Is Bernie Sanders open to a one-state solution?

Bernie Sanders gave his first major speech on the question of Palestine since his Democratic primary challenge to Hillary Clinton last year.

The Vermont senator did not make any headline-grabbing statements to his audience on Wednesday – the annual conference of the Israel lobby group J Street – but his speech signals that contentious debates about US support for Israel are going to continue, especially inside the Democratic Party.

Sanders offered typical platitudes in praise of Israel. He recalled youthful days in a kibbutz – a type of Zionist colonial settlement that purported to have socialist values – and praised the “enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.” But he also spoke of “another side to the story of Israel’s creation.”

“Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees,” Sanders said. “To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not delegitimize Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.”

Watch the video of Sanders’ speech above.

Sanders’ comparison of the Palestinian Nakba to the European genocide of Native Americans would have been unthinkable coming from the mouth of a mainstream politician until recently.

But it is also of questionable value unless it is the starting point for a decolonial political program. After all, acknowledgment of the crimes committed against indigenous peoples in North America might make liberals feel good, but on its own it seldom leads to effective support for the ongoing native struggles for protection and restitution of land, water and other rights.

Sanders challenged discourse within his own party in other ways: “Nobody gains when Gaza is obliterated and thousands are killed, wounded, or made homeless,” he said.

This is an acknowledgment even he infamously refused to make when challenged by constituents about the carnage Israel was committing in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Back then, he angrily defended Israel’s bloody assault.

But his words at J Street showed he has not backed down from his unprecedented sparring with Clinton during a prime-time debate in which he took his rival to task over her hardline, unconditional support for Israel.

Open to one state?

Sanders told his J Street audience he had not come to dwell on history, but rather to ask, “OK, what now?”

On the surface his answers did not break any new ground, but they also hinted at an openness that might continue to develop in interesting directions if Sanders is pushed.

He criticized President Donald Trump for casually casting aside decades of US policy and international consensus in favor of the so-called two-state solution.

He called for the end of the “50-year-long occupation” – a reference to the West Bank and Gaza Strip – and endorsed December’s UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements.

But unlike other Democratic politicians, including President Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, Sanders did not insist that a two-state solution is the only possible or desirable outcome.

“The real question is: peace on what terms, and under what arrangement?” Sanders asked. “Does ‘peace’ mean that Palestinians will be forced to live under perpetual Israeli rule, in a series of disconnected communities in the West Bank and Gaza? That’s not tolerable, and that’s not peace.”

Sanders posed the alternative without offering either condemnation or endorsement: “If Palestinians in the occupied territories are to be denied self-determination in a state of their own, will they receive full citizenship and equal rights in a single state, potentially meaning the end of a Jewish-majority state?”

The senator did not seem particularly troubled by this prospect – as long as the result embodies his progressive values: democracy, equality, opposition to xenophobia and respect for and protection of minorities at home and around the world.

BDS silence

Notably, Sanders also remained silent about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. He didn’t take the courageous step of endorsing it, but neither did he follow other politicians, including many prominent Democrats, who have aggressively condemned it.

He did however hit back against one of the key accusations Israel and its surrogates make against all critics and supporters of Palestinian rights, including BDS activists.

“To oppose the policies of a right-wing government in Israel does not make one anti-Israel or an anti-Semite,” Sanders said.

Democratic Party battle

Formally an independent, Sanders’ views continue to matter since he is the de facto leader of the progressive – and more Israel skeptical – wing of the Democratic Party.

That wing lost a key battle on Saturday, when Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison narrowly failed in his bid to be elected chair of the Democratic National Committee. Sanders had endorsed Ellison.

Instead, the leadership of the party’s top governing body went to former Obama administration labor secretary Tom Perez, an establishment favorite who refuses to criticize Israel.

According to The Washington Post’s national political correspondent David Weigel, Ellison lost in part due to “a persistent smear campaign” by pro-Israel groups insinuating that Ellison is anti-Semitic because of “his criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians” and his past associations with Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan.

In a show of unity, Perez immediately appointed Ellison deputy DNC chair – a move that is unlikely to make the tensions over Israel go away.

Yahoo News’ Katie Couric revived the smears against Ellison after the vote as she interviewed Perez.

Invoking threats around the country against Jewish communities, including vandalism of Jewish cemeteries – acts which Ellison has forcefully condemned – Couric asked, “What do you say to Jews who are really disturbed by Ellison’s role in your party?”

“Keith Ellison is a friend of the Jewish community and I know that,” Perez replied. “He’s a civil rights leader.”

