One State Solution Denies a Palestinian State

By Vijaya Rajiva

In 2007 a distinguished panel of signatories issued the One State Declaration calling for the establishment of a secular democratic state in historic Palestine that would be a state of citizens with a one-person one vote. Hence, this would  reject the familiar two state solution long known to the international community by the UN Partition Resolution 181 of 1947 which partitioned Mandate Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab/Palestinian state. Readers are familiar with the subsequent history of this Partition and the Israeli Occupation of the land allocated to the Palestinian people by the United Nations in 1947 and the Palestinian rejection of this partition and the subsequent acceptance in 1988 by the PLO of the two-state solution.

With the failure of the fraudulent Oslo peace talks and all the futile negotiations thereafter up till the present time, the One Staters (advocates of the one state solution) believe that the impasse can be resolved only by the One State, either on the South African model of one person, one vote or the Binational State of two peoples under one jurisdiction.

Intentionally or not, the One State is a denial of a state for the people of Palestine. It has been criticized from the Zionist perspective as a denial of a Jewish State for the Jewish people and has been systematically and vigorously attacked for many years by well-known Israel supporters. Recently, the attack has been renewed, but always from the Zionist perspective.

This dense thicket of Zionist advocacy has actually detracted and distracted from what is  a more serious situation, the attack by the One Staters on the Palestinian state. The One State Declaration of 2007 explicitly states:

"All the international efforts to implement a 2 state solution cannot conceal the fact that
a Palestinian state is not viable. . ."

This strident rejection of the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people is all the more astonishing because the signatories of the document are dedicated scholars and activists who support a Palestinian cause (such as it is!). Names such as Joseph Massada, Ilan Pappe, et al need no introduction. But should their reputation and achievements protect the One State solution from criticism and evaluation? Obviously not.

There has been spirited and authentic criticism of the one state solution from equally well-known scholars and activists such as Norman Finkelstein and Uri Avenery. The One Staters’ main point is two fold: 

1. Israel which ethnically cleansed the Palestinian population should not be given a free pass.
2. Hence, the Israeli state which was born of injustice and perpetuates it should be dismantled so that justice should be done.

Of course, this revenge style approach has been redeemed by the further proposition that a one state where both Palestinians and Jews would live as equal citizens on the same land. This would ensure future justice, and is in line with contemporary expectations of a secular democracy. There are no indications of how this lofty goal is to be achieved, since the Liberation struggle of the Palestinians has been pre empted by a dismissal of the Palestinian state per se.  Both Avenery and Finkelstein focus on how impractical the suggestion of two peoples living side by side in peace, having forgotten past injustices can be. Both also point out that in this ideal new one state the Palestinians will remain hewers of wood and drawers of water, given  superior Jewish resources  financially and materially.

In earlier articles on Resolution 181 and Palestinian statehood (published in Palestine Chronicle) I have outlined how and why a Palestinian state is viable and further what are the errors of judgment made by the One Staters. It is useful to recap some of these points and further engage with at least one recent seminal text of the one state solution, ’The One State Solution’ by Virginia Tilley (2005).

The criticisms of the One Staters of the two state solution are premised on the mistaken belief that a future Palestinian state will be erected on the ruins of a Bantustan with 20% or less of the land originally allocated by the UN Resolution 181 thanks to the ever expanding settlements. This pessimistic appraisal is built on the mistaken assumption that in any final status negotiations, even the benighted Abbas would accept Israel’s offer of Bantustans for the Palestinians! If the One Staters’ argument is that Israel will not make any substantial concessions, a similar argument can be made against  their one state. Is it realistic to maintain that Israel, after having lorded it over all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan these 60 long years will suddenly out of noblesse oblige
yield up their privileges to the Palestinians?

A more disturbing statement of the one state solution can be seen in Tilley’s book: The One State Solution. An entire long chapter is devoted to the impossibility of dismantling the settlements as the major obstacle to a Palestinian state. This book also adopts the One Staters’ foundational position that an ethnonational Jewish state is an affront to our modern notions of a secular liberal democracy. Tilley labels Palestinian nationalism as a mirror image of Jewish ethnonationalism and hence any call for a Palestinian state, in her estimation, is equally tarnished. The moral error underlying her argument will be examined shortly.

As the author describes it, there is an Immovable Object at play which will prevent any attempt to establish a Palestinian state. This is the Settlement project which has 3 grids.

First is the physical layout of the settlements which are sophisticated constructions in which the Israeli state has invested billions of dollars. Second is the political grid where, regardless of which political party is in power, and regardless of political personalities and the whims and wishes of settlers, the settler grid has been designed and subsidized by the state of Israel in co ordination with the settlement movement. The third grid is the ideological foundational philosophy of Jewish National Institutions. These are sheltered from any outside interference whatsoever. The Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization are the state’s agencies. The annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, Tilley points out, was not carried out by rogue institutions but the central institutions of the state of Israel, assisted by a panoply of laws that define Israel as a Jewish state.

The author does not make it clear why any one of these grids is Immovable or Invincible. After all, billions of dollars is less expensive than the current expenditure of maintaining the settlements, both financially and the erosion of international support for the Jewish state. And a determined Resistance Movement can upset the apple cart quite easily with an armed struggle. Alternately, the Liberation of Palestine from the Occupation, settlements and all, can be attained by mass national civil disobedience movements. Either way, the Israeli state is neither invincible nor are its settlements Immovable .

It is at this stage, that the author is overcome by the weight of her own erudition and is unable to extricate herself from the dense details of her own investigations. Inevitably, she moves from this to a deeper, serious philosophical error and equates the Palestinian liberation struggle with the ethno nationalism of the Jewish oppressor. In calling the Palestinian experience a ‘mirror image’ of Jewish ethnonationalism, Tilley is saying that both are two sides of the same coin. Both must be rejected, according to her.

But are they? There is not, and there cannot be an equivalence between the world view of the oppressor and the oppressed, and in the specific configuration of the Palestinian struggle for statehood and liberation from the Occupation there are many profound factors, of which the most outstanding is the Palestinian attachment to the Land.

This attachment is not mytho history or ethnonationalism per se, but is the lived experience of a people under a brutal Occupation by a people who arrived there on the basis of an ancient narrative of their history, a people who were without a land base after the 2nd century A.D.  Hence, Palestinians are not merely reasserting their specific configuration in historic Palestine or reaffirming their identity which was always unquestionably rooted in the land which they never left and had lived in since time immemorial. In calling for a Palestinian state they seek to take their place in the sun, something they had been cheated of by an Occupation. To impose the dogma of a one state where their future will still be uncertain, is a cruel thing to do. Hopefully, the international community will urge the admission of the Palestinian state, once declared, to the UN, where the votes are still there from 1988.

– Dr. Vijaya Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at University. She contributed this article to

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out