One State, Two States

By Jim Miles

One State, Two States – Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Benny Morris. Yale University Press, New Haven, NJ. 2009

This is a rather oily work to deal with, operating under the pretence of academic objectivity that “does not flatter anyone’s prejudices.” And while Benny Morris obviously knows his historical facts, “One State, Two States” reveals more of a prejudice than the original reviewers seemed capable of understanding. 

The main theme – resolving the Israeli/Palestine conflict – is poorly introduced without a lot of contextual information that could change the reader’s perspective on the situation.  What Morris arrives at through implication and cherry picking information is that the Israelis are the good guys (generally, with only one mention of the “grinding, stifling Israeli occupation of the territories” near the end of the book) and the Palestinians are the reluctant, recalcitrant, demagogic perpetrators of evil. Okay, that is overstated, but it is an overstatement as an example of the kind of language used occasionally by Morris that seriously erodes his academic pretensions of neutrality.

There are several faults with the development of his arguments that should be noted, some being omissions of information, others being a working of the information to fit the author’s preconceptions.  

Unequal Partners

One of the more subtle misinformation themes is that of the ongoing dialogue of whatever form, through negotiations, written tracts, informal talks or whatever, that leaves the implication that the two sides – Israelis and Palestinians – are equal partners in the negotiations, with an occasional underlying motive of the adaptations the Israelis have to make in order to accommodate the Palestinians’ demands. An informed reader will understand that the two sides are far from equal and even from the very beginning with the support of the Balfour Declaration (never an official government policy) and the British rule of Mandatory Palestine, the Jewish settlers had a bias in their favor. 

The continual complaints of the Israelis that the Palestinians have no leaders needs to be put beside the information that the Israelis assassinate as many of the Palestinian leaders as they deem necessary or possible. Historically this also occurred during the Arab revolt in the 1930s. After the recent democratic elections of Hamas in 2006, Morris’ argument is that Hamas set up government then took over Gaza. What is not mentioned is that the U.S., the EU, and a few others never recognized the democratic process that they had so long advocated in the region, stopped their already minimal funding to the Palestinian government and did everything in their power to alienate and eliminate Hamas from the Palestinian government. Thus the democratically elected partners were not ever accepted as anyone worth negotiating with, yet in contradiction to Morris’ own suggestions, successful negotiations with terrorists have occurred elsewhere (South Africa, Ireland). 

Palestinian Terror

Anyone reading this as their first history book on the Israeli/Palestine situation would receive this bias along with the associated bias of the Palestinians being the terrorists, the Israelis the victims of that terror. Yet as much as the British assisted the Jewish settlers to a degree, the settlers were also considered terrorists in their own fight as in later years they fought with the British in order to establish their own dominance of the territory. As for later terrorism, the only terrorism mentioned by Morris is that perpetrated by Hamas and Fatah, without any mention of the Israeli tactics in the occupied territories that could also be fully considered as terror. 

Arab Ethnic Cleaning

Much of the history of the conflict elucidated by Morris is that of the 1920s and 1930s with very short shrift given to the actual war of independence/nakba of 1947-8 and the subsequent developments through to the Clinton-Arafat-Barak negotiations whose failure Morris places squarely and completely on Arafat. Most of the quotes throughout his development are chosen to highlight the single minded non-democratic desire of the Arabs to push the Zionists back into the ocean (his definition of their one state solution), and the benign nature of the Jewish response in accommodating and accepting a two state solution (demonstrating how peaceful and practical the Israelis are by contrast).

Again for the informed reader, this one state, two state polarity is nonsense. The Zionist plans have always accounted for a monolithic Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, although earlier versions included the east bank of the Jordan as well. The means used and posited to establish that have varied from outright expulsion, to murder and assassination, to transfer of populations. The latter, the transfer of people, is strangely enough part of Morris’ solution to the problem of the one state, two state argument.  Ethnic cleansing is very much a part of the Israeli unstated belief system, ready to raise its ugly head if a convenient opportunity arises. Morris also ignores the current Liebermann-Netanyahu coalition and its rather overt witness to this underlying theme. Admittedly this is a very recent work, but several other less recent works have at least included this in their discussions in light of the 2006 Hezbollah war and the 2008 Christmas attack on Gaza. 

At the same time, in spite of Morris’ arguments that the charter of the PLO and of Hamas have never been changed, both groups have demonstrated their ability to accommodate and be flexible towards the idea of a two state solution. Morris defines the Camp David agreement as being one of concessions from Israel – without considering that for the Palestinians to accept a nominal sovereignty they had already conceded eighty per cent of their original territory to the Jewish people and would have to accept less with that accord (notwithstanding the offer of land elsewhere, land certainly of much less value than that stolen by the settlers in the West Bank). 

