Challenging partition: Palestinian citizens of Israel
In November 2022, the Israeli public will once again go to the polls to vote for yet another government. This will be Israel’s fifth election in three and a half years, reflecting a protracted state of political deadlock that has revolved around the question of whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu should rule. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, they will have little consequence for Palestinians.
Indeed, Israeli apartheid seems to be cemented further with every passing year. Four years ago this summer, the Israeli Knesset ratified the Jewish Nation-State Law, affirming that national self-determination is the exclusive right of Jewish citizens. After a long legal battle, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the law in July 2021 in a near-unanimous decision. In June 2022, the Israeli Education Ministry even cited the law to justify a new discriminatory policy that will ban external providers of school programs who “refuse to sign a statement adhering to Zionist values,” further limiting the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to free speech.
While Palestinian citizens of Israel have faced legalised discrimination and marginalisation since the state’s inception, the Nation-State Law reaffirms Jewish supremacy, reinforcing a basic fact: Palestinian citizens can never achieve equality in a Jewish ethnostate, and no amount of dissolved parliaments or elections will put an end to this apartheid policy so long as the Zionist project is left unchallenged.
''Regardless of the precise shape of the state, it must adhere to basic moral principles. Jewish supremacy must be dismantled and Palestinians across the world must be able to exercise their right to return to Palestine. But so too must Jewish attachment to Palestine be respected and integrated into the fabric of the state; this does not imply that Palestinians should be forced to accept Zionism, but the collective rights of Jews in Palestine is an issue that needs to be dealt with if the one state solution is ever to become a viable political option.''
More broadly, the law confirms the fundamental moral problem with any nation-state and the bankruptcy of the partition paradigm – the idea that colonised Palestine should ultimately be divided into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Over the last three decades, the quest for a two-state solution did not only abandon Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian refugees, and Palestinians in exile; it also aligned with and legitimised the very logic of the Nation-State Law: exclusive Jewish self-determination within a bounded territory.
As Hannah Arendt famously argued, the state as a juridical entity is what ensures people’s “right to have rights.” But as soon as the state adopts an exclusive ethnic character, it inevitably leads to widespread exclusion of those who do not belong to the “nation” and, thus, inevitably institutionalises inequality among its citizens. And in the four years since the Jewish Nation-State Law was passed, ongoing Israeli annexation of Palestinian land continued and the expansion of apartheid policies have ensured that a two-state future is not only morally unjust, but also practically impossible.
In this reality, it has only become more apparent that Palestinians must renounce the partition paradigm entirely to achieve their right to live in freedom. This does not mean that they should disavow the concept of statehood itself; rather, Palestinians should unify around the idea of a civic, democratic state of equal citizens in all of colonised Palestine.
The path towards a single, democratic state will neither be easy nor straightforward. First, Palestinians in colonised Palestine and throughout their diaspora will need to determine the exact form that this future state will take. It could be a liberal democratic state where equal rights would be accorded to Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, and other inhabitants in the territory as individuals, without any legal distinctions based on ethnicity, religion, or nationality.
Alternatively, it could be a state that explicitly grants Palestinian sovereignty over the entire territory based on Palestinian indigeneity, while affording Israeli Jews equal rights as citizens – thus dismantling Zionism insofar as it grants Jews an exclusive right to self-determination in Palestine. Or, it might be a binational state that rejects Zionism as a political ideology that limits self-determination to Jews, and that grants collective rights to both Palestinians and Israeli Jews within the single territory.
Regardless of the precise shape of the state, it must adhere to basic moral principles. Jewish supremacy must be dismantled and Palestinians across the world must be able to exercise their right to return to Palestine. But so too must Jewish attachment to Palestine be respected and integrated into the fabric of the state; this does not imply that Palestinians should be forced to accept Zionism, but the collective rights of Jews in Palestine is an issue that needs to be dealt with if the one state solution is ever to become a viable political option.
Alongside this work to envision political futures, Palestinians must also devise a strategy to generate local, regional, and international support for a single democratic state – and Palestinian citizens of Israel are the best placed to lead this effort. They are long-acquainted with the intricacies of Israeli politics and can facilitate new exchanges between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians.
Organisations such as the Haifa-based One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), led by Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jewish Israelis, have already begun the work of turning academic discussions on statehood into a grassroots political movement. And as far as the Israeli government is concerned, the Israeli centre and left can no longer afford to ignore their Palestinian compatriots if they want to govern, as made evident by the coalition government’s recent collapse.
Palestinian citizens of Israel must also push to regain a place within the Palestinian national movement and help to revive and reclaim the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as an effective institution that is representative of all Palestinians. They also must win the support of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; indeed, a recent survey found that 66% of Palestinians there rejected the idea of a single democratic state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
But Palestinians everywhere largely agree that the two-state paradigm has failed and can no longer offer a path towards justice. Moreover, the 2021 Unity Intifada across colonised Palestine has shown that Palestinians are unified against not only their forced fragmentation, but also the very concept of partition. As the intifada’s manifesto affirmed, Palestinians are “one people and one society throughout Palestine.” It is this practice of unity in the face of apartheid that must translate into a new Palestinian political vision for a future defined by freedom, justice, and equality for all residents of the land between the river and the sea.
Leila Farsakh is Al-Shabaka’s policy analyst and Associate Professor and Chair of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation (Routledge, 2012), and of Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-determination beyond Partition (California University Press, 2022). She has worked with a number of organisations, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris and MAS in Ramallah, and she has been a senior research fellow at Birzeit University since 2008. In 2001, she won the Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission.
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