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One Democratic Secular State for all its citizens in Israel and Palestine

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Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:09 am

When will Israel come to love One Democracy ?

 Ali Abunimah: “Many Israelis, and their American Jewish supporters, are driven by genuine, visceral fear. … Palestinians need to refocus efforts to build a broad campaign based on universal principles. … They must reach out to Israelis with an inclusive vision of future reconciliation based on real equality. … an alternative that leads us out of our current impasse, addresses the fears and needs of Israeli Jews, preserves their identity, and allows their community to flourish, while restoring Palestinian rights.”

 1. A change of Vision

One Democracy exists almost in a different dimension from Two States. After decades of talking territory, places and spaces, towns, maps, fields and sites, it requires a huge mental switch into the sphere of political change instead. This is frightening: every writer sensitive to the issues speaks of it. But it’s also liberating.

Though it should be easier to negotiate without the physical obstacles, and it completely bi-passes all the most intractable impediments, it does reach down more radically into every Israeli’s life. Two States, if they happened, would leave everything for most Israelis more or less the same except for “over there”. It would be happening to someone else. An exchange of land for Peace leaves a smaller country, but the country itself would remain the same.

But One Democracy affects everyone, and each will consider the pros and cons for themselves: a bigger, freer space, a different cultural mix, a less militaristic environment, a secular state, a different choice of political parties, different governmental coalitions.

Maybe after all the arguments, the biggest thing that will change will be the vision. For Israel was of course founded from a vision that, through thick and thin, has remained little changed, however tainted and brutalised. Its entire population has been raised from birth steeped in this vision which is constantly reinforced.

The Two State myth gave the vision a new lease of  life:  liberal Zionists can tell themselves that if the Palestinians have a state too (never mind where), then all the dues and debts of the last 60 years will have been paid and the vision can carry on with clean hands. That’s what keeps the old ideological Zionists as the foremost advocates for two states.

We cannot win them by just talking down their vision. We need also to deconstruct it so as to keep whatever’s worth keeping, and to fill up the empty hole in people’s hearts with a powerful, inspirational new vision that’s not just a lesser evil than a nuclear suicide bomb.

Once it’s out there for discussion, Israelis can start to define and articulate what they would want within a single state, as knowledgeably as they now reel off the details of multi-coloured boundary maps, of settlements defined as legal or not legal, of negotiable and non-negotiable holy sites, of parcels of land here and there for swapping, and the details of weaponry, the range of rockets, and defensible border positions.

If Israelis are assured that they have at least an equal place and safety in the future of the country and will be able to retain their identity, freedom and way of life, these details could be discussed in the context of a burgeoning vision. So instead of the sterile point-scoring of the past 60 years we might see from the Israelis some creative ideas and imaginative responses to such challenges as:

* How to enrich our existing identity within a multicultural society

* How do we organise politically within this state, who will be our new allies?

* How do we make the most of new cultural, technical and commercial possibilities?

* What do we want to keep from the present life and what do we want to trash?

* How good will it be for sport and recreation not to be living under lock and key, to have the freedom to roam and explore all the country and travel freely in the Middle East? Will there ever be an Olympic Games in Israel?

* What will we do with all that extra time instead of military service and attending patriotic parades?

* What long range plans can I make now that I’m not facing possible eviction from my settlement or call-up for another war?

* What can I personally contribute to forging links with my country’s new partner?

2. Israel’s dependence on abroad: a fatal vulnerability

Reut, the right wing Israeli think-tank that came up with the word “de-legitimise”, thinks it will happen like this: “what worked in bringing down white South Africa in 1994 can also work in Israel’s case: Building a global grassroots movement for boycotts, sanctions and divestments that will eventually impact official policies in the leading nations of the world so that the political and economic model of Israel collapses under pressure, and surrenders to the principle of ‘one person, one vote’.” Thanks for the advice, Reut, and for making it perfectly clear how much you hate democracy!

