How Realistic Is the Two-State Solution?

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The solution that the Israeli leadership has come up with is quarantines like Gaza, which is still under Israel’s control but the people are given no citizenship status or rights.

While Israel was committing the brutal massacre in Gaza about nine months ago, a number of emails and petitions were floating around presenting a variety of analyses and solutions. Some were blaming the victims, some holding the two sides equally responsible, some ignoring the Palestinian refugees’ right to return (UN Resolution 194), some asking for a two-state solution, and some even three states. Evidently people had different understandings of what the slogans “End the Occupation” and “Free Palestine” meant. As we march on the upcoming Quds Day, expressing our solidarity with the Palestinians, it is imperative that we engage in the discussion on what these slogans actually mean for our activism and movements.

In what follows, I argue that the two-state solution is both unjust and unrealistic, and a multi-religious-ethnic, single democratic state for all the people of the region is the most practical solution of this conflict.

If history can provide a perspective for the present, consider the following two observations:

Before the UN partition plan was proposed in 1947, the Jews in the historic Palestine owned no more than 6 to 8 percent of the land, and their population was not in majority. But the UN Partition plan, written by the imperial powers of the time, gave 54 percent of the land to the Jews, which shows that the unequal treatment of Palestinians was built into the imperial policies. Within a year of the proposed plan, the Zionists occupied 78 percent of the land using tactics of deceit and terror. In the Six-Day war in 1967, Israel occupied the remaining 22 percent of the historic Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank. [1] Although Israel removed its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, it still controls exits and entrances. On the West Bank side, 40 percent of the land is off limits to Palestinians. There are over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks [2] in the West Bank alone, and the so-called Security Wall separating Palestinians from Israelis extends deep into the West Bank. The illegal Zionist settlements continue to expand by the tens of thousands. [3]

The second observation: Consider the massacres committed by the Zionist state from its very inception. The bombing, carried out by Irgun, a Zionist terrorist organization, at the King David Hotel in Palestine in 1946 killed 92 Britons, Arabs, and Jews. The massacre at Dair Yasin carried out by the Zionist terrorist groups Tsel, Irgun, and Hagana in 1948 killed 250 people. The massacre at Qibya in 1953 killed 67, Khan Yunis in 1956 killed 275, Lebanon in 1982 killed 17,500, Qana in 1996 killed 106, Jenin in 2002 killed 56, Lebanon in 2006 killed 1200. In Gaza, where we witnessed the most recent massacre, although not the first time for this area, Israel killed over 1300 people in just 22 days. These are just to name a few among over 60 mass massacres that the Zionist state has committed in the last sixty years. [4]

What should be evident from the experience of the last sixty years is that both the expansions and massacres are built into the project of political Zionism, called the state of Israel. The first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion made this point very clear when he said in 1944, ”There is no example in history of a people saying we agree to renounce our country, let another people come and settle here and outnumber us.” [5]

Zionism is the question that should be asked before any other. The violence and bloodshed will continue in the Middle East as long as one group of people will be forced to pay the price for another group’s desires and comfort. The major task for our movements, especially in the West, is to discredit Zionism.

Given the track record of the Zionist state, it also should be clear that until the US stops its relentless and unconditional support for Israel, massacres like those in Sabra-Chatila, Qana, Beirut, and Gaza will continue to occur.

One State or Two?

There are two key issues here: One, the right of return for the Palestinian refugees (UN Resolution 194). Two, which of the two – the one-state or two-state solution – can best resolve the conflict?

Of course, the people of Palestine and their rightful leaders have the ultimate right to decide their future. [6] But if we were to have an opinion or could do something, in terms of educating the general public or pressurizing the governments, consider the following points.

