Two Peoples – One State: The Binational Solution

Abstract: Using the example of institutionalised racism in South Africa, the authors place the idea of a one-state solution within the context of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. A two-state solution, with its concretisation of racist and colonial injustices, cannot allow for the development of Palestinian self-determination.

“…there is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people and it has no country…it does not take into account the superiority of the Jew to the Arab, the fundamental difference between Arab and Jew.” –Chaim Weizmann

“Israel must be wiped off the map.” –Ayatollah Khomeini

The above statements by leaders of movements which hold diametrically opposing views regarding the existence of the state of Israel help to highlight the bi-polar nature of a conflict spanning the better part of a hundred years.

When one considers these views in terms of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, often the immediate reaction is to consider that a clear demarcation of boundaries between two states is the only viable, and practicable, solution.

For many people, tensions run far too deep to even conceive the possibility of reconciliation between the two peoples. With this in mind, any talk of a one-state solution is dismissed as overly idealistic.

The criticism is unwarranted. For when one considers the true moral, pragmatic and political solutions that can be summoned to help resolve this seemingly intractable clash, the idea of Palestinians and Jews living in a common state is much less utopian than it seems.

Both sides have genuine needs that can be satisfied by just such a body politic. The Palestinians require the freedom to move through their ancestral lands in contrast to the de-facto jail in which they currently exist. The Jews in Israel require a land that they can call their own without fear of being displaced or destroyed. By making certain compromises on both sides, a solution is possible in the face of all the hate and destruction that has already been wrought in the name of puritanical ideals.

As early as the 1930s the idea of a binational identity for the Palestinian and Israeli people was being put forward. This view was not that of the Palestinians, in fact it came from Jewish intellectuals headed by Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber. For them, the creation of the Israeli state at the expense of the Palestinians was morally illegitimate especially when the means to attaining that state were considered.[1] Although the intentions of these Jews can be seen as bona fide in terms of wanting the best for both peoples, their proposal was firmly rejected by the Palestinian Arabs who did not see any reason to give up their pre-1948 lands with a view to accommodating the mostly immigrant Jewish people.

Modern Palestinian advocates for a single-state solution have a different rationale to their Jewish predecessors. While the Jewish academics did not desire an Israeli state, the Palestinians promoted the single-state idea out of the consideration that two states could not practically coexist alongside one another

For leading lights of the Palestinian experience such as the late Edward Said and the charismatic Azmi Bishara the truly independent Palestinian State is a dream that will never be realised. In the occupied territories there are over 420,000 Jews[2] while over one million Palestinians reside in Israel.[3] With their societies so interwoven,

“…neither Palestinians nor Israelis can be made distant from each other. In the area between Ramallah in the north and Bethlehem in the south 800,000 Israelis and Palestinians live on top of each other, and cannot be separated.”[4]

In terms of political considerations, it has been made clear by successive Israeli governments that land taken by Israel will not be given up. There is little likelihood of the Jews living in settlements in the West Bank leaving their homes in order to live in Israel.

The concept of a Greater Israel has been promoted by the current government of Ariel Sharon. It has made it obvious that Gaza, Samaria and Judea (including major parts of the West Bank), “Will not be, not now and not in the future a Palestinian State.”[5]

Although some may point to the 1993 Oslo Accords as being a major departure from this view, when one considers the way in which the Accords were agreed and the actual result for the Palestinian people, there is no doubt that the Palestinians gained almost nothing in terms of independence. According to Said, Oslo was completely dictated by Israel and thus for that reason all it was for the Palestinian Authority (PA) was, “…an instrument of capitulation.”[6]

The lands given to the Palestinian people through Oslo only amounted to 23% of the land they had before 1967. Even then the agreement was that they only receive 9% of the West Bank and 60% of Gaza.[7] Resentments ran deep over Oslo with many feeling that it had let the Palestinian people down, especially when it was considered how difficult it would be for an independent state to survive in such a small area and on non-contiguous territory.

Further, the areas of land allocated to the Palestinians do not form one continuous stretch of land, they have been categorised into zones with Israeli settlements indented throughout the area. There are 205 Israeli settlements for the 63 zones that the lands have been split into.[8] Examples of the past, especially in relation to divide that was once East and West Pakistan, have shown that a state separated between another state cannot viably work. To sum up the problems regarding the demarcation of land, Khalid Amayreh wrote, “…the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank is unfeasible and unrealistic simply because there is no longer any room left for such a state.”[9]

The above problems point mainly to the unworkable nature of the two-state solution. The demographic spread of two peoples, land distribution and demarcation all result in an Israeli-dominated situation in which Palestinians would find little freedom and even fewer rights.

