Would 'one state' end the occupation?

September 29, 2010


One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

Diane Mason, 19 September 2010

I think there’s a degree of wishful thinking in the positive reaction from some pro-Palestinian one-staters to recent suggestions by a few Israeli rightists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved by gradually offering citizenship of a Jewish state of Israel to some of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. The wishful thinking lies in the assumption that “we” are talking about one state, and “they” are talking about one state, so regardless of the differences in the details we’re all to some extent reading off the same page.

I don’t think there’s any basis to that assumption at all. What the Likud’s apparent “converts” mean by the one state solution is that there will be no Palestinian state, only an expanded Jewish state encompassing Israel and the West Bank. Some of the West Bank Palestinians may be granted citizenship in the Jewish state, so long as they formally accept Zionist supremacy and don’t expect to become citizens in the sort of numbers that would make them a “demographic threat” to Zionist rule. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants can fulfill Yitzhak Rabin’s dearest wish, and sink into the sea.

What does all this have to do with the “one state solution” as traditionally understood by its secular left advocates? Not much. The basis of their one state solution is full citizenship and equal rights for all the inhabitants of Israel-Palestine, regardless of ethnic-religious background. In contrast, the Likud single state plan is based on preserving the ethnic-religious privilege that currently prevails, but preserving it in a way that attracts less foreign condemnation that the current situation. It’s not really proposing anything very different from the situation that currently exists in Israel and the Occupied Territories minus Gaza, which is effectively already one state where the benefits of democracy are rationed out in accordance with one’s degree of Jewishness. In the Likud single state solution, the annexation of the West Bank would be formalized, instead of surreptitious, and some of the Palestinians who currently enjoy no rights at all would be promoted to the second-rate citizenship of Palestinians within Israel’s 1967 borders, but those are hardly revolutionary changes.

So, if the concept the Zionist Right is describing when it uses “one state” vocabulary is nothing like what the pro-Palestinian one staters envisage; if it’s based on an underlying ideology they fundamentally oppose; and if it envisages an outcome on the ground that they would never settle for in a million years; how much does it really matter that the concept is wrapped up in sympathetic vocabulary? We might all be using the same words, but we’re not talking about the same thing at all.

This is a phenomenon we’ve already seen with “two state solution” terminology. Throughout the peace process years, we’ve been told that Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly support a two state solution, and that “everybody knows” what the final parameters of the two state settlement will be. And yet, 17 years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, the two state solution – which everyone apparently supports and knows what to expect of it – still doesn’t exist.  One of the reasons why the two state solution doesn’t exist is that those who claim to want it don’t even mean the same thing by it.

What Israel means by the two state solution is that it will annex to itself those parts of the West Bank it most covets – the arable land of the Jordan Valley, the West Bank aquifer around the Ariel settlement bloc, the holy/tourist sites of East Jerusalem – but will renounce responsibility for the parts where the non-Jewish inhabitants – the ‘demographic threat’ – are concentrated. These resource-free Palestinian enclaves can collect their own garbage, print their own stamps, and generally administer themselves insofar as they don’t do anything Israel doesn’t approve of, and this will be the Palestinian half of the two state solution [footnote].  This configuration is called the Allon Plan of 1967, and apart from one major amendment (Allon envisaged the Palestinian population centers returning to Jordanian rule, whereas later Israeli leaders call them a self-governing Palestinian state) it’s been the plan of every Israeli government at least since the beginning of the peace process.

Needless to say, this isn’t at all what the PLO means by the two state solution. What the PLO means is that Israel will exist on 78% of historic Palestine, generally in its 1967 borders, alongside an independent Palestinian state that will exist on the remaining 22%, which we currently call the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestine will control its own borders and airspace, govern its own internal affairs and manage its own foreign relations. In other words, Palestinians will be citizens of a state that is sovereign and independent to the same degree that Israel is sovereign and independent, and its citizens will enjoy individual and national rights that are no less than those enjoyed by Israeli citizens.

So when Palestinians talk about a two state solution, they’re talking about two states of comparable sovereignty, where citizenship in Palestine is worth no less than citizenship in Israel. But what Israel is talking about is giving a degree of self-rule to those parts of the Occupied Territories that are too demographically difficult for a “Jewish state” to swallow. That’s a fundamental difference, which goes right to the heart of what we mean by a two state solution. Is the purpose of the two state solution to give self determination to two peoples in two states, or is it to wangle a formula that allows Israel to jettison responsibility for the people of the Occupied Territories while continuing to maintain control over their land? If you can’t agree on what the two state solution actually means, then it’s rather unlikely you’re ever going to produce one, no matter how much you swear you want one. Hence the absurd eternal peace process of the past 19 years.

