On July 12, 2009, Mada al-Carmel and the Ibn Khaldoun Association co-hosted an academic conference entitled, “Has the Two-state Solution Collapsed? Discussions on the Idea of One State.” The one-day conference was held at al-Maidan theatre in Haifa.
The first session was devoted to the question, “Why One State?” and included contributions from Drs. As'ad Ghanem (Haifa University and Ibn Khaldun) and Meron Benvenisti (author, journalist, and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem). This session dealt with many questions on the one-state idea, and the evolution of this idea in light of constant political changes on the Palestinian, Arab, and global levels, the current political impasse, the need to think of a way out of the current crisis which could preserve the political status of the two parties, and the need to ensure a just and moral solution. Meron Benvenisti proposed a modification to his theory on “the state of no return” about the stability of the status quo in historic Palestine. He said that the current situation is that a binational state already exists in the country, and the notion of separating the Palestinian and Israeli communities is artificial. Benvenisti added that, in his view, the one-state solution is not an ideological proposition; it is a description of the status quo, and we must work within its framework in order to create a better reality for everyone.
In the second session, Professor Leila Farsakh (University of Massachusetts-Boston) reviewed the history and development of the “state concept” in contemporary Palestinian political thought and touched on the birth of the one state idea. Farsakh remarked that in 1969, the Palestinian leadership’s attitude towards establishing an independent Palestinian political entity changed, due to a proposal from the Fatah movement adopted by the Palestinian National Council in 1971. She said that this was important because it represented a transformation of the Palestinian issue from a humanitarian issue that had been reduced to a refugee problem into a popular cause, and from a humanitarian demand to a political one. Professor Farsakh also alluded to the role that this political shift played in the evolution of Palestinian decisionmaking independent of the influence of surrounding Arab states.
This also resulted in the beginnings of building the State’s institutions before its establishment. Farsakh added that the Oslo Agreements resulted in the idea of the independent Palestinian State waning as eight Bantustans governed by military checkpoints emerged. In her opinion, in 2001, with the failure of the two-state solution, the idea of one state began to re-emerge. She ended her presentation by saying that the Palestinian issue has currently reached a dead end and is in dire straits, which makes it necessary to develop the one-state option.
In his presentation, Dr. Dan Bavli (University of Haifa) said that so far the two sides have not seriously discussed the idea of a shared life, and neither side has proposed a solution to the conflict based on equality and a common life. He then reviewed the one-state idea in Zionist thought. Bavli confirmed the impossibility of realizing the Jewish state idea, especially in light of the demographic situation and the impossibility of separation between the two peoples. Bavli called for establishing joint Arab-Jewish work teams to advance the idea of a “state of all its citizens” and to convince the two sides of its importance and feasibility. He proposed that each side be granted veto power on crucial issues, work on a just distribution of resources between the two sides, and ensure the right of return for both peoples. Hazem Qawasmi, an independent Palestinian academic, who participated in this session, reviewed his own experience, saying that he had worked on marketing the idea of two states for fifteen years, until in 2000 he became convinced of its impossibility and of the need to adopt the one-state solution. He stressed that the one state solution is now the only one that responds to the human needs of both parties.
To open the third session, Professor Nadim Rouhana (Tufts University and Mada al-Carmel), remarked that it was wrong to advance the one-state idea merely as a tactic to pressure Israel to accept the two-state solution. He stressed that now, a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that relies on partition cannot be a just one. The partition resolution was based on the appropriation of part of Palestine, exceptionally granting it to the Zionist movement. UN general assembly Resolution 181 was based on a premise that there existed in Palestine a national conflict between two movements that represented two peoples, each of whom had equal and parallel rights. Even as a national movement, in practice, the Zionist movement is fundamentally a colonial movement.
Rouhana asserted that in his view, the central question is: How can we reach a solution that attains justice for the Palestinian refugees and equality for the two peoples The Israeli Jewish people and the Palestinian people? It is clear that the two-state solution does not guarantee justice.
Professor Oren Yiftachel (Ben Gurion University) claimed that the vision of one state is not a political vision, but rather a moral and ideal one. He called for consideration of the confederate model as a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, noting the dearth of contemporary national and ethnic conflicts that ended with a one-state solution. Yiftachel also pointed out that the question on the table is the creation of a Palestinian state, not the actual establishment of Israel, which already exists. Yiftachel elaborated upon his opposition to the one-state solution and concluded by saying that the rational political solution is a confederation between two states on the basis of resolution 181, with some modification.
The last speaker was Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin (Ben Gurion University). He called for binationalism as an identity and intellectual framework. Raz-Krakotzkin said that the concept of two states constitutes an instrument for the assault on the Palestinian people, and is a model to exclude the Palestinians inside Israel. Therefore, it is necessary to combat this idea and adhere to the “binational” idea that is associated with the one-state solution and which has the potential to ensure civil and national justice and equality. Krakotzkin finished by saying: “Israel was established on the principle of denying Palestinian nationalism, while the idea of binationalism stresses Palestinian nationalism.”