Twenty Good Reasons to Press for Statehood
“We should recognise the Palestinian state as a reality. We would not be granting it anything; we would simply be recognising a fact.” Peter Lilley (Thatcher-era government Minister, speaking in the UK House of Commons debate 13 October)
The recorded vote was 274 in favour (plus four tellers who had supported the motion but could not be counted) and just 12 against. One-time Friend of Israel Gerald Kaufman described it as a “game-changer”.
Israel had done its best to kill the motion, and its loyalists argued that Palestine could not and should not be recognised until it had negotiated a two-state deal with Israel, which Israel is not even offering and most of its leaders are on record as opposing.
Pro-Israel media then tried to play down the result as a small turnout of fewer than half of all the House’s 649 members, saying MPs absented themselves in droves. This was a conscious and deliberate propaganda distortion, whose authors know very well that these lawmakers don’t sit all day listening to debates and voting (that’s just one small part of their job), least of all on a back-bench cross-party motion that’s not in their normal brief. Apart from those absent for reasons of Committee business, work, travel or sickness, all government office-holders did not attend as they were barred from voting, so those voting were indeed a clear majority of those available and eligible.
Other than for standing-room-only special times such as a Budget, Queen’s Speech, Prime Ministers’ Questions or a major emergency, this was in fact an unusually high turnout. And one might also point to the far more significant number and proportion represented by the dirty-dozen “No” votes, which by no stretch or excuse could be said to give Israel any crumb of comfort.
Remarkable was the number of eminent senior Conservatives who supported the motion; the number of members of the “Friends of Israel” lobby from all parties who abstained (including Louise Ellman, pictured, who had earlier spoken against) or even supported the motion; those, some of them deeply emotional, citing personal breaking points in their previous unconditional support for Israel; and those who cited a shift in public opinion and the huge numbers of their constituents who had written to urge them to support the motion. This indicates that the House of Commons was closely in step with and representative of public opinion.
The motion was “That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”. The proposer had accepted an amendment from Jack Straw that added “… as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.”
With its acceptance of the state of Israel and its aim of a two state solution (2SS), how and why would campaigners for One Democratic State (ODS) be pleased about the passing of this motion?
Israeli One-State leader explains support
Israeli ODS leader Yoav Haifawi argues for celebrating the British parliamentary vote for recognition of Palestine as a state, and rejects the idea that this is a problem for those who oppose the Two State “solution”.
He writes that the vote: “will be perceived as a blow to Israel and a victory to the Palestinian movement. It may be seen as another proof that the collapse of the fake “peace talks” and the massacre in Gaza this summer deeply eroded Israel’s international support.” ODS, he says, is “both a methodology for the current struggle and a plan for establishing one democratic Palestine after Zionism will be defeated.” Therefore achieving that defeat is paramount.
Noting that Britain is a long-time ally of Zionism, Haifawi hopes that recognition, even of an “illusionary” state of Palestine, “will be one step less supportive of the reality of Israeli Apartheid in the whole of Palestine. … for Britain to pass from recognizing only Israel to recognizing Israel and Palestine is a small step in the right direction.” A “purist position” that fails to appreciate this tactical advance would discredit, isolate and sideline ODS.
He goes on, crucially, to remind us that “Our enemy is not the two state solution but racism and Apartheid”. In fact, he says, quoting Ilan Pappe, the two-state solution is a mirage to cover Israel’s land-grab and occupation. “By demanding from Israel to stand up to its words, its allies may expose some of the Israeli lies.”
For Palestinians, unity is crucial for “the struggle by one Palestinian people aspiring to live free in its homeland. ODS is the only clear perspective to achieve this. Every small step on any front to undo Israeli Apartheid is welcomed.”
One Democracy adds its support, for these further 20 reasons
1. Small recompense for insult, big boost to morale
The dispossession of Palestine literally added insult to injury: denial of Palestinians’ very identity and even existence has accompanied and followed the theft of their country. Recognition now of statehood, in the teeth of Israel’s contempt, is at the same time a recognition of the validity and value of their struggle. And it is a very belated small gesture of restitution but a huge boost to morale.
