The Israel-Palestine Spring

May 10, 2013
Anselm Kiersch

The Israel-Palestine Spring

The Israel-Palestine Spring

By Anselm Kiersch, Oslo, May 2013

Since the two state solution (TSS) is dead various proposals for a one state solution (OSS) are discussed again. However most of these proposals are either so one-sided that they will not be accepted by both sides, or they lack a concept for how go from the actual situation to the implementation of the solution. The following is an attempt to describe such a way that may be a blueprint also for other concrete proposals to manifest. Links to my own detailed proposals for a solution are quoted at the end.

The Negotiation Trap

Before the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa the country stood at the verge of a long and bloody civil war, because the younger generation in the ANC was much more committed to armed resistance than Mandela was. Therefore the whites had to abandon apartheid and both parties had to compromise in the CODESA negotiations on a new constitution. They were deemed to succeed, because the alternative would have been a catastrophe for both sides.

That is the basic precondition for any successful peace negotiations: For both parties the prospect to not reaching a deal must be worse than painful concessions necessary for an agreement. If only one of the two sides has a better alternative, there will be no deal. That is the case for Israel today:

  • The status of Israel is steadily increasing because of the ongoing settlement building.

  • The Palestinians position is weakening, because they are forced to make more and more concessions to accept limited sovereignty and land swaps unequal in size and /or quality.

  • Israel has managed to contain the resistance by locking Palestinians and their protest up behind the wall, by controlling their economy, by outsourcing the security operations to the PA and transferring the costs to the international community.

Israelis can live with this kind of none-state solution for a long time and the longer it takes to make a deal, the better for them. Thus the TSS is not dead, because of the settlement building per se. It is dead, because Israelis through the security measures around the settlements have been able to create a better alternative for themselves than a TSS would be. Therefore they will continue to drag on "negotiations" and try to blame Palestinians for the failure, but they will not sign a deal.

However, continued lip service to the TSS and small symbolic concessions once in a while are part of that concept, as they make Palestinians "keep dreaming" of their own national state. That dream is essential in order to keep them on track within the Oslo framework and prevent them from pursing a OSS instead.

Thus for Palestinians continued negotiations on a TSS are nothing else than a trap. As long as Israel has a viable alternative and Palestinians have not, they will remain vulnerable to blackmail by Israel and the US during the very process of negotiations: Any time when Palestinians would insist on an issue, Israel would just need to remind them that they also can live on without an agreement. That would leave Palestinians with no other choice than to back down on all important issues.

From The "Only Solution" To The "Only Alternative"

Therefore it is essential for the PLO to develop an alternative plan B, like Israel has done, in order to avoid that kind of blackmail. As the occupation is obviously not an alternative for Palestinians, the only option left is the OSS. Any peace talks about a TSS under the current conditions will end up again in the same trap of blackmail. As long as Palestinian negotiators regard the TSS as "the only possible solution" they are implicitly admitting that they do not have an alternative to this "only" solution. When the Israeli government by publicly paying lip service to the TSS is saying the same, it is obviously not true. For them the TSS is not the "only" solution, because they have already created different and viable option for themselves.

It is up to the Palestinians to get out of that deadlock of blackmail. They have the choice to either stay in the trap by continuing negotiations on the "only solution", or to get out of the trap by developing a plan for the OSS as the "only alternative".

Uniting All Palestinians Behind One Goal

Today the Palestinian people is split into different groups defined by borders, different status and rights: In Israel they suffer from discrimination, but can vote as Israeli citizens; In East Jerusalem they have no citizenship, but can travel around the country; In the occupied territories (OPT) they live under military law, under either occupation (West Bank) or siege (Gaza), have no civil rights and are suffering from human rights violations, but they are allowed to travel abroad and can come back to Palestine; In the diaspora they have no right of return to their homeland what so ever.

