Posted on 9th April 2013, by & filed under Jeff Halper.





Jeff Halper



Last September ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which had long argued that the two-state solution was dead, decided to bite the bullet and endorse a one-state solution. We first circulated a draft among our Palestinian partners for comment. The reaction was deafening in its silence. Either fewer of our counterparts than we thought were willing to abandon the two-state solution, the goal of their national liberation struggle these past 25 years, for one state, or they objected to our framing it within a framework of bi-nationalism. In the end we pulled back, putting out instead a position paper in which we tried to insert a critical Israeli voice into the one-state formulation. It is clear that despite the fact that most Palestinians realize that the two-state solution is gone, they have as yet to shift to a one-state solution in meaningful numbers.


While I understand the dilemma of moving from a solution that, in principle at least, is acceptable to the international community to one that has little chance of being accepted, a nagging feeling of frustration and fear has dogged me ever since. How could we be in the midst of a political struggle without a political end-game? What do we say to political decision-makers, the general public or our own activists when they ask: What is it exactly that you want? “Ending the Occupation” provides a partial answer at best. Indeed, we shifted to the one-state solution because, in our view, the Occupation will end and a Palestinian state will not emerge in that small and fragmented territory. At the same time, we fully appreciate the Palestinians reluctance to give up a national liberation struggle in favor of a struggle for civil rights, which is what a one-state solution inclusive of Israeli Jews would entail, even if it was achievable.


We are, in short, “between solutions.” We are in a state of transition from the two-state solution to something yet undefined. That is to be expected: political struggles must adapt to changing circumstances and adjust their strategies and even their end-goals accordingly. But if we are to maintain our political momentum, we must transit fairly quickly to an end-game that genuinely resolves the conflict. BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) is a valuable tactic for keeping the issue alive, but it cannot replace an end-game and an effective strategy for achieving it.


This paper attempts to hasten the process of transitioning to a new end-game by making the case for a democratic yet bi-national state. Not that this necessarily “the” solution, and it certainly needs to be fleshed out, but discussing it helps clarify the issues at stake; it bring out fundamental differences of view upon which a constructive and much-needed exchanges is based. It is incumbent upon us, the grassroots civil society, to formulate solutions that, if not ideal, contain elements that progressives can support and advocate. For governments will not do this; they are not our partners. Rather than resolving conflicts, the international community, including the UN, merely manages them. And if a fellow government like Israel can subdue the Palestinians to a point where they cease to disrupt the international system, they can live perfectly well with occupation, apartheid and warehousing. It is up to us to formulate a genuine and just solution — or at least direction – and then generate pressure from below on governments to act. That’s just the way it works. So if this paper can help crystallize the issues and catalyze discussion, it will have served its purpose.


The Range of Possible Solutions


The best place to start is to survey the various “solutions” that are out there, each espoused by a different community of interest and therefore of significance even if in the end they prove unacceptable. The range of possible solutions and their advocates goes something like this:


  • Two States (majority of Palestinians living in Palestine and, in principle, most Israeli Jews). The internationally-accepted solution to the conflict envisions partitioning the country between the two peoples so that each enjoy national self-determination – although Israel would occupy 78% of country and the Palestinian state only 22%. The two-state solution is also supported by the majority of Israeli Jews. In a Peace Index survey in 1999, before the complete collapse of the Oslo peace process, it garnered the support of 58% (only 15% favored the bi-national model, while 7.5% said there was no way out of the conflict). The number of those supporting the two-state solution rose to 78% in 2003, during the second Intifada. This was not because Israeli Jews were convinced that a two-state solution would actually resolve the conflict, explains Tamar Hermann of the Peace Index, but because they desired “separation” from the Arabs – a “divorce,” in the inimical words of Ehud Barak.


Of course, in politics one can never shut the door completely on solutions, and the same is true of the two-state solution. It could be salvaged if


  • Israel accepted the General Assembly vote of November 2012 recognizing Palestinian sovereignty over the Occupied Territories and agreed that Palestine become a full member state of the UN;


  • Israel formally acknowledged the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination within the 1967 lines (never done to date); and


  • The settlements which would fall under Palestinian rule would be integrated, Israeli residents allowed to stay in their homes as Israeli citizens living in mixed cities in Palestine, a situation in which the Occupation could be ended without having to physically dismantle the settlements, the major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.


All this being highly unlikely, and with the US and Europe unwilling to force Israel out of the Occupied Territory, the “two-state solution” exists on paper only. Hence the necessary shift to a bi-national solution. Nevertheless, PNGO, the Palestinian NGO Network of almost 100 left-oriented associations, keeps the two-state solution alive by continuing to promote three fundamental principles for resolving the conflict:


  1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.


