The Differences between a One-State and Two-State Solution in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Just a few short years ago in 2007, President Bush held the well-publicized and often discussed Annapolis Conference. With Palestinian and Israeli leaders present, the Annapolis Conference was intended to reinvigorate Middle East peace talks regarding the longstanding and seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bush and other leaders of the free world were hopeful that progress would be made towards a two-state policy solution in Israel. In the end, however, the Annapolis Conference yielded little more than rhetoric about the hope and possibility of continued negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Less than a year later, in fact, it had become disappointingly evident that the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was all but impossible. Since 2007, policymakers have looked for ways to resurrect political discourse concerning potential solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the most part, the debate over the merits and feasibility of one-state and two-state solutions has taken center stage in most political and academic discourse. As an analysis of the differences between these two proposed solutions reveals, however, the world is not likely to witness a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime in the near future.

The Two-State Solution

As the expression "two-state solution" implies, this theoretical approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls for the establishment of two independent, autonomous states - respectively, one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinians. Geographically speaking, the two-state solution would establish the independent Palestinian state adjacent to Israel - specifically, west of the Jordan River (Marrar 69). Unlike the one-state solution which is not highly popular among Israelis or Palestinians, the two-state solution has received some vocal, if only rhetorical, politicized support. In fact, whereas the one-state proposal envisages Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in a peaceful democratic nation, the two-state proposal has garnered support in some academic and political circles for its more progressive redress of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many see the two-state solution as a significant step towards the democratization of the Middle East. Implementation of the two-state system would, at least in theory, create free and open societies with full diplomatic relations for both the Jewish people and the Palestinians – an absolute first in history.

The One-State Solution

As a proposed approach for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the one-state solution calls for a single, unitary state in Israel with Israelis and Palestinians being granted full citizenship (Joffe). Thereby, the one-state solution advances a civil state of equality of all people. For proponents of the one-state solution, one of the leading arguments (i.e., justifications) for this solution is that conditions across Israel and the West Bank currently reflect the same demographics that would exist in a future single Israeli-Palestinian state. So, unlike the two-state solution which would require relocation of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis, the one-state solution could basically leave current demographic distributions exactly as they currently are. The only major changes in Israel would concern the way that the country is governed - i.e., by means of a central federal government or similar system (Joffe).

Some Basic Differences between the Two-State and One-State Solutions

As a matter of highlighting some of the fundamental differences of the two-state and one-state proposals, the Palestinians have long hoped for the establishment of their own independent state. For the Jewish people, similar hopes and ambitions were held for centuries until the state of Israel was established following World War II in 1948 (Sufian and Levine 67). In some ways, the two-state solution provides a way for both Palestinians and Israelis to realize the hope of having an independent state. In fact, by basically partitioning the current land of Israel, the two-state proposal allows each of the two ethnic groups to stake claim to their own respective political autonomy and self-rule. By contrast, the one-state proposal, as described in greater detail below, affords neither ethnic group a separate state. Thus, it can be said that the two-state proposal comports more closely with the long-held Palestinian dream of being a free people within their own national borders. At the same time, the two-state solution does not deprive the Israelis entirely of their own claims to a free and independent ethnic nation –something that the one-state solution would effectively subvert.

As some critics of the two-state solution commonly point out, the two-state solution would require a dramatic demographic change in Israel. Many Palestinians and Jewish citizens alike would have to be relocated within the confines of their new, respective nations. Yet, with a one-state solution, none of this would necessary. In fact, for the most part, Palestinians and Jewish citizens could stay precisely where they are now. Therefore, in contrast to the two-state solution, it can be said that the one-state solution is more reflective of the current circumstances in Israel – specifically in terms of Israelis and Palestinians who already live in a shared geographic space (Lerner 302). It should be noted, however, that a one-state solution would certainly be disappointing to the Palestinian people who are dreaming about their ultimate independence and self-rule. For the Israelis, on the other hand, a one-state solution might be slightly more palatable than a two-state solution. As a case in point, more and more Palestinian settlers have moved into the West Bank area in recent years. Yet, at the same time, an upswing in Israeli violence against Palestinian settlers has taken place as a statement for intolerance of Palestinian independence (Zanotti 8). This is a sure indicator that Israeli leaders and citizens are not highly pleased about the prospect of giving up the West Bank in a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Two-State Solution

In a recent article published by the Belfer Center, Harvard University, researchers Robert and Renee Belfer (2010) describe the two-state solution as being of "compelling interest to the United States...[offering] the only realistic prospect for lasting peace and attainable justice for Israelis and Palestinians" (Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace). In a type of cost/benefit analysis, the authors advance three key benefits of the two-state solution which they, in effect, claim cannot be supported with a one-state solution. First of all, the researchers state that the grievances "that feed radical extremism throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds" would be eliminated with a two-state solution (Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace). This is a familiar argument, of course - an argument that basically points the finger at the United States with its longstanding foreign policy position in support of Israel. As the researchers obviously see it, if a two-state solution is implemented, the United States would no longer need to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Radical Muslims would, therefore, be able to resolve their discontent with the American foreign policy. Thereby, a more peaceful world order would be advanced for everyone – again, at least in theory.

