Ever since the establishment after the First World War of the British Mandatory regime in Palestine, the mainstream in the Zionist movement accepted as part of its vision the possibility of sharing historical Palestine with another independent Arab entity. This said, two qualifications to this statement should be added: first, that this scenario did not exclude other maximalist ambitions, such as the establishment of a Jewish state over all of historical Palestine and even beyond; and second, that for most of the Mandatory period, the Zionist leadership preferred sharing the land with the Hashemites of Transjordan, rather than with the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. Thus, the Zionist leadership was ambivalent, and in a sense pragmatic, wishing to take over all of Palestine should circumstances allow, but willing to be content with less, provided the partner for partition would be the Hashemites, not the Palestinians.
When in 1937 the British tried, for the first time, as a Mandatory power to solve the conflict over the land, they relied heavily on this Zionist pragmatism. Hence, the pro-Hashemite orientation of the report prepared that year by the Enquiry Commission sent by the British government under the chairmanship of Lord Peel. This commission recommended the creation in Palestine of three entities: one Jewish, one Arab to be annexed to Transjordan, and one British (the latter including all the strategic strongholds in the land and other vital areas for the Empire).
This same British position lay behind London's policy towards the end of the Mandate after the Second World War. After Britain decided to leave Palestine in February 1947, it wanted the country divided between its ally, Jordan, and the Jewish state. This vision was shared by both King Abdullah and the Jewish Agency. However, the UN. had a different concept and, for the first time, the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state was officially put on the table.
Both Abdullah and the embryo Jewish state had to navigate between their wish to divide the land between themselves, and the U.N. partition resolution recommending the creation of two independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. The Jewish Agency concluded a secret tacit alliance with the Jordanians on the division of the land, while publicly declaring its support for the partition resolution (a double-play made easy by the firm knowledge on the Jewish side that the Arab world and the Palestinians would publicly reject the partition and make every possible effort, including the use of military force, to prevent its implementation).l

An Option Rejected

Towards the end of the 1948 war, the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state and even a Palestinian government-in-exile was raised by the Palestinian leadership, seated mainly in Cairo and Damascus, but this was categorically rejected by both Israel and the British government. Again these two governments found out they could rely on Amman to support their campaign against these proposals. Such a state, even in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, was referred to by these three partners as a "Mufti State," a state that would be controlled by the ex-Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini and, therefore, would be hostile to British interests and a threat to Israel and Jordan alike.
It was only after the war, in the spring of 1949, during the Lausanne peace conference convened by the U.N. to try and end the conflict, that within Israel a support for such a state was heard. The conference was based on the partition resolution and the Americans, who were running the show there, were, for a while, seriously considering pressuring Israel to concede some of the areas it had occupied during the 1948 war and transferring them to an independent Palestinian state.
Due to that American pressure, Moshe Sharett, Israel's foreign minister at the time, toyed with a plan of establishing a Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, under Israeli auspices, a better solution than the annexation of that area to Transjordan. The appearance in the U.N. peace conference in Lausanne of self-appointed Palestinian delegates willing to discuss this possibility increased Sharett's interest in this limited Palestinian option. However, Oavid Ben-Gurion, Israel's prime minister, saw no need to promote any substantial peace negotiations beyond the armistice agreement Israel had signed with Arab countries. These included the one with Egypt, which recognized Egypt's presence in the Gaza Strip, and the one with Jordan, which affirmed the Hashemite annexation of the West Bank ¬agreements that, in his eyes, rendered useless any additional discussion over the future of Palestine. Thus, the "Palestinian option" of those days was neither exhausted, nor explored.2
When Martin Buber wrote an open letter to Ben-Gurion in 1958 suggesting, among other things, a political solution to the Palestinian refugee problem which would include the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, his was a lone voice in the political wilderness. The Israeli scene was characterized by an intransigent position vis-a-vis any compromise with the Palestinians. Only the Israeli Communist party had in its platform a clear call for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

Yigal AlIon's Dream

The Labor movement, dominating the political scene in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, was tom between pragmatism that dictated compliance with the status quo and territorial ambition fomenting a desire to occupy the rest of western Palestine. The territorial appetite was fed by a sense, shared by most of the movement's leaders, that 1948 was a missed opportunity as Israel had frittered away the chance of expanding its control as far as the Jordan River. Year after year, military officers and politicians searched for the opportunity that would justify such an expansion. The events of 1956 and 1958 provided the best circumstances for such operations.3
These ambitions were curbed by Ben-Gurion's fear of reactions from the Western bloc whose great powers wished to maintain the Hashemite rule over the two banks of the River Jordan, rather than witnessing the making of a Greater Israel. Moreover, Ben-Gurion recognized the demographic problem incurred in an Israeli annexation of the West Bank. He always cherished the need to have a firm Jewish majority in the Jewish state and did not wish to enlarge the number of Palestinians under its control. These considerations did not deter his main partners in the Labor movement, people such as Yigal Allon, who cherished the romantic dream of establishing an Israeli empire and demanded of the prime minister a more active Israeli policy, i.e., an Israeli initiative for the occupation of the West Bank. Hence, until 1967, the very idea of an independent Palestinian state as a principal constituent in a future possible solution was totally absent from the Israeli policy-makers' vision or plans.

