Beyond the two-state solution
Toward decolonization and one democratic state in Palestine
The Non-Aligned Movement and its leading member states consistently express solidarity with the people of Palestine, repeatedly affirming their support for the two-state solution, with the capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem. However, as I have observed the increasing Israel occupation, settlement, fragmentation and control of Palestinian territory, I have questioned if the two-state solution still had any practical possibility.
The November 14 Webinar on Palestine, sponsored by the International Manifesto Group, points to the realization that the two-state solution is no longer possible. Four interested social sectors were represented among the five panelists: Palestinians living in Palestine; the Palestinian diaspora; Israeli Jews who support the Palestinian cause; and people of conscience in the international community who seek a just and peaceful solution. The panelists maintained, first, that the two-state solution, from the outset, has been a less-than-ideal compromise, accepted and supported by the majority of Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority since the late 1980s as the best practical possibility; secondly, Israel never accepted the two-state solution in practice, and it has used the structures of the two-state solution to expand its control over the people of Palestine and to establish a Jewish state in the entirety of Palestinian land, which has nullified the two-state solution as a practical possibility; and thirdly, the only sustainable possibility now is the dismantling of Israeli colonial structures and the establishment of one democratic state, with full citizenship rights for all, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
Understanding Israel as a colonialist state
The presentations were initiated by Munir Nuseibah, a human rights lawyer and academic based in Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Palestine. He provided a historical overview that established a colonial frame of reference for looking at the situation. Palestine was colonized by Britain, which created a Jewish state in Palestine, encouraging a Jewish migration to a place where the majority of the population was not Jewish. He notes that by the end of the British mandate in 1947, the Jewish population was still in the minority, constituting 30% of the population of Palestine. I should add here that the stimulation of settlement was a dimension of European colonial policy in the period, illustrated by French settlement in Vietnam and Algeria, and British settlement in Kenya and what was then called Rhodesia, all of which since have been decolonized in varying degrees.
At the end of the British mandate, Nuseibah continues, instead of allowing for the establishment of a state of all Palestinians regardless of religion or ethnic background, Britain sought the partition of Palestine into two different ethnic states, for which it received the approval of the UN General Assembly.
What followed was what Nuseibah calls a “catastrophe” for Palestinians, a war in which 80% of the Palestinian population was displaced from land that would become Israel. The Israeli legal system subsequently was used to prevent the return of the refugees and to legalize the confiscation of their property.
Nuseibah further notes that in 1967, Israel initiated a permanent military occupation of the remaining parts of Palestine, in areas known as West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and it also took control of East Jerusalem.
Jeff Halper, a founding member of the One Democratic State Campaign, also took up the frame of colonialism. He maintains that Zionism is settler colonialism. Governments and international organizations have not grasped this fundamental fact, and therefore they mis-analyze the situation. They use a conflict-resolution model, which assumes two sides with legitimate interests. Such a model cannot be applied to colonialism, inasmuch as settler colonialism involves unilateral movement, giving no consideration to the indigenous population.
In the case of Zionist settler colonialism, the Palestinians were discounted, such that there was no discussion of the Palestinian question, and Zionist ideology referred to the Palestinian question as the “hidden question.” The intention has been to Judaize the state, to convert the entire country into a Jewish state, as has become increasingly clear in recent years.
Halper adds that settler colonialism always has a narrative that supposedly explains why the country the settlers are targeting for settlement belongs to them and not to the indigenous people. It might be because the indigenous people are primitive, and the settlers will bring civilization. Ideas like “manifest destiny” might be invoked. It might be because of the religions of the indigenous people.
Halper, an Israeli Jew, states that “our narrative is based on the Bible.” He declares that the narrative ignores the history of the territory as it has evolved for the last two millennium, jumping directly from ancient Biblical times to the twentieth century. I would hasten to add that, during part of this overlooked time, Palestine was a nation that pertained to an advanced Islamic Civilization, a phenomenon that itself is overlooked in many Western narratives.
