Perennial Issue: Sovereignty and border disputes and the ongoing Middle East conflict. Case Issue

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Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan: A Two State Solution?

Perennial Issue: Sovereignty and border disputes and the ongoing Middle East conflict.

Case Issue: Should there be a separate, internationally recognized, self-governing Palestinian state?


Perhaps no land has been more fought over and laid claim to throughout the history of mankind than the land that makes up the present-day state of Israel. Jews, Muslims, and Christians have battled for control of this sacred land while groups such as the Romans, Ottomans, and British have fought over it for more political and economic reasons. This fight continues in the modern world between the Israelis and the Palestinians, one a nation-state and the other a stateless nation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most controversial political issues in the world. This lesson teaches students about this important issue by getting them to answer the question of should there be a separate Palestinian state?

The SAC Lesson Model

A structured academic controversy (SAC) lesson is useful for debating an issue that has two definitive, contrasting solutions. Most often it is a policy issue that asks whether or not a certain course of action should be taken. The overall question for the lesson should be phrased so that it receives a yes or no answer that can be backed up with evidence. Students are divided into groups of four and then subdivided into partners. The lesson consists of two rounds. During the first round, one pair within the group receives evidence that supports the issue while the other pair receives evidence that rejects the issue. The students are given a short period of time to analyze the data. They then present the evidence and try to persuade the opposite pair that their side is correct. The opposing pair can ask clarifying questions but the discussion should not devolve into an argument. The other pair then gets to present their data and be asked questions. During the second round, the process is repeated but with new evidence and each pair’s position on the issue reversed. At the end, the group forms a consensus on what should be done. The lesson both teaches students about a controversial issue and allows them to practice their analytical and persuasive skills.


This issue lends itself to the SAC model for several reasons. First, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a controversial topic with global implications. Knowing about the conflict makes students more informed and better global citizens. The United States has a vested interest in securing a peaceful solution for security and economic reasons. Secondly, the topic can be discussed by turning it into a yes or no answer; should there be a separate Palestinian state?

Grade Level and Class

The lesson is designed for a ninth grade World History II class and a tenth grade World Geography class. It would work well in a World History II unit on contemporary political issues and a World Geography unit on the Middle East.


The lesson should take 75-90 minutes.


Academic Objectives

  1. Students will be able to list and describe reasons for and against the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

  2. Students will be able to differentiate between a nation-state and a stateless nation.

  3. Students will be able to identify causes of political border disputes.

These objectives are in line with Virginia SOLs WHII.14c, WHII.15b, and WII.16a which deal with the creation of states in the Middle East, the distribution of world religions, and contemporary political issues, respectively. It also corresponds with VA SOLs WG.3c, WG.4, WG.10 which deal with how cultural characteristics link or divide regions, general geographic and cultural characteristics of the world’s regions, and political divisions, respectively. Lastly, the lesson relates to NCSS Standards one, two, six, nine, and ten which deal with the study of culture, the study of time, continuity, and change, the study of power, authority, and governance, global connections, and civic ideals, respectively.

Intellectual Objectives

  1. Students will demonstrate the ability to retrieve, analyze, and synthesize data by examining and presenting the evidence for and against a separate Palestinian state.

  2. Students will demonstrate the ability to persuasively argue with evidence for or against an issue by persuading their group members to support or reject a separate Palestinian state.

  3. Students will demonstrate the ability to work cooperatively to form a consensus and/or solution on a controversial issue by determining whether there should be a separate Palestinian state.

Lesson Outline

  1. Introduction (10-15 minutes)

  1. Briefly explain the SAC lesson model to the class and your goals and objectives for them. Stress that even if they do not agree with the side they are advocating for that the important thing is that they learn about the topic and practice their persuasive skills. These skills include the ability to use evidence to persuasively argue for or against a certain issue, physical skills such as eye contact, sitting up straight, and a strong voice, and a respect for diverse opinions.

  2. Hook

  1. Play the short video “Israel-Palestine: A Land in Fragments” located at The video gives them a brief overview of the issue and allows them to visualize the geography of Israel and Palestine.

