Chomsky on the one-state v. two state solution for the Palestinian conflit

Chomsky tends to discuss the “one-state” proposals in terms of a “bi-national state.”

He opposes such an option in the short term, arguing that, among the available “solutions” to the conflict, this is the most cruel option for Palestinians.

Chomsky is critical of the parallels frequently made with South Africa. The typical idea put forth by pro-Palestinian one-staters goes like this: Okay, if not two-states, then we’ll just have one state; Palestinians will have a civil rights struggle, and as the majority they will eventually gain control of that state and assert their rights.

However, Chomsky argues that this scenario is delusional: what will really happen is not inclusion of the Palestinians in a future state but their exclusion into quasi-state or non-state cantons with Israeli-controlled, militarized borders, internal economic depravity, and very limited means for struggle for meaningful political autonomy. This would be a significant worsening of the status quo, not an improvement.

Chomsky also points out the convergence of right-wing forces in Israel with the pro-Palestinian one-staters, such as Pappe, Abunimah, and even Avi Shlaim. The Israeli chauvinists are pursuing a fanatical vision of Eretz Israel, continuing the goals of Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, Begin, and Sharon. That their vision of a single, unified state under Israeli jurisdiction is coinciding with pro-Palestinian one-staters should give one pause (even if the latter insist: no, we mean a *democratic* state). The relevant question here is what rights the Palestinians will actually have, and what tactical mechanisms for achieving and securing them will be available.

The current prospects for Palestinian struggle under a one-state outcome are extremely pessimistic, in Chomsky’s eyes; while a two-state outcome offers much better options.


RA: Some call for a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, while others call for a one democratic state solution. Which is more workable for you?

NC: It is not a choice. I have been in favor of the what’s called a one-state-solution or binational state solution for seventy years and, so ok, I’m in favor of it. I am also in favor of peace in the world and … getting rid of poverty. There’s a lot of things I’m in favor of.

But if you are serious, you say, “how do we get from here to there?” That’s the question. We can all say it’s a wonderful idea. In fact I don’t think one state is a good idea, I think there should be a no-state solution that should erode the imperial borders. There’s no reason to worship French and British decisions on where to draw borders. A no-state solution would be much better, but again we ask, how do we get there?

Over the past seventy years I have been involved, there have been different ways in which you could move to that direction. Circumstances change, so your tactics change and under current circumstances, in fact since 1975, there is only one way that has ever been proposed, and that is in stages, through a two-state solution as the first stage. If there’s another way, nobody’s told us. They can say “I like this outcome,” but they don’t tell us how we get there. Now that’s as interesting as someone [who] says I’d like to have peace in the world.


See following, at 42:00 onward:


For Palestinians, there are now two options. One is that the U.S. and Israel will abandon their unilateral rejectionism of the past 30 years and accept the international consensus on a two-state settlement, in accord with international law—and, incidentally, in accord with the wishes of a large majority of Americans. That is not impossible, though the two rejectionist states are working hard to render it so. A settlement along these lines came close in negotiations in Taba Egypt in January 2001 and might have been reached, participants reported, had Israeli Prime Minister Barak not called off the negotiations prematurely. The framework for these negotiations was Clinton’s “parameters” of December 2000, issued after he recognized that the Camp David proposals earlier that year were unacceptable. It is commonly claimed that Arafat rejected the parameters. However, as Clinton made clear and explicit, both sides had accepted the parameters, in both cases with reservations, which they sought to reconcile in Taba a few weeks later—and apparently almost succeeded. There have been unofficial negotiations since that have produced similar proposals. Though possibilities diminish as U.S.-Israeli settlement and infrastructure programs proceed, they have not been eliminated. By now the international consensus is near universal, supported by the Arab League, Iran, Hamas, in fact every relevant actor apart from the U.S. and Israel.