The intention of the Israeli narrative, Halper makes clear, is to legitimate a unilateral colonial movement of Judaization and to take over the entire country of Palestine, the entire ancient land of Ancient Israel. He reiterates that there can be no resolution of conflict between Israeli and Palestinian interests when there has not been a true conflict of interests, but unilateral action to take control. Settler colonialism is the fundamental logic of modern Israel.
How then ought we respond to the situation in Palestine? For Halper the answer is clear: decolonization. The dismantling of the structures that have been imposed on the Palestinian people by the colonialist Jewish state. Decolonization would mean the end of Israel, and a fundamental transformation into a new political-economic system that includes the Palestinian diaspora.
Halper observes that the majority of Israeli Jews will reject this process of decolonization. But it can become a reality, on the basis an international campaign against Israeli colonialism, supporting Palestinians on the ground and in the diaspora, and with the backing of anti-colonial Israeli Jews. Once established, Israeli Jews can be incorporated on the basis of full citizenship rights, regardless of political opinions.
Armed with the logic of decolonization, Halper is a founding member of the One Democratic State Campaign, which contends in its Manifesto that “the only way to achieve justice and permanent peace is dismantling the colonial apartheid regime in historic Palestine.”
Lamis Deek is an internationally practicing attorney based in New York City and is Co-Convenor of the Palestinian Assembly for Liberation. Deek draws upon colonial analysis to understand Palestine. Going beyond the understanding of Israel as a colonialist state, she further maintains that since the late 1980s the Palestinian Authority has diluted the founding principles of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and it has become coopted by the colonialist state, reinforcing structures that Palestinians should be dismantling. She calls for the decolonization of the colonialist state and the Palestinian national body (defined as all Palestinians living abroad, and in the 1948 territories, in the West Bank, Gaza, and in the refugee camps), which has been fragmented since the Oslo Accords of 1988. She calls for one state in all of colonized Palestine.
Repression by the colonialist state
The panelists described the state of Israel as a systematic violator of human rights. Nuseibah characterizes the government as a “persecution regime.” It has created laws that institutionalize the displacement of Palestinians. Its laws permit the incarceration of Palestinians under vague accusations of terrorism and that include the demolition of houses during incarceration. He states that he deals with this on a continuous basis as a lawyer in Jerusalem. He maintains that Israel has declared three respected human rights organizations to be terrorist organizations.
Similarly, Jonathan Kuttab, a well-known international human rights attorney, maintains that the paradigm of the Jewish state is total domination. Being Jewish is the ticket to jobs, security, and political participation; if you are Palestinian, your rights are worth nothing. Kuttab is Executive Director of Friends of Sabeel North America, co-founder of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, and co-founder of Nonviolence International. He practices law in the USA, Palestine, and Israel.
Miko Peled, a writer born and raised in Jerusalem, maintains that the Palestinian uprising in May, expressing itself across the nation, was repressed with mass arrests, interrogations, and torture; and Israel bombed Gaza. The international response is insufficient, he states. There were some protests after the fact, but there should be an ongoing campaign of sanctions against Israel that would function to prevent human rights abuses on such a scale.
The repression includes the erasure of history and culture. Peled maintains that since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have been cut off from their existence and their history. Israeli propaganda reduced Palestinian history to a footnote, eliminating the development of its society and culture from ancient times to 1948, when it was a thriving nation with cities and towns. In accordance with this project of erasure, Zionists since 1948 have destroyed monuments and mosques. Being opposed to Zionism, Paled insists, is not anti-Semitic.
One Democratic State with full and equal rights for all
The panelists were in broad agreement that a democratic state ought to be established, a state based on full citizenship rights for all, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
Munir Nuseibah maintains that his work in human rights has led him to embrace the proposal for a single democratic state, with full citizenship rights for all. He believes that all human beings have rights, regardless of ethnicity. He points to the example of his Muslim family, which shares responsibility with Christians for the care of a Church that Christians believe is the place from which Jesus ascended into heaven. It illustrates the capacity of persons of different religions to share control of sacred places; Jewish presence should not necessarily imply that Muslims must leave.
Nuseibah observes that the two-state solution has been overused and abused, and it no longer has viability. Its decline is inevitable.
