About ten or twelve years ago I had an interesting conversation with an American Jew in Albuquerque, New Mexico about the future of Israel and Palestine. He expressed the view shared by many Americans at the time that the Palestinians were getting the short end of the stick but Israelis really had no choice but to maintain the occupation in order to protect themselves.
He knew I’d visited Gaza for a week or two in 2004, and had traveled through the West Bank and Jerusalem as a tourist. So he asked me what I thought the future held in store for both peoples, intimating that his vision of two states with a permanent occupation of one was inevitable. Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied “one country between the river and the sea where every person is treated equally”. I’m not sure where I got that idea, whether reading or talking with someone more knowledgeable than me. But even then I knew that a big part of the problem was a failure of imagination. My Jewish American friend thought I was nuts; we haven’t talked since.
Now, thankfully, there are many so-called nuts traveling around the world promoting the idea of a one democratic state in Israel – Palestine. Last week I listened in to a Zoom meeting with some of the leaders of the One Democratic State Campaign. Check out their website in Arabic and English. I learned that this one state idea is not new. The Palestinian liberation movement, before the Nakba of 1948 and after, had promoted this vision in the PLO’s National Charter, abandoning it for the two-state solution only in 1988.
The proponents of the One Democratic State (ODS) campaign believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a good strategy but the Palestinians lack an end goal. To paraphrase what I heard on the Zoom call: “If you don’t have a political goal, all of the strategies in the world won’t accomplish anything.” The One Democratic State campaign provides the goal.
“The only way forward to a genuine and viable political settlement is to dismantle the colonial apartheid regime that has been imposed over historic Palestine, replacing it with a new political system based on full civil equality, implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return and the building of a system that addresses the historic wrongs committed on the Palestinian people by the Zionist movement.”
The One Democratic State campaign has ten key points:
- A Single Constitutional Democracy. One Democratic State shall be established between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as one country belonging to all its citizens, including Palestinian refugees who will be able to return to their homeland. All citizens will enjoy equal rights, freedom and security. The State shall be a constitutional democracy, the authority to govern and make laws emanating from the consent of the governed. All its citizens shall enjoy equal rights to vote, stand for office and contribute to the country’s governance.
- Right of Return, of Restoration and of Reintegration into Society. The single democratic state will fully implement the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 and thereafter, whether living in exile abroad or currently living in Israel or the Occupied Territory. The State will aid them in returning to their country and to the places from where they were expelled. It will help them rebuild their personal lives and to be fully reintegrated into the country’s society, economy and polity. The State will do everything in its power to restore to the refugees their private and communal property of the refugees and/or compensate them. Normal procedures of obtaining citizenship will be extended to those choosing to immigrate to the country.
- Individual Rights. No State law, institution or practices may discriminate among its citizens on the basis of national or social origin, color, gender, language, religion or political opinion, or sexual orientation. A single citizenship confers on all the State’s residents the right to freedom of movement, the right to reside anywhere in the country, and equal rights in every domain.
- Collective Rights. Within the framework of a single democratic state, the Constitution will also protect collective rights and the freedom of association, whether national, ethnic, religious, class or gender. Constitutional guarantees will ensure that all languages, arts and culture can flourish and develop freely. No group or collectivity will have any privileges, nor will any group, party or collectivity have the ability to leverage any control or domination over others. Parliament will not have the authority to enact any laws that discriminate against any community under the Constitution.
- Moving from Decolonization to Post-Colonialism. The genuine liberation of Palestinians and Israelis requires a process of thorough decolonization through which we may reach collective justice, peace security and reconciliation. A new national narrative must be constructed that “writes the native Palestinians back in.” Israeli Jews must acknowledge both the national rights of the Palestinian people and past colonial crimes. In return, and based on an egalitarian democracy, Palestinians will accept them as legitimate citizens and neighbors, thereby ending Zionist settler colonialism and entering into a new postcolonial relationship of accommodation, normalization and reconciliation.
- Constructing a Shared Civil Society. The State shall nurture a vital civil society comprised of common civil institutions, in particular educational, cultural and economic. Alongside religious marriage the State will provide civil marriage.
- Economy and Economic Justice. Our vision seeks to achieve justice, and this includes social and economic justice. Economic policy must address the decades of exploitation and discrimination which have sown deep socioeconomic gaps among the people living in the land. The income distribution in Israel/Palestine is more unequal than any country in the world. A State seeking justice must develop a creative and long-term redistributive economic policy to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunity to attain education, productive employment, economic security and a dignified standard of living.
- Commitment to Human Rights, Justice and Peace. The State shall uphold international law and seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts through negotiation and collective security in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The State will sign and ratify all international treaties on human rights and its people shall reject racism and promote social, cultural and political rights as set out in relevant United Nations covenants.
- Our Role in the Region. The ODS Campaign will join with all progressive forces in the Arab world struggling for democracy, social justice and egalitarian societies free from tyranny and foreign domination. The State shall seek democracy and freedom in a Middle East that respects its many communities, religions, traditions and ideologies, yet strives for equality, freedom of thought and innovation. Achieving a just political settlement in Palestine, followed by a thorough process of decolonization, will contribute measurably to these efforts.
- International responsibility. On a global level, the ODS Campaign views itself as part of the progressive forces striving for an alternative global order that is just, egalitarian and free of any oppression, racism, imperialism and colonialism.
I personally know some Israeli Jews and many Palestinians who reject this notion of One Democratic State. In a nutshell, the Israeli Jews (the ones I know) believe it’s a security issue and (the hard core Zionists) believe their right to the land supersedes the Palestinians’ rights. On the other hand, the Palestinians (the ones I know) believe the past and present injustices are so horrendous that the occupation must be dismantled before they will even talk or entertain a One Democratic State.
Of course, I know many Israeli Jews and Palestinians who would gladly embrace the One Democratic State, but I don’t know if there’s a critical mass on either side to move this program forward.
I hope no one closes the door on the One Democratic State campaign until they’ve read the Ten Points mentioned above, and talked about the future they want to leave their children.
I suspect it will take a lot of friends from the international community to help, but InshAllah it will happen.