The “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” has often been presented as one of the most intractable in modern world history.
But one reason for this is precisely that it has been wrongly analyzed as a conflict and thus the “solutions” offered and the “peace processes” for getting there fail.
This is not a conflict. There are not two sides fighting over some issue that can be resolved through technical negotiations and compromise. Rather, Zionism was – and is – a settler-colonial project.
Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine from Europe with the intention of taking over the country and making it their own. Like all settler movements they came equipped with a narrative of why the country actually belonged to them, and they pursued their claim to entitlement unilaterally. The indigenous Palestinian population (which included Sephardi, Mizrahi and ultra-Orthodox Jews) had no voice in the process; they were not a “side,” but simply a population to be disposed of.
That remains true to this day as the settler Zionist project has virtually completed its task of Judaizing Palestine, of transforming an Arab country into a Jewish one. Its inescapable conclusion is apartheid: confining Palestinians into disconnected and impoverished enclaves scattered over 15 percent of their country.
Settler-colonialism and apartheid, however, cannot be resolved through negotiations and compromise. A people cannot negotiate their fundamental human, national, political and civil rights. The only way out of a colonial situation is through a process of decolonization.
What does that entail? It entails a fundamental readjustment to the current reality. It entails the return of Palestinain refugees and their reintegration into society. It entails the dismantling of all structures of domination and control, be they political, economic or ideological and cultural.
It requires acknowledging that the colonized population has the right to an equal say in the construction of the post-colonial polity. It necessitates the formation of a new political system and civil society that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens as well as to the national, ethnic and religious groups that comprise it.
It further demands an equitable redistribution of resources, especially land, the prime target of settler-colonialism, along with an acknowledgment by the colonizers of the suffering they have brought, and consequent reparations.
It is such fundamental change that is needed to generate a new, shared political community. And that, in turn, is the only possible way settler-colonialism can be transcended.
A political program
Settler-colonial analysis is well-developed in academic circles and offers genuinely new horizons for a just peace in Palestine/Israel. But it has not yet penetrated popular or political discourses, which are still mired in necessarily fruitless attempts to negotiate – or, more precisely, manage – a conflict.
Attempting to replace conflict resolution with the more appropriate and just process of decolonization, a Palestinian-led initiative has emerged out of Haifa over the past three years.
The One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), though still in its infancy, comprises Palestinians from every major community (citizens of the areas that in 1948 became Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the refugee camps and the Diaspora/Exiles), together with their anti-colonial Israeli Jewish allies. It has issued a call for the establishment of a single democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, one that will also witness the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
Building on the work of others, the ODSC has also formulated a 10-point political program that “thinks through” the entire process of decolonizing the settler-colonial entity of Israel through the establishment of a post-colonial polity and political community. They are, in brief:
Decolonization. The only way to resolve a settler-colonial situation is through a thorough process of decolonization that will ultimately give rise to a new, shared political community.
A Single Constitutional Democracy. One democratic state shall be established between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River 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.
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 which 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 and/or compensate them.
Individual Rights. No State law, institution or practices may discriminate among 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.
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. 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.
Our Role in the Region. The ODSC will join with all progressive forces in the Arab world struggling for democracy, social justice and egalitarian societies free from tyranny and foreign domination.
International responsibility. On a global level, the ODSC 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.
Considerable work still needs to be done to flesh out our program, which is very much a participatory work in progress. But our task in this historic moment is clear: to enter the political arena armed with a clear and compelling political program, organization and strategy, all required if we are to effectively mobilize our main allies, the global grassroots.
A democratic state in historic Palestine is no utopian vision. It is doable, it is critical and it is urgent. The time has come for an inclusive democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Awad Abdelfattah is the Coordinator of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). He is the former Secretary-General, Balad/Tajamo party.
Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a founding member of the ODSC. His forthcoming book is Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: The Case for One Democratic State (London: Pluto, 2021).