One state for all: The only alternative to Israeli apartheid

Justice and peace can only be achieved in the context of a single democratic state that would include, and benefit equally, all residents and repatriated refugees

Haidar Eid

This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye

The establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders has become unfeasible, largely thanks to Israel’s policy of settlement expansion and its apartheid wall.

There are lessons to be learned from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Measures similar to those applied against South Africa’s apartheid regime are necessary to bring an end to Israel’s genocidal policies towards Palestinians, both within Israel and throughout the occupied territories.

A system of Bantustans – isolated, impoverished communities as developed in apartheid South Africa – does not guarantee a long-lasting, comprehensive peace. 

An alternative that has been slowly gaining momentum, especially after the end of apartheid in South Africa and the election of the first black president in 1994, is the establishment of a secular democratic state in historic Palestine – a state for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender. 

Abolishing apartheid

What boggles the mind is how some secular, liberal intellectuals and activists warn against such a solution. 

Unlike the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between the government of apartheid Israel and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, this alternative guarantees a long-term solution, as the two populations – natives and settler-colonists – in historic Palestine would be guaranteed equal rights, allowed to coexist on the basis of citizenship. It would guarantee total equality by abolishing apartheid, Bantustans and separation in Palestine.

This alternative solution should be encouraged by liberals and leftists alike, by those who were involved in anti-apartheid activities. If the world learned anything from the South African experience, it was that race, ethnicity and religion should not be the only determinants of one’s citizenship, and that separation does not guarantee security as defined by the powerful party, in this case Israel.

The first to call for this solution have been Palestinians who see clearly the complexities of their reality, and who recognise that a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even in the best case, could hardly constitute a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem. Rather, it would only contribute towards a solution for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – about 35 percent of the Palestinian people.

‘Imagined communities’

Such a move would necessarily lead to a permanent fragmentation of the Palestinian community, and to the perpetuation of the problems of the many Palestinians who live outside of this limited state. As historian Benedict Anderson showed, all nations are “imagined communities”, and borders can be drawn to encompass and exclude any number of individuals, both between and within geopolitical entities.

The combination of political vision and practical measures on various fronts – the West Bank and Gaza, 1948 Palestine, the Arab world, and the international solidarity community – is the necessary precondition for the materialisation of any solution. Yet, thanks to the Oslo Accords, we have reached an impasse: either a Bantustan, or nothing. 

Nevertheless, a “third way” is available. It is high time that Palestinians start moving away from solutions that do not meet their inalienable right to self-determination, namely the two-state solution. 

As more people are recognising the futility – not to say absurdity – of attempting to partition Palestine, there is an urgent need for a new vision to bring about decolonisation and justice in historic Palestine. This vision must be committed to the struggle for Palestinians’ internationally stipulated rights; it must be humanist and genuine in its attempt to provide a just solution to the Palestine question. 

Palestinian rights will never be realised outside the framework of a unitary state with equality for all its citizens. This is the only way forward.

Lessons from South Africa

More and more Palestinians are starting to believe that the one-state solution is the only viable option for comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Justice and peace can only be achieved in the context of a single democratic state that would include, and benefit equally, all current residents of historic Palestine – after the return of Palestinian refugees – irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion.

How can this happen? The implementation of non-violent measures, including mass mobilisation and a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, should be maintained until apartheid Israel recognises the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and the establishment of a democratic state in Mandatory Palestine – a state for all its citizens.

Dr Haidar Eid is an associate professor in the department of English literature at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip.