The one-state solution, also known as the binational solution, is a proposed resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though hotly debated in academic circles, it has been eclipsed in popularity by the two-state solution, most recently agreed on in principle by the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the November 2007 Annapolis Conference.
Proponents of a binational solution to the conflict advocate a single state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Arab and Jewish inhabitants of all three having citizenship and equal rights in the combined entity. While some believe in the one-state solution for ideological reasons, others feel that due to the reality on the ground, it is the only practicable solution .
Although some conservative Muslim opponents of a binational solution argue that it would run contrary to the goal of an Islamic State ruled under Islamic or sharia law and some Arab nationalist opponents criticize it for going against the idea of Pan-Arabism, the idea enjoys the support of about a quarter of the Palestinian electorate, according to polls conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
Demographic trends show the likelihood of a near-term majority Arab population west of the Jordan river (including the land within the internationally recognized borders of the state of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.) The probability that Palestinians would constitute an electoral majority in a binational state is seen by some Palestinians as a way to redress their economic and military disadvantage vis-a-vis the Jewish population which today dominates the Israeli electorate. It is feared by many Israeli Jews for the same reason.
A bi-national solution enjoys the support of about a quarter of the Palestinian electorate, according to polls conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center. A multi-option poll by Near East Consulting (NEC) in November 2007 found the bi-national state to be less popular than either "two states for two people" or "a Palestinian state on all historic Palestine". However, in February 2007 NEC found that around 70% of Palestinian respondents backed the idea when given a straight choice of either supporting or opposing "a one-state solution in historic Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews have equal rights and responsibilities".
A 2000 poll following the outbreak of the second intifada found 18% of Israeli Jews supported a binational solution at that time.
The area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, known to some as Palestine and to others as Eretz Israel, was controlled by various national groups throughout history. A number of groups, including the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, Turks, Crusaders, and Mamluks controlled the region at one time or another. From 1516 until the conclusion of World War I, the region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire .
From 1915 to 1916, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, corresponded by letter with Hussein ibn Ali, the father of Pan Arabism. In these letters, later known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, Sir Henry McMahon promised Hussein ibn Ali and his Arab followers the territory of the Ottoman Empire in exchange for assistance in driving out the Ottoman Turks. Hussein interpreted these letters as promising the region of Palestine to the Arabs. Sir Henry McMahon and the Churchill White Paper maintained that Palestine had been excluded from the territorial promises., but minutes of a Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting held on 5 December 1918 confirmed that Palestine had been part of the area that had been pledged to Hussein in 1915.
In 1916, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the colonies of the Ottoman Empire between them. Under this agreement, the region of Palestine would be controlled by Britain. In a 1917 letter from Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government promised "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", but at the same time required "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" .
In 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate. Like all League of Nations Mandates, the mandate derived from article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, which called for the self-determination of former Ottoman Empire colonies following a transitory period administered by a world power . The Palestine Mandate recognized the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and required that the mandatory government "facilitate Jewish immigration" while at the same time "ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced.
Disagreements over Jewish immigration as well as incitement by Haj Amin Al-Husseini led to an outbreak of Arab-Jewish violence in the Palestine Riots of 1920. Violence erupted again the following year during the Jaffa Riots. In response to these riots, Britain established the Haycraft Commission of Inquiry. Violence erupted again in the form of the 1929 Palestine riots, the 1929 Hebron massacre, and the 1929 Safed massacre. Following the violence, the British led another commission of inquiry under Sir Walter Shaw. The report of the Shaw Commission, known as the Shaw Report or Command Paper No 3530, attributed the violence to "the twofold fear of the Arabs that, by Jewish immigration and land purchase, they might be deprived of their livelihood and, in time, pass under the political domination of the Jews." .
Violence erupted again during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The British established the Peel Commission of 1936-1937 in order to put an end to the violence. The Peel Commission concluded that only partition could put an end to the violence and proposed the Peel Partition Plan. There was no consensus in the Jewish community regarding the plan for partition; while the Jewish community accepted the concept of partition not all members endorsed the implementation proposed by the Peel Commission. The Arab community rejected the Peel Partition Plan -- which included population transfers, primarily of Arabs -- in its entirety. The partition plan was abandoned, and in 1939 Britain issued its White Paper.
The White Paper of 1939 sought to accommodate Arab demands regarding Jewish immigration by placing a quota of 10,000 Jewish immigrants per year over a five-year period from 1939 to 1944. After 1944, the White Paper of 1939 required Arab consent for further Jewish immigration. The White Paper of 1939 was seen by the Jewish community as a revocation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and due to Jewish persecution in the Holocaust, Jews continued to immigrate illegally in what has become known as Aliyah Bet..
