Excellent piece, makes a great package with the comments.
Just one technical point regarding the line: [Israel's] admission to the United Nations in 1948 was based on its claim to only the 1948 armistice line, which does not include Jerusalem or any other part of the West Bank."
Would that this were true. The UNGA resolution recommending Israel's admission to the UN cited commentary that included recognition that no final boundaries had been set. In those debates, in 1949, the representative of Lebanon, C Malik, objected that: "To admit Israel before it had given up territories which had not been allotted to it by the Assembly's decision was equivalent to giving it a blank cheque to draw its frontiers wherever it wished. In effect, it meant condoning, by a solemn act of the United Nations, the right of conquest. Moreover, such a decision would be prejudicial to the negotiations on the demarcation of boundaries now in progress under the supervision of the Conciliation Commission." The Zionist representative had no real answer to this, arguing only that recognizing Israel would facilitate negotiations about such things. See A/AC.24/SR.45 of 5 May 1949.
At the time, Israel was indeed holding land within the Armistice Line, but this line wasn't mentioned in either the GA or SC resolutions.
Also, the comparison to Indian reservations is apt and haunting, but it's also important to remember that Ariel Sharon made repeated visits to South Africa during his tenure as Housing Minister and, according to South African officials there, consistently asked about the Bantustans. The 1995 Oslo Accord later established terms for the Palestinian Authority that replicated the Bantustan constitutions very closely, right down to the name -- in South Africa, "Bantu Self-Government Authorities."
I’m a little puzzled by some of these comments.
Sure, I too was bemused that Dr. Harel apparently thought Israel was doing okay as long as it was dominated by the secular “liberal” Judaism and its Enlightenment principles that he shares. It's bewildering that this vision overlooks so blandly the Nakba, the occupation, and all the horrors committed under secular-Jewish Zionist leaderships. Much like the odd idea that Israel would have been fine if it hadn’t been for that darned 1967 war and the occupation where Israel “lost its soul.”
Still, I suggest that Dr. Harel be warmly thanked for this editorial because it really does represent a tremendous paradigm shift. Two points here. First, he and others of his "liberal" community (the term always requires scare quotes in this context) are recognizing that the Palestinian problem isn’t going away, that it’s horrible, that Israel must change profoundly, and that this change may well extend to Israel’s becoming a fully secular state for all its citizens. That’s a massive step, and a courageous one on a personal as well as professional level. That it’s hard for him fully to peel out of his previous understanding of Israel is to be expected. How many of us can drop a whole realm of thought, whole cloth, in one leap? I still meet tons of “leftists” who rage about specific US foreign policies but still treat them as aberrations, not having grasped that the US, far more often than not, the bad guy on the world stage. Such revelations move in increments. And apparently Dr. Harel has already gone far down that tortuous road.
Second, Dr. Harel’s editorial signals something I suggested back in 2005: the fissure opening in Jewish-national unity. The political Zionism gluing Israel together has always depended on plastering over deep divisions among Jews about what a Jewish state should be like. If that “national pact” breaks down, then Israel won’t be able to claim to be the “state of the Jewish people.” The way things are going, it will be the “state of the Orthodox Jews.” Israel can’t survive without its US and European Hasbara lobbies securing its income, trade privileges, etc., and the great majority of American Jews are Reform or Progressive … or secular. Ironically, this is one reason why Israel has to keep building the settlements - to keep the fundamentalist territorialists in the fold. This editorial signals that a major chunk of Israel’s claimed "national" constituency is calving off. As I read him, Dr. Harel is ready to let Israel go and embrace true democracy and equality. That’s a huge step, a principled one, and one likely to bring penalties down on him. I personally respect and welcome it. I'd like to hear more from him.
Puzzles: I don’t know what Danaa means by “this scheme.” If Dr. Harel has a scheme, it would seem to be a secular democratic state. What’s wrong with that? Maybe I lost the thread. Also, to Danaa: sweepingly negating the sense of ethnic community shared by Jews through the centuries really isn’t helpful, I don’t think. If people feel such affinity, that’s all such identities are. It’s not sufficient – or even ethical, in my book -- for someone else to presume superior authority over the matter and shout “false consciousness!” Jews in the US, Europe and elsewhere experience Jewish identity as a communal one, sometimes a very powerful communal one. In sum, I suggest leaving Jewish community to one side. In itself, it's not relevant here: what’s relevant is whether one conceives of Jewishness, or any identity, as having a license to oppress others.
Marnie: Not sure what you mean by the death knell and Israeli pain. His whole editorial seems to be aiming at the problem that Israel isn’t being made to feel any pain, and should be. Could you please clarify?
Stephen: Good point about Hamas. Supporting data: surveys have always found OPT Palestinian support for an Islamic state running under 4 percent.
RoHa: Fully agree about that god-awful cringe-worthy singing in Australian supermarkets.
The point being, exactly? Are you saying that the entire South Africa transition is a failure due to land reform problems? That democracy brings crime and therefore should be avoided? Or just that the transition has problems? Sure it has problems. Big ones. I'm just not sure what you're trying to say, regarding Palestine.