     ICAHD and a number of critical left Israeli organizations accept these principles. The vast majority of Israeli Jews, even among the majority that support in principle the two-state solution, consider them, however, merely a another means of achieving a single Palestinian-dominated state.


  • Two States: Apartheid (Labor/Center-Left Israeli governments). Successive Israel governments have expressed vague support for the two-state solution, either coerced out of them by American leaders or hinted at. For Labor-led Israeli governments, the two-state solution has always meant three things: (1) separating Israelis from Palestinians (hafrada); (2) seizing control of the Occupied Territory – “East” Jerusalem, which Israel has formally annexed, the massive settlement “blocs” in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and the country’s borders, airspace and even the electromagnetic sphere – including all its resources, from water to tourism; and (3) finding collaborators who will agree to Palestinian autonomy on as little non-contiguous land as possible without compromising Israeli security. Indeed, the settlement blocs and the route of the Wall clearly delineate a fait accompli, a truncated Bantustan on only 15% of historic Palestine. The only problem left to resolve is how to normalize it. Apartheid, ironically, is the plan of Israel’s center/(Zionist) left; it is the liberal Israeli approach to “peace.”


  • One Ethnocratic State (Hamas, right-wing Zionists, some anti-Zionist Israeli Jews and (perhaps) a growing number of Palestinian intellectuals). There is a remarkable, mirror-like correspondence between Hamas and the right-wing in Israel, the latter ranging from the Likud through the religious settler movement. Both contend that Palestine/Israel is one indivisible country that “belongs” exclusively to Palestinians or Israelis respectively, and for both the claim to exclusivity rests primarily on religion (Palestine being Islamic waqf land; the Land of Israel given to the Jews by God). Although Zionism secularized that claim, its ethnocratic nationalism continued to assert an exclusive claim over the country. Both would allow the “others” to continue living in the country, but only as second-class citizens. Hamas would permit individual Jews to continue living in Palestine, but as Jews, not a national minority called Israelis. By the same token, right-wing Zionists would tolerate individual Arabs living in Israel, but also not as a national Palestinian minority.


There are also voices among a number of prominent anti-Zionist Israeli Jews, Palestinian intellectuals and academics sympathetic to the Palestinian cause denying the very existence and legitimacy of “Israeli.” Viewing Jewishness as merely a cultural or religious identity but not a national one (or rather an “invented” and therefore fictional national one), they have gravitated to the position that Zionism was nothing but a form of settler colonialism, and that therefore “Israel” and “Israelis” are nothing more than artificial and illegitimate colonial constructs.


Finally, “warehousing,” a strategy of Likud/center-right Israeli governments, is yet another variation on the theme of one ethnocratic state. A form of imprisonment (the term “warehousing” comes from the prison world), it is never declared as policy or even mentioned; rather, it simply “becomes” by default the political reality. For Israel’s past and present Likud/center-right governments, even apartheid represents too much of a concession – after all, it requires the establishment of a Bantustan. Netanyahu & Co. say: 15% is too much of “our” land to give to the Arabs. Why should they get anything? In their view the status quo is perfect: there is no political process, the Palestinians have been pacified (to a significant extent by their own American-trained PA militias) and Israel de facto rules the entire country. Besides mild criticism, the international community stands firmly behind Israel, or at least will never sanction it. Netanyahu & Co. believe they can get away with warehousing. So why compromise on any “solution”? After the 2013 election, his government declared its goal of “a million Jews in Judea and Samaria.”


Despite a certain internal logic that might contain elements of truth (especially reference to Zionism’s settler colonial behavior), none of these options are inclusive and none, in my view, would win the support of progressives.


  • One State (Palestinians on the left). Although the contours of a solution shifted over time, one element shared by both Palestinians and Israelis of the left remained the same for a long time: whatever form peace eventually took, it would be inclusive. On one level this is expressed most explicitly in two documents: the “One State Declaration” issued in London on 29 November 2007 by the One Democratic State Group, and a similar if more detailed declaration entitled One State in Palestine, which calls for a Republic in Historic Palestine. Both were authored primarily by Palestinian intellectuals with important input from a number of Israelis and others. The principles they suggest as the basis of a single state reflected express the values and structures of liberal Western democracies. The London Declaration begins by affirming that “The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national origin or current citizenship status,” and adds: “Any system of government must be founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens.” Both documents naturally include provisions of restorative justice: the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, of course, and their inclusion in the building of the new state, together with “redress for the devastating effects of decades of Zionist colonization in the pre- and post-state period.” 