Continued violence and the heavy cost of World War II prompted Britain to turn the issue of Palestine to the United Nations in 1947. In UN General Assembly Resolution 181, the United Nations partitioned the area into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jewish community accepted the 1947 partition plan, and declared independence as the State of Israel in 1948. The Arab community rejected the partition plan, and five Arab armies -- that of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt -- invaded, resulting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The war, known to Israelis as the Independence War of 1948 and to Palestinians as Al-Nakba (meaning "the catastrophe"), resulted in Israel's establishment as well as the displacement of the Arab populace.
Before 1947, many leading Jewish intellectuals were firmly convinced that a binational state could be formed through partnership. One of the most prominent and forceful early advocates of binationalism was Buber, a renowned Jewish theologian. In 1939, shortly after he emigrated from Germany to British-ruled Palestine, he replied to a letter by Mahatma Gandhi, who thought that "Palestine belongs to the Arabs" and the Jews "should make that country their home where they were born." Buber rejected this idea but agreed that there had to be a consensus between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. He believed that Jews and Arabs needed to "develop the land together without one imposing his will on the other". In 1947, he wrote, "we describe our programme as that of a bi-national state - that is, we aim at a social structure based on the reality of two peoples living together... This is what we need and not a "Jewish state"; for any national state in vast, hostile surroundings could mean pre-meditated national suicide."
However, when the Israeli state gained independence in 1948, Buber accepted it as a positive manifestation of Zionism, and embraced the two-state solution.
Hannah Arendt, known for her analyses of totalitarianism and fascism, also resisted the extremism that she saw as seizing the Zionist movement in 1947. In an article in the May 1948 issue of Commentary, she wrote,
In the 1947 UN Special Committee on Palestine Report of Subcommittee Two, three draft solutions to the Palestine conflict are proposed. The third solution called for a unitary democratic state in British Mandate of Palestine. Another proposal, the Morrison Grady Plan, is a British proposal presented by Herbert Morrison in July 1946, calling for federalization under overall British Trusteeship. Ultimately, both solutions failed to win the majority of the UN General Assembly.
After the 1947 UN Partition Plan demonstrated international support for the two-state solution, most of the opposition to the concept of a Jewish state, including binationalisms espoused by Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt, evaporated. During this climate change, Arendt also chronicled the sudden repression of dissent in the Zionist movement. After 1947, the official Zionist policy advocated a "Jewish state".
On the Arab side, the idea of a binational solution was generally rejected by the Arab national movement, which saw little to gain from it; the Arab leadership were opposed to their people becoming a minority in what they saw as their own country.
The binational ideal did not disappear altogether during this period, despite its lack of support, and was given a boost following Israel capturing the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967. Israel's victory over its neighbours was greeted by euphoria within Israel, but some critical Israeli and foreign observers quickly recognised the new territories had potential to pose a major long-term problem.
In the aftermath of the war, there was considerable debate about what to do next. Should the territories be annexed to Israel? In which case, what would be done with the Palestinians? Should they be given citizenship, although that would significantly dilute Israel's Jewish majority? Could they be expelled en masse, although that would come at a terrible cost to Israel's reputation? Should the territories be returned to Arab rule? In which case, how would Israel's security be guaranteed? In the event, the Israel government fudged the question by implementing the controversial policy of Jewish settlements in the territories, establishing "facts on the ground" while keeping open the question of the Palestinians' long-term fate.
The dilemma prompted some foreign supporters of Israel, such as the crusading American journalist I.F. Stone, to revive the idea of a binational state. This found little favour in Israel or elsewhere and the binational solution tended to be presented not so much as a potential resolution of the conflict as a disastrous outcome risked by Israeli government policies. As early as 1973, the prospect of a binational state was being used by prominent figures on the Israel left to warn against holding on to the territories. Histadrut Secretary General I. Ben-Aharon, for instance, warned in a March 1973 article for The Jerusalem Post that Israel could not have any real control over a binational state and that Israelis should be satisfied with a state already containing a sizable Arab minority — that is, Israel proper.
Despite this, opposition to binationalism was not absolute. Some of those on the Israel right associated with the settler movement were willing to contemplate a binational state as long as it was established on Zionist terms. Members of Menachem Begin's Likud government in the late 1970s were willing to support the idea if it would ensure formal Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. Begin's chief of staff, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, told the Washington Post in November 1979 that "we can live with them and they can live with us. I would prefer they were Israeli citizens, but I am not afraid of a binational state. In any case, it will always be a Jewish state with a large Arab minority."
