The historic injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people is not limited to the repercussions of the 1967 war and Israeli occupation. It is rooted in the catastrophic defeat of 1948 (al-Nakba). The establishment of Israel per se is in itself a central element of the historic injustice, whereas its character as a Jewish state only adds to this injustice. There is no constituency in Israeli society that favors the annulment of the Jewish character of the state. The Israeli left and right benefit from the colonial construction and Jewish character of Israel. Both exploit and benefit from the privileges provided to Jews by the state at the expense of the individual, collective, spiritual, and material inheritance of the Palestinian people. This quasi-absolute Zionist consensus has a solid base.
The essence of the Zionist project is revealed through the acquisition of the resources and riches of the land by force, emptying the land of its people, ‘Judaizing’ its features, and fragmenting the Palestinian people. It refuses to admit its responsibility for the expulsion of the Palestinian people and the creation of the refugee issue. It works diligently to undermine any possibility for their return by control of, ‘Judaizing’, and privatizing both collective and individual Palestinian property. It perceives Palestinians inside the 1948 areas as a threat to the security and demography of the state. It believes that it must maintain control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through military occupation.
Israel has worked hard to fragment the Palestinian people and prevent linkages between the various issues that affect them. This manifested itself in the Oslo agreements, which created a situation in which there appears to be three Palestinian peoples, each with their own interests and priorities: ‘1948 Palestinians’ (‘Israeli Arabs’), ‘Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories’, and ‘Palestinians in exile.’ The fundamental difference between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is that the PLO represented to a great extent the Palestinian people in toto, whereas the PA only represents Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a result of this fragmentation, the Israeli victory and Arab defeat in 1967, rather than the historic injustice beginning in 1948, have become the starting point for all proposed solutions to the conflict.
It is important to note that historically the Palestinian people have never been masters of their own destiny. This is apparent in the current round of conflict with Israel. It is not by coincidence that none of the solutions proposed today or in the past were initiated by the Palestinian people. The proposal for a two-state solution, for example, is an international proposal. Oslo was a result of Israel’s strength, the weakness of the PLO, and the collapse of international order based on a bi-polar system. The establishment of the PLO, which marked the birth of the Palestinian national liberation movement, may be the one exception to this pattern. However, even the PLO surrendered its charter as a down payment for participation in the Oslo process.
The transition that we are witnessing today is the Palestinian people’s struggle to become masters of their own destiny by rejecting the status quo. Despite the huge disparity in military capabilities between the two parties, Palestinians are attempting to create a balance of security with Israel, employing whatever measures are required even if this comes at the expense of harming Israeli civilians. This transition came about only after the Palestinian people had experimented with various strategies that failed to bring about their independence, sovereignty, and basic rights, including the internationally proposed minimum solution, i.e., the two-state solution. Unless the international community provides protection for the Palestinian people, continuation of resistance in its various forms will remain a vital necessity.
The developments of the last two years, starting with the al-Aqsa intifada, mark the beginning of the end of the idea of the division of the Palestinian people. This transition is characterized by a shift away from solidarity among the various sectors of the Palestinian people towards an enhanced awareness of the necessity of collective burden sharing. Confronting the Israeli occupation is not the duty of the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alone. The refugee problem or their right of return is not an issue for the refugees alone. The struggle of the Palestinians inside Israel to defend their very existence is not theirs alone. In my opinion, this awareness began when the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak first introduced talk of a permanent solution – i.e. ‘ending the conflict.’ The permanent status talks unified the agenda of the Palestinian people and forced them to address core Palestinian issues, of which the right of return is foremost, rather than dealing with the technical details of the Oslo process. This development took place inspite of the flagrant absence of any Palestinian national project at the leadership level.
|The developments of the last two years, starting with the al-Aqsa intifada, mark the beginning of the end of the idea of the division of the Palestinian people. This transition is characterized by a shift away from solidarity among the various sectors of the Palestinian people towards an enhanced awareness of the necessity of collective burden sharing. Confronting the Israeli occupation is not the duty of the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alone. The refugee problem or their right of return is not an issue for the refugees alone.|
Yet another strategic transition has occurred with the recognition of the fact that change is not dependent solely on the balance of power. Change can also take place when the weaker party no longer accepts the status quo, and, at the same time, the strong can neither accept the price it is paying – security, social, and economic. This situation, in which the existing rules of the game can be broken, and wherein the old balance can be shaken, may constitute the basis for a solution based on the collective vision of the Palestinian people, supported by popular Arab, Islamic and international solidarity movements.
