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the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
The one-state solution and the similar binational solution are proposed approaches to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Proponents of a binational solution to the conflict advocate a single state in Israel, the West Bank, and possibly the Gaza Strip, with citizenship and equal rights in the combined entity for all inhabitants of all three territories, without regard to ethnicity or religion. While some advocate this solution for ideological reasons, others feel simply that, due to the reality on the ground, it is the de facto situation.
Though increasingly debated in academic circles, this approach has remained outside the range of official efforts to resolve the conflict as well as mainstream analysis, where it is eclipsed by the two-state solution. The two-state solution was most recently agreed upon in principle by the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the November 2007 Annapolis Conference and remains the conceptual basis for negotiations proposed by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011. Interest in a one-state solution is growing, however, as the two-state approach fails to accomplish a final agreement.
The "one-state solution" refers to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a unitary, federal or confederate Israeli-Palestinian state, which would encompass all of the present territory of Israel, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Depending on various points of view, a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented as a situation in which Israel would ostensibly lose its character as a Jewish state and the Palestinians would fail to achieve their national independence within a two-state solution or, alternatively, as the best, most just, and only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although the terms "one-state solution" and "bi-national solution" are often used synonymously, they do not necessarily mean the same thing. In debates about a one-state solution in Israel-Palestine, bi-nationalism refers to a political system in which the two groups, Jews and Palestinians, would retain their legal and political character as separate nations or nationalities, perhaps similar to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In most bi-national arguments for a one-state solution, such an arrangement is deemed necessary both to ensure the protection of minorities (whichever group that is) and to reassure both groups that their collective interests would be protected. Counter-arguments are that bi-nationalism would entrench the two identities politically in ways that would foster their continuing rivalry and social divides; these arguments favour a unitary democratic state, or one-person-one-vote arrangement.
Support for a one-state solution is increasing as Palestinians, frustrated by lack of progress in negotiations aiming to establish the two-state solution, increasingly see the one-state solution as an alternative way forward.
The area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River was controlled by various national groups throughout history. A number of groups, including the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Jews, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Turks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, the British and now Israelis have controlled the region at one time or another. From 1516 until the conclusion of World War I, the region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
From 1915 to 1916, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, corresponded by letters with Sayyid Hussein bin Ali, the father of Pan Arabism. These letters, were later known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. McMahon promised Hussein and his Arab followers the territory of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for assistance in driving out the Ottoman Turks. Hussein interpreted these letters as promising the region of Palestine to the Arabs. McMahon and the Churchill White Paper maintained that Palestine had been excluded from the territorial promises, but minutes of a Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting held on 5 December 1918 confirmed that Palestine had been part of the area that had been pledged to Hussein in 1915.
In 1916, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the colonies of the Ottoman Empire between them. Under this agreement, the region of Palestine would be controlled by Britain. In a 1917, letter from Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government promised "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", but at the same time required "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate for Palestine. Like all League of Nations Mandates, this mandate derived from article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, which called for the self-determination of former Ottoman Empire colonies after a transitory period administered by a world power. The Palestine Mandate recognized the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and required that the mandatory government "facilitate Jewish immigration" while at the same time "ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced".
Disagreements over Jewish immigration as well as incitement by Haj Amin Al-Husseini led to an outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence in the Palestine Riots of 1920. Violence erupted again the following year during the Jaffa Riots. In response to these riots, Britain established the Haycraft Commission of Inquiry. The British Mandatory authorities put forward proposals for setting up an elected legislative council in Palestine. In 1924 the issue was raised at a conference held by Ahdut Ha'avodah at Ein Harod. Shlomo Kaplansky, a veteran leader of Poalei Zion, argued that a Parliament, even with an Arab majority, was the way forward. David Ben-Gurion, the emerging leader of the Yishuv, succeeded in getting Kaplansky's ideas rejected. Violence erupted again in the form of the 1929 Palestine riots, the 1929 Hebron massacre, and the 1929 Safed massacre. After the violence, the British led another commission of inquiry under Sir Walter Shaw. The report of the Shaw Commission, known as the Shaw Report or Command Paper No 3530, attributed the violence to "the twofold fear of the Arabs that, by Jewish immigration and land purchase, they might be deprived of their livelihood and, in time, pass under the political domination of the Jews".
