’48 Palestinians Believe The Moment Has Arrived: One Democratic State – Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Posted By on May 29, 2020

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2020, pp. 20-21

ZIONISTS HAVE LONG ENJOYED the disunity of the Palestinians, which they have stoked and highlighted over the decades. One of their greatest successes has been to isolate Palestinian citizens of Israel from other Palestinians, while concealing the oppression of Israeli Arabs under Israels settler-colonial regime.

That isolation is waning, however, key leaders of resistance to the Israeli policies say. With the demise of Oslos long-moribund two-state solution, soon to be formally interred by Israels U.S.-endorsed annexation plan for the West Bank, the situation for the Palestinians may have returned to its [pre-1948] existential roots, when all faced the same threat of exile or subjugation. That was the response, in February, of more than 80 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR).

To be disappeared and dispossessed has been the reality of the 48 Palestinians for 72 years, living as a despised non-Jewish minority in the Jewish State. Perhaps this experience accounts for the strength of their political vision in this moment. They, along with Israeli Jews of conscience, are calling for One Democratic State (ODS) for all the people, and they are beginning to be heard.

However, ODS is still not a movement, according to Awad Abdelfattah, coordinator of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), one of several groups sharing the ODS vision. His ODSC colleague, Dr. Jeff Halper, an American-Israeli Jew and founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, agreed. The two were interviewed online in April by Mike Spath, director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace in Fort Wayne, IN.

Both men are veteran opponents of Israeli government policy and believe that ODS is now clearly the only solution, imperative for everyone, in Abdelfattahs words. Halper said ODS is inevitable because it is the only viable decolonization option, and decolonization is the only solution to Israels whole, ongoing settler-colonial enterprise.

In a sign of accelerating momentum, even during the global pandemic, all of the ODS groups held their first meeting May 11, by Zoom, to form a united front and coordinate their efforts more closely. We reached agreement on the importance of forming the umbrella group and agreed to work hard toward that end, Abdelfattah told the Washington Report.

The fact is the Zionist victory has not been decisive, Abdelfattah said. The Palestinians are still there. They include 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose lives show that Israel has not been normal, ever. We expose the inherent apartheid nature of Israel.

The Palestinians living inside Israel never had much hope for Oslo, he said. Abnaa al-Balad, the Marxist Nationalist group, of which he was deputy secretary-general from 1986 to 96, always wanted one democratic state. It helped form the National Democratic Party (Balad) in 1995, of which he was secretary-general from 1997 to 2016. We always viewed Oslos two-state program as a catastrophe, Abdelfattah said. Aside from being a big illusion, it left out internally colonized Palestinians inside the Green Line, like himself, and marginalized refugees in camps outside Palestine. Every family inside the Green Line, including mine, has relatives who are refugees and cannot come home, he said. His point is that 48 Palestinians connect intimately to all segments of the Palestinian people.

It has been galling that the 48 Palestinians have always been considered an internal domestic issue for Israel to deal with, he told Spath. In fact, we have been marginalized three ways, first, by the Israelis; then, by other Palestinians, who have seen us as forgetting our Palestinian identity; and finally, by the larger Arab world. But we never forgot our identity.

All this explains why Abdelfattahs comrade, Halper, believes, Its natural for those [48] Palestinians to take the lead. Plus, they have more space to move around and organize. They dont get interference from the Palestinian Authority. Abdelfattah emphasized that other Palestinians seem inclined to agree. Recently, he heard from groups in Gaza and Ramallah that his group, inside the Green Line, should lead the One Democratic State Campaign.

The February PSR poll showed 38 percent of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians now favor ODS, Abdelfattah added. The support for one democratic state has been growing over the last decade among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as Palestinians are giving up on the idea of two states becoming reality. Many have yet to decide on the best remaining path. But, according to Abdelfattah, things are changing. The mindset is changing.

Palestinians must all reunite to become a powerful force, Abdelfattah said. If Hamas and Fatah cant work together, we should start from below at the grassroots for mass mobilization. Many groups see that, he said. I call this rebuilding the Palestinian liberation project from below, outside the structures of the leadership. This is the only way out. Moreover, united support for the democratic vision can capture the imagination of certain sections of Israeli society, as well as freedom partners and civil society around the world.

Although he and Halper did not discuss the kind of resistance that those in power might put up, they allowed that the ODS mobilization effort could take a long time, perhaps many years.

To see why they are so sure of success, one needs to unpack the layers of obfuscation that historically have been essential to causing fragmentation of the Palestinians and befuddling outsiders. In a nutshell, before 1948, the Zionist movement refused to clarify exactly how Palestinians would fit in to their plans. Political Zionisms founder, Theodor Herzl, depicted his vision of the Jewish State in a Utopian novel Altneuland (The Old New Land). It featured happy Arabs, whose presence had been mysteriously reduced to a tiny, docile minority. Israels founder, David Ben-Gurion, mostly avoided talking about the Palestinians. Rather, Zionisms opponents were portrayed as the Arab states. So, the conflict with the indigenous people was redefined as between two sides where the Zionists were the only side willing to accept the partition plan in 1947.

Halper explained how that false perception has always been profoundly damaging to the Palestinians, because it obscured the fact that the Zionist idea has always been to transform an Arab country into a Jewish country.

Our whole [ODS] plan...is based on a settler-colonial analysis, Halper said. In that analysis, the Palestinians never really were a side. In that sense this really isnt a conflict with two sides arguing over something they could compromise about, Halper said. With settler-colonialism theres really only one side and thats the way Israel has always seen it...this country belongs to the Jews exclusively. The upshot is that conflict resolution doesnt get to the problem. The only way you can resolve this is through decolonization.

From 1948 through Carters Camp David and beyond, the conflictand any possible peacecontinued to be treated as between Israel and the Arab states. With the First Intifada, the Palestinians finally took center stage, but the resulting Oslo Accord divided them into West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, East Jerusalem Palestinians, Israeli Palestinians and external refugees, and recognized only the PLO as the voice of Palestinians.

Still, Oslo, with its trappings of Palestinian statehood and promises of substantive negotiation of all issues, with the exception of the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, was hard to reject outright. In a way we supported the two-state idea, Halper admitted. Arafat supported it. Im not going to be more Catholic than the pope.

Abdelfattah said, We never supported two states for two people but we didnt oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. As his Balad Party tried to counter the consequences of the [Oslo] agreement, he was put under constant surveillance, arrested several times, and beaten during interrogations and elsewhere. Six of his brothers served years in prison.

Alluding to Israels recent bold moves, the Trump Deal of the Century and, in particular, the landmark annexation of large areas of the West Bank set for this summer, Halper said, Today, were right on the cusp of completion of the settler-colonial project.

Consulting with other ODS groups, the ODS Campaign has formulated a 10-point outline of the ODS political program. Over time, they see it as able to create a whole new civil society thats shared by all Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Its a good plan, detailed, logical, just, Halper said.

In light of Israels revelation of its goals, along with the manifest impotence of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as of the surrounding Arab nations, ODS supporters see the potential for a massive reorientation of the Palestinian struggle in their direction.

We cant just stay on BDS and protests all the time, Halper said, although ODS leaders strongly support BDS. Abdelfattah noted that BDS pulled its three key slogans from the Balad Party platform. In fact, the ODS leaders are eager for the BDS leadership to formally endorse One Democratic State. Weve got to have a political program, Halper said. And the Palestinians have to lead.

Steve France is a DC-based activist and writer, affiliated with Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Palestine-Israel Network.

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'48 Palestinians Believe The Moment Has Arrived: One Democratic State - Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

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