2. Returning Palestine to the map of history
There is no doubt at all that without the events of 1947-48, a unified and independent democratic state of Palestine could long ago have emerged from the single country that had been colonised by the Ottoman and then British empires and which was called Palestine by all including by its new Zionist community whose members were happy then to be known as Palestinians. Such a state would have been established and recognised, as most of the world’s ex-colonies were. It would have been much to the benefit of the region. To deny recognition now would be to validate all the events that led to the obliteration of that state of Palestine from the maps of history.
3. A more equal start-line for One State
A frequent argument against ODS says that even in a democratic state with equal votes and equal law, Palestinians would be swamped by the economic and material power of Israel in any merger that places the massive resources of the Zionist apartheid state establishment alongside powerless Palestinian communities and their economy. The attainment, at the present stage, of internationally recognised statehood could help provide these communities with a more equal start-line for a shared democracy, and some protection along the way.
4. Two States can come together as one bi-national state
The ODS movement’s programme calls for one person, one vote and stresses individual rights (including the right to organise culturally) rather than blocks of ethnic or community rights. Even so, an initial merger of two “states” (however unequal) may be easier than a merger of the one state of Israel with a stateless people. And other forms of bi-national state which may come to the fore either as a final or a transitional arrangement would perhaps be facilitated by such a merger of two states inhabiting the same space.
5. The same measures needed to turn the tide
The tide has to turn before we get any radical change — EITHER a half-decent separate state of Palestine (1967 borders, Jerusalem, and refugee rights) OR equal rights within one united country. Israel must be convinced, as its allies are now convinced, that the status quo is no longer an option*. In order to frame a future that accords restitution and justice for Palestinians, Israeli Jews need to see themselves as others increasingly do. There is no divergence between ODS and the Two States supporters about the measures necessary to turn the tide: economic, diplomatic, trading, cultural and political pressure to isolate Israel and to hold it to account, via BDS and any other measures which position and show up Israel as a pariah, a rogue state in breach of international norms. There is no doubt that BDS measures are enabled, triggered and strengthened by Recognition advances.
6. Non-territorial statehood includes all Palestinians
In all the nearly seven decades of struggle and sacrifice and resistance, there have been very few gains. The exiles remain in the camps, the 22% of mandate Palestine unconquered in 1948 has been further reduced and impoverished, and those remaining as a 20% minority in the land now recognised as “Israel” face ever harsher and more open discrimination and ethnic cleansing.
Two major gains, however, can and should be celebrated:
— the creation of the worldwide movement of solidarity and support, with a clear strategy led by Palestinian civil society and
— the fact that Palestine is a recognisable nation state with the right to self determination, and that all the scattered Palestinians are equally its people.
7. Self determination gives the right and the means to decide on One State or Two
While recognition of statehood is clearly seen as a step towards a “two state solution” (if that ever became possible), even a non-territorial self-determination could just as well open up a fight for ODS, for rights and justice for all Palestinians within the whole of historic Palestine.
8. A voice for the stateless exiles
Six million or more Palestinian exiles stranded stateless in the war zones of the region are in desperate need of a loud and clear voice, a recognised state, to speak up for them.
9. A stronger position creates the strength to reject
The ODS movement views Two States as both unlikely and unsatisfactory. It remains convinced that only by the transformation of Israel from its racist and supremacist structure and ideology can Palestinians, and Israeli Jews too, attain peace and freedom, justice and equality. However, if the Palestine Authority is pushed or lured back into negotiations at a time when Palestine is making gains at the UN and its courts and agencies, it will at least be in a stronger position to reject a totally bad compromise, and the Palestinian people will be in a stronger position to reject it too.
10.What One-Staters are against
It is not statehood or recognition that ODS people reject: what we do not believe will benefit Palestine is a fragmented, non-sovereign, hopelessly compromised and surrounded statelet whose very high price would be a closing of accounts for the past.
11. Alternative Voices side by side
It is important that Palestinians have friends who are not pushing them to accept a rotten deal, and that they are visible and available and organised to scrutinise and expose anything on offer. ODS supporters also need to be able to promote their vision, so that Palestinians know that such a statelet is not their last best option but that history can offer them something better. Without awareness of such an alternative, a bad deal could be an offer they can’t refuse. If ODS people stand aside from the statehood bid, or even start to sound a bit like the Israeli right’s determination to prevent a Palestinian state, they will remain unheard and invisible and unable to say: yes, there really is a Plan B.
