“No chance for two states”: Interview with Knesset member Haneen Zoabi

31 October 2010

There is now “no chance” for a two-state solution in Palestine. So said Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in an interview with The Electronic Intifada (EI) on 29 October in Chicago (video).

“The reality goes more toward the one state solution,” Zoabi said, “whether a democratic one-state solution, or a binational one-state solution.”

Elected in 2009, Zoabi represents the National Democratic Alliance, and is the first woman to be elected on the list of an Arab party in Israel.

“We are struggling for a normal state,” Zoabi explained, “which is a state for all of its citizens, [in] which the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews can have full equality. I recognize religious, cultural and national group rights for the Israelis, but inside a democratic and neutral state.”

Zoabi spoke to EI just before she addressed 120 students, faculty and community members in an event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago. During her lecture, and in the interview with EI, Zoabi described the systematic legal, social and cultural discrimination Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens face. Zoabi said she strongly opposes Israel’s demand to be recognized as a “Jewish state” as this would legitimize and deepen these forms of discrimination.

Zoabi was among dozens of Palestinian citizens injured by Israeli police just two days before her interview with EI. On 27 October, Israeli extremists affiliated with the outlawed Kach movement, founded by the late Meir Kahane, marched through Umm al-Fahm, a Palestinian city within Israel. Kahane believed that all Palestinians should be expelled from Israel and the occupied territories. Zoabi described how police attacked Palestinian demonstrators and protected the Israeli extremists.

She arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening, 28 October, directly from Israel with bandages on the back of her neck and lower back, where she had been struck by projectiles fired at close range. She said Israeli police used a kind of weapon which she had not seen before, which caused an intense burning sensation, and showed EI the welts beneath the bandage on her neck.

In May, Zoabi participated in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and was aboard the Mavi Marmara when the ship was attacked by Israeli commandos in international waters. Nine activists were killed and dozens injured in the Israeli attack.

Zoabi strongly criticized Israel’s official inquiry into the incident. Although a member of Israel’s parliament and an eyewitness, Zoabi has not been asked to testify before the inquiry – called the Turkel Committee – but has attended its sessions with other witnesses. She told EI of the open bias and political statements of the committee members, stating “They do not look for the facts. They are just looking for a way to justify the Israeli attack.”

Asked about the prospects for the current US-brokered “peace process,” Zoabi said Israeli society and parliament “doesn’t feel the need for peace. They don’t perceive occupation as a problem. They don’t perceive the siege as a problem. They don’t perceive oppressing the Palestinians as a problem, and they don’t pay the price of occupation or the price of [the] siege [of Gaza].”

While Palestinians suffer intensely, Israel, Zoabi said, viewed its relationship with the Palestinians primarily as a “security problem,” which it has largely resolved through the siege of Gaza, the separation wall in the West Bank, and by “security coordination” with the Palestinian Authority.

Zoabi spoke about the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to pressure Israel to end its occupation and other human rights abuses against Palestinians, and to respect international law.

While she said the effect of BDS within Israel was still marginal, “this kind of campaign has the power raise the debate inside the Israeli society and inside the Knesset.” Israel, she said, “is so sensitive to international criticism and a situation of isolation.”

Even if BDS did not yet have much impact on Israel’s economy, it “can send a political message to the Israelis that we cannot just continue with the occupation, and continue with the siege and with oppressing the Palestinian people without the Israeli society paying a price.”

During her visit to the United States, Zoabi addressed the US Palestinian Community Network’s second Popular Conference for Arabs and Palestinians in the US and is scheduled to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area before returning home.