Reflections on the Road to a One State in Palestine

There are many battles about the issue of One State vs. Two States, books, articles, etc. I have written many times before that I believe in the idea of one state in historic Palestine and wish to elaborate on some of the debates about this. I have been reading extended debates Chomsky has had with himself or others about the road to a possible One State solution or settlement (Chomsky considers the title ‘solution’ misleading since it will be a compromise between the parties). When one talks about having one state, an issue that is often ignored is a secular democratic state or a bi-national state. Each has its own implications and state building necessities before peace can be achieved between the two main communities (Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians).

Within the framework of a secular democratic state the necessity of creating a new identity is inherent as the old had problems of integration and equality. The idea is the identification with exclusive groups creates animosity and a never ending sense of conflict. In addition, the idea of a secular democratic state is that the new identity is the basis of the new state, not what would then be the religious or ethnic allegiances. Democratic principles are at the very core of all decision making in the legal apparatuses with little to no preference to a group.

Within a bi-national state there are a few assumptions that have to be considered. The first is the parity between the groups, meaning that one cannot dominate the other democratically (this was attempted in Lebanon in the 1930s which has caused problems since the 1940s…also a balance of members in decision making bodies, regardless of % of the population). Second the local, religious, or ethnic identity still has a pivotal if not central place in the function of the state. This means that there will be two main ethnic groups with same rights, and protections for the groups involved. This has implications I will discuss throughout. In addition the function of the “higher” identity, meaning the nationality of the state, will essentially be secondary.

Noam Chomsky favors the latter ideology and has expressed this most explicitly in his book “Middle East Illusions” which is a collection of writings from the 1960s, 70s, and 2000s on the issue of Palestine. Chomsky also believes there is a process for this in the current situation, which is first you have the two state solution based off of international law. This means following various UN resolutions and dealing with the 4 most important subjects which are Jerusalem, borders (settlements), refugees, and economics (water). Jerusalem would be divided, borders based on 1967 borders (settlers become Palestinian citizens or go back to Israel), refugees are compensated or allowed to return, and the Palestinians have self determination over their resources. From here the two sides will realize their interconnected nature and expand these to other aspects. Inevitably they will realize their dependency and join in union along the lines of a bi-national state. I will leave his points (for the sake of the argument) at this although he has grander possibilities of this expanding to the rest of the Middle East.

I personally do not see this as the way to a situation where we will have one state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. I think that this approach will cause a stalemate in the relations between the two. Israel would have almost everything it wants while the Palestinian state stagnates and lags behind its neighbors. Israel would be happy to get rid of the Palestinians both in and out of Israel and would not suddenly think because of dependency to take them back in. My personal belief is the only way to get to the point of a one state is through a form of a civil rights movement. This would begin with Palestinian popular movements forcing the Palestinian Authority to dissolve in one way or another. Massive resistance against the Palestinian Authority (which was supposed to dissolve in 1999) that came from the territories, the refugees, and the Palestinians inside Israel would cause an absolute lack of legitimacy for the PA, forcing it to dissolve. Once the Palestinian Authority is taken out of the equation, Israel would feel the necessity to re-occupy in word and deed the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This would shift the burden of military occupation to the Israelis, where it should be, and would bring the issue back to Israeli society, where it left in the middle 1990s. The Palestinians from here would demand one citizen, one vote from the river to the sea and engage in a non-violent massive resistance to the occupation in all forms of life. This could begin with massive cutting down of the wall that is built mostly on Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza. Now just to make it a point, although the Palestinians would have to be peaceful, I do not expect the Israelis would be anything close. In addition although I may paint a peaceful picture at the end, I am not crazy enough to think that it will not be much worse before it gets to that point. This would have to expand to daily acts of civil disobedience, boycotting Israeli products, not working in Israel or settlements, having massive strikes, organizing protests in Tel Aviv, Haifa, etc and not letting up. This would also have to include acts of self sufficiency since the Israelis will try and strangle the movement from all aspects.

With possible international and Arab support this would have a chance of working although Noam Chomsky believes this fails before any of my possible scenarios even begins. He believes that none of this will pan out and Israel with US support will simply maintain the status quo. I personally believe he ignores the role of the Palestinian Authority in the occupation and the possible struggle against it first in the fight for equal rights. Only with a preface of dissolving the Palestinian Authority do the Palestinians have a chance at anything else. Any ignoring of the role of the PA in the maintenance of the occupation does not understand the occupation. It is nice to hear activists talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestinians, but the Palestinians live under a double, well established and funded occupation.

