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Account of an important conference in London


Panel I: WHY ONE STATE? Ilan Pappé, Joseph Massad, Ali Abunimeh

Panel II: MAPPING THE GEOPOLITICAL LANDSCAPE: PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE Ghazi-Walid Falah, As'ad, Ghanem, Ghada Karmi, Leila Farsakh

Panel III: LAND, CITIZENSHIP AND IDENTITY: RETHINKING THE NATION STATE Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Nadim Rouhana, Tikva Honig-Parnass, Omar Barghouti



PANEL VI: THE WAY FORWARD: round table discussion


Challenging the Boundaries: A single state in Palestine/Israel, London 17-18 November 2007 - was organised by a group largely made up of students and operating under the name the London One State group. The conference met in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS. Two of the speakers said they had warned the group that the conference was a bad idea. There had not been enough time to secure good speakers or a good enough turn out. With an impressive programme of over twenty speakers and a big lecture room, packed to the gills with people sitting on the steps, they had to admit they had been very wrong.

This is an attempt to summarise some of what was said. It does not pretend to be methodical or comprehensive and I am sure that important points were made that I missed. I shall also be concentrating on what was said by the speakers, at the expense of points made from the floor.

Some introductory remarks were made by Nur Masalha of the University of Surrey, a specialist in the specifically religious aspect of the problem and author of a recent book on The Bible and Zionism. He evoked the importance of Edward Said in arguing for the single state approach as an alternative to the Oslo 'Peace process'. He pointed out that a 'binational state' had been argued for by many Jews prior to 1948 as an alternative to Zionism though alas many of the supporters of the binational idea had taken advantage of the properties made available through the ethnic cleansing after it had taken place. He insisted that any single Jewish/Muslim state would have to be secular: 'As a Muslim I do not support an Islamic state.' The struggle to achieve it would be non-violent. It would be the aim of this movement to accommodate everyone, a non-violent struggle with no desire to expel anyone. It was however the only formula that had any possibility of righting the wrong done by the Nakba and securing equality for all the people in the region. He said this was perhaps the most impressive and ambitious conference he had ever attended.


Ilan Pappé, until recently based in Haifa but now in the University of Essex, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, expressed thanks to SOAS for allowing its rooms to be used for this and for a recent conference calling for divestment from the Israeli state. This contrasted with the Oxford Union which had invited him to speak in a debate on the One State option. The advocates of the two state option had included Norman Finkelstein and Peter Tatchell but Finkelstein's invitation had been withdrawn after protests from Zionists objecting to him as representative of 'their' side of the debate. The One State panel, Pappé included, as well as Tatchell, had refused to attend in protest (the debate was held with five out of the six speakers being students and the One State option was defeated).

Pappé gave a brief historical outline arguing that Palestine had long been regarded as a single entity. In the nineteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire had aimed to devolve more power to local regions, only Egypt and Palestine were seen as geopolitical entities more or less corresponding to modern boundaries. An 'independent province of Jerusalem' was created in 1872. Originally it covered most of what is now Palestine/Israel, though some parts were eventually awarded to Lebanon and Syria. Without the intervention of the Zionists it would have developed naturally into a distinct national state.

Various nationalist movements developed in Palestine though, as in the rest of the Arab world, they were divided between groups that promoted a local nationalism and those that favoured pan-Arabism.

During the French and British debates on the division of the area, Palestine was seen as a British sphere of influence. Between 1912 and 1918, they saw Palestine and what is now Jordan as a single coherent entity. Amman at the time was only a small village. This only began to change with the Balfour Declaration, 2nd February 1917, then with the need to give territory (Jordan) to the Hashemite leaders of the Arab revolt. Between 1918 and 1948 all possible ways of reconciling Jewish and Palestinian ambitions in Palestine were canvassed.

Jewish settlers began to arrive in large numbers from 1882 onwards. The Zionists wanted them to take land and become farmers but on the whole they went to the towns where they arrived with no money. They were well received by the Palestinians and tended to fuse into them as one community, a tendency that was opposed by both the Zionist and the Palestinian nationalist leaders.

