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Opinion: Give Democracy in Palestine a Chance - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In an opinion article entitled “Israel Should Annul the Oslo Accords,” which was published on September 21 in the New York Times, Israeli deputy defense minister Danny Danon offered his own vision—presumably not radically inconsistent with that of his prime minister—for “creating a long-term solution” to what he called, significantly, “the Palestinian problem.” His proposal was, essentially, annulling the “Oslo Accords” and abandoning any pretense of seeking a “two-state solution” so as to “have the opportunity to rethink the current paradigm and hopefully lay the foundations for a more realistic modus vivendi between the Jews and Arabs of this region.”

The “Oslo Accords,” as a strictly legal matter, should have expired at the end of their defined “interim period” in 1999. But they have proven a spectacular success for Israel and a catastrophic failure for Palestine. Thus many Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause who have nothing else in common with Mr. Danon share his desire to escape from the “Oslo” cage and to “rethink” the best way forward.

However, if the problem of Israeli–Palestinian coexistence is ever to be solved, it must be redefined and clearly understood. Those who truly seek justice and peace in the Middle East must dare to speak openly and honestly of the “Zionism problem” and then draw the moral, ethical and practical conclusions which follow.

When South Africa was under a racist–supremacist, settler–colonial regime, the world recognized that the problem was the ideology and political system of the state. Anyone outside the country who referred to the “black problem” or the “native problem” (or, for that matter, to the “white problem”) would instantly have been branded a racist.

The world also recognized that the solution to that problem could not be found either in “separation,” apartheid in Afrikaans, or in scattered native reservations called “independent states” by the South African regime and “Bantustans” by the rest of the world. Neither could a solution be found in driving the settler-colonial group in power into the sea. Rather, the solution had to be found—and, to almost universal satisfaction and relief, was found—in democracy. White South Africans had to grow out of their racial-supremacist ideology and political system and accepting that their interests and their children’s futures would be best served in a democratic, non-racist state with equal rights accorded to all who live there.

The solution for the land which, until it was literally wiped off the map in 1948, was called Palestine is the same. It can only be democracy.

The ever-receding “political horizon” for a decent “two-state solution” becomes less practical with each passing year of expanding settlements, which are now home to some 600,000 Israelis, and ever-lengthening bypass roads and walls. That political solution is weighed down by a multitude of excruciatingly difficult “final status” issues, which Israeli governments have consistently refused to discuss seriously. Instead, they prefer to postpone them to a future time that never quite arrives, which, almost certainly, is intended to never arrive.

Just as marriage is vastly less complicated than divorce, democracy is vastly less complicated than partition. A democratic post-Zionist solution would not require any borders to be agreed, any division of Jerusalem, anyone to move from their current home, or any assets to be evaluated and apportioned. Full rights of citizenship would simply be extended to all the surviving natives still living in the country, as happened in the United States in the early 20th century and in South Africa in the late 20th century.

The obstacle to such a simple, morally unimpeachable solution is, of course, intellectual and psychological. Traumatized by the Holocaust and perceived insecurity as a Jewish island in an Arab sea, Israelis have immense psychological challenges in coming to grips with the practical impossibility of sustaining eternally what most of mankind view as an abomination: a racist–supremicist, settler–colonial regime founded upon the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population.

Indeed, Israelis have placed themselves in a virtually impossible situation. To taste its bitter essence, Americans might try to imagine what life in their country would be like if the European settlers had not virtually exterminated the indigenous population and put the few survivors out of sight and out of mind. Or they might imagine what it would be like if half of today’s American population were Indians, without basic human rights, impoverished, smoldering with resentment and visible every day as the inescapable living evidence of the injustice inflicted on their ancestors.

Americans might try to imagine further that Canada and Mexico were independent Indian states, still unreconciled to the European conquest and colonization of the land between them and with populations much larger than that of the United States. This would not be a pleasant society in which to live. Both colonizers and colonized would be progressively degraded and dehumanized. The colonizers could, rationally, conclude that they could never be forgiven by those they had dispossessed and that no “solution” was imaginable. So it has been, and continues to be, in the lands under Israeli rule.

The overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly on November 29, 2012, to confirm Palestine’s status as a state within its full pre-1967 borders, has created, notwithstanding the continuing occupation, a two-state legality. But the situation on the ground since 1967 has been an effective one-state reality, and there is no sign that any other state is willing or able to change that reality.

Perhaps what Mr. Danon himself called the “umpteenth round of negotiations” will be the last gasp of the fruitless pursuit of a separationist solution for those who live, and will continue to live, in the “Holy Land.” Perhaps those who care about justice and peace and believe in democracy can then find ways to stimulate Israelis to move beyond Zionist ideology and attitudes toward a more humanistic, humane, hopeful and democratic view of present realities and future possibilities.

No one would suggest that the moral, ethical and intellectual transformation necessary to achieve a democratic “one-state solution” will be easy. However, more and more people now recognize that a decent “two-state solution” has become impossible.

It is surely time for concerned people everywhere—and particularly for Americans, with their passionate attachment to democracy—to imagine a better way, to encourage Israelis to imagine a better way, and to help both Israelis and Palestinians to achieve it. It is surely time to seriously consider democracy and to give it a chance.

John V. Whitbeck

John V. Whitbeck

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.

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