Palestinians are divided and conquered.
Four groups have a direct stake in what happens in historic Palestine:
Palestinians in exile who beginning in 1948 were ethnically cleansed, and their descendants;
Palestinians living in Israel as citizens;
Jewish people living in historic Palestine; and
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
One Democratic State (ODS) offers citizenship and equal rights for all four groups.
Two-state solutions by contrast address the 4th group only. They bestow upon inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza a symbolic, non-contiguous mini-state with no real sovereignty. Groups 3 and 2, within Israel, remain respectively first- and second-class citizens. For the 5+ million refugees in group 1, except for the handful that might find an unsettled acre in the West Bank, the door stays shut.
The two-state solution is just that.
The standard democracy aimed at by ODS stands on its merits: one adult, one vote under a constitution upholding equal human and civic rights and subordinating the state itself to the rule of law. Individuals of all ethnic and religious groups enjoy iron protection. But the ODS vision also follows from a process of elimination, the other two options being either one un-democratic state or two unsatisfactory states defined in ethnic and religious terms.
Most criticism of two-state solutions concentrates on the unacceptability of only one of the two proffered states, namely the weak mini-Palestine in perhaps 15% of historic Palestine. But what about the other of the two states?
It remains Zionist. What does this mean? First, within Israel’s 1967 borders we find countless recorded incidents of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion. Israel even has more than 50 laws on its books that privilege Jewish people – see Adalah > http://adalah.org/eng/Israeli-Discriminatory-Law-Database. Any Jew for instance may immigrate but no Arab can – not even refugees who were driven off this very land. Second, Zionism means the creeping theft of land not yet occupied in 1948 – meticulously spoken of by Israel not as the ‘West Bank’ but as ‘Judea and Samaria’ – until its original goal of annexing everything west of the Jordan River is achieved. By any definition, then, Israel’s basic regime is a racist one.
In rejecting both of these states ODS radically renews the older struggle called anti-Zionism. Since even before World War I all Palestinians have rejected partition, rejected, that is, a separate Zionist country in Palestine. Except for the last few decades, when mainly for tactical reasons the Palestinian leadership aimed for their own state in part of Palestine, the vision was of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious unpartitioned country.
Settle for two states?
In any case, ‘neutral’ Palestine solidarity groups that remain open to the two-state solution are remaining open to a Zionist solution. That said, nothing but respect is due Palestinians who have struggled for self-determination in even a small part of Palestine. The struggle has meant privation, humiliation, exile, incarceration, maiming, and death. Those who feel this has gone on long enough, or who wish to quit risking their lives, cannot be criticised in part or in total.
Whether Israel will soon allow any such semi-statehood is doubtful. It has after all spent 50 years failing to do so. Thus it could be that getting a unified democratic, non-Zionist state is no more difficult than getting two states. But the point here is not to argue the political future. It is only to make clear what our NGO, ODS England, is doing: While respecting the two-state motives of many Palestinians, it is supporting from the outside those Palestinians and Israeli Jews who do believe it is worth working for more than two bad states.
A two-state stepping-stone?
Some wish for two states as a resting-place. This position has some virtue, but no two-state solution is likely to grant the Right of Return and to end apartheid within Israel, meaning the struggle of the Palestinians in exile and within Israel would still be necessary. Should this struggle see success, one would in effect have arrived at a two-democratic-states solution – with pointless partitioning boundaries. Therefore, since Israel refuses to relinquish any territory at all, it seems one might just as well try for the simpler and better option – a real unified democracy.
Boycott and ostracism
Piles of analysis, vastly improved historiography, and decades of rational dialogue have not only failed to secure any Palestinian rights, they have walked in lock-step with a worsening on all fronts. Thus, in addition to discussion and argument, action is needed, and ODS accordingly supports boycotting Israel – similar to the ANC’s South African strategy and covering economic, sporting, cultural and academic areas. The message to the Israeli elite must be that to avoid international ostracism they must do more. The costs of business-as-usual must become higher than the benefits. ODS regrets that boycott is necessary, but how else can Israel be forced to take an honest seat at the bargaining table?
The ODS vision
Whether arguing or boycotting, one needs a goal that motivates. Because it expounds a universally upheld vision of a society with equal rights, we think ODS is a far more powerful goal than either two-state proposals or saying that the question of solutions must wait till later. We agree with Fatima Mernissi: “The main thing for the powerless is to have a dream.” Should Israel acknowledge that rights have been violated, and accept the indigenous Palestinians as equals, reconciliation would be possible. Filling in the clear contours of ODS could begin.
by Blake Alcott for ODS in Palestine (England) Ltd