By Robin Yassin-Kassab
‘I do not hate (Israelis) for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation. It is difficult to forget what was done to us. But if the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible. But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about 67 or 48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.’ — Said Sayyam, martyred in Gaza January 2009, to Ha’aretz, November 1995.
All Palestine is controlled by Zionism. The Palestinians (not counting the millions in exile) are half the population of Israel-Palestine, but they are victims of varying degrees of apartheid. The Jewish state has already lost its Jewish majority, and is more hated by the Arab peoples than at any time in its brief, violent history. Let’s take it as given that continuation of the present situation is untenable for everyone concerned. We need a solution.
There are four solutions. The first is for the Arabs to push the Jews into the sea. On the surface this seems like a reasonably just solution. It is, after all, what the Algerians and Vietnamese did with the French, what the Kenyans and Indians did with the British, what the Chinese did with the Japanese: they expelled their oppressive colonist class in order to achieve national independence. In the Palestinian context, all Jews who arrived with the waves of Zionist invasion would be sent home. And this is what most Palestinians understood by the ‘democratic secular state’ which the PLO called for until the 1980s.
There are two problems. The first is that most Israeli Jews don’t have a home to be sent to. They captured their colony not only out of desire for plunder, but also out of the trauma of displacement and genocide. Several generations of Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews have now been born in the colony. They have their own distinct culture and national identity. In these respects they are similar to the Afrikaans-speaking Boers of South Africa, to contain whom the British invented the concentration camp.
The second problem with the Swimming Jews Solution is that ‘the Jewish state’ possesses a vast fleet of war planes, massive financial, political and military support from the rich white world, and nuclear bombs. It is quite impossible for any combination of Arab or Muslim forces to physically annihilate the settlers without large chunks of the Arab world also being annihilated.
The second solution is called in Israel ‘transfer’. It means pushing the Arabs into the sea. This solution is difficult to distentangle from the present situation, as a slow ethnic cleansing – through destruction of homes, disruption of education, massacres, land confiscation, theft of water resources – has continued after the mass expulsions of 47/ 48 and 67. The ‘transfer’ solution involves another mass expulsion, of the Palestinians in the ‘occupied territories’ or of those in ‘Israel proper’, or of both. Open proponents of transfer now have more seats in the Knesset than the Labour Party. (This means that the ‘centre-left’ of the Israeli spectrum is occupied by those responsible for the Gaza massacre.) Avigdor Lieberman’s ‘no loyalty, no citizenship’ slogan points to Zionism’s growing discomfort with its existential demographic crisis. Inside ‘Israel proper’ Palestinians are 20% of the population, and more fertile than the Jewish population. If circumstances (such as a major regional war) permit, these Arabs could be driven out. If circumstances don’t permit, the Jewish state will have to intensify its concentration of these people and turn partial into total disenfranchisement. The heads of Likud, Labour and Kadima all called for Arab parties to be banned from the recent elections. The high court didn’t allow it this time, but it’s a sign of things to come. It goes without saying that a further mass expulsion will be vigorously resisted by all forces in the region. It is unlikely that even Zionised America would stand for it.
Disenfranchisement and the concentration of populations into ghettos brings us to the third solution: partition. And this looks like the consensus solution. Olmert, Barak and Livni support it. All the Arab states support it. George Bush and Tony Blair support it. Liberal ‘peace activists’ the world over support it. Abbas and Dahlan support it. Since the late 80s the PLO and then the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly declared that they would accept a state on 22% of Palestine. Hamas too has repeatedly expressed its willingness to abide by any solution accepted by the people, and has said specifically that the conflict would become ‘cultural’ if the occupation of the territories captured in 1967 ends.
22% of their own country. Has any other people throughout history made such a compromise? But the best the Palestinians have ever been offered (at Camp David 2) was 16%. According to Ali Abunimah, the Israeli offer:
“…depicted a Palestinian ‘state’ in 76.6% of the West Bank, broken into pieces, with all the major settlements remaining in place under Israeli sovereignty. Israel would annex 13.3% outright and continue to occupy the remaining 10.1% for a period of up to thirty years, during which time there would be no restriction on Israel continuing to build settlements and infrastructure….It should be noted that even before these percentages were calculated, the Israelis already subtracted East Jerusalem and the territorial waters of the Dead Sea, so, in fact, the 76% offer was based not on 100% of the occupied territories, but only on those parts that Israel was prepared to discuss. Leaving aside the disjointed nature of this ‘state’, its territory would amount to just 16% of historic Palestine..”