Perez insisted that he and Ellison would work together for a two-state solution. “A two-state solution has to occur and it has to be direct negotiations between the parties. That’s what our Democratic platform is,” Perez said. “It’s a very strong platform on Israel.”

“I know moving forward, Congressman Ellison and I will be united,” Perez insisted.

What Perez did not mention is that last summer the Democratic platform committee was the fiercest battleground between supporters and opponents of Palestinian rights.

The supporters, including BDS advocate Cornel West, were named to the committee by Bernie Sanders.

Even the mildest proposals put forward by Sanders’ appointees recognizing Palestinian rights were voted down by the pro-Clinton majority.

Those battles were lost, but as its base continues to grow more supportive of Palestinian rights, the war over Israel in the Democratic Party is far from over.

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Ali when will you stop advocating the "one-state solution" hoax? Are you for settlements and occupation in the West Bank or against? You can't have it both ways. One day you condemn Israel for occupation and land theft and the following day you give up and ask the Palestinians to accept the occupation using the misleading slogan of "one state for all". You need to be consistent to be taken seriously. The Palestinians need to move away from "solution talk" and focus instead on resisting Israel and liberating their land unconditionally.

Ali Abunimah's picture

Thanks “Ahmad.” I have of course absolutely never asked Palestinians to accept occupation and to say so is a gross and wilful distortion. What I support is decolonization in all of historic Palestine and the right of return for refugees. What does this look like? If you or others are genuinely interested in engaging, I invite you to read the two books where I lay out my ideas on these issues and I’m more than satisfied they are both consistent and serious. A serious discussion doesn’t begin with bad faith distortions of my views. In a serious discussion, you should also lay out what your vision of “unconditional” liberation looks like in practice and how to get there.

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I judge a slogan or an idea by looking at the reality on the ground first, then the actual meaning of that slogan or idea becomes clearer. If we take the case of the West Bank, if someone says the settlements are illegal and Israel should withdraw unconditionally from the West Bank using all available means (polticial, armed resistence etc..) then the meaning is obvious in that case. On the other hand if someone says the Palestinians should now fight for one state for all, then the actual meaning is that there is no occupation, the settlements are legal, and the settlers are "awlad el balad". If this is not waving the white flag, I don't know what is.

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Well it certainly is ignoring that debating society's 70 years of resolution making anyway and with that, it would seem, the ICJ, UNHRC, UNRWA and any other powerless entity that at least puts up a squawk when Israel exercises its impunity on Arab backs.
Opening up a new era of struggle for civil rights in the nascent Greater Israel would be fine and dandy though.
So that would be the Israeli Supreme Court then, that would be guaranteeing those new won rights, would it. Would it?
Perhaps Palestinians could look to The US Congress to extend the rights it guarantees American citizens, to Palestinians. Or maybe we could catch Donald Trump right after he's see Lawrence of Arabia again and beseech him for mercy.
Which book deals with the UN cancelling all those resolutions and getting behind the "One State for All"? Or would that really matter anymore, if it matters now?
Please I want to know, am I some kind of fool or idiot to think it's important to consult, affirm and apply international law?
Does 70 years of hope, struggle and anguish for a nation matter? Maybe it doesn't, really, maybe it doesn't matter anymore.

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@ "I judge a slogan or an idea by looking at the reality on the ground first ... if someone says the Palestinians should now fight for one state for all, then the actual meaning is that there is no occupation [and] the settlements are legal ...".

Your grammar is correct but there are bugs in your algorithm. "Reality" is that the illegality of the occupation and the settlements is established. But the single state is imaginary. Yet your algorithm has the imaginary destroying reality before a shot is ever fired. But in reality, there will be many details to be worked out before one could conceivably get to the imaginary from reality. The illegality of the occupation and the settlements will not be so easily blinked out as your algorithm implies.

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The single democratic state is imaginary but to call for it is not. Look at the situation in the West Bank: more settlements, more land theft, more Judaization of the land, and a lack of sustained popular resistence by the Palestinians there. They have two options: they either find a way to ignite a popular movement and throw their occupiers out or they give up and accept that the invaders are there to stay. I argue that those who call for a single state in this moment are effectively asking the Palestinians to give up. This is not imaginary but very real and in my view very damaging to the Palestinian cause.