And here’s where they got the word from: “What did change for South Africa, and what all the weapons in the world were not able to prevent, was the complete loss of legitimacy of the apartheid regime and its practices. Once this legitimacy was gone, whites lost the will to maintain a system that relied on repression and violence and rendered them international pariahs; they negotiated a way out and lived to tell the tale. It all happened much more quickly and with considerably less violence than even the most optimistic predictions of the time. But this outcome could not have been predicted based on what whites said they were willing to accept…  Zionism — as many Israelis openly worry —  is suffering a similar, terminal loss of legitimacy as Israel is ever more isolated as a result of its actions. Israel’s self-image as a liberal “Jewish and democratic state” is proving impossible to maintain against the reality of a militarized, ultra-nationalist Jewish sectarian settler-colony that must carry out frequent and escalating massacres of  “enemy” civilians (Lebanon, Gaza 2006, Gaza 2009) in a losing effort to check the resistance of the region’s indigenous people. Zionism cannot bomb, kidnap, assassinate, expel, demolish, settle and lie its way to legitimacy and acceptance.” Ali Abunimah in Electronic Intifada

“One of the great successes of Israeli Zionism was to convince American Jews that Israel was an American style democracy. …. But there is nothing in common between the ethnic democracy of Israel and the liberal democracy of America.” Jerry Haber

Dr John Mearsheimer’s forecast goes like this: when the Two State plan is dead, there will be three clear choices  –  1. Israel can force the Palestinians out, either by “soft transfer” (Israeli term for people leaving because it’s become unlivable), or genocidal clearances (maybe under cover of war as in ‘48 and ‘67); 2. fully fledged apartheid that can’t be concealed; or 3. Democracy. The first two (he thought apartheid the more likely) will polarise the 5 million US Jews, with the centre ground mostly joining the current critics such as J Street, JVP etc to demand Democracy, leaving the blinkered Israel loyalists as an isolated rump unable any longer to wield their power in Washington. Without US support, Israel will eventually implode and concede democracy.

The collapse of support abroad and the possible loss of Washington is very much on the cards. In Washington, before being hauled back on message by AIPAC, senior voices including General Petraeus and Barack Obama questioned whether the Israel connection was really serving the US’s security interests.

Since then, a senior EU official reportedly told Israel’s envoy in a private conversation: “You just signed an agreement, and that’s nice, but I don’t think the European Parliament is going to ratify it. Israel is in the worst situation it has ever been in vis-à-vis the world. They just hate you.” Other senior officials identified as friends of Israel added: ” We are sick of Israel, stop carrying on about the Iranian bomb as long as you don’t put an end to your conflict with the Palestinians. People have no patience left for Israel. Your friends are disappearing or going underground, your enemies are multiplying.”

The Boycott campaign is about far more than material loss. It puts Israel’s dirty deeds into the spotlight, makes people dig around for facts, creates debates that Israel would rather weren’t happening, forces it out from under cover, recruits activists and thinkers against it.

And then there are the debates and proposals about partial BDS (goods associated with the Occupation) and full BDS which affects Israel as such. Focus on the occupation is only part of the picture, leading deeper into discrimination and apartheid within Israel, repeated incursions and invasions (Lebanon, Gaza) and threats to the region and Iran.

And we need to extend BDS to include motions of expulsion of Israeli reps from international commercial bodies, diplomatic contacts etc, and a demand on the UN to investigate Israel’s illegal nuclear weapons. Why no UN nuclear inspectors? Have we all forgotten Dimona?

3. The Two State roadblock

Israel Shamir, 2001:  It could have happened years ago if the Israeli left had not nurtured the illusions of partition.

A vital first milestone in this process is the burial of the Two State solution. The Two State idea has held the whole of the opposition and solidarity movement sitting on the fence for 20 years: supporting the Palestinians with all their hearts, demanding an end to the military occupation and all its horrors, but supporting also Israel’s continuation even as a self-defined Jewish majority state with a strong expansionist drive, a militarist culture, a proven tendency to invade and destroy its neighbours, a 20% minority defined legally as second class citizens, a refusal to allow the return of the ejected owners of the country even to visit their families, and a complete lack of inhibition or self-consciousness about revealing quite openly its far, far more heinous schemes and options.