What these declarations omit, however, is any reference to national or collective rights. Since their Palestinian signers continue to invoke their national rights, it is not clear what status Israeli Jews will in fact enjoy in this conception of a democratic state. Even if Israeli Jews are “allowed” to stay in Palestine as individual Jewish citizens, would they ever agree to stop being “Israelis”? A lot rides on this question, even if it is left unstated, and I will return to the issues of inclusivity and equality.


  • One Bi-National State Dominated by Israeli Jews, With Palestinian Autonomy (the settler movement). Committed to the idea of an indivisible Land of Israel, the Yesha (Judea, Samaria, Gaza) Council of Settlements proposed in 2003 a bi-national state divided into ten ethno-national cantons under a single federal government. But separation of Jews from Arabs and Jewish control of the entire country are also fundamental principles for the settlers. In their plan, then, only two of the cantons would be Palestinian, thus guaranteeing an overwhelming Jewish majority. Another version of federalism, advocated by Elazar and a
    cademics of the Israeli right, envision a country where the Palestinians remain but as Jordanian citizens.


  • One Democratic Bi-National State (Anti- or Post-Zionist Israeli Jews; critical Palestinian intellectuals and a good number of Palestinians in Israel and the Diaspora). In my view, the majority of anti- or post-Zionist Israeli Jews support a bi-national alternative over a unitary democracy. Although historically only the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine supported such an outcome, a majority of Palestinians would probably accept it – or at least not oppose – if only out of an acknowledgment of the political fact of Israel’s existence. The vision of a democratic bi-national state is fairly straightforward. Two peoples share a common country – the hyphen in Palestine-Israel assumes prime importance – the challenge being to find a balance between collective rights of national self-determination and equal individual civil rights. No easy task, but as Meron Benvenisti and others have pointed out, a bi-national reality already exists and functions de facto, despite official Israel efforts to contain and thwart it.


Bridging a Growing Gap: Can a Common Vision Be Achieved?


So where does this all leave us? Which alternative do we choose that is as just and achievable as possible? Any political struggle is characterized by a necessary give-and-take between ideology, analysis and justice on the one hand and political realities on the other. The absence of meaningful political movement on the Israeli/Palestinian issue over the last few years and the steady advancement of Israel’s “facts on the ground” to a point where there is no more possibility of even a small Palestinian state has destroyed that give-and-take. The shift to the “settler colonial” discourse by many of the most articulate Palestinian intellectuals and activists carries the risk of disconnecting political analysis from political reality (in which two peoples inhabit the country), thus neutralizing as a useful contribution to peace-making. Its concomitant, the withdrawal of Palestinian activists from working with even anti-Zionist Israeli activists under the rubric “anti-normalization,” is similarly self-defeating. That is not to say that an argument could not be made that Zionism was indeed a settler colonial movement and therefore Israelis do not constitute a legitimate nationality – Collins, Piterberg, Shafir and Veracini make a strong case for that – but following the inner logic of that analysis to the exclusion of political realities leads to political formulations that structurally prevent Israelis and Palestinians from arriving at a common framework of coexistence.


Indeed, an equally strong case could be made that Zionism, for all its settler colonial crimes of displacement and replacement against the Palestinian people, was in fact a genuine national movement, as least in its initial impulse. Self-determination means just that, self-determination. Say what they want, Palestinian critics of Zionism are not those who decide whether Jews are a nation, a people, a culture or just a religion, whether they have a genuine tie to the Land of Israel or whether they in fact possess the right of self-determination. This is so even if their identity and narrative are “invented,” as are all national identities, including that of the Palestinians. Settler colonial is not the only possible framework for viewing the problem; one could make just as strong a case that we are witnessing a clash of legitimate national movements. Be that as it may, I will make an assumption here that no solution will win widespread acceptance unless it conforms to human rights and international law, unless it embodies substantive justice regarding all the parties involved, unless it is inclusive. No solution that entails the forced expulsion of an entire community or their exclusion from full participation in a future polity will or should be accepted. As Khaled Mashal has said: “Our concern is to liberate Palestine, not to create more refugees.”


I am saying all this because the status of Israeli Jews in the Palestinian state envisioned by the authors of the London and One Democratic State Declarations is left unclear; indeed, the question is either ignored or fudged. True, the Declarations speak of the “creation of a non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another,” affirming that “Any system of government must be founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens.” In this they return to the PLO’s notion of a secular, democratic state. But what of the collective national rights of both peoples? The answer is vague: “Ethnic, religious, cultural or national minorities,” says the London Declaration, “shall be protected by law but not assigned any specific rights.” Where does that leave Palestinians and Israeli Jews, neither of whom can be described as “national minorities”? Are they both being expected to renounce their national identities and rights of self-determination in order to become simply individual voters? “One should distinguish between ‘bi-national’ and ‘secular democratic’ states,” cautioned Edward Said. “These terms cannot be used interchangeably….”


