Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

A Bold Vision For Israel/Palestine: One Democratic State For All Its Citizens

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Spring - Summer 2021

Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine:  
Zionism, Settler Colonialism,  
And The Case For One Democratic State  
By Jeff Halper.  
Pluto Press,  
256 Pages, $19.95  
Shortly after a cease-fire was announced in May between Israel and Hamas,  
President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to a “two state solution,” to the  
establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In the opinion of  
many, this is no longer a realistic possibility because Israel has  
introduced hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers to the area which would  
have become such a Palestinian state. Eight years ago, early in his tenure  
as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry declared that, “I  
believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting. I think we have  
some period of time—-a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.”  
The two-state idea has, in the view of many, run its course and into this  
stalemate comes Jeff Halper with a bold vision: transform Palestine into a  
genuine democracy, with equal rights for all of its residents, regardless of  
their religion or ethnic background. This, of course, is an old idea. During  
the British Mandate of 1920 to 1948, Palestinian leaders petitioned for such  
a unitary state. Many Jewish voices echoed this desire, although they were a  
decided minority.  
Jeff Halper, a Jewish American who immigrated to Israel, is head of the  
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and is a founding member  
of the One Democratic State Campaign. An anthropologist, he was nominated by  
the American Friends Service Committee, along with Palestinian intellectual  
and activist Ghassan Andoni, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for work “to  
liberate both the Palestinian and Israeli people from the yoke of structural  
violence,” and “to build equality between their people by recognizing and  
celebrating their common humanity.”  
He is the author of “War Against the People” (2015) and “An Israeli in  
Palestine” (2010). He describes himself this way: “I am not a Palestinian  
and I certainly cannot speak for Palestinians—-or for 98 per cent of Israeli  
Jews, for that matter. I am an anti-Zionist Israeli Jew, a settler/immigrant  
from the U.S... What defines me most appropriately is ‘a colonist who  
refuses.’” Here he is quoting the French-Tunisian Jewish author Albert  
Zionism as a Settler-colonial Movement  
Halper provides a theoretical and comparative analysis of Zionism as a  
colonialist movement and shows how Zionists have imposed themselves as a  
settler-colonial reality on the indigenous people of Palestine. He cites the  
work of Patrick Wolfe, Lorenzo Veracini and other scholars of settler-  
colonialism and uses the phrase “dominance management regime” to describe  
settler-colonial policies implemented by Israel.  
These policies have, for many years, been virtually immune to international  
sanction. The reasons for this, is assessed by Halper: “By making itself  
useful to the world’s hegemony, employing skillful lobbying, the strategic  
use of the massive financial resources, manipulation of the Holocaust and  
strategic accusations of anti-Semitism, Israel fears no international  
sanctions from any quarter. Having marginalized the Palestinians politically  
and militarily, it feels it has rendered the ‘conflict’ to the sidelines,  
among the Israeli Jewish public as well as internationally... And it has  
done so in large part through conniving with governments to keep the ‘two-  
state solution’ alive as an effective means of perpetual conflict  
management, by separating the process of (seeming) negotiating from its  
actual resolution. In addition to all this, because the Zionist/Israeli  
settlers have become so deeply embedded in the country, they have rendered  
Zionist settler-colonialism difficult to dismantle.”  
In Halper’s view, Zionism is clearly a settler-colonialist enterprise:  
“Driven by persecution and the rise of nationalism in Europe, it was  
European Jews with little knowledge of Palestine and its peoples who  
launched a movement of Jewish ‘return’ to its ancestral homeland, the Land  
of Israel, after a national absence of 2000 years.  
In their newly minted nationalist ideology, they were the returning natives.  
In their eyes, the Arabs of Palestine were mere background. They had no  
national claims or even cultural identity of their own. Palestine was, as  
the famous Zionist phrase put it, ‘a land without a people.’ The European  
Zionists knew the land was peopled of course. But to them the Arabs did not  
amount to ‘a people’ in the national sense of the term. They were just a  
collection of natives—-though not THE natives—-a status the Jewish claimants  
reserved for themselves. They played no role in the Zionist story. Having no  
national existence or claims of their own, the Arabs were to be removed,  
confined or eliminated so as to make way for the country’s ‘real’ owners.”  
