(Postscript on other reviews of this book added below.)

The one-state solution is not an option to be argued. It is an inevitability to be faced.

The subtitle of this book, “A breakthrough for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock”, does it a disservice, insofar as it invites cynicism. Any cursory dismissal would, however, be wholly mistaken. The book's subject – the idea that the Jews and Arabs of Israel/Palestine should have equal rights in a single, shared state – has a history stretching back to before the creation of Israel, when many Zionists saw the goal of Zionism as the creation of a Jewish homeland rather than a Jewish state, and campaigned passionately for an alternative arrangement. Hannah Arendt, for example, wrote presciently that the “partition of so small a country could at best mean the petrification of the conflict”. After sixty years of petrification, the one-state idea is again gaining respected proponents internationally and on both sides of the ethnic divide. As the debate now begins to enter the mainstream, this book deserves particular attention.

Tilley begins with the core issue of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, describing their strategic disposition and their devastating impact on the lives of Palestinians. A project document for the Rehan settlement provides an insight into the sinister ethno-demographic planning of such settlements to take control of, annex, and dismember Palestinian territory. It also reveals the close coordination of numerous Israeli ministries and state agencies to this end. Supporters of a two-state solution have generally accepted that the West Bank settlements – or many of them – would have to be evacuated, if not as a matter of justice then for the pragmatic reason that they render any Palestinian state unviable. Patiently and compellingly, the author lays out the stark, unpleasant reality such commentators are refusing to confront: the state of Israel has invested billions in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and it has continued to expand them aggressively even while engaging in “confounding rhetoric” about territorial compromise; moreover, even if Israel had any intention of abandoning the settlements in the West Bank, the huge settler population there has now made it politically impossible.

Tilley demolishes the illusion of a possible two-state solution with care, considering the degree to which Israeli-Jewish, Israeli-Arab, and Palestinian populations are folded into each other in a small and narrow land, as well as the crucial factor of water. After looking at alternatives mooted by Zionists, including “hard transfer”, i.e., open, large-scale ethnic cleansing (unrealistic, despite its frightening popularity), “soft transfer”, i.e., Palestinian emigration induced by immiseration (not working), Tilley spells out the implications of the Bantustan option on which current policies converge. She concludes that, even if it is called a “state”, the Bantustan option is unworkable: a walled enclave – “a sealed vessel of growing poverty and demoralization” – will foster bitter resistance and “the demographic, economic, and political pressures will build to critical mass.” Over the long term, this will not be sustainable regionally or internationally – or, perhaps, for its effects on Israeli society. Here Tilley quotes not only liberal Israelis concerned about the damage to the character of their state but also right-wing extremists like Benny Morris and Arnon Soffer; Soffer, for example, wonders about the effect on fellow Israelis when “we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” Tony Judt is quoted: “the impending two-state option only carries this long-burning ethnic conflict toward explosion, and widening circles of people are realizing it.” The assessment of Tilley, Judt and others is only the more disturbing when it is understood as a long-term one, with an extended period of increasing suffering, desperation and radicalization preceding the crisis point.

But, in the alternative one-state solution, wouldn't the Arab majority exact a terrible revenge on the Jewish people? While noting that this argument contains a strong element of racism, Tilley correctly addresses it anyway, picking apart the stereotype of the intransigently hostile Arabs of Zionist histories. A reconstruction of Israel's founding myths – especially to acknowledge that Palestinians resisted a premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948 – is required to lay a basis for trust in Palestinian peace gestures. There is ultimately every reason to expect a peaceful transition following the South African model – an event which had been imagined in similarly apocalyptic terms by the whites there. As a professor of political science who has worked in Latin America as well as Africa, the author also offers another example: that of Guatemala, where the indigenous Maya also failed to meet “awful settler-society predictions of vengeful native massacre.” In both cases, energies which previously had no lawful outlet were channeled by democratic enfranchisement and the removal of ethnic discrimination from the rule of law gave everyone an interest in upholding it.