Jonathan Kuttab notes that for many years, people thought that the solution was separation into two states. This idea became especially accepted after 1967, when it became the standard that nearly everybody accepted. Kuttab affirms that he himself believed in it as a pragmatic resolution of the problem. However, the reality on the ground now suggests another approach. Although the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Arab governments supported it as a pragmatic solution, Israel persistently undermined the two-state solution to the point where it is no longer a feasible possibility. Today, 700,000 Jews live in what was supposed to be a Palestinian state; and Israelis control the life possibilities of Palestinians.
Kuttab maintains that there is a misunderstanding of the meaning of democracy, according to which a 51% majority is free to totally suppress and disenfranchise a minority. This erroneous notion of democracy provokes Israeli Jews into opposition to democracy, for fear that Palestinians would have a majority. Therefore, in order for the proposal of one democratic state to succeed, there needs to be a deeper understanding of democracy, so that all understand that democracy respects the rights of all individuals and minorities, regardless of which ethnic group or religion has the majority. In democracy, all have rights; 51% do not have license to oppress the minority. In a democracy, both sides win; the gains of one side do not have to be at the expense of the other. Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism ought to express themselves in forms that promote a deeper understanding of democracy.
Kuttab notes that Palestinians have been fragmented into five different social contexts: refugees, Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, and citizens of Israel. The movement for one democratic state has to overcome this fragmentation and attain unity.
Miko Paled observed that many of us were drugged into believing in the two-state solution. But the two-state solution has functioned as a strategy for Zionists to strengthen their control over the Palestinian people; it has allowed Zionists to continue with their strategy of creating a Jewish state. He therefore now embraces the notion of a single democratic state in which Palestinians have full democratic rights.
The one-state solution, Paled maintains, is not utopian. But there must be a serious effort of resistance, with the fundamental goal of peacefully dismantling the Zionist state, establishing one democratic state with full citizenship rights for all. We need an international campaign that demands divestment from Israel and a total boycott of Israel, until a free and democratic Palestine is established.
Paled observes that the establishment of a one-person, one-vote democracy is a first step. Many issues would need to be worked out, such as how reparations are going to work. Democracy establishes the basic structures through which various issues can be later resolved.
Jeff Halper maintained that the call for one democratic state is a new but significant initiative. He noted that since the 1988 Oslo Accords, the PLO accepted the two-state solution, and therefore many of us in the international Left accepted it. However, during the last ten to twenty years, Israel has violated it in practice, creating a situation in which the two-state proposal is now dead. Israel has revealed itself to be a manifestation of settler colonialism.
Halper believes that the Palestinian solidarity movement protests without offering a political program, which marginalizes it as a political actor. (I would like to interject here that this is a fundamental weakness of the Left with respect to a number of issues, condemning it to political marginality).
Halper points to the Manifesto of the One Democratic State Campaign as an example of what is needed. It calls for “the establishment of a new political system based on full civil equality, and on full implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return, and the building of the required mechanisms to correct the historical grievances of the Palestinian people as a result of the Zionist colonialist project.” Its ten-point platform includes: constitutional democracy, with equal citizenship rights for all; the Right of Return to Palestine of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants; the restoration of confiscated property, or compensation; no discrimination on the basis of ethnic identity, religion, or political opinion; the right of all collectivities to conserve their ethnicity, religion, language, and culture, but not including the right to dominate other collectivities; the right to construct a shared civil society; and the right to education, employment, a dignified standard of living, and economic justice.
Halper maintains that the ten-point program of the One Democratic State Campaign provides the foundation for the return of the refugees and for the emergence of a common public community that includes all existing collectivities and identities, but also creates a new “us.” He lifted up the hope of a World Cup football team that includes Palestinians and Israelis, and Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
Lamis Deek maintains that her organization, Al-Awda, has been advocating the one-state solution for twenty-two years. However, for the past fifteen or sixteen years, those perceived as leaders of the Palestinian movement have been promoting the two-state solution, and they have demonized and sought to discredit Al-Awda, thereby limiting its reach. Al-Awda continues to call for one state in all of colonized Palestine. Bi-nationalism is not a sustainable approach.
