Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

December 23, 2009

One-state discussion gains visibility

Filed under: Discourse in America,One-state discussion — Helena Cobban @ 10:53 am

On December 20, the Palestinian human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab published an important article in the Los Angeles Times, arguing that “A one-state solution in the [Israel-Palestine] area is not as farfetched as it might seem.”

Kuttab’s argument is mainly a demographic one–

With Israel in total control of the territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and unwilling to relinquish a significant part of the land, it’s time to consider the possibility that the current situation — one state, in effect — will continue. And although Jewish Israelis may control it now, birthrates suggest that, sooner or later, Jews will again be a minority in the territory…

He then argues that,

Strong, institutionalized mechanisms will be needed to prevent the “tyranny of 51%”…

Both Hebrew and Arabic will be designated as official languages, and governmental offices will be closed for Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays. New laws will be enacted that strengthen the secular civil courts in personal status matters…

Kuttab’s argument is an important one– and the L.A. Times is to be commended for consistently helping to open up the discussion in the American MSM on this issue, including by publishing contributions from one-stater Saree Makdisi and others.

For my part, I’ve pondered on (and written about) this issue a lot over the past decade.  One of the first points I’d make is that the “demographic” argument that Jonthan Kuttab makes– which is one that’s also frequently made by Jewish Israelis who are arguing for a two-state outcome– is that it is already based on the disenfranchisement (or at the very least, the complete overlooking) of the rights and claims of that large portion of the Palestinian people who have been forced by Israeli policies to live outside their historic homeland altogether.

Palestinian refugees from 1948 living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or elswehere around the world… Those Palestinians who were made refugees during the great uprooting that occurred during and after the 1967 war… Those many additional hundreds of thousands of Palestinians previously resident in East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank, or Gaza who have been forced out of those territories during the 42 years of Israeli military occupation….  All those Palestinians have just as much claim on the land and resources of the area of Palestine/Israel as do the Palestinians who still reside there.

And they have just as much claim on that land and resources as any Jewish Israelis. That’s quite certain. So their claims to the land and resources of the area of Mandate Palestine cannot simply be waved away by Israel’s unilateral fiat.

In other words, the true demographic situation of people with a claim to Israel/Palestine is more like 67-33 in favor of the ethnic Palestinians, rather than being near any (purely Israeli defined) tipping point of 51-49.

So the need for constitutional protections of the true numerical minority would become, of course, even more urgent…

Having noted that, however, we also need to note that there remains strong opposition among Jewish Israelis– and among most of their supporters in other countries– to even holding any discussion of an outcome that would involve, as they say, “the destruction of the Jewish state.”

But it’s not so long ago that we were hearing exactly analogous arguments from many Afrikaners– members of the “white tribe of Africa” (in reality, a disgruntled group of white settlers in South Africa who had rebelled against their respective European metropoles.)  The Afrikaners claimed they were a distinct “race”, that had been subjected to unique “persecution” at the hands of European powers… that they were nonetheless representatives of some higher form of western civilization, who needed their own state in order to protect themselves from the non-European hordes who threatened to engulf and quite likely slaughter them… Etc, etc, etc.

You don’t hear those claims any more.  In fact, Afrikaners are still living quite well in the new, much more fully democratic South Africa in which their language is one of the twelve recognized national languages and they live as quite equal citizens with members of the non-“White” majority.

But before the Afrikaners got to that point, they went through a number of phases. The first was apartheid, which was a systematic attempt to deny any political rights within South Africa to people who not “White”, and to offload as many non-“Whites” as possible into the archipelago of almost completely rights-free Bantustans.

A second phase, as the tides of democracy and human equality rose higher and higher around them, was that some militant Afrikaners threatened to create their own little, completely homogenous statelet in the middle of South Africa. That was the project of one of the Afrikaner parties that competed in the landmark 1994 election… But at that point, it was roundly rejected by the majority of Afrikaners, who finally realized that they would fare far better as a minority with some good constitutional protections (and with all their legacy privileges of good education and good economic standing left quite intact) than they would as kings of a tiny rump state that would be shunned by just about the rest of the world.

