Two States or One?
It really IS the defining question
On November 2nd, more than a hundred activists from all over historic Palestine, from Haifa, Jaffa and the Galilee, Ramallah, Jerusalem, and other cities and villages, gathered in the hall of the “Retno” hotel in Ramallah for a Study and discussion day to develop the recently established united movement for One Democratic State.
Greetings came from the UK and from the Green Party of the USA. Discussion focused on how to convert ODS “from a dream and a lofty goal into reality on the ground”, noting that, among the immediate benefits of the ODS goal, it “helps us to unify anew the Palestinian people’s struggle in all geographies”, supplementing the resistance struggles by connecting them into one comprehensive strategy.
The day itself, bringing together activists from both sides of the Green Line to share their perspectives and engage in serious talk about goals, was an exemplary occasion. You can read here the Press Release reporting the meeting, as well as a report of the first exploratory get-together in July 2013, and the Munich Declaration that was adopted then; and excerpts relating to One Democratic State from an interview in Mondoweiss with Awad Abdel Fattah, leader of the National Democratic Alliance.
This post is One Democracy’s contribution to the new ODS movement’s discussions
The importance of whether we are
aiming for one state or two is colossal
One state is the only goal that —
♦ Changes our orientation, our morality, our arguments and our demands;
♦ Makes possible a broad and vigorous political alliance of democratic Jews and Palestinians against the die-hard apartheid colonists;
♦ Changes how we organise and who we organise with and what we organise for;
♦ Recognises that despite the arrangements following the Oslo accords the country is de facto one authority still totally controlled by Israel using apartheid laws, manipulated territories and an absolute monopoly of physical, legal, bureaucratic and political force; only the One State programme over-rides all the borders and zones, includes all the exiles and sets about to re-boot “Israel” rather than reducing its territory;
♦ Changes who does the talking (activists, not diplomats) and creates an agenda that can be started now and driven from the bottom up;
♦ Puts a priority on eroding and sidelining racism, unlike partition and separation which feed racism;
♦ Proposes the creation of equality under one law, rather than pretending that we now have two sides equal in power;
♦ Most crucially it is the only goal that can peacefully dismantle the apartheid state of Israel with its hardening militarism, religiosity and racism, and replace it with a democratic template that can grow into a balanced, stable and sane society.
Choosing One Democratic State can change the meaning of words, too:
♦ A One State “Peace Process” would start when majorities on both sides decide to explore together and pursue unification and an organised transition towards peaceful common living. At grassroots level this can start now, as part of building a one-state movement. And these initiatives will carry on into the far future and create the foundations of a new society.
Based on confronting and exposing inequality, this is very different from the “normalisation” initiatives designed to mask oppression and privilege with a smiling face while confirming the “us over here and them over there” essence of apartheid. Very many of these projects cynically mis-use the word “peace”, which they have hi-jacked and stolen in a manner recalling George Orwell’s “double-speak” in his novel about totalitarianism, “1984″.
♦ One State “negotiations” will follow a decision to share power. They will not be about carving up territory with walls and tunnels and evictions, but about framing a constitution that creates a common nationality for different cultures and their self-determination within that single nation. Instead of the smash and grab that happens in the run-up to any partition, both sides will have a common interest in framing solutions that will benefit both.
The massive inequality of power that marks two state negotiations will be reduced: both will equally be giving up on separate nationhood. And, at the start of the unification process, there will be approximate parity of population numbers — if we are still counting in ethnic rather than political terms.
♦ Rather than the insulting “demilitarisation” proposed for Palestine in the two state project, in one state it will be a priority to integrate the army, police, courts and security industries at all ranks as early as possible, while stripping the country of its nuclear teeth.
♦ “International intervention”: Instead of the big powers “helping” with sticks and carrots, the only international intervention One Democratic State requires is nation-level and UN Sanctions with real bite, that carry the message of an international consensus for human rights: such sanctions convinced white South Africa that apartheid had no future. They could divide, confuse and weaken Israel’s establishment.
♦ “Making history”: There is more historic significance to 400 people attending a conference in Tel Aviv to understand, plan and visualise Right of Return, and the young people occupying and re-building destroyed village sites from ’48, than a photo-op of politicians who will reduce Right of Return to a symbolic handful.