Deek maintains that the Palestinian nation includes Palestinians living outside of Palestine, beyond the territory of colonized Palestine, who now comprise the majority of all Palestinians.
Deek further maintains that Western neoliberal democracy is not sustainable for Palestine. This model of democracy does not work well, particularly in the neocolonized zones of the world. Zionists are heavily invested in structures of oppression, and they no doubt would use their extensive resources to manipulate the structures of neoliberal democracy to their political and economic advantage.
Accordingly, Deek believes, we cannot begin with the simple one-person, one-vote model; we have to develop an approach to democracy that is rooted in an understanding of the totality of Palestinian life and experience and based in Palestinian community values. To simply declare for one democratic state is not sufficient; an approach to democracy must be formulated that is rooted in the founding principles of Palestinian Liberation, which include the right of Palestinians to return, the reunification of the Palestinian National Body, the return of confiscated properties or compensation, and reparations for crimes committed. We need to rebuild new political and social norms that do not reproduce the structures of oppression. We need meaningful justice, sustained peace, and enduring cohabitation.
Deek maintains that we cannot accept the paradigm of the ardent Zionist. We need to think outside the paradigm of what Zionists want, appreciating the power of Palestinians on the ground and in the diaspora. We must move forward on the basis of the principles of the PLO in 1968. In the future democratic state, all Israeli Jews who accept these just principles can be integrated with full citizenship rights.
I would like to parenthetically interject here that we have seen since 1980 the deepening legitimation crisis of Western representative democracy, such that many of the Western democracies are now incapable of mobilizing their people in support of a scientifically informed response to challenges that the nations confront. At the same time, the nations constructing socialism in the world (PDRK, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Cuba) have attained popular legitimacy in their own lands and political stability, based on the development of structures of people’s assemblies and mass organizations. These tendencies in the world suggest that the people of Palestine, in seeking to create a democratic state in historic Palestine, in which persons of all ethnicities and religions would have full citizenship rights, ought not simply copy the increasingly discredited and outdated concepts of neoliberal democracy, but ought to formulate an approach to democracy that responds to the historic principles of the Palestinian Liberation movement.
Ideological differences in the movement for one democratic state
I discern two tendencies in the movement for one democratic state in Palestine, which would need to be addressed in order to forge the unity of the movement.
On the one hand, the One Democratic State Campaign wants to bring together all who support the one-state idea, leaving aside for now differences with respect to visions for the one democratic state. Its strategy is based on the approach taken to dismantle apartheid in South Africa, including the intense international campaign that was undertaken against the apartheid government. It maintains that the different visions for the future democratic state can be debated later, once the “level playing field” of liberal democracy is established. I find this to be an attractive idea, due to its pragmatic political intelligence, but it does assume that liberal democracy has a “level playing field,” as though money and the ideological manipulation of issues have nothing to do with it.
On the other hand, Lamis Deek rejects the South Africa model, arguing that the ANC made too many concessions to the white settlers, who continue to own land and dominate the economy, in spite of the gain of one-person, one-vote democracy. She believes that the Palestinian movement ought to be clear on its goals prior to the establishment of some form of democracy, not necessarily liberal democracy, so that it can act with unity to attain its historic goals. I find this also to be an attractive idea, based in discerning the anti-democratic dimensions of what today passes for democracy, but it is seeking to play on a new field that has no markers.
The November 14 Webinar on “The Struggle for a Democratic State in Historic Palestine” was sponsored by the International Manifesto Group, which regularly sponsors Webinars related to the geopolitical economy of the world order. It was moderated by Claudia Chaufan, who has a medical degree from the University of Buenos Aires and a doctorate in Sociology from the University of California. She is Associate Professor of Health Policy and Global Health and Special Advisor in Curriculum Internationalization to the Dean of the Faculty of Health at York University in Canada.
At the conclusion of the event, Radhika Desai observed that the panelists were showing that you cannot attain Palestinian liberation without socialism, even if you would want to call it by another name. I would add that this is a historic lesson of the Third World revolution for national and social liberation. Desai is Professor at the Department of Political Studies, and Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada; she is a leading member of the International Manifesto Group.
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