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Co-Editors Mouin Rabbani and Noura Erakat, and O.I.L. Page Co-Editor Max Ajl, on “What Comes Next?: A Forum on the End of the Two-State Paradigm”

[These posts are part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here. These original pieces were originally posted here, here, and here.]

Strategy Before Solutions, Mouin Rabbani

It has in recent years become increasingly fashionable to compare Israel with South Africa during the apartheid era. Extending beyond an analysis of similarities in the origins and development of these settler-colonial states, and their policies towards their respective indigenous populations and regional environments, such comparisons have extended to the prescriptive realm. Since Israel is an apartheid state – so the argument goes – the solution must and indeed can only be a unitary democratic entity throughout historic Palestine in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are equal before the law in rights and responsibilities.

To make the case that Israel practices apartheid as defined by the United Nations General Assembly in 1973 or the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is one thing. To conclude that Israel is South Africa, with all the attendant political consequences, quite another. 

Let us start with some basic political and demographic realities. In apartheid South Africa, at most 10 per cent of the population consisted of descendants of European settlers, and the latter were also significantly outnumbered if we subtract the bantustans from the equation and focus on the main urban areas. In Palestine, Israeli Jews constitute some 50 per cent of the population of the entire territory and at least 80 per cent of residents of Israel within its internationally-recognised boundaries. The proportion of Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories residing within Israel, as well as their proportion of the total Israeli population, is furthermore – and in sharp contrast to the bantustans – today negligible.  In an even sharper contrast, more than half of all Palestinians are exiled beyond the borders of both Israel and the occupied territories.  (This reflects another basic difference between the two situations: Whereas South Africa primarily related to the indigenous population as a reservoir of cheap labour, in Israel the imperative has been their removal from the land.)

Politically, therefore, the liberation of South Africa did not require a military option – although it is likely that Umkhonto we Sizwe, SWAPO and the Cuban armed forces hastened the white minority regime’s demise. The realities of South Africa were such that sustained mass popular action was sufficient to bring the country to its knees. Crucially, these realities included the delegitimization of apartheid and indeed the South African state by the international community – several decades before the struggle was crowned with success, one might add.

Palestine is a different kettle of fish. Civil rights marches, a mass uprising, even a sustained guerilla campaign is not going to bring about the end of Zionism. And in a situation where the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are committed to living in an entity with a Jewish demographic majority, nothing less than the unconditional surrender of the Israeli state will suffice to bring about a unitary democratic state throughout historic Palestine in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are equal before the law in rights and responsibilities. (For good reason, this has been the traditional position of Palestinian advocates of a unitary state since 1948). It should in this respect also be noted that while Israel’s occupation of Arab territory in 1967 has never been legitimised, Israel today is no longer an international pariah, and is in fact recognized (as a state) by considerably more states than it was in 1990. Similarly, the United Nations General Assembly has long since renounced its condemnation of Zionism.

The latter, moreover, is a not insignificant difference; whereas the ANC could essentially bully the white minority into accepting democracy for reasons of self-preservation, in the case of Israel international isolation will have to play a much larger role to bring about its demise. Furthermore, whereas disgorging Namibia earned South Africa negligible credit precisely because the occupying state itself was deemed illegitimate, in Israel’s case it is the occupation that forms the main challenge to continued international legitimacy. Withdrawing from the territories it occupied in 1967 in response to unbearable pressure, in other words, would largely reverse efforts to once again make it an international pariah. 

Put differently, it is insufficient for advocates of a one state solution to argue that it is right and just and better than the alternatives. Rather, they need to present a credible strategy for achieving the unconditional surrender of the Israeli state, or at the very least circumstances conducive to a negotiated surrender. And in view of prevailing realities, this means a credible military strategy rather than BDS. They must furthermore do so in a context where most Arab states – and the Palestinian Authority in particular – are committed to disarming rather than enabling Palestinian armed activity, while Iran – at loggerheads with both Hamas and the PLO, and seeking a nuclear deal with Washington with potential regional implications – may unlike the Cubans in southern Africa no longer be an option. Circumstances of course change, but that statement of fact falls somewhat short of a strategy. One might as well resort to Bashar al-Asad’s proclamations that Syria will respond to Israeli aggression at the time and in the manner of its choosing.

