The immorality of the One State idea in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a debate

“There can be no doubt that the One State idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral, this is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. […] Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.” (Uri Avnery, 2007)

Within the milieux of the academic and public Left, the idea of a two states settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has increasingly limited traction. Various forms of a one state or one shared space resolution are instead rapidly gaining intellectual dominance. The ‘two states solution’ is regarded as that of the ruling hegemonies of the West: an unjust, disingenuous, myopic solution with a rightist political agenda that favours Israel; and moreover, a solution that is more and more unrealistic given the ‘facts on the ground’.

Those of us on the Left who advocate a two states settlement – a diminishing minority both within Israel and worldwide – have an enormous responsibility and task to claim and distinguish, and to explain and debate, our own independent politics for a two states settlement. The edited extract below is from one such debate that took place in 2007 in Tel Aviv between Ilan Pappé and Uri Avnery (for a transcript of the full debate, see here “Two States or One State”).

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé commences the debate by presenting the following narrative. The moment that the nationalist movement of Zionism became an unequivocal colonial project was when the territory it sought became only and exclusively Palestine (home to an indigenous population). Moreover, the Zionist quest to become a democratic nation state was fundamentally and dangerously flawed since this was, and still is, bound together with the need for a Jewish majority, and a Jewish majority at all cost: up to and including the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Thus, the creation of Israel in 1948 should be recognised for what it is: a crime against humanity. The conflict comes down to a question of justice for the Palestinians against the Zionist Minotaur. The notion of justice for two sides is nonsensical. Even when all of Palestine has been given to the Jewish State (with its never-ending territorial hunger), this State will continue to drive for a democratic majority, i.e. a Jewish majority, and so to ethnically cleanse. The two states solution satisfies, rather than challenges and undoes, Zionist territorial hunger and maintains Israel as a Jewish majority state. Under the guise of the peace process for two states, there has been continued ethnic cleansing and imprisonment of Palestinians. Settlement building and ever greater ‘facts on the ground’ have resulted in a reality where no two states solution is actually (meaningfully) possible. Instead, the two states solution merely separates the occupier and the occupied. What is actually needed is redress for the crime and injustice of 1948. It is no wonder, Pappé concludes, that the heads of the Israeli and US states favour a two states solution, because the principle of justice can never be delivered through this formula. The way forward politically is to provide an alternative to two states – the call for one state – and to build an international boycott movement to ‘out’ Israel for what it is: a pariah state.

Uri Avnery responds with the following counter-narrative. Zionism committed a historical injustice to the Palestinians. The occupation must be terminated. On the question of ethnic cleansing, both sides in 1948 were guilty of this. This debate is not about the far future, but rather the foreseeable future. And on this, Israeli peace activists should not give up the fight for Israeli public opinion – to change the reality inside of Israel. The ideal one state project is borne out of despair and must not be made into an ideology, which consequently turns away from the real prospect of a genuine two states settlement (on pre-1967 borders). There is no such thing as a point of no return vis-à-vis the conditions needed for two states. But the one state solution is not at all realistic and its proponents should be open and honest about what they actually mean: the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel. It is necessary and critical to wage a struggle inside of Israel to change its historical narrative and the notion that it can be both Jewish and democratic – a struggle to end the occupation outside of Israel proper and to end the discrimination inside of Israel. One simply cannot ignore the overwhelming majority of Israelis who do not want to dismantle their nation state. Those who believe that outside pressure will achieve such a dismantlement, and that a campaign for one state might frighten Israelis into giving the Palestinians their own state, will (in reality) be driving the Israeli public further into the hands of the Right-wing and will awaken the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. The idea of a single state is a utopian idea because reality worldwide is a nationalist reality, in which it is nation states (and the demand for nation states) that are flourishing not multi-national states. There is a disturbing lack of elaboration as to what a one state would look like in practice and how it will come into being. However, when one imagines a one state not in its ideal form but in its most likely actuality then one sees a disguised and continued occupation, an Apartheid state, and a descent into civil war that plays out a new version of 1948. The two states solution is the only realistic solution and in the sphere of consciousness it is this idea that is winning. The obstacles to achieving a two states settlement are big, but nowhere near as big as those to a one state resolution.

