Why it’s time to discuss the one-state solution

Secular, binational, and more: there are plenty of one-state models that can and should be discussed. But what’s becoming increasingly clear to figures from both the right and the left is that the feasibility of the two-state solution must be reconsidered. 

By Yoav Kapshuk

It is time to start a public discussion about possible and realistic arrangements for the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The importance of the discussion does not lie in reaching a consensus about a desired arrangement of one state or two states, but rather in creating an opening through which to understand the intricacies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These intricacies are concealed when the discussion focuses only on the option of a two state-solution. The discussion on the two-state solution has exhausted itself in recent years because it has ignored or downplayed core issues.

A discussion about such possible and realistic arrangements in the area between the river and the sea was held last year in a conference organized by The Public Sphere, the journal of the Political Science Department at Tel-Aviv University. This debate continues in the sixth issue of The Public Sphere, a special edition published recently under the title: “One State between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – Reality or Dream?” [Hebrew with English abstracts] Although The Public Sphere’s editorial collective encompasses various opinions about possible and desirable arrangements between the river and the sea, we agree on the importance of examining those positions in light of the reality on the ground.

There exists in this particular conflict an enormous gap between declarations and actions: The declarations of Israeli and Palestinian leaders about their commitment to the two-state solution contradict the acts of Israeli governments that undermine its feasibility. This gap between declarations and actions is manifested in Israel’s characterization of its presence in the West Bank as a “temporary situation”: On the one hand, Israel has not asserted sovereignty over this territory (beyond the expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem). On the other hand, its continuous civilian and military activities seem to operate under the presumption of an indefinite occupation. As a result of Israel’s actions and the “permanent occupation,” the central question that should be tackled today is whether forming one state between the river and the sea is a realistic option, or whether the two-state solution is still relevant and possible.

Dealing with this question requires a deep consideration of Israeli and Palestinian societies, as they both have changed over the last two decades, especially throughout the course of the Oslo process and its collapse. The purpose of the Oslo Accords, at least formally, was to separate the area between the sea and the river into two sovereign states. We should ask ourselves whether the collapse of Oslo indicates that this area cannot be divided, or whether partition is actually the only way to achieve reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Does Oslo’s failure as a transitional process demonstrate the need to accelerate partition, as long as it is still possible? Or does Oslo’s failure to divide the land mean that the one-state solution is the only realistic option? Additionally, the single state solution is not a monolith, and we should consider which of its forms are relevant and attainable. Should we think in terms of a democratic, secular and liberal state or a bi-national state with two (or more) central ethnic groups? Or would these options ultimately lead to an oppressive form of Jewish or Palestinian national hegemony? And furthermore, is it possible to support the binational principle while simultaneously supporting the partition of Mandatory Palestine? Which type of arrangement would bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? These are the questions that should guide the public and the academic debate.

It is critical to note that support for and opposition to the two-state solution – and the one-state solution – can be found in various and contrasting political and ideological movements. The centrist factions of both the Israeli left and right wing support the two-state solution, at least declaratively. This solution is also still supported by the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand, in recent years, more and more leaders and public figures from the Israeli right (like Moshe Arens and Reuven Rivlin) and left (including Meron Benvenisti, Haim Hanegbi and Avraham Burg) have come to doubt the feasibility of the two-state solution, and some have come out in favor of one state.

Just a few days ago, notable mainstream journalist Nahum Barnea from Yedioth Ahronoth joined those who have come to doubt the lasting relevance of a two-state solution. Threats to withdraw support for two states have also been increasingly heard from Palestinian Authority leaders like Saeb Erekat – though it is reasonable to believe that some such statements are actually intended to pressure parties to reach an agreement on two states.

As stated, there are various models for the one-state and two-state solutions. We should be aware of the variety, and especially of the dangers of undemocratic models. However, therein lays the vitality of this discussion: creating public awareness of the wide gap between declarations and acts, a gap that exists as a result of 45 years worth of temporary occupation strategies and ambiguity regarding the real goals of the Israeli policy. Only when the Israeli society opens a space for this kind of discussion will it be able to address its ignorance and blindness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the primary issue impacting society since its establishment.

Yoav Kapshuk is the special issue editor of The Public Sphere 6. Click here for the full edition, dedicated to the question of the one-state solution (in Hebrew with English abstracts). The journal’s editors in chief are Yoav Peled and Michael Kochin.