Beyond all of these considerations though is the moral basis for wanting a one-state solution. Quite simply, a two-state solution allows for the deep underlying tensions that exist between these two peoples to continue without dealing with the inherent racism that underlies the conflict. A single-state solution that is correctly adopted would, despite the difficulties it would face in implementation, force those tensions to be confronted and resolved in the course of developing the new state.

“There is nothing quite like the misery one feels listening to a 35-year-old [Palestinian] man who worked fifteen years as an illegal day labourer in Israel in order to save up money to build a house for his family only to be shocked one day upon returning from work to find that the house and all that was in it had been flattened by an Israeli bulldozer. When I asked why this was done – the land, after all, was his – I was told that the paper given to him the next day by an Israeli soldier stated that he had built the structure without a licence. Where else in the world are people required to have a licence (always denied to them) to build on their own property? Jews can build, but never Palestinians. This is apartheid.”[10]

Edward Said’s words have reverberated throughout the world conjuring up images of South African Apartheid, once again reminding the world of the evil of racism and the disastrous consequences that can occur from state-sponsored racism. Segregation played a major part in the years of racism in South Africa. In nearly all facets of life, the ‘whites’ were segregated from the ‘blacks’ and ‘coloureds’ they viewed as an inferior species.

The separation in South Africa did not simply take place within society. Rather what the Apartheid government attempted to do was to give independence to many of the Bantustan regions with completely coloured populations. This form of independence formed a part of the Apartheid agenda to rid South Africa of as many non-white people as possible. Seeing this strategy for what it was, the international community and in particular the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity called for the non-recognition of the newly formed “independent states”. The British courts, in the case of GUR Corporation v Trust Bank of Africa, made the point clear when they refused to recognise the States of Ciskei and Transkei, which were merely segregated Bantustans.[11]

By applying the principle of non-recognition to South Africa, the international community was able to force a situation whereby those living there were forced to find a solution to a problem that was becoming increasingly troublesome. The two-state solution is akin to the free independence given to the South African Bantustans for it is a simple solution for the Israeli Jews to rid themselves of a large Arab population which could potentially constitute a powerful grouping within a larger state. Binationalism and the one-state solution could create a situation whereby all the peoples living within Israel and Palestine would be forced to reconsider their own policies regarding one another and find a peaceful way of brining stability to the region.

From its inception the Zionist movement envisaged an Israel free of Arab Christians and Muslims. Generally speaking, the Israelis have been far more successful in removing Arabs from their lands than the Apartheid regime was in removing the non-whites. However the premise of both regimes is exactly the same. In a letter to his colleagues in the US, Ze’ev Jabotinsky in November 1939 commented, “We Jews, thank God, have nothing to do with the East…The Islamic soul must be broomed out of Eretz-Yisrael…[Muslims are] yelling rabble dressed up in gaudy, savage rags.”[12] Although this view may be considered to be from a time when the Jews were still in no position of authority and were merely seeking their own homeland, the feeling is still conveyed by Moshe Sharett who sent a warning to his fellow ministers in the Israeli Knesset in February 1950,

“The is a growing number of cases of [Palestinian] Arab citizens of Israel applying to members of the government and to central offices not via the authorized officials, i.e. the military governor or the local officers in charge of [Palestinian] Arab affairs. . . All these applications share the desire to circumvent the local government and wish to avoid having to deal with it in the particular case, because that authority [military governor] is seen as unamenable to them…When there is a direct application by [Palestinian] Arabs who are residents of Israel, your offices should first verify the details of the cases in question with the appropriate local military authorities and not respond to the applicants until the matter has been clarified, and then do it in full cooperation with the authorized local government. Also, it would be preferable if the answer would not be given to the applicants directly, but that the final decision should be transmitted via local governor or the regional officer of [Palestinian] Arab affairs.”[13]

For an Arab living within the State of Israel, at an institutional level the racism that they face amounts to one thing alone, Arabs do not have the same place in society as Jews. They are forced to deal with racism at many different levels of society. This is best illustrated by the case of Kaaden v Israel Land Authority[14] which highlights the clear segregation taking place in Israeli society.