Nowhere else in the world would this be acceptable to the human rights community, yet the Two State advocates making up the vast majority of this massive movement support not only the continuation of Israel, but placing a vulnerable and defenceless Palestinian enclave at the mercy of this rapacious monster  -  and calling it quits.

Removal of the Two State option will help to shift both the organised human rights groups and a growing number of major big-name influential voices towards One Democracy. They’ll be attacked for wanting to destroy Israel, and organisations will face having their funding cut. But very soon, especially as Open Letters proliferate, there will be safety and credibility in growing numbers, and as more individuals switch to One Democracy the funding will start to switch too.

Israel has ably assisted by being very rude to J-Street and stopping Noam Chomsky from even entering its (occupied) territory.

4. Will a Palestinian leadership bury the Two State corpse?

A death certificate for Two States might be issued upon a Palestinian final withdrawal from talks. Failing that, the effective shift of the Palestinian mass movement towards demanding civil rights must exert a strong imperative on its solidarity movement, all the more so if it becomes explicit in its demands for the vote.

These two events are quite possible in combination if grassroots pressure forces the PA’s withdrawal, or promotes new leaders who push the existing deadwood aside. Without a death certificate Two States might be kept in a persistent vegetative state on life support, which will make it harder for the movement to achieve closure and move on.

But part of that life support system is the perceived lack of an alternative. Two States, however moribund, is still seen as realistic. One Democracy, however inevitable, is still seen as utopian. And they are tied together like yesterday and tomorrow.

Like everything else, Palestinian politics is on the turn. A newly confident and creative rank and file struggle is throwing up new leaders. The longer the PA and PLO cling to their impossible nationalist vision and shore up the Two State myth, the more they will be tainted by association with the reality on offer.

“Third Way” (PNI) leader Mustafa Barghouti could really stake out a distinctive posture if he picked up the One Democracy banner and campaigned with it, especially around the exiles’ camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan where the vast majority still want to go back to the whole land of Palestine they left behind.

This is how close Barghouti has come to One Democracy:if the two-state solution fails to take root during Obama’s tenure we will be left with apartheid. The burgeoning non-violent Palestinian struggle against the wall and occupation my colleagues and I are organizing might yet transform into a civil rights struggle capable of rivalling movements last seen in the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa. … Palestinian steadfastness and global solidarity are forcing Israel to choose: two states, apartheid, or democracy in one undivided state. Although I continue to back two states, I believe the vast majority of Palestinians would accept equal rights and one person, one vote in one state with alacrity. I certainly would were we to reach such a day.”

Our response is clear: We would reach that day a whole lot faster if Barghouti helps to take us there. Please stop backing the wrong horse, Dr. Barghouti, and come out fighting for One Democracy. If you are successful, other parties will surely take note and follow on and it will look a whole lot more realistic.

And we need a post-Zionist organised left to talk to the post-nationalist Palestinians: about setting up a pro-Democracy party. (See Strategy: What is to be Done)

5. Ways to make the fortress crumble

 a) Contact

“For 43 years, the Israeli public — schoolchildren, TV viewers, Knesset members and Supreme Court judges —  have been living in the darkness of the occupation. The school system and its textbooks, the army and its maps, the language and the “heritage” have all been mobilized to help keep Israelis blind to the truth. ” Akiva Eldar

“We want to unite people, to tear down physical and mental walls and to uphold our humanity, as Palestinians and Israelis are doing together against violence, oppression and colonisation.” Statement of 5th Bil’in Conference, April 2010

A blinkered vision is a dangerous defence: if the blinkers come off or fail, disorientation can result, and maybe lead in new directions. If the vast majority of Israelis have never met a Palestinian, what effect would even one meeting have in questioning all the stereotypes? As Emily Amrusi, one of the settlers who have been fraternising with their neighbours observed, she knew she would  “come out different”.