The Arab dimension, in particular, cannot be measured only in terms of the current situation. It must be viewed with regard to its future prospects and its interaction with the Palestinian issue. The popular notion of ‘Arab assistance’ to the Palestinians has been replaced by the reality of Palestinian assistance to the Arab people who have expanded the sphere of civil society through popular support for the Palestinian people. This is an essential component in the Palestinian struggle for liberation. A solution must also be based on international law. While international law affirms basic rights its does not provide an answer to the specific shape of a solution to the Palestinian problem. The right of self-determination may be realized in different ways. Thus there is room on the ground for innovative solutions.
The strongest card of the Palestinian people today is its ability not to sign on to the end of the struggle. This is unacceptable to Israel. The surrender of the Palestinian people is a strategic aim and a fundamental guarantee for Israel’s future. As part of this equation, Israel also aims to achieve recognition in the Arab world. Israeli negotiation strategies have thus placed considerable effort on normalization. In its negotiations with Syria three years ago, for example, responsibility for normalization was entrusted to a former commander of military intelligence. Ending the conflict and normalization are Israeli needs and essential components of Israel’s national security. In reality, however, no Palestinian official or institution has the right or the mandate to end the struggle. Palestinian rights, particularly the right of return, are both collective and individual rights. These rights are not subject to statutory limitations. At the same time, the Palestinian people themselves do not have the required power to achieve a just solution that will end the historic injustice because Israel is neither ready for nor willing to accept a solution, which contradicts Israel’s very existence as a project of the Zionist movement. At the same time, there is no guarantee that Israel will be able to cope indefinitely with the current situation.
Implementation of the right of return, and the dismantlement of Israeli colonies are the two most difficult components of a just solution. Colonies, as already mentioned, are not only a component of the 1967 occupation. They are neither outside nor on Israel’s margins – they are part of Israel’s core. Today, Israeli officials and the Israeli public talk about population and territorial exchange as a solution – e.g., the suggestion to swap the predominantly Palestinian Wadi ‘Ara region inside the ‘Green Line’ for settlement blocs in the 1967 occupied Palestinian lands. The purpose of such an exchange is to keep settlement blocs under Israeli control, get rid of the responsibility for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel (thus reducing the demographic ‘danger’ to Israel), and safeguard the Jewish character of Israel. This aim is consistent with the Zionist dream. The proposal for population and territorial exchange, by the way, originates from circles within the Labor Party, not from the Likud. It goes hand-in-hand with the relatively recent affirmation by party leaders that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel, and on most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is in Israel’s strategic interest.
Although population exchange may appear consistent with the idea of a bi-national state in all of Palestine, the argument differs when derived from a Palestinian, rather than Israeli, vision. For example, a demand from Palestinians in Wadi ‘Ara to join a Palestinian state would be raised within the framework of Palestinian self-determination and unity. This demand is flawed, however, because it accepts the Jewish character of Israel and its colonial nature within the ‘Green Line.’ An Israeli demand for population exchange is a racist argument, which aims to maintain and consolidate the Zionist colonial project throughout the entire area of historic Palestine. It avoids the need to dismantle one of the central components of the colonial project – i.e., post-1967 settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In other words, Israel wants to create a Palestinian–Palestinian trade-off and maintain the colonial project. Palestinian acceptance of this trade-off would legitimize the colonial project and all its components.
Suppose Israel would agree to become a “state of all its citizens!” Could this be a solution? It could be a solution, but only if we Palestinians inside Israel were ready to accept our division as a people – i.e., if we were ready to accept the consequences of the 1948 Nakba. Unless the issue of the Palestinians inside Israel is included as part and parcel of the Palestinian problem, the division of the Palestinian people will be consecrated. This would be akin to collusion with the colonial project. The mechanism for facing such a challenge is the establishment of inclusive broad-based Palestinian institutions, such as the PLO, which represent all the Palestinian people, and embody a collective Palestinian project. This is different from the Palestinian Authority, which is restricted to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and where other sectors of the Palestinian people are excluded or, at best, marginalized.
The democratic state, the bi-national state, and the two-state option
The ideal remedy for the historic injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people is a democratic state of Palestine in all of historic Palestine; a state which guarantees the right of return for the Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties and fully compensates them, individually and collectively, for their entire period of exile. This state would also be responsible to abolish the collective privileges, which Israel has provided to Jewish immigrants brought to the country at the expense of displaced Palestinians. The secular nature of this state will guarantee the separation of powers, and the separation of religion and state. Such a state will also provide safeguards against ongoing Jewish control over resources, economy, and governance.
Such safeguards cannot be achieved solely through individual or through a conventional liberal concept of the state. The space allocated to individuals in a state is relative to the overall public space available to the collective. Thus, if the collective space available to Palestinians in a secular democratic state is narrow and limited, so too will be the space allocated to individual Palestinians. This phenomenon curbs equal opportunities for collective and individual social, economic, and political development. Take the issue of individual Jews who have ‘acquired’ the properties of individual Palestinian refugees. According to the liberal concept of the state, individual Jews have legally acquired these properties in their capacity as an independent third party. The state has a duty to protect individual property. This means that a secular democratic state could not annul individual Jewish ownership, which resulted from a transaction between the state of Israel and its citizens, even though the state, on behalf of the Jewish collective, illegally expropriated land and properties from the Palestinian collective.