Palestinian Independence on the Arena

The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war reopened the question of Palestinian statehood. It was raised as a subject for discussion by various Palestinian dignitaries who engaged in a futile negotiation with Israeli politicians, among them Moshe Dayan, about the possibility of creating a Palestinian entity in the occupied territories. This option was on the agenda until the demise of the Eshkol government in 1969. The Golda Meir government, following it, was not only opposed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, but fanatically denied the very existence of a Palestinian people. Yet, within the wider Israeli political scene, the notion was no longer alien or confined to the Communist party alone. Other groups, even within what can be called the Zionist left, began supporting the implementation of Palestinian independence on all, or most, of the areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
Nevertheless, in the first decade after the war, the ruling party in Israel, the Labor party, maintained its past support for the "Jordanian option," namely, the division of the West Bank between Israel and Jordan. Two schools of thought emerged with regard to this compromise: Dayan offering a functional division of responsibilities between Israel and Jordan, AIlon a territorial division. Both ignored and rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, although Allon toward the end of his political career was willing to replace the Hashemites with the Palestinians in his famous Allon Plan. This left within Israel's control the Jordan Valley, the Gush Etzion settlements, and Kiryat Arba near Hebron, allowing the Palestinians autonomy in their populated towns in the West Bank. In 1996, an enlarged version of the plan was adopted by Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon as the basis of the permanent settlement of the conflict.
The advent of the nationalist Likud party to power in 1977 was supposed to push into even deeper oblivion the support for an independent Palestinian state in ruling Israeli political circles, but surprisingly it did exactly the opposite. The peace with Egypt brought with it an Egyptian pressure on the Begin government to propose a solution to the Palestine question, in order that the bilateral peace with Egypt, as the late president Sadat hoped, would be more acceptable to the Arab world at large. Begin came up with the idea of an autonomy, a very limited one, but, nonetheless, one that referred at Camp David to the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians." The Labor party, now in opposition, failed to see the opportunity, or more probably did not wish to seize it, and still offered as an alternative the Jordanian option.


Within the more marginal groups on the Zionist left, the Egyptian initiative contributed to the enlargement of the pro-Palestinian camp on their side of the political map. However, it was not until the Intifada, and the change the uprising produced in the American position in 1988, that a clear support for an independent state became the established position of the Zionist left, a grouping representing at the time about 20 percent of the Jewish population in Israel. This was, by the way, part of a polarization process dividing the Jewish society in Israel into two distinct politico-cultural camps. While the notion of Palestinian independence became the bon ton of the left, the idea of Greater Israel, to be brought about by settlement and even by transfer, attracted a growing number of people on the right. The Greater Israel movement grew from a small group from the right, the religious and the Labor party into a substantial political force located mainly, but not only, in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank which had been started by the Labor government in the first decade after the occupation, and in the many new settlements added by the various Likud governments ever since.
There is no point in elaborating for readers of this journal the recent processes that produced the Oslo Accords. In the context of this article, it is worth mentioning that the Madrid conference of 1991 convinced the twin leaders of the Labor party, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Ra'Jin, that, behind the scenes, the PLO was controlling the Palestinian delegation from the occupied territories, as it was dominating Palestinian politics in general. Therefore, the two, still in the opposition at the time, accepted the need to negotiate directly with the PLO on partial withdrawal from the occupied territories. When they won the 1992 elections, this realization lay behind their peace policy of direct negotiations with the PLO.
A State in Name?
At the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the discourse of both leaders, and most members of their party, did not include a reference to an independent Palestinian state. However, the consensual interpretation given to Oslo, and what seemed at the time to its architects the natural consequence of the process, indicated that it can all only end in Palestinian independence. How much the two leaders, Peres and Rabin, were supportive of this option, is hard to say, especially now that Peres, out of office and of leadership, accepts wholeheartedly the establishment of a Palestinian state. They may have hoped that, whatever the nature of the Palestinian identity would be, they would not have to call it a state. But it is also quite possible that they were not deterred by referring to a new entity as a state, provided it was a state only in name and not in substance. The pragmatic nature of Labor politics, as well as that of people on the right, such as Ariel Sharon and, at various moments, even Binyamin Netanyahu, leads to a distinction between symbolism and substance.
The way the Oslo interim agreements were implemented had created such irreversible facts - in the form of expanded Jewish settlements and bypass roads bisecting the Palestinian areas and of security parameters encircling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - that whatever one calls the entity to be established on this network, it cannot be a state. These facts turn an entity that would be declared today as a state into a Bantustan, where symbolism cannot make up for the absence of real sovereignty or genuine statehood. This state of affairs means that when we talk today of the acceptance of the idea of a state, for many Israelis in the political center this means a limited autonomy in three Palestinian cantons in the West Bank and within an encircled and crippled Gaza Strip.

