Israel's twilight years
Palestinians are increasingly rejecting the crumbs of a two-state solution in favour of justice for all in a single state, Palestine, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
As Israel ostentatiously celebrates the passage of 60 years since its creation in Palestine in 1948, more than nine million Palestinians at home and in exile are commemorating the Nakba, the violent seizure of their ancestral homeland by Zionist Jews and the dispossession, expulsion and dispersion of the bulk of Palestinians to the four corners of the globe.
This year, activities are taking place in many parts of the world where Palestinian refugees and expatriates reside, dreaming of and awaiting a return to their homeland that appears nowhere on the horizon of political reality.
Palestinians, irrespective of their political affiliations, are not only reasserting the legal and moral status of their right to return to the homes and villages from which they were expelled at gunpoint, or otherwise made to flee 60 years ago, but are also emphasising to all who will listen, including their own leaders, that the right of return remains -- and will always be -- the heart, soul and centrepiece of the Palestinian issue.
To the chagrin of most Palestinians, the commemoration of the Nakba this year coincides with the ongoing crisis between Fatah and Hamas, which some Palestinian intellectuals are already referring to as the "second Nakba". Fortunately, however, and despite all differences, the national rift between Fatah and Hamas has not shaken national consensus on the paramount importance of the right of return.
But while the "second Nakba" looks more or less reversible, ostensibly at least, the first Nakba is something entirely different, given its historical and strategic dimensions and the indelible physical realities it created and keeps creating, even today, 60 years later. Many Israelis and Palestinians believe that the Nakba is still ongoing. The deadly Israeli blockade of Gaza, along with daily killings by the Israeli occupation army of ordinary Palestinians, is déjà-vu for elderly Palestinians who lived the nightmare of mass murder, mass terror and ethnic cleansing in 1948.
With Israel continuing the process of annulling whatever prospects still remaining for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, many Palestinians are quietly turning to the one-state option. In reality, the one-state solution has been the Palestinians' unconscious and undeclared baseline for years.
This week, Ahmed Qurei, head of the Palestinian negotiation team, revealed that he told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently that the Palestinians would "resort to the one-state option if Israel refused to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders."
Qurei said he didn't know if ongoing talks with Israel would lead to a breakthrough. "The overall situation is very difficult and discouraging. The Israeli position is rapacious, the Palestinian position is weak, the international community is hypocritical, and the Arab world is nearly impotent."
Al-Ahram Weekly asked Qurei if the occasional evocation of the "one-state solution" was a tactic used by the Palestinians to get Israel to be more forthcoming, or whether it was a serious option. Qurei replied: "It is not a tactic. One doesn't have to be a great expert in politics to realise that if the two-state solution failed, the only remaining alternative would be the one-state solution. There is no other alternative, apart from the occupation, apartheid and colonisation, which are unsustainable."
Qurei, who came under a barrage of criticisms lately for engaging in "endless" negotiations without determining how the "endgame" would look, said he didn't know whether Israel was really interested in peace with the Palestinians. He pointed out that Israel has reached a critical point where it has to choose between being a Jewish state or a bi-national state in which at least half its citizens are non-Jews.
Qurei's incertitude about negotiations is drawing the ire of a growing sector of Palestinian intellectuals, encompassing elites from across the Palestinian political and ideological spectrum. This week, the Palestine One State Forum formulated a manifesto for the one-state solution, which calls for the creation of a unitary democratic state in all of mandatory Palestine from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan, and where Israelis and Palestinians would live as equal citizens.
The manifesto, published Thursday 15 May, comprises six points:
- Palestine: The historical land of Palestine is the patrimony and motherland of the Palestinian people which in the context of a durable and comprehensive settlement would accept Israelis as equal citizens in a unitary democratic state.
- The right of return: Every Palestinian forced to flee his homeland (Israel proper) has an inalienable right to return as well as receive compensation and reparations for the psychological, economic and social losses he or she incurred.
- Zionism: Zionism is an exclusionary ideology and part of the international colonialist movement, which created and consolidated a racist state for Jews at the expense of the Palestinian people, resulting in the murder and expulsion of over half the Palestinians. Hence, we see that this ideology must be declared illegal and the political infrastructure based on it dismantled.
- One state for all: The creation of one state in historical Palestine is the most just, realistic, moral and humane solution of the Palestinian question which would guarantee peace and stability in the region. The creation of a unitary democratic state encompassing Israelis currently living in Israel and Palestinians, on the basis of equality as citizens and justice for all regardless of religion, race or sex, is the ideal way of resolving this conflict that has been raging since the outset of the 20th century.
- Historical reconciliation: The one-state solution would serve as the beginning of a historical reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that would erase the destructive effects of decades of occupation and colonisation. However, the process of reconciliation would have to be preceded by genuine acknowledgement of and apology by Israel for the historical injustices and losses inflicted on the Palestinian people. Moreover, Israel along with the international community would have to compensate the Palestinians for their suffering and losses.
- This vision requires the concerted efforts of the Palestinian people everywhere as well as the efforts of peace-loving Israelis and Jews and all men and women of good will around the world.
Such ideas are anathema for Israel, Zionism and the vast bulk of Jews, since they imply the ultimate dismantling of Zionism and the creation of a bi-national state where Palestinians would eventually have a numerical majority. They also represent a jolt to collective Palestinian thinking, long inured in the idea of Palestinian statehood.
But as Qurei pointed out, the one-state solution will become the Palestinian option not as a matter of choice, but rather because all other alternatives have been effaced. Continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, coupled with shrinking political prospects for a viable Palestinian state, is already presenting Palestinians with a dilemma, namely to face national dissolution (i.e. the Jordanian option in the West Bank and the Egyptian option in the Gaza Strip), or embark on a lengthy re- evaluation towards adopting the one-state solution.
The Weekly asked two prominent Palestinian intellectuals if they thought the two-state option was still valid. Nasser Al-Qidwa is the former Palestinian representative to the UN. He says that, "time is really running out for the two-state solution" in light of the changing realities on the ground in the occupied territories.
"What the Palestinians ought to do now is to reassert the essence of the conflict, which is the Israeli military occupation of our country. We must also take a decisive stand on the issue of Jewish settlements; we simply can't negotiate while Israel is stealing more of our land.
"The other thing is that we must stop babbling about creating a state. Instead, we must demand national independence, independence from foreign military occupation."
When asked how he would imagine the future of the conflict with Israel if the two-state scenario failed, Al-Qidwa said the alternative would not be good for anyone, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the region and the world at large. "There would be a lot of violence, turbulence, and bloodshed the scope of which is difficult to predict now."
Azzam Tamimi is founder of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London and author of several books on the Palestinian issue. He believes that Israel has already reached its zenith and is beginning a downward slide as a racist entity that would end with its dissolution and disappearance.
"I don't know for sure how many years Israel will survive. However, Israel will definitely get smaller. The trend since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 has been the decline of the Zionist project and the shrinkage of its territorial colonialism. It is likely that a few heavily fortified areas will remain under Zionist control, but it is more likely that Israel as a Zionist state will disappear."
Tamimi, who recently wrote a book on Hamas, said he didn't think that any conceivable Palestinian state on all or parts of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem would be viable.
"An entity created on any part of the territories, even if called a Palestinian state, will simply be a dependent unviable entity whose purpose is to prolong Israel's life. There is the possibility that unilateral withdrawals by Israel from here or there will leave the Palestinians with no option but to emulate statehood, but that prospect can never be a viable state."