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


Posted August 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Q: “I don’t care if there’s one state, two states or twenty states. All I want is human rights and an end to the occupation.”

We’ve heard this all over the place.  The shorter answer is that if you don’t have a preference, and given that the two state option is clearly struggling, why not adopt the One State alternative as an equal option, help to get it better known, get to know the facts and the arguments, and be open-minded: judge them both against a human rights check-list and see how they perform. Promote them both if you’re not sure, or choose the one you think will do the best job. And leave history to figure out which is the most likely to happen.

Of course carry on fighting for human rights and an end to the occupation. Being concerned about the end-goal and how justice will come about is not a distraction from that. But while Two States might hold back  some people from active struggle because they think it’s all being dealt with, the Single state is very much rooted in grassroots struggles, especially actions that bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together, shoulder to shoulder in the line of fire. These build the bonds that will germinate the united State and that pose the question: after all these actions do we really want a divided future?

Here are some other responses.

♦  Human Rights requires a political system (polity seems the term these days) that respects, and is rooted in, human rights. Political systems can be  measured against agreed indices of human rights. To say you want human rights but don’t care about the political framework for it makes no sense.

The Two States proposal would not result in justice and human rights on either side of its borders. On one side of the border will remain a state which by its own definition and laws exists to privilege the rights of its majority Jewish population, thus systemically discriminating against its 20% non-Jewish minority: 1.4 million people.

On the other side of the border that state will control, by proxy, a nominal state that will be bound by international treaty and UN resolve to comply with the “security” demands of its big neighbour, with huge pressure to elect governments approved by Israel and accountable to Israel, not to their own electorate. As Gaza has shown, failure to comply could mean severe collective punishment. So not much prospect there for human rights.

♦  The very aim of Two States has already hugely damaged Palestinians’ human rights. By defining peace as a territorial matter, the re-partition process has been a war waged by bureaucracy and engineering backed by military force, giving Israel several decades to redesign the terrain to its advantage, and to fit the people to this terrain. In the years following Oslo, while the world’s worthies called for a settlement freeze, the Israeli state launched its own colossal settlement building programme, with infrastructure grid and the apartheid wall to match. Successive governments actively recruited and subsidised residents for whole new towns on the West Bank. This was a war process, not a peace process.

♦  By concentrating on symptoms and not on the causes or mechanisms of Palestinian oppression, activists who “don’t care how many states there are” have handed the long term initiative to Israel, to carve out its own definition of Two States or to continue with a limbo situation that gives it all the cards.

♦  Given that the Two State “Solution” has top billing and that the One Democratic State is almost unheard of, this “don’t care” statement abdicates responsibility but is not neutral, giving de facto support for the dominant idea. When people and organisations do not propose an alternative solution, the default solution is Two States. Saying they don’t care does not mean they are open-minded about One State, it means not challenging the continuation of a state that privileges Jews, that was established by ethnic cleansing and that continually makes and threatens wars on its neighbours.

♦  The “don’t care how many” position suggests that the solution is for someone else to decide, that the question of how all this ends up is not a matter for solidarity activists. It puts the issue not with the grassroots movement but with the backroom negotiators and the supposed honest brokers of the US and UN. It leaves the activists only picking up the pieces. It says to Israel “finding a solution is your problem, you deal with it”, which is exactly what they have been doing.

♦  By focusing on numbers of states, it ignores the characteristics and qualities of the two different solutions and the fact that they are not a bunch of similar solutions but are diametrically opposed: one is divisive, nationalist, militarist and territorial and leaves Israel unchanged, the other is universalist, humanist, democratic, inclusive. The Two States model sidelines the millions of exiles, leaves a second class minority within Israel and criss-crosses the country with international, local, zonal and security barriers, walls, fences and borders. One State allows for total freedom of movement and for all issues to be tackled with fairness, dignity and justice.

♦  The question of how many states is no joke. Israel’s offer, whenever it comes, will at the very lowest number be four states: part or parts of the West Bank; a tiny section of East Jerusalem; Gaza; and Israel. There will be massive areas declared military or security or buffer zones such as the Jordan Valley, the road corridors, the enclaves reserved for the largest settlements and many areas linking separated Palestinian enclaves such as Walaja which is being completely walled in with one exit.

♦  By rejecting to discuss the One State even as an alternative plan, this stance leaves the Palestinians with a much weaker hand to play, and allows Israel to claim that it has offered the Palestinians the state that all the world wants them to have, but they continue to refuse. Had Arafat gone to Madrid and Oslo and said “give us either a genuine state or give us the vote in a single country” they would be in a far better position today.

♦  No-one says about the Two State proposal: “we don’t care if it’s Two or Twenty as long as we get human rights”. This response is only heard when One State is proposed, as if one were splitting hairs and distracting from the real struggle. It trivialises the arguments and refuses to engage with the end goal.

♦  The Two State proposal is quite happy to be left vague, without spelling out all the thousands of permutations of borders, extent of land, half a dozen sovereignty issues, Jerusalem, contiguity, military/security arrangements, the Jordan Valley, settlements, and the rights of the refugees/exiles. But when it come to One State, the one or two constitutional variants seem to be a bafflingly large number.

♦  “One, Two or Twenty” is saying that once you consider going beyond the one permitted goal, then any number of different options will come flooding in. That relegates One State to the realm of an outsider also-ran, a day-dream no-hope candidate. In fact there are no other choices, unless one considers that further ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, permanent full-frontal apartheid or a genocidal doomsday war are acceptable choices.

♦  Nor is a single democratic country a newcomer to the argument. It was proposed by many early Zionists and by leading internationally known Zionist intellecturals of the calibre of Judah Magnes, Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber as late as 1947. It was an alternative proposal within the UN in 1947, and narrowly failed to be their choice. It was the position of significant sections of the PLO until the 1980s, and now is the obvious alternative especially in the context of a burgeoning grassroots and international non-violent movement that shares its values and aims.

♦  The fact is that far from being counterposed to “Human Rights”, the only proposal that is fully in keeping with human rights and the building of a just society is the One Democratic State.

♦  The UK’s flagship Zionist publication the Jewish Chronicle is quite clear that One State is not just one among various ideas but something completely different. Writing on 8 July 2010 their Foreign Editor Miriam Shaviv  says the existing Two State plans have trapped both nations “in a paradigm that has outlived its usefulness” and are “costing us a real chance to escape the quagmire”. We should, she says, “be more open to entirely new ways of thinking about the eventual settlement”, to include 3-way land swaps, a United States of Palestine, grafting land from Egypt to make a separate state of Gaza, federating the West Bank with Jordan. All interesting new surgery for different parts of the patient to be chopped and stitched in different combinations. The only thing that’s not on her agenda of radical new thinking is the one that involves no chopping and stitching at all:  “the one state solution” she says “which would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state, must be resisted at all costs”.

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