The Israel-Palestine conflict needs to be resolved. A solution of two nations united within a single state, along the lines of the UK/Scotland/England relationship, would enable the two peoples to share the land while retaining their national life and identities.
The Oslo process, intended to produce a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, has failed. Many people are saying that Israel, by its on-going occupation and colonization in the West Bank and Jerusalem, has already created a one-state reality, and that the two-state solution is dead.
What these people ignore (or deny) is the legal reality that Israel and Palestine both exist as states recognized by other states, and are both part of the United Nations. Palestine was created in 1988 by declaration and recognition, the same process that created Israel in 1948.
It is inconceivable that either Israel or Palestine would declare itself out of existence.
In this essay I argue that a one-state solution is highly desirable in the long-term, and suggest what it might look like, but also argue that a two-state agreement is a necessary first step towards its achievement.
The Two Nations
There is a human reality to take into account: that residing within Israel-Palestine there are two distinct peoples: Israeli Jews, and Palestinian Arabs, with different histories, cultures, languages and religions. These are distinct national identities, they are important to the people concerned, and they will not give them up.
Whether all the Jews of the world are part of the Israeli-Jewish nation, as the Zionists claim, is for the Jews of the world to say. Zionists today often claim that Palestinian Arabs are an invented people. The truth is that there has been a place on the map called Palestine for around 2,500 years, and a distinct Palestinian national identity for around a thousand years. The existence of a Palestinian-Arab nation was acknowledged by the World Zionist Organization in its 1921 Carlsbad Resolution, which introduced the idea of Palestine as the common home of the Arab and Jewish peoples, who would each have an undisturbed national development.
Any proposed solution to the conflict must be acceptable to both the Israeli-Jewish nation and the Palestinian-Arab nation, or it will not lead to a just and lasting peace.
Another human reality is that most Jewish Israelis have absorbed the Zionist narrative. They cannot help it. It is all around them, in the schools, in the news media, in the Knesset, in the Israel Defense Forces, in the Ministry of Explaining, in websites such as Myths and Facts and the Jewish Virtual Library. They are the primary victims of Zionist hasbara. They believe that Palestine was called Israel until the Roman conquest; that the Arab people in Palestine are recent arrivals, and were never called Palestinians until 1960; that the ambition of every Arab is to kill Jews; that the Mandate was intended to create a Jewish State in all of Palestine and TransJordan; that the Mandate is still in effect and gives any Jew in world the right to go and live anywhere in Palestine until the end of time; that the United Nations authorized the creation of the State of Israel; and that the wars of 1948-49 and 1967 were defensive wars and not wars of expansion and colonization.
There will be no peace until Jewish Israelis accept that there is a Palestinian-Arab nation, and that it has a right to self-determination within the area of Mandatory Palestine. The propaganda originates with the Israeli government; they know the truth, and if they want to call themselves the Jewish State, they need to start telling the truth (Exodus 20:16).
Ending the occupation
It is a factual and legal reality that the territory of Palestine has been under Israeli military occupation since the six-day war of 1967. In that year UN Security Council Resolution 242 said that a just and lasting peace requires the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in that war. Contrary to widely-believed Zionistic propaganda, the Resolution does not say that Israeli forces need not withdraw from all the occupied territories, nor that the withdrawal should be delayed until final borders have been agreed; nor does it say anything about the position of those borders.
No serious attempt was made to implement Resolution 242 until the first Oslo Accord in 1993, which proposed that Israeli forces should begin the withdrawal process from Gaza and the Jericho area. Those initial withdrawals never took place.
In the Oslo process Palestine was negotiating under duress, being under occupation by a highly militarized power. Palestine recognized that “the State of Israel has a right to exist in peace and security”. Israel, on the other hand, did not even accept that the State of Palestine exists, or that the Palestinian people have a right to live in peace and security. Such an unequal process was invalid and doomed to failure from the start. It should be thrown into the dustbin of history, together with Wye River, Camp David, the Road Map, the Quartet, and Tony Blair.
The day that Israel can bring itself to say “The State of Palestine has a right to exist in peace and security” will be the beginning of the end of the conflict.
