“One state, two states, the one that both parties like,” US President Donald Trump said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington in mid-February. While the statement left many confused, one movement found it suited its agenda perfectly.
On April 20, some 30 people gathered in an old stone house in the Ein Hod artists village south of Haifa. The occasion: an introductory meeting about the “Two States, One Homeland” movement.
Before the meeting began, two women who were standing next to the coffee machine expressed their frustration.
“Oh, this Trump,” one said.
“So unpredictable... No one knows what he is planning for our region.”
After they introduced themselves, the attendees were asked what frightens them about the idea of having a single, open, shared space from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea for Israelis and Palestinians.
A young guy (named “Guy”) said he was afraid that the Palestinian residents would have no respect for Jewish culture and tradition, and it might harm the Jewish state’s character.
Yaakov said that he was scared of the outcome of such a merger; “The brainwashing that both sides have gone through could lead to deadly clashes,” he said.
But the most common reaction at this discussion was the fear of stagnation. Almost everyone agreed that current situation can’t go on, and that the peace plans that both sides have tried so far are now hopeless.
The essence of the proposed “Two States, One Homeland” plan is establishing a confederation of two sovereign democratic states – Israel and Palestine – based on the June 4, 1967, lines, but with their borders staying open, and with citizens of both states free to live wherever they choose.
That means that Palestinian refugees and their descendants could return to Israel and Palestine on the one hand, and Israeli settlers in the West Bank could stay in their communities and be Israeli citizens and residents of Palestine on the other hand.
The initiative is a result of a meeting between Meron Rappoport, an Israeli journalist from Tel Aviv, and Awni al-Mashni, a Palestinian Fatah activist who was born in the Dehaishe refugee camp and currently lives in Bethlehem, just to the camp’s north. Both gathered small groups of friends around them who supported the one-state idea; later, during a meeting between the two men, they formulated the idea of two states, one homeland.
According to the plan, the two states would have the several joint institutions: a Court for Human Rights; institutions to guarantee a minimum economic safety net for all residents of the land; and an administrative authority for the management and development of the economy, which would include institutions for economic cooperation, coordination of custom duties, movement of workers and goods, labor migration, development of infrastructure, and local and international investment; institutions for cooperation on matters relating to water, environment and minerals; and a joint military protection force.
The initiative includes establishing a compensation mechanism for those on both sides who lost property over the years that is impossible to return.
As for Jerusalem, the proposal sees it as the joint capital of the two states. It will be one, united city, shared and open to the citizens of both states. It is proposed to establish a special municipal regime that will administrate the city jointly and equally between the two peoples, together with representatives of the monotheistic religions and the international community.
It is also suggested that the holy sites be managed jointly by representatives of different religions and the international community, while guaranteeing freedom of worship to members of all faiths.
However, members of the initiative’s management board stress that this plan is not the final product. Negotiations are still taking place within both the Israeli and the Palestinian groups, and also between the two groups. They call on the wider public to join the discussion groups and shape the plan.
Eliaz Cohen, an award winning poet, a publicist and a co-founder of the initiative, says that although it seems farfetched, it is the only one that addresses the core issues of the conflict, and the only one that brings hope with it.
“We are leaving behind here the language that was used by most Israelis and ‘peace supporters’ in the past 25 years,” says Cohen. “Things like ‘divorcing’ from the Palestinians or ‘building the highest wall between us and them are unacceptable if you want to achieve sustainable peace.
“Our most basic guideline here is establishing two states – with independent legal systems, economies and police forces – [on the two sides] of the Green Line, with no land swaps at all. With that, we are talking about the idea of open borders.
“We have realized that this homeland, of both peoples, cannot be divided,” stresses Cohen.
“This derives from the basic understanding of the value of the homeland for both peoples,” he adds. “For example, we often see in various news articles a little Palestinian kid draw the map of Palestine, and then we are terrified and call it incitement. But this is ridiculous, because who are we kidding? This is Palestine, and an Israeli kid would draw the same map if we would ask him to draw the map of Israel, as we all learned to draw in second grade.”
Cohen said that both sides act the same when they see that the other assigns to itself rights over the whole land.
“People of both sides have the secret desire to wake up in the morning and see that the other side disappeared. In our movement we are working against this nonsensical fantasy.”
Cohen stresses that alongside the mutual recognition of the value of the land, the most important thing is consent.
No side will be the stronger in this federation and no coercion will be imposed by one state on the other.
When speaking about defense of the one homeland, Cohen clarifies that at least in the first stages, the IDF will remain the dominant protector.
“We will start with that, and as time pass we will move in the direction of merging the two nations in the protecting force.
“Our proposal’s security chapter was examined by the INSS [Institute for National Security Studies],” he adds.
“It has determined that the parameters we propose are the most suitable for the region.”
When asked about the security implications of opening the borders, Cohen says he is convinced this will dissuade potential terrorists from carrying out attacks. “I believe that people from, let’s say Jenin, will be happy to stabilize the situation there and enjoy the benefits of this new homeostasis that will be formed here,” he says. “They do not have the same motivation that they have Gaza, in which all the aid they get is directed at building more attack tunnels instead of building clinics.” He then adds that for now, the Gaza Strip will be not included in any solution, although it is seen as a part of the Eretz Israel/Palestine homeland. “Once we will have partners there... it could also be Hamas, by the way...
we are not ruling out anyone.”
Cohen then addresses the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and Palestine. “The migration of residents to the different states will be gradual and approved by one of the joint administrative branches,” he says. He dismisses claims made by Palestinians that gradual processes benefit only the Israeli side. “Every citizen of both states will have the full right to live wherever he wishes throughout the shared homeland,” he stresses.
“Every resident will be granted 100% of the rights that residents [of the two states] are entitled to.”
This model, according to Cohen, would protect both states from the “demographic threat.”
“Disconnecting citizenship from residency will preserve the sovereignty of Israel and Palestine, and will allow them to keep their own cultural DNAs and in the meanwhile address and solve one of the most important core issues of the conflict,” he says. “But no matter what, under our plan no one will be displaced. One of our fundamental beliefs is that ‘You can’t fix one injustice with another.’” As for support from the political sphere, Cohen says that by intention the initiative wants to portray itself as a grassroots movement. “We do not want to be like other initiatives that take politicians abroad to nice hotels,” he says.
“That was proven as ineffective in the past. We do not want any political sponsors either. We want this to be an initiative that comes from the people.”
Cohen says that this plan cannot be labeled as Left or Right. He himself is a settler from Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. “I was raised in a community that thought that we owned the land,” he says. “But the understanding that it isn’t ‘the Land of Israel to the people of Israel,’ but rather ‘the people of Israel to the Land of Israel’ made me lose the sense of ownership of the land, and then I started looking for solutions that will help keep my people in its historic homeland in the most just way.
“While everyone is talking, and some fear the ‘price of peace,’ we are emphasizing the benefits of peace,” Cohen concludes. “We are not talking about ‘painful concessions’ or that awful phrase ‘the victims of peace.’ Ahead of Trump’s visit to Israel on Monday, we really think that we are offering here ‘the perfect deal’ that provides a win-win situation for both sides.”