The state's Jewishness and 'two states for two peoples'

The state's Jewishness and 'two states for two peoples'
Netanyahu's proposed law versus the concept of citizenship.
5 min read
02 Dec, 2014
Netanyahu's proposed law would define Israel's "Jewishness" at the expense of non-Jews, say analysts [AFP]

In his attempt to promote the proposed "Jewish-nation law" that would constitutionally define Israel as a national state for the Jewish people, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argued that it was entirely compatible with the "two states for two peoples" solution.

The bill, according to Netanyahu, is simply about "the Jewishness of the state" and that it is the state of the Jewish people, and, as such, it should be acceptable to proponents of the two-state solution, he argued.

Gesturing towards the representatives of the National Democratic Assembly, also known as Balad, he said: "Only they are likely to oppose the law."

That gesture confirms the law was aimed at countering a project that we began in the early 1990s - a national project striving for "a state for all its citizens" and national collective rights for the Arabs in Israel. This idea turned into a political undertaking that is the very antithesis of Zionism.

Ever since, this issue has obsessed Israeli intellectual and political leaders.

     [Israeli leaders] are incapable of defending Zionism using the discourse of citizenship and the modern state.

The dilemma

It revealed a very real conundrum - the Israeli regime is incapable of defending Zionism using the discourse of citizenship and the modern state. Zionists consider themselves to be part of a democratic state, whereas the structure of that state, which exists on the ruined remains of another people, contradicts the very concept of citizenship.

It considers itself to be the state of millions around the world who are not citizens. Whatever sleight of hand Zionism may employ to describe the link between them and Israel, it remains a religious link.

This same state doesn't consider itself to be the state of more than a million people who are its citizens and the indigenous people of the land - the Arabs who remained within the 1948 boundaries of Palestine remain the original inhabitants of the country. The occupation turned them from an actual majority into a minority.

They are not immigrants who must give up their identity and integrate with another people as though they had chosen to immigrate. Hence, in addition to their individual rights as citizens, they also have collective rights as indigenous inhabitants. First and foremost of these rights is the preservation and development of their identity and their relationship with the land and with other Arabs.

Rights only for Jews

The two state solution pre-supposes that each of the two has the right to define itself.

The new law aims to negate those two ideas: the state based on citizenship and the national rights of the Palestinians.

Given that the Arabs have abandoned the choice of war during the era of political settlements and negotiations since the end of the 1970s, the "state for all its citizens" project is, in essence, the basic antagonist of the Zionist undertaking.

It is a peaceful, democratic opponent promoting the conditions of citizenship. It can apply to any democratic struggle in any state. It can bridge nationalism with multi-nationalism, and citizenship with democracy. Hence, many Arab democrats are adopting the idea of "the state of the citizens" in their struggle for democracy in their countries.

Netanyahu, about to fight for his fourth term in office, was right when he said that the solution of "two states for two peoples" was not in contradiction with the would-be law.

The two state solution pre-supposes that each of the two has the right to define itself as part of its articulation of its right to self-determination.

Accepting Zionism as an idea

In truth, the use of the phrase "two states for two peoples" to describe a political settlement between two states is not historically correct. Moreover, it does not take into consideration the right of the Palestinians to return, or their rights within Israel.

The "two states for two peoples" slogan turns an historical settlement of a conflict into an acceptance of Zionism as an idea, whereas the two-state solution comprises an acceptance of an existing situation - on condition that any agreement between Israel and Palestinian leaders includes the establishment of a Palestinian state and the refugees' right of return.

Initially, this was a political deal that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) accepted. However, the PLO did not intend to make a concession regarding its understanding of history, nor must it abandon the contradiction between itself and Zionism as a concept; otherwise, it will give up the right of return and the rights of the Palestinians within Israel.

In any case, political practices and developments over the past two decades have been undermining the necessary conditions for the two-state solution on a daily basis. Israeli settlement activity has been increasing in the areas occupied in 1967, a comprehensive "apartheid" racist system is being strengthened, the focus of Palestinian policies has shifted not only from liberation to statehood - a transformation brought about by the PLO in the 1980s - but also from its goal of establishing a state to the maintenance of a Palestinian Authority - and, recently, two authorities.

The latter focus is the outcome of the Oslo agreements, which diverted Palestinian attention away from demanding a state.

What Netanyahu forgot to say - and this is something of which he should be reminded - is that he himself opposes the two-state solution, and that his definition of Israel's Jewishness is not part of a less-than fair solution that he might accept.

Rather, it is an affirmation of the Zionist nature of Israel, as its colonialist, racist practices against the authentic Palestinian people reach their zenith.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.