When Arafat turned this down, Israelis including the pretend peace camp, with the help of Bill Clinton and the western media, trotted out the old propaganda line about the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Everyone that mattered agreed that there would never again be such a generous Israeli offer. The unofficial Beilin/Yasser Abd Rabbo Geneva Plan – which excited liberal peacelovers so much – didn’t dramatically change the shape of the imagined ‘state’: Palestinian cities would be cramped between annexed settlement blocks and so would have no room for growth. Palestinians would have non-sovereign autonomy over little bits, following the South African bantustan model. Whatever the rhetoric, every partition plan centres on securing Palestinian agreement to bantustan autonomy.
There will never be two sovereign states peacefully coexisting between the Jordan and the sea. Gaza – cramped behind a wall, impoverished and traumatised, cut off from its natural markets – is a better image of what the two state solution would look like.
Partition would involve tremendous pain for both Jews and Arabs. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers would have to be moved. Jews would never be able to live next to their holy sites on the West Bank. (The West Bank has far greater historical and religious significance to Jews than the coastal plain where the Jewish population is currently concentrated). Palestinian refugees would never be able to return to their villages and cities in the Jewish state.
Even if the will was there, a viable partition is no longer possible. Israel-Palestine has one highly integrated transport and water infrastructure. It’s a great infrastructure; the problem is that many roads are for Jews only, and the water for settler swimming pools rather than for Palestinians to drink.
And even if partition was possible, if there was a sovereign state on all of the 67 lands and no return of refugees to Israel proper, Israel’s demographic crisis would continue to grow. Even with two states, solution number two, the transfer solution, would become inevitable.
Unless we think creatively – which means thinking beyond the dominant forms of Zionism. It means thinking of the fourth solution, which is in fact the only solution: one binational state, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians have equal rights and responsibilities, in which both Arab and Jewish histories and identities are respected and protected. It’s hard to imagine, but we can start by thinking of Israel-Palestine as it is now, but without walls, fences and checkpoints, without Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, without discriminatory laws. The state would still house a thriving Hebrew culture, but it would also allow a Levantine Arab culture to fully express itself.
Israeli Jews worry that, as a minority, they would be oppressed or expelled. The answer is that the constitution of the state would have to guarantee communal as well as individual rights. The constitution could in turn be guaranteed by the United Nations and a collection of superpowers. An American threat of force to defend a democratic constitution would make a lot more sense than current American threats to defend apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
It isn’t easy for a settler society to get over its fear of the oppressed. F. W. de Klerk said,
“For white South Africans acceptance of a one-man, one-vote solution evoked very much the same fears and reaction that could be expected from Israelis were they ever asked to consign their fate to a one-man, one-vote election in a greater Israel/ Palestine in which they would be heavily outnumbered.”
But still in South Africa the settler society, when faced with native resistance and international sanctions, managed to confront its fears and to move to a better future.
Israeli Jews may also worry that Palestinians intend to build an Islamic state. After all, didn’t the Palestinians vote for Hamas? This fear betrays ignorance of the Palestinian people, who voted for Hamas in protest against Fatah’s corruption and collaboration with the occupation. Many Palestinians are strict Muslims, but opinion polls show that only 3% support the establishment of an authoritarian Islamic state. Hamas knows this, which is why it has made no moves to impose sharia law since it came to power. In any case, if Islamist ideas strengthen in the future, creative thinking offers ways of allowing religious and secular, Islamic and Jewish communities to coexist. There are already three education systems available to Israeli Jews: secular, orthodox and ultra-orthodox.
Before Zionism, not very long ago, relations between Jews and Arabs were generally good. Sometimes Arab sectarianism targetted Jews (and sometimes Shia and other groups), but the more representative story is of Jews living safely and prosperously in the Arab world. Nothing remotely resembling Hitler’s racist genocide or the Russian pogroms happened to Arab Jews. On several occasions Arab and Muslim powers gave sanctuary to Jews fleeing European persecution. Even after the bitterness of this conflict, Jews and Arabs could be friends again, and more than friends. A state with a large and powerful Jewish population would no more offend its Arab neighbours than a state with a large and powerful Christian population (Lebanon) or a large and powerful Shia population (Iraq). And once Palestinians receive the rights they deserve, they will have no reason to be angry and resentful. Recognise them as equals, seek to understand them, and your fear will dissolve.
(This was a response to Ali Abunimah’s excellent little book "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.")
– Robin Yassin-Kassab’s first novel The Road From Damascus was recently published by Hamish Hamilton and Penguin. He is also the co-editor of Pulsemedia.org. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his blog.