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


The Case for One Democracy

With a few Digressions

“We need to start thinking of how we can live together, rather than insist on dying apart.” Jonathan Kuttab

Two States: not a solution

* Four decades since 1967, the Palestinians and the Israelis, Islam and Judaism, the region, the US and the world need resolution. “The majority of Israelis and Palestinians now understand that the other community is here to stay” . So why is there no progress?

* A chorus of voices spanning the political spectrum is saying the two-state map has led to a dead end. Even if two states came about (maybe even up to the Green Line) their existence would be unstable, unjust and vulnerable to renewed free-lance violence and invasion. It would not redress the injustice to the 1948 and 1967 exiles, and threatens to uproot thousands more from their homes, family, land and economy. The plan has been deliberately sabotaged for 20 years by successive Israeli governments which imported half a million settlers, diverted 80% of the water, and built 400 km of separation wall.

It is conceived by the big players as an outcome to be imposed on the Palestinians as a defeat while at the same time seeking their endorsement of Israel’s annexation of territory and continued refusal to readmit Palestinian exiles. This is stupid and short sighted: no amount of walls or military hardware could protect against the rage that would continually resurface.

* Without secure, equal, viable and well established states, no Federation is possible either. Talk of Federation is merely a smokescreen to make One Democracy look like one out of a field of also-rans, not a potential winner.

* There is a powerful movement for Peace and against the Wall, the Occupation, the destruction and siege of Gaza, the evictions and threats of further deportations. The number of young people refusing to serve in the occupation army has risen four-fold in a year. In Israel there are many “intentional co-existence” projects, and over 100 different campaigns.

* Even some leading settlers have embarked on a series of grass-roots meetings with their Palestinian neighbours,  have named their movement Eretzshalom: Land of Peace, and are talking of a bi-national state, as are some leading hawks and Likud politicians.

* The recent few years have sharpened oppression and collective punishment and literally set separation in concrete. An estimated 10,000 Palestinians, including the popular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, are held in prisons and tented prison camps. Within Israel the most right wing government ever is enacting dozens of draconian laws against its minority “non Jewish” population and the human rights community. The boycott campaign is taking off, and the Palestinian movement, in face of intolerable conditions, is inspiring worldwide support.

* This is a time of gathering crisis and a visible turning point that calls for a seismic shift, a leap of imagination. But the main peace movement does not have its own end-goal, and much of it is still opposed to replacing the exclusive Jewish state with an inclusive democratic one. This has conceded the ideological and strategic initiative to the Right (with its territorial ambitions), and the traditional Left (which carried out the original population clearances and is committed to maintaining the Jewish majority).

* The Palestinian resistance movement has come more and more to resemble a civil rights movement in its methods and character. If this movement demands the vote, its supporters in Israel and around the world will be under a moral imperative to reassess their strategic goals and demands.

* The present limbo is unsustainable, illegal and intolerable.

One Democratic State

The call for a single democratic secular state (One Person, One Vote, One State) is an idea whose time has surely come, both because it is right and good and will be stable and improve over time, and because there is no other way. All the voices for it from both Israel and Palestine are, quite independently of each other, in broad agreement on its general principles and often spontaneously use the very same words and formulations. This could not at any time be said of the Two State plan.

How it can happen

* “Palestinians need to articulate a vision of the future in which Israelis can see themselves. … The oppressed must often show their oppressors a way out of the hole that they have dug.” They need to “reach out to Israelis with an inclusive vision of future reconciliation based on real equality” and present an alternative that “leads us out of our current impasse, addresses the fears and needs of Israeli Jews, preserves their identity and allows their community to flourish”. Therefore the explicit adoption of the One Democracy agenda, even if only as a Plan B, and clear recognition of the Jews’ right to stay, is an essential next step.

* This not only cannot be imposed, but it needs to be the result of a mass desire for it producing the actions that will build it: “by talking of a common future and imagining it, we engage in the act of creating it”.

* For the same reason, the dominant power cannot be bombed into it because that would make future reconciliation impossible. If One State is the goal, then acts of reconciliation must be a priority, even while fighting back. “It was crucial that the ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, was able to resist the Apartheid regime while at the same time appealing to the humanity of white South Africans, and convincing them that they had a place in the future.”

* There is no doubt that the Two State idea is still the most favoured, though it is not as dominant as its position indicates. Polling in Israel suggests that as many as 30% are not opposed to One Democracy in principle. The extremes of other contradictory poll findings suggest great volatility and confusion. No poll that we have seen poses the question: “would you support a single democracy if the Two States plan is no longer possible?” (as opposed to ranking the two options as relative preferences) though a West Bank poll in 2007 with the question “for or against One state”  came up with 70% approval. During the first three months of 2010 Palestinian support for Two States as their first preference dropped from 64% to 57%.

* One path to it must be a clear demand by Palestinians for civil rights and the vote:  “If American Jews think it’s hard to defend Israel today on college campuses, imagine what it will be like to argue against the principle of one person, one vote.” (New York Times, 2003).

* The pre-requisite of prior popular consent should mean that a transition towards merger could be carried forward in a spirit of optimistic mutual discovery: meeting, getting acquainted, making plans together and winding back the years of animosity and suspicion.

A democratic power-sharing constitution

There exist already some working models to study and adapt, and several suggested structures: the Israeli obsession with demography is easily answered. One Democracy must be rooted in UN standards of human rights, with equal weight and safeguards built in for the two main partners, regardless of their numbers, so Israel’s perceived “demographic problem”  of a non-Jewish majority would be swept away.