12. One fight, two possible outcomes
ODS people commonly say that if the global movement and the Popular Resistance have gone through all this effort and struggle to win the possibility of a 2SS, why stop there? If we can create the conditions that would lead to a half-decent 2SS, then a non-racist, democratic single country may be just as possible: that is because all the steps that might overturn Israel’s apartheid to enable 2SS are also the same steps that could deliver ODS. And of course, ODS activists are in the forefront of many of these struggles, both within Palestine and around the world. The scenario we offer is this: that a Single State already exists; Israel is in sole control from the river to the sea. But this state is an apartheid state. Our struggle is not so much for One State as for civil rights, human rights and the end of apartheid and colonisation, segregation and discrimination, fragmentation and dual laws and differential judicial systems. As it happens, this struggle for human and civil rights and against apartheid is also being fought by Two State advocates. So we are all agreed on Rights and we are all agreed on Recognition of Palestine now.
13. Statehood’s role in holding Israel to account
After Gaza, the imperative is to move up from the “court of public opinion” and to hold Israel to account for its everyday illegality and frequent criminality. That is exactly what statehood facilitates, which is why Israel bitterly fights to stop it, and why the diplomatic offensive has taken centre stage. Such a process may just break through into the final arena — that of Israeli politics and opinion. If anything could hold up a mirror to Israeli society and strip away its self-deceptions, this could be it.
14. Pushing harder for statehood reveals Israel’s backfiring pushback
If the Israeli establishment was confident that truth was on its side and that it could win under a judicial spotlight, it would declare that it was happy for Palestine to exist and to take it to court, that it had nothing to hide and was willing to stand trial, that it was sure to be vindicated. Instead, it will fight tooth and nail against being called to account. And such a stance will also backfire and lose it credibility and see its friends diminishing.
15. Statehood does not make Two State deal any more likely
Until 2SS is fully dead there will be no headway on ODS: that means 2SS has to reach the end of its rope, and to do so of its own accord.
One Democracy has argued for 5 years that 2SS was dead, or an “undead” zombie. What has revived it is not the statehood recognition issue but the absolute abhorrence of the status quo and the massacres in Gaza. This is worthy of respect. BUT it does not make 2SS any more likely: Israel’s dominant Right, which has been hugely strengthened by this summer’s war hysteria, is unshakably determined to finish its annexation project and equally sure it won’t permit a Palestinian state. It’s not inconceivable that the right would prefer (if they are forced to choose) to compromise on citizenship issues rather than on land and statehood.
Some leading settlers have held up construction of the apartheid wall, which has been extended very little since 2007: they point to Tsipi Livni’s admission that it was planned as a possible future national border, which they are adamantly against, and see the Wall as a threat to their permanence. If they shut the door to a 2SS deal, then a struggle for equal rights in one country will be at the centre of the agenda.
16. A card Israel will not be able to play
Over and over, it is being said that the 2SS negotiations fail because Israel holds all the cards. It is true that without territory, statehood is purely symbolic. But if the international community can set up statehood now, Israel will be short of one important card. It will not be able to demand anything in exchange for recognition (such as recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state”). Precisely because it is symbolic, Israel can trade “statehood” without having to give up any land or roads or settlers or power or resources. It’s not just any card: it’s the Joker. And if it is granted now, without any price other than the past 70 years of suffering, Israel will never have that card to play.
17. “Virtual” state can reconnect with exiles sidelined by Oslo
Precisely because it is symbolic and not tied to a territory, this “virtual” state of Palestine can rise up and away above the IMF-sponsored, confined and hemmed in mini-police pseudo-statelet that the Palestine Authority has been since the Oslo deal. It could restore and include the wholeness of all the scattered Palestinian people to the days of the PLO, now with a mass international support system. If Israel can claim to be “the nation state of the Jewish people” on the basis of some supposed ancestry of over two millennia, Palestine is clearly and factually the state of those driven out and excluded within living memory.
