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Peter Hain is right – the two-state solution is dead

Peter HainIn his recent contribution to the Israel-Palestine debate, Peter Hain did something remarkable. In a speech at Swansea University, the Labour MP, former Northern Ireland secretary, and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner broke with the consensus that a two-state solution spells the best chance of securing a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unsurprisingly, Hain was rebuked by the Party which reiterated its commitment “to a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel”.

That sounds like an admirable goal, but is it even achievable? Observers of the peace process over the years will be familiar with the historic failure of negotiations based on the two-state paradigm. With time, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has become increasingly entrenched and permanent, whilst the ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land by settlements, illegal under international law, has put to rest any hope of that coveted “viable Palestinian state”.

Today, there are some 550,000 Israeli settlers who together control 42% of the West Bank. Speaking at the World Economic Forum just last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his government’s position clear, saying: “I do not intend to evacuate any settlements or uproot a single Israeli.” Indeed, all that remains of the land earmarked for a Palestinian state are a series of Bantustans unlikely to ever meet the criteria for statehood set out in the Montevideo Convention and elsewhere. The truth is that time has run out. There won’t be an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and there will be no two-state solution.

If the creation of two ethnically distinct states in Israel-Palestine is unachievable, where does that leave us? It isn’t difficult to see the pressing need for alternatives. And that’s why Peter Hain’s intervention last week was so important.

Ever since the late Edward Said made the seminal arguments in the New York Times in 1999, the one-state solution has become an increasingly attractive proposition in activist and academic circles. A single democratic, secular state with equality for all its citizens would fulfill  human rights of all: Israeli Jews, Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, as well as Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in 1948.

The idea of one state has gained significant traction in recent years with signs of growing acceptance amongst Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Polls indicate that support for a “solution of one state for two people in which Arabs and Jews enjoy equality” is much higher than one might expect. The idea is also becoming increasingly mainstream in the Israeli media; writing in Haaretz recently, veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy argued that the “one state solution is already here”. “Jews and Arabs have lived together in one state since 1948”, he said, albeit one that is not democratic for its Palestinian subjects.

With another round of negotiations to nowhere, John Kerry’s warning that the two-state solution would be “over” if current talks fail has led many to accept that a common state in Israel-Palestine is not only inevitable but represents our best shot of resolving the conflict. It’s time we too recognised that reality.

The Labour Party played a pivotal role in securing a just solution in South Africa with people like Frank Dobson, Barbara Castle, and of course, Peter Hain joining party activists and trade unionists in the anti-apartheid movement. We should be proud of that history. Indeed, it is that tradition of solidarity with oppressed peoples that ought to compel us to be bold and resolute in securing a just solution in Israel-Palestine. Peter Hain has been brave in advocating for a rethink of our approach to achieving that end. He deserves our full support.


  1. Rod says:

    Well said, Peter Hain.

    It is time to abandon the two state fantasy, which now only serves to prolong the agony of suffering people.

    I’m no longer a Labour Party member and not up to date will policy development, so I’d be grateful if someone could tell me how Labour’s commitment to a two-state solution came about and when it was last discussed. Thank you.

  2. terry sullivan says:

    Bain is a non entity who cares what the fool and expenses person has to say

  3. Gerry says:

    Peter Hain couldn’t be more wrong on this…

    Labour will never support a so-called “one state” solution, and rightly so…it would literally mean the obliteration of a Jewish homeland or a Jewish majority state.

    And after all, the wonderful Clem Attlee (and the post war Labour government) was instrumental in supporting the creation of Israel itself in 1949. To knowingly destroy that state – Israel – would be a huge betrayal, and a huge mistake.

    A two state solution is the only long term and just one: Israeli settlers would have to live as a minority in the West Bank and Gaza, if they choose to remain in an independent Palestine…. just as Arabs are a minority in the state of Israel.

    And that is how it should be.

  4. Rod says:

    Gerry: “that is how it should be.”

    But it won’t be like that.

    So, whether we like it or not, we will have to deal with reality.

  5. PFR says:

    “… it will literally mean an end to a Jewish homeland, or a Jewish majority state”. So be it. Human rights for ALL is paramount. Jewish academics have argued there cannot be a Jewish State as such unless there are discriminatory laws against non – Jews. Indeed many such laws already exist. The international community never talks of the rights of Palestinians, yet, according to the UN Declaration of human rights, “the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

  6. swatantra says:

    I’ve always felt that a One State Solution, is thge only answer. One Nation. One Palestine.
    In the end the Israelis, will eventually have to get used to that. Its working in NI, and you couldn’t get more of once basket case than that.

