(Palestine) No Binational State (Omar Barghouti)

one state

What’s a liberal to do now that the 2 State Solution is dying or already dead on its deathbed? What are the alternatives out there already and are they any good? More and more it’s being argued that a “binational state” represents a far more just and practical alternative to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But here’s another view, a Palestinian rejection of binationalism. The conceptual advantage to this position is that it puts aside a lot of the cant that often comes with the binational idea. The problem with this position is that it rests (or pretends to rest) (or seeks to rest) on a principle of equality that its own understanding of nationhood undermines. In its view, there’s only one nation in Palestine.

This is the position of Omar Barghouti as sketched out in an interview online at Electronic Intifada. Even though he represents no actual, political constituency, Barghouti is nevertheless a big deal on the American and European university circuit around matters relating to a blanket boycott-divestment-sanction of Israel (BDS). He gets quoted a lot in the press, so that one could say that although he may not represent a constituency, he represents a point of view with a lot of currency nowadays. That’s what makes well worth a look his rejection of a binational 1 State solution.

Barghouti argues that a binational solution to the conflict would be based on the assumption that there are two genuine national movements that are party to the conflict. Barghouti rejects that assumption. He claims to base his own support of a single, democratic state on the principle of equality while opposing the claim that the Jews have a national right in Palestine.  In the interview, Barghouti corrects his interlocutor who thinks that Barghouti supports a binational state. He answers, “Not a binational state — I am completely against binationalism. A secular, democratic state, yes, but not binational. There is a big difference.”

Claiming that BDS is a rights-based movement, not a solution-based one, Barghouti goes on to clarify that he himself is, “completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land and therefore, we have to accommodate both national rights.” A secular, democratic state in Palestine is one that “accommodates our inalienable rights as Palestinians with the acquired rights of Israeli Jews as settlers.

The contradiction of this non-accommodating position would be in the claim that this is “obviously the most moral solution because it treats people as equals.” But there’s no genuine equality in this model, which is in fact an autochtonous. It models a polity in which the members of one group of people enjoy inalienable rights based on a prior hold on the land whereas the members of another group are left with the second class membership of an acquired right, not as citizens, but as “settlers.” The rights-based presupposition of this argument calling for the end of Israel is, as well, a demographic one. As Barghouti goes on to explain, the idea of a single, democratic state, one according to which the Jews are not actually sent back to Poland, is represented by no political party. He concedes, though, that “a return for [Palestinian] refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” while insisting that “The right of return is a basic right that cannot be given away; it’s inalienable.

There may be some marginal Jewish support behind this model, but I don’t see how it wins a lot of mainstream Jewish support, or even liberal support across the university. The solution that Barghouti models is the inverse of the one currently maintained in Israel inside the Green Line. With the return of refugees, the end result is, indeed, a single state, not a binational one. This Palestine is an ethnocratic state with an Arab national majority that grants formal rights to a national-ethnic Jewish minority, no longer considered a people, but a population. It’s not much different in kind and not any better than the type of Zionism it wants to replace. In this ethnocracy, just like the ethnocracy rejected by Barghouti, inalienable or natural rights are recognized for some, i.e. for the majority, and not for others, i.e. the minority.

In theory, the idea of a 2 State Solution strikes me still as more fair. It is based on the mutual recognition of two nations with equal rights that need to be accommodated, one with the other, not one whose right is stacked against the other according to an abstract, formal hierarchy. If the 2 State Solution is now, indeed, dead, and if the arguments advanced by Barghouti  or members of the radical left enjoy a certain prominence, it has less to do with either logic or morality, and more to do with the actions on the ground by the last two extreme rightwing governments in Israel and the settlement lobby whose interests they represent. One way or the other, it seems like the 1-Staters are winning the day to no good or reasonable end.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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5 Responses to (Palestine) No Binational State (Omar Barghouti)

  1. DMS says:

    He’s mad. And a liar.

    I’ve been re-thinking a lot and the term Nabka should be seen as “catastrophe” but also (I think it is correct in Arabic) but as “defeat”. That is what it was. They started a war. They lost. They want a mulligan. No one would dare to do that unless they knew that there were so many liberal American Jews who influence Israel. In some ways I start to believe that the extreme hard-right in Israel is correct…just like as Jeremy Ben-Ami points out about the Jewish “hard-right” in WW2: they understood earlier and clearer than did the Jewish liberal establishment. (Yes, Ben-Ami says it quite clearly; his father was a hard-rightist though of course Ben-Ami uses that meme differently than I am right now.)

    Good fences may indeed make good neighbors. The more I hear from Palestinians and their friends the more I dislike their attitude. Should we be just? Sure. But I wish they wouldn’t kvetch so much.

  2. mariapalestina says:

    There is already one state in Israel/Palestine. The problem is that Israel wants to rule all of the land, preferably with as few of the Palestinian people as possible. That is not going to happen. Two states are no longer a possibility. Omar Barghouti, Mustafa Barghouti, Mazim Qumsiyeh, Haidar Eid and many other Palestinians and others are advocating for One Democratic State. Binational or One Democratic, the writing is on the wall for Israel. BDS continues show impressive success worldwide. Even Israel, after years of scoffing at BDS, is finally not only paying attention but now pouring millions of dollars into its Hasbara campaign to make false charges of racism and antisemitism against those who propose and support BDS.

    • zjb says:

      We’ll agree to disagree, I guess. As the entire region splits apart into violent pieces, I don’t see how the one state idea makes any sense. If it happens, I don’t see how it won’t be a disaster. But we will all have the Israeli-Jewish right to blame for flooding the WB with settlements. It’s their signature under the writing on the wall.

    • dmseattle says:

      Hi Mariapalestina.
      Are you Palestinian?
      Are you happy with the possibility of One State?
      Do you think it would work out well for Palestinians?
      Do you think it would be peaceful? For anyone?
      Thx. I am curious to hear.

    • dmseattle says:

      Another aspect which amuses me (in a sardonic way) is how successful/effective elections could be. Is it realistic that either side would trust the other to keep track of voting rolls? Could a victor in an election — even dog-catcher — ever be declared? The country would fast be ungovernable which would be the very worst possibility.

      I think that it is an effective negotiating threat for Palestinians to say to Israelis “OK, you hinder us in creating a state? Fine let’s have One State”.

      But there is also an old expression “Be careful what you wish for.”

      The idea of One State strikes me as a nightmare for everyone and would shortly bring the parties back to 1948 — a civil war but one made far bloodier.

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