"Everybody knows how this will end," wrote Nahum Barnea, one
of Israel's best-known journalists, in the newspaper Yediot
"There will be a bi-national [state]."
The "two-state solution" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
is dead; long live the "one-state solution".
The two-state solution, promised by the Oslo Accords of 1993,
was the goal of the "peace process" of the past 20 years. It
envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state in the
one-fifth of the former colony of Palestine that did not end
up under Israeli rule after the war of 1948. That Palestinian
mini-state, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would live
alongside Israel in peace, and the long, bitter struggle over
Palestine would end happily.
That Palestinian state is no longer a viable possibility,
mainly because there are now half a million Jewish settlers
living among the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and
former East Jerusalem.
"I do not give up on the two-state solution on ideological
grounds," wrote Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger in
September. "I give up on it because it will not happen."
The greatest triumph of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, has been to make
the two-state solution impossible. Both men pretended to
accept the Oslo Accords in order to ward off foreign pressure
on Israel, but both worked hard and successfully to sabotage
them by more than tripling the number of Jewish settlers in
the West Bank in just 20 years.
Now the job is done, and it is not only Israelis who can read
the writing on the wall. Moderate Palestinians, never all
that enthralled with the prospect of a tiny "independent"
country completely surrounded by the Israeli army, are also
giving up on the two-state idea.
As Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that
negotiated the Oslo Accords, wrote recently: "We must
seriously think about closing the book on the two-state
So the one-state solution is creeping back on to the agenda,
if only tentatively. The present Israeli Government will have
nothing to do with it, since endless, futile talk about an
independent Palestinian state serves Mr Netanyahu's purposes
so well. But one day there will be a different government in
Israel, and the Palestinians will still be there.
What are the odds the one-state solution might then get real
In a sense, the single state already exists: Israel has
controlled the West Bank militarily since the conquest of
1967, and until recently it occupied the Gaza Strip as well.
Almost 40% of Israelis already support a solution that would
simply incorporate the West Bank into Israel permanently.
But what would Israel do with those 2 million extra
Palestinians who would then live within the country's
Combine them with the million and a-half Palestinians in
Israel, the descendants of those who were not driven out in
1948, and there would be 3.5 million Palestinians in a
one-state Israel that included almost all the land west of
the Jordan River.
Add the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who will number
another 2 million in five years' time, and there would be 5.5
million Palestinians in Israel. That would mean there were
almost as many Palestinians in Israel as there are Jews.
That unwelcome prospect is probably why Mr Sharon
unilaterally withdrew all Israeli troops and settlers from
the Gaza Strip and sealed the border in 2005: if there were
ever a one-state solution, he didn't want those extra 2
million Palestinians to be part of it. He did want to keep
the West Bank, on the other hand, "but even without the Gaza
Strip, the one-state solution would produce an Israel whose
population was more than one-third Palestinian".
This is precisely why an increasing number of Palestinians
favour the one-state solution. They have tried guerrilla war
to get their lands and their political rights back, to no
They have tried terrorism, which didn't work either. They
tried negotiation for 20 years, and that didn't work. So
maybe the best tactic would be to change the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an international problem to
a civil rights problem.
So the Palestinians should just accept the permanent
annexation of the West Bank by Israel, argue the one-staters.
Indeed, they should actively seek it. They are already
Israeli subjects, by every objective measure of their
condition. If they become Israeli citizens instead, then the
question of their status becomes a civil rights issue, to be
pursued nonviolently "and perhaps with a greater chance of
That is the logic of the pro-one-state argument among the
Palestinians, and it is flawless if you assume Palestinians
would enjoy full rights of citizenship once the West Bank was
legally part of Israel. But that is rather unlikely, as the
status of Israel's existing Palestinian citizens already
demonstrates. They are much poorer and less influential
politically than their Jewish fellow citizens.
A new public opinion poll in Israel by the Dialog polling
group reveals almost 70% of Israeli Jews would object to
giving West Bank Palestinians the vote even if Israel annexed
the territory they live in. The only alternative is an
apartheid-style state where only the Jewish residents have
rights, but most Israelis seem quite relaxed about that. The
Palestinians are probably heading up another blind alley.
But then, all the alleys are blind.
- Gwynne Dyer is an independent London