Otherwise Occupied |

Single Democratic State in Historic Palestine, Take Two

A new Palestinian initiative seeks to revive the PLO's old-time strategy, abandoned following the Oslo Accords. It includes Israel's Jewish population, but without calling them by name.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

“Where did those cherries come from?” I ask suspiciously. A brimming box of them was on the table in the vegetable store where I always shop. The owner, Jamal, who is about 45 years old, likes to welcome me loudly, and in Hebrew, particularly when the store is full of shoppers.

“The cherries are from Hebron,” Jamal answers. About five years ago, he brought small, expensive boxes of cherries to his store but didn’t read the label, which read “Jewish labor.” The cherries were from Hebron-area Israeli settlements. There’s no way to know whether my protests and nagging had anything to do with it, but long before the law forbidding commerce with the settlements was passed, those boxes vanished from his store.

The memory of that label still lives in me, even though it’s just a cherry topping the pile of racist filth. That's why I jumped, “What do you mean, from Hebron? From the settlements?” Jamal answered, “No, from the Palestinians.”

“Impossible," I said. "Where do they get the water?” “From the water they steal from the settlements,” he replied.

I was impressed with his debating ability (though now I wish I had corrected him and said, “If that’s happening, then it isn’t stolen water — it’s the little that they’ve taken back”). But then I realized he was pulling my leg, and maintaining his greengrocer's ambiguity. Indeed, he changed his tune, saying that the cherries were from the Galilee. Later this month, he added, he'll get cherries from the Golan Heights and then from Hebron, or vice versa. He also led me to believe that he would even sell cherries grown in the settlements. “After all, there’s no replacement for them,” he said. I protested again: “What’s wrong with you? People can’t live without cherries?” (And for NIS 40 per kilogram! He puts his trust in the highest income percentile in Ramallah.) He smiled again and said what he has told me for the past five years: “In another year we’ll be at the seashore anyway, and you’ll come to ask me for a travel permit and a magnetic card.”

In his resume, it shows that Jamal lost land to the Jews after 1948, 1967 and 1994, when he also lost his job and his freedom of movement. His vision seemed to me a replacement for action (on the individual and collective levels), his way of disparaging leaders but also a philosophical statement about the transient nature of regimes. Still, I thought to myself, in his vision and imagination we, the Jews, remain in the country. I know Palestinians, who are less than 30 years old, who organized politically following the Arab Spring. Though the names of the groups change, when they talk about a state from the river to the sea, the Jews are not there.

At first glance, it seems that the Jews are also missing from the paper that was published last week calling for the establishment of a single democratic state in historic Palestine. Those who began this project to resume the old-time strategy of the PLO and Fatah are aged 45 and over. Like Jamal, and unlike the young people, they were familiar with Jewish Israeli society. Several of them are members of Fatah, and filled key positions in the Palestinian Authority and its security agencies. Some of them supported and believed in the Oslo Accords as a framework for peace. The paper they wrote does not criticize the Oslo Accords or the leaders who signed them. It even tries to adopt the theory of Fatah’s leadership: that the deterioration began after Rabin was assassinated, and only since then have Israeli governments tried (successfully) to sabotage the two-state solution.

The document’s wording is carefully vague. The state of all its residents/citizens will be democratic, with no discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender and so on. That’s easy to write (particularly considering that Hamas was not included in the initiative). In this state, Palestinian refugees will be given the right of return. There is no controversy here either. But any mention of “the Jewish people” or even the Jewish Israeli people is conspicuously absent. But on the other hand, the paper states that “the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian refugees and emigres in no way means the expulsion of even a single Jewish family from Palestine. On the contrary — the goal is historic reconciliation between the inhabitants of Palestine of all of all its ethnic and religious components.

In other words, the phrases “Jewish family” and “ethnic and religious component” and the clause “with no discrimination on the basis of nationality or ethnicity” are a compromise in the wording that states, however indirectly, that not only Palestinians, but also Jews, live in this land and are connected to it. The document states that Palestine is the place of the three Semitic religions, and no religion, Semitic or not, may crowd out another or place its exclusive stamp on the future political regime — a broad hint not only to the Zionist movement, but to Hamas as well.

In the meeting where the paper was unveiled, even before I read it, I asked whether it was intended that Palestine be a state for the Palestinian people and for citizens of the Jewish faith. A member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Uri Davis, confirmed that there were disagreements about views, concepts and definitions, and that he personally was in favor of the definition “a state for two peoples.” No wonder that a past member of the Democratic Front said during the meeting that the vision should be worded in such a way as to appeal to the Jewish public and address its concerns. Munir Abushi, a former member of the PA security agencies said that over the long term, only this solution would protect the Jews and their existence in the region. For Jewish Israelis to understand the document as inclusive rather than exclusive, they must meet its authors. But for that to happen, the Civil Administration must issue those Palestinians entry permits into Israel.

People waving Palestinian flags in Ramallah during a rally to support the UN statehood bidCredit: AP
A story about cherries gets at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Credit: Eyal Toueg

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