A TSS would deepen the split within the Palestinian people, because only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would profit from a new Palestinian state. For Palestinians in the diaspora a TSS would limit their right of return for ever, as they would only be allowed to return to the ever more overcrowded Palestinian territories. Palestinians in Israel would continue to live under discrimination within the Israeli ethnocracy that could even get worse, if the PA would explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as demanded by Netanjahu.

In a OSS, however, all Palestinians would improve their status of human, civil and national rights: Palestinians in Israel would get equal rights, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would get self determination and Palestinians in the diaspora would get the right of return as it is granted by international law. As all the Palestinian groups would profit from the OSS, this solution has the potential that all Palestinians could one day unite behind it as a final goal.

The Way To A One State Solution

The actual Palestinian campaign for equal rights and a TSS at the same time makes no sense, because as final goals they are both contradicting each other. The essence of the TSS is that everybody has citizenship rights in one of the two states, not the other. Therefore it is intentional in a TSS that there will be different, not equal rights for citizens on each side. Israel is right in claiming that the absence of civil rights will cease immediately, if there was an agreement for a TSS. Therefore the demand of equal rights is contradictory to a TSS. One can only demand equal rights in one state, or different rights in two different states, but not both at the same time.

A civil rights movement with basically contradicting demands will always stay week, because it will not be able to provide a clear vision and a consistent goal. In South Africa the simple demand of "one person - one vote" was so powerful, because it was just and consistent within one state. Likewise civil rights campaign in Palestine can only become powerful in the context of a OSS.

The most difficult for Palestinians about a OSS is certainly to let go of the dream of a national Palestinian state. But if and when a critical mass of Palestinians have realized that "keep dreaming" only will perpetuate a never ending nightmare, then a OSS campaign could roll on like in the following scenario:

  • It starts with conferences on the OSS, not at Harvard, but in Palestine. Think tanks work on more detailed concepts that are published and popular support is growing.

  • Palestinians accept the one state reality in the OPT and start a civil rights campaign for equal civil and national rights. The main slogans: "National self determination for two people in one country" and "one person, one vote".

  • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship. Palestinians in East Jerusalem seek Israeli citizenship, which will be a litmus test for Israel, because they are allowed to do so by Israeli law.

  • The PLO retracts the application for a sovereign state at the UN or makes amendments to it in order to declare the OPT to be a part of Israel.

  • Knowing that Israel is not just accepting to take in millions of Palestinians, the PLO invites Israel to negotiations on a constitution of a Federal Republic of Israel-Palestine.

  • The post of Palestinian president is being abolished. Instead Marwan Barghouti is chosen by the PLO as the leader of the movement and head for negotiations with Israel on a OSS. Imprisoned by Israel and respected by Palestinians in the West Bank as well as in Gaza he is getting in the same role as Mandela in South Africa.

  • At a starting point the PA is not meant to be dissolved, but if Israel is not returning Palestinian tax revenues is has to. The PA continues with the security cooperation with Israel, but makes it clear that nonviolent protest and action against the occupation and for the OSS is tolerated and will not be stopped. If the IDF is intervening the PA security personnel has orders to immediately lay down its weapons so Israel is responsible for security again.

  • The PA is declaring itself as a district of Israel and is harmonizing its administrative procedures with Israel as well as practicing Israeli laws as long as they are not discriminatory.

  • The anti-normalisation campaign is stopped. The OSS campaign gets on in close cooperation with groups in Israel, who support it. Also local everyday cooperation with settlers, who want cooperate and support a OSS, is promoted. Moderate settlers can be crucial allies for a OSS.

  • Civil disobedience like driving on Israeli only roads, go on settler buses and various acts of nonlethal sabotage can disturb the occupation seriously. If they get widespread and Israel wants to punish all these incidents, many tens- or even hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would have to go to Israeli prisons. The mere amount of prisoners could make it difficult to sustain the apartheid rules in the OPT.

  • When there are elections in Israel, similar elections are organized in the OPT as if Israeli electoral law would apply to the OPT as well. Palestinian MKs try by different creative means to become real members of the Knesset.