Arab Terror and the Holocaust

A rather transparent attempt is made by Morris to conflate the Holocaust with many of the incidents perpetrated by the Arabs before the Second World War. There is no direct connection, but the juxtaposition and wording of his writing would leave a reader with the impression that the acts of aggression against the Jewish settlers were of the same calibre and intent of the Holocaust under Nazi Germany. This not so subtle connection only serves to make the whole argument one not of fact and historical record, but one of emotion and sentiment based on the justified grievances of Jewish genocide in the Second World War. Its intent is of course to create a sympathetic response in the reader to the plight of the Jewish people, a response that is only justifiable if it is not used an excuse for Jewish excesses (which are not elucidated by Morris at all) and the Zionist desire for a pure theocratic Jewish state in Eretz Israel. 


Christianity is mentioned in the book as being oppressed by the Arabs as well. The argument ignores much more fully developed information that indicates that the Israeli government is an equal opportunity oppressor, as convenient, and the exodus of Christians is as much if not more about Israeli policies towards Christians as towards any other group that could interfere with their desired Jewish state.

A recent National Geographic article (a magazine that bends over backwards to achieve balance) indicates the Christian population began its long decline from the time of the Crusades as during that time (1095-1291) Arab Christians were slaughtered along with the Muslims. Currently, the economic situation and the ID pass regimen between Israeli and Palestinian sectors interfere with the lives of Arab Christians:

"You’re surrounded by this giant wall, and there are no jobs," [Mark] says. "It’s like a science experiment. If you keep rats in an enclosed space and make it smaller and smaller every day and introduce new obstacles and constantly change the rules, after a while the rats go crazy and start eating each other. It’s like that."

The U.S. receives its due share of the blame for the Christian situation in Israel as well:

"It’s because of what Christians in the West, led by the U.S., have been doing in the East," [Razek Siriani] says, ticking off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel, and the threats of "regime change" by the Bush Administration. [1]

Zionism and the Amorphous Arab

Another implication of the work is that Zionism is the dominant strain of Jewish philosophy without taking into consideration the ideas of a secular Jewish state or of the religious beliefs that a Jewish homeland will not arrive until the Messiah returns, and until that time, the Jews will remain in exile. The differing positions within the Jewish faith are not elucidated or clarified.  For that matter, little is elucidated or clarified in the work as it is too short to accommodate all the parameters of the arguments that need to be considered for any one state, two state argument, whether discussing the various Arab positions or the various Jewish positions. 

On the other side, Morris accepts the Orientalist perspective of the Arab as developed by Western writers generally ignorant of Arab culture (I don’t know if Morris is ignorant of Arab culture, but the manner of his writing about Arabs in this book would indicate yes to a degree). In this view, the Arabs are an “amorphous” uniform lot spread throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa (and the text would not make it clear if the author is aware of the boundaries of various Muslim beliefs and the overlaps of the Arab world with other Muslim nations), yet at the same time he indicates they are a tribal, clan and family based society – so if they are all so amorphous how does one differentiate the different clans and groups within their societies? 


One technique of arguing and avoiding making any commitments to an argument or advocating a position yet still conveying one’s bias and suggesting the ‘proper’ response is to ask questions such as I did above. While discussing the Hamas charter Morris asks “What Muslim Arab society in the modern age has treated Christians, Jews, pagans, Buddhists, and Hindus with tolerance and as equals?” Apart from being a bit of a stretch to include the Hindus and Buddhists, my response is I simply do not know, but I will not accept the implication from the question that none of them do. Further, the same question could be phrased “What Jewish country….?” with the same implications and a similar response.

The following question adds emphasis to this implication as Morris asks, “Why should anyone believe that Palestinian Muslim Arabs would behave any differently?” Perhaps because the majority of Muslims are not fanatics and like many other members of the human species are able and willing to accommodate their neighbors in order to live peacefully. Would the Zionists do the same? Oh my gosh, another question with implications. 

His final question concerning the nastiness of the Palestinian Muslim Arabs is “Why…have black Africans, who over the centuries have suffered infinitely more at Western…hands than the Arabs ever did, never resort to international terrorism and suicide bombings against Western targets.” Perhaps because the black Africans never achieved the societal status that the Arabs achieved (although from Morris’ description one would never know this); or perhaps because the extreme poverty in Africa necessitates a purely survival regimen for the peoples of the area; or perhaps because there are no actual occupiers of the land at the moment with no biased religious interpretations creating a dominant elite who are determined to mine the wealth of the region for their own exclusive purposes. That is without arguing Morris’ usage of “infinity” and “never”, absolutes that work poorly in any academic argument.

