Posted on 27th April 2015, by & filed under Uncategorised.

Julia Olioff – ICAHD Intern – 2015

As facts on the ground in Israel/Palestine make it evident that a two state solution is no longer feasible, there has been increasing discourse on the possibilities of a one state solution among intellectuals, activists and journalists. Over the past month I interviewed some of these Israeli and Palestinian thinkers on their perceptions of a one state solution to begin qualitative research on the subject. In total I interviewed 5 Israelis and 3 Palestinians in person and 1 Israeli and 1 Palestinian through email. In the meantime, I have been travelling around the country hearing the stories of Palestinians who have been affected by Israel’s apartheid policies and this has influenced my own ideas on the possibilities of a one state solution.
In this report, I summarize the opinions I obtained on a one state solution, beginning with the belief that a one state solution is viable. I discuss the main obstacles of a one state solution as presented by the thinkers I interviewed and why they maintain that it is crucial to be discussing solutions. I then discuss the position articulated by many of my interviewees that discussing a one state solution is irrelevant and that it can be problematic. I conclude by discussing what I have seen over the past month in Israel/Palestine and how this has affected my perception on discussions of a one state solution.
Of the people I interviewed, 5 believed that the creation of one state is the most viable solution to ending the Israeli apartheid. One of these interviewees was Zakaria Odeh, the executive director of the Civic Coalition, which is the steering committee for several human rights organizations in Palestine. The Civic Coalition monitors the situation on the ground, makes plans and devises policies to work toward ending the apartheid, raises awareness on the situation both within Israel/ Palestine and internationally, and conducts legal interventions and international legal advocacy. Odeh is a refugee from Lifta who lives in Jerusalem.
According to Odeh, the “one state solution is the only viable solution”, as ”there is nothing left to create a Palestinian state”. In our interview he explained that the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been so fragmented by Israeli policies that a Palestinian state could only be ”a group of communities separated by settlements”, which would be unable to support itself economically and would suffer from a lack of resources. For Odeh, a Palestinian state ”is not fair or realistic on the ground”.
Odeh is among many thinkers who believe that a one state solution should be structured as a secular democracy, namely with one person per vote elections. According to Odeh, a one state solution would have ”no discrimination in the voting system, regardless of how the government would be set up”. The state would have joint Israeli-Palestinian local authorities, and as there would be a joint government, there would be a joint economy.
In the one state solution Odeh described, Palestinian refugees from the diasporas would return to their homeland. He argued that there is enough space for these refugees to do so without Israelis having to leave their homes, as Israel has created so much vacant space that could be inhabited, such as the nature reserves and closed military zones that have been established largely to prevent the development and expansion of Palestinian communities. Nevertheless, Odeh did not believe that even half the refugees would return as they have already established themselves where they are, for instance those Palestinians living in Jordan.
Similarly, Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian professor at the Bethlehem and Birzheit Universities and author of several books who I interviewed over email, argued that a one state solution is ‘’the only viable and durable solution to the conundrums of the Middle East’’. Qumsiyeh also believed that refugees must be able to return from the diasporas and that the structure of the government within a future state must be determined by the people after return. In his book, Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle, he describes his vision of the one state solution as a pluralistic democracy with a separate legislative, judiciary and executive. The legislative would decide on laws without infringing on rights of minorities and no political party would be permitted to advocate for a state based on a particular religion. Qumsiyeh told me over email, that the most important work today is “towards human rights which include right of return to refugees, restitution of stolen property and equality. That is what we work for as a direction for a durable peace. By nature that leads to one state.”
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner who works as the coordinator of advocacy and public relations for the Civic Coalition also believes in a one state solution. Originally from Austria, Gassner moved to Israel/Palestine around the time of the First Intifada to pursue work for Palestinian human rights. In our interview Gassner argued that, “if you think about the rights of Palestinians and how to guarantee them, it makes more sense to have one state”. She believed a shared state would allow Palestinians to have self-determination, human, economic and social rights, as well as their right to return. Furthermore, according to Gassner, a one state solution makes more sense because it includes the Palestinians living within Israel today in the solution as they would be able to remain where they are currently living. As Palestinians no matter where they are located are one people, they must all be included in a solution.
Gassner argued that we cannot determine what the government structure would look like in a shared state before we begin to see national formations and collective representation working on both sides toward one state. She contended that not until that happens can we determine, whether a secular democracy or a binational state, or any other structure would be most appropriate. For Gassner, “any just solution requires developing new strategies for confronting colonialism and apartheid”.
