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Two states are neither possible nor desirable

While still small, the percentage of activists supporting a single-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question is, for the first time in decades, growing.

December 1, 2003
4 min read

The debate over the issue has become so lively that in November an International Herald Tribune editorial was moved to comment that a shared state’s code for the end of Israel and must be strenuously opposed.

Such sentiments would be widely shared by Zionists. Many prominent Palestinians are also unhappy with the idea, but this is not reason enough to dismiss it. The two-state solution is neither feasible nor desirable.

Israel’s progressive colonisation of Palestinian land has made a Palestinian state impossible. A glance at the map of the West Bank, with its colonies, bypass roads and separation wall, affirms this reality.

The West Bank now houses 400,000 Jewish settlers (excluding the 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem), and 80 per cent of its water has been siphoned off to Israel. When the wall is completed about 40 per cent of the land will be left in uncontiguous parts incapable of being formed into a state. Awareness of these facts has prompted calls from Europe and the US for Israel to remove the settlements and abandon the wall – so far to no avail.

Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land has been pursued relentlessly by every Israeli government since 1967, and has defied every effort to create a Palestinian state. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of Palestinians – and some Israelis – are starting to reconsider the one-state option.

Some Israelis are beginning to fear for the moral and existential future of the Jewish state. Most are Zionists who argue that Israeli society is corrupted by oppressing another people, and that hatred of Israel may one day lead to its destruction – its victims will not always be so weak.

They now speak of a bi-national state, with Arabs and Jews sharing the same land. Though this would limit Zionist territorial ambitions, it would help preserve a Jewish homeland. For Palestinians who see no logistical possibility of a separate Palestinian state, such a solution also provides a base for Palestinian self-determination and nationhood.

Even if it was logistically possible, a two-state solution would involve an inequitable division of the land (the occupied territories comprise 22 per cent of original Palestine) and could not accommodate all the refugees claiming a right to return.

Supporters of the Zionist project need to understand that Zionism was an idea forced on the Palestinians. Israel was created on Palestinian land, at the Palestinians’ expense – for reasons that have nothing to do with them. Hence, the survival of Israel as a Jewish state is not the problem of the Palestinians but of those who supported the Zionist project.

The Palestinian goals of regaining their lost land, repatriating their refugees and building a normal society cannot be realised while Israel, as a Zionist, exclusivist state, remains.

The only humane, just and practical outcome is sharing the land between the Israelis and Palestinians already there, and allowing those who were displaced to return. I would argue for a secular, democratic state on the model of the Western liberal democracies.

Numerous objections will be raised, most of which boil down to current realpolitik. Israelis will resist the dismantling of their dreams, and the balance of power favours them. But the moral force of this solution remains and, like all issues of principle, will outlive the vagaries and shifts of politics and history. To abandon it because it is too difficult to implement today is to cede victory even before battle begins.Dr Ghada Karmi is a research fellow at the University of Exeter and the author of In Search of Fatima: a Palestinian memoir (Verso). She is currently working on a book about the one-state solution scheduled for publication next summer.

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