When the UN partition plan was adopted in 1947 it was rejected by the Arabs. Pappé could not blame them for this: 'No-one in their right mind would have accepted it', giving as it did more than half the territory to a population which only occupied about 7% of the land. The period between 1948 and 1967 was in fact the only period when Palestine was divided (into three entities - Gaza, Israel and the West Bank). It was reunited in 1967 into what was effectively one single state which Pappé dubbed the Racist [?] Apartheid State of Israel (RASI). He commended the one state option for its simplicity - it corresponded to the tradition of the area as a single territorial entity and to the present day reality.

Joseph Massad of Columbia University outlined the history of the peace process and what he called the 'fantasy' of an independent Palestinian state. Between 1964 and 1974, the PLO had been orientated towards the Palestinian diaspora, the refugees, who favoured a one state solution as the only means by which they could regain their homeland. In the mid 70s, they had come under pressure from elements in the West Bank and Gaza who favoured a two state solution as a means of freeing themselves from Israeli control. This had effectively been adopted in 1974, without any formal renunciation of the rights of the refugees or of the aim of an eventual unity.

The PLO had ceased to be an effective force through their expulsion from the Lebanon in 1982. This had been followed by the West Bank/Gaza-based Intifada, which had had a two state character (demanding independence for the area). The PLO in Tunisia was alarmed at the Intifada and the emergence of a West Bank/Gaza based leadership. The 1988 Declaration of Independence was their response and this was the first time that the PLO had emphasised the relevant UN resolutions in pressing for the right of return for refugees (they had presumably been reticent because of the partitionist character of the UN resolutions -PB). Arafat's willingness to make concessions led to a brief dialogue with the Israelis which was stopped by the US.

The PLO was not allowed to attend the discussions in Madrid. Representatives of the West Bank and Gaza were present but only under the fiction that they were part of the delegation from Jordan. But the PLO's fear of the emergence of a local leadership led them to engage in undercover manoeuvres with the Israelis which led them in 1993 to concede the right of an apartheid based Israel to exist and effectively to renounce the refugees' right of return. In an interview with Ha'aretz (June 2002), Arafat later said he would have accepted the Clinton plan in 2001 which involved renunciation of the refugees' right of return.

The effect of the Madrid/Oslo process had been to split the interests of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority had effectively separated itself from the diaspora without doing much to benefit the West Bank and Gaza. Massad mentioned that at the time of speaking a new Palestinian party to promote the two state option was being formed by a group of West Bank businessmen persuaded that Fatah could not deliver it.

Ali Abumineh, founder of Electronic Intifada, began by quoting David Milliband, Condoleeza Rice and Alvara de Soto saying the conference at Annapolis was a last window of opportunity that was about to close. He found this very encouraging. An editorial in Ha'aretz on November 7 had said that the demand for equal rights could soon become irresistible. David Kimshe, a former director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, had said that if Annapolis failed, the two state solution would become impossible within two years.

The advocates of the 'peace process', he claimed, understood that the game was up. They had two strategies. One was to present the two state solution as the 'moderate' option, with Al Qaida as the only alternative. The other was to present the one state option as Utopian and the two state option as the pragmatic choice. However, the encouraging examples of South Africa and Northern Ireland showed that the one state option was perfectly pragmatic. The two state solution was based on similar racist assumptions to the separation of the populations in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The first priority of the Palestinians should be to demand civil rights. The eventual model of a One State settlement - single democratic state, federalism, confederalism, binational state - should be left for resolution at a later stage.

During the discussion it was pointed out that the 'peace process' had been supported by a donor conference in 1993 which gave 10 million euros to the Palestinian budget. Annapolis would be supported by another donor conference. This only meant that the cost of the occupation, which ought to be borne by Israel, was being borne instead by the 'International Community.'



