One versus Two States: Palestinian Progressive Voices

Before I deal with arguments of progressive Jewish voices on the issue of a one or two-state solution, I want to take up the position of intelligent, articulate and progressive American Palestinian public intellectuals as expressed in the 20 July webinar organized by The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). More specifically, I will review the views of Salem Barahmeh from the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, Amjad Iraqi from +972 Magazine and Dr. Yara Howari, Senior Palestine Policy Fellow of Al Shabaka (The Palestinian Policy Network). The webinar was entitled, “Palestine/Israel, Israel/Palestine – Imagining the Way(s) Forward.” As you will see, the views expressed are light years away from the official liberal position of America as evidenced in the Democratic Party platform. The Trump Plan is, of course, beyond the pale.

The moderator, Dr. Sarah Anne Minkin, put the discussion within the context of “more than 50 years of occupation and de facto annexation.” For her, annexation was not a future prospect but a past fait accompli on the ground. Salem Barahmeh enlarged on his view of the current debates among Palestinians on the future destination and goal of Palestinians since the PA, the PLO, the Joint List and even Hamas still officially support two-states in some configuration, though this position is now being challenged by proponents of one-state (again, in various iterations) and confederation (also in various iterations). Further, he reviewed means to achieve these goals in comparison to traditional tactics of a popular struggle, international pressure and UN diplomacy.

Salem claimed that the official voices are propelled by both economic and political self preservation that reflect the reality on the ground, including current public opinion polling which confirms that most Palestinians prefer a two-state solution. In Palestinian society, the majority is under the age of 30. They have grown up under a promise of a two-state solution but experienced only the expansion of settlements, occupation, de facto annexation and “apartheid.” Therefore, the reality is that there is one state now, contrary to the political rhetoric discussing two-states. The one-state solution is now a given. But that one-state is Israel. As a result, Palestinians express a desire for freedom and rights without any visible prescription on how to advance their cause.

Salem asked why. His answer was that Palestinians live under a one-party system where parties, the expression of opinions and creation of new organizations are all very much limited. There is no political system for engaging in political discourse to shape different visions for the future. Thus, the two-state solution predominates in public discourse without a competitor or the ability to specify what a one-state solution might look like founded on a social contract supporting freedom for all rather than the domination of Israel. If space is opened for that kind of conversation, the polls would dramatically change, he predicted. Current official political positions no longer reflect the reality on the ground. The goal should be freedom and rights underpinned by decolonization and justice. He did not offer a specific political configuration but, instead, insisted that it must be one that guarantees basic rights, freedoms and democratic values.

Amjad Iraqi was asked more specifically about Palestinian Israelis and how they understood their identity, their role in the body politic and how they re-imagined that role. Though the Palestinian Israelis make up a small part of the Palestinian nation, they occupy a very critical position in articulating and advancing a Palestinian vision for the future. First, they are, and are viewed by Palestinians, to be part of the Palestinian people. In comparison, Quebecois in Canada, though decidedly French, see themselves as a distinct people. Further, Palestinian Israelis have been at the forefront of the Palestinian national movement as political thinkers, activists, writers and artists. Mahmoud Darwish and Emile Shukri Habibi are examples. Especially since 1967, when the Israeli Palestinians could engage with their West Bank and Gazan cousins, they were able to play that role. The situation and their role strengthened the communal identity of Arab Israelis as Palestinian.

Modern communications and social media strengthened this trend. Palestinian Israelis hold onto the remnants of Palestinian nationhood within Israel, an identity that “Israel is still trying to erase.” They also have a nuanced and deep understanding of Jewish Israeli-Palestinian relations since they know the Hebrew language and Israeli institutions. They know the fears and aspirations within which Jewish Israelis operate. They can, thus, better envision how to live alongside Jewish Israelis. 

Dr. Yara Howari zeroed in on the issue of decolonization and liberation as the critical framework for understanding the political framework of the Palestinians and their future. The narrative of an anti-colonial struggle, however, slowly began to change in the seventies in favour of creating a state building network that, de facto, effectively drove the struggle away from decolonization and liberation and the view of the Zionist project as an effort of colonization in favour of capital gain and individual rights. Decolonization brings about the repatriation of indigenous land and life. Decolonization is NOT a metaphor.  Educational advocacy and scholarship is just that. The quest for social justice and cultural sensitivity is incommensurable with decolonization.  In contrast to the metaphoric view of decolonization, there are serious material aspects. They entail the return of indigenous sovereignty.

This approach is not widespread because this solution is very difficult; it is not an easy fix. As well, as a whole and encompassing framework, it calls into question current dominant Palestinian frameworks focusing on a discussion of securing allies, support for patriarchy and even white supremacy. Issues of equity and reparations must be raised. When decolonization discourse is applied to the issue of refugees, a key part is the return of these refugees and restoration of the lands taken from them. This is totally at odds with the Jewish Zionist agenda and the Jewish law of return. In contrast, the Palestinian right of return is a fundamental right and an essential part of decolonization.