Pappé responds to Avnery by insisting that calls for one state come from hope not despair – two states require politicians, one state, educators. What’s more, examples of Jewish-Arab cooperation already exist, as do Palestinian and Jewish partners of this idea. Pappé states that it is necessary to stand apart from Israeli society because Zionism is an ideology of dispossession not nationalism, which has reached a point of no return. The real danger of a two states solution, Pappé spells out, is the logical extension of ethnic cleansing into ethnic elimination. Avnery presses Pappé for not answering how he would bring about the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel and thus how a one state solution could be achieved in practice. He also notes examples of Jewish-Arab co-existence. Avnery offers Pappé a compromise: for two states now, so that one day we can have one state, voluntarily. Avnery again insists that the prospect of two states is stronger now than previously, and that reality is nationalist so we cannot avoid working with that. Pappé asserts that he is for the right of the Jews to a state but not Israel because Israel is a state that dispossesses the indigenous population. Avnery maintains that a solution to the conflict has to entail the consent of a majority of Palestinians and Israelis, otherwise it is not a solution at all. To this, Pappé makes plain that the story of the conflict is in fact very simple: white people who were persecuted in Europe committed a crime against black people in Palestine, and these white people should be grateful that now these black people are willing to accommodate them in a solution. Avnery holds that the story is not one-sided and that unless we engage with both peoples then there will be no peace. To which Pappé retorts, why should the occupied engage with the occupier who claims the crime they have committed is more complicated than it is. Only when the crime is paid for would it be reasonable for the oppressed party to listen. Pappé closes, it is the duty of an international boycott movement to tell Israel that it is a pariah state and will continue to be so until it stops its crimes. This will strengthen the chance of long term peace. Avnery finishes, the Israeli peace movement should engage with the Israel public of six million. Outside pressure can be helpful or it can cause grave danger. Gush Shalom calls for a selective boycott of settlement goods. A blanket boycott instead will push Israelis further to the Right. The one state proposal leaves dangerous space for the Israeli Right to say that there is no solution to this conflict, which then justifies further conflict up to and including ethnic cleansing. In the foreseeable future, it is two states that has a chance, whilst the one state solution has none.

To me, what is revealed most starkly from this exchange is Ilan Pappé’s writing off of the Israeli Jewish working class: this population has no meaningful and progressive role to play unless, and only unless, they renounce the nation state of Israel. Pappé places a great emphasis on an international boycott movement to shame Israel into dismantling itself. Uri Avnery insists: one, the nation state of Israel on 1948 borders exists and should continue to exist because a vast majority of its population wants it to; and two, we cannot have peace without bringing the Israeli Jewish working class – alongside the Palestinian Arab and Israeli Arab working class – with us.

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

The debate (an edited transcript)

Pappé: The moment it was decided that the only territory where Jews could be assured of a safe haven, the only territory where a Jewish nation state could be created was in Palestine, this humanistic national movement turned into a colonial project. Its colonial character became all the more pronounced after the country was conquered by the British in the First World War. […] But the problem – and the source of the Palestinian tragedy – was that the leaders of Zionism did not want only to create a colonial project, they also wanted to create a democratic state. And why was it a Palestinian tragedy that Zionism at its early career wanted to be democratic? Because it still wants to be democratic. Because if you put together Zionist colonialism, Zionist nationalism and the impulse for democracy, you get a need which still dictates political positions in Israel up to the present […]. It is the need to have an overlap between the democratic majority and the Jewish majority. Every means is fair to ensure that there will be a Jewish majority, because without a Jewish majority we will not be a democracy. It is even permissible to expel Arabs in order to make us a democracy. Because the most important thing is to have here a majority of Jews. Because otherwise the project will not be a democratic project. It is not surprising that not far from here, in the Red House on the seashore of Tel Aviv, eleven of the leaders of Zionism gathered in 1948 and decided that if you want to create a democratic state and also to complete the Zionist project, i.e. to take over as much as possible of the land of Palestine, and if you have no majority and you are only a third – than the only choice is to implement an ethnic cleansing, remove the Arab population from the territory you intend for a Jewish State. […] Had this act of the Zionist movement taken place now, no international body would have hesitated to label it a Crime Against Humanity.

