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


Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

The One State Proposal

This post was written in November 2011 for a conference in Jerusalem called “The Best Plans” which set out to test various Peace Plans for their usability and likelihood of acceptance by the two populations. It follows a format set for all submissions. While we really don’t think that lack of a clever plan is what is holding things up, it seemed worth putting in an appearance as against bi-nationalism, cantons (and worse), as otherwise the One State would not be represented at all.

A single democratic secular state in the whole territory between river and sea will resemble one or another of the world’s democracies. It is a common, tried and tested vehicle to fulfill and hold together both individual rights and communal and collective rights of its component populations. Much can be learned from Democracy’s best practice.

Whatever their variants, the baseline of today’s democracies is that all citizens are equal under the law and all have equal access to framing that law and using it, regardless of gender, ethnic origins or religious faith.

Integration rather than separation emphasises what people have in common, not what separates them. Familiarity reduces fear and prejudice.  

Unlike federative and bi-national plans, no-one’s vote will have to be registered into this or that list, so they can freely support any candidate or party, enabling cross-voting and collaboration between members of different ethnic groups. Whatever the demographics, votes would not divide between solid ethnic blocks, and even if they did, could not contravene basic rights and standards.

If it were to continue, Israel would have to hit the “re-start” button, ditching racial triumphalism and the straitjacket it has created even for its favoured citizens, in a process of re-formatting: it would remain a very Jewish country, but at ease with all its citizens, its neighbours and the world.

The following “Plan” is a statement of overall principles which are generally agreed by all its supporters worldwide. It will be for representatives of the two populations to draw up together a detailed constitution and set out agreed rights, freedoms and structures.

A Distinctive Plan

Only a plan that includes restitution, equality and return of exiles to any part of the country will promote the long-term reconciliation needed for a stable society, for positive integration into the region rather than a “hard and bitter peace”, and for an assured end to uncertainty, warfare and a militarism.

Only a joint democracy enables flexibility and balance: both full integration in most common areas of life (such as work, health, sport and leisure, commerce, science, music and culture) and also for the flourishing of different identities, cultures, customs, traditions and ways of life, whether those of ethnicity and religion or the many identities that make up modern living.

One Person, One Vote is a solid framework for a cohesive society with joint self-determination as one nation that is not antagonistic to any of its component parts. Where people enjoy full freedom to be themselves  and also a free interaction with “the other”. It’s the only plan that insists on One Law for All.

One State is the only plan that forces a radical re-casting of the Zionist mold, discarding a shameful mindset that has led to young men burning mosques and daubing “death to Arabs”, while the regime frets over the Arab birthrate and 30,000 Bedouins face “re-location”.

One democratic secular state is the only plan that enables a Jewish and Muslim moderate mainstream to vote together and not be separated into ethnic blocs. 

If we get to see political changes that are strong enough to break from the status quo, why squander them on a half-measure that doesn’t put right the wrongs of the past or create an ethical re-birth? Such a chance may not come again.

Rights and Freedoms

A Bill of Rights and Freedoms of individual citizens will be a benchmark that all law must match up to. These rights will include the right of anyone to join and organise in myriad cultural, linguistic, trade union, political and religious (etc) associations of their choice to promote and represent their various interests. Any change to Basic Rights and Freedoms would need to muster an overwhelming majority of the popular vote, requiring the support of all major communities. The state must remain neutral and separate from any religion. The army, police and judiciary must be ethnically integrated at all ranks. All these measures will prevent a sectional takeover and give a legal framework to uphold everyone’s individual and communal rights.


The rights and duties of citizenship will initially be available to all born in or living in the land, and the families and descendants of all exiles.


All those who have been forcibly displaced by violence or by unequal laws will be entitled to compensation. This, and the resettlement of returning exiles, must be done by representative and accountable bodies, with full resources and state support. The fairness of this process will be absolutely crucial to reconciliation. Any individuals or groups that have perniciously taken land or property or done deliberate harm to people or property in the recent past will be held accountable and liable to pay compensation.

A One State Roadmap

Sooner or later the illusion that there are two separate countries will crumble. De facto, annexation took place decades ago. Above the notional zones and divisions sits one supreme ruling authority controlling one infrastructure, one economy and currency, all natural resources (most crucially water), borders, foreign policy, ID, civil and criminal law, armed forces, policing, borders, communications and even school textbooks.

Whether we’ll see a Berlin Wall “moment” or annexation by the militant right, the demands for civil rights in one country, for one law for all, for free movement and equal treatment, for a state of all its citizens, will grow louder. One Country will not come about because of a clever plan on paper, but because a mass nonviolent civil rights movement makes an unanswerable clamour for equality and justice, which is finally heard in fortress Israel.

Palestinian issues were kept out of the J14 Social Justice movement on the grounds that they were “combat related”, so they were “national, not social”. But once the mirage of a “Palestinian state” is replaced with civil rights demands, they must become part of one indivisible struggle for a fairer society.

Many things can win Jewish Israelis to One Country: a normality not swamped by the “Jewish issue” (an early vision of Zionism, even, was just to be a “normal country”); a wish to live a relaxed non-military life free of fear; recoil from aggressive religious nationalism; a solution that avoids evictions and adds land, rather than losing it; desire for safe, free use of the whole country; inspirational Arab struggles for democracy; pressure of the boycott movement; the vision of a unified, progressive Middle East working together on environment, culture, and sport; hostility to a parasitic orthodox Rabbinate; parallel (but genuinely anti-racist) international “occupy” movements. And some other things we don’t yet know about.

Most of the gains would be feasible in a short timespan, with no great structural upheavals. Transition could be rapid and benign, starting with election of parties willing to explore practicalities and constitutions with Palestinian representatives. Meanwhile, grassroots projects, meetings and twinnings would work on merging professions and workplaces. The stem cells exist in many NGOs and coexistence struggles: they are the forerunners and during a transition will lead and grow.

There should be enough generosity, excitement, discovery, forging of friendships and new thinking to affirm that this was the right thing to do, to reveal benefits, solve problems, win more support and isolate the die-hards.

One State is said to be an impossible dream only for lack of support. This has not been proven, and takes no account of the blanket of silence around the case for it. Why not try a simple poll question: “If Two States is not achievable and the status quo is getting worse, would you support or oppose a unified state giving equal rights and duties to all citizens?” A West Bank poll in 2007 found 72% said Yes.

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