Those transformations of thinking take time. And in South Africa, they depended on a lot of concessions being made by the ANC as it negotiated its way to power.

But the ANC never negotiated away the core principle of the political and legal equality of all citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

One person, one vote.  It’s been a powerful idea throughout history. No reason it can’t be equally powerful for Palestinians and Israelis as they think hard about the kind of homeland they want to build in the future…

One last point here. Since I do believe strongly in the fundamental principle of the equality of all human persons, I think that, as between Jewish Israelis and ethnic Palestinians in the area of Mandate Palestine, that equality could be expressed in the form of two co-equal states, one that would be majority Palestinian and the other majority Jewish, each of which would be equally viable and equally independent.  Or, it could be expressed in the form of a single state, in which all the legitimate citizens (that is, all present Israelis and all present Palestinians) would have full political and legal equality.

But I’m not a direct stakeholder in this conflict. So I leave it to those who are to make their choice… That is, to all Israeli citizens and to all Palestinians… wherever they may currently be forced to live.



  1. I notice that you fudge the demographics a bit, either everyone’s Diaspora plays or no one plays. 13m Jews vs. 5.5m Palestinians is a deal I can accept. Or it becomes the state of the people who live there now, which might actually produce the kind of parity and dead-lock that might lead to negotiations. No, it is always “Jewish Israeli citizens living there now vs. everyone who claims to be a Palestinian” in the one-staters’ demographic calculus.

    The other thing is that the ANC was a fundamentally different organization from Hamas in its entire concept of political and social life, and it recognized Afrikaners’ rights and culture in a way that is utterly foreign to any Palestinian party’s concept of Jewish rights and culture, except for the fringes of Hadash and the PFLP. (And you’d need non-statist -Zionist Israeli parties, like Hadash, MAKI, the weirder Jewish religious parties.) If you were going to go one-state with the Israeli Islamic Movement representing Palestinian Muslims, you might have a chance, but fundamentally you need a core of democratic parties able to devolve Jewish state institutions to awaqaf AND be confident that the parties on the other side are playing the democratic game. Also, the Boers had an experience of their nationalism being disassembled by force under the British while their community retained political power and leverage of its own. The ANC had therefore actually done less material damage and was promising better terms of reconciliation, compared to previous experience. Jewish communities of the Arab world…dissolved, except Morocco and Iran, where they live as “protected persons” in conditions no Israeli Jew or Palestinian Arab would accept as a settlement.

    One-state is so generally couched as an Algerian solution in reality touted as a South African solution in potential, as the obvious demographics of it suggest.

    Comment by Eurosabra — December 24, 2009 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

  2. Its Must see, Palestinian professor Walid Khalidi speaks in the UN about Jerusalem(Al Quds)

    Dr. Walid Khalidi was educated in London and Oxford and has taught at Oxford University, the American University of Beirut and Harvard University. Since 1982, he has been a senior research fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Members of his family have served Jerusalem as scholars, judges, diplomats and members of parliament since the late 12th century.

    Comment by Salah — December 27, 2009 @ 2:09 am | Reply

  3. Eurosabra, every single Jew in the world has had ample opportunity in the past 60 years to go to Israel and become Israeli, but around half of them have chosen not to do so– not least, because they live safe, and prosperous lives as well-integrated citizens elsewhere. (Anyway, since when did a religion provide the basis for a citizenship?) so why should we count “all the Jews”?

    As for the Palestinians, give them 60 years of open-door policy on a return to their real homeland, with or without with the same heavy incentives for migrating there that Jews have had for the past 60 years, and after that– perhaps– you could “close the door” on further Palestinian claims on the homeland.