I also interviewed a Palestinian and Israeli who believed in a one state solution, however, in their visions, the state would be a Palestinian or Israeli state respectively. The Palestinian I interviewed was Mohamad Alazzeh who lives in Aida refugee camp. His family is from Bet Jureem, one of the hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948. Alazzeh works as the head of media in the Lajee centre, a grassroots community based cultural centre for Aida camp. In my interview with Alazzeh, he expressed his strong belief that in the future there will be one state, and that this willl be a Palestinian state. He contended that eventually Palestinians will get back their land, as “when we fight we fight from our hearts because this is our land”. According to Alazzeh, the Palestinian struggle for their land is still young, as struggles against colonial powers such as Israel often take several generations. Alazzeh expressed that he has no problem living with Jews and that ”if Jews want to live in a Palestinian state they can”.
Bob Lang, an American-Israeli who is the spokesperson for the Efrat settlement in the West Bank and a previous advisor to Netanyahu, also believed that a ”one state is the direction we should be going in”. In our interview, Lang expressed the typical right wing Israeli perception of a future one state, namely a Greater Israel. Lang argued that eventually what is now ‘’Little Israel’’ will annex “Judea and Samara”, and that the ‘’Arabs living there now could become citizens of Israel if they want to’’. He specified, however, that about 20-30% of these Arabs could not be considered for citizenship due to their collaboration with Hamas and PLO, and thus what he believed was their involvement with terrorism. Lang compared the situation of absorbing Palestinians over the generations into an Israeli state to when refugees come to America and take time to adapt to their new way of life. According to Lang, ‘’through education, Palestinians would accept this change over time’’. When I asked about how the state could remain Israeli and a democracy when the number of Palestinians who would be ‘’absorbed’’ in Israel would be a majority, he replied that Arabs would actually not be a majority. He suggested that if Israel were to annex Judea and Samara today, the country would have a 35% Arab population and 65% Israeli population. In contrast to common knowledge on the subject he argued that the birthrate of Arabs is going down, and the birthrate of Israelis is increasing. Thus he was not concerned about demographics in the Israeli state in the near future.
Most people I interviewed see Palestinian and Israeli popular opinions, as well as the leadership on both sides that promote them as the main obstacles to creating a one state solution. In regard to Palestinian popular opinion, Odeh argued that, unlike Alazzeh, most Palestinians do not see a one state solution as possible because of how Israelis have been mistreating them over the past decades. The Palestinians feel that it is unrealistic to cooperate with Israelis as negotiating with Israelis in the past has always resulted in the Palestinians giving up more and more of their rights and land. Odeh also pointed to the Oslo accords as confirming the two state discourse among internationals, Israelis and Palestinians. He explained that during the Oslo period Palestinians accepted to give up most of their land in the hope of receiving at least self determination in their own state. Thus, according to Odeh the fight for one state is no longer in the Palestinians’ mindset, despite the fact that ”20 years after Oslo, the situation is worse than before and a two state solution is far less likely”. Odeh also explained that although there are several intellectual supporters of a one state solution, ‘’in political leadership there is no advocacy group for one state”.
Sahar Vardi, an Israeli activist from Jerusalem also argued that Palestinian popular opinion is a main obstacle to a one state solution in our interview. Vardi works in the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization committed to social justice around the world, and is involved in numerous protests and activist organizations in Jerusalem. Vardi confirmed that a main obstacle to a one state solution is that among Palestinians, ”in leadership and among most people you meet, there is a two state discourse”.
In regard to Israeli popular opinion, Vardi explained that the Jewish Zionist mentality is a main obstacle because any one state solution would mean the end of a Zionist state. According to Vardi, in any way that one state would be created, whether binational, secular democracy or possible federations, all would undermine the idea of a Jewish state and Zionism. She argued that no matter how one state is created, “there would be a need to take out Jewish from a Jewish democratic state”, as, in contrast to Lang’s perception of demographics, there would be a majority of Arabs.
Moriel Rothman-Zecher, an American-Israeli activist and writer, summed up these perspectives on popular opinion in his email response to my question, stating that the main obstacle to a one state solution is, ”nationalistic/xenophobic sentiments on both sides, and dearth of leadership. Too much of both publics are uninterested in creating a real, pluralistic, shared society, and we don’t have the leadership in place (a la Mandela) at this juncture to move the publics in that direction.”
Vardi also pointed to the international community as an obstacle to creating a one state solution. She explained that Israel’s allies are all predominantly white western countries, who want Israel as a white voice of democracy in the Middle East. According to Vardi, these allies would have problems with any one state solution, as there would be a majority of Arabs that would most likely want to integrate more into the Arab world.
According to Lang, the main obstacle to a one state solution is the Arab community in general. Lang continuously repeated throughout our interview that the main obstacles to any peace including a one state solution are the Arab nations. He argued that for there to be peace, the Arab countries in the surrounding areas need to cooperate, ”but cooperation is impossible because they are all under totalitarian regimes so they don’t care about their people or the needs of others”.