Ghazi-Walid Falah, Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Akron, Ohio, pointed out that successive Israeli governments had never defined the borders of Israel, or declared where they thought the border ought to be. In the Camp David II discussions, Ehud Barak had never presented Arafat with a map. Ariel Sharon always avoided using terms such as Palestinian area or Palestinian territory since he did not want to give the impression that any area or territory could be said to belong to the Palestinians as of right. Jewish disengagement from certain areas should not be interpreted as an acceptance of partition. The Jews envisaged an eventual one state solution, but it would be confined to Jews. He went into some detail about the ways in which Palestinians had been removed from the borders of the whole Israeli/Palestinian territory.

As'ad Ghanem, head of the Government and Political Philosophy Department at the School of Political Science, University of Haifa, disagreed with the view of previous speakers that it was too early to define the actual form of an eventual one state solution. He felt it should be presented as clearly as possible as a matter of urgency. He thought there was a real danger that Annapolis could succeed, with the Palestinian representatives making concessions that would weaken them even further. Many Palestinians, especially among those living in Palestine, still favoured the two state solution. The alternative they were aware of was the clearly defined option of the Islamic state. Our own one state option needed to be presented to them in an equally clear manner.

The differences among Palestinians posed a problem for the option of a binational state. Most Palestinians living inside pre-1967 Israel supported a two state solution. The Future Vision document produced by Palestinians in Israel supported the two state option but was still interpreted by Israelis, both on the right and on the left, as an attack on the state of Israel. It asserts that Israel is not democratic and envisages the formation within Israel of an egalitarian state. As'ad argued that this was a line that could be developed to cover the whole area when the two state option collapsed.

The Abu Mazen tendency was indifferent to the Palestinians in Israel, regarding them simply as Israelis.

In the last six months there had been a total collapse of the Palestinian national movement. Hamas was now totally opposed to the PLO and aimed to replace it in everything. In this state of collapse it was absurd to enter into negotiations. The Palestinians needed to engage in discussion among themselves as a single group, not divided up into several groups. The Jews had to be recognised as a national community and the one state option presented as the best option for them as well as for the Palestinians.

Ghada Karmi, of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, said that before arguing for the feasibility of the one state option we should argue for its desirability. The objections to it were deeply rooted and strongly felt. The Israeli state was built on a Jewish national consciousness and Zionist institutions that were deeply entrenched. The Jews had had a long experience of living as minorities - Israel was the first time they had been able to function as a majority. Jews living elsewhere had developed a strong psychological dependence on the existence of the state of Israel.

On the other hand, Palestinians wanted to free themselves from Israeli 'occupation'. They believed they would become an underclass in a single state. They needed to develop their own sense of identity, not to act as servants to someone else. Many had such a profound hatred of Israelis that they could not bear the thought of cohabiting with them. There was a conflict of interest between the people under occupation, who wanted to get rid of the Israelis, and the refugees, who wanted to return to Israel.

The Western states had lavished support on Israel and could not admit that they had backed a catastrophe. The international consensus behind the two state solution was overwhelming. And she could understand the exasperation of Uri Avnery asking why the Palestinians should abandon the ambition of having their own state when they seem so close to obtaining it.

But she wanted to ask the supporters of the two state option what they thought they could achieve by it, given that there was no possibility that Israel would allow them to develop freely in the West Bank or in Jerusalem, or permit the return of the refugees.

Leila Farsakh, of the University of Massachusetts, pointed to the contrast between the economic success of Israel and the misery of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians in Israel had benefited from the economic growth in Israel but at a much slower pace than the Jews. She argued that the whole should be seen as a single economy, dominated by Israel. It was impossible to establish a Palestine that would be independent of Israel. However, unlike in South Africa where the whites were dependent on black labour, Israel was not dependent on Palestinian labour. Nor on a Palestinian market; only 5% of Israeli production went to the West Bank.

Much of the recent economic success of Israel was due to its integration into the world economy following the Oslo agreements. It was helped enormously by the 'International Community'. Advocates of the one state option had to try to persuade the 'International Community', particularly the EU, that there were better ways of investing their money.

The partition of Palestine was not at all self evident. Britain did not propose it in 1922. It had first been suggested by the Peel Commission in 1937. Although it was called for in UN Resolution 181, a Minority Report published in 1947 had proposed a binational solution and had won the support of nearly 50% of the General Assembly.

