The Campaign for One Democratic State – political and organizational perspectives

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A New Guy on the ODS Block

Over the last year a new One Democratic State (ODS) initiative, striving to restore Palestinian rights and bring a just solution to the more than a century long bloody conflict, held a series of meetings and consultations. The founding group is diverse, bringing together academics and activists, veterans of the struggle and members of the new youth movements, and Arabs and Jews. For technical reasons the initiative is currently concentrated “within the green line” – those parts of Palestine that Israel took control of already in 1948. For the time being, the organizers distinguish the new initiative under the acronyms ODSC – standing for ODS Campaign.

The new initiative hasn’t yet even publish its initial political program, which is subject to prolonged process of consultations in an attempt to form a broad church of supporters of the ODS idea, with different political backgrounds and different views about the detailed structure of the future state. It might be a signal for the growing interest in ODS that it has already ignited some interest and lively discussion.

In late June the group’s steering committee held its second official meeting in Shafa’amer near Haifa, and decided to open it to the media even as basic issues were still under discussion. The fledgling movement’s 50 organizers who are Arabs and Jews, adopted a political program ahead of the official launch coming this Fall. The program was adopted in Arabic but its publication was delayed until parallel Hebrew and English versions will be ready.

In the meantime, the following report about the meeting’s contents gives an initial opportunity to look in detail at the political perspectives of some of those behind this campaign, based on my notes taken during the meeting and coverage by Omar Dalasha, which first appeared on the website Arab 48.

The meeting dealt with a number of theoretical and political issues, as well as practical steps to place the idea of a democratic solution in the center of political discourse, and to create an alternative consciousness against the reality of partition, colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

An old new idea

Awad Abdelfattah, one of the founders of the new initiative and who previously served as general secretary “The National Democratic Alliance” (AKA as “Balad”), a Palestinian party active in 1948 Palestine, opened the discussion. He started with the historical background and current efforts toward the proposed solution:  

“This idea we present today is not new. Our initiative to revive the program is neither the first nor the only one. We are building on the intellectual heritage of the previous initiatives and on the values ​​of freedom and ethics that this solution represents. But we also begin with a critical reading of previous attempts, which failed to take off and become an influential public movement.

Abdelfattah added, “the illusion of a two-state solution proved to be completely unrealistic, in view of the dominance of the colonial apartheid regime against our people, and with it the ideas of division and separation based on injustice were discredited. Against this background, and relying on the principles of justice, we are working to renew the discussion of the one-state solution and bring it back to the fore.

He explained that the founders do not believe that the current moment is revolutionary, the relationship of forces are not favorable and there is no easy way to change this. On the contrary, the Palestinian people are now going through one of the most difficult periods in the history of their struggle. He said,

“We are living in a period of confusion and uncertainty, not only because of the inability to change the situation due to the skewed balance of power, but also in the absence of a vision and a lack of a clear definition of the goals of the struggle around which the Palestinian people can unite. Against this backdrop, there is a growing tendency to adopt an alternative based on the desire for freedom and a humanistic approach that can re- emphasize the components of the strength of the Palestinian struggle, based on moral dimensions, the struggle for the rights of a people suffering under a racist colonial regime, not a struggle over defining borders.

Abdelfattah emphasized the presence of Jews who oppose the colonial apartheid regime in Palestine and believe in one state. They are a key element in the initiative’s leadership. He said that their participation enhance its credibility.

Part of the initiative’s mission is to formulate a new pattern of cooperation between Arabs and Jews in the struggle – instead of co-existence, co-resistance is needed.

What have we done so far?

Abdelfattah reviewed the activities that took place since the first preparatory meeting on April 21, 2018 (a report about this meeting is here. At that time number of working groups were established according to topics: media, a committee for organizational affairs and youth, and a committee to promote the discussion on issues of principle.

“We held many meetings with potential Arab and Jewish activists and supporters,” he said, adding, By reaching out we have witnessed that many people are undergoing a process of change in their approach to the solution. We must redouble our efforts, be creative and invest more thought.

