Over the past several years, a core group of 60 Palestinians and Israeli Jews have been meeting to formulate a political program that will bring peace, justice, democracy and security to the people of historic Palestine. Convening ourselves as the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), we have defined our collective task as replacing the current state of settler colonialism, apartheid and violent occupation with a shared, democratic though pluralistic state from the River to the Sea. This process of decolonization, we believe, is the only way Palestinians – all Palestinians, including those refugees and their descendants who want to come home – will achieve their national and civil rights. It also offers Israeli Jews an opportunity to normalize their lives as part of a shared society and to finally belong to the country and its peoples.  

There is still much work to be done on a comprehensive political program, and much educating and organizing. But the very fact that Palestinians and Israeli Jews could come together and formulate such a substantial program demonstrates the potential power of our collective efforts. The ODSC program described below offers a solid foundation on which to consolidate support for the new state and for developing an effective strategy to achieve it. 

Although the notion of a single state is “in the air” following the unquestionable demise of the two-state solution and the rise of the single de facto apartheid state that is “Greater Israel,” it raises many questions, concerns and even fears. We address many of those concerns here. First, however, we must anchor our program in the political reality underlying “the conflict,” the little-discussed reality of settler colonialism.     

Reframing the “Conflict”

Since 1948, we have spoken about the “Arab-Israeli conflict.” To the degree that it refers to the major wars, diplomatic rivalries, and smaller “dirty wars” between the Arab states and Israel, it could be an acceptable term. But when it comes to the issue of Palestine itself, the notion of “conflict” conceals a deeper and different kind of struggle; that is, the colonization of Palestine by a Zionist settlement project. 

Settler colonial struggle can hardly be considered a “conflict.” To be sure, it generates conflict between the colonist usurpers and the indigenous population, yet colonialism does not involve two “sides” as a conflict does. Rather, it is unilateral with one foreign settler population invading another people’s territory in order to take it over. More accurate, and more politically useful, to look at the Palestine/Israel issue through a colonial lens. This helps us understand the aim of Israel is not to negotiate or compromise, but to transform a multi-religious, multi-cultural Arab country into a homogenous Jewish one. In Zionist history this process is called “Judaization.” 

Calling the Palestine/Israel struggle a “conflict” hides the settlers’ claim of exclusive entitlement to the whole of the country, while denying the Palestinians their national rights and, in fact, displacing them. A settler colonial project like Zionism allows no power-sharing. There is no symmetry of power or responsibility between the settler state of Israel and the indigenous Palestinians fighting for their basic rights and even national survival. Indeed, Palestinians are irrelevant to Israel. In the end, only a process of genuine decolonization can resolve a settler colonial situation. That is what our program offers.         

The ODSC Program for One Democratic State

The ODSC program rests on seven indispensable requirements: 

  1. Replacing ethno-religious nationalism with a constitutional democracy based on common citizenship that enables and fosters the emergence of a shared civil society;
  2. Implementation of the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their homeland under conditions that facilitate their full re-integration into society;
  3. Restoration to the expelled, excluded, and oppressed of their rights, properties (actual or through compensation), identities and social position, followed by national reconciliation;
  4. Constitutional guarantees that the rights of the country’s national, ethnic, religious, and other communities to their collective identities, associations, cultures, and institutions will be protected;
  5. The emergence of a new post-colonial polity and civil society, bolstered by a new national narrative that “writes the native Palestinians back in.” 
  6. Establishing an inclusive economy offering financial security, sustainability, meaningful employment, just compensation and affirmative action; and
  7. Acknowledging that decolonization must be a regional project. Our new state will foster equality, democracy, pluralism and sustainability throughout the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as internationally. 

Addressing the Fears and Concerns of a Single Democratic State

The vision of a single democratic state is clear: enabling the country’s peoples, communities and citizens to create a shared life based on political equality, justice and inclusiveness. But after decades of colonization, conflict and oppression, we realize the fears and doubts over whether we can co-existence in peace and security. This paper addresses those concerns. 

