The one-state solution has suddenly reappeared in the discourse surrounding the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Harvard recently hosted an entire conference
promoting this solution and the former Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei,
came out on Saturday in support of it.
Though Qurei may have been pressed
by political expediency, not only is this position completely unfeasible in
practice, but it also represents a denial of the very purpose for Israel’s
creation and a misunderstanding of the philosophy behind national
In theory, a one-state solution would create a bi-national
state in Israel giving both Jews and Palestinians equal voting rights, equal
services and equal protections under the law. Upon first glance, this appears to
be a decent, liberal solution to a seemingly intractable problem. Upon greater
examination however, it becomes clear that this solution is nothing but a
Attempting to unite two entirely disparate national movements
would deny self-determination to each of them. The Jews and Palestinians, both,
have their own distinct traditions, customs, beliefs, and most importantly,
national aspirations. The Jewish State of Israel was founded as a home for the
Jews, somewhere they would always be safe, a place where they could have a
national culture that would be uniquely their own, and where they could unite to
shape their own destiny as an independent member of the family of nations.
Palestinians have the same hopes and dreams. In fact, every nation of the world
hopes to achieve these ideals. It is when these aspirations are denied, justly
or unjustly, that conflict erupts.
Herodotus illustrated this concept
over 2,000 years ago in The Histories. In his classic, he discusses how
different peoples tell different stories about themselves, their pasts and their
aspirations for the future. This fundamental truth is really what differentiates
nations from one another. Free people living in a nationless world would still
make associations and groupings with others who share some set of
characteristics. Once formed, these strong national, tribal and familial
sentiments are nearly impossible to dissolve or change.
that, “If someone were to put a proposition before men bidding them choose,
after examination, the best customs in the world, each nation would certainly
select its own,” (The Histories, 3.38.1). This natural propensity of people to
stand by the traditions and culture of their nation would preclude the
possibility of a binational state.
The Palestinians would obviously want
their traditions informing national laws, holidays and education, while the Jews
would fight for their own. Each group would seek to determine the path of this
new state and would end up ceaselessly fighting the other do it. This solution
would basically institutionalize conflict.
The “one-state solution,”
though often shunned by Israelis and Palestinians alike for these very reasons,
has support from an unsavory cast of characters including the late Muammar
Gaddafi, the late Saddam Hussein, and even the British jazz musician Gilad
Each of these has argued that Zionism is a cancer and would, as
the Durban Conference did, equate Zionism with racism. Thus, these individuals
bring to the fore another possible motivation to institute a one-state solution:
the hope that it will extinguish the Zionist movement and erase the Jewishness
of Israel via demographic pressures.
These types of arguments
fundamentally misrepresent the nature of Zionism, yet if we are to come to a
peaceful resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, we must understand the
underlying belief structures of each party.
From the Jewish point of
view, Z i o n i s m began as a struggle for negative freedom.
Herzl, commonly referred to as the founder of Zionism, began his activism on
behalf of the Jewish people as an assimilationist.
He was not a religious
man and believed that Jews should follow the natural flow of history, becoming a
part of whatever society they happen to be in.
He certainly did not
believe in any sort of national unity for the Jewish people. In fact he argued
that through assimilation, even anti-Semitism could be overcome.
the Dreyfus Affair that stripped him of this belief. He realized that even the
most thoroughly assimilated Jew, one whose connection to Judaism was practically
non-existent, could be targeted and destroyed by anti-Semitic forces.
short, shouts of, “à bas les juifs” were what motivated him to pursue a national
identity. He believed that through the creation of their own state, Jews would
finally be able to escape the horrors of persecution. Thus, the purpose of his
form of Zionism was negative freedom: freedom from persecution, from
Yet the Jews would not be able to declare a state until
they ceased defining themselves in opposition to the gentile world around them
and began to strive for positive freedom: the freedom of self-determination, of
self-government, of a culture.
This shift is best illustrated by the
father of the modern state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion. In a 1944 speech to
youth groups in Haifa, he intoned that, “the meaning of the Jewish revolution is
contained in one word – independence! Independence for the Jewish people in its
homeland!” Independence, too, means more than political and economic freedom; it
involves also the spiritual, moral and intellectual realms. In essence, it is
independence in the heart, in sentiment, and in will. It is important to note
that he never said independence “from” anything.
This speech, among the
words and deeds of many other Jewish influentials, is an indication that Zionism
was no longer solely about escaping persecution, but had taken on the role of a
national revival. This change in philosophy was able to give Jews the motivation
to build the national infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of a
Thus, with each successive aliya, there were more schools, more
banks, more government buildings than before. By the time May 14, 1948, rolled
around, the Jews had effectively already created a state in all but
The Palestinian national movement has undergone its own journey,
but today, much of it seems to exist in opposition to Jewish nationalism. It is
still focused on attaining negative freedom to the exclusion of pursuing
But no ideology can long exist only to oppose another.
To achieve an independent Palestinian state, more Fatah politicians should take
up the mantle of Salam Fayyad and work to create the conditions necessary for a
true national renaissance.
Whatever disagreements and conflicts may exist
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, one thing is certain: both groups
have legitimate national aspirations and will have no chance to achieve them if
they are lumped into a bi-national state.
The writer is a student at Yale
University and the president of Yale Friends of Israel.