Two impossibilities

Neither a one-state nor a two-state solution is feasible, argues Moshé Machover. Instead we ought to think outside the Israel-Palestine box and argue for a working class solution

It is generally accepted - except by people who know better - that there are just two possible resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian national/colonial conflict: either a two-state or a one-state solution. But that is a false dichotomy - although there are several things that these two supposed solutions have in common.

I will start with these common features, and then I will go on to explain in what way there are profound differences between them. Both are bourgeois democratic schemes, and by this I mean two things. First, they envisage a resolution in which the resulting state or states will be capitalist. They do not project a socialist outcome. This is not in general a drawback - I am not arguing here that all national/colonial conflicts can only be resolved through socialism. However, I do argue just that in this particular case: there is no capitalist resolution to this conflict.

These ‘solutions’ are also bourgeois or bourgeois-democratic in another sense: they do not assign any special role to the working class. In fact, they do not mention class at all. Yet, even where a national/colonial conflict can be resolved without socialism, it is still the case that socialists should insist on the working class organising separately on its own terms and with its own demands.

Both of these supposed resolutions to this conflict were originally raised by the Palestinian liberation movement - specifically by the Palestine Liberation Organisation as led by Fatah, which is the dominant organisation in the PLO. Both are not only confined to capitalism, but they are also confined to the Israel-Palestine box: that is to say, they do not in any way connect with the general region - the Arab east, in which the Israel-Palestine box is embedded and in which this conflict is also embedded.

I think this disqualifies both of them as socialist positions, because, as my comrades and I in Matzpen have been on record as saying since 1966 (that is to say, even before the 1967 June war), the resolution to this conflict must be regional and it must be socialist - for reasons to do specifically with this case, not for any general theoretical reasons.

Here the similarities between these two supposed resolutions and I will examine below the profound differences between them. Just to give you the bottom line in terms of political positions, the two-state supposed resolution is a deception and should be exposed. Until some time ago you could say that some people supported it out of ignorance. It looks good, so why not support it? Now this is no longer possible.

It is not the case that everyone who supported it did so out of evil motives or a wish to deceive. Some people did so, and still do, because they are captives within the dichotomy. They think that either one state or two states can happen and, since for good or bad reasons they cannot support one state, they are stuck in the two-state paradigm - probably against their better judgment. I do not want to mention any particular groups or individuals, but you probably know whom I mean.

On the other hand, the people who advocate the one-state solution (so-called) are often well-meaning and well-motivated, and are not putting it forward in order to deceive. While these people are not our enemies, I do not think socialists should propose a resolution to the conflict that does not work. So I think it is not something that should be advocated as a solution.

The origin of the one-state resolution is in the old period of Fatah, dating from about 1969. I would refer you to my 2013 article, ‘Palestine/Israel: belling the cat’.1 Here you will find certain historical quotations as to the origins of these various ideas, as proposed by accredited PLO officials and spokespeople.

The proposed formula was a “secular, democratic, unitary Palestine”. Now, the wording here is important. Until 1969, the Palestinian nationalist movement regarded Palestine as forever the homeland of one national group: the Palestinian Arabs - it was an Arab country. However, they came to the conclusion, in view of the actual reality, that the Zionist settlers could not be dislodged. They are there to stay. So they reasonably thought that they should propose a solution that would incorporate them. But, being stuck in a nationalist mindset, they could not accept the idea that what had crystallised in the occupied part of Palestine, in Israel, was a national formation, a settler nation. This is not unique - there are other settler nations in the world - but this was a settler nation still in the process of colonisation, which made it even harder to accept.

So the PLO related to this particular settler nation as a religious entity - hence the word, “secular”. The future Palestine is going to be Arab in national character, but it is going to be secular: it is going to allow equal religious rights and freedom of religious worship to all concerned - Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Paradoxically, in relating to the settlers not as a new nation, but just as part of Jewry, they accepted implicitly the diametrically opposed stance of Zionism, which also regards the Israelis just as part of Jewry, not a new nation. Except that, according to Zionist ideology, all Jews around the world constitute a nation. However, this was 1969, remember - it was at the height of the Vietnam war and the PLO was no doubt inspired by the Vietnamese struggle against colonialism, although in very different circumstances. The inspiration and ideas they got from Vietnam were very unhelpful and in fact soon led to disaster.