Indigenous Population is Irrelevant  
To the Zionists, Halper writes, Palestine’s indigenous population, “At best,  
they are irrelevant, a nuisance on the path of the settler’s seizure of  
their country, an expendable population, one that must be ‘eliminated,’ if  
not physically annihilated then at least reduced to a marginal presence in  
which they are unable to conduct a national life and thus threaten the  
settler enterprise. Such a process of unilateral, asymmetrical invasion that  
provokes resistance on the part of Native peoples threatened with  
displacement and worse can hardly be called ‘conflict.’ Rather than the  
‘Israeli/Palestinian/Arab Conflict,’ we must speak of Zionist settler  
The early Zionists, Halper shows, knew exactly what they were doing. As far  
back as 1914, Moshe Sharett, a future Israeli prime minister, declared: “We  
have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we  
have come to conquer a country from a people inhabiting it, that governs it  
by virtue of its language and savage culture... If we seek to look upon our  
land, the Land of Israel, as ours alone and we allow a partner into our  
estate—-all content and meaning will be lost to our enterprise.”  
David Ben Gurion, Halper shows, had long advocated for “compulsory  
transfer.” In 1937, he established a Committee for Population Transfer  
within the Jewish Agency. And, Halper writes, “Of course, transfer, a  
euphemism for ethnic cleansing, was in fact carried out at a mass level in  
1948 and again in 1967.” One of its perpetrators, Yosef Weitz, director of  
the Jewish National Fund’s Land Settlement Department, wrote: “It must be  
clear that there is no room in the country for both peoples... The only  
solution is a Land of Israel without Arabs... There is no way but to  
transfer the Arabs from here... to transfer all of them, perhaps with the  
exception of Bethlehem, Nazareth and the old Jerusalem. Not one village must  
be left, not one tribe.”  
“Disappearing the Arabs”  
Israeli historian Tom Segev notes that, “Disappearing the Arabs lay at the  
heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of its  
realization... With few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputed the  
desirability of forced transfer—-or its morality.”  
There were always a few voices within the Jewish community in Palestine who  
objected to the mistreatment of the indigenous population and to plans to  
forcibly remove them. Halper notes that in 1925 a group of Jewish  
intellectuals established Brit Shalom, the ‘Covenant of Peace.’... Inspired  
in part by Ahad Ha’am’s concept of Palestine as a cultural home for Jews,  
they realized that... the domination of Jews over Arabs would not work.  
Instead, they focused on the part of the Balfour Declaration that promised  
that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious  
rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’... Brit Shalom  
sought accommodation between Jewish and Palestinian Arab nationalities  
within a binational state.”  
Among the leading figures in Brit Shalom were Ahad Ha’am, Eliezer Ben  
Yehuda, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Henrietta Szold, and Gershom Scholem.  
Halper provides this assessment: “Brit Shalom even aspired to formulate a  
joint Constitution for the shared country. Cultural Zionism offered an  
alternative over an exclusive ethnocentrism-nationalism. Cultural Zionists  
argued that the Jewish people needed only a cultural space where it could  
develop and flourish. They understood the pluralistic nature of pre-state  
Palestinian society and the necessity of acknowledging the Palestinian  
presence... Cultural Zionism had little chance of prevailing against  
Political Zionism and the Military Way. But it demonstrated that seeds of an  
alternative to zero-sum colonization were to be found... As it turned out...  
Political Zionism ‘won.’ But has since exhausted itself... it has reached  
dead-end. Cultural Zionism, though defeated in its time, may well resurface  
as a bridge between the Israeli Jewish public and the Palestinians as they  
move together toward decolonization and a newly constituted political  
community, offering a way out of zero-sum colonialism.”  
Two States No Longer Viable  
The idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Halper argues, is no  
longer a viable possibility. He notes that Israeli settlement blocs in the  
occupied territories, which would constitute such a Palestinian state,  
occupy 30 per cent of the West Bank, plus East Jerusalem. He points out  
that, “... they also destroy any territorial contiguity a Palestinian state  
may have on the remaining 70 per cent. Israel proposes ‘transportational  
contiguity’: the ability of Palestinians to drive from one West Bank city to  
another, but under Israeli supervision. Nor would the West Bank be connected  
to Gaza... We are left at best with autonomy. Relieving itself of almost 5  
million Palestinians under its control while confining them to truncated  
enclaves on 10 per cent of their homeland is of course the only political  
option a settler regime like Israel could adopt, since it alone makes  
possible a successionist Jewish state. The beauty of the security paradigm  
is that it requires apartheid.”  
