As someone who has worked in the United States on promoting the idea of a one-state solution can you outline your motivations and arguments for supporting this idea?
Well the main argument is a normative one, an argument about values. I don’t believe in race based political structures, I would be very offended if somebody suggested to me that tomorrow I had to recognize America as a white country or somehow a Christian country and that everybody else is secondary as a consequence of that. Liberalism in the way that we understand it today is really about equality, and this is not a controversial view here in America and it’s not a controversial view in most places I’ve been in Europe. In Israel, however, it is a controversial view, in Israel people make the argument that a race of people, the Jewish people, should have rights that are clue to them based solely on their race. Furthermore that argument is made in a colonial context, the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and 1967, a process that is continuing today in places like Jerusalem and other areas of the West Bank and the Negev desert, in order to preserve something that is called the “Jewish Majority”, and that’s a normative value. So today for example it’s a fact that America is proportionally more Christian than Israel is Jewish, in Israel you have one out of five people who isn’t Jewish, 20 percent of Israeli’s are Palestinian Israelis and the remaining 5 percent are migrant workers, so if one out of every five people in your country is not Jewish you can’t call it a Jewish State, it’s the Jewish majority state, the Jewish privileged state and I reject that. As a liberal and as someone who believes in the equality of everybody I reject that, that’s not one of my values and I don’t think it’s a western value either. Contrast that with the US where America proportionally is more Christian than Israel is Jewish, we don’t define this country as a Christian country, so today the New York Times reported a poll saying that for the first time ever in American history protestant Christians are no longer the majority they are now the plurality, 48 percent. Now the big question is, well who cares, America is a dynamic society and you have similar models in western European liberal democracies where nationality and statehood and society isn’t defined in terms of non-transferrable traits like race. In Israel somehow people take the opposite view, I don’t. So that’s the values side of the argument.
Now about the practicalities of the argument, in fact the country as it exists today is already a one state, it’s just an apartheid state. I was born in the Gaza Strip I have a Palestinian ID card and I’m restricted from entry into the West Bank, Israel proper, Jerusalem wherever. The Israelis have categorized us differently, today if I marry a Palestinian Israeli, or a Jewish women or a Palestinian women from the West Bank, the Israelis are the ones who make a decision about where I can move and live. They make decisions about family unification, about commerce, about water distribution in the Palestinian territories, about electricity about taxation, and so there is one authority in Palestine/Israel, it is a one state, it’s just an apartheid state and I think it is important to communicate this. So what we are talking about is not a situation where somehow you have two societies that are separate from one another. The two important statistics to remember are that one out of every four Israelis is a Palestinian Israeli and again that one out of five is not Jewish and in the West Bank one out of every six people is an Israeli settler and that number is only likely to grow. So the egg has been scrambled, we already have a single state and we all already believe that we are all equal, at least people in the liberal democratic world do. So the process now is really about making Israeli society conform to the standards of what we consider the civilized world. Compound that with the fact that the Palestinian mountain aquifer sits underneath the West Bank, it’s a big source of fresh water a strategic reserve and Israel will never relinquish that. Also, the fact that East Jerusalem has been isolated by a ring of settlements from its West Bank hinterland, the two state solution looks quite frankly fictitious and again from a values point of view not so desirable anyway.
So in terms of the two-state solution being fictitious, you mean that a Palestinian state would not be sustainable?
Yes, and primarily because there is no way to remove 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. And then there is the fact of territorial continuity, I mean look at a map, the Swiss cheese model, the cantonization of a Palestinian state is a real problem. We are talking about dozens of enclaves that are not territorially contiguous that don’t have any real sovereignty and you realize that it all seems really silly, all for what? I mean what are we trying to protect? The value that a race of people is somehow superior and that justifies measures aimed at protecting this majority at all costs? That is not a legitimate value.
But in terms of popular support for a one-state solution in the West Bank, many believe that there isn’t really much support for this idea among Palestinians. Perhaps its growing, but for example a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) showed that support among Palestinians is around 25 or 30 percent.
