By Matija Šerić
Model of one state
The one-state model is also called a “bi-national state” and implies the creation of a democratic, secular state in which Jews and Arabs would live as citizens with equal rights. Those who support the one-state solution generally believe that separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states is too difficult to achieve. The population is too intertwined, and reaching agreement on issues such as borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees is too complicated to resolve.
Already during the 1990s, when it seemed that a two-state solution was on the horizon, the leading Palestinian intellectual at the time, Edward Said, called for the establishment of a binational state as an alternative to the Oslo peace process. He argued that separation was not feasible given the multitude of interdependencies between the two nations. Considering the difficult life of Palestinians in the enclaves, an increasing number of Palestinian intellectuals and activists, such as the philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, have recently called for the creation of a binational state. They represent a significant voice of opposition to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). (For Part I click here)
Also, some prominent Israelis are calling for a binational state, including former Labor MP and Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, historian Ilan Pappé and sociologist Yehouda Shenhav. They all share the belief that a permanent and just solution can only be achieved through a binational state, no matter how utopian such a state may seem. There is a possibility that the struggle for equal civil rights could be more successful than the struggle for national liberation.
Once a prominent Israeli supporter of the two-state solution, Avraham Burg, has embraced the one-state solution. “A quarter of a century after the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution lies in ruins. There is no peace process. There is very little hope left. And yet, somehow, we still have to find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side, with equal rights within one international border. It’s time for a progressive one-state solution.”
Nevertheless, many Israelis view the one-state solution unfavorably as a solution that would destroy the Jewish character of the state and undermine Israel’s security. Granting citizenship to all Palestinians would make Jews a minority and essentially eliminate the world’s only Jewish state. On the other hand, the establishment of a binational state would mean that Palestine would not exist as an independent political entity if it existed at all as an entity within a common state. In addition, the one-state solution still brings with it practical problems, the most important of which is how to maintain peace between two nations that have been at odds for more than 70 years. Those two peoples would be crammed into one state and would have to work together through state bodies as well as in the private sector in order to live and prosper.
Unitary State of Israel
There are different forms of possible organization of the joint state. One such model is a unitary state of Israel, which would consist of a single government throughout the Holy Land with citizenship and equal rights for all residents, regardless of ethnicity or religion, similar to British Palestine. Some Israelis advocate a version of this model in which Israel will annex the West Bank but not the Gaza Strip, thus remaining a Jewish and democratic state with a larger Arab minority.
Strengthened Palestinian autonomy
In the second model of a common state, Israel would annex most of the West Bank (about 60%) with Israeli settlements, and create an autonomous Palestinian region in the rest. Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Israeli politician, has called for such a solution – an “upgrade” of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank in areas already under Palestinian control and in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians would hold their own elections and organize their own schools and services, but would not control the borders and would not be allowed to have an army. The Palestinian territories would gain autonomy, but would not form an independent state, but would be a de facto part of Israel or dependent on it. As expected, the Palestinians consider this agreement unacceptable.
According to some Israeli proposals, a multinational state could be organized as a federation. This version of the one-state solution would entail the application of Israeli law throughout the West Bank and would grant full citizenship and voting rights to all Palestinians living there. However, such a state would be divided into smaller provinces or cantons in ways designed to preserve the majority in Israel’s political structures. Of course, the federation can be organized differently so that the central government is shared with federal units – provinces or cantons. Federal units could be created in such a way as to ensure the equality or parity of the two peoples at the local and national level. Certainly parity would have to exist in the central government.
Federation of Israel and the West Bank
Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University in Canada, Mahmood Hasan Khan, in 2021 proposed a one-state solution based on fairness and practicality. It implies the acceptance of built Jewish settlements and settlers on the West Bank, of whom there are about 400,000. However, settlements under construction would be removed and existing ones would not expand. The demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and the surrounding area would stop. Compensation would be provided for the demolished Palestinian homes. All concrete walls would come down and security checkpoints in the West Bank and Jerusalem would be removed. Israeli security forces would withdraw from the West Bank and establish a joint security force with the Palestinians there as well as in the capital. A federation of Israel and the West Bank without Gaza would be created. The proposed federation would be a binational state: two peoples with equal rights would share a common territory. There would be three unicameral legislatures, three high courts and three executive branches – for Israel, the West Bank and the federal level.