A second possibility is the one that the U.S.-Israel are actually implementing, along the lines just described. Palestinians will then be consigned to their Gaza prison and to West Bank cantons, perhaps joined by Israeli Arab citizens as well if the Lieberman-Schneller-Livni plans are implemented. For the occupied territories, that will realize the intentions expressed by Moshe Dayan to his Labor Party cabinet colleagues in the early years of the occupation: Israel should tell the Palestinian refugees in the territories that “we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.” The general conception was articulated by Labor Party leader Haim Herzog, later president, in 1972: “I do not deny the Palestinians a place or stand or opinion on every matter…. But certainly I am not prepared to consider them as partners in any respect in a land that has been consecrated in the hands of our nation for thousands of years. For the Jews of this land there cannot be any partner.”

A third possibility would be a binational state. That was a feasible option in the early years of the occupation, perhaps a federal arrangement leading to eventual closer integration as circumstances permit. There was even some support for similar ideas within Israeli military intelligence, but the grant of any political rights to Palestinians was shot down by the governing Labor Party. Proposals to that effect were made (by me in particular), but elicited only hysteria. The opportunity was lost by the mid-1970s when Palestinian national rights reached the international agenda and the two-state consensus took shape. The first U.S. veto of a two-state resolution at the Security Council, advanced by the major Arab states, was in 1976. Washington’s rejectionist stance continues to the present, with the exception of Clinton’s last month in office. Some form of unitary state remains a distant possibility through agreement among the parties, as a later stage in a process that begins with a two-state settlement. There is no other form of advocacy of such an outcome, if we understand advocacy to include a process leading from here to there; mere proposal, in contrast, is free for the asking.

It is of some interest, perhaps, that when advocacy of a unitary binational state had some prospects, it was anathema, while today, when it is completely unfeasible, it is greeted with respect and is advocated in leading journals. The reason, perhaps, is that it serves to undermine the prospect of a two-state settlement.

Advocates of a binational (one-state) settlement argue that on its present course, Israel will become a pariah state like apartheid South Africa, with a large Palestinian population deprived of rights, laying the basis for a civil rights struggle leading to a unitary democratic state. There is no reason to believe that the U.S., Israel, or any other Western state would allow anything like that to happen. Rather, they will proceed exactly as they are now doing in the territories today, taking no responsibility for Palestinians who are left to rot in the various prisons and cantons that may dot the landscape, far from the eyes of Israelis travelling on their segregated superhighways to their well-subsidized West Bank towns and suburbs, controlling the crucial water resources of the region, and benefiting from their ties with U.S. and other international corporations that are evidently pleased to see a loyal military power at the periphery of the crucial Middle East region, with an advanced high tech economy and close links to Washington.



The real question is: there are plainly two national groups that claim the right of self-determination in what used to be Palestine, roughly the area now occupied by Israel minus the Golan Heights, which is part of Syria.

So there are two national groups which claim national self-determination. One group is the indigenous population, or what’s left of it — a lot of it’s been expelled or driven out or fled. The other group is the Jewish settlers who came in, originally from Europe, later from other parts of the Middle East and some other places. So there are two groups, the indigenous population and the immigrants and their descendants. Both claim the right of national self-determination. Here we have to make a crucial decision: are we racists or aren’t we? If we’re not racists, then the indigenous population has the same rights of self-determination as the settlers who replaced them. Some might claim more, but let’s say at least as much right. Hence if we are not racist, we will try to press for a solution which accords them — we’ll say they are human beings with equal rights, therefore they both merit the claim to national self-determination. I’m granting that the settlers have the same rights as the indigenous population; many do not find that obvious but let’s grant it. Then there are a number of possibilities. One possibility is a democratic secular society. Virtually nobody is in favor of that. Some people say they are, but if you look closely they’re not really. There are various models for multi-ethnic societies, say Switzerland or whatever. And maybe in the long run these might be the best idea, but they’re unrealistic.

