Peace in Palestine through territorial partition is a doomed
fantasy and the time has come to discard it. While it may
once have worked on paper, in practice the Israeli state
has succeeded, through the relentless colonization of the
Occupied Territories and lately its grotesque separation
barrier, in its long-standing goal of rendering any workable
While Israel was conceived as a state for Jews, Edward Said
explained in 1999, the "effort to separate (Israelis
and Palestinians) has occurred simultaneously and paradoxically
with the effort to take more and more land, which has in
turn meant that Israel has acquired more and more Palestinians."
The result is that Israel can in the long run only remain
a "Jewish state" through apartheid or, as some
Israeli Cabinet ministers demand, ethnic cleansing.
Armed Palestinian resistance has rendered the colonization
effort extremely costly to Israel, but has been unable to
stop or reverse it. The "road map" was the final
test of whether a two-state solution could be realized through
peaceful means. The refusal of the US to exert any pressure
on Israel, despite an unprecedented 51-day cease-fire by
all Palestinian factions, leaves no doubt that a US administration,
no matter how determined its rhetoric, cannot in good faith
work toward such a solution. There is no other coalition
of countries that is ready, willing and able to act as a
counterweight to the US.
Recognizing years ago the implications of the intertwined
population and complex geography that Israeli colonization
has created, Said wrote that "the question is not how
to devise means for persisting in trying to separate,"
Israelis and Palestinians, "but to see whether it is
possible for them to live together as fairly and peacefully
as possible." Said believed that the way to achieve
this is in a single state.
While Said's logic and vision were irresistible, the strongest
counterargument was the pragmatic one: that something like
peace could be most quickly achieved through ending the
occupation and establishing a state for Palestinians in
East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, an international
consensus and framework of international law contemplating
this outcome had been painstakingly built over three decades.
To discard it, many Palestinians feared, would have been
to take a leap into the unknown.
But it is inescapable now that what already exists is in
effect one state: Israel, in which half the population --
the Palestinians -- have second-class rights or no rights
at all, not even citizenship.
The insistence on partition, not on one state, is increasingly
a delusional deviation from this reality. I want to be clear
that my belief that the two-state solution is unachievable
derives not from an analysis that the status quo of settlement
and occupation is irreversible, since anything built by
humans can conceivably be dismantled by them, but that the
political dynamic that has created the present situation
is irreversible within the current framework.
The only way to rob the Israeli colonization project of
its raison d'etre is not to continue to throw ourselves
into the path of a superior force, or to continue to plead
with the United States, but to render the motive of territorial
conquest irrelevant. In one state, all people will be able
to live wherever they want, provided they obtain their homes
legally on the same basis as everyone else, not through
force and land theft. In other words, we have to break the
link between sovereignty, ethnicity and geography within
It is the moment, therefore, for us to declare the era of
partition over and commit to a moral, just and realisable
vision in which Israelis and Palestinians build a future
as partners in a single state which guarantees freedom,
equality and cultural self-determination to all its citizens.
Refusing to make this choice now means effectively agreeing
to the endless bloodshed and extremism offered by Israel's
political-military establishment and Hamas.
The path to one state contains obstacles, the greatest being
Jewish Israelis' desire to maintain the power and privileges
they enjoy today. But whatever resources they possess, ideological
opponents of one state will suffer from an insurmountable
weakness: They will be arguing against the most basic and
deep-rooted principles of democracy -- "one person,
one vote" and equality before the law.
It will take enormous efforts to convince a majority of
Israelis that the security and legitimacy they will never
achieve through conquest and repression can be achieved
by merging their political future with that of the Palestinians.
I am convinced, however, that for most Israelis, resistance
to this concept will not stem from an ideological commitment
to a status quo in which they are privileged and others
oppressed, but will arise from simple fear of discarding
today's certainties, no matter how dismal. To get them to
do so, they must be presented with a convincing alternative.
Even without such a campaign, several prominent Israelis
have recently declared their support for one state. This
is a hopeful development.
We should be under no illusion that seeking a one-state
solution is a short-cut to peace. On the contrary, we need
to prepare for years of sustained political struggle. But
at least this path offers an alternative to violence combined
with the prospect that real peace can be achieved. Persisting
along the present path offers hope of neither.
Although the goal of a single, democratic and secular state
was long the central platform of the Palestinian national
movement, until it was abandoned in the late 1980s, Palestinian
leaders made no serious effort to convince Israelis, or
for that matter ordinary Palestinians, that they were not
simply proposing to replace Israeli with Palestinian domination.
The burden to persuade Israelis lies largely with Palestinians,
who while demanding equal rights and an end to the Jewish
Israeli monopoly on power, must hold out a future in which
the two communities express their identities as equals rooted
by right and history in the same land.
This is undoubtedly an unfair burden, but it is a fact that
oppressed groups must often show their oppressors a way
out of the tunnel they have dug. This was true in South
Africa, where even in the darkest days of apartheid, the
African National Congress under Nelson Mandela offered white
South Africans a future of reconciliation, not revenge.
As in South Africa, a truth and reconciliation process can
help both peoples overcome the pain of the past even as
they build a just future together.
Israeli and Palestinian supporters of a one-state solution
must build a new movement. This partnership must work to
translate the vast international sympathy for the Palestinian
cause into active support for the transformation -- with
international assistance and guarantees -- of Israel and
the Occupied Territories into a democracy for all its inhabitants.
It must be a movement that builds political and moral power
through non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, and
mobilizes the widest possible base. Only through such a
movement, I am convinced, shall we create peace in our lifetimes.