I'm glad my piece on Mondoweiss, written as a member of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), generated such a good discussion. It is clear that the one-state solution is in the air, especially since its become crystal-clear that the two-state solution is dead and gone and a full apartheid regime is upon us. When Aljamal & Co. criticized my statement that “The time is far overdue to begin formulating a genuinely just and workable political settlement,” they misunderstood what I meant. There has been a great deal of thought put into the notion of a single democratic state, and they properly note the most relevant literature. What I meant, however, is that we have as yet to translate our analyses and ideas into an effective, operative political plan that we can bring forward into the political arena as a genuine alternative. In another recent piece on Mondoweiss, Yoav Haifawi reports on an organizational meeting held by the ODSC. In it, he quotes Awad Abdelfattah, a founder of the Balad Party in Israel and a leading member of the ODSC on this point. The one-state idea we present today, says Awad,
"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. 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.”
As we move towards an operative one-state plan, we enjoy the benefits of being able to dip into a wide range of analyses and alternative approaches in order to formulate an approach that is substantially just and addresses the major issues facing both peoples (without supposing a symmetry between them) but that can serve as an effective political vehicle, not just another plan that satisfies a few of us on the left but which is a non-starter. As Aljamal et. al.'s paper demonstrates, there is significant agreement among our movements, certainly enough on which to build.
The main bone of contention, a principle that in my view makes the difference between a plan that can actually serve as an effective political vehicle and a plan I might agree with but has no currency in the political world, has to do with the issue of collective rights. Our ODSC program says:
"Within the framework of a single democratic state, the Constitution will also protect collective rights and the freedom of association, whether national, ethnic, religious, class or gender. Constitutional guarantees will ensure that all languages, arts and culture can flourish and develop freely. No group or collectivity will have any privileges, nor will any group, party or collectivity have the ability to leverage any control or domination over others. Parliament will not have the authority to enact any laws that discriminate against any community under the Constitution."
Aljamal and the others properly fear ethno-nationalism, as we all do. That is why we do not accept the idea of a bi-national state, which would only perpetuate these differences and the competition of one over the other for political, economic and cultural dominance. On the other hand, we do not feel we can ignore the national identities of either Palestinians or Israeli Jews, nor the ethnic and religious identities of others in our multicultural society (Arab/Ethiopian/Indian Jews, a large African Asylum-seeker community that may well remain, ethnic Russians, Muslims, Druze, Christians and other "minorities," the LGBTQ community and others). We do not live in a society composed solely of individuals -- and especially the Middle East which, like orthodox Judaism, has no concept of the individual in a Western sense -- and we do not agree that collective rights can be subsumed to individual liberties.
But Aljamal et. al. raise a key concern. We wonder "what concrete, tangible form the advocated 'collective rights' might take. Indeed, how are the collectives which should enjoy explicit legal protection or 'rights' be defined? Which rights, indeed, adhere to collectives over and above any which constitutionally adhere to individuals? These definitions, and what the 'collective rights' in the ODS would be, is not made clear by Halper."
Our response to that (although I am speaking only as someone who helped formulate the ODSC program, not as a formal representative or spokesperson) is not to get entangled in defining collectivities or their rights. I would say we agree with Aljamal & Co.'s statement that "all groups... should go about their business privately and within the law." That is precisely what we mean. A Constitution simply guarantees and protects your right to define yourself any way you like, more as an individual or more as part of a community, period. It removes from Parliament any ability to pass laws that discriminate against community, whoever they are. That's it. No defined "collectives," no special privileges, no ability to leverage domination over others. Why this protection, which every group in this country would want and which would allow us to move forward, is objectionable in a multicultural reality, I fail to understand.
Which is also why I can't understand Aljamal & Co.'s objection to the creation of a common civil society, the positive, constructive even exciting challenge that is at the heart of our vision of what can be created here. "We are also skeptical," they write, "about placing emphasis at this stage on what Halper writes of as 'reconciliation,' a 'new society,' 'mutual trust,' 'building a shared civil society' and even 'economic justice.'" If on the one hand you don't want to perpetuate ethno-national differences but seek a situation where all the inhabitants of historic Palestine (including returning refugees) live together as individuals, how would this work? What are your institutions? To say, as they do, that envisioning and planning for a future society is "biting off more than the ODS movement can chew" is precisely why we have failed to formulate a genuine political alternative. Indeed, they "suggest to other ODS supporters that we should also try switching the discourse from negative to positive," although by that they mean only considering "the positive rights of all the Palestinians."
