by Blake Alcott
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
Many people who support equal rights for Palestinians also support some version of a two-state solution in historic Palestine, or are at least open to the idea of two states side by side. The simple point of this essay is that all two-state solutions are Zionist solutions and should therefore be rejected: if one of the states is Palestine, the other is the existing, ethnocratic Jewish state in Palestine. A Zionist state with everything that entails.
Before 1948 two-state proposals were known as Partition. British Mandatory Palestine was a single political entity, and why break it up? Non-Zionist Jews, Moslems and Christians had lived there together for centuries, and breaking it up could only be to establish a sovereign, ethnically-defined Jewish state peopled mainly by European immigrants. Had indigenous Palestinians been polled, a huge majority would have rejected the preposterous project.
Partition was fact between 1948 and 1967, when the West Bank was part of Jordan and Gaza part of Egypt, but since 1967 one single state is fact. The Zionist state rules over all of Palestine. Two-state advocacy by pro-Palestinians in this context has been an attempt to wrench at least part of Palestine out of the hands of the Jewish state, but leaving the rest either temporarily or permanently Zionist. Two-state advocacy is thus acceptance of the Zionist entity.
The imagined Palestinian state has been shrunken, cut up, and turned into a lot of open-air prisons, leaving the Zionist goal of Eretz Israel from the river to the sea unfulfilled only in its desire to be Araberrein. In recent years, therefore, the main pro-Palestinian argument against the two-state solution has been that no conceivable state is ‘viable’: too small at maximum 15% of Palestine 1947; not contiguous since Gaza and the West Bank are separated and the West Bank itself is an archipelago; without sovereignty over borders, infrastructure and air space; and without al-Quds. A few Bantustans, in short: a bad joke.
But again, there is this second – sufficient, older, and more important – reason against two-states, namely that it cements the fundamental injustice of a Jewish state on Palestinian land.
Tried and tested fighters for Palestinian rights can of course conclude that nothing more is in the cards, or that the costs of more in death and imprisonment are too high. Even as a permanent solution it can be bitterly swallowed while muttering that it is a poor compromise.
There are also those who see the two states as a temporary solution, as a stage in the battle for a single secular, democratic state. Some of these are soft Zionists with great sympathy for Palestinian rights and dignity such as Noam Chomsky, Oren Yiftachel or Charles Manekin. Within this broad tradition are various concepts of confederation or bi-nationalism, often compromising on the Right of Return. Before the colony’s establishment by the UN through Resolution 181 such bi-national thought culminated in 1947 with the concrete proposals of Judah Magnes and the IHUD group.
However plausible such indirect, complicated scenarios may or may not be, they all at least initially embrace the second of the two states – the Zionist one. Its injustices remain: its racist definition of itself, its apartheid, its continuing ethnic cleansing, and its rejection of the Right of Return. In other words, since agreeing to two states means recognising the Jewish state, it means accepting these injustices. As Amos Oz said, two states means ‘offering Israel the security guarantees it will need in return for renouncing the occupied territories.’ This, probably, is to chisel Israel in stone.
Statehood bids such as are now underway do not, strictly speaking, imply a two-state solution. They can be tactics for increased dignity, access to international courts, and in general the chance to fight as a formally equal state. As long as such a strategy avoids recognition of Israel and doesn’t compromise on the Right of Return, it can remain in rejection of two-state solutions.
Otherwise, the danger is that a recognised Zionist state would be even harder to bring to the negotiating table than the unrecognised, increasingly shunned one we now have to work on. If so, accepting two states would be a shot in the foot.
Of course this second, Zionist state, on 85 or 90% of historic Palestine, could transform itself in the direction of citizenship and equality for all residents – with a lot of encouragement from boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). It would give up its ‘Jewish’ adjective and become a standard-issue democracy. But if the first, smaller, non-Jewish state were also secular and democratic, what would speak against merging them forthwith, ending Partition? We might as well have gone straight for one good state in the first place, one that moreover would finally bring security to Jewish Palestinians.
