Opinion |

The 'Two-state Solution' Only Ever Meant a Big Israel Ruling Over a Palestinian Bantustan. Let It Go

When the Jewish 'hard' left leads the battle for one state, pushing the only political horizon that isn't apartheid, U.S. Jews attack us - for fighting for the same democratic values they prize so highly back home

Jeff Halper
Jeff Halper
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Palestinian girls play at their family's house in Khan Younis, Gaza. March 10, 2015
Palestinian girls play at their family's house in Khan Younis, Gaza. March 10, 2015Credit: רויטרס
Jeff Halper
Jeff Halper

In his Haaretz op-ed (What the 'One-state Solution' Really Means: Israeli-sanctioned Apartheid or Eternal, Bloody Civil War) Eric Yoffie asks: "Are there not sane Israelis - left, right, and especially center - who comprehend the dangers of [a one-state solution]?"

That question could be posed just as well in reverse: What else has to happen before Israelis, left, right and center, finally realize that their government has already deliberately, systematically and effectively eliminated the two-state solution?

Yoffie proposes a false symmetry: a "hard" left and a "hard" right both supporting, de facto or explicitly, a single bi-national state, while a putative future Israeli government will once again embody a "proud, liberal and democratic Jewish homeland," living peacefully alongside its Palestinian neighbor in a two-state solution.

This is a skewered view, to say the least. In fact, every Israeli government since 1967 has failed to live up to those proud liberal values by pursuing an expanded Israel ruling over a truncated Palestinian Bantustan, even if they did it under the guise of a "two-state solution."

Within weeks of the start of the occupation in 1967, the Allon Plan (under Labor prime minister Levi Eshkol) already proposed Israel annexing territory surrounding and isolating the Palestinian population centers.

This plan has guided Israeli settlement policy these past 50 years and is today an irreversible fait accompli. When the Oslo "peace process" began, there were 200,000 settlers (and, yes, I do include East Jerusalem, which is occupied, regardless of what Israel and the Trump Administration claim).

By Oslo’s end in 2000, there were 400,000 settlers in massive "settlement blocs" that fragmented the Palestinian territory into some 70 tiny enclaves of Areas A and B, plus the prison that is Gaza. Today, the settler population approaches 800,000.

A banner supporting the creation of a single state for Israelis and Palestinians: 'If I had to choose between one state and two states, I would choose one state.' Ramallah, West Bank. Feb. 23, 2017Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP

If the two-state solution is gone, it is because of successive "sane" Israelis in government, in particular those of Golda Meir and Ehud Barak, as well as of the Likud, Kadima and the religious right, and the Zionist left, "hard" right, and the always malleable center that put them into office.

Netanyahu and the religious right proclaim the end of two states from the rooftops, while both parties of the Zionist left, Labor and Meretz, have effectively abandoned the struggle for peace, declaring themselves "social democratic" parties concerned primarily with domestic Israeli affairs. Labor leaders, particularly, have for several years explicitly agreed with the Likud that "the time is not ripe for a two-state solution."

If any sector of Israeli society ever genuinely supported the two-state solution, it was the "hard" left - to the left of Meretz - which fought tirelessly for it outside of every government (and let’s be honest, the Palestinian Authority under Arafat and Abbas have also supported it, even when Israeli governments were eating away at it).

One of several proposed flags for the unified state of 'Isratine'Credit: Wikimedia

Who, if not the extraparliamentary left, continually demonstrated against the building of settlements, an enterprise pursued as vigorously by Labor as by the Likud?

When, in 1999, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations, that "There was no [Palestinian] partner for peace," the Israeli Jewish public, including Meretz, Peace Now and the rest of the "Zionist left," abandoned the search for a just peace – but not the "hard" left that has stayed engaged even as the two-state solution has disappeared before our eyes.

But Yoffie is also wrong about how he characterizes what he calls the "hard left's" one-statism. Left groups who acknowledge the death of the two-state solution have not moved to a one-state alternative – at least not yet. Jewish Voice for Peace, which Yoffie demonizes because of its support for BDS, does not actively advocate for such a solution. And the rest of the "hard" left is still wrestling with where to go.

Although many of us still support the two-state solution as a workable, if not just, solution, it cannot mean apartheid. If the "hard" left has indeed, moved to a one-state solution, it is simply because we have had the courage to recognize political reality and the "facts on the ground": The two-state solution died when the settlement enterprise reached a critical mass, when the fragmentation of Palestinian territory rendered a viable and sovereign Palestinian state no longer possible.

We are now left with only one way out. We must transform the single apartheid state Israel has created into a democratic state of equal rights for all its citizens. A democracy – which shouldn’t be a terribly foreign concept to an American like Yoffie, or to Israelis who claim their country is the only democracy in the Middle East.

The "hard" left must now lead the battle for a single, democratic, bi-national state in Israel/Palestine, not because we wanted to, but because it was Yoffie’s "sane" Zionists that left us with this as the only possible option to apartheid. It is the only way to prevent Jews becoming the Afrikaaners of the Middle East, or worse.

A rainbow over Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. January 15, 2018Credit: \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

We want a way out of political Zionism’s dead end, and a return to the cultural Zionism of Ben-Yehuda, Henrietta Szold, Ahad Ha-am, Judah Magnes and Martin Buber that envisioned a Hebrew people living together with their Palestinian neighbors.

This is a challenge that will truly liberate both peoples, a positive project of a new generation of cultural Zionists. We need a state which offers equal rights to all of its citizens – one citizenship, one vote, one parliament – but which constitutionally ensures the right of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to their identities, narratives and institutions.

There is no reason to believe this would lead to "endless and bloody civil war", as Yoffie claims. Israeli Jews would have the right to live anywhere including the settlements; Palestinian refugees can come home; a common civil society would emerge; economically, the country would flourish, supported by two parallel affluent and educated Diasporas, Jewish and Palestinian.

This is the challenge the "hard" left must work to bring to reality. Like it or not, it is all that that the "sane" Zionists touted by Yoffie, together with the "hard" right Zionists that rule us, have left us.

Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN


Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant was killed following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza strip, on Sunday.

Gazans Are Tired of Pointless Wars and Destruction, and Hamas Listens to Them

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, in 2020.

Three Years Later, Israelis Find Out What Trump Really Thought of Netanyahu

German soldier.

The Rival Jewish Spies Who Almost Changed the Course of WWII

Rio. Not all Jewish men wear black hats.

What Does a Jew Look Like? The Brits Don't Seem to Know

Galon. “I’m coming to accomplish a specific mission: to increase Meretz’s strength and ensure that the party will not tread water around the electoral threshold. If Meretz will be large enough, it will be the basis for a Jewish-Arab partnership.” Daniel Tchetchik

'I Have No Illusions About Ending the Occupation, but the Government Needs the Left'

Soldiers using warfare devices made by the Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems.

Russia-Ukraine War Catapults Israeli Arms Industry to Global Stage