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Palestine—is one state possible?

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The idea of a single-state solution in Palestine is gaining traction, but some say that ‘old hatreds’ make this impossible. Nick Clark argues that resistance can break the hold of reactionary ideas and lead to a Palestinian state
Issue 2761
People gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, 2011 to call for an end to sectarian divides and support for Palestine
People gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, 2011 to call for an end to sectarian divides and support for Palestine (Pic: Gigi Ibrahim/Flickr)

The racism that fills Israeli society has never been more obvious. Israel’s new government is filled with politicians who deny Palestinians the right to even live freely in the West Bank, let alone alongside Jews as equals.

This government is the product of a decades-long process of occupation, expansion and settlement on Palestinian land.

That occupation is the central feature of all Israeli politics. It shapes and ­distorts every aspect of society—from its police and military to its industry, housing and education.

That’s why the idea of a single Palestinian state for Jews and Arabs—one not built on ethnic division—is gaining increasing popularity as a solution.

But if Israel’s racism runs so deep, how can such a ­solution ever be possible?

Does the hatred of Arabs among Israelis—and Palestinian resentment at years of occupation and oppression—mean ­coexistence is a fantasy?

Opponents of the one-state solution say that it is. They say it is impossible for Arabs and Jews to live side by side.

Often this argument is posed in a right wing way. One version says that Palestinians would massacre the Jews if they were allowed to return to the land they were expelled from in 1948, now in Israel.

Palestinians’ refusal to accept their subjugation to a racist regime and the theft of their land is held up as proof that they refuse to live alongside Jews.

In reality, it is Israel that refuses to live alongside Palestinians.

One-state is the solution for Palestinian liberation
One-state is the solution for Palestinian liberation
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Every Israeli ­politician, and every arm of the state, insists on ­keeping Palestinians marginalised and separate from Israeli Jews.

They sometimes even go as far as to discuss openly the ­precise percentage of the population they will allow Arabs to make up.

That is an attitude which is built into the very foundation of Israel itself, established in 1948 as an explicitly Jewish state.

Israel’s founders believed their state could never exist unless Jews were a clear majority.

They waged a bloody ­campaign of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians to ensure that was the case.

For the same reason, every Israeli government has said that if Palestinian refugees were ever allowed to return it would threaten Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

So by its own admission, Israel is a state whose very existence depends on the ­exclusion of Palestinians.

It also explicitly grants ­privileges to Israeli Jews that it denies to Palestinians—above all else their right to live in the country.

The racism that pervades Israeli society flows from this. Given all that, perhaps it’s better to ask whether Israeli Jews will ever accept living alongside Palestinians.

Yet strange as it may seem, this explanation as to why Israel is a racist society also points to how things can be different.

If the nature of the Israeli state is the root of Israel’s racism, then that state and its racism have to be made unsustainable. The struggle for Palestinian liberation—and a single, Palestinian state—­necessarily means fighting to do just that.

There’s precedent for this. In South Africa, the struggles and strikes of the black ­working class meant the system of apartheid—which privileged white South Africans—could no longer survive.

The revolt forced the white ruling class to make ­concessions to the main black opposition, the African National Congress (ANC), or face revolution.

Apartheid in Israel can also be broken.

But the struggle against it has to be different.


Unlike South Africa, Israel’s racist system isn’t built on the labour of its oppressed ethnic group, but on an even much bigger system of empire and war.

Israel’s founders would never have been able to settle in Palestine ­without the support of the British Empire, which used them to police the Arab population.

And Israel wouldn’t be the advanced, highly militarised state that it is today without the billions of dollars of aid it receives from the US.

Israel is by far the world’s largest recipient of US aid. In return it gets a loyal ally committed to defending the US’s interests in the Middle East.

This aid is almost entirely military funding, targeted at the tech and weapons industries central to Israel’s economy and closely tied to those in the US.

These industries don’t rely on Palestinian labour—there’s no pressure here to accommodate or compromise with the Palestinians.

If anything, the militarisation of Israel’s society fuels its drive to conquer them.

Instead, the struggle has to shatter the link between Israel and the US that supports the apartheid system and makes coexistence completely impossible.

It means a fight against the whole system of US power in the Middle East—and a revolt that spreads far beyond Palestine’s borders.

That might sound abstract. But the Arab Revolutions of a decade ago were a brief but glimmering signal that this is actually possible.

They shook, and even removed, some of the Arab regimes that cooperate with the US and are complicit with Israel.

Solidarity with Palestinians—and a recognition that their struggles were linked—was a feature of them all.

An even bigger revolt could have the power to concretely fight for Palestinian liberation.

It could also make it ­impossible for the US to keep its grip on the Middle East.

And if the US can no longer hold onto the Middle East, then it can also no longer support Israel’s apartheid regime.

The racist state would fall into crisis, no longer able to sustain the laws and structures that privilege Israeli Jews over Arabs.

In such a crisis Israeli Jews, just like white South Africans, could choose coexistence instead.

Which leads to a final point.


The battle to win a single, secular state in Palestine, with equal democratic rights for all its people, would take a huge revolt by ordinary people to transform society.

And when society changes, the way that people think can also begin to change with it.

So it would remove the basis for anti-Palestinian racism among Israeli Jews. But it would also challenge and remove the reactionary rulers in the Middle East who ­sometimes promote antisemitism for their own ends.

For so long rulers in the Middle East have used its ethnic and religious diversity to divide people.

Fighting to end those regimes almost naturally means uniting against their divide and rule tactics too.

One of the most important features of the Egyptian Revolution was the way Muslims and Coptic Christians united in the fight against the regime of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Even when the regime encouraged and organised Islamist attacks on Copts, ordinary people—Muslim, Christian and atheist—fought together to defend them.

Many of the most brutally repressive regimes—often close allies of the US—promote the worst antisemitism.

They use it to posture as opponents of Israel and friends of the Palestinians.

All the while, they try to turn the anger away from the cause of Palestinian oppression—the system of US control of the Middle East—and onto Jewish people themselves.

This antisemitism isn’t some deep-seated, longstanding hatred that is held among ordinary Muslims and Arabs.

Antisemitism began in Europe. It was used by Western and Eastern European governments to make Jews scapegoats. But for hundreds of years, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived alongside each other in the Middle East.

Take the city of Hebron which is one of the oldest Arab and Jewish settlements in Palestine. As the supposed burial place of the prophet Abraham, it’s a hugely significant site for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Today it’s filled with ­soldiers who police and control the Palestinian population on behalf of Israeli settlers hoping to “reclaim” the city.

But for over 800 years Jews and Muslims coexisted in Hebron. The violence and hatred is much more recent—and began with the drive to force Arabs out to make way for Israel.

Looking at this not‑so‑­distant past is a reminder not only that Jews and Arabs have lived together before—but that they can do so again.

For that to happen, Israel’s apartheid regime has to be got rid of. But to think anything else means accepting a society that will always be divided by race.

And that’s not a recipe for freedom for anyone in Palestine.

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