Four Positions

There are currently four Israeli positions on statehood that have to be noted. The first is typical to the center, transcending the boundaries of partisanship, and accepted by most people in Labor and Likud: the perpetuation in a final settlement of, more or less, the present balance of power and the freezing of the current map of Palestine as the permanent solution of the Palestine question. The permanent so~:!tion is in the form of a mini-state of Palestine, next to Israel, comprising 55 percent of the West Bank and 65 percent of the Gaza Strip, without territorial integrity and with no clear capital; a state which has no foreign or security policies of its own, nor independent economic and developmental policies, free from Israeli sanctions and vetoes.
The second option is that adhered to by the right: the annexation of as much as possible to Israel of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the imposition of Israeli law there. There seems to be less interest and thought invested in what would be the nature of the remaining areas, as it is hoped that these would be minimized to a few percent of the occupied territories. It is within these circles that the idea of Jordan as a Palestinian state is most popular.
The third option is that proposed by the Zionist left: a demilitarized state of Palestine, with a symbolic capital in East Jerusalem, although it is difficult to portray a coherent position here. Meretz still supports a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital; Hadash, on the other hand, accepts unconditionally the Palestinian demand for a capital in East Jerusalem. The same ambiguity applies to the question of demilitarization and the final borders. Meretz demands demilitarization; Hadash demands a full sovereign Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders. Meretz foresees rectifications in the June 4, 1967, line; Hadash desires a complete withdrawal to these lines. Both parties are unclear on how the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be connected.
On settlements there are also differences of opinion. Hadash demands full eviction, even by force, of the Jewish settlements; Meretz hopes that most settlers would voluntarily evict, and that the rest can stay if they accept Palestinian sovereignty.
A fourth solution has only recently been termed by Edward Said as the "third way." This is a revival of the binational state idea, already proposed in this journal by Sara Osacky-Lazar and As'ad Ghanem. This option is based on a recognition that the present balance of power, the demographic distribution of Palestinian and Jewish population in Israel and in Palestine and the need to solve the Palestinian refugee problem through the implementation of the Right of Return, leave no other option than to accept the impossibility of creating two distinct nation-states.4 A political structure that would fit the demographic and social realities of Israel/Palestine can only be a unitary one or at least a federated one. Settlements would have no special meaning in a unitary state, and refugees could return without generating fears for the Jewish majority in Israel. This vision today is shared only by few Israelis and Palestinians, so far, but it may be the only feasible solution.
All the recent polls and surveys in Israel indicated over 50-percent support for a Palestinian state. The majority of these are supporters of what we called the first option. It is a political stance which, at the most, only a handful of Palestinians could accept. The Palestinian Authority goes along with the third option we mentioned, but has no powerful partner on the Israeli side upon which to build the permanent solution. Nor is this option accepted by the opposition in the occupied territories or among the refugees in the diaspora. It also does not include a solution to the problem of the Palestinians in Israel itself. Yet between that and the fourth option we mentioned, lie the hearts and minds of the peace camp in Israel- the only partner that can help bring about the implementation of the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood.


1. See Ilan Pappe, Britain and the Arab-Israel Conflict, 1948-1951 (London and New York, 1988), pp. 1-21.
2. See Ilan Pappe, "Moshe Sharett, David Ben-Gurion and the 'Palestinian Option,' 1948¬1956," Studies in Zionism, Vol 7/1,1986, pp. 77-96.
3. These incidents are detailed in my article "The Junior Partner: Israel and the 1958 Crisis," in R.w. Louis and R. Owen (eds.), The 1958 Middle East Crisis (London and New York, 1999).
4. Even more recently in The New York Times Magazine, January 10, 1999, under the title "The One-State Solution." See also As'ad Ghanem and Sara Osacky-Lazar, "Towards an Alternative Israeli-Palestinian Discourse," Palestine-Israel Journal, Volume 3/4, Summer/ Autumn 1996, pp. 91-94.