Taking these in turn:
Land reform has been a huge problem forever, since the Dutch settlers first expropriated all the good farming land from the indigenous Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana and other black African farming societies. The revolution promised that most of this land would be returned, but the ANC government dragged its feet on this until it was confronted by mass protest (South Africa is the most vigorous democracy I've ever seen). Now it's catching up.
The Parliamentary decision to take land without compensation remains highly controversial, of course. But it will be applied to unused land. White farmers hold vast tracts they aren't using. The law provides appeal processes to determine this.
White farmers have suffered from periodic invasions and attacks by criminal black gangs or wandering thugs for decades. This pattern greatly worsened with the sudden decompression of repression of millions of black people in the Bantustans and from a flood of pan-African immigration into the country, some of it criminal, following the economic boom. (Prior to that, white farmers happily exploited cheap black labor and freely terrorized black people as they liked.) One first effect of the transition was a terrible crime explosion, which hasn't been solved and plagues the quality of life for whites and blacks alike. Would this happen in Palestine? I think it could, if not so badly. The town and village culture in Palestine is still mostly intact, with all its social fabric. But as refugee populations return, they will bring with them the drug and criminal networks operating in the refugee camps.. SA offers a cautionary tale for planning in this respect.
Re failed black farms on small plots provided through land reform: This is a tiny sliver of the economy, but still an important thing to consider. Among many incompetencies of the ANC government has been a failure to develop proper agricultural outreach and support services for new farmers. Most land reform around the world, in fact, fails due to small plot-holders lacking the necessary capital, inputs, knowledge and skills to make small farms work. The first effect of land reform is often that small privatized plots are sold to large landholders, which is just what we see to SA. And land reform will certainly fail in SA if no special effort is made to help smallholders and middle-holders succeed. The ANC elite has bungled ag outreach like they bungled a lot of things. A new Palestine government would face the same challenges, especially with refugee return and small farmers needing a lot of help learning how to run small businesses in the new national economy.
I actually didn't meet a lot of poor rural black people in South Africa who wanted to be farmers, however.. In fact, I can't think of one, during my HSRC work in Limpopo province. They know how hard farming is. They wanted wage jobs, and better wage jobs. Hence the economic boom has centered in the cities, bringing other problems - exploding traffic burdens, huge housing needs, etc. Hopefully, now that the Zuma bloc is out of power or at least damaged, some better policies can come into play.
What I take from this? Try not to let a unified Palestine be run by the PLO and its crony elite. The PLO was completely corrupted under Arafat's rule and the PA remains a mafioso operation, with little grasp of most governing responsibilities. Land reform regarding the settlement blocs is absolutely essential, but considerable support will be needed for people returning to expropriated land. That kind of thing.
Well, about South Africa, that's not right. For one thing, political economy was certainly not "ignored." It was very greatly debated, not least because it was central to the Freedom Charter and the expectations of everyone who had struggled against apartheid on the basis of it. It was therefore a great disappointment to the leftists, particularly the communists, that white assets weren't forcibly reallocated to the black population on whose backs they had been built. This was a strategic decision by the ANC to allow the transition to work by keeping whites in the game. With the benefit of hindsight, I think they were probably right - the country avoided a conflagration and the deal laid the basis for a slower process of correction. But it's entirely natural that it would be resented, particularly regarding land reform.
For another, the constitution provides for affirmative action. The government invested billions of rand into new housing, electrification, potable water, roads, schools, business training, etc., etc. There have been extensive pro-poor development projects and lots of inputs into small, micro and medium sized enterprises. The oft-cited BBB (Black Economic Empowerment) project was just one tiny part of all this, but it did contribute significantly to the growth of a black business class. Of course there's been quite a lot of waste in all this (I reported on some of that, in my job), and some corruption, which is lamentable but I suggest we consider inevitable in such situations. And as the years went by, the Zuma camp took over and most of that work turned into enriching a self-interested elite, to rising disgust. There's been a lot of struggle, and publicity, about that. But if you visit South Africa today you find booming great cities populated entirely by black South Africans, running businesses of all sizes. Studies of the poorest sector find a kind of "churning" as people move up and down between the formal and informal sector. The top sector is increasingly populated by black South Africans. Everything in between is black-owned and black-run. The main problems in Johannesburg today include the traffic, which is so massive (as the main way to get to the other big cities is by car) that endless highway building projects can't keep up.
The idea that the revolution was betrayed and whites retained all economic power has two problems to it. It's based on a certain way of measuring economic activity, which is to go by investers and stockowners. The vast majority of black South Africans don't own stock, so this method renders their economic activity invisible. Second, it's greatly exaggerated. There's much more black participation than the "white retained all economic power" line accounts for. And there's a real problem in outside perceptions. When I lived there (2005-2011), the usual response of white South Africans who fled the country in 1995 and came back for a visit was jaw-dropping astonishment at the country's growth. I remember hearing one guy on a plane saying to his wife, "If I'd known what was going on here I wouldn't have left."