  • In the wake of an increasing OSS campaign the tide in Israel might shift and it might decide to unilaterally dismantle all settlements East of the wall. When Palestinians are realizing that this could leave them finally trapped in 5 non-contiguous Bantustans with no access to Jerusalem, no sovereign state and no proper citizenship, they may defend the settlers against the IDF by blocking the roads. It sounds paradoxical today, but it would make sense in a new OSS context. It would be difficult for the settlers alone to resist an evacuation, but with the help of Palestinians it could be physically possible. Such a scenario could be a breakthrough for a OSS.

  • Hundreds of other events of resistance can be imagined. Continued media presence is crucial. Generally the focus is shifting from the monotone pictures of stone throwing youth to more creative events and happenings of resistance that can attract media attention and expose the system of apartheid in the OPT.

  • If the proposed OSS is inclusive for both parties and based on the principle of self determination for two peoples in one country (see below), more and more countries are backing the OSS including boycott, divestment and sanctions to achieve that goal.

  • It is essential to keep all protests and actions peaceful. Extremists on both sides might provoke violence in order to discredit the OSS movement. If that happens and especially if terrorist actions in Israel should resume again, the position of Palestinians would get very difficult. Organized training in nonviolent action can be one measure to prevent that. Palestinians have already distanced themselves from terror, but if terrorist acts should occur again, it is essential that they cooperate with the Israelis in stopping that. Otherwise Palestinians will lose international support and will be victims to collective punishment again, like in the second intifada.

An Inclusive And Morally Superior Solution

Human rights movements like that in South Africa have been successful, because they could provide an alternative with a clear moral superiority to the present state that also included, not the racial ideology, but the people on the other side. Whites South Africans lost their colonial privileges, but they have been protected against discrimination as a minority and they have kept their property. Most proposals on the OSS-market are either from the Israeli right or the diaspora Palestinian left. They are not inclusive:

  • The Israeli right proposes political and national rights only for Jews and "autonomy" for Palestinians in the OPT. People in autonomous regions around the globe are first and foremost citizens of a state. As citizens of that state they can have additional rights of cultural autonomy fromthat state they are part of. All "autonomy" without the state providing full citizenship rights is apartheid.

  • The Palestinian left is demanding the right of return to all of Palestine. By proposing a unitary state of all its citizens with no distinct right of self determination for the Jewish people they are implicitly hoping that many Jews will leave the country after they have lost their majority. As a small minority Jews have all reason to fear that they will be treated the same way as the Palestinian minority in Israel is treated today, or worse.

Both kinds of proposals are an attempt to "get it all" and to marginalize the other. They are not inclusive and lack therefore the appeal of a clear moral superiority necessary for broad international backing of a civil rights campaign.

In South Africa the ANC could refer to South Africans as one people including blacks and whites alike. The main difference to Israel-Palestine is that there are two peoples, both with a large diaspora, claiming the same territory as their homeland and the law/right of return to it. The legendary ANC Freedom Charter as well as the new constitution of South Africa starts with the wording: "We, the people of South Africa...", and it refers later on explicitly to all people living in the country. The same expression "we, the people of Israel- Palestine ..." would not fit, because both the Jewish and Palestinian people are referring to their people as such, not only to those living in the country. An appropriate analogous wording would therefore be: "We, the Palestinian and Jewish people…" with no limitation to only those, who live in the country.

Equal Rights And Self Determination Of Two Peoples In One Country

When two distinct peoples demand self-determination in the same country, it is obvious that the requirements of an inclusive OSS cannot be met by a unitary state like in South Africa. It has to be some kind of federation or confederation (called "con-federation" in the following), where equal rights are granted in a federal constitution, and self determination is manifesting at the state level. The main principle question is:

What is the constitution, what the subdivisions and special arrangements of a con-federation that can grant equal rights to its citizens and a maximum of self determination to both the Jewish and the Palestinian people?

The answer to that question can result in a concept of an inclusive OSS that is moral superior to the fraudulent TSS negotiations and the one-sided OSS proposals. As such it has the potential to gain broad international support and thus lay the foundation to a successful campaign for equal rights and a just settlement of the conflict.