  7. John reid says:

    Swatantra, comparing the way Protestants have acted in Northern Ireland to the way Palestinians should treat Israeli’s, you’re asking for trouble with that comment!

  8. James Martin says:

    Gerry, just think for a moment. If you substitute ‘white’ for ‘Jewish’ in your response then you have the average racist right-wing reactionary line that opposed black-majority rule in southern Africa for decades.

    And that comparison is valid in other ways, as Hain more than most understands. The religious equivalent of the racial pass laws exists, the ghettos exists, second class citizenship and daily humiliations exists, the unequal laws and brutal policing exists. Israel is a brutal racist apartheid state that exists in the here and now.

    And it is the Israeli right, along with large numbers of US immigrant fascist-like settlers (many converted Jews from the US Christian right), who have destroyed whatever hope there was for a two state solution by their pogroms and land thefts.

    Is there still hope? Yes, the Israeli left and peace movement still exists and could grow again. Many Palestinians still, despite the understandable growth of Hamas, have a broadly secular religious outlook that can link with the increasing hostility and anger of secular Israeli Jews against the ultra-Orthodox who life like blood sucking parasites on the labour of other non orthodox Jews. Many Christians around the world, even in the US, have began to wake up to the fact that Israel oppresses and tries to drive out historic Christian communities (who the class as Palestinian) rather than their mainly Muslim Palestinian neighbours.

    But the best we can do is to do what we did in the 60s, 70s and 80s against racist South Africa – unconditionally support the oppressed and occupied Palestinian people and push hard for sanctions against the apartheid state of Israel until, like South Africa, it forces genuine peace and power sharing talks that are now the only hope of long-lasting peace and justice for all.

    Just as no genuine socialist would ever call for a ‘white’ (or any other colour) protected state, no genuine socialist should ever call for or support a religious state that comes at the expense of everyone else.

  9. swatantra says:

    John, you’re probably right! The IRA are still active and judging by todays news, still fighting the 2nd WW, sending bombs to Barracks. Don’t they ever learn, and move on.
    It’ll probably be the explosion in Palestinian population over the Israelis, that will bring about that One State solution. I give it another 30 years. The same might be said of NI.

  10. Jim Denham says:

    Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery explains why Hain is an idiot (on this question, at least):

  11. Robert says:

    It’s working in NI is it really.

    God Swat mate it does not matter about the explosion in the population Israel has one of the most modern up to-date Military with Nuclear weapons it also has the backing of the USA and the UK and I would say most of the EU.

    I’m afraid one state two state none of it will work simply because Israel wants to have more land it needs to grow and it will. be that by grabbing land and building walls or , like it has done in the past war.

  12. Gerry says:

    James – I cant really take your post seriously when you laughably call Israel an apartheid state, when it is clearly no such thing: it is one of the only democracies in the Middle East, and in the Knesset after the last elections there are liberals, socialists, Ultra-orthodox, conservatives, Arab parties and more….

    A two state solution is a just solution, with a Palestine free and independent in the West Bank and Gaza.

    And James – look around the rest of the Middle East before flinging words like “fascism” at Israel, a country which has gender equality, gay rights, freedom of speech and freedom of expression! Now look at ..oh, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, countries infected with massive extremist, misogynist, hate-filled Islamic fundamentalism..just like Hamas or the even more horrific Islamic Jihad in Gaza. That, James, is the real “fascism” in the region…

  13. Jon Lansman says:

    Gerry’s appeal to remember Atlee’s historical support for a Jewish state in Palestine is misleading. Israeli revisionist historian, Ilan Pappé argued that Atlee’s government’s aim, in the twilight of the Palestine mandate, was to abort the birth of a Palestinian state not, as more pro-Zionist historians would have it, to prevent the birth of a Jewish state. Not much support for Gerry’s claim there then.

    Indeed it’s worse than that. In 1944, in what certainly was an act in support of a Jewish state, Labour’s conference approved an NEC statement (written by Hugh Dalton with Harold Laski’s approval) calling for what we would now call the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine:

    In Palestine surely there is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for the transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed.The Arabs have wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, less than the size of Wales.