In the discussion Ghada Karmi said that a transitional period would be necessary to take account of national feelings but the end - a single state - must be clear. Leila Farsakh said it had taken 25 years before the two state solution had been generally accepted and fifteen years trying to implement it. We had to expect the work for the one state solution to take at least twenty years.



I did not take good notes of this panel.

Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, senior lecturer in the department of Jewish History, Ben-Gurion University, spoke as an Israeli Jew who favours a binational state. No Palestinian struggle was conceivable he believed without a distinct Palestinian nationalism. The Balfour Declaration had called for a Jewish 'national' home and the recognition of Palestinian civil rights. Now the Palestinians had asserted their nationhood but they needed to recognise the civil rights of the Jews. He emphasised that colonial Zionism had been secular rather than religious in nature.

Nadim Rouhana, founding director of the Arab Centre for Applied Social Research and Professor of Conflict Studies, George Mason University, said this was the second meeting of its kind in Europe (the first had been held recently in Madrid). None had yet been held in the US, nor in the West Bank or Gaza. Which goes to show that the idea is not simple or self evident. It also flies in the face of a well established body of international law. He identified two areas that need to be addressed:

1. Nationalism: Palestinian nationalism needed to be rethought. The Palestinian identity needed to be redefined, incorporating the ideas of democracy, pluralism, social justice. This was something that could only be done by a Palestinian leadership. SOAS could provide an international cover, and allies could be found among the Israelis. Although Israeli society as a whole had moved to the right, an increasing number of individuals among the Israelis had been moving in the opposite direction.

2. the problem of recognising 'the other'. Israelis had denied the existence of a Palestinian other but until the 1970s the Palestinians too had failed to recognise an Israeli other. Although the position of the Israeli Jews had been gained by illegitimate means it had now to be recognised as legitimate, though without its illegitimate privileges.

Tikva Honig-Parnass, Israeli Jewish anti-Zionist, editor for ten years of News from Within and co-editor of Between the Lines Magazine insisted that the Zionist project in Israel was part of a wider project to fragment the Arab world in the interests of Imperialism.

Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, felt too much attention was being given to the Israeli claim to nationhood. The United Nations recognises the right of national self determination as more fundamental than any other rights. A right of Palestinian national self determination would require:

1) the return of the refugees
2) the end of the post 1967 occupation
3) the end of discrimination in Israel/Palestine.

The binational position implies that both nations have the right to the land and both nations would have the right to separate from each other. Such rights could not be accorded to the Israelis - a colonial settler people cannot have a right to self determination. The Israelis did not, he thought, feel themselves to be a nation - for example, 35% of Ashkenazi Jews hold second passports. The primary thing was the rights of the Palestinians. He would support all rights for other people only on condition that they did not interfere with the rights of the Palestinians.


[Second day]


Three speakers gave brief outlines of conflict situations in South Africa, Northern Ireland and India/Pakistan which could be thought to present parallels to the situation in Israel/Palestine. I was so put out by the presentation on Northern Ireland that I failed to take proper notes, though I think there was little of direct relevance to the Israel/Palestine situation. I have written an account of my own views on the Northern Ireland analogy in a separate paper.



Eitan Bronstein introduced the activities of the group Zochorot ('Remembering'), based in Tel Aviv/Jaffa, of which he is director. This is a group of Israeli Jews who want to teach their fellow Israelis about the Palestinian history of the area. In particular they have prepared a map of destroyed Palestinian villages. They were engaged in a project of making life size photographs of Palestinian refugees and placing them in the areas where they would have been living if they had not been expelled. One particularly moving example was of a man who had died recently, placed in the old cemetery of his destroyed village.

The group hope in 2008 to organise a conference on the right of return in Tel Aviv. He urged the conference to keep in mind that Israeli society was not monolithic. There were wide differences of opinion among Jews on these issues.

Eyal Sivan is an Israeli born film director currently based in the University of East London. He was co-director, together with Michel Khleifi, of Route 181 - Fragments of a Journey in Palestine Israel (2004).