There will not be an end to the conflict until Palestine has gained its freedom and the two States can discuss, as equals, their future relationship. If there is to be a one-state solution, it can only come about by means of a voluntary union between the two sovereign states. Any attempt to produce a one-state solution while Israel still controls Palestinian territory would be a surrender by the Palestinians to Zionism. It won’t happen.
A two-state agreement is a necessary step on the way to a one-state solution.
All the efforts of the Palestinians and their supporters should, at present, be concentrated on bringing the occupation to an end.
The liberation of Palestine will not be achieved by talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor would the involvement of the President of the United States be helpful. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to assist states in the resolution of disputes. It is the UN Secretariat that should be taking the initiative.
Ending the occupation and producing a two-state reality will not be easy and it will not be quick. Attempts so far have failed because little pressure has been put on Israel to accept the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and to stop its illegal behavior in Palestinian territories. That is changing now that the Boycott Israel campaign (BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is making great progress, and clearly has Israel rattled. It would be helpful if the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah would support it. At the same time, the leaders of the Boycott Israel campaign need to make it clear that their concern is for the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and that they are not agitating for a particular political solution, especially one that could be interpreted as “destroying Israel”.
The increased recognition of the State of Palestine, and its increased standing in the United Nations, is an important achievement of the Abbas administration: important because it demolishes the Zionist claim that it is entitled to rule the West Bank because there is no other sovereignty there. Admission of Palestine to the UN as a full Member State would also make it more difficult for Israel to pretend Palestine does not exist.
Major pressure on Israel must come from the United Nations Security Council. There should be resolutions demanding, first, that Israel accepts that the settlement program is illegal in international law, and must be halted immediately; second, that Israel accepts that the military occupation of the West Bank, and the blockade of Gaza, must come to an end. These will be need to be resolutions with teeth; that is, they will need to threaten enforcement action under Chapter 7 if Israel refuses to accept them.
When Israel accepts that Palestine has a right to exist in peace and security, and that the occupation must come to an end, Israel and Palestine will need to co-operate on the mechanism of withdrawal.
My suggestion is the following. In the West Bank Area A should remain under Palestinian control; Area B, which is currently under joint Palestinian and Israeli control, should change to Palestinian control; Area C and East Jerusalem should be under a joint Israel-Palestine civil administration with security provided by a joint civilian police force. These joint institutions will give confidence to both Israeli Jews and Arabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that their interests are protected, and also give the two nations more experience of working together towards a resolution of the conflict. Once these arrangements are established, Israel will formally end its military governance of the West Bank. This does not mean that the IDF forces must withdraw immediately: they have work to do.
Ending the occupation must include removal of the main physical structure of occupation, the Separation Barrier, and related remedial work such as replanting a million olive trees, as well as the removal of the Israeli-only roads, or their incorporation into an integrated road network. When these works are completed the IDF forces can withdraw to Israel.
The settlements built for Israeli Jews are also part of the physical structure of occupation, but their inhabitants are part of the human reality. The settlement issue is one of the final-status issues that are related to each other and will be considered in the next stage of the process, which I call the dialogue phase.
In Gaza there are no Israeli forces or Israeli-Jewish settlers. Assuming Hamas remains the de facto authority in Gaza, the best way to bring Gaza into the interim arrangement is for Israel to accept the Hamas offer of a truce, and then end its blockade of Gaza. This must be replaced by a humanitarian effort to restore normal life in the Strip.
With the occupation ended, the two peoples need to decide on a future relationship which could best realize a future of peaceful coexistence and prosperity. This conversation needs to be within and between civil society groups, especially bi-national groups, as well as between governments. It would consider one-state and two-state solutions, including ideas of confederation such as the ‘two states in one space‘ of IPCRI. Once this is agreed, at least in outline, the final status issues: Jerusalem, borders, settlers and refugees would be considered.
Why one state?
Demanding a one-state solution on the grounds that there is no alternative is not a sensible strategy. There are strong positive reasons for adopting the one-state approach.
- Palestine has existed as a named territory for well over 2,500 years. As the Holy Land of the three monotheistic faiths Palestine has made a huge contribution to civilization and is a special place to millions of the world’s citizens. To permanently divide it, and in particular to divide Jerusalem, would be a tragedy.
- Palestine is a small place, with few natural resources. During the Mandatory period Palestine was developed as a single state with a single currency and an integrated infrastructure of roads, railways, water supplies, power, etc. Management of this infrastructure jointly by two sovereign governments, with a history of conflict, and with a border between them, would present many practical difficulties and inefficiencies.