Indeed, if one insists on treating the territory of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as indistinguishable for purposes of conflict resolution, comparisons with Algeria appear more apt than South Africa. Algeria and Palestine are also more similar in another crucial respect; unlike the ANC with its Freedom Charter, the PLO has historically identified national self-determination within an Arab state as its strategic objective. Given the choice between living in a country of their own (however defined) or sharing it on an equal basis with the descendants of those who dispossessed them, most Palestinians, including exiled refugees, would most likely choose the former. While the Palestinian national movement does not call for the expulsion of Israel’s Jews, the latter can be expected to resist the prospect of a unitary democracy that transforms them into a minority more viciously than the pieds-noirs did Algerian independence.

The question in 2013 is therefore not whether a one or two state outcome is more just or right or fair. Rather it is what strategy Palestinians should pursue to achieve their inalienable rights, first and foremost the right to national self-determination. Seen in this perspective, it seems beyond argument that Palestinians must focus their efforts on two essential objectives: to disengage from the Oslo process and consign it to history, and on this basis launch a dynamic and effective campaign to terminate the occupation. When all is said and done, the occupation remains Israel’s Achilles Heel in its relationship with the Palestinians, the Arabs and indeed the world, and terminating it therefore the essential precondition for any outcome. 

In practice, this means pursuing a two-state settlement on the basis of mass action led by a vibrant national movement that mobilises the full spectrum of available resources to enforce the prevailing international consensus upon Israel. While Palestinians should under no circumstances (again) renounce the right to armed force in accordance with international standards, the struggle against occupation is in contrast to that against Zionism not dependent upon military victory and – as a comparison between the 1987-1993 and 2000-2005 uprisings suggests – may well be weakened by a resort to warfare.

Should such a strategy achieve success, it is likely to hasten rather than foreclose upon the day when a unitary democratic entity throughout historic Palestine is established in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are equal before the law in rights and responsibilities. Those claiming this represents defeatism have a responsibility to respond with more than a utopian vision of justice. Indeed, they must present a concrete plan of action and demonstrate that it is more effective than that being denounced. Homilies to democracy, equality and international solidarity are in this respect simply insufficient. 

Until the building blocks for such a strategy are put in place by the Palestinians themselves, and is implemented on the basis of mass mobilization (and in which external support can be critical rather than decisive) the debate about one or two states is as meaningful as a condemned man spending the night before his execution deciding whether to spend his next summer in the French or Italian Riviera.

With the recent twentieth anniversary of the Oslo Agreement, many observers have pointed to its purported failure as the ultimate indictment of a two-state settlement. If these weren’t in so many cases the same people who euphorically celebrated the White House handshake rather than experiencing near-fatal arrhythmia, one might take them more seriously. For Oslo, working precisely as planned and arguably one of the most successful diplomatic agreements of the twentieth century, was never intended to remove Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories. Using Oslo as a pretext to renounce the primacy of the struggle against occupation in order to embark upon an even greater challenge – and one ultimately dependent on successfully confronting the occupation – is therefore the height of political irresponsibility, on a par with ever having supported the agreement. Under current circumstances, it is also more likely to legitimize the occupation than delegitimize the occupying power. 

Even One State May Not Be Enough, Noura Erakat

From its inception, the two-state solution lacked the potential to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  In response to a political conflict characterized by existential questions and struggles for self-determination, the Oslo Accords partitioned disconnected lands into islands without challenging the institutions producing and reifying power disparities between a state and a people.  The Oslo Accords made no mention of authoritative law or human rights, and never contended with Jewish claims for self-determination on a territory with an indigenous population.  The lack of historical and legal referents subjected negotiations to moving goal posts.  Accordingly, “the pragmatic solution” became an ever-shifting prescription to new realities created by ongoing Israeli expansionism and displacement.

Precisely because of its structural flaws, in the twenty years since Oslo was signed, Israel has been able to entrench its settler-colonial project in the West Bank, comprehensively isolate the Palestinians in Gaza, and torpedo the two-state solution. The number of settlers in the West Bank has increased from 200,000 to 600,000; Area C, or 62% of the West Bank is the site of aggressive settlement expansion; Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are the target of an explicit ethnic cleansing campaign that seeks to reduce their proportion from forty to thirty percent by 2020; eighty-five percent of the Annexation Wall weaves through the West Bank, confiscating thirteen percent of the Occupied Territory; Military Order 1650 makes illegal the presence of Palestinians from Gaza in the West Bank thus entrenching the political, geographic, social, and cultural difference between the population that should constitute a single civic polity in an independent Palestinian state.