He explained that choosing the name “campaign” instead of movement”—although the goal is to become a movement laterstems from the need and desire to include other Palestinian and Palestinian-Jewish groups, as well as activists who support this solution,

“We maintain flexibility, openness, and acceptance of different opinions, on the condition that everyone agrees with the idea of ​​a single democratic state. We believe that the insistence on issues that need not be decided now and the attempt to create ideological consensus on both large and small issues are among the reasons that some previous movements failed to grow. We do not want to remain a small movement, without influence and torn by internal disagreements or paralyzed by stagnation and narrow mindedness.

“This is a patriotic democratic liberation project that requires years of hard work, in which generations unite, in a determined and continuing struggle to reach a free homeland and free people who believe in justice and equality,” Abdelfattah concluded, “A more conscious, freer young generation will emerge from the joint action, with a deeper understanding of the ideas of democracy and liberation.

The steering committee meeting for the One Democratic State Initiative, Shafa’amer, June 23, 2018. (Photo: Ashraf Abdelfattah)

A Palestinian initiative that Jews are joining

Historian Ilan Pappe, a member of the founding committee, spoke about the prospects for promoting the idea in Israeli society. At the beginning of his speech, Pappe told how he was invited on May 15 to present at the United Nations the perspective of the solution of one democratic state. The representatives of Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia boycotted the meeting, and the Palestinian ambassador, who attended it, not only did not support the proposed solution but also attacked it, out of loyalty to the two-state solution.

This event represents the problems we encounter when the official representatives of the Palestinian people in both the international community and the Knesset – oppose the proposed solution.

On this background,Pappe continued, “there are special importance and influence to the fact that this is a Palestinian initiative to which Jews are joining. The fact that Palestinians adopt the plan of one democratic state based on equality will influence opinions on the Israeli street. Being a Palestinian initiative gives it a moral and ideological weight,” he said, continuing,

We speak a lot about the balance of material forces, but we confront this skewed balance with the moral balance of power between the original inhabitants of the country and the settlers’ society. Creating an artificial parallelism between the two sides, as if there are peace camps on both sides, meeting in the middle of the road, doesnt help this process. When the program of one state will appear as a new stage of the Palestinian liberation movement, it will also produce new opportunities to mobilize supporters within Jewish society.

Pappe also discussed the difficulties in enlisting from Israeli society,

We are talking about abolishing the preferential regime and the privileges that the Israelis enjoy at the expense of the original residents, and the settlers will not easily or voluntarily give up these privileges. For this it is necessary to change the balance of power from within, through a popular movement, as well as through external pressure, such as that applied by the boycott movement, the BDS. The success of the boycott movement is an important experience to build upon. In its beginnings many people argued that calling for a boycott would prevent dialogue and harm the opponents of the occupation in Israeli society. The experience proved the reverse – the boycott is also a form of dialogue in which Israelis are told that they must change. Even discussing the boycott, like discussing one-state, opens up many opportunities.

Pappe also mentioned the alternative culture that develops among the younger generation – a culture that is much more open to anything that moves away from the institutional consensus and is willing to explore other possibilities,

“We started the initiative about a year ago, during which we met and talked to various people in Israeli society and witnessed a growing willingness to hear and accept the idea, even now that there is still no significant political movement working to advance this solution. In the wake of every additional publication about the movement, more people – Palestinians and Jews – are calling to join. If we succeed in forming an organized framework that will adopt the idea, that will work to abolish the regime of racial segregation, to waive the privileges and to live together on the basis of the principles of justice, the supporting circles will expand. The idea now exists and develops as an ideological stream rather than as a movement or an organized force. It is necessary to build an organized, strong and influential public movement, which can provide a framework for utilizing the potential support for the idea. This potential will expand further due to the lack of a political solution in the horizon, especially as it will become evident that the political deadlock might lead to disasters and exact new price in blood.

The youth protest movements and the one-state

Muhammad Younis, an activist in Herak Haifa and a member of the founding committee, spoke about the political context in which current youth movements in Palestine develop and operate. He relied on the experience, among other examples, of the movements that organized the recent demonstrations in Haifa in support of the March of the Return in the Gaza Strip,

“The vast majority of young people tend to support the idea of ​​a single state rather than a two-state solution, but most have no organizational connection to this idea,” he said. The various parties in historic Palestine failed to create a broad consensus around a unifying Palestinian national project. Palestinian youth today were born in a period dominated by the Oslo Accords and grew in the shadow of the division between Palestinian people in the two sides of the Green Line and between those in Palestine and the refugees out of the country. In addition, it is becoming ever clearer that the so called peace process leads nowhere and that the two-state solution failed. We grew up as a youth when everyone was talking about a two-state solution and we were educated on this idea. In view of the failure of this solution and the absence of an alternative, or the lack of proper presentation of an alternative, we are witnessing a general state of frustration from political activity.

In these conditions different youth movements developed. Those movements were also influenced by the Arab revolutions, where the youth had a central role in their awakening and at the beginning of their path, before the regimes and external forces turned them into destructive civil wars. Those movements went through several important stages. One of their peaks was the movement against the Prawer plan to uproot the Palestinian residents of the Naqab. The youth movements also played an important role in organizing support for the hunger strikes of the Palestinian freedom prisoners. Recently we witnessed the march of return in the Gaza Strip, and how a supportive movement developed in Haifa and Ramallah. This last experience succeeded to forge unity in struggle, goals and slogans among various parts of the Palestinian people and raised it to a new level.

Significant support for the right of return among the Jewish public

The last speaker was Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, founder of Zochrot and currently active in the “De Colonizer” organization. Both movements work among the Jewish public to promote awareness of the destroyed Palestinian villages and recognition of the rights of the refugees. He presented the results of public opinion surveys on the attitude toward the right of return initiated by “De Colonizer” and conducted by a professional survey institute. These results appeared in a book he published recently, together with Eleonor Merza-Bronstein, named “Nakba in Hebrew: a political journey.

The first survey was conducted in March 2015. The main result surprised the survey’s initiators: More than 20 percent of the respondents, all Jewish residents of Israel, expressed support for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Bronstein explained that the result of 20 percent support consists of summing the number of those who chose one of two possible answers, unconditional support or support provided it doesnt harm the current residents. The poll’s initiators wanted to ensure that the results were real and repeated it in March 2017. This time the result was even more positive – 27 percent supported the right of return, conditionally or unconditionally. Support was higher among young people and among secular Jews.

In order to be more certain that the respondents indeed understood the meaning of the right of return, De Colonizer repeated the survey once again in April 2017. This time the pollsters were required to explicitly explain to the respondents that the right of return meant that more than 7 million Palestinians could choose to exercise this right. In this poll, support for the right fell to 16.2 percent.

Bronstein noted that support for the right of return among Jews in Israel can be considered surprisingly high, since no Israeli party supports this right and in light of the official propaganda that always tries to frighten the public from the right of return and say that its implementation means the liquidation of the Jews or at least their expulsion from the country.

Bronstein concluded that the Israelis’ position toward the right of return can be changed, and for this purpose we need a will and determination to build a democratic alternative.

Open discussion

After the presentation, an open discussion took place lasting over an hour and a half.

The discussion dealt again with the 10-point political plan of the initiative, which has already been discussed and amended through several previous meetings, and this time was brought for approval. It was clarified that the program was not intended to answer all the questions, but rather to create a broad basis within which activists and organizations coming from different political traditions and from different ideologies could work together. The common denominator is the commitment to fight against all forms of oppression, overcome past residues through the return of the refugees, abolish all oppressive mechanisms, and create an open democratic society in which everyone will enjoy full rights where there is systematic action to close social gaps and create a just society.

Much of the discussion was devoted to the right form of building the movement with regard to the existing gapswide gaps in power and consciousnessbetween Palestinian Arab society and Jewish society in Israel. Many varied opinions were expressed. For most of us, just thinking about building a joint movement is a new political experience that requires redefining concepts and dealing with questions that are easy to ignore in routine political work. Finally, it was decided that these issues, like many others, required an in-depth and systematic discussion that would accompany us over the coming months and years.

Decisions and practical measures

Despite the need for further discussions, the proposed political plan was adopted for the current period as the basis to act upon and expand the movement.

We have set ourselves the goal of working toward a broad conference in the autumn, after more people and groups will join the campaign. This conference will also be an opportunity to re-discuss the political program and update it based on the contributions of new participants and accumulated experience.

The participants also decided to continue the construction of the subcommittees, to include new members and to continue organizing meetings of activists, informational lectures and community discussions.

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Well, well, well. High time! A state of all its citizens! Imagine that!