Many of my interviewees expressed that the discussion of one state or two state solutions precludes all the possible options of what a state could look like. For instance, Vardi contended that a federation of states is a more suitable solution. According to Vardi, In this model, “there will be cantons each with local authorities”. She explained that each state would have its own laws and that there would be a greater federal law. When I asked her about the Palestinians’ right of return she explained that each community should discuss how to address refugees, but that Jews should not be taken out of their homes in any situation. She further suggested that there should be a constitution that separates religion and state in this solution. However she explained that religion would naturally influence the character of the state because the reality is that most people in the state will be religious so democratic decisions will not necessarily be secular.
The thinkers who provided visions of solutions as discussed above maintained that it is essential to be talking about solutions no matter how far in the future they may occur. Odeh argued that it is important to have a vision for a desired solution so that Palestinians have an idea of what to establish when the occupation ends. Qumsiyeh argued that “it is not only relevant it is essential to discuss equality and citizenship and rights and provide a vision based on human rights.”
Gassner and Vardi both contended that just explaining the struggle without a desired outcome is insufficient. Gassner argued that when there is no focus on what outcome is wanted, we are avoiding the problem. She suggested that we often talk about affirming the right to self determination without talking about the shape it could take. Vardi contended that it is important to show that it is “not that there are no solutions, its that there is not enough interest in them”. She also argued that it is important to create good solutions so that we know what strategies we should be using to fight the occupation.
Both Gassner and Vardi argued that failing to link solutions to possible strategies to achieve them is one problem with how solutions have been proposed in the past. Vardi stated that “most of the time, discussion of solutions are too theoretical and a waste of energy’’. In addition, Vardi and Odeh described how the one state or two state solution discussion could cause problems when it comes to collaborating with others. Vardi explained that taking a stance on this subject could result in losing alliances with those who disagree. Similarly, Odeh explained that many people do not talk about solutions to avoid disagreements. For instance, in his work with the Civic Coalition, he often does not take a stance on a one state solution because he wants to avoid clashes with the PA who advocates for the two states solution.
Another issue in regard to discussing solutions that came up in my interviews is whether Israelis should have a say in this matter at all. Vardi expressed being unsure if she as “a privileged Israeli Jew” should take a stance. Michael Warchawski, a French-Israeli activist who created the Alternative Information Centre, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, stated firmly in our interview that this is a Palestinian debate and it is not for Israelis to say anything or tell Palestinians what they should do. According to him, ‘’Israeli Jews have to be very modest in involving themselves in this debate and realize that they cannot be main actors. Israelis must understand their place as supporters of liberation, in assisting, but not in acting.’’
In contrast to those who believe it is important to discuss specific visions of solutions, others I interviewed argued that although a solution must have certain elements, discussing the structure of a solution is not important at this time. For instance,in Rothman-Zecher’s email response to my questions he argued that discourse on the structure of solutions should not be the central discussion. According to him, “In the meantime, the discourse should focus on challenging and ending the 1967 occupation, and also on gaining full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees, and as all of this beings to happen, discussions of one or two states etc will become more relevant. At this juncture, we are so far from either.” Rothman-Zecher argued that a one state solution is not necessarily most effective in guaranteeing rights for Palestinians. He argued that “rights can be achieved in both a just two-state framework and a just one-state framework, and a just third option (like a confederation).” He however believed that the structure of a future state cannot be a secular democracy. “Confederation and/or bi-national. Not one-person one-vote: Without preserving collective rights of both sides, a single state entity will likely be disastrous.”
Ofer Neiman, an Israeli activist involved primarily in Boycott from Within, a group of Israelis who advocate for the international community to boycott Israel, told me in our interview that he ”considers himself agnostic”, stating that he is ”critical of left wingers who have blueprints for solutions.” He explained that he would not be opposed to a two state or one state solution if either were presented in a fair way. According to Neiman,”if either solution is about how to deZionize and decolonize, and if it is a constructive solution, then I’m all for it”. He suggested that maybe a confederation makes sense at least as an initial state, and maybe after that the abolition of the state structure altogether.
Neiman explained that the most important element of any solution is constitutional equality, and for him that means that in any solution there would be a secular democracy. He argued that ”the solution has to start with constitutional equality and then economic equality and all other problems can be addressed”. For Neiman, constitutional equality definitely involves ”compensation in a real way by Israelis to refugees”. He explained how millions of refugees in Syria would likely return to a Palestinian state. If there were a separate Palestinian state, Palestinians must be able to return to this state without interference from Israelis and Israelis must pay to rebuild areas so Palestinians could live there, for instance in the Jordan Valley. Neiman explained that for any solution there must also be a truth and reconciliation committee, and that it must be acknowledged that Israelis created this problem. Neiman argued that for now it is much more important to be focusing on dissidence than on coming up with solutions. He is more interested in what is going on now than in possible solutions for the future.