Two states

Then in circa 1974, having realised that this “secular, democratic” Palestine was not going to happen - the means that they had envisaged to achieve it were not working - the Palestinian movement came up with the idea of two states. Originally, in the 1970s, the Israeli leaders rejected it outright. This was connected to the basic, long-term strategy of Zionism. They were not going to allow anything like a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In the late 1970s, comrade Emmanuel Farjoun and I wrote a set of theses, in which we pointed out the long-term strategy of the Zionist movement. These theses are available on the Matzpen website.2 We quoted a speech by Moshe Dayan, who was then Israeli minister of defence. This is what he said:

Fundamentally a Palestinian state is an antithesis of the state of Israel: that is to say, the two are incompatible. The basic and naked truth is that there is no fundamental difference between the relation of Arabs from Nablus to Nablus [in the West Bank] than there is of the Arabs from Jaffa to Jaffa [a formerly Arab town in what became Israel, which is now a suburb of Tel Aviv] ... And if today we set out on this road, and say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country, and have the same rights, then it will not end with the West Bank. The West Bank, together with the Gaza Strip, do not amount to a state ... The establishment of such a Palestinian state will lay a cornerstone to something else.

And he ends up by saying: “Either the state of Israel or a Palestinian state.”

So this is unambiguous. And I can quote earlier texts from leading Zionists, including David Ben-Gurion, who was one of the most astute strategists of Zionist colonisation, saying that eventually we need to be able to colonise - to settle, he says - in the whole of “Eretz Israel” (the land of Israel, aka Palestine). But there was now mounting pressure on Israel to reach a settlement.

By the way, a major difference between the two ideas of one state and two states is that the two-state solution fundamentally presupposes an international agreement between Israel and the Palestinian movement. It does not require the overthrow of the existing regime of Israel and is not a revolutionary idea in any sense. But even that Israel would not allow.

But there was a growing pressure internationally for Israel to agree and therefore, eventually, it accepted the idea - in name only: it was a deception right from the start. It was this that led eventually to the 1991 international conference in Madrid, where the Palestinian movement was not officially represented because Israel demanded that the Palestinian viewpoint could only be expressed by Jordan. But behind the scenes there were negotiations directly between Israeli diplomats and Palestinian leaders in Oslo. This led to the Oslo accords, which were finalised in 1993.

Now, many people think that the Oslo accords were about two states, but this is a deception. There was not a word in the agreed text about a Palestinian state in any part of Palestine. Moreover - and even more importantly - there is not a word about ending the Israeli colonisation of the West Bank. You would have thought at least, if Israel was seriously aiming for a Palestinian state, then it would stop encroaching on and stealing Palestinian land. What happened during the Oslo accords has been compared to two people negotiating over how to divide a pizza, while one of them is eating it bit by bit - an apposite metaphor for what happened.

In fact since Oslo we have seen the increasing colonisation of the West Bank. In other words, it was a deception. But now I think the usefulness of that deception is coming to an end, because the Israeli government is openly admitting that it intends to annex parts of the West Bank - not the whole of it, because there are too many Arabs there. You see, the problem for the Zionist colonisation project is that they want that land, but they do not want the people. This is an important characteristic of certain types of colonisation: what Marx called “colonies, properly so-called”.3

It is significant that, following the 1967 war, Israel almost immediately annexed two parts of its conquest: Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. In the case of Jerusalem it was for ideological reasons, because it has always been a key part of the Holy Land. But it took the precaution of first ethnically cleansing the Golan Heights, leaving there only the Druze community - who, according to Israeli ideology, are, uniquely, not regarded as Arabs.

The Druze are, in fact, an Arab religious community, but it is the second of two religions that Zionism has falsely claimed is a nation - the first, of course, being the so-called Jewish nation, which is spread around the world. But this deception allows Israel to state that the Druze are not Arabs, and could be left in place as a minority in the Syrian Golan Heights, from where more than 100,000 inhabitants were ethnically cleansed before Israel annexed it formally.

In 2019 Israel revealed its intention to annex parts of the so-called ‘Area C’, which is a big chunk of the West Bank, although more rural and less inhabited, while the more densely populated areas will not be formally taken over just yet. Representatives of the government wrote a letter to members of US Congress, urging them not to support the two-state ‘solution’, which is now dead. Although the annexation plan has been shelved for the time being, it is by no means finished. So the deception has come to an end, which means that anyone who still supports that ‘solution’ should be denounced or at least exposed.

One state

Why do some good people still adhere to the ideas of two states? Because, as I have pointed out, they can only see one alternative: a one-state ‘solution’, which they reject.

Now, a one-state solution means one of two things. Either Israel will annex the whole of the West Bank - at least that will produce one state and then we can fight for equal rights. (This is obviously a very dangerous recommendation, when viewed in this way. Can a democratic, equitable solution to the conflict be achieved by first of all Israel annexing the whole of the occupied Palestinian territories?) Or else, alternatively, the Israeli Zionist regime must first be overthrown.

