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

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Posted August 13, 2010 at 7:45 pm

A benchmark from the past

Some of the most touching writings are those that take us back to what now seems an idyllic past, as precious as a lost species of beautiful animal. British Ambassador in Jordan, James Watt, blogged earlier this year on the FCO website.  He began and ended by reiterating the official British policy for Two States. But in between he wrote in illuminating clarity of what might have been. “We cannot turn the clock back. But can we take those days as a benchmark?”


“In talking to friends here in Jordan, as we tend to do evening after evening, I find myself reflecting on the richness of social texture in the Arab Levant.  In Jordan families trace ancestry which can involve Syrian, Baghdadi, Kurdish, Circassian, Hijazi and Turkish roots, and this can apply to those of Palestinian origin as well as those considered Transjordanian. Many families trace a natural sequence of moves and marriages around the region, and there is much overlap with family stories in Lebanon. Under the Ottomans this was easy and normal.  Under the two Mandates it was still possible and normal. 

Under the Ottomans it didn’t matter greatly, in the eyes of the State, what your ethnic origin or your religion was.  But since the region was dragged brutally into 20th-century geopolitics by the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, things have got steadily worse for society as an organic whole.  We can’t turn the clock back.  But can we take those days as a benchmark?   Can we envisage an outcome which restored as much as possible parity of treatment, respect for individual freedoms, and the organic wholeness of the region’s social texture?  If we could achieve that, it would not matter if your origins happened to be Palestinian (or anything else). Or where you happened to live.  I know this sounds like an idea from La-la Land, given the ferocity of tangled and competing interests which have grown like thorns since 1918.

The origin of the problem —  the arrival of the Zionists in Palestine, with their commitment to avoiding any kind of integration into existing society, and their policy of importing their co-religionists from cultural and social backgrounds alien to Palestine — changed everything.  So did the massive expulsion of huge numbers of Palestinians from their land. Their right to return, or to compensation, remains their central demand, backed by all Arab states and reflected also in the principles set out by the international community for peace.

The confrontation we see today between Jewish Israelis and the original Palestinian population, both in Israel and the Occupied Territories, was not always doomed to be so.  Consider the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel: “The State of Israel …. will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace….: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”  Clearly there is more to the story – the demand for Israel to be the state of the Jewish people, with a seemingly unending series of consequences which in practice contradict the ideals expressed in the Declaration. And the harsh consequences invoked in the name of Israel’s security – which would of course not be such an issue if there were a genuine peace.

For those proposing a One State solution if there were a single state comprising Israel and what are now the Occupied Palestinian Territories, do they believe that the principles of the Declaration be applied to it?   Further down the line, is it possible to envisage a regional charter of rights, casting an eye back to the Ottoman social benchmark, and drawing on the best model available, in the shape of the European Convention on Human Rights?  I’ve seen poll results which say that 40% of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories would prefer the One State solution, meaning they believe they would have a better chance of achieving their fundamental rights in that context, rather than under either Hamas or Fatah rule.  Those views could change as alternatives emerge.”

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