Just One State

The gathering force of the one state solution for Palestine is a mortal threat to Zionist racism,

By Rumy Hasan, al Ahram

[I have been invited to respond to this article which I intend doing]

On the weekend of 17-18 November, a conference took place in London that I hope and believe will prove a historic event. The reason is that it discussed the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Organised by the SOAS Palestine Society and the London One State Group, it was held in the largest hall at SOAS, and was sold out in advance — an indicator of the thirst for discussion of this vision. For me it was the most inspiring event on Palestine I have ever attended.

On the various platforms were not only Palestinians (from the Diaspora, within Israel, and from the occupied territories) but also, uniquely, Israeli Jews. Following the London conference and a related one in Madrid, a “One State Declaration” was issued 29 November. Most of the signatories, an array of outstanding intellectuals and activists, were at the London conference: Ali Abunimah, Naseer Aruri, Omar Barghouti, Oren Ben-Dor, George Bisharat, Haim Bresheeth, Jonathan Cook, Ghazi Falah, Leila Farsakh, Islah Jad, Joseph Massad, Ilan Pappe, Carlos Prieto del Campo and Nadim Rouhana.

The reason why this conference and the subsequent Declaration may prove historic is that, hitherto, the one state solution has been seen as the Cinderella option and, accordingly, sorely neglected or not taken seriously. For Zionists and most Israelis, it is simply intolerable given that it sounds the death knell of the Jewish state. Given that most Israeli Jews remain firmly wedded to the Zionist state, this solution does not even register on their radar screens. For Palestinians, the national liberation struggle implies — by definition — the creation of a separate homeland and state. Hence, after the recognition by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) of Israel in 1988, and especially after the Oslo agreement of 1993, no nationalist Palestinian leader has shifted away from the two-state solution; a “solution” in which the Palestinians will have, at most, 22 per cent of the land of historic Palestine. Unique in the history of national liberation struggles, the PLO/Fatah abandoned the struggle to liberate the vast majority of the colonised land.

Notwithstanding the enormous and unprecedented difficulty of the task, the politics and methods of the PLO/Fatah have proven, in reality, a betrayal of the liberation struggle, aggravated by a level of corruption also unique in the history of liberation movements. As is now abundantly clear, Abbas is no more than a quisling and his Palestinian Authority the de facto Police Authority (of Israel) in the West Bank. The Israelis can view this as a triumph of Oslo — as smart colonialists, they wished and got collaborator Palestinians to police the occupation.

It is largely because of Fatah’s abandonment of a principled liberation politics, compounded by its utter corruption, that Hamas convincingly won the elections of January 2006; helped by its principled refusal to recognise the state of Israel. But given its Islamist politics (it never abandoned its notorious Charter) it can never offer a politics of liberation and equality that unites forces across the religious, secular, and social spectrum. In sum, the very basis of its politics is a dead end.

What is rarely acknowledged is that the two-state solution is about the institutionalisation of really existing apartheid and the complete domination of the new Palestinian “state” by Israel. To think of this state as a Bantustan is to forget that the South African Bantustans of the 1980s — and their quisling leaders — had far more rights and powers than the intended Palestinian Bantustan (or better, “Bantustine”). What should, therefore, be patently evident is that the logic and implications of the two-state path lead inexorably to apartheid and the subjugation of Palestinians.

The speakers at the one state conference exposed this awful truth with impeccable clarity, honesty and force of argument. Again and again it was argued that the only just solution is that of the whole population residing in a single state based on equality. Debate revolved around the nature of this state: whether it should be a “bi-national” state or a democratic, secular state. My own preference is for the latter, but one can appreciate how a bi-national formula on the one hand can be the basis for bringing many Israelis to the one state position and, on the other, for realising Palestinian national aspirations. However, Omar Barghouti from Ramallah pointed out the dangers of a bi-national state retaining Zionist privileges and giving credence to Zionism.

It is true that a national liberation struggle is one where the colonial power and its subjects are removed; hence the land is liberated, allowing for self-determination. But the one state solution recognises that the majority of Jewish settlers in Israel have no state to go back to (even though some 35 per cent have dual passports) — the colonial power in this case is the state that the settlers themselves formed, with enormous assistance from their Western backers. So what the Declaration asserts is equality for all before law, as in the South African model. Therefore, the key question is whether it is preferable for Palestinians to forego “national” liberation of one- fifth of the land in favour of full democratic rights and equality (including the right of refugees to return) in a unitary state.

The overwhelming answer given at the one state conference and in the Declaration is that the latter is far more preferable as it is the only just solution. This is made with great cogency in the Declaration in a passage that provides a devastating rebuttal of the implications of a two-state solution: “Thus, the two-state solution condemns Palestinian citizens of Israel to permanent second-class status within their homeland, in a racist state that denies their rights by enacting laws that privilege Jews constitutionally, legally, politically, socially and culturally. Moreover, the two-state solution denies Palestinian refugees their internationally recognised right of return.”

The two-state outcome would, in fact, be a triumph for Zionism and so offends the basic norms and morality of equality and justice. One fervently hopes that support for the one state Declaration will quickly snowball by pulling in significant elements of Palestinian civil society. And the further hope must be that, as a first step, small numbers of Israelis will also sign up so that there will arise a genuine liberation movement. It is high time that there is an organisation that includes Jews and Palestinians — similar to the ANC in South Africa that included blacks and whites — and here is a programme that seriously offers this possibility.

The one state liberation movement, in conjunction with the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, has the potential to bring to bear substantial pressure on Israel and its supporters. Moreover, as the momentum increases, the present Palestinian leaders of both Fatah and Hamas will not be able to ignore and marginalise the new movement. Perhaps some of the younger, more principled members will break away from these organisations to join up; perhaps others, inspired by the one state movement, will challenge the present leadership and hopefully replace it.

The global solidarity movement, hitherto far too uncritical of the corrupt, unprincipled Palestinian leadership, should also be persuaded to throw its weight behind the one state movement. The real and symbolic importance of this would be immense. Once a critical mass is reached, Israel and its key supporters (the US, EU and the Israel lobby) will have to engage in a real debate, not the bogus, one-sided “peace negotiations” for two states theatre with a Palestinian leadership that offers no defence and refuses to expose the full horrors of Zionism. They will find the overwhelming justness of the one state position, presented by advocates of the highest calibre, very difficult to counter.

Finally, it is abundantly clear that the abysmal Palestinian leadership has always shunned international solidarity and, by doing this, has severely constrained it. Many around the world who have long been engaged in solidarity work have received not a scintilla of support from the main leaders. When, for example, my union, the University and College Union in the UK, voted in spring 2007 to debate an academic boycott of Israel, the Israeli government, academia and the global Israel lobby reacted with ferocious hostility and mounted an assault in the media which they backed up with legal threats. This was, however, a good sign for it revealed that the academic boycott had hit a raw nerve. Yet there seemed to be no recognition of this reality on the part of Fatah and Hamas and not a word of support from either organisation. And this contempt has been a gift to Israel and its supporters who incessantly question the motives of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions call by pointing out that none of the major Palestinian organisations backs it.

The one state movement can strongly unite with the boycotts, divestment and sanctions current, and wider solidarity movement, and provide a lead that has, hitherto, been completely absent. Combined, these movements can galvanise one another and, to all intents and purposes, become different wings of the same wider movement for liberation, justice and equality. Should this arise, then the one state conference and Declaration will indeed prove a historic development in the long and tragic history of Palestine.

* The writer is a senior lecturer at the Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex.

December 20, 2007 | 5 Comments »