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.