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Reviewed by:
  • One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict
  • Alan Dowty (bio)
One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, by Benny Morris. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009. xvi + 201 pages. Notes to p. 222. Bibl. to p. 229. Index to p. 240. $26.

Benny Morris has an unparalleled reputation as an honest historian of the Arab Israeli conflict. Whatever his own views —and they have shifted over time —he has mined the primary sources with intellectual rigor and let the chips fall where they may. It is therefore of great interest when he turns his hand to an analytical overview of the conflict, distilling the accumulated insights of his authoritative historical narratives.

This is a different kind of book for Morris, really more of an extended essay that can be read in a single sitting. It was clearly inspired by the flurry of support in recent years, among some Palestinian and non-Palestinian intellectuals, for a one-state (presumably binational) solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. Morris deals with this debate in short opening and closing chapters, but the bulk of his text, some two-thirds of the whole, is devoted to a historical survey of proposed one-state and two-state solutions to the conflict. Since the history of proposed solutions is in many ways the history of the conflict, this survey is itself valuable as a concise encapsulation of the conflict. Morris reminds us that in the beginning both sides favored a one-state (though not binational) solution, and reviews the previous movement for binationalism in the Jewish community during the 1930s, when it served as a potential means for the minority community to achieve political equality while allowing for immigration that would end its minority status —a reverse parallel to the current vision of a binational state that would eventually have a large Arab majority.

Throughout this narrative, Morris underlines Palestinian resistance to the idea of two states, even after the formal acceptance (in 1993) of coexistence with a Jewish state. In his view, "the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement, from inception, and ever since, has consistently regarded Palestine as innately, completely, inalienably, and legitimately 'Arab' and Muslim" (p. 30). Presenting the one-state idea in the guise of a binational recalls its earlier incarnation as a "secular democratic Palestinian state;" in either case, the end result would be a predominantly Arab and Muslim state. Historically, he argues, Palestinian promotion of one-state models has served as a means to deny the legitimacy of a Jewish state. [End Page 671]

The idea of a single state in the Israeli-Palestinian context is an easy target, and Morris dismantles it convincingly. The basic flaw is that it either means domination of one side by the other —something not proposed in polite company —or it means binationalism of some sort in which two parties who cannot even agree on terms of peaceful separation manage to reach full agreement on the intricate minutiae of intimate cohabitation. Morris points out that none of the advocates have offered a convincing plan for overcoming the vast gap between the two sides. His analysis rests, however, more on the general vastness of the cultural and ideological gap than on practical political obstacles that could be cited (for example, what immigration policy would a binational state adopt? Whose "right of return" would be recognized?)

But Morris also dismisses the likelihood of a two-state solution, not because it is inherently a bad idea but because he believes that Palestinians would never fully accept it. Such a solution, he reasons, would unravel over time because of internal opposition, and any Palestinian polity would become an expansionist state. It seems clear in this context and others that, for Morris, a key turning point in understanding the depth of Palestinian rejectionism was Yasir 'Arafat's dismissal of the two-state solutions offered at Camp David and afterwards in 2000-2001.

Where, then, does this leave us? In his final two pages, Morris revives a kind of Jordanian option, envisioning federal or confederal arrangements between Jordan and the Palestinian territories. At present, to be sure, this idea is rejected by both Jordan and the...


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pp. 671-672
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