The UN Partition Resolution of November 1947 and the attempts to effect a division of the land after the 1948 War were not based on the ideals of justice – i.e., there is justice and rights to the indigenous people, most of whom had been expelled, and there is justice to the new settlers. No. The basis for the impulse to effect a Two State Solution then, as at the basis of this impulse now, there was the idea that the Zionist Minotaur could be satisfied by letting the Jewish State have control over only part of Palestine – not the whole. The UN had proposed giving 50 percent of Palestine. For the Zionists that was not enough and they took 80 percent of Palestine, and there was a feeling that that would be enough for them. But we know that this territorial hunger did not end in 1948. When the historic opportunity came, a hundred percent of Palestine came under the rule of the Jewish State. But here the great Palestinian tragedy manifests itself once again. Even after 100 percent of Palestine became the Jewish State, there is still a real impulse to create and preserve a democratic state.

This is the background for the creation of a special kind of peace process, a peace process based on the assumption that the Zionist territorial hunger and democratic wishes can be assuaged by leaving part of Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – out of Israeli control. This gives a double profit: on the one hand, the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs is not disturbed; on the other hand, the Palestinians are imprisoned where they would no longer threaten the Zionist project. […] Already in the 1980s, the mantra of the Palestinian State beside the Israeli State – as a good solution to the conflict or as a way to assuage the territorial hunger of the Zionist movement and preserve Israel as a Jewish State – this mantra was encountering increasing difficulties. One factor was that the ‘facts on the ground’ were steadily reducing the Palestinian territory, by creating and extending settlements. And from a different direction, there was the natural wish of the political movements to extend the ranks of those who supported the Two States Solution. Gradually, they found new partners, and these new partners gave new meanings to the term ‘A Palestinian State’. In fact, the connection gradually disappeared between the Two States idea on the one hand and the idea of solving the conflict on the other. Suddenly, the Two States Solution became a way of arranging some kind of separation between occupier and occupied, rather than a permanent solution which should have dealt with the crime committed by Israel in 1948, with the problems of the twenty percent of Palestinians inside Israel, and with the refugee population which has steadily increased since 1948. In the 1990s, and since the beginning of the present century, the Two States idea has become common currency. The respectable list of its supporters finally came to include, among others, Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush. When your idea gains such adherents, that is far from a bad historical moment to rethink the entire idea. […] Under cover of the Peace Process, you can say under the cover of the slogan of Two States for Two Peoples, the settlements were extended, and the harassment and oppression of the Palestinians were deepened. So far so that the `facts on the ground’ have reduced to nothing the area intended for the Palestinians. The Zionist racist and ethnic hunger got legitimacy to extend itself into nearly half of the West Bank. […] If the principle of justice be the basis for those who support the partition of this country, there is no formula more cynical than the Two States Solution, as it is now presented in the Peace Camp. 80 percent of the country to the occupier, and twenty percent to the occupied. That is, 20 percent in the best and utopian case. More likely, no more than 10 percent, a dispersed and surrounded ten percent, to the occupied. Moreover, where in this solution do you find a solution for the refugee problem, to where will return those who were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948? […] If we trust in the international and regional balance of forces as the decisive factor we would give the Palestinians a tiny piece of land, hermetically enclosed with barriers and walls. Because we are not guided by moral principles, we are pragmatic people.

There will be neither reconciliation here, nor justice or a permanent solution, if we don’t let [the] Palestinians have a share in solving the questions referring to reconciliation and to defining the sovereignty, the identity and the future of this country. […] We will find an alternative model. All of us, including the old settlers and the new – even those who got here yesterday – including the expellees with all their generations and those who were left after the expulsions. We will ask all of them what political structure fits all of them, which would include the principles of justice, reconciliation and coexistence. Let’s offer them at least one more model, in addition to the one which failed. […] In conclusion: in order for this dialogue to start and flourish, let’s admit one more thing. Let’s admit that the occupation which they are increasing daily, we – with all our important efforts – can’t stop from here. The occupation is part of the same ideological infrastructure on which the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was built […]. The most murderous manifestation of this ideology occurs now in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to stop the extension of these war crimes, the extension of this criminal behaviour, let’s admit that we need external pressure on the State of Israel. Let’s thank the associations of journalists, physicians and academics who call for a boycott on Israel as long as this criminal policy continues. Let us use the help of civil society in order to make the State of Israel a pariah state, as long as this behaviour continues. So that we here, everybody who belongs and who wants to belong to this country, could conduct a constructive and fruitful dialogue.

