Wednesday, February 23, 2005
One Person, One Vote, One State: The Only Hope for Lasting Peace in Palestine-Israel
By Roger H. Lieberman
04/30/03: (Republished from the archives) NEW JERSEY (PC) - Growing up in New Jersey I have been blessed with the opportunity to interact with men, women, and children of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.The ideal of a democratic, morally conscious society, open to people whose origins span the globe - all Americans, equal before the law - has always been dear to me. The recognition that a state must serve all who have made their homes in territory under its governance - not just members of a particular race or creed or tribe - has become almost universal in my country.
Thus I am mystified at why the United States government, and much of the media and intellectual community, has persistently funded, endorsed, and made alibis for a government that so flagrantly flaunts this principle. I am referring, of course, to America's ubiquitous, one-sided, downright reprehensible backing for the State of Israel, and all its discriminatory policies.
More than any other government in the world today, Israel violates the principle of equal rights for all under its jurisdiction. Instead of representing all the people - Jews, Muslims, and Christians - who presently dwell in historical Palestine, Israel defines itself as a "State of the Jewish People". Under the "Law of Return", Jewish immigrants from anywhere on Earth have, automatically, the privilege of Israeli citizenship. Palestinian Arabs who live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or are refugees outside Palestine, cannot obtain this right. Their presence of many centuries on the land of Palestine, and their cultural, economic, and political attachment to the land, are deemed by Israel irrelevant - for no other reason but that they are not Jewish.
Of course, there are more than 1 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship - inside the state's pre-67 borders - and constitute nearly one-fifth of the country's population. Although they certainly are treated better by Israel than their brethren on the other side of the "Green Line" - they can vote, and have some meager representation in the Knesset -Israeli Arabs still face distinctly unfair treatment. The fact that they do not serve in the Israeli Army denies them many social benefits provided to their Jewish neighbors. Worse, the ethnocentric political climate of Israel makes them a constant target of hostility and racism from hard-core Zionist lawmakers. The Israeli establishment's attitude has always been to view Arabs as a "demographic problem", not as an integral part of their country's human geography.
It is sobering to realize how disgustingly racist it would sound to any sensible American if some politician were to declare the Hispanic population of the United States a "demographic problem". Only the most reactionary elements in our national discourse dare to spout such filth in the year 2002. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, in Israel, views on inter-ethnic relations comparable to those of the American and European far-right are held virtually across the board - Labor and Likud alike- with the exception of courageous dissidents.
Too many Americans seem to accept this double-standard on tolerance, because, I think, they've been brought up to view the Holy Land as somehow on a separate plane of space-time from the rest of the world - governed by a different, supposedly higher, set of rules, for the purpose of fulfilling some Divinely-inspired destiny. Nowhere is this illustrated more starkly than in the utterances of Tom DeLay and Dick Armey in Congress and on "mainstream" television. DeLay actually has said America must unconditionally support Israel because the God promised "Judea and Samaria" to the Jews in the Old Testament. This speaks volumes about American hypocrisy in decrying Islamic fundamentalism - I know of no better match for the Taliban than Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the "700 Club"!
What does all this have to do with the current struggle in Palestine? Everything. The bizarre notion that states must serve particular religious or ethnic communities, and define their borders by their demographics - or, more commonly, force the populations concerned to comply with the concocted borders - has destroyed countless societies worldwide in the past 200 years. The obsession with monoethnic states which swept Europe in the 19th Century led to 2 World Wars, economic catastrophes, and horrible crimes against humanity, culminating in nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust. When partition schemes were forced upon the Third World during the period of "de-colonization", they initiated terrible carnage - massacres, expulsions, and bitter memories which linger on to fuel new conflagrations. This happened simultaneously - in 1947/48 - in two places: the Indian Subcontinent and Palestine. In both cases, the partition was conceived by outside parties seeking to further their political and military influence in the region - "divide and rule", if indirectly. In both cases, the basis for cosmopolitan, pluralistic society was all but shattered in the ensuing upheaval. Today both places remain home to the most dangerous conflicts on Earth.
The international consensus for Israeli-Palestinian peace which calls for "two states for two peoples", although appealing in its sound of cookie-cutter simplicity, fails to address the ethical question at the heart of the struggle. Why should the civil rights of a country's indigenous inhabitants be negotiable? Why should two peoples who share one geographical landscape divorce themselves on such plainly unequal terms?
While there may have been a sound enough basis for a sovereign Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the explosion of Jewish settlement construction, that basis does not exist on the ground today. The nearly 400,000 settlers seem most unlikely to accept relocation, and their potential for political violence is well-documented, to say the least. Economically, the Occupied Territories are in ruins - Gaza, with a per capita income of $625, is on par with Afghanistan.Furthermore, the distribution of natural resources - above all, precious water - render a cold separation ludicrous and dangerous. Jerusalem was not built to be partitioned, but shared by the three great faiths. Finally, the immensity of the Palestinian refugee crisis dwarfs whatever short-term benefit might be derived from a two-state settlement.
In conclusion, I see the best hope for peace between Arabs and Jews in historical Palestine is the creation of a multiethnic democracy governing all the territory, and all its people. Such a community spirit is not without precedent in the region. All educated people know the high degree of peaceful coexistence that prevailed between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the great age of classical Arab civilization - at a time when Europe was far, far from being the "enlightened" continent Eurocentrists boast about. It would also be in keeping with the logic of environmentalism, because cooperation and sharing equally is necessary to maintain the habitability of the Middle East in the 21st Century.
Beyond Palestine-Israel, political and economic unity must also embrace Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and perhaps Turkey and Cyprus as well. In the process, many of the deadly disputes which have embittered neighboring peoples will be resolved justly, and a major step towards a true world community of nations will have been taken.
The struggle to achieve this noble end will not be easy for anyone. It will be necessary for the Palestinian people to adopt, on a vast scale, a new and inspiring strategy: nonviolent civil disobedience. The great mass-movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. provided the moral high-ground upon which oppressive social systems toppled. If Palestinians unite with progressive-minded Jews and other peoples worldwide for one person, one vote, and one state, it will be the most profound statement of human power for good since the great struggle to free South Africa from Apartheid.
It will likely take many years of dedicated, principled dissent, but success will bring to all the peoples of the Middle East the opportunity to be live in peace, and to be brothers and citizens of the Cosmos.