  2. Briefly explain the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasizing the Jewish and Muslim history of the land, the European mandate system, the formation of the Israeli state, the Arab-Israeli wars, and the attempts at peace.

  1. Round One (25-30 minutes)

  1. Organize the class into groups of fours and have them subdivide themselves into pairs. For convenience purposes, have them form groups with the people around them.

  2. Hand out Data Set 1 (supporting evidence) to one pair in each group and Data Set 2 (opposing evidence) to the other pair. In addition, hand out two data retrieval charts to each student.

  3. Give the students five minutes to read the data sets and fill out the chart.

  4. Give the students three minutes to discuss with their partner what data each one will present. Instruct the students that each person must present at least two different points of evidence and that the opposing group must ask clarifying questions about the evidence. The opposing group should write down their clarifying questions on the data retrieval sheet.

  5. Give the supporting or “yes” group four minutes to present their evidence and the other pair two minutes to ask clarifying questions.

  6. Give the rejection or “no” group four minutes to present their evidence and the other pair two minutes to ask clarifying questions.

  1. Round Two (25-30 minutes)

  1. Repeat the process from round one except reverse each pair’s position and supply new evidence (Data Sets 3 and 4).

  2. Give students a few more minutes to read these data sets as they are longer and denser. Repeat the directions again as they go through each step.

  1. Conclusion (20 minutes)

  1. Give the class five minutes to reach a consensus within each group about what the solution should be.

  2. Have each group present their consensus position.

  3. Debrief with the class about how they think the discussion went. What were its strengths and weaknesses? What could be improved in the future?

  4. Assign the homework discussed below.


Students will be assessed based upon class participation and an at home essay. While students should not be graded on the quality of their persuasive skills, the teacher should make sure the students are on task and trying their best. The teacher should monitor the discussions but interject only if he or she feels the conversations are going extremely awry. The take home essay is where the teacher should assess whether the class actually learned the information. The essay should be four paragraphs in length with the first paragraph introducing the topic and the main controversies behind it, the second describing the supporting arguments, the third describing the opposing arguments, and the final paragraph suggesting what should be done. The essays should exhibit good spelling and grammar.


  1. Internet

  2. Video Projection

  3. Copies for half the class of each of the four data sets.

  4. Two data retrieval charts for each student.

  5. Writing utensils.


Steps have been taken to differentiate for diverse learners within the class. For example, the data sets for the first round are bulleted lists of evidence supporting the corresponding side. The language is simplified, and the presentation of the data is direct. This approach should help struggling readers and less critical thinkers. The data sets for the second round are two opinion articles from the Los Angeles Times. They are harder to read and require students to pull relevant information from them. Hopefully, the second round will provide more of a challenge for advanced learners. In addition, the video at the beginning of the lesson addresses visual and auditory learners. This lesson differentiates from the traditional, passive curriculum. Students engage with the material in a constructive manner and practice their discussion skills.


The social nature of this activity will hopefully help students who have a difficult time staying quiet and well behaved during class. Because the teacher will not be lecturing, he or she can walk around the room and monitor student behavior. In addition, by working in pairs and groups, students can help their peers who have learning disabilities. For example, a student with dyslexia’s partner could read out loud the opinion article in order to speed up the reading process and avoid frustration. Lastly, again, because the teacher is not lecturing, he or she can individually help struggling learners.


I expect this lesson to go off smoothly and effectively teach students about the issue. With that said, there are always concerns when designing a lesson. My biggest concern for a lesson like this is participation. Will the students want to persuasively discuss and elaborate on the evidence or will they simply list the evidence and be done with it? In addition, I am always concerned about behavior issues and whether the students are on task. I will walk around the room and constantly monitor behavior. Lastly, I am concerned whether the round two’s data sets are too difficult to read. I shortened them, but some of the vocabulary may be too difficult to read.

Data Set #1: Yes, There Should Be A Separate Palestinian State

  • The creation of a Palestinian state will end the conflict and violence. If there is no longer a dispute over land than there will be no more missile and terrorist attacks.

  • During the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic movements in the first half of the 20th Century, Jewish settlers bought the land from the British government. Palestinians were forced to leave, left of their own accord, and/or became second citizens. The land was never the British’s to give away and the Palestinians deserve to have at least some of the land back.