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I agree with your thesis in principle but I would ask that you define "the Palestinian cause", because polling indicates it isn't the same for everyone. And strategically speaking, when faced by overwhelming odds, isn't the best tactic (for the infantryman anyway) surrender when retreat isn't possible. Isn't living under the PA effectively a surrender and an exercise of non-violent resistance. Would dissolving the PA be surrender without resistance, or would it be de facto acceptance of Hamas rule and active resistance?
Maybe you could describe your vision of what you think should be the goal of the Palestinian people? Which of Ali's book deals more with these questions?

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As previously, I cannot recommend too strongly

Thomas Suarez: STATE OF TERROR

Ilan Pappe has called it a "tour de force".

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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As an addendum, Israel was never---NEVER---"legitimate".

It was a colonial invasion based on racist 19th century concepts.
See Maxime Rodinson:

ISRAEL: A COLONIAL STATE?
(Pathfinder, 1973)

(French translation in original: "Israel:Fait Colonial")

See pp. 40-41 (in English translation)

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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yes been sounding like it. even his logic is demagog . comparing the Palestinian Nakba (1948) to the European genocide of Native Americans (1830) is just stupid . there was no international relationships between states, no international law . Is Just stupidity, and he knows this .
- And even if Israel had legitimacy at some point . Now, from then to now in 2017, it has already lost it .

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Actually, taking into account those differences you allude to and others characteristic of life almost two centuries past, there are some striking similarities to the saga of the Cherokee. I recommend "Trail of Tears". It's a subtly powerful and very well documented account of their lives as quasi-Americans, when they were of value to the colonizers right through to their last days in the east, as impediments to our manifest destiny, facing the encroachment of settlers and their eventual removal to the west. For a people in circumstances and in a time so far removed, from Palestine and Israel, the tale is and chilling and cautionary.

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Comparing the Nakba (1948) to the European genocide of Native Americans (1830) is probably the best way to focus an American audience on the reality of the Nakba given that it is probable that not many Americans are overly familiar with it. Most of the American intra-Jewish discussion centres on post-67 issues, the settlements and the occupation within the W/B. There is not so much attention given to Gaza or the Palestinian refugees or even pre-48 history.

The comparison is not trying to equate the genocide of Native Americans on all points with the Nakba, but even though they are separated in time there are similarities. All the variations between different colonial projects do not negate the fact that colonialization entails the dispossession of land and resources and both the taking of indigenous lives and the destruction of their cultures. This holds whether we are talking about 1830 or 1948. Or talking about what happened during the colonization of Australia, New Zealand or Canada (or anywhere).

Its true that since 1830, we have seen the rise and fall of eugenics, the dangers inherent in ethno-nationalism, the emergence of the concept of 'crimes against humanity' and the beginnings of international law in relation to these crimes. So maybe we can argue that the culpability of the perpetrators of earlier colonization/genocides is less than that of Zionism on the 'they know not what they do' grounds, but I don't think Sanders is trying to play the blame game.

If referencing the dispossession of the American Indian tribes is a gateway to Americans coming to terms with the Nakba, then good. The next step is to understand that the Nakba is a process and not a one-off event. It did not stop in 1948. Dispossession of land and resources, the impunity with which the colonizers can take life and white ant culture is on-going. Even if Sanders is motivated by a desire to save Israel from itself, he is still moving the discussion in the right direction.

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Many thanks to Eliza.

"...We followed down the dry ghulch, and what we saw
was terrible. Dead and wounded women and children
were scattered all along there where they
had been trying to run away. The soldiers had
followed along the gulch, as they ran, and murdered
them in there...Som,etimes bunches o0f them had
been killed and torn to pieces where the wagon guns
hit them..." Black Elk speaks
cited in THIS COUNTRY WAS OURS: A DOCUMENTARY
HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN by
Virgil J. Vogel (1972)

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Does anyone else detect an attempt by Perez to desperately try to convince himself and anyone else still open to being hoodwinked? Has he been paying attention to what has been tried and what has failed?
“A two-state solution has to occur and it has to be direct negotiations between the parties. That’s what our Democratic platform is,” Perez said.

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Sanders "praised the 'enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.' "

If that were true, he would still live there, but instead he lives HERE and should actually have been elected president...

what a crock of crap zionism is. another crock of crap is the 1SS/2SS solution thing. If you go there, you will see the star of David burned into the hillside at the Allenby crossing and signs that say "Welcome To Israel" while Israeli soldiers point guns in your face if you want to take a picture of it. So it's already been fully one-state apartheid for decades. (for the uninitiated, that's the far-eastern border with Jordan, the whole f-ing West Bank.)

Admit it. It's called ethnic cleansing.

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