There is much else, of course. Beyond positions -- which I submit are less fundamental than it would appear and often hinges on language alone, which is why we based our program on the ODS' Munich Declaration -- we must begin (and I mean begin) to formulate an effective strategy. The Munich Declaration was released in 2012, six years ago, but as Awad says, it failed to take off and become an influential public movement. We must move more rapidly to an operational phase. Unfortunately, many of us in the left are not sensitive to political moments as they arise. There is an urgency here. People continue to die, the suffering of the refugees only increases in Syria, Lebanon and now with Trump seeking to defund UNRWA altogether, house demolitions remain devastating, settlements expand and apartheid/Trump's "Plan" takes root, the PA is repressive and on the brink of collapse, the Palestinian issue is being marginalized even in the Arab world and many Palestinians are both desperate and disheartened, even as they continue to struggle. With all due respect to our declarations, programs internal discussions, the time has come to MOVE. We should, if we must, agree to disagree on certain matters, but mobilize ourselves towards an effective political movement. And such a movement must be led by Palestinians, supported by critical Israelis and endorsed by organizations and activists abroad. The day when we can all support Palestinian rights and their struggle without a political end-game should be over.
Thanks for your comments, Virginia, and for bringing some focus and useful SA comparisons to the discussion. (For those who don't know her work, Virginia Tilley wrote "The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock" back in 2005, when I, for one, was still warning that the two-stae solution was in danger). A couple of points:
1. Speaking for myself, I did not confuse "constitutional" with "consociational." The former is absolutely necessary, although its construction will determine to a large extent how democratic and egalitarian the new state will be, and will be the product of a lot of negotiation and compromise (What we are offering now is a vision and the outlines and basic principles of a political system that will hopefully carry some weight). Our ODSC program, in contrast to what Naji and Ofra propose, contains elements of consociationalism (national ethnic, religious, etc. identities are acknowledged and given their space), but these identities have no formal role in the political system. Thus our brand of consociationalism does not add up to bi-nationalism, which we reject.
2. Your discussion of the compatibility of a "national home" with a unitary state in which ethnic politics have no formal role is useful and similar, I think, to our concept. What complicates things here -- and introduces an element of competition and feelings of "turf" being threatened -- is that the Palestinian and /IsraeliJewish national homes entirely overlap, unlike the more discrete national homes of the Afrikaners, Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa and other African peoples. That is another reason why the notion of "collective rights" is useful as a middle-ground concept: it fits with the idea of a "national home" and thus legitimizes collective identities, which we think is crucial, since they cannot be suppressed or ignored. But collective rights are merely rights to be protected; they play no formal role in the political system and give no collective any privileges or power or formal status. At the same time it does recognize that individuals do not exist outside of collective identities, shifting as they may be.
Example: it would be naive to assume that there will be no ethnic politics in the new state. Even today there are parties, both in Palestine and Israel, which reflect religious, class and regional identities, and in Israel there are explicit ethnic politics even amongst Jews (Ashkenazi-, Mizrahi-, Russian-based parties). But cross-over is also possible. Some 18,000 Israeli Jews voted for the Joint Arab List in the last elections, while significant numbers of Palestinian citizens of Israel vote for the Zionist Labor Party (many Druze for the Likud as well), as well as for the right-wing Shas party which is seen as protecting Muslim and Christian as well as Jewish religious rights.
3. All this reflects different degrees of fluidity within the new society. Palestinian refugees when they return will, understandably, be VERY Palestinian for a generation or two, as, say, religious Zionists will remain VERY Israeli/Jewish. But a political system that is not bi- or multi-national, that protects collective rights to identity and association but does not give them any political status, allows another dynamic to work as well: the coming together into a new civil society, which was also the ANC's vision (recall Mandela's phrase: "We are all South Africans.") Younger people, in particular, plus the less religious and more middle-class at the beginning, will find much in common and will be inspired to make this exciting new one-state enterprise work, for all its difficulties. This is the nation-building element that Virginia mentions, and if it is not based on bi-nationalism but allows people to move comfortably between their own identities, traditions and institutions and those being created jointly with fellow citizens in the new civil polity, it represents an exciting challenge that brings everyone into the common effort. Just as today there is no civil difference between Afrikaners and Xosa in SA, so, too, will we find complex but workable ways of balancing collective identities, individual rights and common nation-building.