In contrast, a bi-national state is based on both collective and individual rights. Post-apartheid South Africa provides a useful example, despite the apparent differences between the struggles in the two countries. Post-apartheid South Africa has not been able to resolve the question of property/ownership rights. The demand for ‘land for the landless’ remains. Elements of the racist apartheid regime still dominate access and distribution of land and the economic structure of the country. Each South African has a right to vote in elections; this is an enormous source of power. However, it is not enough to remedy the historic injustice done to black South Africans.
Zionism wants the state of Israel to be a mono-national or mono-ethnic state with a clear ideological foundation. The need for a bi-national state is essentially a Palestinian need. However, in the long run, it may become an Israeli need if the balance of power eventually forces Israel to accept the historic compromise offered by the Palestinians. Two things are needed today. First, Palestinians citizens of Israel must continue to raise the demand for a bi-national state, based on shared authority and power, within the ‘Green Line.’ Second, Palestinians should raise the demand for the establishment of a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine. These demands are not mutually exclusive but part and parcel of each other.
This does not mean that the struggle for a two-state solution is wrong. Rather, it means that this struggle should be part of an overall project for a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine. It should be understood that a two-state solution alone cannot resolve the core of the historic injustice. A two-state solution may be necessary (as long as it is not conditioned upon a declaration of the end of the conflict) because it may be the only mechanism currently available to achieve a sovereign, even if not inclusive, entity for the Palestinian people for the first time in history. It also provides a strong platform for empowering the Palestinian people to prevent the bi-national state from being replaced by the reality of a colonial apartheid regime that we are facing today. Thus the two-state solution provides a guarantee for a more equitable formula, irrespective of the fact that it does not provide a comprehensive solution to the conflict.
|A just solution cannot be achieved through the displacement of Jews who were brought into the country by the Zionist colonial project, but rather through the provision of guarantees for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties and compensation for more than half a century of suffering. The liberal concept of the state, based on individual integration, cannot provide the structure required for this purpose because the hegemony associated with this type of state is not a function of the size of the different population groups within the state, but rather by control over the means and sources of power and of the internal and external environment of each group – an environment currently dominated by Israel.|
In this context, a bi-national state based on shared authority, differs from a secular democratic state. A just solution cannot be achieved through the displacement of Jews who were brought into the country by the Zionist colonial project, but rather through the provision of guarantees for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties and compensation for more than half a century of suffering. The liberal concept of the state, based on individual integration, cannot provide the structure required for this purpose because the hegemony associated with this type of state is not a function of the size of the different population groups within the state, but rather by control over the means and sources of power and of the internal and external environment of each group – an environment currently dominated by Israel. This type of state would only consolidate and promote this domination. A bi-national state, on the other hand, is characterized by a system of shared power and governance comprised of two entities. A bi-national state transforms the quantitative factor (i.e., the size of individual population groups) into a qualitative one. This is particularly obvious when we speak about collective rights and not equality between citizens based on citizenship.
Separation of the inhabitants or beneficiaries of the colonial regime from the regime itself is also an important component of future strategy. The example of South Africa is again instructive. The African National Congress never called for the expulsion of the white population who came to South Africa as part of the colonial project. In the Palestinian case, a bi-national state, which aims to put an end to the last of the colonial and apartheid regimes, is capable of creating future mobilization within the Jewish society itself, despite an almost absolute identification with the Zionist project to this day. The main actor, however, should be the Palestinian people. Their struggle must be guided by future prospects, and not by the current balance of power.
An essential condition for the advancement of this project is the creation of new collective mechanisms, in the homeland on both sides of the ‘Green Line’, in the refugee camps, and in other places of exile. In the short term, the demand for a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine may complicate realization of a two-state solution, which enjoys international support. Reliance on international positions, however, rather than Palestinian national principles, has resulted in retreat after retreat, and a situation whereby Israel, despite its violation of international law, has become more protected than its victims. This situation deteriorated further when the Palestinian Authority accepted a framework based on the balance of power. The role of the Palestinian Authority has been restricted to governing those Palestinians under its limited control, thereby limiting the capacity and potential of the Palestinian people for national liberation. An innovative Palestinian national project and a credible collective leadership must make the right of return a strategic aim, with a two-state solution as a step towards a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine.
Amir Makhoul is the Director of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Associations in 1948 Palestine. An Arabic version of this article was originally published in al-Adab (Summer 2002). The English translation by Khalil Toma was edited by BADIL. The article is reprinted here with permission of the author.