One possible framework for a single state in Israel/Palestine

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The Occupation has so far dragged on for 43 years, but I don’t think it can possibly last another 43 years, or even another decade. The world (like Mondoweiss) is increasingly focused on the injustice of Israel’s domination of the Palestinians. Living in Israel, it feels like the country is entering a crisis/breakdown phase and will soon have to reconstruct itself.

Readers of Mondoweiss are familiar with the seminal books and articles advocating a one-state solution written by Tony Judt, Ali Abunimah, Virginia Tilley and others. The idea of a one-state solution is inspiring to those of us who would prefer to live in a country founded on universal concepts of human freedom and dignity rather than one held captive by religious doctrine and tribal loyalty. Even though a one-state solution faces discouraging obstacles, it is important to begin to imagine what a single state could look like.

First, the obstacles:

The vast majority of Israelis don’t want a bi-national state, nor do most Palestinians. Indeed, it seems like all the high-profile one-state advocates (except Meron Benvenisti) reside overseas, mostly in ivory towers. Assuming that one couldn’t or shouldn’t force a one-state solution down Israeli and Palestinian throats, how does one convince them to adopt it willingly? And how does one even begin to campaign for such a solution without being cut off at the knees by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities?

Second, it’s doubtful whether two peoples with so much horrendous conflict and resulting bad blood between them could join together and function as citizens of the same country. Might it not be a recipe for endless revenge and civil war? Perhaps the Israelis and Palestinians need fifty or a hundred years to cool off before we can talk about living in the same country.

Third, Uri Avnery may be correct in his claim that the vast socio-economic gaps between Israelis and Palestinians would make co-existence in one state impossible.

Fourth, even under better circumstances, multi-ethnic states face exceptional challenges. The history of Quebec separatism is instructive, and even Belgium, which was supposed to serve as an example of bi-cultural brotherhood, suffers from collapsing governments, secession threats, and officially-sanctioned efforts to prevent French-speakers from buying houses in the Flemish-speaking suburbs of Brussels.

Belgium has peace, freedom, prosperity, democracy, and perhaps the best beer and chocolate in the world, but none of that is enough to keep Flemings and Walloons from squabbling eternally over trifles. The problem is that human beings like to fight, so if we haven’t got anything big to fight about, we’ll fight about little things. Therefore, political solutions ought to moderate our aggressive impulses and channel them in more positive directions. Regarding which, the Belgian experience highlights the difficulty of linguistic divisions, which may be even more challenging than religious or ethnic divides, for the simple reason that people can’t possibly cooperate if they can’t talk to each other.

Fifth, in Israel, the scope of democracy, equality and human rights is tragically limited by religious fanaticism and ethnic tribalism, and that’s even more true of the Arab states. While Jews and Arabs are individually quite capable of assimilating successfully into multi-cultural liberal democracies, it may be that on the group level, we’re simply too tribal in our thinking to create one of our own.

In short, although a secular democratic state is in theory greatly preferable to an ethnocracy, I’m not convinced that a one-state solution is possible or even desirable here, given the circumstances. Perhaps the sensible solution is two states, more or less along the ’67 lines, and any settlers who want to remain in Palestine are welcome to do so, for as long as they can.

Right now, my bottom line is ambivalence. Insofar as I think that a one state solution would strengthen democracy, outlaw discrimination and enshrine religious (and secular) freedom, I’m for it; but insofar as I think that it would ultimately foster dictatorship and civil war, I’m against it. That’s why I’d like to encourage wider discussion of how, concretely, a one-state solution might be implemented.

If the idea of a one-state solution is to be more than an idealistic fantasy (or alternatively a threat designed to scare Israel into ending the Occupation), the details deserve serious consideration. Here, at any rate, is one Israeli’s first attempt at conceptualizing the transformation of Israel and the Occupied Territories into a single, unified state. Comments are welcome.

A Plan for a New State in Israel-Palestine

Article One – The State

The State shall supersede the present State of Israel and build on its existing legal and governmental structures, with the modifications outlined below.

The State shall be named Israel-Palestine, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Canaan, or another name ultimately approved by a simple majority of its citizens voting in a national referendum.

The territory of the State shall encompass the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine plus the Golan Heights, the latter pending the conclusion of a peace agreement with the Syrian Arab Republic.

The official languages of the State shall be Hebrew, Arabic and English.

The national anthem and flag of the State shall embody positive themes that unify its people. A representative body shall solicit compositions and submit the best of them for ultimate approval by a simple majority of citizens voting in a national referendum.

Article Two – Citizenship and Immigration

Citizenship in the State shall be granted to (1) all citizens of the State of Israel, (2) all legal permanent residents of the West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, and (3) all persons born within the territory of the State (excluding the Golan Heights), along with their spouses and minor children.