  • There are millions of Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps and other poor conditions. Just like the Jewish people, they need a place that they can call home.

  • The Palestinians already have an elected organization that governs the Palestinian held territories, the Palestinian National Authority. The next logical step is an official creations of a separate Palestinian state.

  • Palestinians deserve to govern themselves.

  • “Well, there has emerged, over the course of the past ten years at least, a sense that the only way out of the situation in the Middle East is to establish a State of Palestine alongside Israel so that there will be an end of conflict. There is no other solution to end the conflict in reality. There is an international consensus about it as reflected by the so-called Road Map Quartet [the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations], which is after all the whole world. You have the United States, you have Europe, you have the Russians and the United Nations, which is the whole world, and then there is the Arab League, which is twenty-two different states, and there is the previous Palestinian administration, and the Israeli administration, all of them committed to the two-state solution."- Ziad J. Asali, MD, President and Founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, June 2, 20061

Data Set #2: No, There Should Not Be A Separate Palestinian State

  • The land that the Palestinians would likely receive in a two state solution would be the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Neither area of land is ecologically or economically viable. “The State of Israel includes the coastal regions and the most fertile lands. The Palestinians are left mainly with mountainous and arid regions.”2

  • Land inevitably changes hands over time. The Palestinians lost it and have no right to reclaim it. The United States would not sanction the creation of separate Native American states within its borders.

  • There are hundreds of Israeli settlements within the West Bank and Gaza. Why should the Palestinians have control of the land? A separate Palestinian state is no longer possible because of years of Israeli settlement.

  • "The paradigm of the Two States will not bring about stability. No! . . . (The Two-State solution) is not relevant. Not relevant . . . (The Palestinian state) will undermine the State of Israel. From there, the confrontation will go on. The State of Israel is ready to give the Palestinians an independent Palestinian state, but the Palestinians are not ready to give us an independent Jewish state . . . Every agreement you make will be the starting point of the next irredenta. The next conflict. The next war. The establishment of a Palestinian state will lead at some stage to war. Such a war can be dangerous to the State of Israel. The idea that it is possible to set up a Palestinian state by 2008 and to achieve stability is disconnected from reality and dangerous.” -Moshe Yaalon, Lieutenant General and former Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.3Data Set #3: Yes, There Should Be A Separate Palestinian State

I will start with my utopia, which has been the utopia of most Israelis for the past 60 years: "Two states for two people, living side by side in peace, security and prosperity, equally indigenous and equally legitimate."

Is it desirable? The models of Spain and Portugal and Slovakia and the Czech Republic teach us that separate polities are sometimes necessary and often conducive to unleashing the distinct and creative energies latent in each society. In fact, the reason most people of conscience consider Israel the greatest miracle of the 20th century and the moral consciousness of the 21st is because it has demonstrated to the world that people bonded by a shared historical vision can take charge of their destiny and, in just 60 years, turn a scattered tribe of beggars and peddlers into a thriving democracy and a world center of art and science. There is no reason why Palestinian society, guided and assisted by Israel's example, will not reach equal heights…

…Is the utopia attainable? This is the topic of tomorrow's discussion, and I believe that the answer depends on whether Palestinians really want it to happen. I hope, George, that you will reinforce our hopes that there exists a willing peace camp on the Palestinian side -- my friends in Israel are thirsty for such signals.

Finally, a word on the so-called one-state solution. Despite the euphemistic terminology with which it is decorated in the media, I do not want to dignify this nightmarish contrivance with discussion, for this would only embolden the enemies of coexistence. In my opinion, this contrivance is a recipe for endless ethnic strife, Iraqi style.

Any peace-seeking pragmatist understands that a meaningful peace plan must take note of the 5.5 million Israeli Jews traumatized by collective memories of accomplished (1945) and attempted (1948) genocides who would never agree to relinquish the right to defend themselves. Defense and immigration policy are the two key ingredients that Israelis will not be able to relinquish under any peace plan -- all the rest is negotiable.

So let us remove the "one-state non-solution" from the table and concentrate on the realistic goals of peace and dignity for all people in the region: "two states for two people, equally indigenous and equally legitimate."

Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, is a frequent commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is the president and co-founder of the Daniel Pearl Foundation -- named after his son -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to dialogue and cross-cultural understanding.4 Data Set #4: No, There Should Not Be A Separate Palestinian State

Forgive me, Judea, for this long post. I believe that a single democratic, secular and multicultural state in Israel and Palestine would best actualize the rights of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. I will share my reasons over several days. But my main concern now is to critique your call for "two states for two peoples" in some depth.

Judea, with respect, it is you this time who has indulged in wishful thinking. Nowhere do you delineate the borders of these two states you propose. Perhaps that is because a just partition of Palestine into two states -- one Jewish, and one Palestinian -- is impossible. Israel has killed any chance of a viable Palestinian state by thoroughly and irrevocably colonizing the West Bank. Jewish settlers there and in East Jerusalem approach 500,000. Israeli land claims now cover about 40% of the West Bank, and expansion continues apace. Meanwhile, no political force on the horizon will reverse this colonizing juggernaut.

Any Palestinian entity, even if called a "state," that arose from the fragments of territory left in the West Bank would be a bantustan, with its borders, airspace and major underground aquifers controlled by Israel. This bantustan could not practically absorb the Palestinian refugees, whose right to return to their homes would be effectively voided. Meanwhile, 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel would be consigned to permanent subordinate status as non-Jews in Israel.

It would only be a matter of time before conflict burst forth anew.

But the two-state solution is also morally and politically wrong…the hard truth is that ethnic nationalism, of which Zionism is a version, is a dead end. It may have been acceptable in the 18th century, but it is not in the globalized and multicultural world of today…

…An ethnic state would allocate government resources unequally -- just as Israel has done…

…An ethnic state would ensure that the dominant group maintains a monopoly over political authority -- just as Israel has done…

…Ethnic states breed tension, as the dominated group or groups resist their subordination and the dominant respond with repression -- just as Israel has done…

…Despite repression, minorities facing discrimination eventually protest…

…Dominant groups in ethnic states typically do not respond tolerantly to threats to their power -- and indeed, Israeli Jews seem to be responding with mounting anti-Arab racism…

…In short, ethnic states are inherently discriminatory -- and properly belong to the past…

Judea, I am saddened to learn that you view the prospect of transforming Israel and Palestine into one state based on the principle of equal rights as "nightmarish." This, I believe, is a progressive model, and one which reflects the tolerance and respect for diversity of our age.

The one-state solution has a number of important advantages: First, it would transform 1.4 million Palestinian residents of Israel from a subordinated minority to full citizens. Second, it would permit genuine realization of the right of return of roughly 4 million Palestinian refugees by providing a greater geographical range for their resettlement. Third, it would enable Jewish Israelis to continue to choose to live in parts of the West Bank that are of religious and cultural significance to them. Fourth, it would vault over two of the thorniest issues that plague the two-state solution: the drawing of borders of the new Palestinian state and the division of Jerusalem. Fifth, while it would require both peoples to surrender their deeply cherished dreams of exclusive sovereignty, this sacrifice would be reciprocal and would result in a more equitable distribution of rights overall. Finally -- for now -- and most importantly, because it would resolve major outstanding injustices, it would lead to durable peace in the region.

George E. Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.5 Directions: While you read the data set provided to you, fill out the chart below. In addition, write down evidence that the opposing side presents and any clarifying questions you may have.

Data Retrieval Chart

Major Themes from the Data Set

How does it support your assigned viewpoint?






List four points of evidence the opposing side makes:





List three clarifying questions about the opposing side’s evidence:




1, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What are the solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” 13 April 2009,

2 Marian Kromkowski, “The One State versus Two State Solution,” The New England Committee to Defend Palestine Conference, 12-13 April 2003,

3, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What are the solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” 13 April 2009,

4 Pearl, Judea. “A two state or one state solution?” The Los Angeles Times, 14 May 2008,,0,2612452,full.story.

5 Bisharat, George, “A two state or one state solution?” The Los Angeles Times, 14 May 2008,,0,2612452,full.story.

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