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


Posted August 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

People from Palestine

Of the handful of books on the single state, Virginia Tilley’s The One-State solution is both the most pessimistic and also the most unequivocal in demonstrating that there really is no other way to peace. Speaking in Johannesburg in 2005 about her book, Dr. Tilley recalled the original meaning of “Palestinian”, showing that if Palestinians are more comfortable than Israelis with the idea of a single country, it has nothing to do with dark plans for revenge and a lot to do with the historically multi-cultural nature of Palestine as a focal point for three major world religions. In answer to the question “Why would Palestinian nationalists abandon fighting for a separate Palestinian state?”, she says:

Well, there’s an odd history with that, which it’s interesting people aren’t talking about very much any more. But Palestinian nationalism up until 1988 understood that the goal was the Palestinian state which would embrace the entire country. …  Palestinian nationalism is not precisely an ethnic nationalism. It pertained to the indigenousness of the people on the land, which had always included Jews, Muslims, Christians, whoever was living there, right? So actually Palestinian nationalism, although it was called “Palestinian”, meant people from Palestine. It was not precisely an ethnic identity.

The giving up of that dream and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and admitting that they couldn’t ever get it back and that they would have to make do with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, was therefore a fairly recent adjustment. It was something that came up in the Arafat period. But that created a problem which no-one is talking about, which is now, “What is Palestinian nationalism? Is it an ethnic nationalism, if only in not being Jewish?” So, what is the status of Jews in a Palestinian state? Well, presumably it would be fine to be Jewish in a Palestinian state. But now that there’s a “Jewish state” and a “Palestinian state” next to each other, it creates a lot of questions about just what’s going on.

What this means, I think, is that it’s a lot easier for Palestinians to go back to the idea of a one-state solution, which was their idea for a long time — with the major
adjustment that all Jews in Israel would now be citizens of the state, which is over four million people. That’s easier for the Palestinians because they have a long history of understanding “Palestinian-ness” as multi-ethnic anyway.

The big difficulty of this whole thing is for Zionism. It’s for Israeli Jews and Jews generally, who understand that the Jewishness of Israel is something that is precious and vital, perhaps even central to Jewish survival, and must be preserved at all costs. So the idea of sharing a state with a population which is at least as big as it is, in one democratic system, is frightening. Even if you think the Palestinians won’t throw you into the sea or try to ruin you, it still raises the question of what will happen to our precious Jewish-national life. Will it be swamped, will it be overcome, will it be dissolved, will something precious disappear from the Earth forever, that we feel we should have a right to have? So these are very deep and complicated problems for Jews. Contemplating a one state solution, it’s very understandable that they would be scared, that they would have nationalist issues about this.

But what I’m trying to point out is there is no choice. There is no viable Palestinian state. The formula’s very unstable. It’s going to create a lot of conflict that we can no longer afford to allow. It’s not a stable solution for Israel anyway. And the basic problem is that favouring Jews discriminates even against 20 per cent of the Israeli population which is not Jewish, in ways that none of the western democracies have endorsed, whereas Israel likes to consider itself a western democracy. All of them have moved on and Israel’s the only one that clings to that kind of thing. That is unstable. It’s not good for Israelis. It’s not a democratic system, it’s not liberal, it’s not just, and it’s dangerous. So the dream, the Zionist dream of a majority-Jewish state has to adjust somehow. And I’m proposing that, in debates toward a one state solution, that be kept in mind — that the Jewish national home has a deep history here, which must be incorporated into this idea of the one-state solution. Jewish statehood, just like any ethnic statehood, has to be considered anachronistic, outmoded and dangerous, and that’s what we need to work on. And that distinction is very delicate.

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