The ‘non-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

 
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By Khaled Diab

With the two-state solution relegated to the dustbin of history, the time has arrived to consider equal citizenship for Palestinians and Israelis.

Thursday 4 October 2012

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has sincerely flattered none other than himself. When he surreally pulled out the cartoon bomb to illustrate the apparent threat from the alleged Iranian programme to build a nuclear weapon, he succeeded in becoming a parody of himself, triggering a proliferation of viral caricatures, such as the one mocking him as a “Looney Tunes” villain.

Netanyahu’s rhetoric was just as two-dimensional, casting Iran and its presumed allies in the role of the ultimate bloodthirsty, suicidal enemy bent on destroying civilisation as we know it.

“At stake is not merely the future of my own country. At stake is the future of the world,” he claimed rather implausibly, given that there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the Iranian regime, despite its ill-informed and dangerous grandstanding, is developing a nuclear weapons programme, that it would be successful even if it were pursuing one, or that it would actually be stupid and suicidal enough to deploy said WMD. Meanwhile, Israel, despite its policy of ambiguity, is widely understood to sit on the Middle East’s only known nuclear arsenal.

Netanyahu drew “red lines” all over the General Assembly, while conveniently overlooking the far more significant green line, upon which the future of his country truly rests. In fact, judging by the evasive passing reference to negotiations and “mutual compromise”, Bibi seems to rate Iran’s non-existent nukes as a greater threat to Israel than the ticking time bomb of the unresolved Palestinian question.

Cold-shouldered by Netanyahu and facing mounting unrest among his own people, PA President Mahmoud Abbas continued, for want of more imaginative ideas, his disastrous quest for UN recognition, as if the non-membership of a non-state would somehow help the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

“There can only be one understanding of the Israeli government’s actions,” Abu Mazen told the assembly, suggesting that “the Israeli government rejects the two-state solution”.

Judging by Israel’s deeds, which have left no more space to negotiate over, it seems safe to conclude that the idea of an independent Palestinian state existing beside Israel on the pre-1967 borders lies somewhere in the dustbin of history. While the Israeli leadership is content to “manage the conflict”, the PA is powerless to breathe new life into a defunct process.

So, what’s the answer? According to Abbas, a “new approach” is required. However, the new approach he outlined sounded suspiciously like the old one: that the ineffective and ineffectual international community can somehow be prevailed upon finally to rise from its lethargy and force Israel to commit to the pre-1967 borders.

He mentioned but did not elaborate on a far more promising and powerful track. “Our people are also determined to continue peaceful popular resistance, consistent with international humanitarian law, against the occupation and the settlements and for the sake of freedom, independence and peace,” Abbas concluded.

Personally, I believe we need to take this “new approach” to its logical conclusion. Rather than continue the decades-old futile efforts to accommodate two conflicting nationalisms in such a tiny space, it is high time for everyone involved to recognise that all attempts to partition and repartition this land simply have not worked and are unlikely to in the future.

Instead of fixating on borders and territory, as if soil is so much thicker than blood, the focus must shift to the people, whom for too many generations have been sacrificed in the cause of this holy land, as if it has more rights than they do.

Prioritising the people will necessitate transforming the Palestinian struggle into a mass, non-violent civil rights movement, in which Palestinians deploy all the tools of peaceful resistance at their disposal, and Israeli sympathisers force emancipation platforms on their political parties. In this context, the “land for peace” formula will be replaced by a “rights for peace” one in which full emancipation will be the central demand.

We need to form a Popular Front for the Liberation of the Palestinians to pursue the various civil rights Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are currently denied, deprived of or have restricted access to. These include the freedom to travel and to work everywhere, not just in Palestine but also in Israel, the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints, the dismantling of the wall, and the opening up of Israeli-only settlements to Palestinians.

But, first and foremost, all 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza must seek full Israeli citizenship. For differing reasons, this bold proposal is bound to be anathema both to Palestinians and Israelis, as it will be seen to be sounding the death knell on their dreams.

For Israelis, it sounds suspiciously like the one-state solution which, to the minds of many, though there are a growing number of supporters, spells the demise of the century-long Zionist dream and the end of the Jewish state. For many Palestinians, though more of them support the one-state option than in Israel, the idea of becoming Israelis is tantamount not only to admitting the death of their beloved Palestine but to asking for the privilege to drive the final nail into the coffin.