One state for the Jews and Palestinians may not be the perfect solution, but it is the only viable solution in this conflict, morally and realistically. [7] Four major reasons are summarized below:

One, the sixty years of Israeli obstructionist policies are a clear indicator that Israel is not willing to concede even the two-state solution, let alone the one-state. The international community would have to use pressure in any case. The widely-acclaimed scholar Norman Finkelstein, who supports a two-state solution, notes in one of his columns [8] that in an attempt to sabotage the peace offer by Yasser Arafat in 1982, which would have involved a settlement on June 1967 borders, Israel provoked the PLO, breaking a year-long truce, and finally invaded Lebanon. He argues that same logic was underlying the recent aggression on Gaza. This time the purpose was to sabotage any peace deal with Hamas.

Two, the two-state solution will give yet another example to the rest of the world that if an occupied force can hold long enough, by force and deceit, despite over 60 UN Resolutions [9] condemning its policies, it can turn the wrong into right. The message would be that might is indeed right. And without allowing the Palestinian refugees to return, the solution becomes meaningless.

Three, imagine what kind of states would be created based on hatred and dehumanization of each other? How long-lasting will those territorial boundaries be based on exclusion and difference? What kind of suspicions and tensions would these boundaries create between the neighbors? Would the two people ever trust each other with regards to their holy sites which are spread all over the historic Palestine? Moreover, what will happen to thousands of those belonging to the opposite group (around 1.3 million Arabs in “Israel proper”, for example) or neither of the two main groups (Catholics, for example) who live all over the land? The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said points out that a “two-state solution will create an unacceptable security threat to Israel. An armed Arab state, presumably in the West Bank, would give Israel less than 10 miles of strategic depth at its narrowest point.” Said sums up the problem with the two-state solution in these words, “Palestine is multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious. There is as little historical justification for homogeneity as there is for notions of national or ethnic and religious purity today.” The territorial separation will only solidify the hatred and distrust.

Shifting the focus of the debate, Said further argues, “The question, I believe, is not how to devise means for persisting in trying to separate them, but to see whether it is possible for them to live together as fairly and peacefully as possible.” [10] Perhaps in the South African experience of ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, while noting its successes and disappointments, we can find a starting point. And given the way different communities in the historic Palestine were enmeshed into each other historically, there is good reason to believe that it may actually work.

Four, in addition to demographic and cultural interconnectedness, the geographic and economic connections between Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, and ‘Israel proper’ also makes the idea of two states very impractical. And that is one major reason why Israel itself is against having two sovereign states. For example, Israel depends on fresh water supply from the West Bank. In the case of division, Israel would no longer be able to steal it from Palestinians, which it is doing right now, and would have to negotiate for it in the open market in a region where water is very valuable. That would be too costly for Israel. [11] That is just one example of their economic interdependence.

The solution that the Israeli leadership has come up with is quarantines like Gaza, which is still under Israel’s control but the people are given no citizenship status or rights. This tactic is meant to avoid the possibility of a “struggle for one-man-one-vote” along the lines of the anti-apartheid movement, while Israel can effectively control all of the historic Palestine and its resources. What complicates the picture for Israel is that demographers predict that in a few years the Palestinian population under the Israeli rule, in the occupied territories and the ‘Israel proper’, will exceed the Jewish population. This is without even counting the Palestinian refugees displaced in other countries. Israel is of course aware of this threat (the demographic “time bomb”) to its exclusivist Jewish statehood and that if this demographic trend continues Israel would more and more resemble the apartheid South Africa.

The above four points show that the two-state solution is actually quite unrealistic and unsustainable. For as long as Israel continues to be an exclusivist Jewish state, violence and injustice will continue. A multi-ethnic-religious, single democratic state for all the people of the region is the most viable solution available. And only it can ensure a rightful self-determination for both the Palestinian and the Jewish peoples.

If the idea of imagining an alternative to the Israeli state sounds ‘radical’ or ‘unimaginable’ (“Israel would never allow this to happen” or “If Israelis do not agree, it cannot happen”), understand that it is not because the idea is morally unjust or unrealistic. It is because of the ineffectiveness of the international community and the relentless and unconditional support of the US (which has vetoed 41 Security Council resolutions against Israel in the last three decades [12] and gives Israel billions of dollars in military and non-military aid each year).