By contrast, the same could not be said very easily about a one-state solution. With a one-state solution, Palestinians and Jews would be living side-by-side in what would predictably result in the same type of ethnic conflict and intolerance witnessed since the end of World War II in the land of Israel. The ethnically conflicted Israeli-Palestinian state would fuel Arab and Muslim discontent throughout the Middle East. In the end, the one-state solution would have changed absolutely nothing as far as settling grievances with radical Muslims and terrorist groups. The one-state solution might even serve to exacerbate matters by raising radical Muslim discontent to new levels.

A Psycho-Social Analysis

On a psycho-social dimension, Belfer and Belfer see the two-state solution as vastly advantageous by comparison to the one-state solution. For decades, the Palestinians have struggled to establish a sense of self-determination and control with respect to their ultimate fate and destiny. It is clear, in this way, that the researchers see the basic struggle as a matter of the marginalization of the Palestinians. However, as they contend, the two-state solution would end "more than four decades of occupation" while opening the door for the Palestinian people to fulfill their dream of controlling their own future (Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace). However, with a one-state solution, such an outcome is not remotely possible as Palestinians would be required to share the state with their Israeli adversaries – again, not the most likely situation for lasting peace.

Israelis get a Facelift in the International Arena

Finally, the same two researchers describe the third main benefit of a two-state solution from the vantage point of the Israelis. As the authors explain, in the global arena of international politics and public perceptions, the Israelis have long been viewed quite pejoratively as an "occupying power," (Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace). Most problematically, the negative connotations of having been perceived as an occupying power have represented a major barrier to political discourse and the establishment of a peaceful and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the proposed two-state solution, however, Israel would have the opportunity to rectify its international reputation. In fact, a two-state solution would put an entirely new face on Israel in the international arena with Arab states viewing Israeli compliance as a powerful gesture of goodwill and respect towards Arabs and Muslims. As a result, the advancement of "lasting peace with the entire Arab world" would become a far more realistic possibility for the Israeli people and the world (Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace). Thus, the two-state solution could represent an international relations boon for Israel. The one-state solution, on the other hand, might very well usher in a new era of Israel being perceived as nothing more than a militant and violent occupying power.

A Main Challenge/Obstacle to the One-State Solution

One of the main challenges of the one-state solution concerns, of course, the longstanding religious and ideological conflicts. The one-state solution would grant full rights to all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, or any other artificial source of division amongst the current population (Dana). While such a solution would obviously further the fundamental tenets of democracy (such as equality for all), some less than optimistic critics do not believe that Israelis and Palestinians are ready to bury the proverbial hatchet. In this respect, part of the obvious and fundamental problem with the one-state solution concerns the deeply religious aspect of Israeli and Palestinian identity. Traditionally, each culture has held strongly to the belief that the land currently known as Israel was given to them by divine mandate. Therefore, the idea of having to share the land of Israel with one another is construed as an insult to the ethnic identities of these groups. It could even be said that the one-state solution represents an existential threat to many Jews and Palestinians. Thus, beneath the political veneer of the one-state solution, it is most likely that both Israelis and Palestinians would continue to harbor deep-held convictions that the land belongs rightfully, and divinely, to them. With these facts in mind, at least the two-state solution would offer Palestinians and Jews some semblance of what they believe is their rightful claim to the land. With the one-state solution, however, a long term and sustainable solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict is virtually inconceivable. Neither ethnic group would probably ever accept the presence of the other on equal political grounds.

One-State Solution: Political Threat to Israel

Religious interests aside, Israelis generally dislike the idea of a one-state solution because it poses a major political threat. Under the current system, Israelis are the majority rulers of the nation. The one-state solution proposes, however, that the new governance system would be more democratic, giving equal power to the Palestinians. To complicate matters, demographic trend analysis and projections predict that Palestinians will outnumber Israelis by the year 2020, with some even claiming that Palestinians already outnumber Israelis in the Occupied Gaza Strip, Occupied East Jerusalem, and the rest of the Occupied West Bank - specifically, 5.3 million Palestinians compared to 5.2 million Jews (Brown, Abunimah and Parry).

A Question of Feasibility of the Proposed Solutions

Having established some fundamental differences and perspectives on the one-state and two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, it becomes possible to discuss and examine the varying feasibility and practicality of the two proposed solutions. Although ultimately, neither proposal is likely to be implemented anytime soon, it would appear that the one-state solution is far more removed from potential reality. Leaders at the very top of the Israeli state are quite vehement about their opposition to the one-state proposal. For example, during a press interview, November 7, 2009, President Shimon Peres was nothing short of obstinate in expressing his views about a one-state solution, saying, “Those who reject the two-state solution must not bring a one-state solution. They will instead bring one war, not one state" (El-Hasan 224-225). Other politicians and influential Israelis express similar sentiments about a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias responded to the prospect of a one-state solution by suggesting that “Jews and Israeli-Arabs should not live together in the same neighborhood” (El-Hasan 224). Public outcry has been equally as vehement against any suggestion of a one-state system. In fact, any mention of a one-state nation elicits "general public outrage and anger at the idea that concerns for democracy should be more important than the idea of preserving Israel as a Jewish entity" (Hirsch and Cesana 44). Conclusively, no amount of political discourse or negotiation is going to change the minds of the Israelis about the one-state solution. The one-state solution, simply put, is a lame duck proposal that has no hope of ever getting off the ground.