And is this really the whole story? In an early discussion of the one-state solution, Nasseer Aruri argued that “A solution will require determined, systematic, and protracted struggle unifying Palestinians as a whole with Israeli Jews who wish to be neither masters of another people, privileged in an apartheid system, nor colonial settlers denying the existence of the indigenous peoples and wishing for their disappearance.” Over the past 4-5 years, however, with the rise of “Zionism-as-settler-colonialism,” the discourse of the Palestinian left has changed – and become less transparent. How does one reconcile the principle of “a non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another” with this: “There can be no ‘inherent or acquired Jewish right to self determination in Palestine that is equivalent, even morally symmetric, to the Palestinian right to self determination’ as this would blur ‘the essential differences between the inalienable rights of the indigenous population and the acquired rights of the colonial-settler population’”? – the latter position articulated by Omar Barghouti and quoted approvingly by Ali Abunimah, both signatories to the London Declaration.


Such a view, shared though not usually articulated so clearly by many of the Palestinian left, begins to resemble the position of Hamas (or, inversely, the settlers), based though it is on anti-colonial indigenous rights rather than religion. It leaves unclear the civil status of Israelis/Jews in this one democratic but not bi-national state. At best, this would lead to an ethnocracy comparable to Israel today, with Israeli Jews possessing the unacceptable civil status suffered by “Israeli Arabs” today. Or it might take the form of Zimbabwe, where a European minority was allowed to stay but ended up with limited civil rights, or even an Algeria where the French settler colonialists were forced to leave immediately upon libera
tion. In short, crucial issues of collective rights in a single state have been left deliberately vague.


The urgent task before us, I contend, is to reunite our analysis with the political and sociological realities on the ground – or risk rendering ourselves theoretically correct but politically irrelevant. How can we take the disparate elements and principles contained in the various scenarios presented above (those we can consider accepting, of course) and begin formulating a common vision of a just and comprehensive peace? Permit me to offer a set of fundamental elements shared by progressives upon which, I would argue, any just and workable resolution of the conflict must be based. Following that, we can return to the various scenarios, combining the best elements they offer and fleshing them out until we begin to arrive at a program for which we can actively advocate among governments and the international public alike.


The Essential Elements of a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace


What, then, are those fundamental elements upon which a just peace must be based? Building on what has been suggested in past discussions and declarations as well as upon my own analysis of what is just and achievable, I offer these seven as a starting point:


1. A just peace and the process leading up to it must conform to human rights, international law and UN resolutions in respect to both the collective and individual rights of both peoples. The Oslo process failed primarily because it was based only on power relations, and if power alone determines the outcome, Israel wins and the conflict, as we are witnessing today, becomes irresolvable. Inequality and oppression are inevitable when human rights and international law are brushed aside.


2. A just peace must accept the bi-national reality of P/I, and be inclusive of both peoples; national identities cannot be ignored or denied. A just peace must be inclusive. Two peoples reside in Palestine-Israel, and the collective as well as individual rights of both must be respected and protected. Since both peoples aspire to national self-determination, a right firmly embodied in international law, national expression must be provided for both Palestinians and Israelis. The two peoples are not merely ethnic groups in a larger national society, or simply a collection of individuals, but comprise national entities in themselves. The right to self-determination, to participation without discrimination in public affairs, to develop and advance one’s community economically, socially, culturally, and politically, has been authoritatively upheld by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its 2004 Advisory Opinion: “The Court also notes that the principle of self-determination of peoples has been enshrined in the United Nations Charter and reaffirmed by the General Assembly in resolution 2625 (XXV) cited above, pursuant to which ‘Every  State has  the  duty to refrain  from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to [in that resolution] […] of their right to self- determination.’”  


3. A just peace must find a balance between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy).


4. A just peace requires that the refugee issue be addressed directly. Eighty percent of the Palestinians are refugees; therefore any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of this issue. A “package” of three elements is required: Israeli acceptance of the refugees’ right of return as set down in UN General Assembly resolution 194, rather than limited “goodwill” or “humanitarian” gestures; Israeli acknowledgement of its responsibility in creating the refugee issue, a symbolic act upon which closure and eventual reconciliation between the peoples depends; and only then technical solutions involving a mutually agreed-upon combination of repatriation, resettlement elsewhere and compensation. 


5.   A just peace must be economically viable. All the inhabitants of Palestine/Israel must have equal access to the country’s basic resources and economic institutions. Here post-apartheid South Africa presents a cautionary tale: how a unitary state was created that endowed all the country’s citizens with equal political rights but economically retained a structure that has rendered much of the Black African population a permanent underclass. Once viable economic and political structures are in place, the Palestinian Diaspora can be expected to invest in the country, supporting especially in the Palestinian sector, just as the Jewish Diaspora has done. This constitutes a resource of major significance that is seldom taken into account in discussions of the Palestinians’ future or their ability to achieve parity with Israeli Jews.


