Two states, but neither of them Jewish:
Palestinian moderate leader Nabil Sha’ath explains his “two-state solution”.....

Published: 5 October 2011
Briefing Number 300

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Quote: “We have never agreed, and we never will agree, under any circumstances, to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people....There is a chance of two states: a Palestinian [state] and a non-Jewish state of Israel.....”

- Nabil Sha’ath, member of the Fatah Central Committee and Palestinian Authority leader, interview in Israeli Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab, June 2011

Summary: When Palestinian ‘moderate’ leaders like Nabil Sha’ath talk about a “two-state solution” they do not mean a solution involving “two states for two peoples” – one Jewish state and one Palestinian state.  Rather, they aspire to a Palestinian state on the West Bank, existing next to a country called ‘Israel’ which is not distinctively Jewish, and in which the Palestinian Arabs have equal or superior rights of residency and citizenship to Jews.  This Briefing highlights a revealing Arabic-language newspaper interview in June 2011 by Sha’ath in which he makes this goal clear.     

Key messages: The Jews are a people, not a race or a religion, and the Jews have a legitimate right of national self-determination in a sovereign state of Israel. Sha’ath completely rejects that right.  His words need to be exposed and their implications understood, and that is the purpose of this Briefing. Third parties who want to encourage peace and who claim to support a “two-state solution” need to face up to this issue.  The Palestinians need to be pressed to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state of Israel.  The present ‘moderate’ Palestinian vision is not moderate at all.  It is an unjust and unethical vision which is an obstacle to peace. It reveals that the conflict is ultimately an ideological one, not a territorial one.  And it indulges a one-sided Palestinian national narrative while ignoring the Jewish-Israeli national narrative.

The goal of ‘two-states for two peoples’.....

Almost everyone in the mainstream centre of international diplomacy, and among mainstream commentators, claims to support a “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinians. 

It is left to rejectionist forces like Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran to oppose the very idea of Israel existing legitimately and in peace side-by-side with the Palestinian Arab people and the existing states of the region.    

But what do the Palestinian so-called ‘moderates’ actually have in mind when they claim to support a “two-state solution? 

Most people would assume that it would involve one state for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinian Arab people – ie “two states for two peoples” - coexisting side-by-side.

But this is not the case. It has become clear that the Palestinian moderates do not aspire to this. Rather, they aim for a solution involving one state – Israel – which is not distinctively Jewish as such, and into which the Palestinian refugees would have the right to return and live, and a second state – Palestine – which would be for the Palestinian Arabs (and in which, ironically, no Jews would be permitted to live – see further below).  

Nabil Sha’ath explains this goal in an Arab language newspaper interview....

Occasionally, the outlines of this goal are explicitly described by Palestinian moderates.  This happened in June 2011, in an Arabic language newspaper interview with Nabil Sha’ath.

Sha’ath is one of the leading so-called “moderates” in the Palestinian national movement. He is a member of the Fatah Central Committee, and responsible for its international relations (ie similar to a Palestinian Authority foreign affairs spokesperson). 

Sha’ath is well-spoken, urbane and worldly.  He is one of the Palestinians who, according to much of the world, sincerely wants peace, while it is Israel which remains intransigent and frustrates peace.    

On 10 June 2011, Sha’ath gave an interview with the Israeli Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab, which casts this in a completely different light.  In the interview Sha’ath firmly rejects the idea of a future Palestinian state living next to a Jewish state.  His interview was translated from Arabic into English by MEMRI ( and published as MEMRI Special Dispatch 3942 on 23 June 2011.  Here is what Sha’ath said, verbatim:

“We agree to two states for two peoples: a state for the Palestinian people and a state for the Israeli people – for its Muslims, Christians, and Jews – because we as Palestinians demand a Palestinian state for Muslims, Christians and Samaritans.  We have not demanded an Islamic state like Netanyahu insists on a Jewish state.......”

According to the MEMRI summary, in response to Kul Al-Arab’s restated question: “Do you still believe in two states for two peoples?” Sha’ath then said:

“We do not recognise anything called the state of the Jewish people.  We are prepared to recognise the State of Israel, if they say that the Israeli people includes those Muslim and Christian residents who are the true owners of the land.

But we do not agree to [two states] for two peoples, which means that Israel belongs to the Jewish people.  Israel must belong to everyone who lives there, and first and foremost to its original inhabitants [ie in his narrative, the Arabs – Beyond Images]

We have never agreed, and we never will agree, under any circumstances, to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people.....

.... There is a chance of two states: a Palestinian and a non-Jewish state of Israel.  We want a solution that will ensure the rights of the refugees and protect the rights of those Palestinians who live in Israel, since protecting their rights is part of our strategy.....”

In this vision, the country known as Israel would not be a “Jewish state” at all, but an Israel in which Palestinian Arabs have at least equal and probably superior rights of residency and citizenship to Jews.

In this vision it is the Palestinian Arabs – Muslim and Christian – who are “the original inhabitants” of the land.  The Jews have no indigenous roots, no indigenous connection, and no legitimate national rights as the Jewish people.

Consistency with past Palestinian statements

The entire moderate Palestinian leadership has adamantly refused in recent years to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”, but few have been so explicit about how they see the future as Nabil Sha’ath.

Mahmoud Abbas, Salim Fayyad, Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo among others have rejected the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Among the claims they make: 

  • ‘Jewish state’ is a racist concept
  • It would stop the Palestinians from exercising the ‘right of return’
  • Israeli Arabs would lose their rights in Israel, and be expelled
  • Judaism is a religion, not a nationality
  • The Palestinians cannot be expected to “act like Zionists”

For more on their views, and our commentary: Beyond Images Briefing 226 and Beyond Images Briefing 272.

The West Bank Palestinian State of the future – as a “Jew-free” state

The ultimate irony is that it is not Israel which would exclude Arabs in the future. It is the future West Bank state of Palestine which, even according to the moderate vision, would exclude Jews.  The Palestinian leadership have been explicit about this.  Senior Palestinian figures have made clear – repeatedly - that the future West Bank state of Palestine would not permit any Israelis to reside in it.  Thus, in December 2010 Mahmoud Abbas stated, in a press conference in Ramallah:
“We have frankly said and always will say: if there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it....”

- quoted in Jerusalem Post, 25 December 2010

Comments and key messages:  The two-state solution which Nabil Sha’ath has described is a distorted two-state solution. It is not just. It is not ethical. It is not sustainable, and it is not viable. 

It indulges a one-sided Palestinian national narrative, while ignoring the Jewish-Israeli national narrative. 

The Palestinian moderates need to be held to account for this destructive vision. 
And they need to be pressured by all the means of leverage which the international community has at its disposal to build a pragmatic two-state solution under which the Palestinian Arabs finally and unconditionally recognise the legitimate right of national self-determination of the Jewish people.   

This issues lies at the very core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 299 – 13 September 2011
Building an independent state: six steps the Palestinians have yet to take

Briefing 288 – 24 June 2011
Recognising Israel as a Jewish state:
Why it’s a Palestinian self-interest.... by an Israeli dove 

Briefing 272 – 11 December 2010
Recognising Israel as a Jewish state? Fresh rejection by the Palestinian ‘moderates’

Briefing 262 – July 2010
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about territory.  The solution is ‘land for peace’....”

Briefing 226 – 8 December 2008
Recognising Israel as a Jewish state? Mainstream Palestinian leaders refuse to do so