Much has been written in recent weeks about the Basic Law on the Nation-State, with a (justified) focus on discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority and the state’s ethnocentric character.
Nevertheless, another extremely significant threat posed by the law has gone virtually unmentioned: the forced inclusion of millions of Palestinians who don’t have citizenship in the Jews’ state, which drives any possibility of reconciliation between the two peoples even further away.
The silence on this issue attests to the fear that most Jews have of looking directly at the apartheid reality being created before their very eyes and their paralyzing terror of fighting against it. The law opens with the statement “The Land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” in which this people realizes its “historic right” to self-determination within its own state. The line the law draws between history and geography is clear: The Jews, and they alone, have a right to self-determination in this land.
The state’s borders aren’t defined in the law, but in reality Israel has controlled, settled and Judaized the vast majority of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea for more than 50 years. In other words, reading between the lines, the law legitimizes Israel’s continued control over all the Palestinian territories between the river and the sea.
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Indeed, a subsequent section of the law stresses that the state will work to encourage and promote Jewish settlement. Admittedly, it doesn’t specify where this will be done, but since most Jewish settlement over the last 50 years has happened in the West Bank, this momentum will presumably continue, now under the auspices of a Basic Law.
This leaves the Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line with a circumscribed living space comprised of narrow, impoverished enclaves on about one-sixth of the territory of their homeland. It’s a bitter irony that the Jews of all people, who for hundreds of years were stateless ghetto-dwellers, are now turning the Palestinians into a stateless people imprisoned in ghettos.
Given this, the law’s absolute silence about the land’s Palestinian residents – not only Arab citizens of the state, but also millions of Palestinians subject to Israeli rule who don’t have citizenship – is deafening. The nation-state law brings their historic homeland, Palestine, into the Jewish nation-state, yet doesn’t devote so much as a word to them. The Palestinians are present absentees in the nation-state law, yet virtually no significant political actor has spoken about this.
This silence has a heavy price. First and foremost for the Palestinians, who are waiting, apparently in vain, for the establishment of their state. But the Jewish state will also pay a price. Through this law, it has created three unequal categories of civic status – Jews, who have both citizenship and national rights; Israeli Arabs, who have citizenship but no national rights; and Palestinians in the territories controlled by Israel, who have neither citizenship nor national rights.
There is another option. The Israeli-Palestinian “A Land for All” movement has in recent years been advocating the vision of “two states – one homeland.” This movement is based on the assumption that the land between the river and the sea is indeed the Jews’ homeland, but it is also, to the same extent, the Palestinians’ homeland. It’s unrealistic, immoral and impossible to silence this important fact, which keeps exploding in the Jewish state’s face over and over, like an untreated trauma.
The movement offers a vision that enables Jews and Palestinians to realize their right to national self-determination simultaneously by creating a confederation of the states of Israel and Palestine, which will guarantee equality, freedom of movement and both a national and a civic existence for Jews and Palestinians alike throughout their shared homeland. Only such a plan will encourage an end to the silence and move us toward reconciliation between the peoples, which this land has been awaiting for more than 100 years.
Oren Yiftachel is a professor of political geography and urban planning at Ben-Gurion University and one of the leaders of the A Land for All movement.