  1. What is the ultimate aim of the one-state solution? 

Decolonization. This means dismantling all structures of domination and control in the present system of colonization, occupation and apartheid, replacing them with a single democratic polity and an inclusive civil society. Rooted in the equal rights of all the country’s citizens instead of one population privileged over the others, the goal is to achieve a shared life that protects and nurtures the national, ethnic, religious and cultural identities and heritage in a pluralistic society.

  • Why do we need a particular political solution? Isn’t it enough that the Palestinians demand justice and equal rights, to fight against colonialism and occupation? 

Human rights and international law are important guidelines to the resolution of any conflict, but they do not add up to a political program. Restoring Palestinian national and civil rights is imperative, but under what conditions they will be protected and promoted? Should we be promoting a single state, two states or some kind of confederation? A democracy or some kind of bi-national arrangement (like Lebanon)? What will be the role of religion? How will the rights of minorities be protected? Do the refugees return? What protections will minorities have? What about economic justice? Will the economy be neoliberal, socialist, or some kind of a mix? Who can immigrate to the country? Who controls the military and police forces?

These and many more are issues require a political program, not merely the assertion of rights, important as that is. And no one will “give” Palestinians their rights. That’s not how the world works. They must be acquired through struggle, promoting political programs, formulating effective strategies and building coalitions. We must think politically

  • Doesn’t characterizing the early Zionists and Israeli Jews of today as “settlers” delegitimize their claims to the country and Israel as well? 

No. Zionism represented only a tiny fraction of the Jewish people. To the degree that it expressed a deeply-felt, mainly religious, Jewish sense of connection to the Land of Israel/Palestine, it did not confer on the Jews ownership. Had the Zionists come to Palestine with the intent of pursuing a Jewish religious, cultural or even national life in tandem with the native Palestinian population, existential conflict may have been avoided. Instead, Zionism knowingly chose settler colonialism as its strategy of transforming Palestine into Israel, thereby denying the rights and even the national existence of the native population – a setter project that invariably generated resistance. Conquest, displacement, violence and military domination cannot bring peace or security, however. Only decolonization can create the conditions for the mutual well-being of offers Israeli Jews the only way out: to become indigenized as their place in the country becomes normalized through equal relations with the Palestinians. 

  • The two-state solution works and has been accepted by the international community. Why abandon it now? 

Had it been implemented, the two-state solution might have worked, even if it wasn’t fair. Palestinians would have had a viable, sovereign (if small) state on 22% of historic Palestine, refugees could have come back (albeit into a small state) and the Palestinian state would have had borders with both Israel and two Arab countries (Jordan and Egypt), as well as a seaport and airport in Gaza. The international community accepted the two-state solution already in 1967, the PLO the officially accepted it in 1988 (before the Oslo “peace process”), and in 2002 the Arab League did so as well. 

But Israel rejected it. Israel governments going back to 1967 have rejected the notion of a viable, genuinely sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, together with the very fact of occupation. Instead, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, has moved 700,000 setters into the territory that would have been a Palestinian state, and confined 95% of the Palestinians to the tiny islands of Areas A and B in the West Bank, and a besieged Gaza. In January 2020,Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would annex the Jordan Valley “and all the settlements,” in accord with Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” No is there any will on the part of the international community to sanction Israel or force it to withdraw from the Occupied Territory. 

So, true, while the two-state solution may have worked, it was never genuinely accepted by Israel. Regardless, it is now clearly dead and gone. We must move on.  

  • The two-state solution is easier to implement than the one-state option. 

Maybe it was, four or five decades ago. Today the one-state solution seems the only option. Its great advantage is that it is â€“ an apartheid regime with an occupation – into an inclusive state of equal citizens. It takes advantage of the one state reality Israel has already created, and by dismantling its structures of domination and control, creates an opportunity to move on to a better, more egalitarian, peaceful and secure future.  

  • Jews and Arabs hate each other and can never live together in peace.

