From A World To Win News Service

Can the “Two-State Solution” Liberate the Palestinian People?

October 26, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


October 19, 2015. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from an interview with Ilan Pappe by Khalil Bendib for the Status Audio Journal ( on September 9, 2015. Pappé is a historian and author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine: A History of Modern Palestine and the Israel-Palestine Question. Driven out of Israel, he is now chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter in the UK. The full transcript of the lengthy interview is posted on

The so-called “two-state solution” (a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza existing alongside Israel) is the policy advocated by the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has sometimes implied it might accept that, and sometimes, like right now under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declared Israel will never accept it. Many Palestinians and their supporters believe that it is the only possible step forward, while much of the debate has focused on whether or not such a step could actually happen, and if so, how. Pappe discusses why that is a wrong focus, and why, if this concept were implemented, it would represent the legitimization and attempted stabilization of the oppression of the Palestinians as a people.

Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappé

Ilan Pappé: What lies behind the idea of a two-state solution is: if the Jewish national movement and the Palestinian national movement arrive more or less at the same time to the same place, and were unable to settle the question of to whom the land belongs, and were unable to reconcile, and what was needed was kind of a grown-up in the form of the United States and Britain that would help these two sides to reconcile on the basis of a kind-of American, business-like approach, where you divide the land, you divide the responsibility, and so on. And that is a very wrong way of reading the whole history of Palestine since the arrival of the Zionist movement there in the late nineteenth century until today.

This is not a conflict between two national movements fighting over the same piece of land. This is a struggle between a settler-colonialist movement which arrived in the late nineteenth century in Palestine and still tries today to colonize Palestine by having most of the land with as few of the native people on it as possible. And the struggle of the native people is an anti-colonialist struggle. You have to come back to any historical case studies you remember of an anti-colonialist movement fighting a colonialist power and ask yourself, at any given moment was the idea of partitioning the land between the colonizer and the colonized portrayed as a reasonable solution? Especially by people who were on the left or saw themselves as conscientious members of the society?

And the answer is a resounding no. Of course you would not support the division of Algeria between the French settlers and the native Algerians. And even in places where you had settler colonialism, namely where you had white people who had nowhere to go in a way, like in South Africa, if you would suggest today as a progressive person that you should divide South Africa between the white population and the African population, you would be regarded at best as insane, and at worst as someone who is insincere and a fascist. I think this logic—which is so clear to many people on any other place in the world—somehow fails to work in the case of Palestine.

The two are connected in the sense that when we analyse the situation in Palestine, when we ask ourselves why were Palestinians expelled massively in 1948? Why were the Palestinians in Israel put under military rule between 1948 and 1967? Why was this military rule transferred from inside Israel to the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967? Why are the Bedouins in the south of Israel and the Palestinian villages in the north of Israel today subject, like those who live in Jerusalem, to a policy of expropriation of land and strict regulation in their own places of habitation? Then of course we get to this question of why does Israel refuse to allow the refugees to return and imposes such an inhumane siege on Gaza? When we ask all of these questions and we look for the reason why they are done, we know now better than we ever knew before that the reason for this is ideological. It is a Zionist ideology.

This is a Zionist vision shared by all the Zionist parties. Now, this is the main, almost the exclusive, obstacle to peace and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. Not addressing it, but only addressing the Israeli policy here or there, would be similar to addressing certain policies of South Africa during the heyday of Apartheid without touching Apartheid at all.

Khalil Bendib: In your book, On Palestine, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, you speak of this term, “peace orthodoxy,” which you accuse of being more of a racist than pragmatic tendency. You go as far as saying that among the pushers of a two-state solution, “the dictionary of the peace orthodoxy sprang out of an almost religious belief in the two-state solution. And that comes straight out of a contemporary version of Orwell’s 1984.”