Having lived and worked alongside Israeli Jews for 23 years, Mr Kaaden, an Israeli Arab, applied for a plot of land which happened to be in an excellent location near a very good school. The clerk taking in the applications for the plot told him without too much hesitation, “No Arabs.” The decision by the clerk could easily be put down to racism of the individual clerk, however when the case reached Aharon Barak, the President of the Supreme Court, the institutionalised level of the racism throughout Israeli society was made clear. On what should have been a straightforward judicial decision regarding discrimination on grounds of race, Mr Barak commented,

“This is one of the most difficult and complex judicial decisions that I have ever come across…We are not ready for this sort of judicial decision, which has unforeseen consequences…I suggest you reach a compromise and avoid a judicial decision, since it is hard to know which way it will go.”[15]

What is particularly pertinent in the context of this discussion is the way in which the Israeli court refused to make a general ruling on the underlying issue of racism, rather they limited their judgment to the specific facts of Mr Kaaden’s case as an exceptional situation. A statement made by Yehoshua Palmon in 1983 reflects many Israeli Jews’ attitude towards those Arabs living within the state of Israel,

“I opposed the integration of [Palestinian] Arabs into Israeli society. I preferred separate development. True, this prevented the [Palestinian] Arab from integrating into Israeli democracy. Yet they never had democracy before. Since they never had it, they never missed it. The separation made it possible to maintain a democratic regime within the Jewish population alone.”[16]

The one-state solution must be promoted not only for the benefit of the Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza, but also for those Arabs living in Israel. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) always recognised the racist nature of the Israeli regime. In a speech made to the UN General Assembly on 13th November 1974, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Mr Arafat, commented that the Zionist immigrants who occupied Palestine in the past, “…became the elements of settler colonialism intimately allied to racial discrimination”.

There is yet another reason why the single-state option is necessary; it is the only way that Palestinians can truly express their self-determination. Article 1(4) of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions supports the right given under the UN Charter for peoples to seek their right to self-determination, especially when they are seeking it, “…against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right to self-determination.” A two-state solution, with its concretisation of racist and colonial injustices, cannot allow for such an eventuality.

[1] For more information, see BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights www.badil.org [2] “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” (Article 13(2)) [3] “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” (Article 12(4)) [4] ibid [5] Resolution 2002/30 [6] BADIL, Durable Right of Return [7] ‘Discrimination Against Palestinian Refugees’, BADIL, Nov 1 2004 [8] General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Reconciliation in Tajikistan, 27 June 1997 [9] Protocol on Refugees of 13 January 1997 [10] Adopted by the Security Council at its 3930th meeting on 23 September 1998 [11] Adopted by the Security Council at its 4003rd meeting, on 14 May 1999 [12] Adopted by the Security Council at its 4011th meeting, on 10 June 1999 [13] 23 February 1999, Rambouillet [14] RESOLUTION 1264 (1999) S/RES/1264 (1999) 15 September 1999; RESOLUTION 1272 (1999) S/RES/1272  (1999) 25 October 1999 (Chapter VII) [15] Adopted by the 3rd Session of the General Assembly on 11 December 1948. “…the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” [16] BADIL, supra n.1

[1] N. Hofsi ‘Into the Abyss’ in M. Buber, J.L. Magnes and E. Simon ed, Towards Union in Palestine, Essays on Zionism and Jewish Arab cooperation, (Jerusalem, The Ihud Association, 1947) p.40
[2] “Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics report about Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territory” www.palestine-pmc.com/details.asp?cat=a&id=373, 20th April 2004
[3] ‘Palestinian population rises to 8.7 million in 2003’ www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nst/0/9b3403726305fefcc1256e0d005c20ae?opendocument, 31st December 2003
[4] Ibid
[5] A. Sharon ‘The West Bank and Gaza will not be a Palestinian state’ www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/country_profiles/803257.stm
[6] I. Gendzier, ‘The political legacy of Edward Said’ www.palestinechronicle.com/story.php/sid=2003122184300137 December 2003
[7] E. Said, ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ www.weekly.ahram.org.eg/1999/412/op2htm 14-20 January, 1999, issue 412
[8] The Palestine Monitor-the voice of civil society, ‘Israeli settlements,’ www.palestinemonitor.org/factsheet/settlement, January 2000
[9] K. Amayreh, ‘One state for all is the solution in Palestine’ www.one-state.org/articles/amayreh3.htm, 23rd November 2003
[10] E. Said in ‘The Nation’ May 4, 1998
[11] [1987] 1 QB 599
[12] N. Masalha (1992) ‘Expulsion of the Palestinians’ Institute for Palestine Studies, p.29
[13] T. Segev (1998) ‘1949, The First Israelis’ Owl Books, p.65
[14] Israel High Court of Justice H.C. 6698/95
[15] S. Schemann (1998) ‘Israeli Learns Some Are More Israeli Than Others’ New York Times
[16] T. Segev (1998) ‘1949, The First Israelis’ Owl Books, p.67

Asim Qureshi

Legal Researcher specialising in International Law and Islamic Law

Shamie Begum

Researcher in International Relations