End of the two-state solution

A multicultural state can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence

By Saree Makdisi | guardian.co.uk, Monday July 28 2008

In order to try to create an exclusively Jewish state in what had been the culturally diverse land of Palestine, Israel’s founders expelled or drove into flight half of Palestine’s Muslim and Christian population and seized their land, their houses, and their property (furniture, clothing, books, personal effects, family heirlooms), in what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948.

Even while demanding – rightly – that no one should forget the Jewish people’s history of suffering, and above all the Holocaust, Israel has insisted ever since 1948 not merely that the Palestinians must forget their own history, but that what it calls peace must be premised on that forgetting, and hence on the Palestinians’ renunciation of their rights. As Israel’s foreign minister has said, if the Palestinians want peace, they must learn to strike the word “nakba” from their lexicon.

Some must never forget, while others, clearly, must not be allowed to remember. Far from mere hypocrisy, this attitude perfectly expresses the Israeli people’s mistaken belief that they can find the security they need at the expense of the Palestinians, or that one people’s right can be secured at the cost of another’s.

Little wonder such an approach has not delivered peace. The only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to end the denial of rights that fuels it, and to ensure that both peoples’ rights are equally protected.

For some years it was thought that peace could be obtained by sidestepping the central fact of the nakba, and creating a Palestinian statelet in what remained of Palestine after 1948, namely, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.

But such a two-state solution is no longer possible. The inescapable fact is that one state controls all of the land, and it has done so for over 40 years, affirming one people’s right to live, marry, work and settle by negating another people’s right to do the same, on land that two peoples – not just one – call home.

The only question now is how much longer this negation can go on, and how long it will be before a state premised on it is superseded by its opposite, an affirmative, genuinely democratic, secular and multi-cultural state, the only kind that can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence.

The question, in other words, is not whether there will be a one-state solution, but when; and how much needless suffering there will be in the meantime, until those who are committed to the project of creating and maintaining a religiously exclusivist state in what was historically a culturally and religiously heterogeneous land finally relent and accept the inevitable: that they have failed.

This last point is especially important, because the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians is – and has always been –– driven by the notion that hundreds of years of cultural heterogeneity and plurality could be negated overnight by the creation of a state with a single cultural and religious identity.

It hardly matters that that identity was never as homogeneous as Zionists like to claim: witness Israel’s methodical de-Arabisation of its Mizrahi (Arab-Jewish) population in the 1950s and 1960s, or the perennial debate over “who is a Jew” – an unseemly question that in Israel is not merely a matter of arcane theological exegesis but tied directly to matters of citizenship, nationality, and law.

Israel’s claim to an exclusive Jewish identity – as symbolised by its flag – has been sustained ever since 1948 by denying the moral and legal right of return of those Palestinians expelled during the nakba, by forms of legalised discrimination inside the state, and by the maintenance of a much more violent system of apartheid in the territories Israel has militarily occupied since 1967.

Palestinian citizens of Israel – officially referred to by the state as deracinated “Arabs” because it cannot bring itself to acknowledge the fact that they are Palestinian – face institutionalised forms of discrimination far worse than those once encountered by African Americans. For example, while Jewish Israelis who marry non-citizens (or residents of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories) are entitled to have their spouses come live with them, Israeli law explicitly denies that right to Palestinian citizens who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories. Palestinian citizens are also denied various other privileges, including access to state lands, reserved exclusively for Jews.

Meanwhile, Israel maintains two separate infrastructures in the occupied territories, and it subjects the two populations there to two distinct legal and administrative systems. Indigenous Palestinians are subject to a harsh form of military rule, whereas Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law, even though they have been transplanted -– in violation of international law – beyond the borders of their state.

Indeed, Israel’s intensive settlement of the occupied territories is the primary reason for the demise of the two-state solution. Not only is the settler population increasing at a rate three times greater than that of Israel itself, but, according to a UN report published last summer, almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up with Israeli infrastructure to which Palestinians are denied access. The remainder of the territory has been broken up into an archipelago, each little “island” of territory in effect a small-scale Gaza, cut off from the outside and completely vulnerable to Israel’s whims. Under such circumstances, an independent Palestinian state is inconceivable.

Even if it were conceivable, the creation of a Palestinian statelet in the occupied territories would do nothing to safeguard the rights of the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian; on the contrary, its existence would further empower the likes of former deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman, who wants all Palestinians removed to make room for Jewish immigrants (like himself). Nor would it address the right of return of the Palestinians who were deliberately expelled to make room for a Jewish state in 1948, who have been kept out and living in limbo – or in the prison that is Gaza – solely in order to preserve Israel’s tenuous claim to Jewishness.