Avnery: There can be no dispute that Zionism, which had implemented a historical project, had also caused a historical injustice to the Palestinian people. There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered by the Arab side. Occupation is a despicable condition which must be terminated. There is certainly no debate about that. We might have no debate about the far future, either, about what we would like to see happening a hundred years from now. […] We do have a debate about the foreseeable future.

Should we concentrate our efforts in the struggle for the Israeli public opinion, or give up the struggle inside the country and struggle abroad, instead? I am an Israeli. I stand with both legs on the ground of the Israeli reality. I want to change this reality from one side to the other, but I want this state to exist. Those who deny the existence of the state of Israel, as an entity expressing our Israeli identity, deny themselves the possibility of being active here. All their activity here is foredoomed to failure. A person might despair and say that there is nothing to do, everything is lost, we have passed the point of no return. As Meron Benvenishti said many years ago, the situation is irreversible, we have nothing more to do in this state.

It happens that you sometimes despair. Each one of us had such moments. Despair destroys any chance of action. Despair must not be made into an ideology. I say: there is no place for despair, nothing is lost. Nothing is irreversible, except for life itself. There is no such thing as a point of no return. I am 83 years old. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of the Nazis and their fall, the peak of the Soviet Union’s power and its sudden collapse. One day before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was not a single German believing this would happen in his lifetime. The experts did not foresee it – none of them. Because there are subterranean currents which act below the surface, and which nobody sees in real time. That’s why theoretical analyses come true so rarely.

There are three basic questions about the One State idea. First: Is it possible at all. Second: If it were possible, is it a good idea. Third: Will it bring a just peace. About the first question, my answer is clear and unequivocal: No, it is not possible. Anybody who is rooted in the Israeli-Jewish public knows that this public’s deepest aspiration – and here it is permissible to make a generalization – the far, far deepest aspiration is to maintain a state with a Jewish majority, a state where Jews will be masters of their fate. This takes precedence over any other wish and aspiration, it takes precedence even over wanting to have a Greater Israel. You can talk of a Single State from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, define it as bi-national or supra-national – whatever the term used, in practice it means the dismantling of the State of Israel, destruction of all that was built for five generations. This must be said out loud, without any evasions. That is exactly how the Jewish public sees it, and certainly also a large part of the Palestinian public. This means the dismantling of the State of Israel. I am a bit disturbed by the fact that these words are not said explicitly. We want to change very many things in this country. We want to change its historical narrative, its commonly held definition as “Jewish and democratic.” We want to end occupation outside and discrimination inside. We want to build a new framework in the relations between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But you cannot ignore the basic ethos of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel. 99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. There is an illusion that you can achieve this by outside pressure. Would outside pressure force this people to give up their state? I suggest a very simple test. Think for a moment about your neighbours at home, colleagues at work, fellow students. Would any of them give up the state because somebody outside demands it? Pressure from Europe, even pressure from the White House? Short of a decisive military defeat on the battlefield, nothing will induce Israelis to give up their state. And if Israel is militarily defeated, our debate will become irrelevant anyway. The Palestinian people want a state of their own, too. This is needed in order to satisfy their most basic aspirations, the restoration of their national pride and the healing of their trauma. Even the Hamas leaders with whom we spoke want it. Those who think otherwise engage in daydreams. There are Palestinians who speak of a Single State, but for most of them this is simply a code word for the dismantling of Israel. And even they know it is a utopia. There are those who delude themselves that if they speak of a bi-national state, that would frighten the Israelis so much that they will immediately consent to the creation of a Palestinian State at the side of Israel. But the result will be the opposite. This frightens the Israelis, that’s true – and pushes them into the arms of the right-wing. This arouses the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. About this I agree with Ilan: this dog is sleeping, but it is still there. All over the world, the trend is opposite: not the creation of multi-national states but on the contrary the division of states into national units. […] There is no example in the world of two different peoples voluntarily agreeing to live in one state. There is no example in the world, except for Switzerland, of a really functioning bi-national or multi-national state. And the example of Switzerland, which has grown for hundreds of years in a unique process, is the exception which proves the rule. After 120 years of conflict, after a fifth generation was born into this conflict on both sides, to move from total war to total peace in a Single Joint State, with a total renunciation of national independence? This is total illusion.

