One State, Two States

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 1)

In One State, Two States, Israeli historian Benny Morris examines ideological dimensions of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing on the historical lineage of the various one-state and two-state solutions currently being proposed to resolve the conflict. As the author of Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 (1999), 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (2008), and other works on the Middle East, Morris is both widely respected and highly controversial. Morris has gained the admiration of many readers for the depth and detail of his research. In addition, where the evidence has warranted it, he has rejected dogmatic positions held by true believers on both sides of the conflict. For example, on the issue of Palestinian refugees and “the right of return,” Morris has disputed claims by supporters of Israel that the rapid emigration of Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 war was entirely voluntary and unaffected by Israeli policy. He has also disputed the orthodox Arab and Palestinian belief that the Israelis carried out the systematic expulsion of Palestinians.

While this sort of even-handedness has won the respect of many of Morris’s readers, it has also alienated a number of observers on both sides of the conflict. As a result, Morris has been accused of being everything from a traitor to his own people to a hyper-Zionist thug. One State, Two States is likely to provoke a similarly divergent range of responses, since it too challenges the prejudices and valued beliefs of Israelis, Palestinians, and any number of supposedly disinterested observers working to bring a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One State, Two States is divided into three asymmetrical chapters. In the first, Morris describes and discusses what he calls “the re-emergence of one-statism.” In recent decades, the world’s most prominent diplomats have been attempting to foster a mutually agreeable two-state solution, one that would provide peace and security for the Jewish state of Israel and also establish an independent, autonomous state for Palestinians. The United States and the United Nations have both committed to this goal, gathering at least a modicum of apparent support from Israelis and Palestinians. Of late, however, there has been growing sentiment among intellectuals (in both the Middle East and the West) supporting a one-state solution that would, in effect, put an end to the current state of Israel. While some one-state advocates hearken back to the traditional Palestinian desire for a pre-Zionist, Muslim-dominated Palestine, most of the figures cited by Morris call for a secular, liberal, democratic state cohabited by Jews, Muslims (who would represent the majority), and others. All would enjoy religious freedom and equal political rights. In essence, these writers argue that the desire for a Jewish homeland, born out of centuries of persecution (and, for many Jews, founded on biblical authority), has become an archaic aspiration, one that is sadly out of sync with contemporary political values.

In his second chapter, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the book, Morris offers a thoroughly detailed history of one-state and two-state solutions proposed since the nineteenth century by various Zionists, Palestinian nationalists, and British diplomats. With the exception of a tiny handful of socialistically oriented Zionists, the ideas put forth by these figures have given little shrift to the idea of a multicultural Palestine shared predominantly (and equitably) by Jews and Muslims. Originally, most Zionists wanted the whole of Palestine to become the new Jewish state. They envisioned a small Arab minority remaining in the new Jewish state, with the remainder relocating to other countries in the region ruled by their fellow Arabs. For these Zionists, Palestinian Arabs did not really form a distinct nationality.

Zionism itself, however, helped forge a stronger Palestinian identity. Like their Zionist counterparts, Palestinian nationalists envisioned the whole of Palestine as a single nation. In their version, Jewish immigration would be...

(The entire section is 1711 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 1)

The Christian Century 126, no. 15 (July 28, 2009): 31-33.

Commentary 128, no. 1 (July/August, 2009): 63-65.

History Today 59, no. 10 (October, 2009): 59.

Middle East Journal 63, no. 4 (Autumn, 2009): 671-672.

National Interest, no. 100 (March/April, 2009): 71-81.

The New York Times Book Review, May 24, 2009, p. 12.