Warchawski expressed in our interview that not only should solutions not be the central focus of discourse, but that discussions of a one or two state solution are completely irrelevant. According to Warchawski, the question of a one state or two state solution is ”like asking about how he would prefer beer, either in cans or in bottles”. He contended that this question is discussed only in limited circles, not much among Palestinians and a little by the radical left Israelis.
Warchawski explained that it makes no sense to think of solutions now because we cannot predict what the context will be in the region by the time we are ready for a solution. According to him, anything could happen in the Middle East over the next few decades, for instance there could be a massacre of the Jews.  He argued we need to focus on what is going on right now in the Middle East, like Isis and the collapse of Syria. He contrasted the situation here with that of Algeria in the past explaining that in Algeria it was only when colonialism was evidently on its way out that that they could begin to talk about solutions. According to Warchawski, right now talking about solutions is just a “philosophical discussion”.
Warchawski further argued that discussing solutions now can be problematic, as “it derails from what is important which are short term changes”. He contended that it is much more important to be struggling against something concrete that can be changed now, namely what Palestinians do not want anymore. According to him, the focus should be on analyzing forces and capacities among Palestinians, and on how to organize popular resistance and a liberation movement, not on “dreams for the future”.
Sergio Yahni, who works with Warchawki as the co-director of the Alternative Information Centre also argued that the one or two state question is problematic. According to Yahni, ”it is a downgrade of how complicated the situation is to just talk about one or two states, its an oversimplification.’’ Moreover he argued that talking about states is colonial discourse, and that it does not consider the possibility of an Arab Republic. He contended that the question excludes the rest of the people in the Middle East, and does not take into account that there are other disintegrating societies in the region, like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Yahni also argued that it is a misleading question because if you look on the ground, Israel has already annexed Palestinian lands and thus one state already de facto exists.
In my interview with Yahni, he argued that instead of talking about solutions we must focus on how to address the impunity of the Israeli regime and how to secure the rights of the Palestinians. To him, the most important thing right now is to work toward ending Israel’s “barbaric treatment” of the Palestinians. I have been traveling around Israel/Palestine for only a month, and have already seen the repercussions of numerous examples of this barbarism. For instance, I have been to the Jordan Valley where I have met people whose homes were demolished numerous times for being built without a permit, despite the fact that their families have been living there for generations and that the Israeli administration has made it impossible for them to obtain permits. In addition to living in fear of their homes being demolished, they lack sufficient water because the Israeli administration has prevented them from accessing the natural water resources surrounding their land, and now they must purchase their water at expensive rates far from where they live. I have been to Silwan where children as young as seven years old are arrested, and met the father of a 16 year old boy who has been arrested 16 times. I have been to Sheikh Jarah, where I met one of the many families who the Israeli administration are trying to evict from their home, even though they were transferred there by Israelis themselves in the 1950s. There I met a 94 year old woman who the Israeli police have tried to arrest twice for ‘’pushing’’ the 29 year old soldier who placed a demolishing notice on her home and has been beaten up twice to the point of being hospitalized. I have also been to Bureen, a Palestinian town where the people are constantly harassed by the surrounding settlers and soldiers. I learned that children from this town were recently shot in the legs when playing in the snow on land that happened to be on the wrong side of the street. In Bureen I met the parents of a son who has been in administrative detention for the past two years because he tried to prevent Israeli soldiers from entering a school. I also met the grieving mother of a nineteen year old boy who the a main provider for his family and was shot for being on the wrong side of the street. He was shot in the mouth so his mother could not even identify him. These are just some of the many examples of Israel’s horrific treatment of Palestinians that I have seen after being here for a short period.
To me, all of these examples on the ground make any solution, including a one state solution, seem so far away that it is abstract and unimaginable. It seemed ridiculous if not offensive for me to ask the people I met who told me about their experiences of Israeli abuse if they believe in a one state solution. Despite being uncomfortable to do so, for my research I asked one person living in the Jordan Valley what he thought about a one state solution. He replied that he could not care less about talking about solutions and what they could look like. All he wants are the basic human rights for his people and for them to stop being harassed.
When I first started this project I believed in a one state solution. I agreed with those thinkers who argued we must create visions for what a future state would look like and could not relate to the idea that solutions are so far away that they are irrelevant. After traveling around Israel/Palestine, however, I have seen not only how far any solution is but also how important it is to be focusing on the most pressing issues, namely protecting the basic human rights of Palestinians. I agree with Yahni that we must focus on two things before even thinking about anything else, breaking the impunity of the Israeli regime and securing the basic human rights of Palestinians. It seems to me that right now, focusing on anything else is meaningless.