Israel, while occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of  
international law, actually denies the very idea of “occupation.” Halper  
explains this anomaly: “Israel has never accepted the legal fact of  
occupation since it contradicts Zionism’s claim of entitlement to the whole  
of the Land of Israel... Israeli rule extends today from the River to the  
Sea with almost 700,000 settlers now living in massive settlement ‘blocs’ on  
land that will never be de-occupied.”  
Discussing the creation of a single state for both Israelis and Palestinians  
is not as fanciful as it might sound, in Halper’s view, because, “A single  
state already exists over all of Palestine; our task is to transform it from  
an apartheid state to a single, pluralistic democracy. Judaization has  
already succeeded in creating one governing authority between the River and  
the Sea, the state of Israel. Israel’s deliberate, systematic and forthright  
elimination of the two-state compromise, which favored Israel itself,  
demonstrates the irreversibility of its colonial program. Given that stark  
political reality, our task is crystal-clear: to transform the apartheid  
regime that Israel has imposed on all of Palestine into a democratic state  
of all its citizens.”  
One Democratic State  
The idea of one democratic state has been growing for some time. In 1999,  
Professor Edward Said wrote a much-discussed article in The New York Times  
entitled simply “The One State Solution.” Professor Tony Judt wrote an  
influential article in 2003 in the New York Review of Books, “Israel, the  
Alternative.” The same year Virginia Tilley published “The One State  
Solution” in the London Review of Books, and a book with the same title  
later that year. Many similar calls for a single democratic state appeared,  
such as Mazin Qumsiyeh’s “Sharing the Land of Canaan.”  
The first working plan towards a one-state solution came out of the Lausanne  
conference on “One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel,” held in 2004. A  
London Declaration was issued in 2006 entitled “Challenging the Boundaries:  
A Single State in Palestine/Israel.” In 2009, three one-state conferences  
were held. In 2012, the Munich Declaration was issued, followed by the One  
Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) in Haifa in 2018. In 2019, the One  
Democratic State in Palestine group (ODS-Pal) issued its “Call for a  
Palestine Liberation Movement.”  
The movement is still a small one. Halper notes that, “A starting point in  
our project of decolonizing Zionism/liberating Palestine is the 10-point  
program of the One Democratic State Campaign . The ODSC is a Palestinian-led  
group of Palestinians... and Israeli Jews that came together in Haifa in  
Fragmenting the West Bank  
The preamble to the ODSC program states, in part: “The two-state solution...  
was endorsed by all the Palestinian parties represented in the Israeli  
Knesset. But on the ground Israel strengthened its colonial control,  
fragmenting the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza into tiny, isolated and  
impoverished cantons, separated from one another by settlements, massive  
Israeli highways, hundreds of checkpoints, the apartheid Wall, military  
bases and fences. After a half century of relentless ‘Judaization,’ the two-  
state solution must be pronounced dead, buried under the colonial enterprise  
on the territory that would have become the Palestinian state. In its place  
Israel has imposed a single regime of repression from the Mediterranean Sea  
to the Jordan River.”  
Further, the ODSC declares, “The only way forward to a genuine and viable  
political settlement is to dismantle the colonial apartheid regime that has  
been imposed over historic Palestine, replacing it with a new political  
system based on full civic equality, implementation of the Palestinian  
refugees’ Right of Return and the building of a system that addresses the  
historic wrongs committed on the Palestinian people by the Zionist  
movement... We, Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike, have therefore revived  
the one-state idea. Although differing models of such a state range from  
binational to a liberal, secular democracy, we are united in our commitment  
to the establishment of a single democratic state in all of historic  
To the question, “How do we get there?” Halper has a number of ideas. He  
compares the groundswell of international opposition to Israel’s occupation  
and mistreatment of Palestinians to the movement which grew in opposition to  
apartheid in South Africa:  
“The Palestinian cause has attained a global prominence equal to that of the  
anti-apartheid movement. Palestinians have become emblematic of oppressed  
peoples everywhere. A wide range of activities advance the Palestinian  
cause... Israel’s panic over the BDS campaign demonstrates that it has  
already lost in the Court of Public Opinion. Only the shallow support of  
governments, Christian evangelicals and a diminishing Jewish establishment  
Model for Decolonization  
Surveying the history of settler-colonial regimes, Halper believes that,  
“The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa offers a useful model for the  
decolonization of Palestine/Israel. Despite some major differences, the  
fundamentals of South Africa and Israel/Palestine are similar enough to  
suggest to us a working strategy....the most relevant similarity is that  
Israel is an established and strong settler state just as South Africa was,  
yet neither was able to defeat or marginalize an Indigenous population with  
state-national aspirations.”  
To the question, “The two-state solution works and has been accepted by the  
international community. Why abandon it now?” Halper replies: “Had it been  
implemented, the two-state solution might have worked even if it wasn’t  
fair. Palestinians would have had a viable, sovereign (if small) state on 22  
per cent of historic Palestine. Refugees could have come back (albeit into a  
small state). The Palestinian state would have had borders with both Israel  
and two Arab countries (Jordan and Egypt), as well as a seaport and airport  
in Gaza. The international community, of course, accepted the two state  
solution already in 1967. The PLO officially accepted it in 1988 (before the  
Oslo peace process). And in 2002 the Arab League did so as well. But Israel  
rejected it. Israel governments going back to 1967 have rejected the notion  
of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. They even reject  
the very fact of occupation. Instead, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and  
moved 700,000 settlers into the territory that would have been a Palestinian  
state. It confined 95 per cent of the Palestinians to the tiny islands of  
Areas A and B in the West Bank, and a besieged Gaza. In January 2020, Prime  
Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would annex the Jordan Valley ‘and  
all the settlements,’ in accord with Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ without  
even offering the annexed Palestinians Israeli citizenship.”  
Halper concludes, “So, true, while the two-state solution may have worked,  
it was never accepted by Israel. Regardless, it is now dead and gone, buried  
under massive settlement blocs. We must move on.”  
Getting Our Program Out  
In a January webinar, Halper noted that the one state idea has been  
discussed for some time but that the ODSC “has given some substance to it. I  
wrote this book partly to get our program out.” But in order for this plan  
to move forward it needs acceptance from Palestinians, something which is  
yet to happen. If Palestinians were to embrace the one state solution and  
work to advance it, Halper believes it could be successful. In his view,  
Palestinians must move to a more active form of resistance. He states,  
“Samud (steadfastness) keeps them on the map, keeps them in place, doesn’t  
allow Israel to win, but at the same time, there’s no program connected to  
it. You have to have a political program if you are in a political  
The global support Palestinians are receiving must, Halper believes, be  
effectively channeled by launching a clear political campaign for a single  
democratic state. He notes that in South Africa, the African National  
Congress brought an end to apartheid by mobilizing their allies—-religious  
communities, universities, trade unions and others. “The good news,” he  
says, “is that the Palestinians have that infrastructure as well. I think  
the Palestinian issue has achieved the level of significance of the anti-  
apartheid struggle in the world, but that what we’re missing is a political  
program. You can have all the sympathy and all the solidarity in the world,  
but unless you have a program that you’re advocating for, you’re powerless.”  
It is essential, Halper argues, that what is happening in Israel/Palestine  
be viewed in the settler-colonial framework and the “conflict” be understood  
as one between colonizers and an indigenous population rather than between  
equals. He notes that, “understanding settler colonialism really does open  
up all kinds of possibilities of resolving this in a way that the term  
‘conflict’ doesn’t. Conflict locks us into a ‘conflict resolution mode’  
that’s never worked. Settler colonialism really opens things up and lets us  
get to a genuine resolution.”  
