Reality or Illusion
Peter Brooke’s main political experience was in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was a frequent contributor to the journal Workers Weekly, arguing for the ‘two nations’ view of Irish history and for ‘electoral integration’ (the right of the people of Northern Ireland, so long as they were part of the United Kingdom, to be able to join and participate fully in the life of the political parties capable of forming the government of the United Kingdom). He is the author of Ulster Presbyterianism – the historical perspective, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1987: Belfast, Athol Books, 1994). His present interests are reflected in his website – http://www.politicsandtheology.co.uk
A single democratic secular state covering the whole area of Israel/Palestine, from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean, was the original demand of the Palestine Liberation Organisation; and a single state, though perhaps not so democratic or secular, is still the demand of Hamas. It seems that already, should such a state come into existence tomorrow, the Palestinians, or non-Jews, would be in a majority and they would of course easily be in a majority if the refugees’ right of return was respected.
So it should not be difficult to argue that a democratic one state solution would be a ‘liberation’ for the Palestinians. As things stand at present it would indeed appear as a mighty victory for the Palestinians and a defeat for the Israelis. But since, as things stand at present, all power is in the hands of the Israelis and very little power is in the hands of the Palestinians, this really amounts to an argument against it, or against the possibility that it will ever be implemented (I say ‘very little’ power is in the hands of the Palestinians because they do have some capacity, at enormous cost to themselves, to make life uncomfortable for the Israelis).
I have therefore felt the more important task was to develop arguments that would show how a One State solution is in the interests of the Israelis – even suggesting that it is the only solution, short of a renewed bout of outright ethnic cleansing, that would fulfil the most basic of Jewish nationalist aspirations. Which is to live in security in the Biblical homeland. If the concept of Biblical homeland is to be taken seriously, it must include the territory now known as the West Bank, where the Palestinian population is concentrated. So long as this Palestinian population constitutes a separate political entity it will cut Jews off from full and free access to the heartland of ‘Judaeo-Samaria’ and it will pose a perpetual threat to Israel’s security. This is true whether the Palestinian political entity is a separate, fully sovereign state, which is the professed aim of the ‘international community’, including the USA (and Israel is a dependency of the USA); or even if it takes the form of a powerless archipelago of irredeemably aggrieved Bantustans, which seems to be the preferred option of the Israeli government.
The security of Jews living in Israel/Palestine requires Jewish control over Palestinian military capacity. This can be achieved either as at present through naked terrorism; or through agreement on a common polity with a common army in which each side will have control over the military capacity of the other.
A one state solution argued in those terms may of course look less attractive from a Palestinian point of view. It is not a Palestinian victory; it would initially be implemented with the Israelis still in a position of strength and it would therefore be weighted, probably very unfairly, in the Israeli interest; and it requires the Palestinians to renounce the one project in which all their hopes have been invested since the destruction of the Ottoman Empire – the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state. I have said elsewhere that a combined Israel/Palestine could still be called a ‘Jewish state’, but it could not be an exclusively Jewish state; by the same token it could be called a ‘Palestinian state’, but it would not be an exclusively Palestinian state.
However, hellish as the Palestinian condition has been since the formation of the state of Israel, it has surely only been made worse by the false hope offered first by the struggle for an independent Palestinian state covering the whole area, then by the ‘International Community’ in the form of the ‘two states solution’. Indeed the one victory the Palestinians appear to have gained in this context – the refusal of the ‘International Community’ to recognise the Israeli occupation of the West Bank – has worked to the advantage of the Israelis, since it has released them from any pressure to recognise the democratic rights of the people living there or even to take responsibility for their welfare. The political energies of the Palestinians have been diverted into a hopeless task since there is no possibility whatsoever that the Israelis will renounce effective control over the West Bank. Or of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is based on much the same principle as the withdrawal of Poles from the Warsaw Ghetto. The ‘two state solution’ has condemned Palestinians to a dreadful roller coaster ride of alternating hope and disappointment with, I believe, no real prospect of any eventual escape. False hope is in itself a form of oppression and to renounce it would in itself be a small liberation – a liberation and clarity of vision that is already enjoyed by the followers of Hamas.
Coming to terms with reality means coming to terms with the fact that the One State already exists. The whole area from the river to the sea is already a single polity with a single government – the Israeli government. Instead of engaging in a futile effort to escape the sovereignty of the Israeli government, the immediate task should be to impose on the already existing government of the area its obligation to provide for the welfare of all the people living under its control.
Some time ago, I argued in the context of a One State discussion list that this process could begin with a demand, raised loudly and clearly, that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, should have the right to hold Israeli passports. This suggestion went down like the proverbial lead balloon, but I still hold to it. It does not of itself imply renunciation of separate Palestinian nationhood or statehood. It is a first statement of the principle that so long as Palestinians are being ruled by the government of Israel they should, without prejudice to their long term aspirations, have the rights of citizens of Israel. It is a position analogous to that of Republicans in Northern Ireland in the late sixties who demanded the full rights of British citizens without renouncing their ambition to abstract themselves from the United Kingdom. The principle is unanswerable. Recognition of it would, I believe, be a first step towards the liberation of both sides in this seemingly endless and futile quarrel.