November 20, 2023
From Socialist Worker (UK)

Palestinian author Ghada Karmi

Ghada Karmi, author of One State (Picture: Flickr/ PalFest/ Raouf Haj Yihya)

What’s wrong with the two-state solution, with a Jewish state and a Palestinian state sharing the space?

The first thing is that it hasn’t happened. It’s been on the table for several decades and absolutely nothing has come of it. Why not? Why did nothing happen? There are two issues here. Where geographically is this Palestinian state supposed to be?

If you look at the map, you will immediately see that the territory of the West Bank is pockmarked by Jewish settlements everywhere. So, without an undertaking from Israel and its supporters that these settlements will be removed, leaving the territory clear, then logistically it can’t be done. That’s not going to take place.

Even if it were possible for all those settlements to be withdrawn, it still is no good because what is proposed is inequitable. It says that a fifth of the original Palestine should go to the Palestinian people and Israel retains four-fifths. The fifth of the territory—the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem together—is apparently enough for 7.5 million Palestinians while 7 million Jewish Israelis take the other 80 percent.

It’s completely unfair, that’s not justice. And that’s without even counting the five to six million refugees who are currently in United Nations refugee camps who are also part of the Palestinian people. Then there are two or three million people like me, who were driven out and also have a right to a homeland.

The two-state solution says, all you Palestinians are supposed to cram into that tiny space. And if you can’t all be fitted there, tough luck. This is why the two-state solution is a non-starter and that’s why it’s never got anywhere.

You call for a democratic and secular state on the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. How would this work?

In a secular, democratic state, citizens would have rights not derived from membership of an ethnic or religious group. They would be equal before the law as individuals and not as groups, irrespective of race or religion.

Such an arrangement would be useful in bypassing the difficulty of defining what in fact constitutes the Israeli Jewish community. It is not homogenous, indeed how could it be, since it included people from places as culturally diverse as Morocco, Ethiopia and the US, as well as a good number of Jews from Russia? 

Thus, the secular state would reflect more closely the multicultural reality on the ground and help create a society into which Palestinians would fit more naturally as part of a cultural mosaic.

It would also conform more closely to a tradition long familiar to Arab and Islamic societies, that of pluralism, interaction and tolerance towards different ethnicities and faiths in their midst. This had been true, not only of the Islamic Empire at its zenith, but also in more recent times.

Jews, fleeing persecution in Spain in the 15th century, found refuge and prospered in the lands of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. And in our own time religious minorities, even under the totalitarian regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Alawites in Syria, enjoyed equality with the rest.

Palestinian society, before the mass immigration of European Jews imposed their exclusivist creed of Zionism, had been a successful composite of Muslims, Christians and Jews—as well as Armenians, Circassians, Europeans and others. In a secular state, religious practice and social customs are confined to the private sphere and do not inform state policy.

Many Arabs feared that “secular” meant “atheist” and resisted this solution on that basis. But in fact it referred to nothing more than the separation of church and state. A secular democracy helps people develop a common national identity through a sense of belonging to each other and to the state.

In this environment, the supremacist ideas, discrimination on ethnic or racial lines, and the sense of exclusive ownership of the whole land would be discouraged and begin to fade, even if very gradually. In time, the hope is that a new identity, developed because of this sharing, would permanently replace the previous ethnic or other divisive definitions. Such aims would of course directly conflict with Zionism and spell its end.

One of the objections would be, this all sounds lovely. But won’t there be a bloodbath if such a state existed?

There is no doubt that as a solution, creates an enormous challenge to entrenched positions and established ideas about how the conflict should be solved. The combination of the cultural/ psychological dependence of Jews worldwide on the idea of Israel and the Western addiction to supporting this dependence are formidable obstacles.

The end of the Jewish state inherent in the creation of a unitary Israel-Palestine is unthinkable in a context of long-standing Israeli denial of its true history—how it came into being, the resulting injustice done to the Palestinians and the indifference to their sufferings over most of the last century.

That denial and the freedom from retribution allowed to Israel has enabled several generations of Israeli Jews to enjoy the privileges of a settler colonialist enterprise without bearing the costs. This, and the anti-Arab racism that was an integral part of keeping the Israeli project viable, would be difficult to give up. 

