There are those who believe that Israel’s recently-passed Nation-State Law represents a failure of the one-state option, as it formalizes the exclusively Jewish nature of the dominant state in Palestine and with it, the disenfranchisement of the non-Jewish population.
The new law could also be viewed, however, as betraying a fear on the part of the occupying power that the de facto imposition of one state on the ground holds within it the seeds of the dismantling of the colonial project from the inside. Seen in this way, all of the decisions, laws and actions taken by the occupying power to insist upon the specifically Jewish character of the state are but desperate attempts to go against history and legitimize an order that is both unfair and unsustainable.
There are many reasons why the One State idea may never be realized: the tremendous imbalance of power, the rising racism in Israeli society, that Palestinian society itself may not not yet be fully ripe for embracing such an inclusive idea. These challenges, however, should not lead us to underestimate the intrinsic power of the idea itself. History shows that a prophetic vision can begin with few followers and still be carried forward by the intrinsic power of its message.
There are many arguments for One State. First, it is the most realistic option, as it is takes into account both sides of the human equation: on the one hand, the fundamental right of all Palestinians to return to their homes in freedom from occupation, oppression and second-class citizenship, and on the other, the reality of the existence of millions of Jews that live in Palestine.
Concerns about the fate of the Israeli Jews in a liberated Palestine have until now been a major reason for the weakness of international support for our cause. This dilemma is solved by a One State solution that clearly calls, not for “throwing them into the sea” (an idea that is as unfair as it is unrealistic), but for the recognition of full rights and equality for all.
It is true that there are people who came to Palestine with the intention of expelling Palestinians from their homes and taking their place, but guilt can only be ascribed to individuals, not entire nations; and children cannot be held responsible for the crimes of their parents. There are generations of Israelis who know only this land as their home, and they are not responsible for the fact that they were born here.
If my primary goal as a Palestinian is to return to my land, it is of less concern to me who else stays or goes. The most important thing for me is to regain my rights and see the era of displacement and oppression brought to an end.
The idea of One State is aligned with the spirit of our time. The global consciousness has evolved away from the idea of nationalism toward one of citizenship. Millions of Arabs today are citizens in Europe and America who enjoy the same rights as all other citizens of those countries. Why can’t Jews live in Palestine in exactly the same way – on the basis of citizenship and not of Occupation?
There are many Palestinians who have emigrated to the West whose interests have become linked to their new homeland. They – and still less their children and grandchildren – would not necessarily return to a liberated Palestine, because their new countries have become an integral part of their lives. It is also possible for new generations of Israeli Jews, who are similarly connected to Palestine, to have a way to live in this land without remaining in the unacceptable position as occupiers.
There are some who reject the idea of coexistence with Israeli Jews in a shared land out of a subconscious fear that sharing the same society with people of other ethnicities and religions means we will all become alike. Yet Palestinians in the West already live together with many other groups, including Jews and even Zionists, in one state and under one law. In a single multi-ethnic Palestinian state each group will still be able to maintain its shared bonds of religion and culture without having to live in walled ghettoes like the people in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem today.
We Palestinians can have our full rights in a single state. We may still have to struggle for them using the tools of peaceful civil struggle, as Palestinian Member of the Knesset Haneen Zoabi and activist Raed Salah do today, but it will be far less costly and bloody than the struggle we face today in West Bank, Gaza and the Diaspora.
The truth is that we already live in a single state, governed by Netanyahu in coordination with the Palestinian Authority (as former PLO chief Saeb Erekat has publicly admitted), and we are left imploring the Israeli government to open its checkpoints to let patients out for treatment and medical supplies in for our hospitals. The Gaza Strip is a prison inside this one state, whose people are struggling to break down their prison walls. 1948 (“Arab Israeli”) and West Bank Palestinians also live in ethnic enclaves within this single state as second-class citizens and non-citizens in the land of their birth.
Thus, the One-State thesis does not call for the establishment of a new reality, but for a struggle based on the existing reality: a struggle to bring down the walls, end ethnic discrimination, and build in their place a state that insures equality, dignity and freedom for all people. This is more realistic than seeking the end of Israel or even the creation of a separate Palestinian state – and also more just.
Implementing a One-State solution will not be easy, and the Occupation will fight hard against it, but since when has a ruling elite’s refusal of change been a reason to give up the struggle for fairness and basic human equality? The power of the One State idea is not its amenability to the Occupier, but its intrinsic nature as both the least costly and the morally superior solution. That should make it worth our while to reimagine our struggle in the light of this vision.
Our problem is with the racism and the occupation of Israel, not with the existence of Jewish people in Palestine. Our goal is to topple the project of Occupation while allowing anyone born in Palestine to remain here based on equal human rights as citizens of a single state.
The simplicity and justness of this vision should compel us to reformulate our struggle toward its attainment.
This article was originally published in Arabic by arabi21.com. This translation was done by Denny Cormier, Rana Shubair and Peter Cohen.