IP: Yeah. It is a newspeak. I mean, I am using Orwell here in his reference to newspeak, the kind of language that does not only disable us from calling a spade a spade, it called it exactly the opposite. Usually, a cruel reality is described as a benevolent one in the newspeak of Orwell. And I think the same is true about these words, which to me are sacred. I mean, “peace,” “justice,” “reconciliation” are three of the most sacred words in our vocabulary as human beings. They really represent the highest form of human ambition to live peacefully with one another, to live in a society which is much better than any other society. Now, to use these languages in order to cover up for a process on the ground which achieves exactly the opposite—instead of reconciliation, it sows more dissent and animosity and hatred; instead of peace, it creates war; and instead of justice, it maintains an Apartheid system—when these words are used as a protective shield to describe a reality that is exactly the opposite of what they mean, this for me is even worse than racism in a way. This is a kind of the Orwellian nightmare that I have when people begin to use words in such a way.

The idea for a two-state solution began as a Zionist, Israeli ploy after 1967 to reconcile a really simple problem: they have kicked out millions of Palestinians in 1948, but because of their territorial appetite, they wanted to take those parts of Palestine they did not occupy in 1948—the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—but with the territory came another one million and a half Palestinians, today almost three million Palestinians. In order to reconcile the fact that you now have the whole of the land, but you are still left with a demographic nightmare as far as the Zionist movement was concerned, one of the means they have used was the peace process. The peace process was used as a kind of message to the world which says, “As you can see, we are now robbing the Palestinians in the occupied territories of any basic human rights and civil rights. As you can see, we are expropriating their land, we are building Jewish settlements on them, we are expelling them quite massively, and we imprison them even if they dare just to raise the Palestinian flag.” Now, what the peace process means for the Israelis is a message to the world: “This is all temporary, of course when peace comes, all these measures will be removed.”

Now, of course, you can understand why people on the Western left would have succumbed to this explanation after five years of occupation, or 10 years of occupation. I can still see why one could still be hopeful that the Israelis mean it, or that the world has the power to force Israel to mean it. But after almost 50 years, to still stick to this idea which is an Israeli ploy to deepen the colonization of the areas they have occupied in 1967, and to wipe out any possibility of negotiating the areas they occupied in 1948, or the return of the refugees, to do that is really to be very stagnant and dogmatic in one’s perception of the reality. You would have expected critical voices on the American and European left to be a bit more alert to the kind of trap they have found themselves in, which Israel very cleverly has put there, in a way.

From a scholarly point of view, there are many aspects of the reality in South Africa which are different from those in Palestine. I could mention the lack of any equivalent to the Jewish lobby in the case of South Africa. I can mention also the Holocaust as a game changer in the history of Palestine, and there is nothing equivalent to this in the case of South Africa. And of course there are differences in the way the Apartheid regime manifested itself in South Africa and in the way the ethnic cleansing paradigm, or structure, in Israel was working. But these are minute issues that do not really undermine the basic comparison, which is the most important one.

KB: Again, in opposition to the more “pragmatic” Chomsky, you place not only the right of return for Palestinians at the heart of an eventual solution to the Palestinian question, but also reparations for what happened to the Palestinians over the past 60-plus years. Explain to us how this is not necessarily just a utopian dream, and how these two essential conditions are central to a true solution for the future of Palestine-Israel.

IP: Yes, indeed. I think my departure point on the right of return is very different from those who would assess it pragmatically. Namely, is it feasible, or even on the question—which, anyway, is debatable—does Israel have the capacity to absorb such a large number of people should all the refugees want to come back. I think this is not now the issue and that is not the reason we are now bringing it up. We all have been bringing up the issue of right of return. The [denial of] the right of return is a symptom of the racist nature of the Zionist regime in Israel. That is the main problem.

The objection of Israel to the right of return stems from the same ideological reasoning that lies behind the Judaization policy in Galilee, the destruction of Bedouin villages in the Naqab in the south of Israel, the Bantustanization of the West Bank, and the ghettoization of Gaza. It stems from the same reason, and as a Zionist you always wanted it from the late nineteenth century to today, you want to have as much of the land as possible with as few people as possible. And therefore, when you support the right of return, you are not only recognizing an individual right that the international community sanctions in Resolution 194 from the 11th of December, 1948. You not only adhere to all the international conventions about the refugees’ right of return. No less important, you refuse to accept as legal, as moral, and as politically acceptable, the idea that the native people have no right to be in their own homeland. And I think that is the main issue.


A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.



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