While several other ethnic conflicts are examined, it is in considering the South African one that Tilley's arguments are most powerful. There, apartheid was recognized as a problem of structural inequality which precluded any fair outcome: Bantustans were rightly seen not as a compromise by the whites but rather as part of the apartheid regime which had to be rejected in its entirety. In the case of Israel, the West – shamed by its history of genocidal anti-Semitism and influenced by the imagined Judeo-Christian character of the Holy Land – calls only for dialogue and proposes “solutions” which validate the very ethnic dominion and separation that was condemned in South Africa; the system itself is not criticized, merely the worst of its results. This is not only pragmatically weak, Tilley writes, it is ethically inadequate, for all moral force is lost: in its approach to Israel the West disavows “the very human rights principles that elsewhere legitimize, empower and guide international action.” That right-wing Israelis also recognize this is illustrated by a quote from Ehud Olmert, anticipating the ominous possibility that Palestinians would change their struggle from one against the occupation to a demand for one-man-one-vote: “That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately a much more powerful one.”

There are arguments of rational self-interest for Jews to prefer a one-state solution, not least the fact that constitutional protection of minority rights, guaranteed by the international community, would render permanently irrelevant the otherwise endlessly recurring “problem” of demography which two bouts of ethnic cleansing have failed to dispose of. However, Tilley recognizes that she also confronts a cluster of genuine and deeply-felt emotions difficult for outsiders to appreciate. The task of dealing with these emotions is made more difficult and sensitive by the blurring and merging of the threads of Zionism into a complex, affective whole. She therefore proceeds by disentangling these threads and addressing each one individually. This is done firmly, if not without sympathy for the “anguish and sorrow” described by those who have already taken the intellectual path away from Zionism. Her fundamental argument is that a Jewish majority is not essential to a Jewish homeland or to protect Jewish life or values. In fact, she writes, it is the current political configuration of ethnic domination – requiring, to maintain it, the brutal abuses so troubling to conscientious Israelis – that prevents the state of Israel living up to the Jewish ethics and ideals proclaimed so nobly in its Declaration of Independence.

With succinct arguments, Tilley covers and draws from many subjects, including previous agreements, the surprisingly limited provenance of the two-state option, the position of Arab citizens of Israel, political archaeology, and the various canards that beleaguer debate. In the space of a paragraph, for example, she explains quite well the Palestinians' passionate attachment to their land, so little understood by the average indifferent Westerner. Writing a year before Mearsheimer and Walt's famous article, she provides a good summary of the forces determining the nature of the relationship between the United States and Israel – analyzing not only the leverage of the Israel lobby and the sacrificing of U.S. global interests (strong Arab states with friendly regimes) to the regional interests of Israel (weak governments, civil wars and fragmentation) but also Israel's less widely recognized strategic value to the U.S. in intelligence gathering and as a proxy agent in the developing world.

Tilley's analysis of the current situation is lucid and her thesis is an urgent one. For anyone seriously concerned with peace and the future of the two peoples of the region, The One-State Solution is essential reading.

Book review © 2007 Michael Breen

Postscript: Reviewing the reviews

In response to a critical review by Yoav Peled, Tilley herself wrote a detailed and comprehensive rebuttal.

In his short review, Issa Mikel, while generally positive, takes issue with Tilley for being insufficiently forceful in tackling Zionist discourse (something Mikel, incidentally, does eloquently). But even disregarding her overall objectives, this charge is surprising: if Tilley's approach lacks some of the rhetoric that may be found elsewhere then it is none the weaker for it.

The main fault Mikel identifies is that Tilley does not show the one-state solution to be any less impossible than the two-state one. This criticism has a certain merit: for example, one point that I would like to have seen drawn out explicitly is that the dynamic of resistance to an arrangement in which members of a very large group feel themselves to be sacrificed for their side's greater good – resistance which, whether justly or not, draws on a kind of moral force in addition to self-interest – is entirely different to one in which privileges are revoked and everyone has equal rights. But one must also ask why Tilley should be expected to demonstrate that a change in attitudes is possible, rather than getting straight to work on changing them: do we not have ample historical evidence for dramatic changes in opinion that earlier seemed inconceivable – when the only thing the few proponents of an apparently futile cause seemed to have going for them was a feeling that justice was on their side? One mistake that has endlessly been repeated is to assume that things will remain essentially as they are, that all major changes are concentrated in the past. In current circumstances (most crucially, the lack of any external pressure on comfortable Israeli opinion), this change would of course never come. But circumstances change. Already in the United States there is a perceptible shift in opinion among the younger generation, with the Zionist narrative being challenged more and more by Jews and non-Jews alike. Considering the models of co-existence elsewhere, and recalling that the advocates of the one-state solution recognize that it is a long-term project, the onus of proof is not on those who claim that one democratic state with equal rights is possible but rather on those who claim it is impossible: to turn Mikel's phrase around, merely pointing to the strength of opposition to it today is not enough.