Violence erupted again during the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine. The British established the Peel Commission of 1936-1937 in order to put an end to the violence. The Peel Commission concluded that only partition could put an end to the violence, and proposed the Peel Partition Plan. While the Jewish community accepted the concept of partition, not all members endorsed the implementation proposed by the Peel Commission. The Arab community entirely rejected the Peel Partition Plan, which included population transfers, primarily of Arabs. The partition plan was abandoned, and in 1939 Britain issued its White Paper of 1939 clarifying its "unequivocal" position that "it is not part of [Britain's] policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State" and that "The independent State [of Palestine] should be one in which Arabs and Jews share government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded."
The White Paper of 1939 sought to accommodate Arab demands regarding Jewish immigration by placing a quota of 10,000 Jewish immigrants per year over a five-year period from 1939 to 1944. The White Paper of 1939 also required Arab consent for further Jewish immigration. The White Paper was seen by the Jewish community as a revocation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and due to Jewish persecution in the Holocaust, Jews continued to immigrate illegally in what has become known as Aliyah Bet.
Continued violence and the heavy cost of World War II prompted Britain to turn the issue of Palestine to the United Nations in 1947. In its debates, the UN divided its member States into two subcommittees: one to address options for partition and a second to address all other options. The Second Subcommittee, which included all the Arab and Muslim States members, issued a long report arguing that partition was illegal according to the terms of the Mandate and proposing a unitary democratic state that would protect rights of all citizens equally. The General Assembly instead voted for partition and in UN General Assembly Resolution 181 recommended that the Mandate territory of Palestine be partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jewish community accepted the 1947 partition plan, and declared independence as the State of Israel in 1948. The Arab community rejected the partition plan, and army units from five Arab countries – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt – contributed to a united Arab army that attempted to invade the territory, resulting in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
The war, known to Israelis as the War of Independence and to Palestinians as al-Nakba (meaning "the catastrophe"), resulted in Israel's establishment as well as the flight or expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel. During the following years, a large population of Jews living in Arab nations (close to 800,000) left or were expelled from their homes in what has become known as the Modern Jewish Exodus and subsequently resettled in the new State of Israel.
By 1948, in the wake of the Holocaust, Jewish support for partition and a Jewish state had become overwhelming. Nevertheless, some Jewish voices still argued for unification. The International Jewish Labor Bund was against the UN vote on the partition of Palestine and reaffirmed its support for a single binational state that would guarantee equal national rights for Jews and Arabs and would be under the control of superpowers and the UN. The 1948 New York Second world conference of the International Jewish Labor Bund condemned the proclamation of the Jewish state, because the decision exposed the Jews in Palestine to a danger. The conference was in favour of a binational state built on the base of national equality and democratic federalism.
A one-state, one-nation solution where Arabic-speaking Palestinians would adopt a Hebrew-speaking Israeli identity (although not necessarily the Jewish religion) was advocated within Israel by the Canaanite movement of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as more recently in the Engagement Movement led by Tsvi Misinai.
In 1969, the Fatah movement accepted as a fait accompli the presence in Palestine of a large number of Jews. In January 1969 Fatah declared that it was not fighting against Jews, but against Israel as a racist and theocratic entity.
The fifth national council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in February 1969 passed a resolution confirming that the PLO's objective was "to establish a free and democratic society in Palestine for all Palestinians whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews". The PLO was not successful in building support for the binational solution within Israeli society, however, which lay the groundwork for an eventual re-scoping of the PLO's aim toward partition into two states.
Since 1999, interest has been renewed in binationalism or a unitary democratic state. In that year the Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote:
In October 2003, New York University scholar Tony Judt broke ground in his article, "Israel: The Alternative" in the New York Review of Books, in which he argued that Israel is an "anachronism" in sustaining an ethnic identity for the state and that the two-state solution is fundamentally doomed and unworkable. The Judt article engendered considerable debate in the UK and the US, and The New York Review of Books received more than 1,000 letters per week about the essay. A month later, political scientist Virginia Tilley published "The One-State Solution" in the London Review of Books, arguing that West Bank settlements had made a two-state solution impossible and that the international community must accept a one-state solution as the de facto reality.