Essential Jewish Needs And The Majority Trap

Any solution has to meet three existential needs for Jews that are also at the core of Zionism:

  1. Security for Jews in Israel

  2. A safe haven for Jews around the world, implemented through the Law of Return

  3. A Jewish homeland or a state of Jewish character

After the founding of Israel these needs have been met by Israel having a comfortable Jewish majority. By that majority the state could build a strong army preserving security (1), it granted and promoted Jewish immigration (2) and preserved its Jewish character (3). This concept of an ethnic majority and Western style nation state, however, has long been contested within the Zionist movement before 1948. Prominent figures like Martin Buber envisioned what "majorizing" ("majorisieren" in German) the Arab population would mean do to them and to the integration of Jews in the region. He and others worked for an alternative solution to meet the essential demands of Zionism without relying on an ethnic majority within a unitary democratic state.

History has shown that the "majorizers" won the internal Zionist debate. Israel was founded as a "Jewish (majority) and democratic (unitary) state", meaning a unitary state with a Jewish majority per definition. However, the degree of majority is a demographic fact and cannot be defined by law. Therefore the majority concept turned to be vulnerable:

  • It makes the Jewish essentials dependent of a socio-geographic variable that can change over time, instead of a final constitution, where both nations could have their place.

  • Trying to influence the demography directly by ethnocentric laws is internationally ousted as racial discrimination.

  • A constitution can have unchangeable laws to secure a nation against majority rule, but Israel has not constitution. By relying on Basic Laws not only laws, but also the very process of lawmaking is dependent on a Jewish majority in the Knesset.

Since 1948 the Palestinian population under Israeli control has been increasing, especially after the six-day war. Therefore the concept of securing the Zionist essentials through a Jewish majority has been in crisis, but by lacking an alternative it became even more important and turned into an obsession. Terms like the "demographic bomb" witness of the existential fear among Jews to lose that majority. To defend it Israel has made many laws discriminating against Palestinians in Israel, like the amendment of the Citizenship Law (that prevents Palestinians from the OPT to move to Israel when they have married an Israeli citizen) and others. Additionally military rule has turned the OPT into a system of apartheid.

Many Jews are worried that democracy in Israel is going to be increasingly compromised for the sake of securing the Jewishness of the state. They do not want to settle with an apartheid system as a collateral damage and feel the Zionist enterprise and values being discredited by human rights violations against Palestinians. However, most of them still turn the blind eye to the problem, because they cannot imagine another solution than the concept of majority to secure the basic Jewish needs. Thereby they get more and more stuck in that majority trap: The more Palestinians, the greater the obsession on the Jewish majority and the fear for losing it, the more tacit consent for discrimination.

What the "dream" of a national state is for Palestinians, the majority "obsession" is for Jews. Both people get stuck in it and cannot get out of it by doing more of the same.

Reason For Jewish Support Of A Con-Federal One State Solution

In its core Zionism is not apartheid. It's the historic decision to secure the essential Jewish needs through the concept of "majorization" within a unitary state in combination with the demographic facts on the ground that is forcing Israel into an apartheid state and is keeping Jews in the trap of majority obsession. However, the more democratic and Zionist values are discredited, the more Jews inside and outside of Israel will have the genuine wish to free Zionism from apartheid. If they can see that an inclusive OSS can provide better security, because security- and other cooperation with Palestinians is institutionalized at the federal level, if their property remains untouched in a final agreement like that of the whites in South Africa, if the Law of Return becomes an unchangeable part of a federal constitution also accepted by Palestinians, if they can preserve their Jewishness at the state level within a con-federation, then more and more of Jews will probably back an inclusive con-federal OSS as well.

Proposal For An Inclusive Con-Federation In Israel-Palestine

The have published a proposal for an inclusive con-federation for Israel-Palestine before:

Short version with actual map:

Folder of short version:

Detailed version (outdated map):

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