6. A just peace must address the security concerns of all in the region.


7. A just peace must be regional in scope. Israel-Palestine is too small a unit to address all the issues at stake, be they refugees, water, security, economic development, environmental sustainability or others that are by nature regional. Such a broadening of any peace process is necessary if Israel-Palestine is to have a suitable regional environment in which to integrate. The almost exclusive focus on Israel/Palestine has obfuscated another crucial dimension of the conflict: its regional context.


Three Stages Towards a Just and Comprehensive Middle East Peace


Stage 1: A Bi-National State in Palestine/Israel


All proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begin with a state structure, whether one or two states. This is not because states are appropriate frameworks for resolving the conflict – in fact, states are an extremely inappropriate colonial imposition that only foment ethnic conflict; it simply reflects the fact that the international system is organized on the basis of discreet states.


One reason why states themselves are inappropriate to Middle Eastern societies has to do with their inherent hostility to the very cultural, religious and political groups of which they are comprised. States consist of central governments claiming rule over an atomized collection of individual citizens who are expected to demonstrate loyalty solely to the state itself as the exclusive repository of “national” identity. Yet the body politic is in fact made up of ethnic, national, cultural, religious, political or even class associations able to address the deeper identities, belief systems, experiences and loyalties of their adherents better than can the distant and antagonistic state. This sets up an inevitable competition that leads to the take over of the state either by political and military elites whose interests and policies stand at odds with most if not all of its citizenry or by a particular ethnic, religious or political community to the exclusion of the others. In Western Europe,
unlike the Middle East, states succeeded in establishing “democratic” structures and procedures (such as elections) that largely de-ethnicized their citizens and reduced “intermediate” groupings to the margins – although this modus vivendi is being challenged by the massive waves of immigration over the past couple decades.


In the Middle East, by contrast, multi-culturalism was the norm. To be sure, Islam became the hegemonic religious/civil authority, but the other major religious communities, Jews, Christians and some others, plus ethnic communities granted the status of millets, were both legitimized and given the authority to conduct their internal affairs according to the own religious laws and customs. There was no state, and the authority of the centralized governments of empires, provinces or countries often did not reach into the more rural or distant regions. Even when states were established by European colonizers, they had to be despotic, largely militarized, regimes because they and the elites that ruled them had little claim to legitimate power. A certain measure of national identity still pertains – being Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian or even Lebanese or Jordanian has some cachet – but it is being challenged by the rise of politicized Muslim religious movements (the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, al Quaida, Hizbollah, Sunni and Shi’ites in Iraq and others) and/or strong ethnic groups (Bedouin and Palestinians in Jordan; Christians, Muslims and Druze in Lebanon; Kurds in Iraq, among many others). If functional, peaceful, representative states or regional confederations are to have any future in the Middle East, they will have to find a balance between the traditional state structure and the multi-cultural reality of their societies.


In terms of Palestine, three political developments of the past two centuries cannot be ignored: the rise of states as the organizing framework of the international community; the corresponding rise of nationalism and its demand for a nation-state; and, much more recently, the rise of Hamas and other groups that fuse nationalism and religion. The first two provided the rationale for the two-state solution, but given the irreversible “facts on the ground” that Israel has imposed on the Occupied Territory and the rise of political Islam, that solution is dead and gone. That leaves, I would argue, one of three one-state alternatives:


  1. A unitary democratic state founded, in the words of the London Declaration, “on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens,” but leaving out national identity and the right of self-determination;


  1. An ethnocracy “belonging” exclusively to Muslims in the view of Hamas, to Palestinians in the view of those claiming an exclusive right of self-determination for Palestinians; or Jewish in the view of right-wing Zionists; or


  1. A bi-national state.


Only the latter, it seems to me, suits the social and political character of Israel/Palestine.


If a state is unavoidable due to the structure of the international community, harkening back to the multi-cultural model of the pre-state Middle East may help the future Palestine-Israel avoid the problem that has proved fatal to the functioning of most bi- or-multi-national states: the fact that national groups strive for exclusive ownership of their particular nation-state and cannot tolerate other national groups within their body politic. One way out is to conceive of a bi-national Palestine-Israel as a “consociational democracy” based on power-sharing rather than the dominance of one people over the other. Rather than seeking to weaken and neutralize communities “intermediate” between the state and its citizens, Palestine-Israel could instead validate the national identities of its two constituent communities at the expense of the state, if the state was structured as merely a weak administrative unit instead of the repository of national identity, as in Switzerland or Belgium, for example. The parliament of a bi-national democratic Palestine-Israel (or “Canaan,” to adopt Mazin Qumsiya’s suggestion) would be a federal one, a “grand coalition” of the two peoples in which, through proportional elections, decisions affecting the entire population would enjoy across-the-board support.