Why has Israel fragmented Palestine? To prevent decolonization. Amjad claimed that Israel does not have a Hamas problem; it has a Palestinian problem. Israel avoids that issue by practicing divide and rule. In response, the method of Palestinian resistance has to be examined in that light. In Gaza, the vast majority are refugees uprooted from their land. Further, Israel constantly and continuously controls Gaza to both divide Palestinians from one another and to undercut any agenda of repatriation.

Justice requires not simply the removal of the 2007 blockade, not simply creating a Palestinian state, but pulling down borders altogether and ensuring full return and repatriation of refugees. Israel opposes not only a violent struggle by Palestinians, but even a non-violent struggle as exemplified in Israel military conflict with the 2018-2019 non-violent Gaza border protests entitled “The March of Return.”

When Salem was asked about the current character and goals of the PA and the PLO, he called the PA a subcontractor to Israeli occupation. The PLO has also been hollowed out. Different Palestinian communities have different priorities – justice and equality for Israeli Palestinians versus statehood for West Bank Palestinians. Lifting the siege for Gazans and return and restitution for the refugees. There is no system for creating a common identity and agenda. The political system must be rebuilt. The PA is a write off. The question is how to make the PLO legitimate and democratic and end fragmentation and isolation by reversing the state building enterprise. The PLO, since it is viewed as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, is the natural instrument. The project entails legitimizing the PLO once again and making it representative and democratic since the political project of the truncated Palestinian state is over. Under the PLO banner, the Palestinians must once again be mobilized.

Equity and justice will be central to that movement. Equality is not just a right to vote nor just equality before the law. Attention must be paid to the pay gap between men and women. Non-representative institutions behind centuries of oppression must be dismantled. The same program applies to the USA. America was built on white supremacy. Equality needs to be accompanied by justice which requires dismantling the old order. The settler regime must not be legitimized.

The positions can be summarized as follows:

  • De facto annexation
  • Israel trying to erase Palestinian identity
  • Israel is currently a one-state solution
  • Israel practices a divide and rule program
  • An apartheid regime
  • The bankruptcy of the Palestinian Authority propelled by self-preservation in a one-party state and serving as a subcontractor to Israeli occupation
  • The hollowness and obsolescence of the PLO
  • The historical ignorance and imaginary blindness of those Palestinians under 30
  • The denial of freedom and rights to the Palestinians
  • No arena to engage in debate and discourse over a one or two-state solution

Proposed Program

  • Decolonization and justice
  • Real rather than metaphorical decolonization focused on an authentic program of repatriation of indigenous land and life and not just sensitization by the other
  • Resurrection of a new, rededicated PLO that is both the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people, the sole representative of the Palestinian people and democratic
  • End fragmentation and isolation
  • Creating a common identity for all Palestinians and a common agenda
  • Removal of the blockade from Gaza
  • A democratic one-state solution with each citizen having one vote
  • Economic as well as political equality and equality before the law
  • Palestinian Israelis (PIs) must consolidate their identities as Palestinian
  • PIs must continue to serve as interpreters of Israelis and Israel
  • Palestinian refugee right of return is sacred and essential
  • No borders, enclaves, special access roads

There appear to be a number of both conceptual and practical problems. While preaching equality for all its citizens, Jewish and Arab, only the Palestinians are permitted a national voice, not Jews for Zionism is, by definition, a movement of colonization. If Israel was engaged in de facto annexation, why is the country so divided about annexation? If Israel’s goal is to erase Palestinian identity why is that identity reinforced by not including Palestinians as full members of the Zionist enterprise? Why are Palestinian Israelis recognized as a separate community? Why does Israel support Oslo and formally a two-state solution? – as a cover for creeping annexation.

If Israel is indeed an apartheid state, why are Palestinian Israelis even given the right to vote, to be governed by the same laws and subjected to the use of separate hospitals, washrooms and park benches? Why are there no “pass laws” for Israeli Palestinians? Even if Palestinians are discriminated against on where they can live, why are there no controls in dictating where Palestinians live and work? Why are Israeli Palestinians not subjected to widespread torture? Why are they represented in the Knesset? Why are Palestinian Israelis not denied passports? It is one thing to denounce Israel for practicing discrimination and for systemic racism; it is quite another to brand the country as an apartheid state. Why does the Supreme Count have a Palestinian judge? Why are there Palestinian diplomats, albeit far too few? How can the head of surgery in a hospital or a department head in a university be a Palestinian? None of the above answers mitigate criticisms of the occupation of the West Bank.

If Israel is currently a one-state solution, why all the debates and pushback against annexation? Why the open debates in the press and among Palestinians and between Palestinians and Israeli Jews? If the PLO is to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people, how can it be democratic at the same time for that would mean toleration for various voices and a variety of institutions competing for leadership? If the Palestinian right of return is sacred and essential, and if all people throughout the world, why is there no right of return for all refugees? Why have no refugees of a different ethnic group anywhere returned as of right but only with military force – the Tutsi to Rwanda 1990-1994.

In the end, why is Palestinian nationalism celebrated by Jewish nationalism and a belief in Jewish self-determination denigrated if Palestinians and Jews are to be treated equally? Isn’t the fundamental contradiction one of calling fro a single state with all its citizens, Jews and Palestinians given equal rights, only a Palestinian perspective is adopted?

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