The only realistic political settlement, for the time being, in the past ten or twelve years, that would satisfy the right of self-determination for both national groups is a two-state settlement. Everybody knows what it would have to be: Israel within approximately the pre-June 1967 borders and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a return of the Golan Heights to Syria, or maybe some other arrangement. This would be associated with maybe demilitarized zones and international guarantees of some sort or another, but that’s the framework of a possible political settlement. As I say, I don’t think it’s the best one, but that’s the realistic one, very realistic. It’s supported by most of the world. It’s supported by Europe, by the Soviet Union, has been for a long time, by almost all the non-aligned countries, it’s supported by all the major Arab states and has been for a long time, supported by the mainstream of the PLO and, again, has been for a long time, it’s supported even by the American population, by about two to one according to the polls. […]

It’s part of European culture to have racist attitudes toward the Third World, including us, we’re part of Europe in that respect. Naturally the Jewish community shared the attitudes of the rest of Europe, not surprising. There certainly are such things inside Israel. My feeling is they could be overcome in time under a situation of peace. I think they’re real, but I don’t think they’re lethal, through slow integration they could probably be overcome. The one that probably can’t be overcome is the anti-Arab racism, because that requires subjugation of a defeated and conquered people and that leads to racism. If you’re sitting with your boot on somebody’s neck, you’re going to hate him, because that’s the only way that you can justify what you’re doing, so subjugation automatically yields racism, and you can’t overcome that. Furthermore, anti-Arab racism is rampant in the United States and much of the West, there’s no question about that. The only kind of racism that can be openly expressed with outrage is anti-Arab racism. You don’t put caricatures of blacks in the newspapers any more; you do put caricatures of Arabs. […]

QUESTION: What dimension does the Holocaust play in this equation? Is it manipulated by the Israeli state to promote its own interests?

CHOMSKY: It’s very consciously manipulated. I mean, it’s quite certainly real, there’s no question about that, but it is also undoubted that they manipulate it. In fact, they say so. For example, in the Jerusalem Post, in English so you can read it, their Washington correspondent Wolf Blitzer […] he said it’s sacrilege to use the Holocaust as a justification for oppressing others. He was referring to something very real: exploitation of probably the world’s most horrifying atrocity in order to justify oppression of others. That kind of manipulation is really sick.

QUESTION: That disturbs you and…

CHOMSKY: Really sick. Many people find it deeply immoral but most people are afraid to say anything about it. Nachem Goldman is one of the few who was able to say anything about it and it was one of the reasons he was hated. […]

CHOMSKY: Anti-Semitism has changed, during my lifetime at least. Where I grew up we were virtually the only Jewish family, I think there was one other. Of course being the only Jewish family in a largely Irish-Catholic and German-Catholic community–

QUESTION: In Philadelphia?

CHOMSKY: In Philadelphia. And the anti-Semitism was very real. There were certain paths I could take to walk to the store without getting beaten up. It was the late 1930s and the area was openly pro-Nazi. I remember beer parties when Paris fell and things like that. It’s not like living under Hitler, but it’s a very unpleasant thing. There was a really rabid anti-Semitism in that neighborhood where I grew up as a kid and it continued. By the time I got to Harvard in the early 1950s there was still very detectable anti-Semitism. It wasn’t that they beat you up on the way to school or something, but other ways, kind of WASP-ish anti-Semitism. There were very few Jewish professors on the faculty at that time. There was beginning to be a scattering of them, but still very few. This was the tail end of a long time of WASP-ish anti-Semitism at the elite institutions. Over the last thirty years that’s changed very radically. Anti-Semitism undoubtedly exists, but it’s now on a par, in my view, with other kinds of prejudice of all sorts. I don’t think it’s more than anti-Italianism or anti-Irishism, and that’s been a very significant change in the last generation, one that I’ve experienced myself in my own life, and it’s very visible throughout the society.

QUESTION: How would you account for that?

CHOMSKY: How would I account for it? I think partly that the Holocaust did have an effect. It brought out the horrifying consequences of anti-Semitism in a way that certainly is striking. I presume, I can’t prove this, but there must be, at least I hope there is, a kind of guilt feeling involved, because the role of the United States during the Holocaust was awful, before and during. They didn’t act to save Jews, and they could have in many respects. […]