Mikel seems also not to appreciate how great an implicit compliment he pays Tilley's book in the faults he picks. Almost all the force of conventional political and public opinion has for years been behind the illusory two-state solution. Yet Tilley's detailed map of the physical and political landscape exposes the two-state solution as a cynical fiction, and it leaves no doubt that to exhort Palestinians to continue their trek towards an ever-receding mirage is to collude, however unwittingly, in sending them only further into the desert. This alone is a job that would merit a book, all the more obviously so because of the predictable dismay, denial, even outrage at such unwelcome and inconvenient news.

John Strawson's review (democratiya.com/review.asp?reviews_id=23) is almost as disingenuous as it is hostile. In his narrative of the conflict – an obfuscating rearguard action – he propagates the fiction that the Zionist leadership was genuinely ready to accept a state in which Jews would form only a slight majority. But even if this were true (and we know from David Ben-Gurion that it is not), the unwillingness of immigrants to live as a minority could hardly justify expecting a comparable number of the indigenous population to willingly become one. And while it is good that Strawson at least acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed before the declaration of the state of Israel, it is unfortunate that he does so in a compartmentalized way; thus the reaction of surrounding Arab states appears as a genocidal response to a Jewish presence rather than rage at the creation of a colonial state which would formalize dispossession and make permanent the ethnic cleansing already carried out (and which continued within Israel after the 1948 war had ended).

Strawson claims that early Zionist settlement led to no expulsions and that, in saying otherwise, Tilley "dangerously" simplifies history. But Strawson is simply wrong: while it was indeed paid for, as he says, land was bought from landlords who had exploited the Ottoman Land Code to sell it over the heads of those whose communal rights to it had not been registered; these peasants were then expelled by the new Jewish owners, leading to entirely predictable violent unrest and later to the resistance of Ottoman governors such as Shukri al Asali. Although Tilley does not provide these details, she does say (p.72) that the land was bought from absentee landlords. Why then does Strawson cite another source for the fact that the land was paid for, if not to give the impression – quite falsely – that this contradicts Tilley's account? And why does he avoid the crucial word "landlord"? The most innocent explanation is that not only did his previous studies safely skirt such facts (facts which are indeed "dangerous" to his case), his ignorance of them is a result of failing also to read the very book he is attacking.

To factual error (if we are to be charitable), Strawson adds tenuous assertion, misleading and irrelevant emphasis, and bald misrepresentation. Tilley underestimates the significance of the withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip, he tells us. But her acute analysis is entirely consistent with subsequent events – and the total settler population removed from Gaza was exceeded by the number added to the West Bank in that year alone. Tilley notes that Israel's Law of Return (1950) privileges Jewish immigrants while excluding Palestinian refugees. But, Strawson says, those allowed to become citizens include members of a Jew's family who might not be Jews and they would have been persecuted by the Nazis. He doesn't tackle Israel's two-tiered citizenship. Tilley is supposedly "light-minded" when discussing the one-state alternatives. In fact, while mentioning some possibilities such as small-scale federalism, she says quite correctly that prescribing the state's design is premature and must be decided through dialogue by its future citizens. Strawson gives the impression that Tilley ignores the example of the former Yugoslavia and that Israel is just the same kind of ethnic state as the new countries in the Balkans; she doesn't and she explains exactly why it isn't.