- A sovereign border between the two peoples would hinder interactions between them, making the development of mutual understanding more difficult, and with likely rejectionists on both sides could lead to continued conflict.
- In a two-state solution Israel will have a substantial minority of Palestinian Arabs, and Palestine might well have a substantial minority of Israeli Jews. Other states, or the UN, cannot interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. If either State decided to discriminate against its minority community, no-one could prevent it from so doing.
- What we now call the West Bank was previously known as Central Palestine. According to recent archaeological research the Central Highlands were the origin of the people known as Israelites. Central Palestine was also the site of the ancient Kingdoms of Israel (in the north, capital Samaria), and Judah (in the south, capital Jerusalem) as well as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Jewish Israelis, brought up under Zionism, with a strong emotional commitment to the Land of Israel, would never accept that their original homeland is permanently in another State.
The “Israel Initiative” proposes a one-state solution based on three principles:
- A humanitarian solution of the Palestinian refugee problem which involves giving them substantial financial compensation to enable them to move out of the refugee camps and become citizens in a range of countries willing to accept immigrants;
- The establishment of Israeli sovereignty “from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan”, that is, all of Mandatory Palestine;
- A strategic partnership with Jordan under which the Palestinian-Arab residents in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) would become Jordanian citizens, having only basic human rights in Israel, and national and political rights only in Jordan.
The proposal is unclear on the questions of Gaza and the status of existing Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Under this scheme Palestine would be wiped off the map, and the Palestinian people would vanish from the pages of time. The probability that the Palestinians would accept this is zero.
The One-State-Declaration of 2007 was promulgated by 15 authors, including some well-known Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals such as Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intifada, and Ilan Pappé, the Israeli historian. Ali Abunimah also published a book about this idea: One Country, a Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestine Impasse.
The proposal is for a unitary state “founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens”. The state would “recognize the diverse character of the society, encompassing distinct religious, linguistic and cultural traditions, and national experiences” and “respect the separation of state from all organized religion”; the Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return; and there would be “redress for the devastating effects of decades of Zionist colonization”.
To the western mind, a fully democratic secular state of all its citizens is the ideal. The idea of separation of church and state is taken straight from the constitution of the United States. It is perhaps relevant to point out that of the fifteen authors of the One-State-Declaration, only four give addresses in Palestine or Israel; the others are in the US or western Europe. We westerners naturally think that our way of doing things is the best, but people in the Middle East are entitled to have different ideas. I suggest that the secular state model is inappropriate in the case of Palestine-Israel, and would not be acceptable to either party, for the following reasons.
The One-State-Declaration fails to acknowledge the existence of two nations within the state, speaking only vaguely about different “national experiences”.
As distinct nations, they each have the right to choose their own government. They also have a right to choose for themselves the relationship between government and ‘organized religion’.
Since people not of Jewish descent can become Jews by adopting Judaism, the religion of Judaism is an intrinsic part of Jewish identity. In Israel there is no provision for civil marriage: religious authorities control marriage, and Jews are not able to marry non-Jews.
Religion is also important to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Declaration of Independence begins: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Palestine, the land of the three monotheistic faiths, is where the Palestinian Arab people was born, on which it grew, developed, and excelled…The call went out from Temple, Church, and Mosque that to praise the Creator, to celebrate compassion and peace, was indeed the message of Palestine. ”. An important aspect of the Palestinian-Arab national identity is their role as guardians of the Holy Places.
Under the secular state model, neither nation could express its national identity either politically or religiously. Israelis would see this as ‘destroying Israel’. The probability that Israeli Jews would accept this is zero. Palestinian Arabs would accept the idea of a single democratic state, as long as it had an Arab majority, but not the privatization of religion as in the secular state model.
Given that neither the two-state solution, nor either of the existing one-state solutions, are likely to be acceptable, we ask ourselves the following question:
Is it possible for two nations, with a history of conflict, to unite peacefully to form a single state, whilst retaining their national lives and identities?
The answer is yes: there is a precedent, and I suggest that it provides a surprisingly appropriate model for the future relationship between Palestine and Israel.
