Jewish Voice for Peace on One State or Two | 2007
As activists in the movement for peace and justice in the Middle East, JVP members are often asked for our position on how the Palestine / Israel conflict should ultimately be solved. Our mission statement endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution. Instead it promotes support for human rights and international law. As a result, we have members and supporters on both sides of this question, as well as many others who, like the organization as a whole, are agnostic about it. If a short answer is required, it would be that we support any solution that is consistent with the national rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, whether one binational state, two states, or some other solution. In this paper, we provide a longer answer.
JVP’s stance has always been that the people living in Israel-Palestine are the ones who must decide on their own political formations and how best to resolve this conflict. In fact, much of our strategy and approach is based on the conclusion that it is outside interference, especially that of the United States, that is the biggest obstacle to the two peoples creating that solution.
One might then reasonably ask why JVP does not take a two-state position, since that is the overwhelming position of Israelis and the clear majority position of Palestinians living in the region. JVP also bases its stances on international law, human rights norms, and our collective sense of justice, fairness and practicality. Some might then ask why we do not advocate a binational state where each person has one vote, equal to his or her peers, and where the national and religious rights of all communities are respected.
The answer to these questions lies in our analysis of the situation on the ground in Israel-Palestine and in the larger political sphere in which the conflict takes place. Let us look first at the two-state solution.
Two States: History
For most of the twentieth century, two-state solutions were adamantly opposed by the Palestinians and the larger Arab world. The first real attempt at a two-state solution was the Peel Commission partition plan of 1937. The Yishuv (the Zionist settlement in Palestine that would become Israel) was divided about this plan. The Arabs were uniformly opposed to this British idea. For them, it meant that Palestinian Arabs would have to give up a disproportionate part of the land to a group that constituted only about 28% of the population and owned only 6% of the land (much of it was owned by the state). The UN Partition plan of 1947 was accepted by the Yishuv, but opposed by the Arabs (although by this time, the opposition was mostly voiced by outsiders, as Palestinian leadership had largely been destroyed by a combination of in-fighting and British and Zionist efforts).
It should be noted here that Arab opposition to an independent Palestinian state, mostly from Jordan but certainly involving broader Arab leadership, was a factor in the absence of any pursuit of a Palestinian state between the wars of 1948 and 1967, as was the deepening conflict between the Arab states and Israel. Still, until the mid-1970s, the Palestinians were essentially united in their rejection of any two-state plan. The thinking was that Zionism was an illegitimate, colonial enterprise and that the new immigrants had no right to cut off a part of Palestine, or take the whole, and call it their own. Throughout the period before 1948, the preferred Palestinian solution was an end to Jewish immigration, an independent Palestinian state and a one person, one vote system. After that war and until the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization, there was no Palestinian body that could voice support or opposition.
For several years after the 1967 war, the Arab focus was on getting Israel to withdraw from the territories it captured in that war, and little consideration was paid to the Palestinians. In 1974, under the leadership of Yasir Arafat, the PLO came up with its “Ten Point Plan”, which was the first time a two-state vision was articulated by any Arab national leader, let alone a Palestinian one. The provision did not envision a “two-state solution” per se. The PLO goal was explicitly stated as a secular, democratic state in all of historical Palestine. Nevertheless, the Ten Point Plan also provided that the PLO would accept sovereignty over any part of Palestine that could be “liberated”. This was the first time there was a significant Arab acceptance of any concept of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, albeit without agreeing to Israel existing in peace with that Palestinian state. In 1988, the PLO explicitly accepted the existence of Israel and from then on has been committed to a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, living side by side with Israel.
The Ten Point Plan helped to galvanize international opinion around a two-state solution and this quickly became the consensus view around the world, as seen in any number of near-unanimous UN resolutions. Some Arab opposition remained, most notably Jordan’s reluctance to cede the West Bank to a future Palestinian state (this would change in the 1980s), and the so-called Rejectionist Front, which broke with the PLO over the plan, some parts of which were supported by Iraq and Syria. The United States would take quite some time to even rhetorically support a two-state vision of any kind, and remains opposed to a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank. As the years went by and more and more Arab leaders came to accept that there was no hope of reversing Israel’s victory of 1948, they came to rally around a two-state solution as a means to resolve both the question of the territories Israel occupied in 1967 and as at least part of a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. By now, all Arab governments without exception have endorsed the two state solution.
Two States: Today
As we have seen, there can be many different meanings of a “two-state solution”. The issue is complicated by the massive expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, especially in the last 15 years. The two-state solution offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David, even after it was modified by Bill Clinton following the failure of those talks, would have left three major settlement blocs in the West Bank. These blocs would be annexed to Israel, with the Palestinians being compensated with land from the Negev that was comparable in neither quantity nor quality. Moreover, these three blocs give Israel significant control over the major water supplies in the West Bank and would have cut deeply into proposed Palestinian territory, making ordinary travel from town to town much more difficult and cumbersome. This is not a mere inconvenience; it makes trade and travel much more problematic for Palestinians, significantly affecting their ability to build a functioning economy and state structure.