How is this supposed to be implemented in practice? Ilan did not talk about it. This worries me. I suppose it should look like this: The Palestinians will give up their independence struggle and their wish for a national state of their own. They will announce that they want to live in a Single Joint State. After that state is created, they would have to struggle in its framework for their civil rights. Many good people around the world will support that struggle, as they did in the case of South Africa. Israel will be boycotted. Israel will be isolated. Millions of refugees will return to the country, until the wheel turns a full circle and the Palestinians assume power. If that was possible at all, how much time would it take? Two generations? Three generations? Four generations? Can anybody imagine how such a state would function in practice? […] There are those who say: It already exists. Israel already rules one state from the sea to the river, you only need to change the regime. So, first of all: There is no such thing. There is an occupying state and an occupied territory. It is far easier to dismantle a settlement, to dismantle settlements, to dismantle ALL the settlements – far easier than to force six million Jewish Israelis to dismantle their state. No, the Single State would not come about. But let us ask ourselves – should it somehow be erected, would that be a good thing? My answer is: absolutely not. Let’s try to imagine this state – not as ideal creation of the imagination, but as it might be in reality. In this state the Israelis will be dominant. They have an enormous dominance in nearly all spheres: standard of living, military power, level of education, technological capacity. Israeli per capita income is 25 times – 25 times! – that of the Palestinians, 20,000 dollars per year compared to 800 Dollars a year. In such a state the Palestinians will be “cutters of wood and hewers of water” for a long, long time. It will be occupation by other means, a disguised occupation. It will not end the historical conflict, but just move it to a new stage. Would this solution bring about a just peace? In my view, exactly the opposite. This state would be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over a maximum of land. Bring in a maximum number of people. The Jews would fight by all possible means in order to prevent the Palestinians from gaining a majority and taking power. In practice, it would be an Apartheid state. And if the Arabs do become a majority and seek to gain power democratically, there would start a struggle which might reach the scale of a civil war. A new version of 1948. Also those who support this solution know that this struggle would last several generations, that a lot of blood might be shed and that there is no knowing the result. It is a utopia. In order to achieve it, you need to replace the people – perhaps the two peoples. […] Precisely a beautiful utopia can bring about terrible results. In the vision of “The Wolf lying down with the Sheep” there would be needed a new sheep every day.

The Two State Solution is the only practical solution, the only one which is within the bounds of reality. It is ridiculous to say that this idea was defeated. In the most important sphere, the sphere of consciousness, it is growing ever stronger. After the war of 1948, when we raised that banner, we were a small handful, which could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Everybody denied the very existence of a Palestinian People. I remember how, in the 1960s, I was running around Washington, talking with people in the White House and the National Security Council. Nobody wanted to hear of it. Now, there is a world-wide consensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, the Israeli public opinion, the Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. You should grasp what this means: the entire Arab World now supports this solution. This has enormous importance for the future. Why did it happen? Not because we are so clever and talented that we convinced the whole world. No. The internal logic of this solution is what conquered the world. True, some of the declared adherents are only paying lip service. It is quite possible that they use it to distract attention from their true purposes. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert pretended to be supporters of this idea, while their true intention was to prevent the abolition of the occupation. But precisely the fact that such people need to resort to such a pretence, that they are now outwardly committed to it, exactly that proves that they realize it would be futile to go on fighting it. When all peoples, the whole world, recognize that this is the practical solution, it would finally be implemented. The parameters are well-known, and about them too there is a worldwide agreement. One: A Palestinian State will be created, side by side with Israel. Two: The border between them will be based on the Green Line [pre-1967 border], possibly with agreed exchanges of territory. Three: Jerusalem will be the capital of both states. Four: There will be an agreed solution to the refugee problem – meaning that an agreed number will return to Israel, and the others will be absorbed in the Palestinian State or in the present places of habitation while getting generous compensations, for example like what the Germans paid us. […] Five: There will be an economic partnership between the two states, in whose framework the Palestinian Government will be able to defend the interests of the Palestinian People, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will to some degree diminish the gap in the imbalance between the two sides. […] Six: In the longer range, there should be a Middle-Eastern Union on the European model, which might eventually include also Turkey and Iran. There are big obstacles. They are real. Real obstacles can be overcome. They are as nothing – I want to emphasize this – they are as nothing compared with the obstacles on the way to a Single State. […] Opting for the One State since it is difficult to gain the Two States is like being unable to beat a lightweight boxer and therefore choosing to contend with a heavyweight; or failing to run a hundred metres, and therefore shifting to the marathon; or being unable to attain the peak of Mont Blanc, and therefore trying the Everest instead. There can be no doubt that the One State Idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral. This is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. It is important to repeat this: a moral stance which is not realistic is immoral. Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.