On the ground, the two-state solution is dead.

Today, the Jewish-Israeli and Muslim and Christian Palestinian population are inextricably populated throughout Mandate Palestine with the exception of the Gaza Strip. Despite their geographic proximity, the vast gulf that separates them is one rooted in law, policy, and decree that affords Jewish persons superiority and privilege relative to their non-Jewish counterparts. Unlike secular democracies committed to a supposedly indiscriminate rule of law, Israel does not cultivate an inclusive civic polity.  Instead, it affords its right to nationality to Jews only.  While Israel’s 1.2 million-strong Palestinians are afforded citizenship, they are systematically excluded from the numerous and exclusive privileges of nationality. 

The policies meted out against the indigenous population intend to limit their territorial, historical, and contemporary claims for equal treatment as evidenced by the passage of recent laws, including the Nakba Law and the Ban on Family Reunification.

While civil law within Israel distinguishes between Jewish nationals and citizens and non-Jewish citizens only, in the OPT military law distinguishes between Jewish settler-nationals and Palestinian civilians.  In both contexts, the law privileges Jewish persons, and abridges the rights of non-Jewish others. 

No territorial partition can adequately remedy an apartheid institution. The removal of Jewish-Israeli settlers and industries from the West Bank will not impact the institution that will continue to forcibly exile existing refugees and to create new refugees and internally displaced persons. Worse, even if the settlers and their industries could be removed, highly doubtful since the settlement-industries are worth 13.775 billion USD, it does not remove Israel’s dependence on the West Bank for water resources. All available major water resources are located in the West Bank and Israel disproportionately benefits from their respective yields. Past Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak have made clear that even if a two state solution is achieved, Israel will not alter its exploitation of these water resources.

The one state solution is intended to overcome these hurdles by prescribing equality and integration rather than partition. As such, the one state solution aims to dismantle institutional privilege but it does not necessarily redress Palestinian claims stemming from settler-colonialism. Not on its face, anyway. To do more, assuming that more should be done, it must be fleshed out thoroughly as a political program. This program must account for historical, contemporary, territorial, and national claims of Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians. It must answer questions about return, repatriation, forced migration, past and present, among Jews and Palestinians throughout the Middle East, and questions of national homeland—of future immigration policies, the prospects of bi-nationalism, competing claims to property, and this is to say nothing of restitution and redress for all the suffering wrong upon occupied lands and their populations. At this juncture, this program deserves to be developed. Once fleshed out into its details, strident supporters of the one-state solution may find it less appealing prompting some to birth new visions all together.

However, dismissing the one-state solution as a vision because the program to achieve it does not exist is like rejecting an application before it has been filled out. Until now, proponents of a single state have only insisted on its value but have not discussed its substance. Given the one state reality on the ground today together with the “last chance” nature of ongoing negotiations, it seems that this time is upon us.

What Comes Next: Struggle, or solutions?, 
Max Ajl

The debate about one state or two states masks something basic: the diplomatic dance around the two-state solution has been one long performance, a means to manage the zero-sum conflict between Israeli settler-capitalism and the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Settler states are based on land. Their signal trait is to expand until such expansion is no longer politically possible. Such expansion is not generally ideologically driven. Land is a resource, and taking more of it is the easiest way to resolve internal social conflicts over distribution. The entire history of European settler colonialism has been linked to postponing and deflecting social conflict within European states.

Israel is no exception to this general rule. The country was founded on a series of thefts assisted by British colonial violence, until such time as the Zionist institutions were strong enough to expand without the direct stewardship of a metropolitan sponsor. Those thefts expanded rapidly through the Nakba, then more gradually after the 1967 war.

In its wake, settlement expansion slowly inched up, then exploded during the Oslo period, as the internal-to-the-Green-Line welfare components of the Israeli state withered under Labor and Likud governments alike – of course, outside of the Green Line, the welfare state for Jews is alive and well.

Indeed, it is through the welfare of settlements and subsidized housing on stolen Palestinian land that the Israeli elite postpones demands for intra-Jewish redistribution.

Through this process, colonialism, social welfare, and militarism have melded into an overwhelming expansionist drive.

But also one which has encountered two remarkably resilient obstacles: Palestinian nationalism and broader Arab anti-colonialism.