Palestinians as well as many Jewish and Israeli peace groups would see two states as meaning a Palestinian state in Gaza and on all of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. At most, there might be minor border modifications in order to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and perhaps to make the transition easier for both sides, but any such modification would have to be based on a true one-for-one land swap, equivalent in both quantity and quality.
American and Israeli two-state visions have been quite different. Ranging from the Barak-Clinton proposals of 2000 to Ariel Sharon’s notion of giving the Palestinians only 42% of the West Bank, none of them have envisaged a truly viable Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords never actually mentioned a Palestinian state, yet for seven years, these accords were believed to be the basis for a two-state solution. They never actually encouraged the creation of a Palestinian state but allowed a massive and unprecedented expansion of Israeli settlements, the creation of Jewish-only access roads, and finally the separation Wall. All of the truly thorny issues (Jerusalem, the settlements, borders, refugees, water rights, etc.) were left to final status talks that were hastily put together in 2000 not because the time was ripe but because the terms in office of Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton were ending.
The two-state solutions that are on the diplomatic table these days all reflect a willingness to allow the three major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim to remain in Israeli hands. We do not believe that this can possibly lead to a viable Palestinian state. Nor do we believe that such a “solution” is acceptable to the vast majority of Palestinians living under occupation. If a viable two-state solution that was truly acceptable to the majority of both sides was proposed, JVP might be inclined to re-evaluate this position.
The only two-state proposal that might fit this description is the Arab League plan of 2002. This plan calls for two states, essentially along the 1967 borders, a shared Jerusalem and “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” In exchange, the Arab League offered not only peace, but also full normalization of relations with Israel. Normal relations mean building the economic, cultural and social links that remove the incentive for war between countries. The proposal would certainly need further discussion, clarification and negotiation. However, it would serve as a solid basis for talks, and has been affirmed as such not only by the Arab League, but also by Iran, as well as groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Many Israeli commentators and even official leaders, many of whom could not be confused with members of the radical left by any means, have also said that Israel should explore negotiations on this basis (most recently including Israeli Minister of Justice Meir Sheetrit of the leading Kadima Party). Yet Israel continues to ignore the proposal.
Similarly, JVP would also support a viable one-state solution that was acceptable to the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, but there is no such plan. We believe in the right of self-determination for all the people of the region. That means we are not interested in seeing any solution imposed on the people, even though we would welcome even-handed pressure on both sides that pushes for honest negotiations. There is a clear majority among Palestinians and a near-total consensus of Israelis who are opposed to a one-state solution.
While most people on all sides think of a one-state solution as meaning a secular, democratic and/or bi-national state, there are some few with more extreme interpretations. These include Palestinians who would wish to forcibly exile much of the Jewish population out of the region as well as Jews who believe that the resolution should lie with the Palestinians being exiled to Jordan, which they view as an existing Palestinian state. These extremists represent marginal fringes of both communities. Yet the majorities in both also reject the single secular-democratic state. A bi-national state, where the rights and national aspirations of both peoples were spelled out and protected might have more support, but still nowhere near a majority on either side. Both Palestinians and Israeli Jews still hold a national homeland for their own people as a primary goal and value.
At this stage, a one-state solution presents other problems as well. The two communities have been in a very bitter struggle, with much pain and loss, for a very long time. Throwing them into one state together would risk intense sectarian violence on many levels. After a reconciliation and healing period, the one-state formulation might be more viable.
There are other theories out there as well. A single country that would join the two states under a federal umbrella (something like the way the USA is structured, or the UK) has been discussed, as has a Palestinian state federated with Jordan. Others have speculated on a “two-stage solution” where two separate states would have various economic and cultural connections designed to lead to one state in the future. However, these ideas are nowhere near the political arena at this point.
In the end, we come back to the same issue: it is very difficult to come up with viable, permanent solutions to this crisis while the occupation exists and the United States is the only significant outside player in diplomacy. Moreover, in recent years, the situation in Israel/Palestine has deteriorated so badly that the growing anger, despair and hopelessness makes any long-term solution, which will inevitably require compromise and good will on both sides, seem nearly impossible to achieve.
That is why JVP does not advocate for a one- or two-state solution at this time. We prefer an emphasis on human rights and international law, which have clearer, less ambiguous meanings, do not discriminate, and preclude the grimmer versions of either the one or the two state scenarios. The current climate has to change if any solution is to be implemented successfully. That is what JVP is working toward.
We pursue a multi-prong strategy: education and media work, economic action, a call for open discussion of these issues without censorship or intimidation, and political activism aimed at the US legislative and executive branches. Please join us in this work, whatever your thoughts about the ideal ultimate solution to the conflict.
The seeds of hope, in our view, lie in the small but very important nonviolent joint projects by Jewish Israeli peace activists, Israeli Palestinians, and Palestinians living under occupation, such as efforts to resist the separation Wall, campaigns to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and to rebuild the ones destroyed by the Israeli military, and attempts to directly alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians through direct humanitarian aid.
Any successful solution will have to be based on collaboration between the two peoples, and these projects show such collaboration is possible. It is up to us to support them from the United States by changing our own country’s involvement from an impediment to peace to a role that supports progress that is fair for all involved.