32. Israel/Palestine: Are There Other Models?

Both the two-state and one-state solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been dismissed as unrealistic. The former seems to have been overtaken by Israeli expansion, and the latter assumes a degree of cooperation that so far neither side has exhibited (see Perspective 9). So are there other alternatives to be explored?

Yes, of course. Creative thinking can design models that in theory combine the self-determination of two states with the cooperation necessary for coexistence in close quarters. The problem is that these "in-between" models are as likely to combine the shortcomings of two-state and one-state solutions.

Take, for example, the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation. In the most convincing version, confederation would begin with two states, giving each side the basic self-determination it demands. There would be some kind of "federative structure" that would address problems neither could solve alone. In addition, Jews and Arabs could live anywhere in the combined territory, remaining citizens of their own state but thus resolving the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Any "federative structure," however, simply raises the same problems that a one-state solution presents: getting two parties in intense conflict, who have trouble agreeing on terms of divorce, to agree on common policies over a range of sensitive issues. For example, what will the immigration policy be? Whose "right of return" will be honored?

The answer to that particular question presumably lies in the second feature of the confederation: the right of Jews and Arabs to live in either of the two states. If the federative features can't be achieved, then we return essentially to the two-state model with the addition of free movement between the two states.

So if the right to live anywhere is the main difference, and otherwise the two nations (most sensibly) retain their separate identities, then this basically replicates the problems of getting to a two-state outcome but adds one more, quite contentious, problem to the mix.

Does anyone imagine that Israel would open its doors to almost six million Palestinian refugees? Or that a Palestinian state would allow unlimited expansion of existing Jewish settlements? This has the elements of a demographic war that would make bloody Kansas of the 1850s look like child’s play.

At this point it's necessary to insert "the political issue": how to get there. There is nothing wrong, really, with any of the models. If Israelis and Palestinians could agree on how to share power in one state, that would be great. If they could agree on separation with free movement but without fear of demographic submersion, that would be great. Two fully independent states, at peace with each other, would be great. "Getting there" is what it’s all about.

In this regard, the only framework that has come at all close to mutual acceptance is the idea of national self-determination for each nation in its own state. It has at times commanded a majority on both sides, especially during periods when it seemed within reach. It may yet do so again.

If the advocates of other models can mobilize equivalent support beyond the fringes of both communities, their solutions should be on the agenda. But in the meantime, problematic or not, a two-state scenario remains the only viable alternative to a dismal one-state reality extended far into the future.