Pappé: The One State idea does not proceed from despair. […] There is hope. You can see it, for example, in the Galilee – where Jews and Arabs live in a region relatively free from state interference. It is interesting to note that exactly where there is a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, there are also business partnerships, joint schools, suddenly there is a budding common life of the two nationalities. It turns out that you can fight segregation. Why is it possible to fight it? Do you know why? Because the idea that nationalism is bound to win around here is the result of manipulation and education – not of human nature. You can educate otherwise. It’s true – there is an enormous difference between the Two State Solution and the One State Solution. For two states you need politicians, for one state you need educators. […] The real Two States formula […] is the one which we see being implemented in front of our eyes. It means fifty percent of the West Bank annexed to Israel, and the other fifty percent as a Bantustan surrounded by walls and fences, but with a Palestinian flag. That is the state, with apparently some kind of tunnel connecting it to the other concentration camp which is called the Gaza Strip. This is what will be signed in a ceremony on the White House lawn, about which the Zionist Peace Camp will come and say: nevertheless, this is a bit better than what we had until now. We have already seen the results of this kind of thinking.

There is a need for persons who struggle with their society. The kind of person who says to his society: I am sorry, the collective ideological identity which you have chosen is despicable and impossible to maintain. It does not stand the test of Judaism or of common morality. This idea that Jews have an ethnic preference, ethnic majority, ethnic superiority – for a state which is supposed to represent the victims of the Holocaust. Am I supposed to accept all this because the majority thinks so? Because this is the result of past education? Even if I am left as the only Israeli who thinks otherwise, I will go on saying it! What are you trying to say? That in the name of the collective consciousness as it was under the Apartheid regime, it was forbidden for a white person to come and say out loud what certainly did not sound realistic in the 1960s and 1970s – that Apartheid was a despicable ideology? Zionism is not the ideology of a national movement. It is an ethnic ideology of dispossessing the indigenous people and denying them the possibility of going on living here. If we do not start changing the discourse, the general public certainly will not. There ARE points of no return in history. Yes, there are points of no return in history. I am sorry to say, Uri, that genocide is a point of no return, an irreversible act. There is no lack of examples. Let me tell it to you as a historian, there is no lack of historical examples where ethnic cleansing turned into genocide. You should give a thought to the depths of this national consciousness, this Jewish consciousness from which you draw such hope for the implementation of the Two State Solution. I don’t like to contemplate these depths, the possible transition from ethnic cleansing to ethnic extermination. […] Is it possible? It is not possible tomorrow, nor is it possible the day after tomorrow. I am sorry to say that it is far more possible that the Zionist Project will succeed to create here a state without Arabs. This is far more possible. It is on the cards, among other things because of the mistake of the peace camp and the support for “Two States for Two Peoples”. Because with the help of the slogan of “Two States for Two Peoples” it is possible to start talking of a transfer of population, it is possible to talk of reducing the Palestinian territory, it is possible to cleanse the Israeli territory of Palestinians. “We are here and they are there” said Ehud Barak. They can also cleanse the Palestinian minority in Israel, in the name of the sublime idea of Two States. […]

Do we have no partners on the Palestinian side for building here a joint state? Are there no Palestinians in Israel with whom we want to build a joint state? Are there no Jews in Israel with whom we DON’T want to build a joint state? So let us already make the division as between normal Jews and Arabs on the one hand and Jews and Arabs who are bastards on the other side. Let us stop dealing with the nationalist discourse which perpetuates occupation, alienation and oppression.