In Israel we have a saying: Just because we agree doesn't mean its the end of the argument. Besides the rhetoric, that pretty well sums up the differences between Naji and Ofra's vision of a single democratic state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River (representing The Popular Movement for One Secular Democratic State) and the one I put forth (representing in principle, if not on every detail, the program of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). While the vision of a single democratic state represents a radical, necessary and urgent departure from the irrelevancies of the two-state solution in all its variations, the details, emphases and language recall the arcane splits that divide and ultimately neutralize many initiatives of the Left, best lampooned in The Life of Brian as that between the "Judean People's Front" and the "People's Front of Judea."
The ODSC program I presented rests on three main principles:
1. While all the inhabitants of the country will continue to live there, plus the Right of Return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, all structures of domination and repression will be dismantled. As I wrote, our program states outright that "No group or collectivity will have any privileges, nor will any group, party or collectivity have the ability to leverage any control or domination over others." The new country (for which we do not have a name as yet, that will emerge in time) will be a constitutional democracy that guarantees absolute equal civil rights to all its citizens: one citizenship, one parliament, one civil society, no bi-nationalism.
2. Having said that, it is clear we also have to make provision for, and recognize, collective identities. Human beings do not exist as mere individuals; they "belong" to wider communities -- in fact, to many overlapping communities from broad categories like gender, class and national down to networks of like-minded people and on to tightly-knit communities of members. Some, like religion, span the entire continuum. Palestinians and Israeli Jews have been struggling for their national identities and rights for more than a century. Regardless of one's position on that, to ignore collective identities, the aspiration for self-determination, or to pretend they do not exist or are not relevant or legitimate, is simply to repress a vital element of our society -- ands a vital element of our society -- and repression doesn't exactly go with the democratic values we all claim to value.
The point is that social space must be allocated to these collective identities (which in fact go beyond Palestinians and Israeli Jews; our country also contains Druze, Bedouin, ethnic Russians, foreign workers who stay and, not least, 40,000 African asylum-seekers, many of who are already integrating into society -- a truly multi-cultural mix). Indeed, "Palestinian" is not a unitary community and Palestinians entertain a wide variety of sub-identities, views and experiences; neither are "Israeli Jews." Naji and Ofra conflate constitutional protection of collective rights with a bi-national system, which we explicitly reject. Unlike a bi-national system in which national rights and privileges are embedded in the political system, a democratic state that acknowledges and protects the right of peoples to their identities, cultures, forms of association and even narrative merely provides space for people to choose to what degree they want to remain within their cultural communities or mix -- with no privileges or ability to leverage that into domination, since the Constitution withholds from parliament the right to discriminate against any community, just as the American Constitution limits Congress' ability to pass unconstitutional laws.
Ofra fears -- and she has said this to me many times -- that allowing cultural or religious identities to survive will perpetuate "patriarchy." That is one reason why she so insistently supports a "secular" state, which we do as well. Our projected state is fundamentally secular -- Article 1 of our program lays "the authority to govern and make laws emanating from the consent of the governed" -- not on any religious or tribal law. The vast majority of Palestinians and the majority of Israel Jews are not secular; on the contrary. What do we do with that? Impose our own brand of secularism -- not very democratic even if we could actually do it? Assuming that we must bring into the political process as many people as possible, we are just trying to be smart. Why use the red-flag term "secular" when you can accomplish the same thing legally and structurally without alienating people? This Naji and Ofra apparently consider selling out. They denigrate "bargaining" with the public in favor of "political activism." I would call both communicating persuasively with the public AND focused political activism related forms of engagement, both of which are necessary for eventually creating the society we envision.
Ofra also seems to assume that patriarchy cannot arise in secular societies. China is an example of a society and state that is thoroughly, explicitly and aggressively secular, but is extremely patriarchal. Britain, on the other hand, is a country with a State Church (Anglican) but has made great strides towards gender equality, many of them advocated by the church itself, which supports both women's and LGQBT rights. There is no necessary correlation between religion, the state and patriarchy. Nor is there a necessary dichotomy between a "religious" state and a "secular" one. There are many gradations, and religion itself can be progressive or its teachings reigned in by countervailing laws, norms, etc. To take a single issue -- patriarchy and religion -- and base an entire process of trying to resolve a political conflict involving people with both strong religious and secular elements in their cultures on whether they conform to your idea of secularism, seems to me extremely narrow and, actually, a little scary. Who is going to enforce secularism, and in what ways?