National assemblies of each people, such as the Communities’ Parliaments in Belgium, would support the federal system, as would empowered municipalities and local authorities. To further enhance each people’s national heritage and self-expression, each might have a national university, national museum and national theater, as well newspapers, television channels and significant input into the school system. Alongside such national institutions other venues would be available for those who wishing to develop a more common identity as citizens of whatever the new state is called – non-sectarian schools, universities, cultural spaces and common labor movements, not to mention mere neighborliness. Such a consociational arrangement would offering, I submit, the best chance of promoting intrastate post-conflict co-existence; indeed, the essence of federalism is found not in any particular set of institutions but in the conduct and regulation of communal relationships in a common political life. Needless to say, minorities not belonging to these two peoples would enjoy inclusion and well-defined political rights.


And since a bi-national solution does not require the dismantlement of settlements – their very integration will neutralize their exclusive and controlling character – it does not require “ending the Occupation,” the main obstacle to the two-state solution. It simply transforms the entire country into the normal territory of a state.


Stage 2: A Middle Eastern Economic Confederation


A bi-national state would address the most urgent need at hand: resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Palestine-Israel is too small a unit to truly address such issues as refugees, water, economic development or security, all of which are regional problems that cannot be resolved within its narrow confines. Peace-making and development must occur evenly across a region. A flourishing Palestine-Israel cannot exist in a highly militarized region characterized by poverty, inter-communal conflict and autocratic regimes. The establishment of a state in Palestine-Israel, then, would be but a first stage in creating a comprehensive political and economic structure necessary for stabilizing and developing the region as a whole.


Stage 2 in the process of forging a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East entails brokering a regional economic confederation among Palestine-Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon – “Greater Syria,” the historic geographical, cultural, economic and political unit of that part of the Middle East. This would create a powerful economic bloc capable of participating in the global economy – all the member countries have potentially major economies, with the e
xception of Jordan – as well as laying the foundations for genuine pan-state development in which conflict would be rendered universally counter-productive. A key element would also be the ability of all the Confederation’s inhabitants to live and work anywhere within the region, much as in the case in Europe. Such an economic confederation might resemble more the looser Common Market of 20-30 years ago, also known as the European Economic Community, than the current European Union. Its economic and social policies would be guided by a weak technocratic body similar to the European Commission. The development of such an economic confederation is not only do-able, it is necessary if the region, including Palestine-Israel, is to transcend conflict, poverty and repressiveness and have any future at all. It should be seen as an integral extension of any attempt to lead Palestine-Israel itself to peace based on human rights, economic development, regional integration and reconciliation.


Stage 3: A Middle East Confederation of Cultures and Peoples


Now let’s go one step further, into what is today the rarified reaches of sheer imagination, but which is the stuff of concrete proposals, programs and, ultimately, solutions. If we were to imagine what political form would best “fit” the cultural needs, political aspirations and economic concerns of all the peoples of our conflict-torn region, an area containing dozens of national, cultural, linguistic, religious and political communities, what would it look like?


Again I hark back to the multi-cultural heritage of the Middle East with its structure of weak political entities over strong associations of national, ethnic, religious and political communities, and to consociation. Building on the economic confederation, a weak technocratic Executive, something like the European Commission or the Swiss federal government, would assume the duties of administering the foreign, economic and social affairs of the Confederation of Cultures and Peoples. True to its appellation, however, governance of the Middle East Confederation of Cultures and Peoples would be devolved to the various groupings that comprise it. A grassroots democracy would emerge in the form of (say) five Constituent Assemblies whose membership is both voluntary and overlapping – overlapping precisely because historically in the Middle East one’s religious and civic identities were intertwined. Assemblies would be local and regional bodies connected to the decision- and consensus-making institutions of each community.


  • A People’s Assembly would represent the many ethnic and cultural groups of the region, many of whom have territorial allegiances (Bedouins, Druze, Circassians, Samaritans, Alawites, Maronites, Roma, Armenians, Mizrahi Jews, Greeks and more).


  • A National Assembly would represent those who choose to identify with their national communities whose territorial attachments often overlap (Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, Syria and Lebanese, perhaps also Kurds and others).


  • An Assembly of Religions would represent those many for whom their religious identities are central, if not primary (Muslims, Jews and Christians in their myriad denominations, some overlapping with their national identities, plus Bahai, Samaritans, Druze and others).