Avnery: I am in a bit of an embarrassing situation – because in the debate between emotion and logic, it is always emotion which gets the applause. In the debate between absolute morality and relative morality, absolute morality gets – and rightly so – the applause. I have listened attentively to what you said, Ilan, but I also listened attentively to what you did NOT say. You did not say how you can bring about the dismantling of the State of Israel. You did not say how the One State will come about. You did not describe how it will look in reality. You have described ideal things. […] There are many good people in Israel. Many, who do good things. There are a hundred peace organizations and more, each one of which does important things in its own way. There are teachers who educate for Jewish-Arab coexistence, there are kindergartens which start this even earlier in life, all true. But you yourself said that the solution which you propose will not come about in their lifetime. You propose planting an almond tree of which your grandchildren will get to eat. But God Almighty, all this frightens me terribly. You talk of ethnic cleansing, of the terrible danger of ethnic cleansing. You talk of the terrible dangers which threaten the Palestinian people in the present reality, and I see this situation as darkly as you see it. I am even more sombre than you. In this reality, we have no fifty years to wait for a solution! I said that there can be no compromise between our positions. But let’s offer you a compromise anyway: work with us for the creation of the two states. After the two states will be there, after these dangers would be averted, go on struggling to get them united into a single state. I say this seriously. Struggle for it that the two states will become one, voluntarily. […] It is absolutely true: On the ground we see that reality is terrible, that it is even getting worse – if that is possible, and we know that it is always possible. We deal with all that every day. But below the surface other things are happening. There was a time when 99% of the Jewish-Israeli public denied the very existence of the Palestinian People – now, nobody speaks like that anymore. Once, the big majority opposed the idea of creating a Palestinian state. Now, according to all opinion polls, the great majority in Israel accepts this idea as part of the solution. When we said that Israel should talk with the PLO, they said we were traitors. Afterwards, the government made an agreement with the PLO. Now we say that there should be talks with Hamas. I am sure that Israel is going to talk with Hamas, and that it will not even take too long before that happens. We said that Jerusalem was going to be the capital of two states. That was terrible, unacceptable. Jerusalem is the Eternal Undivided Capital of Israel, blah, blah, blah. But when Ehud Barak proposed a kind of partition of Jerusalem – and it does not matter whether he meant it or not, and precisely what he meant – what was the public reaction? The public was silent. […] It is not easy, the obstacles are enormous. But I am not mindlessly optimistic. I am optimistic on the basis of reality. I think that we will get to the creation of a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. And I think that Palestine will be a proud national state. I know that for many people the word “national”, the word “nationalism”, are dirty words. You can open a big additional debate on that, and take up a whole new evening with it, but I will say only this: anybody who ignores the enormous power of national feeling lives in an unreal world. Reality is nationalist. […] Ignoring the irrational element in politics is not a rational behaviour. Irrationality exists. It is rational to take the irrational into account. We need to think how, despite this irrationality, we can reach a solution which can be lived with.

Pappé: I do not deny the right of the Jewish People to a state, as I do not deny the right of the Palestinian people to a state. I do deny the right of the Jewish People to dispossess the Palestinian people of their homeland. If the political solution which is being proposed would enable the Jewish people to continue dispossessing the Palestinian people, this is not only morally unacceptable – it also means that the conflict would be perpetuated. Therefore, what I seek is a solution which in the final account will enable everybody who lives here to feel that their historical rights are respected, and that their civil and human rights are respected, too. If this sounds like absolute morality, I shudder to think what relative morality would consist of.

Avnery: The solution which you propose like the solution which I propose have one thing in common: neither could be implemented except with the common consent of Israelis and Palestinians. Anything but that would mean either the destruction of Israel or the perpetuation of Israeli occupation. This solution or that, the one you consider realistic and the one I consider to be such – both need the consent of both peoples. And if you want to include the refugees in the decision, too, I am certainly not opposed to that.

Pappé: Uri, the story is not complicated – unlike what you say and what is written in this brochure prepared by Gush Shalom. The story here is a simple story, a story of white people who were persecuted in Europe and who drove away the black people who used to live here. It happened in many places. The difference is that here the white people stayed, and surprisingly the black people who are left here are willing to build a single state together with them. So, we should be grateful to them for that, rather than start accusing them again and look for ways of locking them into impossible enclosures.

