That the world is full of potential and possibility, does not mean that there are reasons, if not necessary and sufficient, why some potentials and possibilities are actualized and why some are not at certain historical moments and geographical places. The realization of a comprehensive Palestinian right of return is a case in point. The idea of a single, secular democratic state is an old idea that goes back to the beginning of the Palestinian national movement. But in the original PLO’s covenant written in the 1960s, the right of Jews to that citizenship applied only to Jews who could trace their ancestral origin in Palestine to before, I think it was, the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Those others would have to leave.
In more recent discourse about a One State Solution to the conflict, not much has been done to envision what such a solution might actually look like. In his interview with Ari Shavit, the late Edward Said indeed worried about the place of a Jewish minority in such a state. More recently, some thought to what such a solution might look like for Israeli Jews has been batted around. The argument has been to claim that it’s not a zero sum game and that the Right of Return poses no threat to Jewish life in Israel and that there is no reason why Jews and Palestinians would not be able to live on equitable terms in such a single, secular, democratic state (of all its citizens).
Here’s to suggest why this may not even be the case. The evidence comes not from the paranoid fringe of the Jewish center or rightwing, but from a joint Palestinian-Israeli “action statement” put together by BADIL Resource Cener for Palestinain Residency and Refugee Rights and Zochrot. Seeking to flesh out the practical ramifications of such a Right of Return and the creation of a single state in Historic Palestine, they have given us to see how they themselves envision those ramifications ideally. You can read the whole piece here and decide for yourself, draw your own conclusions.
In promoting what they hold out to be the practical and mechanical components to this utopian vision, they seek to address the fears of Israeli Jews. The assumption would seem to be that the opposition of the vast majority of Israeli Jews to such a model is based on “fears,” not genuine national and political interests. They write, “These fears can only abate if Israelis have an understanding of how their lives, properties and privileges will be affected by the repatriation of Palestinian refugees.” As you will see, I don’t think this is actually likely. Quite the opposite, here what, as envisioned by BADIL-Zochot, a Palestinian Right of Return and the creation of a “single, secular, democratic state” would only inflame the very anxieties that they seek to tamp down. Here’s what it would look like practically. Here’s what we are being asked to consider:
–The one-sided and uncritical imposition of Palestinian national narratives and the creation of a Palestinian State on the ruin of Jewish national narratives and the State of Israel. Envisioned is not just a public apology for crimes, the crimes, committed against the indigenous people. A“public apology” would also have to be “complemented by other measures including changing back street names, renaming parks, public squares, etc, making relevant documents and records public and accessible, granting symbolic privileges and benefits to victims and their descendants (free transportation to historic sites, ex officio membership in organizations commemorating their suffering, etc.); and teaching the history of the Palestinian Nakba in schools.”
–Not restorative justice, but retributive justice and political purges. “At the same time, it would be intolerable for victims of the former repression to live alongside a large segment of Israeli people who refuse to acknowledge the former injustices of their elected government.” Involves the identification and trial of perpetrators in criminal or civil court, as well “purging officials and civil servants who took part in mass human rights violations and banning them from assuming public office for the rest of their lives”
–Restitution of properties, forced reparations: “Restitution includes physical return of properties confiscated as a result of Israel’s theft as well as a package of compensation to those choosing not to have their property restituted. In order to do this, there is a need to collect funds from all responsible parties, principally Israel, but also the United Kingdom and others.” The basis of restitution is meant to be 65+ year old maps, documents, testimonies, and aerial photographs.
–Re-education and transfer of Israeli Jews back to country of ancestral origin: “Rehabilitation also includes rehabilitation of Jewish-Israeli communities. They could be provided with Arabic courses and asked how they would like to live with their new neighbors, ensuring a democratic and multicultural education, and rehabilitation of those involved in the conflict (demilitarization, etc.) This aspect of rehabilitation would be designed with the objective of liberating the minds of the occupiers, a process which may also include affording Jewish Israelis the possibility to return to their countries of origin.”
Not a state of all its citizens that it might purport itself to be, the document envisions the creation of a new nation state, a Palestinian ethnocracy, with nary a mention of minority rights for the soon to be dispossessed majority forced into a new and alien national rubric. Not a state of all its citizens, it looks like one with special rights and privileges for one national ethnos. No one should be surprised if only very few Jewish Israelis don’t see how this particular promise of “Palestinian Human Rights” is “compatible with an “Israeli Jewish Future.” The place for them seen here in Palestine, no longer Israel, is a dystopian and nightmarish non-place defined by disavowal and self-abnegation.
To be sure, the document under consideration is just a sketch put together by activists, not, I don’t think, by experts with technical expertise, political, legal, and otherwise. It’s alarming though, that this document reflects activist groups very much out on the forefront of Israeli left-left activist and Palestinian civil society scenes, the kind of civil society groups around whose voice the academic BDS people so publically rallied in support. I found the link to it at Mondoweiss, where it was described very simply and uncritically, taking the framers of the document at that their word that a Right of Return does nothing to undermine Jewish life in Israel.
To date I have seen no better or competing document as to what a Right of Return and a One State Solution might look like in practice. My fear, though, is that the framers of the document have pretty accurately described what it might look like, which is why I don’t think it’s practicable; not practicable in the sense that it could ever constitute a consensus proposal. So while there might be better ideas out there supporting the Right of Return and One State Solution, for the time being, proponents and critics might want to take a good look at this one, and perhaps draw tentative conclusions –maybe on the need, yes, to draw up a better model, a one-state model based on the principle of mutual recognition between two peoples, or maybe the possibility that, no, the right of return and the creation of a bi-national state in Historic Palestine won’t actually work better than a Two State Solution.