The best form of contact, and the best answer to the stereotypes, is to join the struggle, stand shoulder to shoulder, defend the people being evicted, help to harvest their olives or re-build their demolished houses. To listen to their stories, meet their children, hear their hopes and fears, accept their hospitality, dance and drink tea with them.

The process itself will attract rather than repel, involve wider ripples of people, leave them changed and inspired. The goal of One Democracy has the power to arouse real enthusiasm and idealism as early Zionism did, a vision of a New Jerusalem and a liberation from the dark clouds of suspicion, recrimination, accusation and fear.

As Nahum Pachnik expressed it, “What characterises the world to come is that during the process itself, the individual will be able to taste the flavor of the end of the process. The flavor of the tree will be the flavor of the fruit. I am already starting to taste that flavor, of the end.”

If Israel embarks on a transitional period of debate and contacts, the process itself must be a healing one.

b) The natural supporters of One Democracy

One frequently quoted poll tells us that 67% of Israeli Jews oppose a single state, which indicates that the remaining 33%, are at least not opposed on principle. This is a lot more than the .01% claimed by “two stater” peace campaigner Yuri Avneri, who says Israelis will simply never, ever, ever consider One Democracy. So who might these people be, and who might be expected to join them?

The obvious constituency must be the human rights movement, for its growing knowledge of the gravity of the Palestinians’ situation and the repression of Israel. It’s hard to understand how so many of them can still cling to the Two State comfort zone, but clearly in time the balance within the movement must shift from yesterday to tomorrow.

Other “natural” supporters would include secular Israelis worried about the increasing state and demographic power of the ultra-orthodoxy; the left-leaning post-Zionist generation who can see through the Two State failure and hold the old left responsible; the one million or so secular ex-pats exposed to a better informed and genuinely democratic environment abroad; the less ideological intelligentsia and professionals whose work brings them into contact with critical colleagues.

But there are also some very “unnatural” allies too.

c) Surprising allies of One Democracy

First, a bit of potted history. Early Zionism divided into two trends, which are still visible, if less distinct, today.:

* the right wing, who saw the project in traditional colonial fashion, i.e. take all the land and exploit the cheap native labour as a sub-class with no rights;

* and the left wing, who wanted to create a model democratic society, but just for Jews  -  who would do their own heavy lifting and build a whole new country by their own efforts. Hence the Jewish-only trade union movement, the Histadrut, imposed a Jewish labour only policy from the 1920s, with boycotts (and worse) of Jewish firms who employed Arab labour. The left were happier with less space as long as it was just for Jews.

Between them, one lot wished to remove the people from their land, the other to take the land from the people. And now, having  both succeeded, their separate identities have largely merged, so now the Left are just as implicated in the land-grab, settlements and wall, while the Right have taken on the ethnic cleansing agenda and dream of completing the job begun in 1948.

But they are not monolithic blocks. Around the edges of the right wing and among the settlers are those who still see Greater Israel as their priority and are willing to pay in political concessions to keep the land undivided. And on the left are strange hybrids such as Yuri Avneri, rightly honoured for fighting over decades for peace and against the injustices of Zionism, but unable to abandon the “Jewish democracy” myth.

So it’s a surprise, but not quite out of keeping with the history, that some settlers, and so far a couple of prominent Likud MKs including the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, have declared for Greater Israel rather than Purer Israel: “I would rather see Palestinians as citizens of this country than partition the land” (reported in Ha’aretz 29.4.10). This was followed closely by the very senior hawk Moshe Arens (one-time Ambassador to the US) saying much the same. No doubt the terms and conditions would be very different. But this does starts create a breach in the wall.

The Yerushalom (or Eretzshalom) movement is still small, but has raised no howls of protest from fellow settlers about the “end of Israel” for its tendency to support a “binational” state.