The union of Scotland and England
In 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth of England, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, by virtue of his descent from King Henry VII of England. England and Scotland remained separate independent nations, with their own parliaments, judiciary and laws.
During his lifetime, James pursued the idea of a union of the Scottish and English parliaments, and styled himself ‘King of Great Britain’, rather than ‘King of England and Scotland’. This idea did not come to fruition until long after his death. It was in 1707 that reciprocal Acts of Union joined the two parliaments into a single Parliament of Great Britain, based in London. England and Scotland had become united as the sovereign state of Great Britain, with a single citizenship .
England and Scotland still retain their national identities and characters. There is a defined but open border between them. They have their own national institutions, such as the National Library of Scotland and the English National Opera. They also have different educational systems, different legal systems, different established churches, and their own national sports teams playing in international competitions. It is these last four points which make England and Scotland true nations rather than mere provinces, and which provide a striking parallel with Israel and Palestine.
In 1998, following a referendum, the UK Parliament passed the Scotland Act which created a Scottish Parliament based in Edinburgh. The UK Parliament reserved certain powers to itself, such as foreign affairs, defense, the currency and economic policy, citizenship and immigration, overall management of infrastructure, energy, natural resources and transport. The Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on those reserved matters, but otherwise Scotland has almost complete self-rule on matters internal to itself, such as education, health, welfare, agriculture, the environment, local government, culture and justice. However, its powers are devolved from the UK Parliament, which remains sovereign. It is possible for the UK Parliament to reserve devolved powers back to itself, giving it a potential veto power over Scottish Parliament decisions. (There is an anomaly in the UK system: Scotland has its own parliament, but England does not: the UK Parliament has to double-up as the English parliament).
The United State of Israel and Palestine
How a one-state-two-nations structure could be implemented in Palestine-Israel is for the two peoples to decide. The following are some ideas of how that might work out.
The parliament of the United State would be directly elected by all citizens. The State parliament and government would have the usual responsibilities such as external affairs and defense, control of the currency and economic policy, citizenship (including provision for civil marriage) and immigration, national infrastructure and resource management; and would have taxation powers to support these activities.
The two nations of Israel and Palestine would have a large degree of autonomy, with residents of each electing their own parliament, and with a government responsible for matters such as education, health, welfare, housing and local economic development, and with taxation powers to support these activities. The character of each nation would automatically reflect the character of its majority population, but all residents would be treated as equals without any discrimination.
The State parliament would decide which powers it reserves to itself: for example, it might decide that university education should be a State, not national, activity. The State parliament, being sovereign, would act as an upper revising chamber to the two national parliaments, in particular to ensure that the national parliaments or governments do not discriminate against their minority communities.
As the State parliament may need to resolve disputes between the two nations, political parties registered to take part in the State elections should be able to show widespread support throughout the two nations, and should present candidates for election drawn in a balanced way from both nations. This mechanism would help develop a new generation of political leaders, dedicated to coexistence and democratic values.
Borders & Immigration
There would be a defined but open border between the two nations. There would also be a right for citizens to change their residence from one nation to the other, with two provisos: first, this would apply to individual families, not to organized nationalistic groups; second, each nation would be able to petition the State parliament to allow it to limit inward migration if it felt this was necessary to preserve its national character.
Jewish and Palestinian people living outside the United State would have a right to migrate into Israel and Palestine respectively. However, the State government would be able to restrict the total rate of immigration to that which the economy can absorb: stateless refugees would have priority. (The Zionists accepted such a condition for Jewish immigration into Palestine in the 1921 Carlsbad Resolution.)
Security and defense
The only threat to the security of Israel arises from its occupation of Palestinian territory. The only threat to the security of Palestine comes from Israel. The Arab states and Iran have said they will accept any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. If there has not been a peace agreement between Israel and Syria when the United State is formed, its first foreign policy task will be to produce such an agreement. Then the United State will have no enemies, except non-state actors, and can start to wind down the massive military capability it inherits from the IDF, and help create a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
Each nation would have a national police force. The United State would have an internal security force to take action, or coordinate action, against trans-national or external threats.
Jerusalem would be the State capital territory housing the State parliament and government offices. It would also be the capital of both nations. Its residents would participate in national elections in one of the two nations of their choice.
The Holy Places
The Holy Places would be administered by a department of the State government, with the guidance of an international commission of religious authorities.