My outlook and scenarios would be much more based on the idea of a secular democratic state since the Palestinians will be demanding equal rights in Israel itself, which would need a massive restructuring of the laws in Israel to not favor either group. This would extend into all aspects of life where an additional civil disobedience campaign would be needed for Palestinians since Palestinians in Israel already face massive discrimination. The advantage is that all the Palestinians in historic Palestine would be able to participate in a massive civil disobedience campaign together instead of the traditional divide and conquer strategy the Zionists have employed for 120 years.

Noam Chomsky and I absolutely have different ideas as to a final status and fit our scenarios for that scenario. He believes in bi-nationalism which might initially be easier to do but will undoubtedly entail main long term problems. This is contrasted to my proposal and scenarios which favor a secular democratic state; hence I believe the struggle needs to be all encompassing and immediate as people will get too stuck in their statuses. Lebanon is a perfect example of why I am in favor of a secular democratic state. Since the National Pact agreement when demographics were in the Christians favor, demographics have radically changed. This has caused constant power struggles, civil wars, and a fragmented political system. I do not wish this for Palestine and see no reason to advance this as an idea. Lebanon is a perfect example of how certain statuses will be maintained to the end and the issues will be simply ignored. Palestine on the other hand is still in the position to create a better future for its inhabitants based off of equality.

For information on Chomsky’s positions on the issue read “Middle East Illusions” on the first articles. Second there are numerous Youtube videos where he gets into the issue extensively. First is this Second is this after 40mins.


5 thoughts on “Reflections on the Road to a One State in Palestine

  1. A couple of thoughts:

    1) I am in complete agreement that the PA is acting more as a second occupier than an independent government and should therefore be dissolved – pushing Israel back into direct occupation, making the apartheid occupation more obvious and eventually leading to one state. Indeed, I have spoken with you a number of time about dissolution of the PA would be a better move for Palestine than negotiations. However, I simply don’t see it happening. While support for a one state solution is growing among Palestinians, there is no way that the PA would forced into giving up power. Benefits come with power and there will certainly be someone waiting to take money from the US in order to pretend to negotiate.

    2) A one state Israel/Palestine would be different than Lebanon. Lebanon has 18 different sects with long histories, different interests and different connections to outside powers (Maronites with French, and more recently Shi’a with Iran etc). In Israel/Palestine, the two groups would be Israeli (presumably Jewish) and Arab (with Israeli Arabs favoring the Palestinian Arabs). While it is possible that Arab Muslims and Arab Christians could have disagreements, they would not (and the near or middle term) choose to ally with the Israeli Jews over the Arabs. Your basic point stands, though – that shifting demographics would create pressure on a binational system.

    1. I agree it is not in the near future because the PA has done a wonderful system of dependency with the population that “matters.” But if any Palestinian who talks about a one state thinks it can be done without getting rid of the PA is absolutely crazy.
      I think you are over simplifying the national argument if you wish to go with the national argument. There would be numerous groups, that would become more important once a one state came about. There are reform/conservative Jews, Black African Jews, Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionists, Ultra-Orthodox (which has 12 groups within the last I checked), Ashkenazi, Mizrachim, etc just in the Jewish bloc. On the other side you have Palestinian Christians of all denominations, Muslims are even split, and you have Druze and Circassians (if there are still some). Also among the Palestinians you have social breakdowns, geographic breakdowns, PLO breakdowns, Palestinians that have had Israeli citizenship vs. without, and what will be refugee divisions. This is why I do not like the national narrative in regards to any conflict, but specifically this conflict, it ignores many other aspects. This is why I say, bi-national will not work and without a creation of a new identity, a secular democratic state will not work either. People did not think Palestinians would ever vote for Zionist parties at the founding of the state, but I think it is more than obvious many Palestinians did until the mid-90s for various reasons. So your argument that the Christians or Muslims will not side with the Jews is too simplistic. People will side with whatever is in their economic interest, if it happens to coincide with their national, fantastic.

      1. I think you are right in the long run. But for the short and medium term, the most likely and significant divide would be between Israelis (Jews) and Palestinians (Arabs). Certainly, there could be disagreements between the different Palestinians and different Israelis, but for the immediate future, I think the Palestinian factions and the Israeli factions stick together (with the possible exception of smaller, less significant parties). And you are right, people will side with what is in their economic benefit, but for a long time after the introduction of any type of one state solution, these economic benefits will be blurred by the existing divisions. Longer term, yes, it could turn into a Lebanon-type situation, but not for a while.

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