Such worries reflect historical and psychological anxieties, heightened by the maximalist visions of extremists on both sides, rather than the glaring realities on the ground: that Palestinians and Israelis are effectively living in a single state, albeit one that is largely segregated and in which millions are disenfranchised.

To my mind, despite all the poetry of the land that has marked the Palestinian struggle, “Palestine” is far more than its olive and orange groves, it is, above all else, the sum total of its people. What better way is there to preserve what’s left than to protect the right of the Palestinians to continue to live there in full equality?

Likewise, it is the Israeli people who make Israel Jewish and so emancipating the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians will not make the state any less Jewish than it is today – only fairer and more just. Moreover, if maintaining a clear Jewish majority is truly the overarching aim of the Zionist project, then Israel should have allowed the emergence of an independent Palestine many years ago.

Personally, I am an advocate of a single, bi-national federation of Israel-Palestine because it allows both sides to have unfettered access to the land they hold so dear, while preserving their social and cultural identities and rights through, for example, elected community governments, one representing Jews and one representing Arabs wherever they may live on the land (and perhaps a third representing those anti-nationalists who wish to be defined as neither). Above this, an elected federal government would be responsible for common issues, such as the economy, defence, foreign relations and water resources.

But what I am proposing here is not a one-state solution per se. If anything, you could say it is the ‘non-state solution’, i.e. it is an ideologically neutral means of improving the reality on the ground.

Once everyone is emancipated, then the real work begins and a true conversation of equals can take place to determine democratically the future of the two peoples: whether they will continue together in a single, democratic state or opt for a magnanimous divorce brokered, not by outsiders, but one people to another.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 2 October 2012.

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  • http://www.nicoblack.com Nico Black

    So after 140 years of killing each other we can suddenly co-exist? C’mon Khaled. The answer is that there is no immediate answer… or that the closest one to a viable solution involves Jordan as the base of the Palestinian state. The land is too small and blood too thick to mesh us both together. The answer lays with Egypt and Jordan. But I’m not holding my breath.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/diabolically.khaled Khaled Diab

    No, I didn’t. The single state option has been proposed in various forms over the years.

    However, as far as I’m aware, very few people advocate a civil rights struggle.

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  • Seth

    Did you assume that this is a novel and new approach…

    Hasn’t this solution been proposed for a long time?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/diabolically.khaled Khaled Diab

    Martin, speaking of Belgium as a model, this might interest you http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/11/middle-east-george-mitchell-belgium

    Ahh, and historically, secular
    states were established in deeply religious societies – which makes
    sense because what is the point of separating religion from state
    affairs in situations where religion has no power?

    Indeed, Alfred,
    secular state does not get in the way of practising your private faith –
    it’s only when groups decide that faith is a public commodity that must
    be rammed down others’ throat that religion and secularism don’t mix.

    Shulamit, the article is not available in Hebrew.

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  • Shulamit

    Do you have a link to this aricle in Hebrew?

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  • Anselm

    Anothe quote I agree with: “But, first and foremost, all 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza must seek full Israeli citizenship. For differing reasons, this bold proposal is bound to be anathema both to Palestinians and Israelis, as it will be seen to be sounding the death knell to their dreams.”

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  • Martin

    Yes
    you could, but could you agree on secular state. Is the pain with the
    current situation such that many / majority would agree to it? Seen from
    across the sea it looks less likely.

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  • Alfred

    we can live deeply one’s religion in a secular country… ♥

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  • Martin

    …personally
    I favour secular states, but is that “in reach” for both communities
    considering their very deeply rooted non-secular cultures?

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  • Alfred

    what do you think about one secular state for both arabs and jews and others… ? ♥

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  • Yehuda

    I don’t see a contradiction Alfred. Being Arabs or Jews are different ways to be humans. Good that there is not only one way, an hypothetical “pure” human one!

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  • Alfred

    Don’t see in people arabs or jews… please see only humans … things will go better ♥

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  • Martin

    …new ideas are needed. Any idea that fosters peace, helps to develop and
    overcomes stalemate is a good one. Waiting for the better one would help
    little. Belgium, my state of residence, has three communities and three
    territorial subjects, which overlap mutually without that six of match.
    It’s once a while a bit “elaborated” but it works. Thus…

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  • Yehuda

    Excellent article, Khaled! I can only agree with you 100!

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