In the meantime, there was considerable internal dissent in adopting the one-state solution on the Palestinian side. The Oslo Accords in 1993 raised the hope for a two-state solution, even though the Accords are rejected by various factions on the Palestinian side, including the Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Oslo Accords were never fully adopted and implemented by both sides. After the Second Intifada in 2000, many believe that the two-state solution is increasingly losing its appeal.
The conclusions of the Friedlander-Goldscheider study soon became a hot political issue between Israel's two main parties, Likud and Labour, in the June 1981 parliamentary elections. Both parties opposed withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders or setting up a Palestinian state, and both supported building more Jewish settlements in the territories and maintaining exclusive Israeli control over Jerusalem. However, Labour argued for building settlements only in areas Israel intended to keep, while handing the rest back to Jordan. Likud was strongly critical of this proposal, claiming that the result would be a binational state spelling "the end of the Zionist endeavour." Many on the left of Israeli politics were already warning that without a clean separation from the Palestinians, the outcome would be either a binational state by default (thus ending Israel's Jewish character) or a South African-style "Bantustan" with a Jewish minority forcibly ruling a disenfranchised Arab majority (thus ending Israel's claims to be a democracy).
In the event, Begin won the election and announced (in May 1982) a formal policy of "extending state sovereignty ... over Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip" accompanied by a major expansion of Jewish settlement and the granting of "full autonomy" to the Palestinians.
On the Palestinian side, the Israeli opposition to a binational state led to another change of position which evolved gradually from the late 1970s onwards. The PLO retained its original option of a single secular binational state west of Jordan, but began to take the position that it was prepared to accept a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in land from which Israel had withdrawn under Security Council Resolution 242. Settlements would need to be dismantled and Palestinian refugees allowed to return (to Israel as well as the new Palestine). This new position, formally adopted in December 1988, was overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli public opinion and the main political parties but was subsequently used as the basis of peace discussions in the 1990s.
Since 2003, there has been renewed interest in binationalism. For example, in 2003, New York University scholar Tony Judt wrote an article titled "Israel: The Alternative" in the New York Review of Books. In the article, Judt deemed the two-state solution as fundamentally doomed and unworkable.
Many Israelis and Palestinians who oppose a one-state solution have come to believe that it may come to pass. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert recently argued, in an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, that without a two-state agreement Israel would face "a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights" in which case "Israel [would be] finished. This echoes comments made in 2004 by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who said that if Israel failed to conclude an agreement with the Palestinians, that the Palestinians would pursue a single, binational state.
Other leftist journalists from Israel, such as Haim Hanegbi and Daniel Gavron, are also calling the public to face the facts (as they see them) and accept the binational solution. This article has engendered a frenzy media blitz in the UK and US. The New York Review of Books received more than one thousand letters per week on the essay. On the Palestinian side, similar voices are raised. In 1999, the Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote:
“…after 50 years of Israeli history, classic Zionism has provided no solution to the Palestinian presence. I therefore see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, sharing it in a truly democratic way with equal rights for all citizens.”
Several high-level Fatah Palestinian Authority officials have voiced similar opinions, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Hani Al-Masri. “Time is running out for a two-state solution,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quoted Yasser Arafat as saying in an interview from his West Bank headquarters in 2004. Many political analysts, including Omar Barghouti, believe that the death of Arafat harbingers the bankruptcy of the Oslo Accords and the Two-State Solution.
Today, the prominent proponents for the one-state solution include Palestinian author Ali Abunimah *, Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi *, Jeff Halper *, Israeli writer Dan Gavron *, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, American-Lebanese academic Saree Makdisi *, and American academic Virginia Tilley. They cite the expansion of the Israeli Settler movement, especially in the West Bank, as a compelling rationale for binationalism and the increased unfeasibility of the two-state alternative. They advocate a secular and democratic state while still maintaining a Jewish presence and culture in the region. They concede that this alternative will erode the dream of Jewish supremacy in terms of governance in the long run.
On November 29, 2007, the 60th anniversary of the UN decision to partition Palestine, a number of prominent Palestinian, Israeli and other academics and activists issued "The One State Declaration," committing themselves to "a democratic solution that will offer a just, and thus enduring, peace in a single state." The statement called for "the widest possible discussion, research and action to advance a unitary, democratic solution and bring it to fruition.
In a 2007 poll, 70% of Israelis stated that they support the two-state solution . A 2005 poll indicate that a small majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip support the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Critics point to similar polls to argue that a one-state solution goes against the wishes of both Israelis and Palestinians and should, therefore, not be pursued.