3. The emphasis on collective rights rather than bi-nationalism allows yet another important development: the emergence of a common civil society. This is the heart of our program yet is overlooked by Naji and Ofra. The exciting, new, challenging, hopeful part of our program is not the dismantling of the present system of apartheid, but the vision of a new civil society that will emerge over generations of us all living together in equality. The Palestinian football (soccer) team is ranked internationally higher than Israel's. Together we, too, can qualify for the Mondial World Cup championship. This is the stuff common civil identities are made of, although they do not erase other identities as well. I can't believe that this is not a vision Naji and Ofra would embrace. Its good and important to focus on the problems and dangers of any political program -- and our is still in its early stages -- but not at the expense of losing the vision and the ability to restructure society in more egalitarian ways.
Lastly, how do we get there? Well, we need several things: a vision, a workable, just political plan, and organization, all of which we are well on the way to formulating, supported by hundreds of activist political groups and campaigns throughout the world. It is up to us, the stakeholders, led by our Palestinian partners, to give you abroad your marching orders, the direction and leadership you need for turning into effective advocates for a just solution. Then we need a strategy that fathoms the power dimensions both inside the country and abroad. Naji and Ofra seem to call for a strategy that challenges Israeli Jews. In my view, they will never be active partners, they are almost irrelevant. The best we can hope for is to soften them to the point where they will not resist the transition to democracy that will have to be imposed upon them. Therefore we have to mobilize our grassroots supporters internationally and conduct concentrated campaigns to change government policy from below. Linking Palestine to other issues -- how Israel exports technologies of repression to your own police and security forces, for example, or how Israel lobbies your government to water down human rights enforcement -- adds power to what otherwise be a single-issue struggle. It isn't. An effective Palestinian-critical Israeli-internatonal grassroots struggle with clear goals aimed at both affecting government policy and isolating Israel can be successful.
I was disappointed at the many comments to both our papers that poo-pooed our contention that a just and inclusive political settlement can be achieved despite the odds, Israel's considerable resources and the intransigence of the Israeli Jewish population. But that is not a political response. If we don't believe that radical envisioning, programs, organization and strategizes can make a difference, if we are satisfied with just doing some symbolic protest year after year, then we lose. I'm all for debating our different approaches (though I, too, would hope in a more collegial tone since we're all in this together). I'm not for losing.
Thanks to all for the comments on our ODSC one-state initiative. The truth is I wasn't asking for support -- at least yet -- since it is the stakeholder's role to formulate an acceptable political settlement and then recruit and mobilize all of you abroad to support us. Our formal launch in the Fall will be accompanied by a Call to support our program, and if we can mobilize a critical mass of Palestinians and Israelis behind our initiative, we expect organizations and individuals to heed it.
I want to address what I see as two fundamental misunderstandings about political change, especially obvious in the Palestine issue. First, the notion that seeking a political settlement is merely a "long-range" exercise that, to quote one of the respondents, "is diversionary and extraordinarily counterproductive," or "pie-in-the-sky" according to another. No one is suggestion suspending on the ground protests, BDS campaigns or any other form of resistance and attempt to influence government policy and public opinion. Many of us here in Palestine/Israel do that 24-7. But without a political end-game you are merely fighting a rear-guard action, allowing Israel and it allies to dictate where policy is going (towards permanent apartheid) and the repressive measures it must take to get there. The oppressor becomes the only pro-active force with a vision and a strategy, while we doom ourselves to reactive (and, to be honest, completely ineffective) protests and gestures of outrage. True, focusing on a political settlement and organizing towards it does not address the immediate crimes being perpetrated in Gaza -- again, we ALSO keep up the resistance -- but without it we are faced with decades of ongoing oppression, killing and displacement. The only effective push-back to oppression is a political plan to end it, and that is something we do not have today. Now it is not your responsibility abroad to formulate that plan and what you are doing to oppose the Occupation is necessary and important. But in the end your efforts must be in support of the stakeholders striving to end the oppression and not simply jumping from one outrage to another.
