its vision:

One Democratic State shall be established between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as a state belonging to all its citizens, including the Palestinian refugees. All citizens will enjoy equal rights, freedom and security.

The State shall be a constitutional democracy, the authority to govern and make laws emanating from the will of the people. All its citizens shall enjoy equal rights to vote, nominate candidates for any post and take part in the country’s governance. (Read the full statement here.)

Just one problem

The one-state solution – what many believe is the only realistic solution currently on the table – is considered “dangerous” by Israel partisans. Why?

The “danger” of ODS lies in the fact that a single state – including the current state of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, would have a Palestinian majority. The numbers of Palestinians and Israeli Jews are about equal right now, but statisticians have been predicting for years that Palestinians will soon outnumber Jews in the region.

Bottom line: the only thing wrong with the one-state solution is that it would provide equal rights for all the inhabitants – Jewish citizens would lose their privilege.

But that’s what a democracy is: a state of its citizens with equal rights for all, without regard to race, religion, or ethnicity.

This is the kind of state the US should encourage, not discourage. This is the kind of state that should have been a reality decades ago.

Right now, Israel is touted as a homeland for all Jews at the expense of human rights for Palestinians. Under ODS, the land can be an exemplar of equality in diversity: one person, one vote, with no discrimination for or against anyone.


Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs at Palestine Home.


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