- Written by Gilbert Schramm Gilbert Schramm
- Published: 10 November 2023 10 November 2023
(…and why a “one-state solution” is probably off the table)
I know that my thoughts on this issue will displease many. I am used to it. I know there are many serious, deeply sincere proponents of Palestinian rights and a just peace who have supported a so called one-state solution. Many of us, myself included, have continued to support the two-state option. Because the slaughter in Gaza is so relentless today, and a quick end to the violence there is desperately needed, it is imperative that advocates of human rights agree on a viable endgame for a just peace in Palestine. Only then can we present a coherent case to the wider world. Time is of the essence.
Since I returned to the US in 2006 and became vocal in my advocacy for peace and for the Palestinian people, advocates of Palestinian rights have had a long running debate about what our final goal should be. The debate about a one-state solution and a two-state solution has often become angry and divisive and has dissipated our collective energy. I truly believe that recent events have completely taken the one-state option (however laudable in principle) completely off the table. The current rage on both sides makes it unlikely that people on either side could enter into an agreement to live peacefully together. Separation of the parties and a cooling-off period are desperately needed.
My reasons for supporting a two-state solution are simple and clear. Any solution will have to have serious support from the people involved. In my many years living in the Middle East, I never heard a single Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim ever even mention a “one-state solution.” Even when I came across the idea in the US, the Palestinians who talked about it admitted (when pressed) that it was their second choice. They seemed to accept a proposition that many advocates of a single state (and of Israel) have made. That argument is that it is too late, the settlements (all illegal) have grown too much, and what remains is not the basis for a viable state. I disagree on every count. Let me take these issues in order.
First, it is never too late for peace. The “sorry, it’s too late” argument often seemed to me a glib way proponents of Israel exploited to say, “Gee. Sorry! We really tried, but we won and it’s game over.” Lots of US pundits willingly went along with that. I think it is nonsense. There are political entities like Singapore and Qatar which are vibrant and successful and have much less land than even the meager 22% of their homeland that the solution I envisage would allow the Palestinians.
Second, Israel clearly and intentionally promoted illegal settlements precisely to create “facts on the ground” that would stand in the way of a promised Palestinian state. That is just too bad. The misled settlers should be offered generous compensation for resettlement in Israel. All American aid should be limited to assisting with that project. Those settlers that choose to remain need to live under Palestinian government and law. That was the agreed arrangement when the UN passed its initial partition resolution in 1947. And, after all, over a million Palestinians live under Israeli rule.
Third, it must be a real state with real sovereignty. The idea that Israel is able or willing to ensure security for Palestinians is absurd. Their idea of providing security for Palestinians is on clear view in Gaza today. It is a really sick version of the old “we will destroy you to save you” argument, a philosophy and method employed in various other brutal struggles. The Palestinian state that must be created should have control of its borders and foreign relations, and the complex and obsolete architecture of “Olso” should be abandoned—no quibbling over areas a, b, and c. Just a clear, simple state.
It is essential to reconnect Gaza socially, economically, and politically with Palestinian society in the West Bank. A simple solution to this task would start with the building of a secure, sealed high speed rail link between the areas. Israeli roads could go over or under it without serious disruption. Over time, I believe this would help defuse the frustration and isolation of the residents in Gaza and help foster moderation.
Finally, Israel has tried for years to squeeze out a statement from Palestinians that Israel is a “legitimate state.” The Palestinians refusal to sign off on that idea has been used by Israel for decades as a way of claiming that the Palestinians were not serious about peace. Any such demand should be dropped immediately. If Palestinians were ever forced or coerced to sign off on words to that effect, the results would be dire for them. The powerful propaganda machine of Israel would go into overtime to claim that it showed that all the resistance of Palestinians, from 1895, was needless and misguided. At the same time, the solution I have outlined is only what I think is the best deal that could be done at this point. I don’t believe, given the tragedies imposed on the Palestinian people, that any solution could undo the sins of the past or be truly just. Still, some of the concessions and land swaps for big settlements have been previously agreed to. It would be a solution that I think even Hamas could support. It is not far from what Sheik Yassin once offered: a 50-year truce if Israel stopped killing Palestinians, withdrew to 1967 borders and ended the occupation and settlement programs. He even noted that such a truce, if it were honored, could be extended.