    Worse still, it added:

    Indeed, we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries.

    In reality, British policy on Palestine (including UK Labour’s policy in government) has been shaped mainly by British interests in the circumstances of the time in which decisions have been taken. Not I think, a proper basis for advocating any particular “solution” to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

    As it happens, I have been an advocate of two states for 40 years. It’s what I argued as a Jewish teenager and still at that point a Zionist to my relatives who, like most Israelis and British Jews at the time did not even recognise the existence of “Palestinians”, let alone consider the possibility of a Palestinian state. Nor for that matter did most Palestinians – the PLO was committed to a “democratic secular state of Palestine” and anyone on the West Bank that took a different line owed their allegiance to the Jordanians.

    However, like Peter Hain, other Western political leaders, not to mention some prominent Israelis with impeccable Zionist credentials like Avrum Burg, former Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organisation, and Speaker of the Knesset, I do wonder whether the window for it remains open. On a recent delegation to the West Bank and Jerusalem with Labour2Palestine (an invaluable experience I’d recommend to anyone interested in this issue), seeing how deeply interwoven are the nevertheless completely segregated communities of Israelis and Palestinians, reinforced this view.

    Nevertheless, at least on paper, the governments of Israel and of Palestine are committed to two states, whether their populations may think. I do not think it is for us in Britain to dictate to them what should be the outcome of negotiations to achieve a lasting peaceful solution. It isn’t going to happen without providing a homeland for both Jews and Palestinians. Whether there is one state or two, everyone should enjoy the same rights as everyone else who lives in the state as they do.

  14. John reid says:

    Isn’t it possible to support Palestine Jon,without wanting to see an end to Israel.

  15. Gerry says:

    John – yes it is: like most decent people I want a free and independent Palestine (ideally democratic and 100% secular, which I know is pretty unlikely given the religious extremism in the region) in the West Bank and Gaza ….AND the continued existence of a Jewish homeland that is Israel.

    Jon – I didnt know about the 1944 NEC statement, which as you say goes way further than I thought was Labour policy at the time! But Labour was instrumental in supporting the creation of Israel, and has been a good friend and ally to Israel ever since, which I hope will never change.

    And your last para is true,in the end it is up to Israelis and Palestinians, but (hopefully) there will never be a one-state “solution”

  16. Jon Lansman says:

    Gerry: In what way was the Atlee government “instrumental in supporting the creation of Israel? It abstained on the vote to partition Palestine (General Assembly Resolution 181) which is what created the state of Israel.

    I accept that Labour Party policy was supportive – but that is a different matter. Ernie Bevin in particular, as Foreign Secretary, was hostile to the establishment of a Jewish state. He prevented the immigration to Palestine of Holocaust refugees. There was essentially a state of war in Palestine between the Jewish leadership and the British administrators.

    Indeed we have recently learned that there was even a plot by the “terrorist” groups Irgun and the Stern Gang, led by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir respectively (both later Prime Ministers of Israel) to kill Bevin. MI5 waned the government of this in 1946. So perhaps it is not surprising Bevin was unenthusiastic!

  17. Gerry says:

    Jon – again, its news to me that the Stern Gang plotted to assassinate Bevin, but I accept its veracity! And yes by any benchmark, Begin and Shamir were terrorists, even in the context of the Mandate…

    But it is also true – as I said – that Labour (broadly) supported the creation of Israel, and has been a close friend and ally ever since.

  18. Jim Denham says:

    I do not comment upon the motives of BTL commenters here, but I have noticed over many years, that a lot of the people who sorrowfully declare Two States “dead”, “no longer possible”, etc, etc, are people who never supported it in the first place.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Jim Denham: I think you’re right up to a point that many advocates of “one state” are people who never supported “two states”. By the same token, I’ve noticed that some of the most vehement of the detractors of “one state” are people whose support for “two states” isn’t so clear in practice (though they may claim to be).

      I think there are many other many advocates of “one state” who simply despair of the fact that the prospect of actually achieving peace seems to get ever more remote.

  19. Jim Denham says:

    Fair enough, Jon: but if Two Sates ids “unrealistic”… how the hell is One Stae more “realistic”…unless one harbours a dream of military conquest over the Israeli Jews or…out-breeding them – neither of which is a socialist programme.