The idea that we’re making progress now towards a one state solution, just because someone in the Likud stops paying lip service to two states and talks about a single state instead, seems to me just as absurd.

The “one state solution” and “two state solution” are not in themselves solutions to anything, they’re just words.  They’re words that describe political frameworks within which Israelis and Palestinians might coexist when the 100+ years conflict between Zionism and Palestine’s pre-existing population has been stabilized to the point that everybody there is living in with an acceptable degree of normality. But the conflict itself isn’t about that political framework. People aren’t killing and dying and expelling and dispossessing because they’re really, really attached to one political configuration over another. The I/P conflict isn’t about one state versus two states; it’s about whether – in a land where many different kinds of people live – only one “kind” of people should have all the benefits of a modern democratic state reserved to it. It’s about the institutional sectarian privilege that allows one ethnic-religious group the right to exclusive “self-determination”, even though this can be established and maintained only at the expense of everybody else’s right to equality.

If the conflict in Palestine-Israel is one of sectarian privilege versus equal rights, then the solution to that conflict lies in establishing national and civil rights of equal quality to everyone who lives there. Whether you do that in one state or two isn’t nearly as important as accepting the underlying premise, i.e. that human beings have equal rights, unrelated to their ethnic-religious heritage. So the prerequisite to solving the conflict isn’t that everyone must sign up for the one state solution rather than the two state solution (or vice versa); the prerequisite is that there must be a common acceptance that everybody in Israel-Palestine has the right to full and equal citizenship.Theoretically, you could realize equal citizenship in a single state of Israel-Palestine, where the population would be roughly 50-50 Jewish v. non-Jewish, and everyone would enjoy equal citizenship because citizenship is tied to Israstinian nationality, not religion.  Or, also theoretically, you could realize equal citizenship through the establishment of two states: Palestine, where the population is largely Muslim, but the Christian and Jewish minorities enjoy equal citizenship because citizenship is tied to Palestinian nationality, not religion; and Israel, where the population is largely Jewish, but the Muslim and Christian minorities enjoy equal citizenship because citizenship is tied to Israeli nationality, not religion.

Against a backdrop of 60+ years of Zionist rule, establishing the principle that equal citizenship for everyone is a more normal and desirable way to run a country than sectarian privilege maintained through violence, is the tricky part of the equation. Compared to the size of the conceptual leap that Zionism would need to make in embracing equal citizenship for everyone regardless of ethnic-religious background, deciding whether that full and equal citizenship is best expressed in one state or two is peanuts.

That’s why I think it’s premature for pro-Palestine advocates to make welcoming noises about the Zionist right’s seeming embrace of a one-state solution. First, let the Likudniks clarify where they stand on this question of Palestinian equal rights.  A one state solution in which the prerequisite for citizenship is accepting Jewish supremacy, and where the right to citizenship is denied to a significant chunk of the population simply because they would pose a “demographic threat” to that supremacy, is nothing to do with the one state solution as it is commonly understood.  It’s simply a blueprint for continued ethnic supremacy in a one-state configuration, just as the Allon Plan variants of Netanyahu and Barak and Sharon and Olmert are simply blueprints for ethnic supremacy in a two state configuration. Right Zionists who propose a one state solution as a means of perpetuating Zionist privilege have more in common with “liberal” Zionists and their one-and-a-half-state solution than with those who believe in the single democratic state. They share the same underlying assumption, i.e. that the problem to be solved by the one-or-two-state solutions is not that of ending ethnic-religious privilege, but of repackaging it so that its destabilizing effects are more manageable and more palatable in an international climate that is no longer friendly to colonial thinking and apartheid laws.

If both ethnic supremacy and equal citizenship can theoretically take the form of a one state or two state solution, then the most useful question to ask is not “Do you support one state or two?” but “Do you support equal rights for Muslims, Jews and Christians?”.  So, when Israeli Likudniks say they are suddenly interested in a one state solution, the first thing they need to specify is whether they envisage a single state that offers equal citizenship for all its inhabitants, or a single state whose inhabitants enjoy different levels of citizenship, allocated on the basis of the inhabitant’s ethnic-religious background. Unfortunately, I think it’s obvious where Moshe Arens, Reuven Rivlin et al stand on that question. Until the Likudnik one staters can talk about one state with equal citizenship for all its citizens, then their apparently groundbreaking one state solution talk is the same old ethnic supremacist lipstick on the same tired old Zionist pig.
Footnote: The defective “sovereignty” it envisages for the Palestinians means that this approach to the two state solution is sometimes characterized as “the one-and-a-half-state solution”.

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