Initially there would be much to negotiate and draft on matters of law, immigration, and compensation for illegal evictions. Return of exiles must be prepared and well funded. With no internal borders and discrimination outlawed, anyone would have the right to live where they chose. All officials would have to abide by the constitution. Voting structures would enable and encourage alliances across ethnic blocks, some of which would have been forged already during the fusion process.

If all are equal under the law, and equal in making the law, the final arbiter would be law, not violence. Fanaticism would be deflated and isolated. Without a target or grievance, security should cease to be a defining issue: a just solution supported by the Palestinians of Gaza, West Bank, Israel and the diaspora would bring Middle East recognition, normalcy and commerce; external invasion should be no more an issue than it is today between France and Germany.

All internal walls, barriers and checkpoints would go, institutions including law, army and police would be integrated at all ranks. Even if it wasn’t a new dawn of peace and love, discrimination and race-hate actions would be outlawed, the law enforced by joint policing. Human rights, civil rights, religious rights and equal respect would legally underwrite citizenship, as in most modern democracies.

An achievable objective

This plan eliminates in one stroke all the previous stumbling blocks to agreement. It requires no evictions; no complicated and unjust “land swaps”  or “transfers” (ethnic cleansing). No-one has to give up Jerusalem; the settlers could stay on if they wish, though settlements would legally cease to be exclusively Jewish. Both people’s equal right to live in this shared homeland would be in-built in the constitution; cherished sites would be held safe, in trust for everyone, and holy places would be for prayer, not ethno-political provocation.

Regional and worldwide benefits: A new Era

Genuine sovereignty for both peoples was a worthy goal, but it is not in sight now. For the creation of one unified state, both sides would equally sacrifice a state based on ethnicity and instead they would gain free access to the whole territory, and an equal stake and responsibility of loyalty in a nation based on all its citizens’ common humanity and well-being.

This genuine and just peace could boost the economy and the country’s standing in the world. The positive political repercussions are incalculable, maybe greater than the fall of the Berlin Wall. A struggle for Palestine and Jerusalem won by legal and peaceful means would cut Jihadis down to size. Democracy and women’s rights in the region would also benefit, as repressive regimes could no longer use Palestine as a cloak.

End of the Zionist State:
A worthwhile bargain for Jews

As an equal partner in power in a safe, prosperous country, a single state would remain a unique homeland for Jews, and may attract many of the one-million ex-pat Israelis to come home. It would be no defeat or bitter pill to abandon the fort from a position of strength, and by popular agreement to share power and civil rights.

In place of a troubled exclusivity which is tearing Jews apart worldwide, we could see a world Jewry united in pride.  Secular Jews would gain rights and freedoms at present denied them under Israeli law. There could be a re-birth of the non-state philosophical Zionism that was another casualty of Ben Gurion’s hijack of a once-diverse movement. Israeli Arabs would gain equality and civil rights, and their popular aim of “a state for all its citizens”. The question of “who is a Jew?” may affect membership of a synagogue but not citizenship or nationality. And maybe, in the words of jailed Bil’in leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah: “We will surely join together to struggle for justice in other places when Palestine is finally free.” (Quoted by ICAHD from prison letter.)

Not a shotgun marriage

When Palestinians demand the right to vote, a serious debate would ensue. Effective sanctions, international pressure, endorsement by respected individuals and organisations, and unforeseen events could all shift opinion towards One Democracy, whether as a great new beginning or at least a Plan B.

Agreement by referendum on both sides would give the new country a good send-off and forestall accusations of a sell-out.

Quotations above, unless stated otherwise, are from Ali Abunimah’s book One Country: A Bold Proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Henry Holt & Co, NY 2006)

Twelve Principles

If there is no viable re-partition of Palestine into two states, the best alternative is a political rather than a territorial peace. ONE DEMOCRACY proposes the following principles, which could be supported by both sides. These have been distilled from many such programmes proposed in books, articles, declarations and model constitutions.

1. A secular democratic state that guarantees parity on constitutional matters regardless of numbers.

2. Freedom of movement, no evictions, “transfers” or land swaps, no internal borders, equal right to benefits of citizenship and nationality, land and property, social, health and education services.

3. Freedom from discrimination, and equal esteem in civil, political, social and cultural matters, and on permits, papers and passports.

4. This union will be entered into with full consent and a process of reconciliation, recognising the human value of each future citizen. It is neither a defeat nor a victory for either side but a victory for good sense.

5. A milestone in reconciliation will be acknowledgement of the Nakba and the right of, and orderly provision for, exiles to return with honour and comfort; recognition of the pain and loss suffered by victims of violence on both sides is also essential for reconciliation.

6. The state guarantees religious freedom and does not discriminate against or in favour of any faith.

7. The state will recognise the special ties that both Jews and Palestinians have with their broader communities worldwide, and will welcome especially members of those communities who wish to immigrate to the country and help to build it, or who request asylum from persecution.

8. Institutions of justice, law enforcement and army will integrate at all ranks.

9. The state will maintain free and equal access and protection for holy sites.

10. The state will establish fair, transparent and accountable mechanisms to compensate victims of the conflict.

11. Violence and coercion will not win consent nor aid reconciliation. Common struggle, however, forges bonds, as do common cultural and social projects. People who share political, commercial, professional, educational and cultural interests can start now on liaison that could lead to shared endeavours in a Single State.

12. Meanwhile we demand an immediate end to the siege of Gaza and withdrawal of all occupation troops, the release of all prisoners of the conflict including the Refuseniks, and the rescinding of all military orders that govern the subjected Palestinian people.