Discrimination in favour of Jews was structured into the very fabric of the Jewish state and its institutions. Nobody is suggesting that attaining what we might call a one-state endpoint—because I can’t really call it a solution—to this dreadful conflict will be smooth and everybody will suddenly start to love each other.

But you must look at where we are now. We have a situation on the ground that no Indigenous people could ever have wanted. We have a settler colony that is sitting in the homeland of an Indigenous Palestinian people.

There is no ideal solution because the starting point is not ideal, the starting point is extremely difficult and has been imposed from outside. So, what I am proposing is making the best of a very bad job.

The answer, the only one that seems humane, reasonable, and sensible is to say, well we have this settler colony, let’s share the land and not have colonies anymore. The right of return—the right for all those Palestinians who have been expelled and dispossessed to return to the land of their birth and residence—is vital. It’s a fundamental right.

What combination of circumstances could make the achievement of this possible?

I think Palestinians currently under Israeli rule, most of whom don’t have any rights and have no citizenship, have to start a huge campaign which demands equal rights. It would be like the South African anti-apartheid struggle.

The demand for equal rights in the same space is not only reasonable, but it’s familiar from previous historical conflicts. Now, such a campaign, would be, of course, nonviolent. It’s a demand that the ruling authority, which currently happens to be the state of Israel, must grant equal citizenship to all the people it rules.

And that includes those in Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem—who have no rights. A huge movement among the Palestinians demanding exactly this, saying, “OK, you are the ruler here, you’re the sovereign government. We demand equal citizenship with all the other people that you’re ruling.” This is a perfectly reasonable set of demands and if Israel says, “No, we’re going to kill you instead,” this has a consequence of its own. It forces things out into the open.

Alternatively, if Israel backs off and grants equal rights to Palestinians, to all Palestinians then it’s the termination of Zionism. I’m afraid, and I’m sorry to say it, that will not happen peaceably. It will happen by an increasing cycle of oppression, by the Israelis which will repeatedly met by resistance from the Palestinians.

And this cycle will continue getting worse and more brutal and bloodier. This flows from the nature of conflict where you have a repressive oppressive regime trying to suppress the resistance of the people it rules. But what will happen is that, sooner or later, and I can’t predict the time scale, the resistance will win because it is very difficult for a regime, no matter how oppressive, to continue in the same way.

We know this from the French in Algeria, the French and then the US in Vietnam, from apartheid in South Africa, the British empire in Africa and many other historical processes. Palestine will be no different. But there is a very important point about what is happening now. Israel has a plan to expel the people of Gaza into Egypt and the people of the West Bank into Jordan.

If Israel is allowed, and I repeat allowed, by Western imperial states to ethnically cleanse what remains of Palestine there would be very few Palestinians left in the original land of Palestine for us to talk about a one-state or a democracy or anything of this kind. It must never ever be allowed to happen.

  • One State—The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel by Ghada Karmi Available for £14.99 from

What we think

Ghada Karmi’s vision of a way forward cuts through all the lies and bluster about a two-state outcome in Palestine. Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer all talk about a two-state settlement.

But none of them explain how it could be anything but a method to suppress Palestinian resistance and outsource repression to collaborationist forces, such as the Palestine Authority. It suits the West to pretend that it is serious about reviving the corpse of a two-state outcome to pretend there could be a positive outcome from the present mass murder.

And it suggests they might cajole Binyamin Netanyahu into accepting it—or impose it on him. This fraudulent process continues while Israel is allowed to proceed with its plans for Nakba 2, another mass expulsion of Palestinians.

This will not bring “peace”. It will mean even more desperate resistance by the descendants of those who have seen the slaughter in Gaza. Israel will respond with further wars of annihilation.

There are formidable obstacles to achieving Ghada Karmi’s endpoint of a single democratic, secular state with the full right of return. It will require the price of rescuing Zionism to become too great for the imperialists and for resistance to overwhelm the Israeli state.

Only a great movement of workers and the poor across the Middle East could achieve this. This underlines that only a revolutionary movement in Palestine and beyond can defeat Zionism and imperialism. And we also need a revolution in the West too.