In recent years, the one-state solution has claimed a large proportion of the Palestine/Israel bandwidth. For many people, interest in the issue arose out of necessity. The two-state solution lay still-born or smoldering – and apartheid was as untenable as ever. Others – like me – have never believed in a partition plan for Palestine. Liberalism and equal rights hold their own special appeal. That’s something no amount of moralistic or historical gymnastics can obviate.
It was with a focus on the future that several of us at Harvard began to work toward a one-state conference. The main idea, however, was grounded in the present. Our goal – which built on the work done by many before us – was to begin exploring what a shared state could look like. We also wanted to encourage others to begin thinking seriously about alternatives to the two-state model. I alluded to the reason for that above: the two-state solution is over. Completely. Unequivocally.
It’s worth briefly reviewing why.
More than six-hundred thousand Jewish-Israelis live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Their Jewish-only colonies are large – some of them are small cities. Moreover, with only forty percent of the West Bank – or less than eight percent of historic Palestine – available to Palestinians, even the prospect of a Palestinian statelet is consigned to an imaginary space. A visit to the region or a glance at a map ought to be enough to convince most people that reality has moved on. The two state outcome was never a good idea and it’s finally been buried.
The conference at Harvard was only the latest in a series of recent undertakings by Palestinians and non-Zionists designed to explore the one-state idea. Some Israelis and their allies may believe that apartheid and siege are viable alternatives to justice for the Palestinians – but that is something Palestinians refuse to accept, especially since the one-state solution stands as a reasonable alternative.
There are, however, serious and enduring questions about how to achieve democracy in Palestine/Israel. Is there a peaceful path to one-state? How do we repatriate refugees and ensure the provision of justice? And once we’re there, can the state protect the rights of everyone who lives in the country?
One of the most encouraging developments in the Palestinian struggle for human rights has been the renewed focus on unarmed and non-violent strategies. Israeli apartheid has thrived on the carefully crafted illusion of an annihilationist Palestinian, willing himself into poverty and destitution in the pursuit of a total genocide. The hasbara – or propaganda – relied on the black deeds of a few to sell a lie to Western publics. The campaign was managed with considerable success for some time. But not any longer.
Today, Palestinians are united in their rejection of attacks on civilians. While there are still groups who seek armed confrontation with Israel, the overwhelming majority have lent their support to popular resistance. They have seen the power of their moral claims begin to succeed where their arms failed. Fifteen-hundred Palestinian hunger strikers shattered the impassivity of Israeli camp guards in ways Qassam rockets never could.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is similarly powerful. Initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, it has succeeded in winning the unanimous support of the Palestinians. The effectiveness of the BDS movement is often disparaged by Zionists, but the reality is that the non-violent drive to highlight the case for equal rights has threatened to undermine Zionism in ways previously unforeseen.
I suspect that the path to one-state may be cleared in part by BDS and other popular forms of resistance. Equal rights can only be yielded by coordinated direct action in Palestine and around the world. However, the work is ongoing and its true trajectory is impossible to foresee.
As in South Africa – the hardest work will likely begin after the end of apartheid. Many of us are currently involved in thinking about what a shared state may look like in anticipation of what may lay ahead.
A federal model for the one-state may be the simplest way to ensure both individual and collective rights. A shared state structured along these lines could encompass four territories – two majority Palestinian and two majority Jewish Israeli with independent governance for Jerusalem. Moreover, Israel capably absorbed one million Russians in the 1990s. That experience provides a framework for thinking about how to absorb Palestinian refugees who may want to return.
The ideas presented here may seem unrelated to what’s happening in present-day Palestine. A discussion about one state can appear immaterial in the context of apartheid. But in many ways the occupation is just a symptom. For a truly free and just society to emerge a principled focus on the core issue – Zionism as a justification for a lack of equal rights – will produce the most enduring results. The occupation, apartheid, siege cannot be undermined unless Zionism is overcome. So a focus on equal rights must be the vital core of the pursuit of freedom for the Palestinians. Nothing else will do.
*Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American writer who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is currently a Soros Fellow and a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He also co-edited the After Zionism anthology. Twitter: @ahmedmoor