But people are afraid to say that. Imagine Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour leader declaring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved by first of all overthrowing the main obstacle: the Zionist regime. Clearly the Zionist regime is not going to accept any one-state solution which enshrines anything approaching equal rights.

It is true that my position is one of pessimism, but please do not misunderstand me. It is not pessimism of the will: it is just that I have no grounds for spreading optimism - false optimism. I think the situation is dire and the likely prospects, in the near and medium future, are also dire. I am optimistic, of course, in the long run, but, given my age, I realistically do not expect to see a positive outcome in my lifetime.

The thing about the so-called one-state solution is that it is actually revolutionary. Given current circumstances, a state leading to not only equal individual rights, but equal national rights, cannot be established. There is one oppressing nation and another oppressed people - the Palestinian Arabs, who are part of the pan-Arab nation. But anything leading to equality would require the overthrow of the Zionist regime, which is why I say it is a revolutionary solution.

How did Fatah originally envisage a secular, democratic state, when the PLO still advocated a one-state solution? This is a quotation from 1969:

A popular war of liberation, aimed at the destruction of the racist, imperialist state, will create new conditions that make new Palestine possible. In this process, the alternatives presented to the Jews of Palestine are drastically changed and instead of security of the state of Israel, instead of being thrown into the sea [the reactionary PLO position before 1967 - MM], this revolution offers a new set of alternatives: the insecurity of an exclusive, racist Israel versus an open, safe and tolerant Palestine for all its patriots. The Palestinian revolution thus aims in the long run to recruit Jewish Palestinians, as well as non-Jews, in its liberation forces as an important step towards its final goals.

Note, by the way, that the person using the word “revolution” is a senior Fatah spokesperson. This is from an unsigned programmatic paper, endorsed by the organisation, but I know the person who wrote it. His name is Nabil Sha’ath, with whom I had friendly discussions back in the 1960s and 70s.

However, in the above statement we see the Vietnam paradigm. When these words were written, American forces were in Vietnam, where guerrillas fought against the invading force. But imagine resistance to the United States inside US territory from bases in Mexico. How much success would you predict for this?

It would be a non-starter, but the equivalent of that is what happened, unfortunately and tragically, to the Palestinian guerrilla movement, which thought that fraternal Arab states would aid them. But they were stationed in hostile territory, in Jordan; and the result was Black September in 1970. The Palestinian guerrilla movement was slaughtered and decamped from Jordan to Lebanon.

So the Vietnam paradigm did not work. But now many people - not the official Palestinian movement, but many progressive-thinking people around the world, including in Israel - have returned to the one-state idea. However, this time it is not the Vietnam paradigm, but another one: the South African paradigm. Things are going to be like South Africa - another rainbow nation will be created.


A lot of well-wishing, right-minded, good people - some of them my friends and comrades - believe in this, but in my opinion we cannot avoid looking at the situation from a Marxist point of view. Not all colonisations are of one type: there are differences. Marx distinguished between three types in Capital volume 1.

First there are “plantation colonies for exports only”. He gives one example - the West Indies. Secondly, there are colonies “in rich and well populated countries … given over to plunder”: for example, Mexico and India. And, thirdly, he writes about colonies “properly so-called”: for example, New England. Karl Kautsky, a leading Marxist of the Second International, forgot about plantation colonies at the beginning of the 20th century. He mentioned just “exploitation colonies” - which correspond more or less to places like India and Mexico - and “work colonies”, where the direct producers are settlers themselves.

Now there are two differences between Kautsky and Marx. Whereas Marx distinguished between three types and Kautsky only two, Kautsky was quite complimentary about work colonies. By contrast Marx is scathing about them. If you read what he says about the colonies of New England, he is angry about the way they treated the natives.

There are few laws in history, but one law that I can, without any hesitation, formulate is that, wherever what Kautsky called “work colonies” take place in modern times, a new settler nation comes into existence. This has happened everywhere - it happened in New England, it happened in Australia and New Zealand, and it happened in Palestine.

By the way, what Kautsky calls work colonies are more or less what academics in post-colonialist discourse call ‘settler colonies’. But be careful, because not all academics - especially those who are not Marxists - make the crucial distinction concerning who the direct producers are. Kautsky does make it, when he points out that it is the settlers themselves who do the work.

And that applied to Zionist colonisation from the start - they actually planned it that way. In the early documents of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, said: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country.”4

He wrote this before deciding where this was going to take place: it was not yet clear that it was going to be in Palestine: there were other ideas - east Africa, for instance. The main perpetrators of this form of colonisation were the socialist Zionists. But that is not surprising - many ‘socialists’ in the early 20th century favoured colonisation. But, remember, today we are living in the post-colonial era, while, at the 1907 Stuttgart conference of the Second International, for instance, there was a strong current in favour of endorsing a pro-colonisation movement. Kautsky had a big problem in getting this proposition rejected - there was a large minority that supported it. In other words, the Zionist socialists were not exceptional in supporting colonialism: it was quite widespread.

