Seeing with new eyes: One democratic state in Israel/Palestine as the route to durable peace
By Sam Leibowitz and Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writers
Sep 24, 2008, 00:13
As the endless negotiations between the Israeli government
and Palestinian Authority officials regurgitate old arguments while making no
progress, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians are paying attention to
other solutions than the supposed �two state� outcome. They focus on the
�one-democratic-state� solution -- a proposal to establish a single, democratic
and secular state in the area known as Israel/Palestine.
The concept of coexistence in a binational or one secular
democratic state, granting equal rights to all its citizens regardless of their
religion, is worthy of critical consideration. It is not a new concept. In the
early days of the Zionist movement, it was promoted by Albert Einstein,
philosopher Martin Buber, and Rabbi Judah Leib Magnes who argued vociferously
against a �Jewish state.� It was also a political position taken by the
Palestine Liberation Organization in its more visible days, and by some Israeli
parties in the 1950s. Though it did not garner significant support in past
decades, the idea has received new interest with the collapse of the Oslo process,
and recently it has been the subject of numerous books, research papers and
In the past eight years, over a dozen books were published
analyzing carefully why a single democratic state is the only durable solution.
These books rely on research data from various disciplines, showing that the
two people would benefit a great deal more if they shared the resources of the
land together within a democratic framework. From every aspect, sociologically,
economically, environmentally and security-wise, the Israelis and Palestinians
are better off if they learn to live together in a secular country, with a
constitution modeled after the American one, guaranteeing civil liberties and
separation of state from religion.
Certainly, it will be no easy feat to educate both
societies, after decades of wars, oppression, colonization, and violence
against civilians, to respect the human and civil rights of each other. Perhaps
the most pressing obstacle is the perception within Israeli society that a single,
democratic state poses a threat to the Jews living in Israel/Palestine. This
argument, reiterated ad nauseam by Israeli politicians, claims the single,
democratic state is tantamount to the �elimination of Israel.� However,
establishing a shared homeland for Israelis and Palestinians based on civil
rights does not mean �the elimination of Israel� anymore than similar
transformations in South Africa meant the elimination of South Africa.
Indeed, it will transform Israel, but this will be a
positive transformation repairing truly destructive aspects of present-day
Israel and producing a new and better country. Today�s Israel has failed to
uphold the best of Jewish values and has in fact perverted them by making
Judaism an adjunct of a discriminatory and brutal state ideology. If we want an
Israel that is really true to the best of Jewish values, it cannot be
exclusively Jewish. It is a strange but manifestly true irony that for Judaism
and Israel to become really compatible, Israel must become a democratic, equalitarian,
and tolerant place.
Most commentators think that the removal of the 450,000
Israeli settlers currently living in the area of the West Bank (including East
Jerusalem) slated for a tiny Palestinian state is not feasible. But even if
this issue is resolved, there are other, far more daunting, obstacles to the
mythological �two-state� solution. The establishment of Israel as a �Jewish
state� in 1948 created the largest remaining refugee population in the world.
As Israeli historians have documented, Israel was founded through the ethnic
cleansing of more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns, which brought about
the Palestinian refugee problem -- a continuing crisis for 6 million refugees
who have been driven from their homeland. Under international law, they have a
right to return to their homeland, which must be implemented without
jeopardizing the rights of Israelis to live peacefully and securely in their
Israeli and Palestinian researchers have shown that only a
single, democratic state, guaranteeing civil liberties to all its citizens and
providing economic opportunity to its communities, can accommodate a just
solution to the otherwise intractable refugee problem. A democratic, secular
state defused of national-religious components will provide the sustainable
framework needed for integrating the returning Palestinian refugees while at
the same time allowing Israel to continue to thrive economically and
technologically. Undoubtedly, it is also the best guarantee of security and peace
for both societies.
Rather than engage in convening futile peace conferences
that ignore human rights obligations and International law, politicians and
policy makers would do well to get us all (Israelis and Palestinians) to sit
down and start drafting a constitution that provides for joint security and
economic development, and guarantees civil liberties to all. That is the real
road map to a durable and just peace.
Sam Leibowitz is an Israeli civil rights
attorney and a graduate of American University Washington College of Law LL.M.
program in international law, and Mazin Qumsiyeh is a professor at Bethlehem
University and the author of the book �Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights
and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle.�
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