Two States Within the Common Homeland: An Alternative Conception of the Two-State Solution

By Jerome M. Segal
University of Maryland
Presented at Kelman Conference 2014[Revised Aug. 31, 2015]

At a time when many Israelis and Palestinians are losing hope about the possibility of achieving peace through the two-state solution, it is important to realize that there is no such thing as “the” two-state solution. Rather, there are a variety of two-state solutions, and it may well be that policy discourse has been unduly focused on one particular paradigm, to the disadvantage of an alternative and possibly more promising approach to two-states.

The purpose of my presentation is to lay out such an alternative. I call it “the Common Homeland” conception. It should be seen in contrast to the standard paradigm, which I term “Strict Separation.” It this talk, I will not try to evaluate these two conceptions, but they should be compared with reference to three main criteria: negotiability, difficulty of implementation, and sustainability. Though I shall not argue for it here, I believe a reasonable case can be made that the Common Homeland approach is superior to Strict Separation.

At the heart of the Common Homeland approach there is a vital distinction between a state and a homeland. This distinction has been glossed over by formulations such as can be found in the Clinton Parameters:

“A new State of Palestine is about to be created as the homeland of the Palestinian people, just as Israel was established as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Similarly the Geneva Accords stated:

“The parties recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples.”

This is confusion. A state is a corporate entity, not unlike a business corporation. It comes into existence through specific actions, at a specific point in time. It is an actor in international and national affairs, doing this deed and that. A homeland is most fundamentally land, land that stands in a certain relationship to a people in virtue of their history and sense of identity. The homeland is not created by diplomats, and it doesn’t do anything.

When the State of Israel was created, its founders were clear on this distinction. The Israeli Declaration of Independence reads:

“Eretz-Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped.”

And we are told:

“Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland.”

In its operative paragraph it states:

“We, . . . hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

With similar clarity, the PLO Covenant which did not call for a Palestinian state, affirmed, “Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab People.”

Using this distinction between state and homeland we can now articulate the Common Homeland Paradigm for the Two-state Solution. It starts with a recognition that the same land is the homeland of both peoples, and then goes on to affirm the establishment of two states within that homeland. For instance:

It is agreed that:

1. “All of the land between the River and the Sea, is the common homeland of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”

2. “This common homeland will be divided into two zones of sovereignty, one exercised by the State of Israel, the other by the State of Palestine.”

This however is insufficient. The core of the paradigm requires a third principle:

3. “The two states pledge to honor the oneness of the homeland to the fullest extent practicable.”

What might this mean? With respect to political forms, one possibility is that the two states could form a confederation, with some similarities to the United States under the Articles of Confederation. Here each state would retain its sovereignty, and each would be able to secede from the Confederation. There might however, be a joint body with power over select areas, for instance, certain environmental issues. Or there might be certain joint security units, operating under a Confederal flag with responsibility for monitoring the Gaza coast or the border with Jordan.

In principle, once it is recognized that all of the land is the common homeland of both peoples, anyone should be able to freely live, work or visit within any part of the homeland, even if there are two states. But clearly today, and perhaps into the indefinite future, such openness is not possible. With two distinct sovereignties, each state will determine the extent to which it will be open to citizens of the other state.

To what extent would Palestinian refugees be allowed to live in Israel as citizens of Palestine? To what extent would Israeli settlers be allowed to live within Palestine as Israeli citizens? There are no fixed answers to these questions. What is envisioned is that both states will be open to going as far as possible in this direction. It can be expected that this would vary considerably over time and that it would be strongly influenced by experience. Possibly at first there would be only small experimental programs. If they succeeded, they could be enlarged. Alternatively, initial efforts may reveal insurmountable problems, and further attempts shelved for quite some time. The key point is that there would joint recognition that all of the land is the homeland of both peoples, and a commitment to continue to explore the possibilities of open borders between the two states.

A fuller comparison of the Common Homeland paradigm with its main alternative, the Strict Separation paradigm, is detailed in the following table:

Two Paradigms for the Two-State Solution

Dimension Standard Paradigm (strict separation) Common Homeland Paradigm
Core Rights/Recognition 1. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people.

2. Palestine is the nation state of the Palestinian people.

1. Mutual recognition of all of the land from the river to the sea as the common homeland of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.

2. Mutual recognition, in principle, of the right of all to live anywhere within the common homeland. Extent implemented is a sovereign decision of each state.

State/homeland distinction Blurred as in Clinton parameters: “A new State of Palestine is about to be created as the homeland of the Palestinian people, just as Israel was established as the homeland of the Jewish people.” Sharpened.

A homeland is a matter of history and identity.

States are political entities created at a specific moment in history.

Degree of separation sought Maximal.
“We are here and they are there.”
Only what is necessary. Both states will commit to seeking to find ways to honor the fact of the common homeland.
Presence of citizens of one state residing within the territory of the other:


Zero/Minimized. After land swaps remaining settlers must be evacuated. * Open to testing state-to-state programs which will allow Israeli citizens (e.g. settlers) to live as residents in Palestine and will allow Palestinian citizens (e.g. refugees) to live as residents within Israel.
Rights of Transit and Visit No/td> * Yes, subject to security.
Approach towards Jerusalem Clear delineation of sovereignty Open to removing the Old City from political sovereignty, as symbol of common homeland.
Land Swaps Yes, with a priority towards smooth borders Yes, with greater openness to irregular borders
Emotional tone Painful compromise. Permanent giving up of part of the homeland. Hope that in the future there will be expanded opportunities to share the homeland.
Place of Palestinian citizens of Israel Under a cloud. “Why don’t they live in their own homeland?” They live in Israel by right. They represent what is possible with respect to implementation of right of all to live anywhere within the homeland.
End of Conflict/End of Claims Accord Yes Yes
Permanence of political forms Assumed to be permanent Recognized as subject to the lived experience of relations between the two states and two peoples.
Core of support Leftist and Centrists Seeks to bring in the Israeli religious-right. Also may win some support among those Palestinians who presently reject two-state framework.
Impact of Regional Acceptance of Israel Hopes to build on end to the conflict Hopes to build both on end to conflict, and on explicit recognition of the historical place of Jewish people in the homeland
Approach toward reconciliation It would be nice if it occurs, but not a focus. Key is divorce. Requires both peoples to strive toward reconciliation after an agreement in order to more fully implement sharing of the homeland. Offers an inspiring ideal.
Relations Between the Two States Mutual Recognition of fully independent states Mutual Recognition.
Possible Confederation of the two states, with retention of a right to secede. Possible joint Parliament with jurisdiction over specific subject areas.
Approach to Israeli security Extended troop presence in Jordan Valley; Israeli monitors on borders of Pal. state/td>

Possible use of a joint homeland protective service, or Confederal military units.
Economic Union Not contemplated. * Long term possibility:
– shared currency
– shared airports/road
– shared power/water facilities
– shared economic projects

* = Element present in Partition Resolution of 1947

Deciding between these two approaches is not a matter of determining that one is more attractive than another. Rather an evaluation should be based on three practical questions:

1. Is there greater possibility of successfully negotiating an agreement on one paradigm or the other?

2. Which paradigm would face greater problems of implementation?

3. Which paradigm if implemented, promises greater likelihood for a stable peace?

Jerome M. Segal directs the International Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland’s Department of Philosophy.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. Your contributions are tax-deductible.

Donate Now