Socialist Worker

Why ‘two states’ is not the solution for Palestine

Issue No. 2012

The massacre at Qana is typical of the malicious brutality with which Israel has conducted all its wars, not just the present one. It poses the perennial question of how Israel can ever coexist peacefully with the rest of the Middle East.

For over 30 years the Palestinian movement, supported by much of the left and progressive opinion worldwide, has had an official policy for addressing this question - the two-state solution.

The idea is that a settlement could be reached between Israel and the Palestinians allowing the two to live side by side peacefully in separate, democratic states. The late Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), justified signing the 1993 Oslo Accord by arguing it was a step towards a two-state solution.

But the experience of the “peace process” since Oslo has produced very clear evidence that the two-state solution cannot work. One reason is the massive imbalance of power between the two sides.

Israel is one of the greatest military powers in the world, backed and subsidised by the US. In contrast the Palestine Authority (PA) is given limited authority over a fragmented territory, and is financially dependent on outside powers such as the European Union that can withdraw their support at whim, as Hamas has discovered.

Israeli policy has worked to perpetuate this imbalance - to keep the PA weak and dependent.

Supporters of a two-state solution argue that this state of affairs is a consequence of the malevolence of Israeli politicians, and maybe also by the incompetence of their Palestinian counterparts. This argument fails to address the reason that the Israeli leadership gives for all the measures that weaken the PA - the need to preserve the security of the Jewish state. This is more than just hypocrisy.

Israel is a settler colonial state - in other words, a state on territory seized from the original inhabitants and occupied by privileged outsiders backed by the Western imperialist powers. All settler states face the problem of what to do with the people whose land they stole.


The best solution - from the settlers’ point of view, of course - is extermination, ideally stretched over several centuries. The US, Canada, and Australia bear witness to the success of this policy.

Another solution is to turn the original inhabitants into the settlers’ labour force. This happened in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya, and Algeria. This has the big disadvantage that sooner or later the dispossessed get organised and take the country back, as they did in all these cases.

The Zionist colonisers drove out millions of Palestinians, most to neighbouring countries. The rest are still subject to Israeli rule, which to differing degrees they resent and resist, with enormous sympathy from the Arab masses.

The result is to leave Israel in a permanent state of insecurity. It lives alongside those it dispossessed, in a state of perpetual war with them.

Israel can’t exterminate the Palestinians - even the Nazis needed the cover provided by the Second World War to attempt the Holocaust. Right wing Israeli politicians advocate expelling the Palestinians to neighbouring states, but this would just increase antagonism with the Arab world.

But Israel can’t make peace with the Palestinians. The only real settlement would be one that allowed the millions of Palestinian refugees to return - but this would destroy the basis of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.

So any Israeli “settlement” with the Palestinians is necessarily phoney. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who embarked on the “peace process”, did so on the cynical assumption that the PLO was an undemocratic organisation that could enforce order on the Palestinians. Hence a dose of real democracy - such as Hamas’s election victory - threatens to blow everything apart.

The only real way out lies in the policy that the PLO abandoned in the mid-1970s - a single secular and democratic Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims live together on the basis of equality. This may seem completely utopian amid the present carnage. But don’t the horrors currently unfolding demand radical solutions?

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Alex Callinicos
Sat 5 Aug 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2012
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