One-State Solution through the Eyes of Muslim Radicals

On the other side of the conflict, there is perhaps even less hope for the one-state solution. Politically speaking, Palestinians are strongly influenced by the radical right leaders of the Muslim world. Palestinians have long, and perhaps desperately, resorted to the support of known terrorist organizations like Hamas (Effarah 4). Within the radical Muslim enclaves of the Middle East, the idea of a one-state compromise with the Israelis would be unacceptable, even cause for increased conflict and violence. A one-state compromise would be interpreted, in fact, as an egregious violation of the most sacred of Allah’s promises to the Muslim people. Thus, just as the Jewish fundamentalists could never accept a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinians would be equally obstinate and opposed to this perceived blasphemy of sorts. Summarily, in this respect, it can be said that the one-state solution would far less likely than the two-state proposal in advancing peace and accord in Israel or the Middle East.

The Logistical and Demographic Infeasibility of the Two-State Solution

While the two-state solution would not appear to evoke the same extreme religious objections as the one-state solution, it is far less feasible from a logistical and demographic point of view. In fact, as one researcher claims, the premise for all present diplomacy for the two-state solution has “become impossible” (Tilley, n.p.). While proponents of the two-state solution might take umbrage to this comment, occurrences in Israel over the past 20 years make it clear why a two-state solution is increasingly infeasible. Foremost, year after year, the Israelis have incrementally taken land away from the Palestinians. At this time, the occupancy of Palestinians has, therefore, become far too compressed and isolated to constitute a legitimate and functional state. In other words, by obvious design and intent of the Israeli government, “the territorial basis for a viable Palestinian state no longer exists” (Tilley, n.p.). By contrast, the demographic and logistical requirements of a one-state solution are already in place as more than 10 million Jews and Palestinians live, virtually, side-by-side in Israel today.


As the discussion has made evident, the differences between a one-state and two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reveal that the world is not likely to witness a resolution anytime in the near future. As the expression "two-state solution" implies, this theoretical approach to resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict calls for the establishment of two independent, autonomous states - respectively, one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinians. The one-state solution calls for a single, unitary state with Israelis and Palestinians being granted full citizenship. Thereby, the one-state solution advances a civil state of equality for all people. As a leading argument for this solution, the conditions across Israel and the West Bank currently reflect the same demographics that would exist in a future single Israeli-Palestinian state. It would seem that the only thing standing in the way of peace in Israel, therefore, is the formal creation of the Israeli-Palestinian state. Yet, the one-state solution is certainly perceived by both camps as a threat to their basic ethnic identities which are deeply rooted in religious convictions and beliefs. While the two-state solution would not appear to evoke the same extreme religious objections as the one-state solution, it is far less feasible from a logistical and demographic point of view. The two-state solution is also very unappealing to the Israelis who would stand to lose land that they currently hold and consider their own by divine command. In sum, the one-state and two-state solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are both infeasible for many intractable reasons. Continued political discussion and negotiation according to either of these theoretical formats amount to little more than exercises in futility for everyone.

While some politicians have grown entirely cynical about the prospects of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even saying the world has reached a point of “no return,” perhaps a more tempered perspective would recognize that, as a matter of existing conditions, Israelis and Palestinians already live in a one-state environment (Hirsch and Cesana). Fundamentalist dreams of a Jewish theocracy are a real obstacle to a one-state democracy. And even further, the radical Muslim core of the Palestinians will never acquiesce to political integration and compromise with the Jews. While there will also never be a policy proposal and/or implementation that can change these immutable facts, there is yet some hope that the continued advancement of democracy in the world and the Middle East could spill over into Israel. This might not be appealing to those who want a more immediate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, as history shows, the voices of democracy and freedom have a way of winning out in the long term.

Works Cited

Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace. Israel and Palestine: Two States for Two Peoples—If Not Now, When? New York: Report for Foreign Policy Association, March 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Brown, Michael F., Ali Abunimah and Nigel Parry. "EI EXCLUSIVE: Palestinian population exceeds Jewish population says U.S. government" The Electronic Intifada. 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Dana, Joseph. “A one-state solution from the past will not solve the Israel problem.” The National. 13 Oct 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Effarah, Jamil. Think Palestine to Unlock U.S.-Israelis & Arabs Conflicts. Bloomington: AuthorHouse. 2007. Print.

El-Hasan, Hasan Afif. Israel or Palestine? Is the Two-state Solution Already Dead?: A Political and Military History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. New York: Algora Publishing. 2010. Print.

Hirsch, Yoni, and Shlomo Cesana. "Kerry's peace plan-1967 borders, no right of return." Israel Hayom. 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

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