Negation, denial and imprisonment have run their course. The future should be built on affirmation, cooperation, and the constitution of a democratic and secular state that guarantees the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, of Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.

• Saree Makdisi is Professor of English Literature at the University of California, and the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, published by WW Norton.

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One Response to “End of the two-state solution”

  1. yossiabuyacob Says:

    One Palestinian Republic but how?

    In 1947 at the time of the UN resolution that divided the country with the formal idea that close to 60% of Palestine of the British Mandate will be given to the Zionists and the rest secretly will be given to Trans Jordan , the number of people living in Palestine was 1,800,000. 600,000 of them were Jews and the rest of them were Arabs. It was a criminal act of the UN to partition the country and legitimize a Zionist state on most of the land , with the full knowledge that the Zionists will expel most if not all the Palestinians from the part allocated to the Zionist state. This was clear already in 1937 with the publication of the PEEL COMMISSION PARTITION PROPOSAL. The commission recommended the creation of a Zionist state and for this to happen to transfer 250,000 Palestinians from the lands allocated to the Zionists. All the Zionists movements accepted and supported this idea even though they wanted a larger chunk of the land. Indeed as soon as the UN approved the same idea in 1947
    The Zionist began to remove by massacres the Palestinians from their lands long before the Arab armies entered the conflict in may 1948.
    So why the UN committed this crime? The UN was the creation of the imperialist states that won the criminal second world war, where close to 100 million people died for the sake of imperialists super profits driven from the workers in the colonies and profits from the workers in the industrial European states. One of the biggest lies in history is that the West fought for democracy against the Nazis and that the Stalinists fought for the socialist motherland. They all fought for the same goals controlling labor , raw material and markets. The UN was created to divide the loot among the states that won the war. The Soviet Union in 1939 was no more even the shade of the 1917 workers revolution. It was an imperialist state as well that entered the war for imperialist aims. These criminals who ruled these states in order to control the Middle East important for strategic and oil supported the Zionists
    The creation of the Israeli state was possible because the revolutionary working class wave that broke out when WWII ended was smashed by the Stalinist parties and by the Social democratic parties. The idea of partition as a means to control a region was not new. The British used it in Ireland to oppressed the majority-the Irish Catholics. The applied it not only to Palestine but to India and Cyprus
    The solution to the Palestinian national question in 1947-8 was the creation of one state a Palestinian Republic as the Palestinians were the native majority and the Jews were newly come settlers colonialists like in Rhodesia and South Africa where the Jews would enjoy a cultural autonomy. However the only class that had the interest in this solution-the revolutionary working class led by its own leadership was defeated by 1948.
    Today many people understand that the only solution is a Palestinian Republic from the river to the sea with cultural autonomy for the Israel-Jews. The question of coure what is the class, the force that will do it? History has shown that it can not be the imperialists who created the problems. It can not be the Zionists. It can not be the Arab bourgeoisie who act as the very small junior partners of the imperialists. It can not be the petit bourgeois radicals like the Nasserites and the Baathists. It can be the Stalinists and the reformist left. They all has shown us of what they are made of.
    Now many oppressed Arab put their hopes in the religious movement like Hezbollah and Hamas. In particular since they are fighting the Zionists and their imperialist backers. However the leadership of Hezbollah and Hamas do not have an anti capitalist program and they want to participate in the existing imperialist order. What they want is a larger piece of the cake produced by the workers.
    For this reason Iran is offering to act as a policeman and control Iraq. Hamas is becoming a policeman of the Palestinians in Gaza to keep them in the Ghetto. Fatah is openly working as an agent of the Zionists and Hamas can not unite the masses. They fight each others while the Zionists have a good time.

    Yet , this does not mean that the idea of one Palestinian state from the Sea to the river is a pie in the sky. I t mean that the only force that has the interest in such a solution is the Arab and the Iranian and some of the Israeli working class who will join the Arab and in particular the Palestinian revolutionary struggle.
    This solution of a Palestinian Republic can be achieved only through a regional working class revolution that will replace all the existing states by a Socialist Federation as part of the struggle for a world working class revolution.
    Of course the working class with the existing consciousness can not perform these tasks. To become a class for itself with a revolutionary consciousness it will have to learn from the class battles that lie ahead of us. The most important lesson is the need for a revolutionary working class party to lead the struggle.

    But this is communism and communism has failed you may want to argue. The truth is that only in one place there was a workers revolution in backward Russia and this revolution was suffocated and strangled by the Stalinists counter revolution reflecting the isolation of the revolution. Isolation led by the Social democracy. Thus the problem is not the failure of Communism but the crisis of the working class leadership.


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