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A two state solution – the only possible solution to the conflict

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s recent remarks, suggesting that the prospects for a two-state solution are diminishing, are merely the latest in a string of comments from leading Palestinians signifying a move away from the two-state solution. The two-state solution is the only acceptable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is the outcome supported by both Israel and the international community. The adoption of the ‘one-state solution’ as official Palestinian policy would signal the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which was based upon the two-state solution and outlined in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. It would also signal the renunciation of the Palestinian commitment to an historic reconciliation with Israel made at the outset of the Oslo process. Recent comments suggest the Palestinian leadership is pursuing a new phase of the so-called ‘strategy of stages’ adopted by the PLO in June 1974, which distinguishes between immediate political objectives and the long-term strategic goal of liberating ‘historic Palestine’ through a phased process. [1]

Leading Palestinians Support a One-State Solution

The dangerous idea of a one-state solution, or a single bi-national entity that would grant equal rights to both Jews and Arabs, is as old as the conflict itself. Since the collapse of the Camp David negotiations and the launch of the Palestinian campaign of terrorism in September 2000, the idea of a bi-national state has gained renewed attention through increasingly frequent mention by a number of prominent Palestinians:

  • In a recent interview in The Guardian, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat warned that “time is definitely running out for the two-state solution.” [2]
  • Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the Palestinian Prime Minister, told reporters earlier this year: “We will go for a one-state solution... there's no other solution.”[3] These remarks follow a letter Qurei sent to the White House in October 2002, when he was speaker of the Palestinian parliament, threatening that Palestinian policy makers might be forced “to re-evaluate the plausibility of a two-state solution.”[4]
  • That same week Michael Terazi, a legal advisor to the PLO, told the Christian Science Monitor that a one-state solution is “the only option.”[5]
  • Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Palestinian culture minister and one of the architects of the Geneva Accord (which itself called for a two-state solution), cautioned that Israel’s construction of its security fence would lead to Palestinian calls for a bi-national state “within a decade or two.”[6]

Calls for a revival of the bi-national state idea have also gained ground beyond the Palestinian leadership. In one widely cited piece, historian Tony Judt argued that the Middle East peace process is dead and that the only viable alternative now is the creation of a “single, integrated, bi-national state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.”[7]

Implications of the One-State Solution

As numerous observers have recognised, the reversion to the one-state solution is merely a prelude to the elimination of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

  • According to current estimates, 5.4 million Jews and 4.9 million Arabs reside in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[8] If current population trends persist, Palestinians are expected to constitute a majority in these areas by 2020. Unification of the entire population of Israel and the Palestinian territories into one bi-national state would therefore mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state in less than 20 years. In this respect, the touting of a bi-national state as a ‘compromise’ between Jewish and Palestinian aspirations is highly misleading. The plan would not amount to the creation of a bi-national state, but of a Palestinian state, in which Palestinians would make up a growing majority. A single bi-national state would constitute nothing less than a rejection of Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state.
  • Moreover, a single state would be unable to offer the Jewish minority the security guarantees that were among the reasons for the creation of the State of Israel in the first place. It was the clashes between communities in the pre-state period that led international observers to conclude that the only viable option was separation. With suicide bombers exploding in Israel on a regular basis and Palestinian children being indoctrinated with hatred for Jews and Israelis, Jewish security concerns have not disappeared, but rather increased.[9]
  • Even those who support the idea invariably fail to explain how such a state could be established so as to ensure its bi-national character. Nowhere in the Middle East does a model exist for any type of pluralist, multi-ethnic government. Regardless of which model of bi-nationality one chooses, the Jewish minority in such a state would be forced to rely for its security and prosperity on the democratic abilities of the Palestinian leadership, a leadership that stifles freedom of speech and expression, is rife with corruption, has been involved in planning and sponsoring terrorist attacks against Jewish targets, and has never stood in a truly fair and free election.

For these reasons, polls show nearly unanimous opposition to a one-state solution among all the diverse segments of the Israeli public. In contrast, polls consistently show that a clear majority of Israelis favour the establishment of a Palestinian state.[10] This position has been supported by the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, most recently at a convention of his Likud party earlier this month, when he said that if incitement and terrorism stop, Israel would be prepared to “make possible the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”[11]

International Support for a Two-State Solution

For over half a century, the two-state solution has been favoured by the international community.

  • In 1937, the Peel Commission[12] rejected the one-state solution in favour of partitioning the disputed territory into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a solution that was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 181, adopted on 29 November 1947. [13]
  • United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which lay out the principles on which peace in the region should be based, call for Israel to withdraw from certain territories acquired in the 1967 war and for respect of Israel’s territorial integrity and its right to live in peace. The Security Council made its intentions more explicit in 2002 in resolution 1397, when it affirmed a vision in which “two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized boundaries.”[14]
  • Political separation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state has also been the policy of the current United States administration since early 2002. In a landmark policy speech on 24 June 2002, President George Bush endorsed a process leading to the creation of “two states, living side by side in peace and security.”[15] British Prime Minister Tony Blair has also endorsed the two-state solution on numerous occasions. In a statement to the British Parliament in April 2002, Blair stated: “The Israelis must allow a state of Palestine, secure in its own borders. And in exchange the Palestinians and the whole Arab world must recognise and respect Israel's borders.”[16]
  • The achievement of a two-state solution to the conflict has been the expressed policy of the PLO since 1988. At the outset of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in September 1993, both parties agreed to conduct negotiations on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. In his letter to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of 9 September 1993, two days before the signing of the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat committed the PLO to the Middle East peace process and recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”[17] Arafat’s latest statements signal a comprehensive rejection of this basic commitment.


Recent comments from the Palestinian leadership that it may push for a one-state solution to the conflict represent a renunciation of the historic process of reconciliation that began with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. It further departs from what has been a broad international consensus for more than 50 years that the only just solution to the conflict in the Middle East would entail the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. In light of demographic trends, a single bi-national state would in reality be a Palestinian state in which Jews constitute an ever shrinking minority. As such, it is merely a smokescreen for the dismantling of the Jewish state.

Acceptance of the right of the Jewish people to self determination is integral to any political accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians. Only a solution that guarantees, rather than denies, this right, can bring an end to the conflict and achieve lasting peace in the region.

16 February 2004

[1] Ten Years since Oslo: The PLO’s “People’s War” Strategy and Israel’s Inadequate Response” Joel S. Fishman, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. September 2003. http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp503.htm

[2] Seumas Milne, “Too Late for Two States? Part 11”, The Guardian, 24 January 2004

[3] “Palestinian PM’s ‘one state’ call”, BBC News, 9 January 2004 

[4] Marc Perelman, “P.A.: It May Be Too Late for Two States”, The Forward, 25 October 2002

[5] Nicole Gaouette: “Palestinian Statehood Fades”, The Christian Science Monitor, 23 October 2002

[6] Bret Stephens, “Who’s Afraid of a one-state solution?, The Jerusalem Post, 21 January 2004

[7] Tony Judt, “Israel: The Alternative”, New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003

[8] United States Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.org/

[9] For statistics on Palestinian terrorism see http://www.idf.il/daily_statistics/english/5.doc; For information on Palestinian incitement of children see BICOM research

[10] For example: Peace Index, The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, November 2003. See also a Ma'ariv-Gal Hadash poll conducted in May 2003, as quoted by the Associated Press, 30 May 2003

[11] Haaretz, 6 January 2004

[13] UN General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted 29 November, 1947

[16] 10 Downing Street website, Statement by the Prime Minister Tony Blair to Parliament on the situation in the Middle East - 10 April 2002

[17] Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs website