One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States


The idea explored in One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States is a new take on the two-state solution, based on dividing sovereignty without dividing the land. The book posits two sovereign states covering the entire territory of Israel/Palestine with the people divided by citizenship rather than territorial partition. There would be two governments and individuals could choose to be citizens of Palestine or Israel. Residents would vote on designating particular localities as either Israeli or Palestinian. Most importantly, the entire space of these two states would be open. There would be no internal borders and the citizens of both states would have freedom of movement and the option of living or working wherever they choose.

Some readers will wonder if this idea is practical or even possible. Others will wonder if this arrangement is just. Can it guarantee civil and human rights for the entire population and make amends for the past? While there are no easy answers to such questions, the authors of this edited volume engage with the theory of divided sovereignty and the practical details of its implementation in Palestine/Israel because such creative ideas are worthy of serious consideration.

Historian Mark LeVine and diplomat Mathias Mossberg bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to join the growing chorus of experts who are convinced that a conventional two-state solution is no longer possible and those who accept opposition to a one-state solution. This book proposes an alternative that should fundamentally change the dynamics of what currently appears as an intractable conflict. If this conflict has primarily been a struggle over territory, the idea of parallel states removes that issue entirely, thereby theoretically removing the fire that fuels the conflict.

The editors write that this is “a provocation against conventional wisdom” (p. 15). But just how unconventional is it? The authors begin with a particular sense of the now.  They do not analyze the construction of identity and difference, of Arab and Jew and other categories and complexities.  They do not write about decolonization either, although one might argue that decolonization might result from the parallel states idea. The book presents a solution for a problem that is taken to be foundational: the irreconcilable difference between groups, which will require this overlay of two sovereignties in one territory. But the groups themselves are neither solid nor simple, and the idea of sovereignty gets very complicated when one looks inside those imagined nations and asks: “whose sovereignty are we talking about?” The authors appear to argue that identities such as Israelis and Palestinians are taken-for-granted pre-existing groups, which reduces identity to a binary rather than attending to the long history and continuous work involved in producing those groups as two and as separate, or of the impossible identities that are squeezed out as a result of these ethno-nationalisms. This book is not a deconstruction of national identity, and yet the idea of parallel states could be precisely what makes these national categories irrelevant.

If there is no longer a need to fight over ruling the land, LeVine and Liam O’Mara IV suggest there will be new religious interpretations that “transcend the most xenophobic and chauvinistic tendencies of their identities without challenging their core ties to the land” (p. 225). Such ideas sound similar to those promoted by the late Rabbi Froman and his followers in Eretz Shalom—Palestinians and religiously motivated Jewish settlers for whom living on the land takes precedence over political sovereignty. Readers may object to the idea that Jewish settlements in the West Bank will remain intact under this program. However, such ideas are not completely new. Yehoudah Shenhav began promoting similar ideas when he wrote Beyond the Two-State Solution, which first appeared in Hebrew in 2010.

Readers might wonder how this model will improve the lives of Bedouin citizens, women, or Mizrahim. How will it address growing income gaps? What happens to undocumented laborers and refugees whose concerns are often presented as external to the question of resolving the conflict? In short, can this arrangement ultimately eliminate exploitation? According to economist Raja Khalidi, parallel states would secure peace in order to “give way to the logic of markets” (p. 126). He goes on to explain that developing strong economies requires negotiating an equitable distribution of land, water, and other resources. However, these and other important issues like compensation for displacement, refugees, and the right of return would still have to be negotiated.

This book raises more questions than it answers, but that is precisely its point. The authors intended to provoke renewed thought and conversation. They are not alone in this endeavor. Numerous scholars and local figures have been voicing ideas that challenge conventional peacemaking models. Sari Nusseibeh recently provoked tremendous criticism by questioning whether a Palestinian state was worth all the suffering on the way to its establishment, suggesting Palestinians focus on struggling for human and civil rights instead. This book, too, will surely spark controversy and inspire ongoing conversations and additional creative thinking.

Joyce DalsheimUNC-Charlotte

LeVine, Mark and Mathias Mossberg, eds. One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. University of California Press, 2014. Read more at University of California Press. 


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