  20. Jim Denham says:

    PS: sorry about the typos in that last comment, caused by my crappy computer’s delayed reaction. But I trust my meaning is clear.

  21. Anthony Aloysious says:

    May I respectfully draw attention to the following please. Please accept my apologies if it is long. God bless you all.
    The UN view of the Palestinian Territories can be seen at
    the following URL:
    * The West Bank and East Jerusalem is occupied Palestine (bilaterally recognised by 133 nations in the world including India, China, Russia, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Thailand and Iceland).
    * Palestine is officially a non-member State and recognised by the UN. 138 nations supported Palestine in November 2012 in its successful bid for statehood. France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Greece, Cyprus and Malta were among many European nations to support Palestine. Their vote for Palestine was important as were those cast by India, China, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand who supported Palestine too. The Secretary General of the UN and Vatican Church wel-comed the re-birth of Palestine.
    * However, Palestine (West Bank and East Jerusalem) is still illegally held and sadly Israel’s Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu has ignored the ruling of the International Court of Justice (subsequently supported by the UN and EU) with respect to the “separation barrier”. This “wall” is 3 times the length of the Berlin Wall.
    * UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine in 2011 was supported by France, Spain, Ire-land, Belgium, Norway, Greece and other European nations.
    * Please also see UNSC Resolution 478 concerning Jerusalem. The 4th Geneva Convention is applicable to all the Palestinian Territories.
    * International law and UN Resolutions (over which there are over 150) are ignored by Israel’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
    * UN Resolutions specify Israel’s illegal hold of the Palestinian Territories to be a vio-lation of the 4th Geneva Convention and as such is a War Crime under international law. More so now, that settlements are being placed in another nation.
    Yours sincerely
    *** UN Security Council Resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August
    1980 – BINDING
    The Security Council, recalling its resolution 476 (1980);
    reaffirming again that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible;
    deeply concerned over the enactment of a “basic law” in the Israeli
    Knesset proclaiming a change in the character and status of the Holy City of
    Jerusalem, with its implications for peace and security; noting that Israel has
    not complied with resolution 476 (1980); reaffirming its determination to
    examine practical ways and means, in accordance with the relevant provisions of
    the Charter of the United Nations, to secure the full implementation of its
    resolution 476 (1980), in the event of non-compliance by Israel ; Censures in
    the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the “basic law” on
    Jerusalem and the refusal to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions;

    *** Resolution 694 (1991) – BINDING
    Adopted by the Security Council at its 2989th meeting on 24
    May 1991
    The Security Council,
    Reaffirming its resolution 681 (1990),
    Having learned with deep concern and consternation that Israel has, in violation of its obliga-tions under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and acting in opposition to relevant Security Council resolutions, and to the detriment of efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, deported four Palestinian civilians on 18 May 1991,
    1. Declares that the action of the Israeli authorities of deporting four Palestinians on 18 May is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is applicable to all the Palestinian territories
    occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem;
    2. Deplores this action and reiterates that Israel, the occupying Power, refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilian from the occupied territories and ensure the save and immediate re-turn of all those
    3. Decides to keep the situation under review.

    *** Resolution 672 (1990) – BINDING
    Adopted by the Security Council at its 2948th meeting on 12 October 1990
    The Security Council,
    Recalling its resolutions 476 (1980) and 478 (1980),
    Reaffirming that a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be based on its resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) through an active negotiating process which takes into account the right
    to security for all States in the region, including Israel, as well as the legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people,
    Taking into consideration the statement of the Secretary-General relative to the purpose of the mission he is sending to the region and conveyed to the Council by the President on 12 October 1990,
    1. Expresses alarm at the violence which took place on 8 October at the Al Haram al Shareef and other Holy Places of Jerusalem resulting in over twenty Palestinian deaths and to the in-jury of more than one hundred and fifty people, including Palestinian civilians and innocent worshippers;
    2. Condemns especially the acts of violence committed by the Israeli security forces resulting in injuries and loss of human life;
    3. Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is applicable to all the territories occupied by
    Israel since 1967;
    4. Requests, in connection with the decision of the Secretary-General to send a mission to the region, which the Council welcomes, that he submit a report to it before the end of October 1990 containing his
    findings and conclusions and that he use as appropriate all the resources of the United Na-tions in the region in carrying out the mission.
    24th April 2012 – UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
    “I strongly condemn the Israeli government’s decision yesterday to turn three illegal outposts in the West Bank into settlements. I urged the Israeli government in my statement on 5 April to remove – not
    legalise – outposts across the West Bank”.
    Furthermore, I would like to refer you to specific serious concerns raised by the International Court of Justice (2004) – with relevance to the ‘security barrier’ – which was viewed with alarm by the international community. Incidentally the reference to the illegality of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was also reinforced when the International Court of Justice also found the following (indeed the EU supported the UN vote pertaining to the ‘security barrier’):
    * That the separation barrier is intended to assist the settlements, the establishment of which violates Article 49 of the Convention. Also, the court pointed out that the restrictions placed on the local population located between the barrier and the Green Line are liable to lead to abandonment of the land, which also constitutes a violation of Article 49. In addition, the opinion stated that taking control of private land to build the barrier injured private property owners, and thus violated Articles 46 and 52 of the Hague Regulations of 1907 and of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    Some other key UN Security Council Resolutions on Palestine – BINDING AND INTERNATIONAL LAW (there are over 150 UN Resolutions)
    252 (21 May 1968)