Two States or One? It really IS the
defining question for WHAT TO DO NOW
It’s common for activists to reject all “end goals”. Lumping together the two state “solution” and the one democratic state, they say “One state, two states, three…” as if there’s a danger in thinking too far ahead, regardless of what that thinking is. And as if choosing an outcome is irrelevant and unnecessary in framing what to do and say today.
But the two outcomes — partition or unification — are not at all similar. They are diametrically opposite. And while many struggles and tactics do overlap, some others do not.
So how do we achieve the political force for this change?
1. Support the popular struggles on the front line against the West Bank military regime and the siege of Gaza, and BDS across the globe. In Israel, drive a wedge between the hardening racism and those who are appalled by it: help the silent minority to voice their concerns and understand that the racism is not accidental but a product of Zionism’s colonisation. This makes more sense in the context of de-colonising Israeli society rather than just reducing its territory, the two-state project that led to more racism, not less. The One State vision understands that racism is worsened by segregation and separation, and reduced by common goals.
2. Use BDS campaigns also to help to neutralise and engage Israel’s outriders, the global Jewish communities. Recent figures show significant changes already among Jewish Americans, where Jewish Voice for Peace has won important victories for BDS.
3. Build the unified, high profile, high visibility broad mass movement across the Green Line, to lead and articulate the ODS programme, to change the language and models and concepts, to make new alliances and replace the old partitionist voices. The first steps have been taken: it took just an afternoon for the first cross-border meeting of the Ramallah and Yaffa groups to adopt a common programme, and just a few months more to solidify that alliance.
At the November Study day, one discussion touched on whether a single state would leave the same economic relations, as happened in South Africa after apartheid. This is complicated, with the ultra-Zionists including both billionaire oligarchs and others whose socio/economic standing is relatively under-privileged or not specially relevant; left-wing or Labour Zionism did the most harm in laying down the foundation of the apartheid state. But while a broad movement would concentrate on universal human rights and civil rights, such as those outlined in (6) below, it will also grow by making common cause with the recent outbreaks of social anger.
4. Connect this movement on the ground with the world-wide movement for One Democratic State, which so far has only been able to argue for a theoretical ideal. Now it can report and support the progress “inside”, and create actions to back it up.
5. Publicise and build the exemplary role of the ethical coexistence groups that are challenging and subverting the ideology of Jewish supremacy in Palestine and Israel: Zochrot with its uncompromising insistence on the forbidden subject of the Nakba and Right of Return; the Negev Coexistence Forum and its defence of the Bedouin and creation of an Arab-Jewish partnership; the “disobedience” movement created by Ilana Hammerman; Breaking the Silence which records the wrongdoings of Israel’s revered army; Boycott from Within; and many more. Derided for their smallness, they individually and collectively punch well above their weight and are living evidence that cooperation in one country is not a crazy dream.
6. Formulate demands based on popular concerns, which challenge apartheid and point to democracy from the River to the Sea, for equality and civil rights, not partition and separation:
♦ One Law for all and freedom for all prisoners of unequal legal process and imposed, undemocratic and unaccountable martial law;
♦ freedom of movement and an end of all walls, barriers and borders;
♦ full democratic rights and open government: no taxation, no policing, no rules and regulations, without representation;
♦ an end to ethnic exclusion and segregation in housing, transport and public spaces;
♦ equal rights to protection from home demolition, crop destruction and personal assault.
See more at Five Urgent Demands
7. Stick with the basic programme of one person one vote, which has been adopted by the One State movement of Israel and OPTs and worldwide. Every week sees new half-way proposals: for “bi-national” schemes, for cantons, confederations, consociational arrangements etc. As Ali Abunimah writes, some of the ideas have already been incorporated, or are inappropriate, or can best be considered at a later date. This basic programme leaves everyone free to cast their vote according to social or political preferences, without registering into a fixed ethnic list. This is a good and a flexible starting point. But the fine details of a One State constitution will of course be for the main parties to agree together.
8. Challenge and question Israel’s legitimacy, its flouting of the UN conditions placed on its initial establishment and UN membership, the fact that it is a hindrance not a help in fighting global anti-semitism, and that its Jewish majority is deeply and potentially violently divided
Many thought that a new partition was the practical way, even a quick fix: difficult maybe, but not the impossible, idealistic dream that One Democratic State is said to be. The fact that One State is eminently practical and completely by-passes all the intractable issues (settlements, borders, security, Jerusalem) may prove the truth in Daniel Barenboim’s proposition, that “sometimes the impossible is easier to do than the merely difficult”.
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