In order to make Tilley appear "one-dimensional" in her treatment of Zionism, Strawson complains first that she does not mention some sentiment favourable to a binational state; then, when she does exactly that in the case of Martin Buber and others, he complains that she implies they were not Zionists. Even the latter criticism – ultimately one of labels – is difficult to reconcile with, for example, Tilley's quoting "The Bi-national Approach to Zionism" or her introduction of Henrietta Szold as the founder of the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Contrary to the impression Strawson seeks to create, the views of the more moderate, cultural Zionists are not avoided but in fact strengthen Tilley's case for a single state (see the first paragraph of the review above). As for Strawson's charge that Tilley unfairly portrays Ze'ev Jabotinsky as mainstream, she states plainly that his view was only one among many, that it was not initially dominant, and she contrasts it with that of Ahad Ha'am at the other extreme. Looking at Israel's history to date, no-one can doubt which view gained the ascendency.[1] To accuse Tilley of selecting Zionism's speakers on its behalf is therefore doubly dishonest.

Strawson flaps at the word "apartheid": what is really being spoken about is occupation, he says. Yet Israel behaves not merely as an occupying military power but one that has privileged ethnic territorial rights to "Judea and Samaria"; a settler in the West Bank can commute daily to Tel Aviv with no hint that he is sharing a country with anyone but Jews. The words "apartheid" and "occupation" are both valid, depending only on whether one chooses to emphasize the reality on the ground or the wholly-unenforced provisions of international law. But this is to unnecessarily dignify Strawson's casuistry; we might more simply note that denial of apartheid becomes increasingly untenable when the word is used by Israeli activists and intellectuals to describe not just settler-only roads in the West Bank but also housing and land policies within Israel itself.

While most of Strawson's efforts are expended in attempting to portray Tilley as naive and ill-informed, his own position obliges him also to stress the political potential for a two-state solution. He emphasizes that religious settlers are a small minority within Israel (despite the fact that they have been encouraged and supported by every Israeli government), talks about "vigorous debates" within Israel and looks to coming elections. In fact, this is precisely the kind of argument that Tilley's careful analysis exposes as at best woefully misguided, concluding that "grand statements about territorial compromise" and various excuses – the next election, international summit, or some other condition – have absorbed international attention for months or years while territory has continued to be steadily annexed. When Israel has paid so little heed even to the agreements it has signed (doubling the number of settlers during the Oslo years), how can Strawson attach importance to a plan which Israel never even accepted (Geneva)? When he cites an Israeli court decision mentioning equality, he omits to mention how unusual it is, that it is not supported by any constitutional principle,[2] and that the Israeli government has sometimes found it convenient to ignore the decisions of its own courts. When he refers to a "lively Israeli-Palestinian political scene" (an interesting choice of words), he appears ignorant of the state harassment of Palestinian Israeli politicians, the attempts to bar them from running in elections, and their complete marginalization even in an extremely fractured Knesset. In short, Strawson is either disingenuous or utterly lacking any understanding of the existing realities and the operation of power: he points to faint straws in the wind and expects us to believe that unmown fields are about take flight.

Contrary to the misleading and inflammatory "right to exist" language which Strawson insists on peddling, the real issue in the Israel-Palestine conflict is where people are to be allowed to live, whether they be Palestinian refugees or Jewish settlers. The one-state solution removes this intractably contentious zero-sum element from the conflict, envisaging a future in which both Jews and non-Jews can choose to live in Haifa or Hebron, Jaffa or Jerusalem. The road to bridging the two communities in order to make this possible may be a long one but there is no longer any credible excuse to delay starting the journey. As Tilley concludes, "It has been done elsewhere against staggering odds, and it can be done here."

[1] A speech by Ariel Sharon in 2005 provides a fair indication of the continuing influence of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. (In the same speech, Sharon also made plain that the then incomplete Gaza disengagement was not a concession to peace but rather a strategic move to allow Israel's settlement efforts to be concentrated where they could secure the maximum additional territory.)

[2] Because, of course, Israel has no constitution. To quote Joel Kovel: "The contradictions posed by the notion of a Jewish democratic state are so severe that you can't codify it in a constitutional form. To do so would mean breaking apart the fiction that there can be a genuine democracy for one ethnic group over others."