Leftist journalists from Israel, such as Haim Hanegbi and Daniel Gavron, have called for the public to face the facts (as they see them) and accept the binational solution. On the Palestinian side, similar voices have been raised. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert argued, in a 2007 interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, that without a two-state agreement Israel would face "a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights" in which case "Israel [would be] finished".
John Mearsheimer, co-director of the Programme on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, says the binational solution has become inevitable. He has further argued that by allowing Israel's settlements to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, the United States has helped Israel commit "national suicide" since Palestinians will be the majority group in the binational state.
A poll conducted in 2010 by Israel Democracy Institute suggested that 15% of right-wing Jewish Israelis and 16% of left-wing Jewish Israelis support a binational state solution over a two states solution based '67 lines. However, according to the same poll, 66% of Jewish Israelis preferred the two-state solution.
In 2012, in an article in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, Ahmed Qurei called for Palestinians to reconsider a one-state instead of a two-state solution. He stated that the “one-state solution, despite the endless problems it embraces, is one of the solutions that we should be contemplating through an internal dialogue.” He blamed Israel for "burying" or "decapitating" the two-state solution though the building of settlements.
In 2013, professor Ian Lustick wrote in the New York Times that the "fantasy" of a two-state solution prevented people from working on solutions that might really work. Lustick argued that people who assume Israel will persist as a Zionist project should consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled. Lustick concludes that while it may not arise without "painful stalemates", a one-state solution may be a way to eventual Palestinian independence. 
Support among Israeli Jews, and Jews generally, for a one-state solution is very low. Israelis see a one-state solution as a demographic threat that would overturn the prevailing Jewish majority within Israel.
Proponents of a one-state solution argue that it ensures the equal rights of all ethnicities in the greater Israel and Palestine area (Israel, West Bank, Gaza), by abiding in the rights granted to all people found in the original Israeli Declaration of Independence:
...it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Other arguments for a one-state solution include that it would unite all people of Palestine into a powerful, secular state similar to Turkey. It would remove the whole Palestine area from the criticism and ostracism of the modern world.
Critics argue that it would make Israeli Jews an ethnic minority in the only Jewish country. The high fertility rate among Palestinians accompanied by a possible return of Palestinian refugees, would quickly render Jews a minority, according to demographic analysts.
The former Canadian Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, noted, "the Arab countries not only rejected a Palestinian state and went to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries, thereby creating two refugee populations."
Critics have also argued that Jews, like any other nation, have the right to self-determination, and that due to still existing antisemitism, there is a need for a Jewish national home. Ethnically homogeneous nation-states are common around the world, including in Europe. They also argue that most of the Arab world is composed of entirely Arab and Muslim states, with many countries not granting equality for ethnic or religious minorities.
Critics argue that a one-state solution is supported by "anti-Israel" advocates and "pro-terrorist" supporters who seek Israel's destruction, and view this as a way to achieve their goal. In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post about the March 2012 Harvard University's Kennedy School students conference on "Israel/Palestine and the One State Solution", Dan Diker, the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress writes that:
"Keynote presenters include Ali Abunimah, author of the Israel-bashing online “Electronic Intifada” and an enthusiastic Hamas supporter who, as some may remember, publicly branded former prime minister Ehud Olmert as a murderer guilty of war crimes and prevented him from speaking at a 2009 University of Chicago forum.The conference also features Dianna Buttu, former legal advisor for the PLO and another Hamas supporter who, as Middle East scholar Richard Cravatts noted recently, “denied that thousands of Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel actually had warheads on them, unlike Israeli weaponry.”
The Reut Institute expands on these concerns of many Israeli Jews and says that a one-state scenario without any institutional safeguards would negate Israel's status as a homeland for the Jewish people. When proposed as a political solution by non-Israelis, the assumption is that the idea is probably being put forward by those who are politically motivated to harm Israel and, by extension, Israeli Jews. They argue that the absorption of millions of Palestinians, along with a right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the generally high birthrate among Palestinians would quickly render Jews an ethnic minority and eliminate their rights to self-determination. They argue that the one-state solution is equivalent to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and a threat to Jews who live in Israel, because it would require assimilation with what they fear would be an extremely hostile Muslim population, who would become the ruling majority. In such a scenario, critics argue, Jews would become an oppressed minority living under the rule of a hostile majority. In particular, Jeffrey Goldberg points to a 2000 Haaretz interview with Edward Said, who he describes as "one of the intellectual fathers of one-statism". When asked whether he thought a Jewish minority would be treated fairly in a binational state, Said replied that "it worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don't know." It has also been argued that the Palestinian majority would eventually carry out genocide against the Jewish population. Writing in the far-right Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva, Steven Plaut referred to the one-state solution the "Rwanda Solution", and wrote that the implementation of a one-state solution would eventually lead to a "new Holocaust".