Ultimate Aim is “Decolonization”  
The ultimate aim of the one state solution, Halper writes in a chapter  
entitled “Addressing the Fears and Concerns of a Single Democratic State,”  
is, “Decolonization. The dismantling of all structures of domination and  
apartheid, replacing them with a single democratic polity and an inclusive  
civil society. Rooted in the equal rights of all the country’s citizens, the  
goal is to achieve a shared life that protects and nurtures the national,  
ethnic, religious and cultural identities and heritage in a pluralistic  
To those who say, “Arabs and Jews hate each other and can never live  
together in peace,” Halper replies: “Palestine, like the rest of the Middle  
East, had long been multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious. Despite  
occasional (very occasional) exceptions, Jews have lived in Arab and Muslim  
countries far more securely than in Europe. The very basis for the  
persecution of Jews, anti-Semitism based on the enmity of Christianity to  
Judaism, is missing in the Arab/Muslim world. Jews and Muslims lived shared  
if communally separate lives. When the Inquisition forced Sephardic Jews to  
flee the Iberian Peninsula, they found refuge in the Muslim world. Indeed,  
Jews (and Christians) were formally recognized religious communities there.  
Nowhere in the Muslim world were Jews submitted to the type of  
discrimination, exclusion and persecution found in Europe....Israeli Jews  
and Palestinian Arabs already live together in a single state—Israel.  
Palestinians represent 21 per cent of Israeli citizens and participate (if  
under substantial limitations) in the country’s political and economic life.  
Indeed, despite displacement, occupation and repression, the vast majority  
of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory also seek an inclusive political  
In his “Last Word,” Halper concludes this way: “Decolonizing Israel,  
Liberating Palestine—-I don’t know if I’ll live to see it (although I firmly  
believe that it is do-able in the not-too-distant-future if we organize,  
plan, strategize and work seriously). But the point is not to ‘be there’  
when the glorious day comes, though that would be nice. The point is to do  
the best you can to marshal all the political resources at your disposal  
and, effectively as possible, move the struggle that much forward. I hope  
I’ll live to see justice for Palestinians. Hopefully this book will  
contribute to that  
While some may view Halper’s goal of a genuinely democratic single state in  
Israel/Palestine as utopian, particularly given Israel’s right-wing  
government and the massive U.S. aid it receives, making its military the  
strongest in the region, many have hailed his vision. Richard Falk, the  
Princeton professor of International Law who was appointed the Special  
Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council on “the situation of  
human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967,” calls  
Halper’s book, “The finest work of advocacy scholarship I have ever read.”  
The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, director of the European Centre for  
Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, calls Halper’s book, “A  
powerful and convincing case.”  
Remembering South Africa  
The comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with apartheid in South  
Africa brings back memories of the time I spent in South Africa during the  
years of apartheid. For several years I was the correspondent in Washington  
for Afrikaans-language newspapers, DIE BURGER in Cape Town and BEELD in  
Johannesburg. I visited the country on a number of occasions and had many  
conversations about its future with my Afrikaner friends. I remember one of  
them telling me that, “In this country, 5 million white people can control  
20 million black people indefinitely. But in order to do so, we must become  
a totalitarian state. But we are Western Christian people who believe in  
freedom. Our children do not want to live in a totalitarian state. They will  
leave for America, Canada and Australia. Apartheid violates all of our  
values. We must bring apartheid to an end.”  
That, of course, is what happened. White South Africans, recognizing that  
apartheid was immoral, voluntarily abandoned it. There were, of course,  
those who wished to maintain apartheid, but they were a minority. South  
Africa became a multi-racial democracy. In Israel, there are a growing  
number of men and women who understand that their country has become eerily  
similar to South Africa under apartheid. Sadly, at the present time they are  
a minority. The majority seem comfortable with the occupation and seem  
prepared to live with millions of Palestinian non-citizens under their  
control. White South Africans chose democracy and abandoned apartheid. This  
is the choice now facing Israelis.  
A Road Map for the Future  
At this time, as Halper understands, the majority of Israelis seem prepared  
to live with the current situation. Different from white South Africans, the  
majority appears indifferent to international public opinion. The phrase  
“The whole world is against us” is frequently heard in Israeli right-wing  
circles, solidifying intransigence. Halper hopes this will change as world  
pressure against Israel’s occupation and its treatment of Palestinians  
grows. There is every indication that this is now taking place, particularly  
among the younger generation of Jews in the United States and elsewhere in  
the world. Once such pressure becomes irreversible, Jeff Halper has provided  
a road map for the future.

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.