Saturday, March 13, 2010

Interesting Op Ed on One State Solution

Nudge towards alternatives in Middle East

Sat, Mar 13, 2010

As Oslo dilemmas are exposed, both sides look tentatively at one-state models, writes PAUL GILLESPIE

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU insists it will not be possible to make peace with the Palestinians unless Israel is recognised as a “Jewish state”. The demand sounds plausible as indirect negotiations in pursuit of a two-state agreement reopened under George Mitchell’s tutelage in Jerusalem – only to stall immediately over the Israeli announcement of more building in east Jerusalem, humiliatingly under Joe Biden’s nose.

Understanding why recognising a Jewish state is unacceptable to Palestinians and Arabs – and to a growing minority of Israelis too – goes to the heart of the difficulties facing this revival of the 1993 Oslo process.

Netanyahu’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party wants to transfer Israel’s existing 20 per cent Palestinian Arab minority to the other state if a settlement is reached. Others want to see the West Bank absorbed by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt. That would ensure a genuine ethnic Jewish state is created, but lead to a regional war.

Palestinians’ formally equal citizenship of Israel contradicts this objective, even though their position is heavily qualified. Inter-marriage between Jews and Palestinians is effectively prohibited, Palestinians are not conscripted and thereby lack the associated privileges, their cultural identity is systematically subordinated and Jews the world over are given exclusive settlement rights of return.

As a result, the 1.5 million Palestinians are an economically poorer, culturally underprivileged and discriminated against minority within Israel. Their rights to vote and organise politically are limited by a 1985 law which prohibits negation of Israel as “the state of the Jewish people”, of its democratic character or of any incitement to racism. Despite this, Palestinians have their own parties in the Knesset, a flourishing media and a population that participates actively in everyday Israeli life.

Such internal tensions illustrate the problems involved in affirming Israel as a Jewish state. The two-state settlement is intended to resolve this; but it would leave substantial minorities of each living within the other. That is not to mention the intractable problems created by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and related security structures which break up its geographical and functional contiguity, making any likely two-state arrangement difficult to sustain.
Nor is it to mention the more immediate question facing the present negotiations that Hamas, which won the January 2006 Palestinian elections and now rules Gaza, is excluded despite several indications that it wants to be involved and would be willing to shift positions in negotiating a settlement.

Faced with these deep-seated problems many Palestinians and some Israelis despair of the two-state approach and affirm the merits of a possible alternative one-state agreement. It would bring both peoples together with equal democratic rights and protections in a multinational framework, allowing future demographic balances to be handled within a unitary, consociational or federal system of powersharing. This would resolve the existing contradiction between separated cultures and more integrated social life and allow Israel make a secure home in the Mediterranean region.

But that would be the end of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. It would have to become a state of all its peoples. Palestinian leaders now regularly threaten to abandon the two-state for the one-state approach to exert pressure. But faced with the political likelihood that an Israel which has shifted so much to the right would never accept such a negotiation, they continually revert to the increasingly discredited Oslo process.

Accepting Israel as a Jewish state would involve Palestinians and Arabs accepting Israel’s existing ethno-religious basis. By extension they would accept the historical case it makes to be in the region, based on the right of return of Jews scattered by the Romans. They prefer to base a settlement on the established facts of state power and existing populations.

Israel’s distinctive ethno- religious character and national identity are questioned and debated intensively among its own left-liberal intelligentsia, even as they are on the defensive politically. A post-Zionist current is willing to go beyond its foundational ideology in favour of a more democratic settlement with the surrounding region. Others defend its Jewish and democratic character on grounds of nationality rather than religious ethnicity.

A more radical approach is taken by historian Shlomo Sand. His book, The Invention of the Jewish People , topped the Israeli bestseller list, has sold 50,000 in France and is being translated into many languages.

Using methods pioneered by theorists like Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbaum, he argues that Zionism, like the historical myths of other European nationalisms, was invented in the 19th century to mobilise modernising populations. Historical research shows the Jews were not expelled wholesale by the Romans, that their religion expanded by conversion not forced migration and that most Jews from central and eastern Europe were descended from the early medieval kingdom of Khazaria between the Black and Caspian seas. Judaism is a religion not an ethnic bloodline. It follows that the Zionist case for returning to Israel falls.
Sand’s case is fiercely disputed, but his cat among the pigeons is a real straw in the wind of change.

No comments:

Post a Comment