ISRAEL: Why not a single state?
Mohamed Elmasry

Last week Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei said that if Israel were to unilaterally impose a new boundary with the Palestinian occupied territories, he would respond by pushing for a single Arab-Jewish state. US Secretary of State Colin Powell did not waste any time responding and immediately rejected the idea.

But, what is wrong with a democratic, united, non-sectarian, multi-racial state comprising all of Palestine, in which every citizen would share equal rights, irrespective of religion, language, or ethnic origin?

The citizens of this new state would coexist peacefully, bringing together the Arabs now living in Israel and all those living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, including the Jews among them. There are currently about 3.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and about 1.2 million Arabs living as citizens in Israel. By comparison, about 5.5 million Jews live in Israel.

The new state’s constitution (Israel itself still does not have a constitution) could divide key positions of power among Jews and Arabs. For example, Jews could be in charge of the army, while Arabs look after the police. The positions of president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament could be held in alternating terms by Arabs and Jews.   

Now if you’re thinking that this seemingly common sense single-state solution perfectly fits the criteria and traditions of Western-style liberty and natural justice, you are quite right.

But, as good as it looks on paper, such a solution would not fulfill the 100-year-old Zionist ideology of having an exclusive Jewish state with an exclusive Jewish army in Palestine. Nor would it allow the continuance of historic right-of-return laws, which entitle Jews to return to Israel and Palestine from anywhere in the world, while denying the same right to Palestinians, no matter how close their family ties with the land.

The single-state solution will never happen in the foreseeable future, of course, because the US is committed to maintaining not only a secure Jewish state, but an expanding Jewish mini-empire carved out of its illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

The continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories over the past 36 years and the recent airlift of 18,000 ‘lost’ African Jews into Israel are ongoing chapters of the same old ideology; that is, to keep Palestine Jewish by any means necessary. Even the criteria of who is truly Jewish are regularly waived or relaxed so that the maximum number of immigrants can be persuaded to populate the occupied Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, what is this doing to the human rights of millions of Palestinians whose only ‘crime’ was to be native to the area long before any 20th-century Jews settled there? Why must Palestinian children have to live with no hope for a better future? Why are their houses blown up daily by Israeli soldiers? Why are their parents killed every day – by guns, deprivation, or neglect – by the Jewish state? And why is a massive concrete and steel wall being built, on Palestinian land, to separate these men, women, and children from their loved ones, from their schools, from their jobs, and from their farms on the other side of the wall?

Why are Palestinians forced to pay such a heavy price so that Jews living in faraway countries might some day want to emigrate to a place where only the Jewish state can decide who is a Jew and who is not?

Should the Palestinians leave Palestine to the Zionists and settle in other Arab countries where they might be more welcome? Such logic makes no more sense than telling people whose house has been destroyed to go and live permanently with their in-laws!

Israel’s criteria for its own security needs are often extremely shortsighted and insensitive to human rights and needs. Such criteria ignore the fact that there is no security as sure as the goodwill of one’s neighbors. Israel’s greatest mistake has been (and still is) that it consistently underestimates the strength and determination of Palestinian nationalism.

Unless Israel makes serious efforts to seek acceptance from its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, rather than domination over them, this modern Jewish state will most likely go the way of short-lived Crusader kingdoms of the Middle Ages, whose history was in some ways so similar.

Alternatively, of course, Israelis could keep on building a greater and greater Israel for all the world’s Jews, with ample American financial, political, economic, and military backing, but this would inevitably be at the expense of all hopes for lasting peace in the region.

A better solution for the immediate future is clearly to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to reach a practical accommodation with one another’s interests. Such an accommodation would only work if integrated with policies of reconciliation and healing. And I believe it is only possible if Israelis can free themselves from the grips of last century’s Zionist ideology. Is it a possible dream? I think it just might be.

Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Courtesy of Media Monitors.