There have been 54,000 demolitions of Palestinian homes in the OPT since 1967. Every one should be protested, but that is impossible. So we rise one level to protest the POLICY of house demolitions, using specific instances as "hooks." Ultimately, however, demolitions, which are an integral part of the "judaization" of Palestine, will end only with a political settlement. When your member of Congress asks: OK, what do you want? - what do you answer? End the Occupation? Human rights? These are pieces of the puzzle, but a political end-game you can actually advocate for they do not make.
Which brings me to my second point. A "rights-based approach" to resolving the Palestine/Israel issue is not a political program. Human rights are not designed or intended to resolve political conflicts or unjust situations; they are merely (though crucially) GUIDELINES for resolving them. They provide parameters, not solutions or structures. BDS is a powerful and necessary tool, and it is one of the few instruments at the disposal of people abroad who want to support the Palestinian cause and keep the issue on the international agenda. But in the final analysis BDS is a tool that must be linked to an end-game. Its three principles, again, do not a political program make. (The three principles themselves are out-dated; formulated 2 years ago, they suppose a two-state solution, being based on the dichotomy of occupation on one side and equal rights within Israel on the other - but that is a matter for another discussion.) Our one-state plan may not be the only or even the best political end-game, but it fills a political vacuum that, if just filled with protest activity and BDS, will not significantly alter the situation.
So where do we go from here? Well, our ODSC program is a work-in-progress; I only presented the outlines of our thinking. There's a lot more work to be done among Palestinians and Israelis before we can present an actual plan. And then there's the need to develop an effective strategy for implementing it. This will not be easy and, its true, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis will oppose it, just as the majority of whites in South Africa would not have pro-actively supported the end of apartheid or the whites in the American South would have voluntarily dismantled Jim Crow. We're not naive, but as those and many other examples show, once unthinkable social change is in fact possible with a clear and just political vision and plan, effective organization and strategy. To dismiss a difficult political struggle as "pie-in-the-sky" is not only an anti-political view, it actually works to perpetuate the crimes and oppression. So we have begun to strategize -- I know that is a missing piece I what I wrote -- but we're still in the early stages.
(I have to say that, unlike the Right, we of the Left tend to marginalize ourselves. Maybe we don't really believe we can be political actors and so we satisfy ourselves with sputtering rage and reactive protests that don't take up too much of our time, rather than jumping aggressively into the political arena like the Right does. At the height of the Sixties -- 1968 -- Nixon was elected. So much for demonstrative politics vs grassroots organizing. But, again, that's a discussion for another time.)
Envision, plan, organize and strategize. Those, I would argue, should be at the core of our collective discussion.
As difficult as it may be, we (Palestinians and Israelis) cannot begin to achieve a just and workable political settlement without just that: a POLITICAL program. We can make the best case in the world around oppression, occupation, apartheid, violations of IHL and human rights, settler colonialism and the violence Israeli actions and policies have done to Judaism itself, we can offer rights-based guidelines (like the 3 principles of BDS: end the occupation, right of return and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, but without an actual political plan we really have nothing concrete to advocate FOR. Human rights and IHL (international humanitarian law) are important, but (1) they have no enforcement power except for moral authority in the court of public opinion, which is important but insufficient, and (2) they do constitute a political program.
Unless and until we formulate TOGETHER, Palestinians and progressive Israelis, a clear and detailed vision of how indeed we plan construct a society that addresses our fundamental and joint needs, we will remain in the realm of protest, resistance, advocacy, but not the political resolution of the "conflict." You cannot be in a political struggle without an end-game (what are we BDS-ing for?). I wish we would stop talking about a two-state "solution." Keeping that illusion alive just muddies the waters and prevents us from moving on. One democratic state that protects the collective rights of each people is a positive win-win resolution that both conforms to human rights/IHR and addresses the needs of equal rights and self-determination within the framework of a single state WHICH ALREADY EXISTS, albeit in an apartheid form.
Unless we move soon to becoming a genuinely political movement we and the entire Palestinian issue will become ever more sidelined and marginal. We must decide jointly if we are going to become political actors fighting FOR a just political settlement or continue as advocates for human rights that are due us, to be sure, but which have little traction in the real world of politics. The problem, of course, is that is no "we," not effective movement of Palestinians and Israelis mobilizes behind a common vision, plan and strategy. That, not less than the plan itself, is another essential element in our winning the struggle.
We have a lot of work to do, and time is not on our side.