What's really curious is that this socio-economic reality is so little known outside the country. All you hear about in the international press are the complaints. I think this is at least partly because Israel is very anxious to push the South African case as a failure.
Coming in late, I've read this debate with great interest. Aside from some frayed tempers (to which, I hasten to say, I'm also vulnerable in this area), I think this debate is great, maybe the best I've seen. Not much to add except a couple of endorsements and a little technical stuff.
First, I come down firmly on the side that national identities are regularly reconstructed as conditions change, a point both widely observable and well-theorized (by Anthony Smith, among others, for you scholars out there). The South African experience is the exemplar in this respect, being the closest in character to the Palestine situation, in my view. The ODS project is, in this sense, a nation-building project, aiming to redefine Palestine as a "country for all who live in it", to borrow from South Africa's Freedom Charter.
Second, in the original article here, I suspect a confusion between "constitutional democracy" and "consociational democracy". Maybe a short discussion of these terms will help debate. Almost all democracies have a constitution (the UK being among the rare exceptions). Constitutions simply lay out how the government works, and establish certain principles and aims to guide its interpretation, provide for certain specific human and civil rights, etc. I can't see any obstacle to the ODS being a constitutional democracy - in fact, in the Palestine case, it would hard to imagine any successful transition that didn't involve writing a new one that could gain consensus.
(Re consensus, of course Jewish Israelis are far from considering this now. I also support the point that this can't be taken as determining anything: they must simply (or not so simply) be leveraged into doing so. I don't see this happening unless the status quo, which presently gives Jewish Israelis great security and a peaceful lifestyle, is radically disrupted. In South Africa, this was done by making the state ungovernable, through a pincer effect: BDS on the international front, and mass demonstrations and strikes on the internal front. Squeezed on both sides, the apartheid government lost both morale and control of the situation, and then and only then did they go to the table to talk alternatives. In Palestine, the BDS movement is taking off. The Gaza Great March of Return is an example of the internal side. So far, the PA and Israel's network of spies and saboteurs has stifled a West Bank response, but the timer on that suppression is ticking.)
"Consociational" refers to democracies set up to allow formal representation by groups, often ethnic or religious groups. Binationalism fits here. Lebanon's system, with its allotted offices and parliamentary representation proportions for Sunnis, Shia and Christians, is another example. I think this is what writers here mean when they argue against it, and I heartily agree. Consociationalism gives incentives for ethnic politics, which fragment countries. The Lebanese system led eventually to horrible civil war. The South African 1995 constitution banned ethnic politics and parties altogether, except in providing space for the country's 12 languages and actions for "historically disadvantaged individuals". Reading that constitution might be a useful exercise.
By these criteria, binationalism is untenable. The point that Palestinians have always rejected it is one factor. But it would also perpetuate or create those deadly ethnic politics that would sustain the conflict in a new form. Plus, since Israel has been found to be an apartheid state, no version of apartheid can be allowed to survive because this would sustain a crime against humanity. (This is why a two-state solution would be illegal.)
I'd also just note that "secular" doesn't have the same meaning among some Palestinians from Gaza with whom I've discussed it. They think "secular" means "anti-religious", not religiously neutral. Putting the term "secular" forward with some very clear explanations about what it means would help greatly on this point, I think. (An example is the USA, which is constitutionally secular/neutral on religion, but where religious life is the strongest among all the developed countries.)
Finally, I suggest moving away from taking the 1947 Partition Plan expressed in UNGA Resolution 181 as the point of departure. It was an anomaly in the history of the conflict, its terms much manipulated in the UN at the time by the United States. A great (if not mandatory) read in this respect is the 1947 recommendation of the Arab states, who were forced into a separate "Second Subcommittee," who called for one state (their statement is reproduced in full in Walid Khalidi's From Haven to Conquest, in a chapter unfortunately labelled "Binationalism"). Highly recommended, this document includes some draft constitutional passages.
Much more interesting and important than the Partition Resolution, in my view, are the terms of the 1922 Mandate itself. Yes, it provided for a Jewish national home and the role of the Jewish Agency. But even at the time, the British made clear that this wasn't to mean a Jewish state. Palestine was to be a secular nation-state. Obsessing over its not mentioning the "political" rights of the "non-Jews" misses the point: everyone living there was to have Palestinian citizenship. It's in this geography, and legal framework, that the ODS makes best sense. Palestine is a state wrongfully divided by a racist doctrine. Healing that offense means reuniting Palestine as the unitary nation-state it was originally meant to be.
A "national home" is a blurry thing in any case. It can mean no more than a place where people congregate to have and develop a language, cultural practices and a thought community. The Afrikaners have such a "national home" in South Africa to this day. In fact, they have more Afrikaans literature, film and cultural events than they did under apartheid. But in politics, they must aggregate their interests with other groups into non-ethnic parties. The Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa and other African peoples also have "national homes" in this respect. Rethinking the Jewish national home is therefore essential to the ODS, I suggest. A JNH isn't necessarily inconsistent with an ODS as long as it doesn't accord special civil rights.
Just a few ideas - hope they are helpful.