  • A Free Assembly, for people like me and probably most of you reading this, would represent or give expression to citizens of the Confederation who choose to identify solely as individuals or with whatever pan- and post-state identity emerges, or for whom participation in the wider body-politic complements their participation in other Assemblies; finally,


  • An Assembly of Political Groups would represent constituencies organized around cross-cutting issues and ideologies (political movements and parties, religious groupings such as Hizbollah or Hamas, feminist and LGBT communities of interest, environmentalists and businesspeople, to name just a few).  


Besides the Executive, a Confederational Assembly comprised of representatives of the various regional assemblies might serve as the legislative arm of government.


A key problem facing such a regional structure is the nature of ethnopolitics in the Middle East (as elsewhere). Many of the groupings described above possess identities or claims that are antithetical to those of others, outlooks hostile to the concept of cultural and even individual pluralism, exclusive territoriality and mutual hostility deriving from centuries whereby some dominated others – all exacerbated by inexperience in functioning states, let alone democracies. Having a vision of a peaceful, inclusive, multi-cultural and free society, as in the London Declaration or here is only part of the equation; progressive civil society must reframe Middle Eastern history and values so as to make room for such values as human and civil rights. In terms used by Shlomo Sand, we must “invent” a more contemporary version of the Middle East, where by “inventing” we mean retrieving from Middle Eastern histories and cultures, as well as from the wider world, those values and voices that contribute to our vision while respecting local traditions. But this is precisely where the various assemblies come in, enabling discussion and debate in a non-conflictual environment, bringing as well into the process those “who have been historically excluded from decision-making, especially the Palestinian Diaspora and its refugees, and Palestinians inside Israel.” And the young, perhaps the most articulate voices of the future. As for Israeli Jews, Haim Hanegbi, the veteran peace activist, said in an Ha’aretz interview in 2003: “One should come to terms with the fact that we shall live here as a minority. A Jewish minority that will not be squeezed between Hadera and Gedera but could reside also in Nablus, Baghdad, and Damascus and could take part in the democratization of the Middle East.”  


The manner in which Israel’s warehousing of the Palestinians has been allowed to progress unfettered by the US and Europe demonstrates a key fact of international politics: as long as any situation can be quieted to the point where it ceases to disrupt the world system, it can be tolerated. And since governments will take the course of least resistance, preferring repressed injustice to the difficulties of pursuing true justice, it is up to us, the international civil society led by Palestinians and critical Israeli Jews, to formulate and promote a just solution – especially as “political Zionism” has run its course and nothing left to offer those seeking peace with justice. The great leverage possessed by the Palestinians lies in their role as gatekeepers. Their position as the only party that can signal an end to the “conflict” and lead to normalization with Israeli Jews, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds, gives them the prerogative of formulating a resolution that is just and that addresses their needs and grievances. Their ability (together with their Israeli and international partners) to mobilize civil society around the world over a sustained period of time while isolating Israel and even its American patron also conf
ers on them a strategic advantage.


Through sustained internal resistance coupled with international mobilization and appeals to international courts and tribunals, Palestinians are achieving a measure of political parity with the seemingly stronger Israeli side. The fact that on the way Palestinian and Israeli activists struggle together from the Wall in Bil’in and the ruins of demolished homes in Anata through the halls of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and on to BDS campaigns and hundreds of advocacy presentations demonstrates the ability of the grassroots to overcome profound differences and find common ground. Theoretical as it may sound, the three-stage vision set out here addresses some of the major issues facing not only Palestinians and Israelis, but the peoples of the region as a whole, who cannot be ignored. If it merely arouses opposition – but substantive opposition accompanied by workable alternatives – or if it helps catalyze discussion over aspects of a Middle East peace left unaddressed until now, then it will have served its purpose.



(Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <>.)



Resources on Ethnopolitics and the One-State Solution


Following is a guide to materials on the one-state solution. It is far from complete. Any additions are welcomed.


Declarations and Conferences

Beit Sahour Declaration <>

Boston Declaration <>

Haifa Conference <>

Harvard One-State Conference <>

London Declaration (November 2007) <>

One Democratic State Movement, Dallas Declaration <>

One State in Palestine <>.


Articles and Books


Abdel-Hadi, Mahdi (ed.)  2005  Palestinian-Israeli Impasse: Exploring Alternative Solutions to the Palestine-Israel Conflict. Jerusalem: PASSIA.

Abu-Odeh, Lama  2001  The Case for Binationalism: Why One State – Liberal and Constitutionist – May Be the Key to Peace in the Middle East. Boston Review, December-January. <http://>.

Abunimah, Ali  2006  One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. New York: Henry Holt.

Aruri, Nasser  “One State, One Solution.” <>.

Avnery, Uri  A Binational State – God Forbid.

—  in debate with Ilan Pappe <>.  