    Urgently calls upon Government of Israel to rescind measures that change the legal status of Jerusalem, including the expropriation of land and properties thereon.

    262 (31 December 1968)

    Calls upon Government of Israel to pay compensation to Lebanon for the destruction of airliners at Beirut International Airport.

    267 (3 July 1969)

    Expects Israel rescind measures seeking to change the legal status of occupied East Jerusalem.

    271 (15 September 1969)

    Expects the demand that Government of Israel rescind measures seeking to change the legal status of occupied East Jerusalem.

    298 (25 September 1971)

    Expects the demand that Government of Israel rescind measures seeking to change the legal status of occupied East Jerusalem.

    446 (22 March 1979)

    Calls on Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction, and planning of settlements in the Palestinian Territories, occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

    452 (20 July 1979)

    Expects Israel cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction, and planning of settlements in the Palestinian Territories, occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

    465 (1 March 1980)

    Expects Israel cease, the establishment, construction, and planning of illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territories, occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

    471 (5 June 1980)

    Demands prosecution of those involved in the assassination attempt of West Bank leaders and compensation for damages; Expects demands to comply by Fourth Geneva Convention.

    484 (19 December 1980)

    Expects Israeli compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    573 (4 October 1985)

    Condemns the Government of Israeli with respect to the attack in Tunisia. Call on Israel to pay compensation for human and material losses from its attack and to refrain from all such attacks or threats of attacks against other nations.

    592 (8 December 1986)

    Demands Israel comply with the Fourth Geneva Conventions in all Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem.

    605 (22 December 1987)

    Calls upon the Government of Israel, the Occupying Power, to comply by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    607 (5 January 1988)

    Expects Israel to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as cease its practice of deportations from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    608 (14 January 1988), 636 (6 July 1989), 641 (30 August 1989)

    Expects that Israel cease the deportations of Palestinian people from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    672 (12 October 1990)

    Expects Israel to comply by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    673 (24 October 1990)

    Demands that the Israel come into compliance with UN Resolution 672.

    681 (20 December 1990)

    Expects Israel to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention with respect to the Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem.

    694 (24 May 1991)

    Expects that Israel stop Palestinian civilian deportation from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and ensure the safe and immediate return of deportees.

    726 (6 January 1992)

    Expects Israel to comply with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and to cease its deportation practice from Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    799 (18 December 1992)

    Reaffirms Fourth Geneva Convention to all Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem. Also affirms that deportation of civilians constitutes a contravention of its obligations under the Convention.

    904 (18 March 1994)

    Israel is called upon, as the occupying power, to take and implement measures, inter alia, confiscation of arms, with the aim of preventing illegal acts of violence by settlers.

    1073 (28 September 1996)

    Calls on the safety and security of Palestinian civilians to be ensured.

    1322 (7 October 2000)

    Calls upon Israel to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the responsibilities of the occupying power in the Palestinian Territories.

    1402 (30 March 2002)

    Calls for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities.

    1403 (4 April 2002)

    Demands that the Government of Israel go through with the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1402.

    1405 (19 April 2002)

    UN inspector call to investigate civilian deaths during Israel’s assault on the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp.

    1435 (24 September 2002)

    Calls on Israel to withdraw to positions of September 2000 and end its military activities in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of security and civilian infrastructure.

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