Yes, but we have to contextualize that. We have an idea that seems to have the support of one out of three Palestinians that has not been presented through a formal political platform ever. Whereas the two-state solution apparently has the support of two out of three Palestinians and it’s been force-fed to the Palestinian public for over two decades now.
Then there is another point that is worth emphasizing. As an activist your role is not to follow public opinion, it’s to impact it. You either work towards equality in apartheid South Africa or you say something like, well our best polls suggest that the Afrikaners accept the status quo, you work for the de-segregation of the American south or you say well Black folks are not so eager to be integrated with their former slave owners. So the role of an activist isn’t so much to trail public opinion it’s to work and present arguments that hopefully can impact things in a better way. Again it’s worth emphasizing that one out of three Palestinians now claims to support the one-state solution according to your poll and yet there is not a coherent political party pushing for this idea.
And what would such a strategy entail? Would it begin with disbanding the Palestinian Authority (PA) and calling off the Oslo Accords..
I would like nothing better than to see that happen. Mahmud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are not useful to the cause of the Palestinian people, and the Israeli occupation relies on them for the administration of apartheid and they oblige. They only do it through hand-outs provided by Europeans and Americans, and so that entire structure is artificial and it requires a great deal of resources to maintain and it is fundamentally repressive and non-democratic. So I would be very happy to see the PA dissolved and to see the Israelis take responsibility for their apartheid system directly. It would be much clearer for everybody involved if the Israelis would just manage their own occupation.
But wouldn’t there be a high risk of violence or another uprising, because if you disband the PA Israel would have to send in its army to enforce security in the West Bank. So wouldn’t that be a recipe for further violence and suffering on all sides?
No, the recipe for further violence and suffering is the continuation of the apartheid system. That is the root cause here. If you’d like the Africans in Soweto to stop rioting well give them their rights, you, the apartheid government, are the problem.
So within this framework you see European aid to the Palestinian Authority as an impediment for the development of new strategies on the Palestinian side?
I think it is certainly a big one. I think the Europeans must reconsider where they would like to dedicate their resources. Is Europe interested in buttressing, inflating and continuing to maintain on behalf of the Israelis the cost of a humanitarian disaster and a morally reprehensible system?
And in terms of Gaza? Where would Gaza fit into a prospective one-state solution? And specifically Hamas, I mean I don’t believe Hamas is very supportive of a one-state framework?
Gaza is a part of Palestine. Frankly, as somebody from Gaza, I am a little bit baffled by people who speak of Gaza as a separate entity. We are Palestinians. Most of us are refugees from what is present day Israel, our right of return is enshrined in international law. We are part of Palestine and we will remain a part of Palestine, and I think that the cynical calculus made by Ariel Sharon in 2005 to try to jettison Gaza I think that has backfired. We have made it very clear in the Gaza strip that we are not a part of Egypt, that we are not an autonomous entity that we are a part of Palestine and that we have been the historic heart for the struggle for Palestine, and that is not going to change.
But just for argument’s sake, in the event of a PA disbanding I wouldn’t see Hamas disbanding as well, so you have in a way two entities in Gaza and the West Bank.
It’s a fair point, but the real problem with the Palestinian Authority isn’t that it’s an attempt at Palestinian self-governance in a local context. The problem is that it was built from above in order to administer the occupation. And so now we have popular committees that are growing in the West Bank, and historically between 1967 and the Oslo Accords (1993), when Palestinians would attempt to govern themselves locally at the municipal level the Israelis would pick up the most effective leaders and deport them, it was done in Lebanon, done in Jordan and they would be sent to these areas. It was all about inhibiting the growth of domestic political and also non-violent resistance. And so today at the level of the popular committee or the level of the municipal government you have a great deal of Palestinian leadership that is organic, that is impactful and it exists. When I say dissolve the PA I’m talking about the people who are organized and trained by Americans for the pacification of the Palestinian people. So the security forces but also the bloated civil service that really doesn’t do much, is inefficient and again is designed to pacify. If you look at the ratios of armed Palestinian policemen in the West Bank to the actual numbers of Palestinians they are policing, it is one of the highest in the world, there isn’t a good reason for that, the only reason is for the outsourcing and the maintenance of the apartheid structure. So I should clarify I’m not objecting to Palestinian self-governance that is not what this is about, it is about objecting to the pacification of the Palestinians for the maintenance of the occupation.