18. State-building should include universal franchise and accountability
Whereas the IMF and the globalised capitalist community were not at all bothered about the lack of PA elections, but counted prisons, police, security apparatus, tailored suits and generous salaries, a high-value real estate culture and trade union-free, Tax-free industrial zones as the measure of Ramallah’s “state-building”, Palestine’s well-wishers could well be looking to establish an accountable democratic and rights-based state system with a universal franchise whose exercise can put any two state deal to the test of popular opinion, and could also act as the fulcrum for the democratic ideals of a single state.
19. Symbolic state feels more real than the Two-State mirage
Finally, there’s gut feeling. This recognition matter feels good and clear and immediate and refreshingly different from 2SS negotiations and all their fanfares, the leaks indicating that the carve-up is in progress, the contradictory statements about the exiles’ rights and status of Jerusalem and all the smoke-and-mirrors trickery to hide Israel’s bullying and the PA’s pathetic vacillations and horse-trading. It was able in one afternoon in London to strip away the hypocrisy and double-dealing, and produce a parliamentary vote of 274 to 12 on the side of Palestine.
20. The Westminster debate: as much about Palestine’s case as recognition
The Westminster debate on recognition was not a false or illusory sidetracking of the essential issues, but on the contrary proved to be an occasion for underlining and illustrating them. The well-researched, wide-ranging 5-hour debate highlighting legal, historical and human rights issues showed that the recognition issue can encompass the whole Palestinian experience. The debate’s initiator and proposer Grahame Morris (left), in summing up the debate, rightly referred to it as a debate on “the Palestinian cause”.
Several speakers went back as far as the Balfour Declaration and read out the words insisting that no harm be done to the Palestinians, and deplored the fact that this had not been complied with. Other speakers spotlighted the military occupation, the wall and the checkpoints, the imprisonment of children, the siege and destruction of Gaza, the Nakba of 1948 (and the exiles’ keys to homes still cherished) and the expulsions in 1967, the Zionist pre-state terrorist gangs, the illegality and criminality of settlements, and the theft of land and resources.
Much of the language was a very far cry from the usual biased platitudes and moralising of the political class. How often do we hear statements such as this, from Labour MP Andy McDonald, on the right of self-defence — not of Israel but of the Palestinians: “Let us imagine some coastal area of our own land being blockaded and starved, with bulldozers rolling in and destroying the properties and farms of innocent people. What would we expect those people to do? Simply lie down and accept such brutality? No; any people in those circumstances would fight with whatever they could lay their hands on to protect themselves and fight back. That is a basic human instinct, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the British would do that.” This was met with strong approval.
Though the motion did not include any further measures, speakers (notably Jack Straw, one-time Foreign Secretary) spoke of the need for pressure on Israel and also for the arms trade with Israel to be reviewed.
Though “2SS” got many an approving mention there was scant attempt to dress it up as anything other than the only way to prevent a right wing Greater Israel. The motion’s proposer Grahame Morris stated, in opening the debate, “I am firmly of the opinion that the day will come when the two-state solution … will collapse and Israel will face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.” And while the debate was certainly in favour of a 2SS, it was as a route out of the status quo: not as an ideal and certainly not as a quick-fix short cut.
It was all a comprehensive, informed and deeply angry rejection of Israel’s policies, propaganda and actions. That even many leading “Friends of Israel” (as well as very senior members of the British establishment such as Sir Alan Duncan) voted for recognition showed that Israel has lost the argument.
The Westminster vote and debate will shake, if not immediately dislodge, almost a century of British complicity with, and direct responsibility for, Zionism. It also got clear, formal support from the Labour leadership, which could be in government in the next year. As one speaker remarked (against those who said it meant nothing) it will certainly be noted in Washington. Nothing remotely as big could have been achieved by any resolution about Palestine on a lesser matter than recognition as a state.
So, what’s not to celebrate?
* Most Israelis want the status quo to continue. That is, continuing occupation and military control and the pretence that East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank are effectively “Israel”; continuing separation by walls and checkpoints and roads off-limits to Palestinians; continuing to live by the sword and the Big Lie; continuing their affiliation with Europe and US and not the Middle East; continuing to deny that they have dispossessed anyone of their country; and continuing to believe that they are at best misunderstood and at worst hated by the international community not because Israel is in the wrong but because everyone else is anti-semitic.
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