The Two-State Proposal for Palestine: Neither Practical nor Morally Defensible
July 6, 2016
By Stephen Gowans
I wrote on July 4 in The Jewish Colonization of Palestine and the Recalcitrance of the Natives that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 was the first official two-state proposal. Actually, a decade earlier, in 1937, Britain’s Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The commission’s report, and not Resolution 181, contained the first official two-state proposal. The Peel Commission plan was rejected by both sides, adumbrating the repudiation of Resolution 181 a decade later. A two-state proposal, then, has been around, in one form or another, for nearly 80 years, and in all those years, one side or both, has rejected it in practice, if not always in words.
Given the proposal’s uninspiring record of repeated repudiation, it beggars belief that two-state proponents should continue to think it has much of a chance of being accepted. The only conditions under which one can conceive of it being accepted by the Palestinians is if they become so ground down that they eventually capitulate and accept whatever crumbs are offered them; that is, if after decades as refugees, under Israeli military occupation, incarcerated in the open air prison of the Gaza Strip, or as third class Israeli citizens, they finally give up, and accept to live forever on their knees, though the chances of that happening seem vanishingly small. All the same, two-state proponents may welcome this unlikely outcome, and celebrate it, but what they would celebrate? Peace? Perhaps. But also the triumph of a grave injustice. And without justice, peace cannot last long.
The moral case against Jewish colonization of Palestine is formidable. The legitimacy of political authority is derived from the consent of the governed. Neither the British colonial authorities nor the Zionist state ever had the consent of the Palestinians. UN Resolution 181 (which is irrelevant anyway since it has never been implemented and was rejected by Jewish forces in 1947 and 1948 when they conquered territory beyond the limits the resolution proposed for a Jewish state) was rejected by the Palestinian majority whose lives would have been profoundly and unalterably affected by it.
As Tomis Kapitan pointed out (The Israeli-Palestine Conflict, 1997), the British had no right to give Palestine as a gift to anyone, and even if they did, London had pledged support for Arab independence throughout the Middle East to an established monarch (Sheriff Hussein of Mecca) before it issued the Balfour Declaration, whose pledge was made to an amorphous body, “the Jews”, lacking political form and juridical definition.
Moreover, Palestinians have a natural right to self government, independent of the promises, declarations, resolutions and preferences of the British, the United States, the United Nations, and the Diplomatic Quartet.
Hence, add to the moral concerns about the two-state proposal, the reality that its history shows it to have long been considered by one or both sides as undesirable, and the conclusion must be that it is untenable as a serious proposal, on moral grounds as well as on the practical grounds that its proponents quite mistakenly believe recommends it.
An alternative proposal that at least has the benefit of being just, morally defensible, and sensitive to the rights of indigenous people to self-determination, is a single, secular, democratic state, in which all citizens, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, are equal, and to which all Palestinian refugees are free to return.