History also shows that the only tool that has proven effective against the Israeli ambitions is resistance, by the people in Palestine and Lebanon, as well as the people in the rest of world (through their activism and protests). While acknowledging that such a solution is “not easy to imagine”, Edward Said nonetheless exhorted, “Unfortunately, injustice and belligerence don’t diminish by themselves: they have to be attacked by all concerned.” [13]

Not many saw the breakup of Soviet Union or the end of apartheid South Africa coming. They were unimaginable at the time. But they did happen.

An expanded version of this article is available
online. Visit the site for more references and resources. The author is a doctoral student in social sciences.


[1] On the circumstances surrounding the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Norman Finkelstein makes an interesting observation: “Preserving its deterrence capacity has always loomed large in Israeli strategic doctrine. Indeed, it was the main impetus behind Israel’s first-strike against Egypt in June 1967 that resulted in Israel’s occupation of Gaza (and the West Bank). After Israel threatened and laid plans to attack Syria, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared the Straits of Tiran closed to Israeli shipping, but Israel made almost no use of the Straits (apart from the passage of oil, of which Israel then had ample stocks) and, anyhow, Nasser did not in practice enforce the blockade, vessels passing freely through the Straits within days of his announcement. In addition, multiple US intelligence agencies had concluded that the Egyptians did not intend to attack Israel and that, in the improbable case that they did, alone or in concert with other Arab countries, Israel would – in President Lyndon Johnson’s words – “whip the hell out of them.” … The predicament for Israel was rather the growing perception in the Arab world, spurred by Nasser’s radical nationalism and climaxing in his defiant gestures in May 1967, that it would no longer have to follow Israeli orders. Thus, Divisional Commander Ariel Sharon admonished those in the Israeli cabinet hesitant to launch a first-strike that Israel was losing its “deterrence capability…our main weapon — the fear of us.” [8] Israel unleashed the June 1967 war “to restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence” (Israeli strategic analyst Zeev Maoz). [9]” [Italicized in the original] See the full text: “Foiling Another Palestinian “Peace Offensive”: Behind the Bloodbath in Gaza.” Norman Finkelstein. Jan 19, 2009. [2] The New York Times. March 31, 2008. “Israelis Agree to Reduce West Bank Roadblocks“. [3] On Israeli settlements and land grabbing, see and [4] On close to sixty massacres that the Israeli state has committed since its inception, see SoundofEgyptIsraeliMassacres. [5] “The One-State Solution.” Edward Said. January 10, 1999. [6] Not the corrupt Palestinian leaders and their collaborators from among the masses, but those who have over the years proved their loyalty and sincerity through their sacrifices and through their devotion to the cause of dignity and freedom. [7] On a variety of arguments supporting the One-State Solution, see the following readings: “The One-State Solution.” Edward Said. Ibid. January 10, 1999; “One State or Two? Neither.” Jonathan Cook. March 12, 2008; “Israel: The Alternative.” Tony Judt. October 23, 2003; “One State or Two? The Debate over Israel and Palestine.” Kathy Christison. March 11, 2008. [8] “Foiling Another Palestinian “Peace Offensive”: Behind the Bloodbath in Gaza.” Norman Finkelstein. Jan 19, 2009. See also, “The Myth of the Generous Offer” by Seth Ackerman,, July/August 2002. [9] This link cites over 60 UN resolutions that Israel has ignored between 1955 and 1992. The details are taken from Paul Findley’s Deliberate Deceptions (1998, pages 192-4). Another very important resolution, the UN Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, recognizes the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land and receive compensation for their damages. [10] Ibid. [11] “One State or Two? Neither.” Jonathan Cook. March 12, 2008. [12] Newsweek. January 24, 2009. “Israel Has Fewer Friends Than Ever, Even In America.“ [13] Ibid. 
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