Such sweeping, a-historical assertions are never useful or accurate. Let’s break this down a bit:  Despite occasional (very occasional) exceptions, Jews have always lived in Arab and Muslim countries far more securely than in Europe. The very basis for the persecution of Jews, anti-Semitism based on the enmity of Christianity to Judaism, is missing in the Arab/Muslim world. Jews and Muslims lived shared if communally separate lives, and when the Inquisition forced Sephardi Jews to flee the Iberian Peninsula, they found refuge in the Muslim world. Indeed, Jews (and Christians) were formally recognized religious communities there. Nowhere in the Muslim world were Jews submitted to the type of discrimination, exclusion and persecution found in Europe. 

Jews shared in the fate of the Muslim countries they live in. True, as European colonialism penetrated the Middle East it created tension between the Jewish (and Christian) communities and the Muslims. Being more engaged in international trade and often educated in European-supported schools, Jews and Christians, often became identified with the colonizing powers. But the social breakdown and violence induced by colonialism over the past two centuries cannot be taken as representative of long-standing shared Muslim-Jewish life, nor of any fundamental hostility between the communities. 

In Palestine, Sephardic, Mizrahi and orthodox Ashkenazi Jews were integral parts of the indigenous population. Native Palestinian Jews shared not only the Arabic language with the Arab Palestinians but also memories, cultural traditions, customs and sense of belonging and relations to the land. The enmity that has existed for the past 125 years between European Jewish settlers and the Arabs of Palestine does not arise from some historic or religious enmity between the two peoples, but from the colonial practices of Zionism and the resistance to Zionist displacement on the part of the Palestinians. A single state resolves that colonial situation. Once the political “conflict” is resolved, there is no reason why Jews and Arabs can’t live together like citizens of other pluralistic societies. Mizrahi Jews in particular could play a key bridging role in this.   

Finally, let’s remember that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs already live together in a single state – Israel. Palestinians represent 21% of Israeli citizens and participate fully (if under substantial limitations) in the country’s political and economic life. Indeed, despite displacement, occupation and repression, the vast majority of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory also seek an inclusive political solution.  

  • What about Palestinian terrorism? 

“The battle against Palestinian terrorism” is the lynchpin of Israel’s security framing. But “terrorism” is a quintessential colonial term. By necessity colonialism and occupation generate resistance among the indigenous population. Colonial regimes delegitimize the resistance of the oppressed criminalizing it, pretending that the “law and order” of the strong is in fact just and good. 

What is terrorism? Amnesty International avoids the term altogether, finding it far too loaded to be useful. After all, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Instead, they employ the terminology of human rights and international law: all attacks against innocent civilians are illegal and must be condemned. This avoids the false symmetry between attacks by states with powerful militaries on civilian populations, such as that deployed by Israel in the Occupied Territory, and legitimate resistance, both armed and peaceful, by its Palestinian victims.

For the term “terrorism” is applied only to non-state actors. But what of state terrorism? Benjamin Netanyahu’s own definition of terrorism – “the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends” – defines state terrorism â€śfrom above” as well as non-state terror “from below.” Indeed, state terrorism is far more deadly. Non-state terrorists have claimed less than a thousand victims per yearworldwide; states kill hundreds of thousands.

Oppressed peoples cannot be expected to abrogate their own human rights, indeed their very lives, without resistance. International law gives people suffering from oppression the right to resist, even to armed resistance – although they, like state armies, cannot harm civilians. Since only states claim the right to have armed forces, resistanceon the part of oppressed people is by nature deemed “illegitimate” and criminal, including non-violent resistance. Casting them as “terrorists” effective nullifies any struggle for national rights. We must insist on the right on the oppressed to resist – which is their only hope of liberating themselves – while condemning all forms of terrorism, state and non-state aike.

  • Israel must remain a Jewish state. 

This proposition has always been problematic. Can any country with a diverse population “belong” exclusively to one particular group? Isn’t the idea of a “Jewish democracy” an oxymoron? Can a state of different nationalities, religions, ethnic groups and political views be “Jewish”? Particularly if being “Jewish” hinges on expelling and then excluding the vast majority of that country’s indigenous Palestinian population. And by what right does it claim to represent all Jews? – all Israeli citizens, not just Jewish ones. 