The federation would be a secular democratic state where everyone would have equal rights. Arabs in Israel and the West Bank would be given the same rights as Jews – the right to own property, free speech, free movement and free voting. Jerusalem would be the joint capital of the federation. Common security, common economic policy and common passports should be the guiding principles.
Admittedly, the idea of a federation needs further elaboration. The Gaza Strip would be allowed to become a sovereign state with open borders with the new federation and Egypt. The idea rests on the premise that neither the residents of Gaza nor the citizens of Israel want to live together, but they can certainly live in peace as neighbors. Israel would end its occupation of the Golan Heights and return that territory to Syria under certain conditions. All residents should be free to travel and work throughout the federation. They would have the same passport for traveling abroad, but separate national identity cards. The federation would introduce a single currency and use fiscal instruments to reduce poverty and inequality. For the realization of this model, the author proposes a transitional period of five to ten years.
Support for a one-state solution is growing
Although the one-state solution is increasingly discussed in academic circles, it has remained outside of official policy efforts to resolve the conflict, as it is overshadowed by the two-state solution. A 2011 poll by Stanley Greenberg and the Palestine Center for Public Opinion found that 61% of Palestinians reject a two-state solution, while 34% say they support it. 66% of respondents said that initially the Palestinians should accept the two-state solution, but then work towards making it all one Palestinian state.
According to a 2017 survey, support for a one-state solution stands at 36% among Palestinians, 19% among Jews, and 56% among Arabs in Israel. A 2021 Middle East expert survey found that 59% of respondents believe that the current solution is a “one-state apartheid-like solution”. If the two-state solution is not implemented, 77% of them predict “a reality of one state similar to apartheid”, and 17% “a reality of one state with growing inequality, but not similar to apartheid”, and only 1% believes that a binational state would have equal rights for all residents. 52% of respondents claim that the two-state solution is no longer feasible.
According to a 2020 Palestinian poll, about 10% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza believe that working towards a multi-national state should be a top priority in the next five years. Interest in the model of one multinational state is growing because the two-state model failed to reach a final agreement. Frustrations with the failure of the two-state model are high among ordinary people of both nations, and therefore the one-state solution is becoming increasingly popular. In January 2023, a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll found that 52 percent of Arab citizens of Israel would support a joint state with equal rights for Jewish and Palestinian citizens, compared to only 20% of Jews. Approximately one in three Palestinians supported a common state, which shows that in such a state the Palestinians would easily become the majority and such a state would not have a Jewish character.
A Solomonic solution could be in the form of a confederation. It would be a mixture of solutions of two states that would be loosely connected (one state). Basically, Israel and Palestine would form a union that would resemble a kind of European Union in miniature. Each side would have its own government and its own authorities, but they would work together in terms of resource allocation, security and economic issues. There would be free movement and even residence between the two states, but citizens of both sides would only be able to vote in their own elections. Confederation models offer a compromise that respects collective rights, assuming that two separate states will not be able to effectively deal with the challenges ahead.
With the bloody clashes in the Holy Land in October 2023 (both sides unexpectedly using the term war) and seriously threatening the wider destabilization of the Middle East and the world, it seems that a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far in the future. War is man’s most terrible invention, but sooner or later the guns will have to fall silent and diplomacy will have to find an adequate political solution.
A political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sought for decades and it can be said without exaggeration that it is the most difficult geopolitical issue. Closing the crisis in the Holy Land would forever change the Middle East and the world for the better. Whatever that solution is, in order to be sustainable, it must be based on the principles of equality and self-determination and must be guided towards the historical reconciliation of the two peoples. A continuation of the current stalemate is as damaging as any solution that gives dominance to one side. The solution must be just and should ensure equality and the possibility of development for Israelis and Palestinians. In reaching a solution, foreign negotiators should appear exclusively as a party that facilitates negotiations between the two parties and not as a factor that dictates the solution. Under no circumstances should the scenario of imposing a state order be repeated, as the Americans did in Dayton in 1995. It is important that political experts from the Holy Land come up with a solution.