He argued together with previous speakers that there already is only one state. Israelis, he said, had difficulty distinguishing between the concepts of 'state', 'land' and 'country'. They derived their sense of identity from the state. Israeli schoolchildren dressed in blue and white; in this way, 'we are the flag'. He liked the idea of Israel/Palestine rather than Israel and Palestine. It expressed visually the reality that Israel was something imposed on top of Palestine.

The advocates of the one state option should be looking for elements among the Israelis who might benefit from the idea, such as the large influx of non-Jews who had immigrated from Russia. There were about 700,000 of them and they had real problems of identity. Given their presence, the 'Jewish state' could better be called the 'non-Arab state'.

Jews from Arab countries were another interesting category since they still suffered discrimination at the hands of the Ashkenazis. The Jewish history taught in Israeli schools was essentially a history of European jewry. There were two main texts: The History of the Jewish people, which, after the biblical period, was essentially the history of the Jews in Europe, ending in 1948; and The Heritage of the Population. This was about the Jews in the Arab world, but it was a 'heritage', not a 'history'. It dealt with ethnography, folklore, food. Thus Jews from Iraq could use phrase such as 'When we were in Poland ...'. There was a tendency for Arab Jews to take jobs as guides to European extermination camps.

Eyal Sivan felt there was a need for a common Arab and Jewish history of the Middle East that would bring Arab Muslims and Arab Jews together. The Ashkenazis felt themselves to be foreign to the area - many had taken foreign passports for security, which obviously challenges the idea that Israel was necessary as a place of refuge for Jews. Young Israelis were less Zionist in outlook than young Americans. They disliked Zionism but could see no alternative to it.

We need to argue that Israel does not provide security for Jews. It could not provide security on the Lebanese border during the recent war, nor in Sderot from missiles launched from Gaza. Both these areas were inhabited by Arab Jews whose identity was not recognised by the state. Israeli security really meant security for Tel Aviv and for the airport which provided an escape route to London.

He was currently working on a film about Jaffa, which had been famous for its citrus plants back in the nineteenth century. This had been a symbol for the Palestinians which had been taken over by the Zionists. He felt that it was impossible to build a common history on the basis of the experience of victims alone - Palestinians as victims of the Israelis, Jews as victims of the Nazis. People always wanted to identify with the victims: 'we hang a victim in the church.' We need to find a narrative that enables the perpetrators to speak and to take responsibility for their actions.

Rajaa Omari spoke as a representative of Palestinians living in Israel. She was the founder of a group called Natrinkum - 'We are waiting for you' - arguing for the return of the refugees. She had been involved in a movement to boycott the Israeli parliament, but there was such a huge rate of abstention from the Knessett elections among Israeli Arabs that they hadn't had much to do.

Palestinians in Israel had broadly accepted the idea that Israel was a state for Jews but not that it was a Jewish state. They demanded that Israeli Arabs be recognised as a distinct ethnic minority within it. The danger of this position was that it could be construed as an acceptance of the ethnic cleansing of 1948. They had spent twenty years demanding equality with the Jews in the Jewish state but would have been better demanding a single state in the whole area.

Palestinians within Israel were regarded as the most fortunate Palestinians. They were certainly more fortunate than the Palestinians in Gaza who are living on tea and bread, but life in Israel was not good. They suffered from poverty and unemployment. They had lived under direct military rule until 1967. Natrinkum had been founded to oppose the effort to 'depalestinianise' the Arabs living in Israel, to turn them into 'Israeli Arabs' and keep them out of the public view. The Palestinians in Israel spent their time crying in front of the TV and cursing the Arabs, who had failed to help them, five times a day. This feeling had to be turned into a real political force. But it encountered a very strong anti-Arab feeling among the Jews. Palestinians felt afraid to speak Arabic in the street. People had been killed just because they were Arabs. 'It is not pleasant to live under Israeli Zionist rule.'

