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Democracy: An existential threat?

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Editor's Note:

There is a growing movement within Israeli and Palestinian 
circles that believe the Holy Land must not be divided into 
areas based upon race, ethnicity or religion. 

Why this seems like a radical proposal, I will never fully 
understand. It seems so obvious. 


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                  Video Clip Of The Week

           Israeli Taunting Caged Palestinians

In the town of Hebron, an Israeli settler is caught on 
camera debasing Palestinians who are behind a cage. The 
settler is calling the women whores and the Israeli 
children throw rocks at the Arab women. 

View: Israeli Taunting Caged Palestinians 
Democracy: An existential threat? - By Ali Abunimah

 As two of the authors of a recent document advocating a 
 one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli colonial conflict 
 we emphatically intended to generate debate. Predictably, 
 Zionists decried the proclamation as yet another proof of 
 the unwavering devotion of Palestinian -- and some radical 
 Israeli -- intellectuals to the "destruction of Israel." 
 Some pro-Palestinian activists accused us of forsaking 
 immediate and critical Palestinian rights in the quest of 
 a "utopian" dream. 

 Inspired in part by the South African Freedom Charter [1] 
 and the Belfast Agreement [2], the much humbler One State 
 Declaration, authored by a group of Palestinian, Israeli 
 and international academics and activists, affirms that 
 "The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live 
 in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it 
 since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national 
 origin or current citizenship status." It envisages a 
 system of government founded on "the principle of equality 
 in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all 

 It is precisely this basic insistence on equality that is 
 perceived by Zionists as an existential threat to Israel, 
 undermining its inherently discriminatory foundations 
 which privilege its Jewish citizens over all others. 
 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was refreshingly frank 
 when he recently admitted that Israel was "finished" if 
 it faced a struggle for equal rights by Palestinians.[3] 

 But whereas transforming a regime of institutionalized 
 racism, or apartheid, into a democracy was viewed as a 
 triumph for human rights and international law in South 
 Africa and Northern Ireland, it is rejected out of hand 
 in the Israeli case as a breach of what is essentially 
 a sacred right to ethno-religious supremacy (euphemist-
 ically rendered as Israel's "right to be a Jewish state.")

 Palestinians are urged by an endless parade of Western 
 envoys and political hucksters -- the latest among them 
 Tony Blair -- to make do with what the African National 
 Congress rightly rejected when offered it by South 
 Africa's apartheid regime: a patch-work Bantustan made 
 up of isolated ghettoes that falls far below the minimum 
 requirements of justice.

 Sincere supporters of ending the Israeli occupation have 
 also been severely critical of one-state advocacy on moral 
 and pragmatic grounds. A moral proposition, some have 
 argued, ought to focus on the likely effect it may have 
 on people, and particularly those under occupation, 
 deprived of their most fundamental needs, like food, 
 shelter and basic services. The most urgent task, they 
 conclude, is to call for an end to the occupation, not 
 to promote one-state illusions. Other than its rather 
 patronizing premise, that these supporters somehow know 
 what Palestinians need more than we do, this argument is 
 quite problematic in assuming that Palestinians, unlike 
 humans everywhere, are willing to forfeit their long-term 
 rights to freedom, equality and self-determination in 
 return for some transient alleviation of their most 
 immediate suffering.

 The refusal of Palestinians in Gaza to surrender to 
 Israel's demand that they recognize its "right" to 
 discriminate against them, even in the face of its 
 criminal starvation siege imposed with the backing of 
 the United States and the European Union, is only the 
 latest demonstration of the fallacy of such assumptions. 

 A more compelling argument, expressed most recently by 
 Nadia Hijab and Victoria Brittain, states that under 
 the  current circumstances of oppression, when Israel 
 is  bombing and indiscriminately killing; imprisoning 
 thousands under harsh conditions; building walls to 
 separate Palestinians from each other and from their 
 lands and water resources; incessantly stealing 
 Palestinian land and expanding colonies; besieging 
 millions of defenseless Palestinians in disparate and 
 isolated enclaves; and gradually destroying the very 
 fabric of Palestinian society, calling for a secular, 
 democratic state is tantamount to letting Israel "off 
 the hook."[4] 

 They worry about weakening an international solidarity 
 movement that is "at its broadest behind a two-state 
 solution." But even if one ignores the fact that the 
 Palestinian "state" on offer now is no more than a 
 broken-up immiserated Bantustan under continued Israeli 
 domination, the real problem with this argument is that 
 it assumes that decades of upholding a two-state 
 solution have done anything concrete to stop or even 
 assuage such horrific human rights abuses. 


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 Since the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo agreements were signed 
 in 1993, the colonization of the West Bank and all the 
 other Israeli violations of international law have 
 intensified incessantly and with utter impunity. We see 
 this again after the recent Annapolis meeting: as Israel 
 and functionaries of an unrepresentative and powerless 
 Palestinian Authority go through the motions of "peace 
 talks," Israel's illegal colonies and apartheid wall 
 continue to grow, and its atrocious collective punishment 
 of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is intensifying 
 without the "international community" lifting a finger 
 in response.

 This "peace process," not peace or justice, has become 
 an end in itself -- because as long as it continues 
 Israel faces no pressure to actually change its behavior. 
 The political fiction that a two-state solution lies 
 always just around the corner but never within reach is 
 essential to perpetuate the charade and preserve
  indefinitely the status quo of Israeli colonial hegemony.

 To avoid the pitfalls of further division in the 
 Palestinian rights movement, we concur with Hijab and 
 Brittain in urging activists from across the political 
 spectrum, irrespective of their opinions on the one 
 state, two states debate, to unite behind the 2005 
 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment 
 and sanctions, or BDS, as the most politically and 
 morally sound civil resistance strategy that can 
 inspire and mobilize world public opinion in pursuing 
 Palestinian rights. 

 The rights-based approach at the core of this widely 
 endorsed appeal focuses on the need to redress the 
 three basic injustices that together define the 
 question of Palestine -- the denial of Palestinian 
 refugee rights, primary among them their right to return 
 to their homes, as stipulated in international law; the 
 occupation and colonization of the 1967 territory, 
 including East Jerusalem; and the system of discrimination 
 against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

 Sixty years of oppression and forty years of military 
 occupation have taught Palestinians that, regardless 
 what political solution we uphold, only through popular 
 resistance coupled with sustained and effective 
 international pressure can we have any chance of realizing 
 a just peace. 

 Hand in hand with this struggle it is absolutely necessary 
 to begin to lay out and debate visions for a post-conflict 
 future. It is not coincidental that Palestinian citizens 
 of Israel, refugees and those in the Diaspora, the groups 
 long disenfranchised by the "peace process" and whose 
 fundamental rights are violated by the two-state solution 
 have played a key role in setting forward new ideas to 
 escape the impasse.

 Rather than seeing the emerging democratic, egalitarian 
 vision as a threat, a disruption, or a sterile detour, it 
 is high time to see it for what it is: the most promising 
 alternative to an already dead two-state dogma.

 Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and 
 author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-
 Palestinian Impasse. Omar Barghouti is an independent 
 analyst and a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign 
 for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. This 
 article was originally published by the Guardian: Comment 
 is Free and is republished with the authors' permission.

 See also The One State Declaration:


 [1] The Freedom Charter

 [2] The Belfast Agreement 

 [3] "Israel risks apartheid-like struggle if two-state 
     solution fails, says Olmert," The Guardian, 30 
     November 2007. 

 [4] Nadia Hijab and Victoria Brittain, "Struggle for 
     equality" The Guardian, 17 December 2007.


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