By Sam Leibowitz and Mazin Qumsiyeh
As the endless negotiations between Israeli government and Palestinian Authority officials regurgitate old arguments while making no progress, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians are paying attention to other solutions than the supposed "two-state" outcome. They focus on the "one-democratic-state" solution—a proposal to establish a single, democratic and secular state in the area known as Israel/Palestine.
The concept of coexistence in a bi-national or one secular democratic state, granting equal rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion, is worthy of critical consideration. It is not a new concept. In the early days of the Zionist movement, it was promoted by Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, and Rabbi Judah Leib Magnes, who argued vociferously against a “Jewish state”. It was also a political position adopted by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in its more visible days, and by some Israeli parties in the 1950s.
Although it did not garner significant support in past decades, the idea has received new interest with the collapse of the Oslo process, and recently it has been the subject of books, research papers and conferences.
In the past eight years, over a dozen books were published, analysing carefully why a single democratic state is the only durable solution. They show that the two peoples would benefit a great deal more if they shared the resources of the land together within a democratic framework.
From every aspect – sociologically, economically, environmentally and security – Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if they learn to live together in a secular country, with a constitution modelled after the American one, guaranteeing civil liberties and separation of state from religion.
Certainly, it will be no easy feat to educate the two societies, after decades of war, oppression, colonisation and violence, to respect the human and civil rights of the other. Perhaps the most pressing obstacle is the perception within Israeli society that a single, democratic state poses a threat to the Jews living in Israel/Palestine. However, establishing a shared homeland for Israelis and Palestinians based on civil rights does not mean “the elimination of Israel,” as some politicians believe, any more than similar transformations in South Africa meant the elimination of South Africa. It will rather transform Israel, but this will be a positive transformation, repairing truly destructive aspects of present-day Israel and producing a new and better country.
Today’s Israel has failed to uphold the best of Jewish values; it has, in fact, perverted them by making Judaism an adjunct of a discriminatory and brutal state ideology. An Israel that is really true to the best of Jewish values cannot be exclusively Jewish. It is a strange but manifestly true irony that for Judaism and Israel to become really compatible, Israel must become a democratic, equalitarian and tolerant place.
Most commentators think that the removal of the 450,000 Israeli settlers currently living in the area of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) slated for a tiny Palestinian state is not feasible. But even if this issue is resolved, there are other, far more daunting, obstacles to the mythological “two-state” solution.
Israeli and Palestinian researchers have shown that only a single, democratic state, guaranteeing civil liberties to all its citizens and providing economic opportunity to its communities, can accommodate a just solution to the otherwise intractable refugee problem.
A democratic, secular state divested of national religious components will provide the sustainable framework needed for integrating the returning Palestinian refugees while, at the same time, allowing Israel to continue to thrive economically and technologically. Undoubtedly, it is also the best guarantee of security and peace for both societies.
Rather than engage in convening futile peace conferences that ignore human rights obligations and international law, politicians and policy makers would do well to get us all (Israelis and Palestinians) to sit down and start drafting a constitution that provides for joint security and economic development, and guarantees civil liberties to all. That is the real roadmap to a durable and just peace.
-Sam Leibowitz is an Israeli civil rights attorney and a graduate of American University Washington College of Law LL.M. programme in international law. Mazin Qumsiyeh a is professor at Bethlehem University and the author of the book Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle. (This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the Jordan Times – November 5, 2008)