Obviously, this kind of solution would require an international peacekeeping force of some kind. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but it is time now to turn to the problems of the alternative, one-state solution.
First, if there ever was support for that option in Israel or Palestine, I suspect that it has evaporated in the wake of recent violence. In view of the rage that is visible on both sides, it is highly unlikely that people on either side would accept it. Popular acceptance on both sides is a prerequisite for any sustainable solution. I always thought that a one-state option was a false idol. It seemed like a “kumbaya” solution promoted mostly by westerners who looked at the American civil rights movement, or Gandhian non-violence, or South Africa, as templates for solving a problem whose parameters they really didn’t understand. To my mind, a one-state solution at this point would effectively mean a total climb down from the Palestinian side. I can’t see that they would get much in return. For Palestinians to accept the “legitimacy” of the whole Zionist project would have the consequences I mentioned earlier.
Under a one-state solution, I think Palestinians would be consigned to the same conditions that blacks in South Africa suffered under apartheid in the early 1950s. The idea that protests in the west could change this seems far-fetched. In India and South Africa, oppressed majorities were in place. They vastly outnumbered their oppressors. That is not the case in Palestine/Israel. Further, in India, South Africa and the US, the ruling authorities still seemed capable of being shamed. The slaughter in Gaza today (and in previous years) suggests that under current leadership, Israel does not feel any shame.
Furthermore, in a single state, it seems to me that international leverage (already tenuous) would completely fade away. It would seem that all international treaties and promises, UN resolutions, etc. would become null and void as the situation became considered merely a domestic matter for Israel to deal with as it sees fit. Obviously, too, the calls for an end to occupation, an end to settlements, and even the entire BDS movement would be rendered almost meaningless. In short, it would be a huge sacrifice with less than nothing to show for it.
It is no wonder to me that some Israeli parties really like the idea of a one-state solution. It would give Israel what they wanted from the start—total control of historical Palestine. The increasingly theocratic, authoritarian, and anti-democratic right-wing government in Israel, combined with the pervasive systemic racism displayed against Palestinians by many Israelis, all militate against it. To see what life under those conditions would be like, we need only look at how “Arab-Israelis” (i.e Palestinians) are treated in Israel today. In Israel, “Arab-Israelis” already live under a form of apartheid. On the West Bank, Palestinians are routinely subjected to violence by Zionist settlers who go largely unpunished. All this is a matter of record. Does anyone really believe that occasional protests in the US could possibly change this?
In the solution I envisage, an international peacekeeping force would certainly be needed. I am always averse to the idea of deploying US troops abroad, but in this case, since America has been deeply complicit in creating this mess, it seems necessary and just. Israel has brutally attacked UN forces before. They might be more hesitant to treat US forces so nonchalantly.
President Biden has come under severe criticism for his support for Israel. He certainly could have done more. Yet here in the US we are faced by another very serious crisis. At the moment, American democracy hangs by a thin thread. Trump and the extremely problematic GOP even seem to be gaining ground. Their solution for Palestine might well be even more draconian than Netanyahu’s. Still, Biden’s call for a two-state solution is a bigger shot at Netanyahu than many realize. Netanyahu is deeply and adamantly opposed to a Palestinian state (not to mention a much-needed ceasefire in Gaza).
In my view then, the time is long overdue for solidarity around a two-state solution. “Yes!” to Biden, “No!” to Netanyahu and his Trump/Kushner/GOP allies, and certainly a united front going forward! I would much rather use my energy on more pressing debates than be forced into doing this endless, one-state, two-state two step.