Some critics argue that unification cannot happen without damaging or destroying Israel's democracy. Most Israeli Jews as well as Israeli Druze, some Israeli Bedouin, many Israeli Christan Arabs and even some Israeli Muslim Arabs fear the consequences of amalgamation with the mostly Muslim Palestinian population in the occupied territories, which they perceive as more religious and conservative. (Israeli Druze and Bedouin serve in the Israel Defense Forces and there are sometimes rifts between these groups and Palestinians.) One poll found that, in a future Palestinian state, 23% of Palestinians want civil law only, 35% want both Islamic and civil law, and 38% want Islamic law only. (Currently Israeli law is a combination of civil and religious, including Islamic, law.) This negative view of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza prompts some critics to argue that the existing level of rights and equality for all Israeli citizens would be put in jeopardy with unification.
Imagining what might ensue with unification, some critics of the one-state model believe that rather than ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, it would result in large-scale ethnic violence and possibly civil war, pointing to violence during the British Mandate, such as in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936–39 as examples. In this view, violence between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews is inevitable and can only be forestalled by partition. These critics also cite the 1937 Peel Commission, which recommended partition as the only means of ending the ongoing conflict. Critics also cite supposedly bi-national arrangements in Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Pakistan, which failed and resulted in further internal conflicts. Similar criticisms appear in The Case for Peace. Rather than a powerful secular democracy, critics fear that the high Palestinian birthrate and the return of millions of refugees will give the land a majority of religiously observant Muslims, many with deep anti-Semitic sentiments.
On the aftermath of any hypothetical implementation of a one-state solution, Gershom Gorenberg wrote: “Palestinians will demand the return of property lost in 1948 and perhaps the rebuilding of destroyed villages. Except for the drawing of borders, virtually every question that bedevils Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations will become a domestic problem setting the new political entity aflame.... Two nationalities who have desperately sought a political frame for cultural and social independence would wrestle over control of language, art, street names, and schools.” Gorenberg wrote that in the best case, the new state would be paralyzed by endless arguments, and in the worst case, disagreements would erupt into violence.
Students of the Middle East, including former New historian Benny Morris, have argued that the one-state solution is not viable because of Arab unwillingness to accept a Jewish national presence in the Middle East. In his book One State, Two States, Morris wrote that a one-state solution would probably cause a mass exodus of Israeli Jews, arguing that most would prefer life as a minority in the Western world, with its freedoms and openness, to the "stifling darkness, intolerance, authoritarianism, and insularity of the Arab world and its treatment of minority populations", with only those incapable of finding new homes abroad and ultra-Orthodox Jews "bound to the land out of deep religious conviction" remaining behind.
Gershom Gorenberg wrote that in addition to many of the problems with the one-state solution described above, the hypothetical state would be an economic failure, as the Israeli Jewish intelligentsia would emigrate, writing that "financing development in majority-Palestinian areas and bringing Palestinians into Israel’s social welfare network would require Jews to pay higher taxes or receive fewer services. But the engine of the Israeli economy is high-tech, an entirely portable industry. Both individuals and companies will leave." As a result, the new binational state would be financially crippled.
In 2012, the UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, denounced Israeli settlement construction and said that unless the parties achieve a two-state solution, the region would move toward a "one-state reality" and further from a peaceful solution.
A one-state solution is generally endorsed by Palestinian Arabs in Israel. Many are becoming nervous that a two-state solution would result in official pressures for them to move into a Palestinian state in the West Bank and/or Gaza Strip and so lose their homes and access to their communities, businesses and cities inside Israel. Some Israeli government spokespeople have also proposed that Palestinian-majority areas of Israel, such as the area around Umm el-Fahm, be annexed to the new Palestinian state. As this measure would cut these areas off permanently from the rest of Israel's territory, including the coastal cities and other Palestinian towns and villages, Palestinians view this with alarm. Many Palestinian citizens of Israel would therefore prefer a one-state solution because this would allow them to sustain their Israeli citizenship.