Where To?

All those questions arise at the beginning of his final chapter “Where to?” in which he reiterates the nastiness of the Muslim Arabs and the reasonableness of the Zionists while leading to his own solution. Part of his argument, one that always accompanies the reasonableness of the Israelis in negotiating with a “partner” is that as well as being reasonable in the face of their victim hood, they are also weak and vulnerable against the armed Arab hordes who wish to do them in. Morris argues rather fancifully that the “attritional contest between the two”, being “primitive Qassam rockets” against the overwhelming U.S. supported regular military might of the IDF and the covert activities of the Shin Bet “could impoverish Israel and render the defensive systems ultimately inoperative.” That argument hardly deserves rebuttal, but if the recent vicious attack on Gaza is any indication, Israel is fully capable of destroying any Palestinian resistance fully if it chose to do so, notwithstanding international verbal disapproval or sanctions. 

The clear nuclear dominance of the region is never mentioned in any of the arguments but needs to be considered with his own answer to the problem, one that neatly sidesteps some of his own arguments. Morris’ answer is that of union between the West Bank, Gaza, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In the manner in which it is phrased, little weight is given to the democracy values that he advocates so strongly, and he also includes population transfer (ethnic cleansing in any other language) as a means of achieving this final status. Other than this vague outline, there is no definition of the terms that this would occur under, if the area would truly be sovereign or simply be a line on a map still under Israeli control.

The latter is very likely, as Morris also entertains the idea of a region of federated states with all boundaries guaranteed and accepted by everyone else. Here the nuclear dominance re-enters the picture. Ironically, nuclear weapons are useless against the Palestinians as that would render useless land that the Israelis wish to control (or to ask another Morris style question, how could they bomb the Arabs out of Haifa or Jerusalem?). 

The purpose of the nuclear weapons is twofold. The first purpose is to guarantee that the surrounding Arab states will always be subservient to Israeli goals (Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are already very compliant). The second purpose is so that other nuclear nations would think twice about attacking and using nuclear weapons in retaliation against Israel for any of its nuclear aggression in the Arab/Muslim world. 

Any Solution?

The reality of a final answer to the problem of one state, two state or whatever is currently highly intractable. With ongoing U.S. support, with ongoing Israeli influence in Congress through AIPAC, with ongoing U.S. intentions for geopolitical control over the Middle East, any solution, although perhaps easy to conceive would be very difficult to implement. That is not because the solution is difficult; it is because the humans that are dealing with the situation carry heavily weighted biases and strategic interests to render them (the humans, the government elites) intractable. Morris denies both the one state and the two state solution; his own solution is poorly developed and leaves the region clearly under the influence of a dominant Israeli nuclear power supported by the U.S.

This book then is essentially a standard apologia for the Israeli centric view of its own goodness, its own justifications, and its own victim hood and vulnerability, the latter being myths created for public consumption wherever it would be accepted. So read the book, but also read it in conjunction with the following list of works that provide ample information to rebut much of what Morris writes. 

Bibliography (author, title only – all books have been reviewed in Palestine Chronicle):

Abunimah, Ali : One Country
Baroud, Ramzy: The Second Palestinian Intifada
Cook, Jonathan: Blood and Religion
Cook, William : The Rape of Palestine
Dunsky, Marda: Pens and Swords
Friel and Falk: Israel-Palestine on Record
Gordon, Neve: Israel’s Occupation
Gregory, Derek: The Colonial Present
Haddad and Honig-Parmass: Between the Lines
Kanaaneh, Hatime: A Doctor in Galilee
Makdisi, Saree : Palestine Inside out
Mishal and Sela: The Palestinian Hamas
Pappe, Ilan: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; A History of Modern Palestine; The Israel Palestine Question
Rabkin, Yakov M.: A Threat From Within
Reinhart, Tanya: The Roadmap to Nowhere; Israel/Palestine
Schanzer, Jonathan: Hamas vs Fatah
Simons, Geoffrey: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
Sorkin, Michael: Against the Wall
Tamimi, Azzam: Hamas – A History From Within
Thomas, Amelia: The Zoo on the Road to Nablus
Wolf, Robert:  Violence in the Holy Land
Zertal and Eldar: Lords of the Land

For a Christian perspective:

Fleming, Eileen: Keep Hope Alive; Third Intifada Uprising

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle.  Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.


[1] See “Arab Christians” National Geographic Magazine, June 2009; and also Eileen Fleming’s work at  and her writings in various alternate web media.

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