Moreover, the state claiming to represent only Jews has extended its rule over the entire country between the River and Sea, publicly declaring its intention to annex most of the West Bank, thus bringing millions of Palestinians under its authority and control with no civil rights whatsoever. No, a “Jewish democracy” by definition discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens, while imposing an apartheid regime upon the millions of Palestinians under its control who are not citizens, and excluding millions more (the refugees). 

Decolonization aims to bring everyone under the same democratic tent, including Palestinian refugees and their descendants. It is the only workable alternative to settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid, especially given Israel’s refusal to even entertain a two-state solution. Jews can continue to carry on their lives as Jews, as members of diverse ethnic, religious, voluntary or even national communities, but within the framework of equal civil rights in a pluralistic democracy “belonging to” all its citizens. 

  • Who can guarantee the well-being of Israeli Jews in a state with a Palestinian majority?

First off, if we accept the idea that there is already a single de facto state ruling over the whole area between the River and the Sea, then Israeli Jews are already a minority. Because the only way to keep Palestinians from challenging Israeli claims of exclusive “ownership” over the whole of Palestine is by keeping them down by force, the “well-being” of Israeli Jews is today guaranteed only by military might. But that is not a normal situation, and doesn’t have to be. The one-state initiative is premised on the view that the two peoples are not intrinsically “enemies,” but rather that their enmity arises out of a colonial situation of repression, inequality – and the inability of Palestinians to pursue their well-being, including their national self-determination. 

In our one democratic state program, the Constitution provides guarantees to protect both the individual civil rights of all the country’s citizens as well as the collective rights of all its ethnic, religious and national communities. The Constitution, enforced by the judiciary, will prohibit parliament from passing any laws or regulations that discriminate against any group or person, regardless of political views, gender, sexual orientation. It will protect the right of all communities to their identity, associations, culture and institutions. The new state will also become a signatory to existing human rights conventions, adding yet other layers of protection.  Finally, equality, integration and the sharing in the daily life of the country will give rise to a new civil society in which old enmities and grievances will no longer have resonance or relevance. 

Decolonization levels the playing field and by addressing the fundamental injustices suffered by the Palestinians, moves everyone into an inclusive and peaceful post-colonial future. Only in this way will colonialism end and the well-being of all the country’s inhabitants be ensured. Ultimately, a post-colonial “deal” is struck. If the Palestinians can reconstitute themselves in their homeland under conditions of equality, dignity and full rights, then they will be willing to declare that the colonial era has ended in Palestine, Israeli Jews can now be accepted as a normal part of the population, and we, the citizens of the new country, can move on to a better future.  

  • Why should the Palestinians agree to this? If Zionism is a form of colonialism, shouldn’t Palestine revert back to the Palestinians? What about the loss of land, the loss of generations of productive life? What about Israeli control over all of Palestine’s resources? 

It is not “fair” that Palestinians must be asked to share their country with Israelis who have denied their national rights and displaced them from their own country and their own lands and properties for more than a century – and continue to do so. But the irreversible fact of an Israeli Jewish population that will remain leaves the Palestinians with a challenge: for all their suffering and the injustices done to them, can they envision a shared life with Israeli Jews if restorative justice becomes the basis of decolonization, of the new society that will emerge? 

Can they agree to a shared life with Israeli Jews in a country that is transformed into something entirely different? A country in which colonial structures of domination and control are replaced by universal citizenship and vibrant democratic institutions. Where refugees and their descendants are brought home. Where resources and land must be redistributed so that all citizens enjoy equal access. Where compensation is made to Palestinians for loss of land and property, together with collective reparations for loss of life and productivity, for the effects of traumatization and lost life opportunities extending over generations. Where robust programs of investment and affirmative action in the Palestinian sector are instituted. While not erasing the injustice and suffering of the past, these elements of restorative justice might well persuade the Palestinian people that an egalitarian post-colonial reality is possible and worth their support. That this will be a protracted and difficult process that requires god faith and transparency as decolonization progresses is a variable we must all accept.