But the basic point is that the type of political economy in apartheid South Africa was very different from Zionism. The main direct producers were the oppressed, indigenous black population. The apartheid regime could not do without them.

Arguably, two things brought the apartheid regime down. Yes, whatever people say about sanctions and the international movement against apartheid, they helped. But two things that actually brought the regime down were, firstly, the class struggle inside South Africa - the regime could not forever deny elementary rights to a huge majority of the population; secondly, there was the military defeat in Angola, mainly with the help of Cuba. These two things tolled the bell for the apartheid regime.

There is nothing like that scenario in the case of Palestine and Israel. I cannot see any way of overthrowing the Zionist regime without the consent and participation of the Hebrew working class - which is highly unlikely in the present situation. The problem is that the majority of the Israeli masses - the working class and its allies - are Hebrew, not Palestinian. The latter are externalised, just as, unlike in Vietnam, they were when they were fighting the guerrilla war.

But why should the Israeli working class in the present circumstances accept a capitalist ‘one state’, in which it would still be an exploited class, but in which it would lose its currently existing national privileges? They see quite plainly that establishing a single state would be against their present interests - if it is capitalist, which is what is on offer. They will resist such an outcome to the death. And remember: Israel is a nuclear power. There is no way I can see that it is possible to implement a one state so-called solution in the existing circumstances.

Arab revolution

There is a possible scenario, however - a theoretical possibility - in which the Israeli working class would accept the overthrow of the Zionist regime. Imagine a regional revolution: the working class taking power in Egypt, in Iraq, in Syria; and inviting the Israeli working class to be partners. I am not saying that this will surely happen, but it is at least a possibility, albeit one that would require many prerequisites. In this situation it would be a good deal for the Israeli Hebrew working class. It would exchange its current status - as an exploited class with national privileges - for one in which it is part of a regional ruling class without national privileges.

As I have said, I am certainly not an optimist in the medium term, but I do not see any other way in which the conflict can be resolved. However, I am talking about something that is both a socialist resolution and a regional one and I do not think there is any other way - socialism in one country is a joke, especially in a country like Israel/Palestine. It would have to be at least on a regional scale.

Of course, this would require a lot of preparation. For decades, I have been participating in attempts to form a regional organisation of Marxists, which I think must be a precondition - an organisation which prepares the ground for the kind of resolution I am talking about (I cannot say I have been too successful, although there have been some beginnings).

By the way, although the Hebrew working class is not very sympathetic to the Palestinians, because it regards them as a danger, there have been very clear signs of solidarity and sympathy with the Arab working class in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

In the mass demonstrations of 2011 - the biggest in Israel’s history - one of the most popular slogans in Hebrew was: “Tahrir Square is here in this town”. True, there was no discussion of the occupation of Palestinian land, but there was a clear feeling of solidarity with the Egyptian working class. Another of the popular slogans was against “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu” - nobody seemed to oppose it. So there is a glimmer of hope, although I do not say more than that.

What I am saying is that, while a one-state resolution might be well-meaning and it is not a good idea to denounce it, it is utopian. It is not going to happen and therefore it is wrong for Marxists to advocate it. The road to the heart of the Hebrew working class goes through Cairo and Baghdad.

By the way, the Socialist Workers Party, which is supposed to be Marxist, does advocate a one-state ‘solution’. And what paradigm does it present? South Africa. The comrades should know better. It sounds progressive, it is progressive and I wish it could happen: one state with equal rights for all, even a capitalist one, would be a huge improvement on the existing situation. But it is utopian, and Marxists do not advocate utopia.

I think, as opposed to proposing utopian resolutions, Marxists should raise demands as a challenge to the existing structure:

The Zionists claim the right of ‘return’ for the Jews, claiming they were expelled from Palestine by the Romans. Actually that never happened - it is a historical invention, a mere fiction. But their ideology says that the Jews were expelled about 2,000 years ago and now they claim the right to ‘return’ - but not for the Palestinians after just 70 years!

  1. Weekly Worker December 12 2013: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/990/palestineisrael-belling-the-cat.↩︎

  2. matzpen.org/english/1976-08-08/the-national-movement-in-the-arab-east.↩︎

  3. K Marx, ‘Genesis of the industrial capitalist’ Capital Vol 1, chapter 31: www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm.↩︎

  4. www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Famous-Zionist-Quotes/Story643.html.↩︎