If you answer ‘Yes’ to two questions, you have embraced one state rather than two: Should Israel-the-existing-state be transformed into a real democracy? Should Palestinian refugees’ right to return be honored 100%? If this is your stance, partition on ethnic lines makes no sense.
If this argument for the older, simpler anti-Zionist position has any merit, the neutral position in the one-state/two-states debate of organisations like BDS, the British PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign) and JfJfP (Jews for Justice for Palestinians) is actually pro-Zionist by virtue of its openness to a lingering or even eternal Jewish state. These groups join the Quartet (Russia, US, EU and UN) and a large part of the PA (Palestinian Authority) in countenancing, in principle, a racist state on land belonging to other people.
It by the way seems to me a disservice to the memory and honour of the African National Congress when organisations that are neutral on this question and thus open to a Zionist state hold up the South African struggle as their template. The ANC did not entertain thoughts of partition. It had a simple, human-rights message.
Anything but blanket rejection of two states is moreover a diversion that strengthens the dominant discourse of ‘occupation’ in 1967 terms. This discourse diverts our attention not only from the apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the remaining Zionist state, but also from a deeper, oroginal root: the murders, expulsions and land theft since 1948 coupled with prohibition of return.
The Right of Return, enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, illustrates the problem. Unless the envisioned two-state solution (somehow) accomodates ROR it contradicts the aim of upholding Palestinians’ rights. ROR is the sine qua non of any vision of justice. I believe, moreover, that it should be envisioned concretely. The land or homes to be returned to are or were in what is officially now Israel. The numbers of refugees with the Right are so high that there is no room for them in the archipelago that would be passing itself off as Palestine. Therefore any one-state solution that recognises both the ROR and the right of Jewish immigrants to remain should be marked by extremely tough bargaining on behalf of the refugees’ rights.
The Right of Return for those now outside historic Palestine is the third of the three goals of the 2005 call to boycott and ostracise Israel sent out by around 170 Palestinian NGOs. The other two goals aim at justice for Palestinians in areas occupied in 1967 and for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. While to me it is clear that a single, democratic state follows logically from these three BDS goals, BDS and other mainstream pro-Palestinian groups remain contradictorily open to two states.
Again, one can assume that an Israel that grants or is forced to accept ROR is a state ready to join the ranks of normal, nominally equitable states – rendering superfluous any talk of two states. And we should reject proposals like that of Daniel Gavron and some Palestinians to create one state but only after dropping both ROR and Israel’s Law of Return which grants citizenship to any Jew from anywhere. No solution is fair that cements the disenfranchised, insulted status of the millions of ethnically cleansed.
Time might lead us to the ‘best bad’ solution of two states, but it is dumb to compromise even before coming to the table. At the moment, from my perspective of someone who would not be entitled to vote in a single, human-rights-based state, but who does his bit to influence pro-Zionist governments to change their minds, I feel the need for a vision that is both clear and inspiring. Two-state proposals are never clear and, because they are Zionist, not inspiring.
Thus, if only for practical reasons, the pro-Palestinian organisations mentioned above might want to abandon their ‘neutral’ – and complicated, and pro-Zionist – positions in favour of a vision that can captivate world opinion. It is time for BDS, PSC and dozens of other groups to reject partition and support Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who support the 1960s PLO stance for one democratic state. Put bluntly, unless BDS gets off the one-state/two-state fence it is not formulating clear conditions for calling off the boycott.
We can call the two-state solution ‘dead’ because of the absurdity of Palestine-Lite, but we can also wish its death because of the immorality of Zionism. This essay has argued that yes, statelets presently envisioned as Palestinian are to be rejected because they lack size, continguity, sovereignty and al-Quds. But bigger and better ones, as well, would leave the Zionism problem unsolved. To be for two states in Palestine is to be for… two states. One of them is Zionist.
But not only by this process of elimination do we arrive at One Democratic State. The vision is positive: One person, one vote within a constitution protecting human rights – if necessary with some bi-national safeguards – in a country where people, history, economics and meaning are mixed together anyway.
- Who is trying to bluff Palestinians?
- Oxymoron of a “Jewish Bi-national” State!
- Some Thoughts on Resistance
- A Strategy of Liberation