Eretzshalom was started by maverick poets and literati, but is being sought out by others, including settlers asking how they should go about joining the locals in a bid to stop the Wall slicing past their landscape.

Settlers number some 480,000. They have an estimated one million family and friends in “original” Israel. But before we start adding them to the tally, we need to remember that they too are not monolithic (either for good or ill) and these people do sit with murderous colleagues. Moreover, their very new movement dating back to December 09 could fizzle out. But if even a few settlements were marked for sacrifice on the altar of a Two State agreement, the small Eretzshalom group, and its One State proposal, could mushroom overnight on both sides of the Green Line.

d) Strains on Fortress Israel

Israelis are well versed in things they dislike in their state, and there is a huge divide between secular and religious forces.

The current repression, though evidently it has majority approval rating, will further polarise as human rights organisations are criminalised and Zionism overreaches itself with hysterical lies and witch hunting, gagging and muzzling of information that leaks into the internet, and picking quarrels with Washington.

For secular Israelis, the danger of an Orthodox demographic takeover that causes more secular Israelis to emigrate must be a sobering prospect. The dismantling of such a state in favour of One Secular Democracy could be their best chance to defend their way of life before it falls over the edge of the rabbinical abyss into a Jewish mirror image of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

6. One Democracy “just a Utopian dream”

At least half the argument against One Democracy is that “no-one will agree to that in Israel”. For those who concede that it might be a good idea, it’s presented as a dream, a utopia that will never happen … because it will never happen. It’s either too good to be true and therefore Utopian, or too bad so it’s not kosher to talk about it.

In Israel, says Yuri Avneri, Grand Old Man of the peace movement and the left who, sadly, clings like a limpet to the two-state goal, “the far far deepest aspiration is to maintain a state where Jews will be masters of their fate” (like they are right now?, one might ask with barely disguised sarcasm) One state “means the dismantling of the State of Israel” (a state that would have horrified many of its founders) “destruction of all that was built for five generations” (what, all the communities, hospitals, schools, universities and orchestras, industries, clever agriculture and technology, the customs and festivals, all gone in a puff of smoke, just because some other people are let in to share it?)… “and 99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state.”

When it becomes apparent that in fact at least a third of the people are already not opposed in principle, the argument that it’s not for consideration because no-one wants it should fall by the wayside.

Polls of Israeli opinion seem strangely contradictory, perhaps revealing a picture of confusion, a brittle reaction to the endless uncertainty that’s reigned since Oslo. Recently over 90% said they favoured free speech, while a large majority also favoured locking up critics and whistleblowers. The contradictions indicate not so much that they are open-minded but unstable, likely to go either way if something dramatically changes the view.

It is a truism that Israel was well led but that the Palestinians were ill served by their leaders. But it’s highly likely that the extremity of Israeli political attitudes is over-represented in its governments. Ofra Yeshua-Lyth certainly argues that most people “in the street” are much more modulated and pragmatic and less ideological than the party leaders. “Tell an Israeli Jew that ‘a Jewish State has turned out to be a bad idea for the Jews’ and chances are he or she would nod and accept this as a cliché. Life’s daily encounters provide few people who react differently when one points out that “it is wrong” to have the state and its mighty army serve archaic principles of the Jewish Orthodoxy and the interests of small fanatic groups.”

Throw in yet another political scandal, a massacre of aid workers, an adverse turn in Washington, a new beginning for the Palestinian leadership, the rise of a new party, maybe an amazing YouTube video, the death of an Israeli Tom Hurndall or Rachel Corrie, and some of these things could impact on each other and produce a political chain reaction. Look what happened to the Rev Iain Paisley, who famously said Never Never Never.

Read Ofra Yeshua-Lyth’s paper for the Haifa Conference “An Optimistic Perspective” in Documents.

Or watch this short video made by Zochrot to see some more common-sense opinions expressed by people around the cafes of Jaffa: http://www.youtube.com/user/Zochrot

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