Furthermore, I think it’s changed because of what’s happened since 1967. In 1967 Israel won a dramatic military victory, demonstrated its military power, in fact, smashed up the entire Arab world, and that won great respect. A lot of Americans, especially privileged Americans, love violence and want to be on the side of the guy with the gun, and here was a powerful, violent state that smashed up its enemies and demonstrated that it was the dominant military power in the Middle East, put those Third World upstarts in their place. This was particularly dramatic because that was 1967, a time when the United States was having only minimal success in carrying out its invasion of by then all of Indochina, and it’s well worth remembering that elite opinion, including liberal opinion, overwhelmingly supported the war in Vietnam and was quite disturbed by the incapacity of the United States to win it, at least at the level they wanted. Israel came along and showed them how to do it, and that had a symbolic effect. Since then it has been presenting itself, with some justice, as the Sparta of the Middle East, a militarily advanced, technologically competent, powerful society. That’s the kind of thing we like. It also became a strategic asset of the United States […].

QUESTION: But you’ve pointed out that as long as U.S. state interests are being served and preserved, Israel will be favored, but the moment that those interests…

CHOMSKY: That’s right, it’ll be finished, in fact, anti-Semitism will shoot up. Apart from the moral level, it’s a very fragile alliance on tactical grounds.

QUESTION: So what happens to the moral commitment, the concern for justice in the Jewish state and all that — out the window?

CHOMSKY: On the part of whom?

QUESTION: The United States.

CHOMSKY: There’s no concern for justice and there never was. States don’t have a concern for justice. States don’t act on moral grounds.

QUESTION: Except on a rhetorical level.

CHOMSKY: On a rhetorical level, they all do, even Nazi Germany. On the actual level, they never do. They are instruments of power and violence, that’s true of all states; they act in the interests of the groups that dominate them, they spout the nice rhetorical line, but these are just givens of the international system. […]

QUESTION: Edward Said, for example, has pointed out that there is much more pluralism in terms of the discussion, the debate, in Israel itself than inside the United States.

CHOMSKY: There’s no question about that. For example, the editor of the Labor Party journal, the main newspaper of the Labor Party, has asked me to write regular columns. I won’t do it because I’m concerned with things here, but that’s totally inconceivable in the United States, you can’t even imagine it, you can’t even imagine an occasional op-ed. That’s quite typical. Positions that I maintain, which are essentially in terms of the international consensus, they’re not a majority position in Israel, but they’re part of the political spectrum, they’re respectable positions. Here it’s considered outlandish.



After Palestinian national rights entered the international agenda in the mid-1970s, it has remained possible to advocate bi-nationalism (and I continue to do so), but only as a process passing through intermediate stages, the first being a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus. That outcome, probably the best that can be envisioned in the short term, was almost reached in negotiations in Taba in January 2001, and according to participants, could have been reached had the negotiations not been prematurely terminated by Israeli Prime Minister Barak. That was the one moment in the past 30 years when the two leading rejectionist states did briefly consider joining the international consensus, and the one time when a diplomatic settlement seemed within sight. Much has changed since 2001, but I do not see any reason to believe that what was apparently within reach then is impossible today. It is of some interest, and I think instructive, that proposals for a “one-state solution” are tolerated within the mainstream today, unlike the period when advocacy was indeed feasible and they were anathema. Today they are published in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. One can only conclude that they are considered acceptable today because they are completely unfeasible — they remain proposal, not advocacy. In practice, the proposals lend support to US-Israeli rejectionism, and undermine the only feasible advocacy of a bi-national solution, in stages.
Today there are two options for Palestinians. One is US-Israeli abandonment of their rejectionist stance, and a settlement roughly along the lines of what was being approached at Taba, The other option is continuation of current policies, which lead, inexorably, to incorporation into Israel of what it wants: at least, Greater Jerusalem, the areas within the Separation Wall (now an Annexation Wall), the Jordan Valley, and the salients through Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel and beyond that effectively trisect what remains, which will be broken up into unviable cantons by huge infrastructure projects, hundreds of check points, and other devices to ensure that Palestinians live like dogs.

There are those who believe that Palestinians should simply let Israel take over the West Bank completely and then carry out a civil rights/anti-Apartheid style struggle. That is an illusion, however. There is no reason why the US-Israel would accept the premises of this proposal. They will simply proceed along the lines now being implemented, and will not accept any responsibility for Palestinians who are scattered outside the regions they intend to incorporate into Israel.

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