Avnery: Here, the Palestinian People found itself faced with a formidable movement which progressively took over the country. I define this historic, tragic and painful conflict (to whose Jewish side I am also sensitive) as a collision between an unstoppable force and an immoveable mass. It is, in my view, not a completely one-sided story. When you, Ilan, show high sensitivity to the injustice done to the Palestinians, I accept this fully and more than fully. But when you completely ignore the fact that there is a Jewish side to that story, I don’t think this is true. And it is also not useful. You could not affect the Jewish-Israeli public if you have no sensitivity to what this public thinks, to its fears and anxieties. All this exists. It exists, and you must take it into account, if you want to influence these people. Also to influence in your direction, also to bring six million Israelis to dismantle this state and accept a common state with another nation – a nation which they now hate and fear. If you want to influence the Israeli public, you must understand these fears, understand where they come from. Only if we look at both peoples, see them at every moment of our struggle, see their anxieties and aspirations – only then do we have a chance of succeeding.

Pappé: It is always the occupier, the dispossessor, the oppressor who claims that the story is complicated. The victim always says: In fact, it is not so complicated. You have taken my home, you imprison me, you don’t let me breath – all this does not sound complicated to me It is hard, it is terrible and horrible, but it is not complicated. The occupier says: it is complicated, it is far more complicated, you have to understand also my side. The side of the occupier is something to which we will show understanding when the occupation is over – not a minute before. […] There is only one way to deal with a regime like the Israeli regime, which is based on an ideology which creates a separation between the Jewish population and the local population – a population whose cleansing started in 1948 and never stopped for a single day since then. There is only one way of conveying that the message that this ideology does not pay, that the occupation is too expensive to sustain. The only way is a clear message from conscientious people, of peace movements all over the world. Israel should get the same message which was delivered to South Africa: “You will stay a pariah state as long as you continue committing these crimes”. This is an important message, a message which should be supported. It does not contradict the Palestinian struggle, it does not contradict the peace struggle. On the contrary, it strengthens these struggles, it gives it a chance. Without that, the first victims will be the Palestinians but we too will be victims, everybody in this room.

Avnery: The question is where the Israeli peace movement should direct its main thrust, its main effort. Where is its main battlefield. I say, unequivocally: that is here, in this country. As to outside pressures: there are pressures which can help, and there are pressures which might cause damage, even grave damage. If the outside pressure would be of such a kind as to make normal, sane Israelis feel that the entire world is ganging up on us because we are Jews, this pressure will bring an opposite result. If the pressure will be selective, if the boycott will be focused on bodies which support the occupation and take part in it, then it would be excellent. I am all for that. In fact, Gush Shalom pioneered this way, calling already ten years ago for boycott of settlement products. Occupation will not end without peace. We have to see that in the most clear way possible: there is no way of putting an end to all this injustice, of ending the occupation, except in the framework of peace. […]

Let me tell you what I find most frightening in your proposal, more than anything else. You say that the Two States Solution is inherently bad and should be rejected. Your alternative is a solution which 99 percent of Jewish Israelis do not want, and which has no chance to be accepted. What does that leave? It leaves the slogan of the Israeli right wing: that there is no solution to this conflict. That is what I am afraid of: of those who say that “There is no solution to the conflict”, the conflict will last forever, that it is our fate to suffer an eternity of it. This is what I am afraid of, because it can serve as justification to all horrors, up to and including ethnic cleansing. To sum up: I am not pessimistic. I am optimistic. I think that nearly everything is possible. The one thing which is not possible to convince the Israelis to dismantle the state of Israel. This simply will not happen, not under any conceivable set of circumstances, even in situations which go beyond the most wild imaginations. It will not happen in the foreseeable future. Well, it might happen beyond the foreseeable future. […] A single state means the dismantling of the State of Israel. The adherents of this idea should say this loud and clear. You cannot walk around on a tiptoe and wrap it in a million disguises. What is up for discussion on the table is the existence of the State of Israel. Nothing else. If anybody here has found the way of how to convince six million Israelis to dismantle the State of Israel for which five generations had fought, I raise my hat to them. There is no such way.

One thought on “The immorality of the One State idea in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a debate

  1. Pingback: Demystifying left anti-Semitism | Anaemic On A Bike

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