Hamas has at times ruled out a two state solution, and at other times endorsed the possibility of a two-state solution. Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar has been cited saying he "did not rule out the possibility of having Jews, Muslims and Christians living under the sovereignty of an Islamic state." Islamic Jihad for its part rejects a two state solution. An Islamic Jihad leader Khalid al-Batsh stated that "The idea cannot be accepted and we believe that the entire Palestine is Arab and Islamic land and belongs to the Palestinian nation."
A multi-option poll by Near East Consulting (NEC) in November 2007 found the bi-national state to be less popular than either "two states for two people" or "a Palestinian state on all historic Palestine" with only 13.4% of respondents supporting a binational solution. However, in February 2007, NEC found that around 70% of Palestinian respondents backed the idea when given a straight choice of either supporting or opposing "a one-state solution in historic Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews have equal rights and responsibilities". In March 2010, a survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that Palestinian support had risen to 29 percent. In April 2010, a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre also found that Palestinian support for a "bi-national" solution had jumped from 20.6 percent in June 2009 to 33.8 percent. If this support for a bi-national state is combined with the finding that 9.8 percent of Palestinian respondents favour a "Palestinian state" in "all of historic Palestine", this poll suggested about equal Palestinian support for a two-state and one-state solution in mid-2010. In November 2009, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat proposed the adoption of the one-state solution if Israel didn't halt settlement construction:
"[it is time to] (sic) refocus their attention on the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equals... It is very serious. This is the moment of truth for us."
In 2011, a poll by Stanley Greenberg and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and sponsored by the Israel Project revealed that 61% of Palestinians reject a two state solution, while 34% said they accepted it. 66% said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state.
Some Israeli Jews and Palestinians who oppose a one-state solution have nevertheless come to believe that it may come to pass. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert argued, in a 2007 interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, that without a two-state agreement Israel would face "a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights" in which case "Israel [would be] finished". This echoes comments made in 2004 by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who said that if Israel failed to conclude an agreement with the Palestinians, that the Palestinians would pursue a single, bi-national state.
Today, the proponents for the one-state solution include Palestinian author Ali Abunimah, Palestinian writer and political scientist Abdalhadi Alijla Palestinian-American producer Jamal Dajani, Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, Jeff Halper, Israeli writer Dan Gavron, Palestinian-American law professor George Bisharat, and American-Lebanese academic Saree Makdisi. Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya was also a prominent proponent (see also Saif Islam Qaddafi Isratin proposal). The expansion of the Israeli Settler movement, especially in the West Bank, has been given as one rationale for bi-nationalism and the increased infeasibility of the two-state alternative:
"Support for one state is hardly a radical idea; it is simply the recognition of the uncomfortable reality that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories already function as a single state. They share the same aquifers, the same highway network, the same electricity grid and the same international borders... The one-state solution... neither destroys the Jewish character of the Holy Land nor negates the Jewish historical and religious attachment (although it would destroy the superior status of Jews in that state). Rather, it affirms that the Holy Land has an equal Christian and Muslim character. For those who believe in equality, this is a good thing."-Michael Tarazi
They advocate a secular and democratic state while still maintaining a Jewish presence and culture in the region. They concede that this alternative will erode the dream of Jewish supremacy in terms of governance in the long run.
Some Israeli politicians, including former defense minister Moshe Arens, current Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and the Knesset members Tzipi Hotovely and Uri Ariel have voiced support for a one-state solution, rather than divide the West Bank in a two-state solution.
In September 2011, Congressman Joe Walsh and 30 co-sponsors introduced a motion in the United States House of Representatives supporting Israel's right to annex the Palestinian territories if the Palestinian National Authority continues to push for vote at the United Nations. The plan would give Palestinians only "limited voting power" in the merged country and those who disagreed with annexation would be free to leave. Robert Wright described this plan as "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing."
Rashid Khalidi wrote in 2011 that the one-state solution was already a reality, in that “there is only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which there are two or three levels of citizenship or non-citizenship within the borders of that one state that exerts total control.” Khalidi further argued that the "peace process" had been extinguished by ongoing Israeli settlement construction, and anyone who still believed it could result in an equitable two-state solution should have his "head examined".
Sample articles advocating the one-state solution
Sample articles criticizing the one-state solution