    But it is still quite untrue to say the two groups’ claims are analogous. For the past 61 years, the authorities in the Jewish State have kept many millions of Palestinians out of their own historic homeland. Many Palestinians, both inside and outside their homeland, remain stateless. Does the concept of statelessness and the intense vulnerability it entails mean nothing to you, in the context of Jewish history?

    Comment by Helena Cobban — December 27, 2009 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  4. The Jews who became stateless as Sahrawi Jews, with no other nationality than “Jewish” under French colonial or independent Algerian law, on Algerian independence, became French ex gratia. I believe Israel has just as much obligation to make 1948 exiles, at least the 300,000 still alive, Israeli as Algeria did to its native Jews, but wishing does not make it so. I do not think Israel has an obligation beyond those 300,000, and most Israelis would argue that Palestinian statelessness results from Palestinian failures and the failures of the Arab states. You count all Palestinians and all Jews, or the people living there, or, most likely, some self-serving combination. I like the current State of Israel’s self-serving attitude more than yours, because it involves NOT flooding my society with very-likely-to-be-radicalized Diaspora Palestinians.

    The fact that you regard “Jewish” as a religion and not a (basis for) nationality, when it has been de jure and de facto a nationality for tens if not hundreds of unitary, oppressive, religiously-defined non-Jewish states for upwards of a thousand years, and that this has quite literally been the bane of Jewish existence, means that you have a different understanding of the experience of Jewish history that gave rise to Israeli citizenship law. Palestinian identity is often lauded as territory-based in contrast, even including “Palestinian Jews” in potentiality, and thus praised as more inclusive, yet the particular solution of ending their statelessness by returning them to Israel is still a non-starter.

    Comment by Eurosabra — December 28, 2009 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  5. This for the Arab Jews in general and Iraqi Jews specifically should be read and understand their case, its better that generalising things for East Europe Jews case and their Zionist leaders who start their 2000 years old dream…

    Deliberate Transfer
    That the Jews had to leave behind their possessions – an historical view that involves only the
    Arabic countries – was, according to the sociologist, Yehouda Shenhav, deliberate: in order to
    protect Israel from Palestinian claims for compensation. Therefore, Israel supported no individual
    demands from Iraq made by the Iraqi Jews: “It was important that it remain “collective”.
    Even in Israel itself the Iraqi immigrant expected a “systematic cultural cleansing,” said Nisim
    Rejwan with great bitterness at the conference. He left Baghdad in 1951. By citing quotes from
    David Ben Gurion and Golda Meier, the eighty year-old Rejwan highlighted the colonial arrogance
    felt by the Eastern Jews at the time of integration.
    The author, Sami Michael, discovered that the ideological dictates of the Zionists made a neutral
    non-partisan depiction of the life of the Jews in Iraq impossible. Now these Jews want their history
    back. In fact, consideration is being made of a new museum, since the one in Tel Aviv fails to
    mention any Iraqi Jewish leader who defied Zionism.

    Iraqi Jews Want to Be Arabs by
    Gudrun Harrer

    Comment by Salah — December 28, 2009 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  6. One Iraqi Jew of Israeli citizenship whom the vagaries of the Saddam era had allowed to retain an Iraqi passport voted for a Left-Socialist Iraqi party in one of the post-2003 elections, via the Iraqi embassy in Jordan. That was the last meaningful political participation of an Iraqi Jew as such, and the first since 1979. Their community is even more decisively changed than that of the native Algerian Sahrawi Jews, who became French wholly ex gratia and had had a “Jewish” status as “Jewish natives” as late as 1962. There is no Mizrahi-membership-majority party besides Shas in Israel, and Michael’s Iraqi-Communist-Jewish-Left, like MAKI, is gone, as are the Black Panthers. The difference between Khalil Hawi and Sami Michael is that Sami Michael does not own firearms. There is nostalgia, and then there is fantasy.

    Comment by Eurosabra — January 2, 2010 @ 3:03 pm | Reply

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