Barghouti, Omar  2009  Re-imagining Palestine: Self determination, Ethical De-colonization and Equality. <>.

Barsamian, David  1999  An Interview with Edward Said. The Progressive, 63(4). <http://progressive. org/interview 9904.htm>.

Ben Efrat, Roni  1997  The Question of a Binational State: Barking Up the Right Tree at the Wrong Time. Challenge Magazine 4(8), July–August.

Benvenisti, Meron  2003  Which Binationalism: That is the Question. Haaretz, 20 November.

Binningsbø, Helga Malmin (2005). “Consociational Democracy and Postconflict Peace. Will Power-Sharing Institutions Increase the Probability of Lasting Peace after Civil War?”. Paper prepared for presentation at the 13th Annual National Political Science Conference, Hurdalsjøen, Norway, 5–7 January 2005.

Bresheeth, Haim  2012  Short web-interview with Prof. Haim Bresheeth, of the One State in Palestine group. <>.

Cobban, Helena  2003  A Binational Israel-Palestine. Christian Science Monitor, 9 October. <>.

Collins, John  2012  Global Palestine. London: C. Hurst.

Elazar, Daniel  1991  Two Peoples/One Land: Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. Washington: University Press of America.

El-Sakka, Abaher  2003  The idea of bi-nationalism in Palestine. Paper presented at the conference of the European Sociology Association, Murcia, Spain.  

Faris, Hani (ed.)  2013  The Failure of the Two-State Solution: The Prospects of One State in the Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: I. B. Tauris.

Farsakh, Leila  2007  Time for a Bi-National State. Le Monde Diplomatique, March. <>.

Flapan, Simha  1985  Israelis and Palestinians – Can they make peace?

Gendzier, Irene L.  1975  Palestine and Israel – The Binational Idea.

Halper, Jeff  2010  An Israeli in Palestine. London: Pluto.

—  2005  Thinking Out of the Box: Towards a Middle
East Union. Palestinian-Israeli Impasse: Exploring Alternative Solutions to the Palestine Israel Conflict. Mahdi Abdel-Hadi (ed.). Jerusalem: Passia

Hattis, Susan Lee  1970  The Binational Idea in Palestine during Mandatory Times. Haifa: Shikmona.

Hermann, Tamar  2005  The Bi-National Idea In Israel/ Palestine: Past And Present

Hilliard, Constance B.  2009  Does Israel Have a Future? The Case for a Post-Zionist State. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books.

Hussain, Murtaza  2012  One Land for Two Peoples. <>

Judt, Tony  2003  Israel: The Alternative. New York Review of Books, October 23.

Karmi, Ghada  2012  Palestinians Need a One-State Solution. The Guardian, 20 September .

—  2011  The One-State Solution: An Alternative Vision for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Journal of Palestine Studies XL(2).

— 2002  A Secular Democratic State in Historic Palestine: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? Between the Lines (October)>.

Khalidi, Ahmad Samih  2003  A One-State Solution. The Guardian.

Kovel, Joel  2007  Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine. London: Pluto Press.

Leon, Dan  1999  Binationalism: A Bridge Over the Chasm. Palestine-Israel Journal, July. <>.

Lijphart, Arend  1969  Consociational Democracy. World Politics 21(2): 207–25.

Lustick, Ian S.  2001  The cunning of History: A Response to the Case for Binationalism. Boston Review, December-January. <>.

Qumsiyeh, Mazin  2004  Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. London: Pluto.

Pappe, Ilan  Bi-National Realities Versus National Mythologies.

Piterberg, Gabiel  2008  The Returns of Zionism.

Raz-Krakotzkin, Amnon  2011 Separation and Bi-nationalism. Jadal 10. <>.

Said, Edward  1999  The One-State Solution. The New York Times Magazine, January 10 <>.

Samman, Maha  2013  Trans-Colonial Urban Space in Palestine: Politics an Development. London: Routledge.

Sand, Shlomo  2009  The Invention of the Jewish People. London: Verso.

Shafir, Gershon  1996  Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Shavit, Ari  2003  Forget about Zionism. Ha’aretz Weekend Supplement, 8 August, pp. 10–14.

Tamari, Salim  2000  The Dubious Lure of Binationalism. Journal of Palestine Studies 30(1): 83–7.

Tilley, Virginia Q2005  The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Tutunji, Jenab and Khalidi, Kamal   A Binational State in Palestine – The Rational Choice for Palestinians and the Moral Choice for Israelis.

Veracini, Lorenzo  2006  Israel and Settler Society. London: Pluto Press.

Warschawski, Michael  2001  The Party is Over: An Open Letter to a Friend in ‘Peace Now’. Radical Philosophy Review 3(2): 141–5.


Selected Websites