  • Why not a confederation or a bi-national state? 

Different variations of a single state or Palestinian-Israeli (-Jordanian) confederation have been proposed. A confederation would be the easiest to “sell” to Israelis, since it would leave Israel and, to a degree, Israeli society and geography, intact. It suffers, however, from the same reality the two-state solution does: the impossibility of carving out a viable Palestinian component in the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem. A bi-national state, too, would be marginally easier for Israelis to accept, but for Palestinians, who are ready to co-exist with Israeli Jews, a formally bi-national state forces them to recognize Zionism and its historical crimes towards them as legitimate, which they are unwilling to do. Yet another variation in which the two peoples live in a single country but with two separate citizenships and parliaments is far too convoluted, possessing no real advantage over a more straightforward single state. Finally, all these options beg the most crucial question: who controls the military, the economy, natural resources and borders? None of the options except the one-state solution (in which the military and security forces are one set of integrated bodies under the central government) genuinely remove the military domination of Israel. 

  • What about national self-determination?

The Middle Eastern and North African region is still reeling from its destructive colonial heritage and is still contending with Big Power neo-colonialism. Repressive regimes and corrupt, underdeveloped countries are only one symptom of this. Decolonizing needs to happen across our region, not only in Palestine. The Middle East and North Africa functioned for millennia as one huge market and cultural arena. Hundreds of peoples, tribes, religious and cultural communities, political movements and ideologies co-existed and comingled, no matter what empire or colonial power controlled parts of it at one time or another. We must ask, then, whether the creation of representative states is our final goal, or if it is merely a stepping stone to the interconnected and multi-cultural region that once existed. Perhaps we should begin thinking about national self-determination within this more fluid space rather than trapped in artificial, European-created states – a kind of ME/NA common market.

No state is really homogenous. “Nation-states” do not exist in any pure form; all states contain diverse populations and peoples that spill messily across state borders. Few if any national groups enjoy self-determination in “their” own countries. Instead, they tend to transfer their “national” identities to that of their state, leaving their cultural identities as meaningful but somewhat subordinate. Palestinians and Israeli Jews are so intertwined that they cannot separate into discrete homogenous states. Nonetheless, they can find as meaningful a degree of self-determination as strong national groups, religious communities or even language groups find in countries such as the UK, Belgium, Canada, Spain or many African countries. True, coexistence sometimes breaks down and has to be repaired. Some multi-national states even break up, like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and perhaps modern India. And evolution is always possible: our new state may ultimately integrate into a confederation with Jordan, or a Greater Syria might reemerge, or a common ME/NA community. The point is that at this time the most equitable, just and workable arrangement for Palestinians and Israeli Jews is a single state that recognizes and protects the national, religious and cultural identities of all its citizens. 

So while the issue of national self-determination is important, how it will be handled in a state that is pluralistic, bi-national or part of a confederation remains to be seen. The two-state solution might have offered another possibility, but Israel eliminated it.   

  • Can the Palestinians achieve a genuine parity with Israelis? Isn’t there a danger that they will become a permanent underclass to a wealthier, better educated, more powerful Israeli Jewish population? 

Despite the debilitations of displacement, impoverishment, occupation, economic discrimination and inadequate services, the Palestinians are nevertheless in a strong position to achieve parity with Israelis in a relatively short period. While education under occupation or in refugee camps presents great challenges, Palestinians enjoy one of the highest literacy rates in the world (91%) and significant rates of higher education. During the Oslo period the Palestinian economy was one of the world’s fastest growing. Besides having such profitable sectors as agriculture, tourism and business, Palestinians are poised to enter into an advanced economy. Their highly educated and affluent Diaspora that, like the Jewish Diaspora, would invest in a vibrant joint economy, is yet another resource. 

  • Israelis will never agree to a one-state solution.