There shall be a twenty-year moratorium on immigration.

Note: One reason to limit immigration is that the State is small and densely populated, with a relatively high birth rate. More important, an immigration moratorium would prevent religious and ethnic groups from attempting to use immigration policy to augment their numbers and relative strength. It is expected that at the time of the State’s founding, no religious or ethnic group will constitute an absolute majority, which, it is hoped, will necessitate and facilitate negotiation, compromise and cooperation in matters of public policy.

In other words, there shall be no collective right of return for the Jewish or Palestinian people, at least for a generation. I realize that’s an enormously controversial proposition, one which I plan to address at greater length in a subsequent post.

With respect to refugees from the territory of the State, and their descendants, the State will work with the international community to (1) require other states where such persons reside to grant them citizenship and equal rights under the law, and (2) provide financial and other assistance to those in need of it. With respect to citizens of the State who are refugees from other states, and their descendants, the State shall forgo all claims.

Article Three – Government

The government of the State shall be democratic. All citizens residing within the State shall have the right to vote in national elections.

No political office shall be allocated to, or reserved for, members of a particular religious, ethnic or other group. All offices shall be open to all candidates.

Note: To prevent Lebanese-style factionalism.

At least half of the members of the State’s legislature shall be elected on the basis of geographic constituencies.

Note: The current, exclusively party-list system does not provide effective representation to most voters.

All segments of the populace shall be fairly represented within all branches and at all levels of the civil service and the military.

Article Four – Human Rights

The State shall protect human rights as defined by international law. The generality of this provision shall not be construed as being limited by more specific provisions within this document.

No religious organization shall be an organ of the State or funded by the State.

Civil marriage and divorce shall be available to all citizens of the State.

The State shall prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of goods and services based on religion, ethnicity, race or gender, except insofar as discrimination in employment is necessary to ensure (1) a representative civil service and military as described above, (2) an integrated national service as described below, and (3) the employment of economically disadvantaged workers on public works projects as described below.

Article Five – Social Rights and Obligations

The workweek shall run from Sunday to Thursday. Workers shall not be required to work, except to provide vital services, on the following national holidays: the two days of Rosh Hashanah; Yom Kippur; the first day of Sukkot; Shemini Atzeret; the first and last days of Pesach; the three days of Eid Al-Fitr; the four days of Eid Al-Adha; the four days of Nabi Shu’ayb; and Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, according to both the Catholic and Orthodox calendars.

The State shall provide social insurance and health care to all of its citizens, legal permanent residents and foreign workers.

The State shall provide free compulsory education to the children of all its citizens, legal permanent residents, and foreign workers. Such education shall include, at a minimum, (1) development of a high level of literacy and numeracy, (2) intensive training in all three official languages of the State, and (3) imparting the fundamentals of history, geography, political science, economics, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, literature and the arts. All private education must include the previously-described core curriculum.

The State shall not provide child allowances for the third and subsequent children in each family.

Note: Israeli government subsidies of large families facilitate non-participation in the work force and the growth of religious extremism.

All citizens of the State shall be required to perform national service upon reaching the age of eighteen. National service shall be devoted to assisting vulnerable members of the community, protecting the environment, assisting law enforcement, serving in the military, or other appropriate endeavors. To build social cohesion, all national service units shall be integrated to contain members from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Article Six – Infrastructure and Environment

The State shall devote substantial resources to the construction and improvement of infrastructure – including roads, water, electricity, mail service, telecommunications, government offices, schools, medical facilities, and public parks – in underserved areas, until substantial equality is achieved.

The State shall build water desalination and purification plants to alleviate the threat of water shortages.

The State shall grant priority in employment on public works projects to economically disadvantaged sectors of the populace.

The State shall encourage and facilitate the use of public transportation and non-motorized transportation rather than private automobiles.

The State shall discourage the building of individual private dwellings on large plots of land and encourage the preservation and development of open public spaces.

Article Seven – Means of Establishing the State

Proponents of the establishment of the State shall initially focus their efforts on a sustained legal, political, and diplomatic campaign to win voting rights for legal permanent residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the national elections of the State of Israel. Once voting rights are won, the other reforms outlined in this plan shall be implemented.

Note: Much pro-Palestinian activism in Israel and the Occupied Territories, including the noble protests in Bil’in and Sheikh Jarrah, may unfortunately be used to characterize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being primarily a struggle between two tribes over land. A campaign for Palestinian voting rights would elevate the discourse to the level of basic equality and human rights.

Ben Zakkai is a pseudonym, the author prefers to remain anonymous.

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