Response to MK Dov Khenin – A just solution in Israel/Palestine is both utopian and necessary

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Phil posted an interesting interview with non-Zionist Israeli MK Dov Khenin from the Hadash Party while I was attending the One State for Palestine/Israel: A Country for All Its Citizens? conference in Boston. He makes two different comments about the "endgame" of the conflict in Israel/Palestine and specifically refers to the possibility of a one-state solution. I want to respond to his comments.

First, I want to say that I have the utmost respect for MK Khenin. I happened to be in Tel Aviv in the run up to the municipal election in the city this past November and I know his "City for All" campaign and the coalition he put together across ethnic, religious and national divides was an inspiration to many. I am also very excited that this interview appeared in New Voices, Josh Nathan-Kazis continues his great work.

Although Khenin's remarks in that interview are surely a greatly abridged version of his fuller positions, I think they show two things – that a just two-state solution at this point is nearly as utopian as a democratic one-state solution and that even the most principled and progressive wing of Israeli politics is in a state of denial on the untenability of the status quo.

In Khenin's first answer he says he calls for: "the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel . . . both states, Israel and Palestine,
should be democratic ones. In Israel the Arabic minority should have
full equality, and if there is a Jewish minority within the Palestinian
state it should also have its equal status." This is an admirable position and clearly a non-Zionist one. It is also totally out of line with the current "two-state solution" that is being pushed by the US and international community. Rather than calling for equal rights it is calling for ethnic and religious separation. 
Khenin's proposal contradicts the essence of the current two-state plan, which maintains the definition of Israel as a Jewish state in that Jews would retain special and exclusive rights over non-Jewish citizens (assuming there still are non-Jewish citizens in the state). Khenin might feel that advocates of one-state are "totally separated from reality," but I would argue that he could sadly be accused of the same thing.

Khenin's answer also reminded me of my post a few weeks ago about the two-state solution and the need to support principles as much of a vision of the endgame. His two-state vision calls for civic equality which is a necessity for any just solution. But it is still not enough in and of itself to end to the conflict. At the conference this past weekend, several speakers spoke about the principles that any solution to the conflict would have to meet and Nadia Hijab summarized them in a nutshell as: Freedom, Equality and Return. They were taken from the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions issues by Palestinian civil society in 2005. This call is the clearest declaration in recent years of the Palestinian political consensus across the entire Palestinian polity. That document calls for:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian
refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN
resolution 194.

These principles are Palestinian baselines for a just solution that would uphold their human rights and reflect international law. Khenin takes the bold step for an Israeli politician to support equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. As a leftist I assume he supports an end to the Israeli occupation and dismantling the Wall. But the right of return for Palestinian refugees is not addressed in his admittedly truncated description of the endgame and it is an issue that cannot be ignored. 

Finally, Khenin points to the very real dangers that a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine will not alleviate the vast inequality between Jews and Palestinians. Of course this is very true, and many point to post-apartheid South Africa as a country still struggling to undo the legacies of domination in the country even after the creation of a unitary democratic state. But, Khenin warns that a single state " is a sure recipe for an explosion of the situation in this country." I would say it's already too late to avoid that. The war in Gaza was just the latest example that the situation has exploded. At the conference in Boston, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe put the Gaza massacres in a time line that stretched back to the founding of the state of Israel, if not earlier. And he warned that worse is yet to come.

The challenge of creating economic and social justice in a future state is a real challenge that will have to be taken on, but it's not a reason to not discuss radical alternatives for the future, or even worse – to maintain the status quo. The current system includes all the challenges the Khenin outlines plus the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians with the ongoing threat of massacres like we saw in Gaza. I know Khenin does not support the status quo and is working to change it. In the end I believe he is an ally to those advocating for one democratic state in that they are all working for equality and justice for Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine. Unfortunately, the deck is currently stacked against all of them.

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