Here we get into issues of strategy. There are cases where a population is unable to take responsibility for its choice of leaders, policies or actions. The Serbs are one example, the whites in the American South are another, the Afrikaners in apartheid South Africa yet another. When Mandela’s ANC began its struggle against the apartheid regime, it knew that nothing would convince the white population that apartheid was wrong and should be replaced. Rather than spend time trying to do the impossible, it instead developed a strategy to by-pass them and the governments they elected. The ANC appealed directly to the people of the world, the international civil society. The goal was to cause the collapse of the apartheid regime regardless of the willingness of the dominant society to support it, and it succeeded. 

This may well be the kind of strategy the Palestinians must adopt. Like the anti-apartheid struggle, the plan presented here is not waged against any population. It would be best, of course, if the Israeli Jewish population would willingly support of the end of occupation and Israel’s colonial policies, and take an active role in changing their system of government. If, however, they are unwilling to do so, then they forfeit their right to object if Palestinian and international actors endeavor to bring about just such change. 

  • This is a very reasonable and rational approach to peace-making. But the Middle East is anything but rational, as the rise of radical Islam shows. Besides, no Middle Eastern countries have democracies as you envision. 

This criticism is not unique to the Middle East. Like other areas of the world, Muslim countries are still struggling with ongoing neo-colonialism and despotism. Muslim extremism, fanned in particular by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam and supported by the American government, is a product of that destabilization, corruption and despotism, not its cause. On the contrary, recent revolts by peoples throughout the Middle East, epitomized by the Arab Spring, demonstrate clearly that they demand democracy, not theocracy. 

The ODSC program does not ignore or underestimate the difficulties and even dangers of decolonization – to all the parties. It is possible, however, to construct a process that offers protections during this challenging period. To begin with, we must keep the vision of what we are trying to accomplish constantly before us: a win-win prospect of a pluralistic democracy based on equal rights and restorative justice, should be kept. It is a project fraught with perils, but no less one filled with potential for finally changing the lives of everyone in Palestine/Israel for the better. 

Then, accompanied by international observers and teams of advisors, we must begin the process of institution building. It must be a transparent and participatory process, but not a jump into the unknown. There are many models of constitutional democracy we may borrow from, and the ODSC will work towards the formulation of a draft Constitution even before the process of decolonization begins, just as the ANC did in South Africa. As in South Africa, that will demonstrate to all our future citizens just how inclusive our new state will be and how it will actually work. The goal is to create a process in which all parties see where they are going and have opportunities to incorporate their concerns as the process of institution building progresses in good faith. 

Who will actually broker this new political reality? As of today, the only representative of the entire Palestinian people is the PLO, which must be resuscitated if it is to play the historic role for which it was created. This is the task of the Palestinian people, led by its progressive forces. And the only elected representative of the Israeli public is the Israeli government, which will have to be induced by external and internal pressures to play its own historic role, just as happened in South Africa. Decolonization calls for partnerships: Palestinian and Israeli, among the political parties and communities within and between each constituency, among local activists themselves, and between local activists and their international supporters, who they must mobilize and lead.   

  • How could such a solution be effectively progressed? Is it really achievable? 

The campaign to decolonize Palestine is much further advanced than we realize. Grassroots resistance among Palestinians has succeeded in mobilizing major segments of the international civil society – trade unions, religious denominations, intellectuals, academics and students, political and human rights organizations, activist groups, alternative media outlets and social media, general public opinion and even some government officials and parliamentarians. The Palestinian cause has attained a global prominence equal to that of the anti-apartheid movement. Palestinians have become emblematic of oppressed peoples everywhere. Activists around the world advance the Palestinian cause through grassroots campaigns and systematic lobbying. They host international conferences, organize on university campuses and produce a wealth of books, articles, films, social media presentations and advocacy materials. As Israel’s panic over the BDS campaign shows, Israel realizes it has already lost in the Court of Public Opinion, and is left only the shallow support of governments, Christian evangelicals and a diminishing Jewish Establishment.

What is lacking at the moment is a vision, a political end-game which the ODSC is here attempting to insert into the political process. Merely opposing “occupation is not enough. Only a vision and plan on which to build an inclusive future for all our citizens and their communities, as this program offers, will lead there.

For the full ODSC program, go to the “Manifest” button on our website. 

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