When settler-colonialism must advance against and through such obstacles, the result is political friction – leading to a heat buildup which threatens the smooth functioning of the entire regional system if temperatures rise too high.

The so-called peace process has been about managing that friction, preventing it from damaging the larger machine of American power in the Middle East. Part of this has involved cutting off its fuel supply: Arab anti-Zionist sentiment. One mode of restricting the fuel supply has been demonizing the Palestinians, thereby reducing sympathy for them in such quarters. Another means to control the heat level has been to channel it into parts of the machine designed to absorb it.

The Muslim Brotherhood is one such component. The PA is another, and one with a strong interest in sustaining the peace process in perpetuity, an interest with roots in the Gulf money which turned the PLO into a rigid bureaucracy. The upshot of this process was that even anti-colonial nationalism became a commodity, on the market for the right price – in this case, monopolies on service provision in the West Bank and posts at the helm of Ramallah NGOs, turning resistance into quiescence and the cant of co-existence.

In describing such modes of gutting the resistance, collaboration is a misnomer, for it rests on the presumption that the interests of the Palestinian elite follow the flag and not the dollar.

The basic role of the United States has been to fuel the peace process, making sure that it can continue to cover up Israeli rejectionism, year-in and year-out.

From this perspective, the problem with the so-called international consensus two-state solution has not been that it accepts colonial facts on the ground. The problem is that it is a lie.

Thus the debate around it in Western circles is irrelevant, if not actively damaging. For it presumes, and thereby reinforces, the myth that either it or a one-state resolution are on the table.

They are not. What is on the table for the foreseeable future, especially in the absence of massive revolt in the region and especially amongst Palestinians, is sustained occupation, settlement expansion, and further Bantustanization – the grammar of brutality in which settler-colonialism expresses itself in historic Palestine.

The only thing that will put justice on the table is sustained action, above all in Palestine and the surrounding Arab world, secondarily against Israel’s main patrons: the US and European governments. As Bashir Abu Manneh writes, the key is “actively threatening U.S.-Israel domination” of the area.

A corollary is that points of reference need not be discussion about states or solutions, as any such solution or state will be the outcome of political processes internal to the Palestinian national body, regional mobilization, and our grassroots movements in the global North.

In other words, the reference should be the struggle itself, not solutionism. And that struggle will be regional.

One crucial locus of that struggle is the BDS campaign, with its baseline demands of equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the end of the occupation, and the Right of Return.

Additionally, there are constant and ongoing efforts by Palestinians in exile to strengthen their community formations. Insofar as it is appropriate and it is requested, those efforts deserve our support. And if those formations put forth an anti-colonial or anti-capitalist politics going beyond rights to a wider vision of social justice, activists should support them.

Supporting such work also means defending the exiled from the repression the US government doles out so generously to Palestinians who remain active in the struggle, like Rasmea Odeh and Hatem Abudayyeh.

At home, our task is simple and Olympian. We have to break the Special Relationship – the keystone of imperial strategy in the region. Along the way, to build up the strength to win that victory, we must amass smaller ones: university divestments, removal of cooperation between American and Israeli institutions, and especially cutting though the sub-links which bind the US and Israel as partners in repression – Urban Shield, for example, or US co-production of drone technology.

These are also opportunities for joint work between solidarity campaigners and other resistance to the policies of the US state. In fact, they are more than opportunities. They are responsibilities. The temptation to shear Palestine work from other anti-racist struggles must be resisted at all costs. All contributions are important, but when campaigners weave together struggles at the grassroots, all of our struggles become stronger. The alliance between Students for Justice in Palestine and Movímíento Estudíantíl Chicano de Aztlán, built from the ground up by organizers in New Mexico, is one such example among many.

Work at home must join in active support and solidarity with grassroots initiatives within Palestine-Israel. That may include supporting, in partial ways, economic struggles within Israel. If so, movements involved in such work ought to be held accountable on the colonial question. The way to do so is engagement, not to demand that imperfect struggles simply go home.

In turn, by building unity through the process of struggle itself, we will be ready to provide the necessary support when, or if, the next intifada occurs. For if that happens, it is likely to be in the context of a broader regional challenge to American-Israeli power, the response to which will be incredible violence – an attempt to turn resistance into rubble.

If we want to prevent that from happening, our main tasks are at home. In this tableau a discussion of one or two states matters not at all.

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