Peoples, One State
By Michael Tarazi
05 October 2004
New York Times
untenable policy in the Middle East was more obvious than usual last
week, as the Israeli Army made repeated incursions into Gaza, killing
dozens of Palestinians in the deadliest attacks in more than two years,
even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated his plans to withdraw
from the territory. Israel's overall strategy toward the Palestinians
is ultimately self-defeating: it wants Palestinian land but not the
Palestinians who live on that land.
As Christians and
Muslims, the millions of Palestinians under occupation are not welcome
in the Jewish state. Many Palestinians are now convinced that Israeli
support for a Palestinian state is motivated not by a hope for reconciliation,
but by a desire to segregate non-Jews while taking as much of their
land and resources as possible. They are increasingly questioning the
most commonly accepted solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
- "two states living side by side in peace and security,"
in the words of President Bush - and are being forced to consider a
the strategy behind Israel's two-state solution is clear. More than
400,000 Israelis live illegally in more than 150 colonies, many of which
are atop Palestinian water sources. Mr. Sharon is prepared to evacuate
settlers from Gaza - but only in exchange for expanding settlements
in the West Bank. And Israel is building a barrier wall not on its land
but rather inside occupied Palestinian territory. The wall's route maximizes
the amount of Palestinian farmland and water on one side and the number
of Palestinians on the other.
Yet while Israelis
try to allay a demographic threat, they are creating a democratic threat.
After years of negotiations, coupled with incessant building of settlements
and now the construction of the wall, Palestinians finally understand
that Israel is offering "independence" on a reservation stripped
of water and arable soil, economically dependent on Israel and even
lacking the right to self-defense.
As a result, many
Palestinians are contemplating whether the quest for equal statehood
should now be superseded by a struggle for equal citizenship. In other
words, a one-state solution in which citizens of all faiths and ethnicities
live together as equals. Recent polls indicate that a quarter of Palestinians
favor the secular one-state solution - a surprisingly high number given
that it is not officially advocated by any senior Palestinian leader.
Support for one
state is hardly a radical idea; it is simply the recognition of the
uncomfortable reality that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories
already function as a single state. They share the same aquifers, the
same highway network, the same electricity grid and the same international
borders. There are no road signs reading "Welcome to Occupied Territory"
when one drives into East Jerusalem. Some government maps of Israel
do not delineate Israel's 1967 pre-occupation border. Settlers in the
occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are interspersed among
Palestinian towns and now constitute nearly a fifth of the population.
In the words of one Palestinian farmer, you can't unscramble an egg.
But in this de facto
state, 3.5 million Palestinian Christians and Muslims are denied the
same political and civil rights as Jews. These Palestinians must drive
on separate roads, in cars bearing distinctive license plates, and only
to and from designated Palestinian areas. It is illegal for a Palestinian
to drive a car with an Israeli license plate. These Palestinians, as
non-Jews, neither qualify for Israeli citizenship nor have the right
to vote in Israeli elections.
In South Africa,
such an allocation of rights and privileges based on ethnic or religious
affiliation was called apartheid. In Israel, it is called the Middle
East's only democracy.
Most Israelis recoil
at the thought of giving Palestinians equal rights, understandably fearing
that a possible Palestinian majority will treat Jews the way Jews have
treated Palestinians. They fear the destruction of the never-defined
"Jewish state." The one-state solution, however, neither destroys
the Jewish character of the Holy Land nor negates the Jewish historical
and religious attachment (although it would destroy the superior status
of Jews in that state). Rather, it affirms that the Holy Land has an
equal Christian and Muslim character.
For those who believe
in equality, this is a good thing. In theory, Zionism is the movement
of Jewish national liberation. In practice, it has been a movement of
Jewish supremacy. It is this domination of one ethnic or religious group
over another that must be defeated before we can meaningfully speak
of a new era of peace; neither Jews nor Muslims nor Christians have
a unique claim on this sacred land.
The struggle for
Palestinian equality will not be easy. Power is never voluntarily shared
by those who wield it. Palestinians will have to capture the world's
imagination, organize the international community and refuse to be seduced
into negotiating for their rights.
But the struggle
against South African apartheid proves the battle can be won. The only
question is how long it will take, and how much all sides will have
to suffer, before Israeli Jews can view Palestinian Christians and Muslims
not as demographic threats but as fellow citizens.
Michael Tarazi is
a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
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