Determination of the border
The present-day de facto border between Israel and Palestine, the 1949 Green Line, is not a suitable permanent border, for two reasons. First, it gives 78% of the territory of Mandatory Palestine to Israel, and 22% to Palestine. Given that the number of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are roughly equal at the moment, and there are about 5 million Palestinian refugees with a right of return, this border would result in an injustice to the Palestinians of monumental proportions, and a Palestinian nation living at an uncomfortable population density. Second, this border would leave the original homeland of the Israelites outside Israel, which Israeli Jews, under the influence of Zionism, would not accept.
Determination of an open border would be much less contentious than agreeing upon a sovereign border between two states. It is not even essential that each nation has a contiguous territory. The main objects of the Boundary Commission would be to determine a border that placed a substantial majority of Jews within Israel and of Arabs within Palestine, but with a significant minority population in each (no apartheid); that minimized the number of Israeli Jews who would end up in Palestine, and the number of Palestinian Arabs who would end up in Israel, against their wishes; that produced a much more equal distribution of land area than the de facto border, mainly by placing a substantial part of the Negev within Palestine; and that placed a significant portion of the West Bank within Israel, for example Hebron, and Israeli-Jewish settlements close to Jerusalem.
The most difficult issue to be resolved between Israel and Palestine is the question of the future of the Israeli-Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Under the principles of border determination just discussed, it would be possible for some, perhaps many, of the settlers to stay where they are. However, it will be necessary to take into account the illegal nature of the settlement program, and the great harm it has done to the Palestinian population. There needs to be a reconciliation and reconstruction process in which settlements and their neighbors agree to live together peacefully, harm done is remedied, and serious crimes are punished. If cases where no agreement is possible, the settlers should return to Israel.
After 70 years of denial of their right to return, the most just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem would be for them to be given huge sums of money, by Israel, to enable them to settle in any country of their choice willing to take them.
Some may want to return to Palestine: after establishing citizenship and residence, those whose original homes, or their ancestors homes, are within Israel could move there subject to the provisos of the immigration scheme outlined above. Some might want to stay in their current host states. Others might want to leave the Middle East and join the diaspora in Europe and the Americas. Britain and the USA in particular should be willing to take them since it was their actions that led to the present problem: Britain, through its Jewish National Home policy; the USA, through its premature recognition of the State of Israel.
A United State of Israel and Palestine would achieve the goal of the Balfour Declaration of 1917: a Jewish National Home in Palestine existing without prejudice to the rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants.
It would fulfill the vision of the Zionist Carlsbad Resolution of 1921: Palestine as the common home of two nations, Jewish and Arab, with perfect equality between them.
It would achieve the goal of the British Mandate of 1922: an independent sovereign Palestine including the Jewish National Home.
It would reflect some of the important features of the 1947 UN Plan of Partition with Economic Union, which proposed two non-sovereign states with open borders between them, linked in a union by an Economic Board that has binding powers on the two nations, controlling the currency, infrastructure, resources, and economic development.
It would achieve self-determination for the Israeli-Jewish people and the Palestinian-Arab people within their joint homeland of Eretz-Israel , Palestine, The Holy Land. Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of Israel, and also of Palestine.
It would produce a fully democratic State of all its citizens, while allowing Israel and Palestine to preserve their national lives and identities.
 Definition from OED: nation; a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.
 I am hopeful that the UK will recognize Palestine this year. Parliament has already voted a non-binding motion to that effect, and the UK Government has broken ranks with the US by voting for UNSCR 2334. Perhaps such a step by a major ally would make US politicians think again about their devotion to Netanyahu and his policies.
 The Palestinian Declaration of Independence was written in Arabic by a poet. The link is to the official English translation. There is a more flamboyant English translation on WikiSource.
 See the Kairos Document for an example of how Palestinian religion could make a contribution to the achievement of peace.
 I apologize to the Welsh and Northern Irish for omitting them from the story. In King James’s time Wales was an integral part of England. Now it is considered to be a third nation within the UK. James was also King of Ireland. Now only the Province of Northern Ireland remains in the UK. Wales and Northern Ireland have assemblies rather than parliaments, the difference being that the UK Parliament devolves specific powers to them, whereas the the Scottish Parliament has unlimited powers apart from those specifically reserved to the UK Parliament.