In the discussion after this panel, Eyal Sivan, looking for points of contact between Jews and Arabs in Israel, evoked the fellow-feeling and co-operation that existed among the outlaws - the criminal community and the gay community. He said that Israel needs an impoverished Jewish population who would not have the option of leaving.

Omar Barghouti, arguing for the feasibility of the return of the refugees, remarked that most of the Palestinian villages that had been cleared in 1948 were still lying empty.

As'ad Ghanem said none of the parties supported by the Palestinians, including the Communist Party, were willing to recognise Israel as a distinctly Jewish state (Rajaa Omari stressed that this was why she had distinguished between Israel as a state for Jews, which they did accept, and Israel as a Jewish state, which they did not). Opposition to the idea of formally recognising Israel as a Jewish state was growing. The recent Haifa Declaration and Vision for the Future documents had both been written in a spirit of opposition to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and a group of Palestinians living in Israel had written to Abu Mazen prior to the opening of the discussions at Annapolis to say that he could not recognise Israel as a Jewish state in their name.



The conference ended with a round table discussion in which all the speakers still present were invited to participate. Again I stress that this record of what was said is far from complete.

The session was introduced by a representative of the London One State group who said they and the speakers were preparing a 'One State Declaration' which would be issued on 29th November, the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 181. The main themes that she had retained from the conference were that although everyone favoured a single state it still was not clear what form this would take. Israel was already a single state but it was a state based on apartheid. It needed to be turned into a democratic state. This required a big change in approach on the part of the Palestinian leadership. It posed the question of what would be the position of the Jews. It required the right economic, regional and international conditions, and that could take twenty years.

Ghada Karmi presented a document she and several others had prepared as a draft resolution in favour of a single state to be presented to the UN General Assembly. The one state idea had to be presented attractively, it had to become familiar to people and to be seen to be desirable. The general principle had to be established before the exact form - binational or unitary or whatever. Whatever reservations anyone might have about the effectiveness of the UN, the General Assembly was the largest forum in which it could be launched, and there were several states she thought might be willing to propose it.

Ilan Pappé said the one state solution was a big idea but it should not be promoted at the expense of Palestinian solidarity. The success of the Zionists had been largely due to the fragmentation of the Palestinians into separate interest groups. The first task was to unite forces, to establish a shared leadership between anti-Zionist Jews and Palestinians, and shared institutions which at the moment could most easily be done outside the land. We needed to prepare for the moment when the failure of the partitionist forces became obvious.

Ghazi Falah said that in the early days of the peace process he had written a paper defending the viability of the Two State solution. He was now persuaded that the two state idea was bluff. There could be no division of sovereignty so long as Israel controls the sky. The supporters of the two state approach wanted to pretend that it was just a simple border dispute, that the dismantling of all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian control over East Jerusalem were an uncomplicated affair. The really big issue, however, was not addressed and this was the return of the refugees. In the territory taken as a whole there was enough room to do this without touching any of the existing Jewish settlements.

Eyal Sivan took inspiration from the Zionists, who had shown that great things can be achieved by small minority groupings. There was a need to rethink the language, to devise a One State dictionary. He preferred to talk about a 'One State Initiative' or a 'One State Project'. He could ironise on the sort of reaction the word 'solution' might provoke among Jewish refugees from Europe. The One State option (this, incidentally, is my word - PB) should be advanced not as a means of opposition but as a proposition. The two state solution should be challenged. It could only be justified if it could lead to a position of equality between the two states which clearly it could not.

He thought Resolution 181, which had not called for the expulsion of anyone living in the area and had envisaged common Jewish/Palestinian institutions, could be taken as a starting point for an advance towards a binational state.

The One State option could be presented simply as a weapon to be used against Zionism or as something that was desirable in its own right. It could be seen as a simple device to destroy the state of Israel or as a reform that would separate the state of Israel from its Zionist ideology in the way other societies had brought about a separation of church and state. It could be presented as a shared citizenship that was desirable in its own right or as a means of solving other problems such as the return of the refugees. Speaking as an Israeli Jew he felt it would soon be seen as the only means by which Jews could continue living in the area, given that Zionism had failed.