Two Peoples, One State
- Dear Friends,
Todays New York Times ran an op-ed by Palestinian lawyer Michael
Tarazi calling for equal rights for Palestinians.
Those who advocate a "Jewish-only" state are certain to protest in
large numbers. If you support equal rights for Palestinians, the
Times needs to hear from you. Letters to the editor should be 200
words or less and sent to letters@....
October 4, 2004
Two Peoples, One State
By MICHAEL TARAZI
Israel's untenable policy in the Middle East was more obvious than
usual last week, as the Israeli Army made repeated incursions into
Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinians in the deadliest attacks in
more than two years, even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated
his plans to withdraw from the territory. Israel's overall strategy
toward the Palestinians is ultimately self-defeating: it wants
Palestinian land but not the Palestinians who live on that land.
As Christians and Muslims, the millions of Palestinians under
occupation are not welcome in the Jewish state. Many Palestinians
are now convinced that Israeli support for a Palestinian state is
motivated not by a hope for reconciliation, but by a desire to
segregate non-Jews while taking as much of their land and resources
as possible. They are increasingly questioning the most commonly
accepted solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - "two states
living side by side in peace and security," in the words of
President Bush - and are being forced to consider a one-state
To Palestinians, the strategy behind Israel's two-state solution is
clear. More than 400,000 Israelis live illegally in more than 150
colonies, many of which are atop Palestinian water sources. Mr.
Sharon is prepared to evacuate settlers from Gaza - but only in
exchange for expanding settlements in the West Bank. And Israel is
building a barrier wall not on its land but rather inside occupied
Palestinian territory. The wall's route maximizes the amount of
Palestinian farmland and water on one side and the number of
Palestinians on the other.
Yet while Israelis try to allay a demographic threat, they are
creating a democratic threat. After years of negotiations, coupled
with incessant building of settlements and now the construction of
the wall, Palestinians finally understand that Israel is
offering "independence" on a reservation stripped of water and
arable soil, economically dependent on Israel and even lacking the
right to self-defense.
As a result, many Palestinians are contemplating whether the quest
for equal statehood should now be superseded by a struggle for equal
citizenship. In other words, a one-state solution in which citizens
of all faiths and ethnicities live together as equals. Recent polls
indicate that a quarter of Palestinians favor the secular one-state
solution - a surprisingly high number given that it is not
officially advocated by any senior Palestinian leader.
Support for one state is hardly a radical idea; it is simply the
recognition of the uncomfortable reality that Israel and the
occupied Palestinian territories already function as a single state.
They share the same aquifers, the same highway network, the same
electricity grid and the same international borders. There are no
road signs reading "Welcome to Occupied Territory" when one drives
into East Jerusalem. Some government maps of Israel do not delineate
Israel's 1967 pre-occupation border. Settlers in the occupied West
Bank (including East Jerusalem) are interspersed among Palestinian
towns and now constitute nearly a fifth of the population. In the
words of one Palestinian farmer, you can't unscramble an egg.
But in this de facto state, 3.5 million Palestinian Christians and
Muslims are denied the same political and civil rights as Jews.
These Palestinians must drive on separate roads, in cars bearing
distinctive license plates, and only to and from designated
Palestinian areas. It is illegal for a Palestinian to drive a car
with an Israeli license plate. These Palestinians, as non-Jews,
neither qualify for Israeli citizenship nor have the right to vote
in Israeli elections.
In South Africa, such an allocation of rights and privileges based
on ethnic or religious affiliation was called apartheid. In Israel,
it is called the Middle East's only democracy.
Most Israelis recoil at the thought of giving Palestinians equal
rights, understandably fearing that a possible Palestinian majority
will treat Jews the way Jews have treated Palestinians. They fear
the destruction of the never-defined "Jewish state." The one-state
solution, however, neither destroys the Jewish character of the Holy
Land nor negates the Jewish historical and religious attachment
(although it would destroy the superior status of Jews in that
state). Rather, it affirms that the Holy Land has an equal Christian
and Muslim character.
For those who believe in equality, this is a good thing. In theory,
Zionism is the movement of Jewish national liberation. In practice,
it has been a movement of Jewish supremacy. It is this domination of
one ethnic or religious group over another that must be defeated
before we can meaningfully speak of a new era of peace; neither Jews
nor Muslims nor Christians have a unique claim on this sacred land.
The struggle for Palestinian equality will not be easy. Power is
never voluntarily shared by those who wield it. Palestinians will
have to capture the world's imagination, organize the international
community and refuse to be seduced into negotiating for their
But the struggle against South African apartheid proves the battle
can be won. The only question is how long it will take, and how much
all sides will have to suffer, before Israeli Jews can view
Palestinian Christians and Muslims not as demographic threats but as
Michael Tarazi is a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation
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