But in terms of the civil service and the police force, isn’t this also a means to provide jobs in the West Bank, because I think something around 60 percent of employment is connected to the PA. So if you disband that isn’t there a risk of having mass unemployment, I mean isn’t there a risk of this leading to a period, maybe even a prolonged period, of increased suffering and hardship in the West Bank?
Yes, there are indispensable components of the civil service, and I want to emphasize that we have to distinguish between the civil service, civil society and the PA government. Now Palestinian civil society is one of the most robust in the Arab world, the Palestinian NGOs and cultural movements all grew organically and it wasn’t until the arrival of the PA that all these movements were coopted and weakened. So there are some sections of the civil service, like teachers for example, that are absolutely indispensable, but we as Palestinians are not really in that sage of our history when we need a head of Palestinian intelligence services, that is not a role that needs to be filled by a Palestinian today, so that is what I’m saying. Turning to the question of economic suffering, we can take the example of Gaza which was cut off and put under siege after Hamas democratically won elections in 2006. The Europeans said never mind humanitarianism and aligned with the US and cut off economic aid and besiege them. Society adapted. Now I don’t want to underestimate the suffering, because there has been a great deal of serious suffering in Gaza as a result and also the political realignment that has happened in Gaza. But I want to distinguish between humanitarian aid and the illusion of helping develop an economy, there is no such thing as economic development in an enclosed economic space. There is no value in continuing that struggle I believe.
Now I’m working on the idea of federalism in Palestine-Israel, just one model. And this is really the crux of the discussion, it really requires that people of good faith and experience come together and begin to think about how this model could come about and what is necessary for it to be accomplished. I think that a federal model could perhaps be the best scenario. That is what After Zionism was intended to help with, begin the discussion. We are still in the very early stages of this project, and the discussion is just getting going, but I believe that it is a necessary exercise. Support is slowly mounting, we are seeing a new left emerge inside Israel around the idea of a one-state, and a pragmatism, a willingness to consider alternatives to apartheid and an Israeli imposed version of a two-state solution. That is also why we organized the One State conference in Harvard. We wanted to contribute in a small way to the legitimization of the conversation about the idea of a one-state. There was a great deal of literature published about the conference and a recognition that here is an idea whose maturity has arrived to the extent that it can be spoken about without sniggers or derisive remarks, that it a serious idea. I think the conference served its purpose, I am quite satisfied by the reception and the media reception and the legitimization of the whole idea. The idea was to generate the beginning of a conversation, what we organized at Harvard was mainly about starting the conversation and the legitimization process.
I am now working on a book together with some Israeli and Palestinian partners. It’s still in the early stages, but it’s about developing a concrete proposal on what a one-state could look like. So what I’m working on is taking the American or Indian models, and thinking about four federal states; the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and then the Tel-Aviv northern quarter and central Israel and the Negev with Jerusalem as an independent capital a bit like Washington DC. What you would get is the ability to defer some competencies to the states, so Palestinian majority states get to enact some communitarian legislations while the Jewish majority states also get the ability to engage in their communitarian and identitarian beliefs. What is important is to allow people to express themselves as a community while also protecting their equal individual rights. Over time, if you do it on a territorial basis, people do move back and forth across borders, and so in 1865 when the American civil war ended it was unthinkable for someone from South Carolina to move to New York state, now in 2012 it’s no big deal, you can move and live wherever you like. There are different laws between states on some things, but the point is that a federal system enables people to express themselves as a community in the proximate future and then, in the long term, it also allows for communitarian drift across borders for the integration of society. That is my, our, vision of a one-state.
Ahmed Moor was interviewed by Andrea Dessì