Anticipating Israel’s counter-attack: make the ‘one democratic state’ solution mainstream again

Mazin Qumsiyeh & Alain Alameddine

The Palestine Chronicle  /  March 13, 2023 

The settler-colonial apartheid state of Israel is facing unprecedented pressure on at least three fronts: The burden of its own internal contradictions which is taking it on the path to civil war, armed and unarmed Palestinian resistance inside Palestine which is laying bare Zionism’s claim to provide a “land without a people” as a “safe haven” for colonizers, and BDS and awareness efforts in the West, dubbed “Israel’s greatest threat” by the Institute for National Security Studies. 

The odds of these three pressure fronts increasing this year and in the coming years is real, and Israel is feeling the heat. How will it counter-attack? And how can a narrative that is solidly anchored in the One Democratic State solution protect our efforts and struggle?

Anticipating Israel’s counter-attack to BDS and other pro-Palestinian efforts

When Herzl established the World Zionist Congress in 1897, he and all subsequent Zionist leaders realized that the main obstacle to achieving the goals of Zionism was what to do with local indigenous people of Palestine. The bride (Palestine) was indeed beautiful but she was married to another man (Palestinians), as said to be put succinctly by two visiting Zionists. 

This was and remains the main challenge to making Palestine the Jewish state of Israel. In the 1920s, Ben Gurion created a public relations campaign that sought to brilliantly talk about splitting the country, portraying colonialists as peace agents while continuing to take land and displacing Palestinian refugees. This hasbara strategy slowly evolved into the paradigms we see today: Western leaders speak of a two-state “solution” while Zionist leaders continue to advance their colonial project.

This delusion over 100 years allowed Israel time to grow its military might, its political power, and to leave Palestinians with access to only 8% of historical Palestine. Yet, this era is coming to an end and a new reality needs to be reckoned with.

Through amazing resilience and despite horrendous efforts to drive them out, half of the Palestinians still live in historic Palestine. Thus, a system of deepening apartheid was needed and developed to control them and even use them as indentured labor to build the Jewish state. Movements seeking real liberation were targeted and principled leaders were assassinated while other (autocratic) leaders were domesticated. 

This latter phenomenon of mental colonization was a most troubling aspect of the evolution of the struggle. Out of ignorance or corruption, many Palestinians and other Arab leaders fed the delusion of a political settlement with Zionism even against the most compelling of data. Many Palestinian intellectuals wrote books warning that the trend only strengthens Zionism and colonialism. Indeed, the history of what happened since 1993 proved the warnings were right. Yet, those professing “pragmatism” continued because they had already been colonized mentally and reversal is rare. Many even deepened their ties to neo-liberal and neo-colonial structures. For example, the Palestinian capitalist class strengthened its relationships with its Israeli counterparts. 

The trends seen over the past few decades are unmistakable: deepening Israeli hegemony over the Palestinian economy (captive market), more land confiscation, increased human rights violations, destruction of the environment, growth of Israeli colonial settlements, growth of corruption within the (Israel/US approved) leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and increased fascism and racism within Israeli society. 

The tragedy is that this was foreseen by many of us and we warned that this is unsustainable. It is understandable that colonizers divide to conquer and that they fight democracy and human rights. Palestine will never be at peace or free without facing these realities and challenging hegemony. The increase in population and increase in access to social media makes it difficult for oppressors to control the narrative. It is becoming more and more difficult to sustain the delusions of so-called “liberal or left Zionists” or of “pragmatic Palestinians”.

Those who hijacked movements cannot also continue to tout the previous liberation struggle as their own. And on the Israeli side, the ascendance of lunatics like Ben Gvir and Smotrich within the apartheid regime should have been sufficient evidence of the failure of trying to accommodate political Zionism. 

The attempt of the ultra-right to reshape the judiciary branch of the Zionist regime is an interesting example of the identitarian rift within the colonial society. But regardless of the outcome of this particular issue, this is only a harbinger of deeper issues to surface: Even if the ultra-right is pressured to compromise here, it will only gain strength and proceed to further demands. The recent pogrom in Huwwara forewarns increased attempts at finally “finishing the job Ben Gurion started in 1948”.

The above serves as an indicator of Israel’s possible counter-attack: Domesticating pro-Palestinian efforts by making them compatible with Zionism, as happened with Oslo. 

This could take the form of mere “improvements” such as less oppression in the West Bank or less discrimination among Israeli citizens, whereupon it could be argued that Israel’s policies no longer meet the legal definition of occupation or apartheid. This is a moment of truth where we have a choice that is very simple: To identify Zionism’s politicization of identity and its endeavor to establish a state exclusive to Jews as the root cause of injustice and suffering in Palestine and the Middle East, and to put our boycotting and awareness-raising efforts in the context of a political vision that forms the fundamental antithesis to Zionism, that is, a vision that depoliticizes identity and proposes the transition to One Democratic State, from the river to the sea.

Publicly and explicitly rallying around the ODS solution as the objective prevents focusing on Israel’s actions and normalizing with its nature as a sectarian settler-colony, or turning the Palestinian liberation struggle into a mere moral or real estate issue that should be resolved by goodwill. It also prevents the infiltration of Palestinian or pro-Palestinian efforts by so-called “liberal” Zionists who criticize Israel’s practices but are keen on maintaining its existence as a state exclusive to Jews. Remaining focused on the central question of the “Jewish state” versus a “democratic state” further lays bare Zionism’s reality as a settler-colonial entity that can never be a democratizing or a liberating endeavor for Jews or any other. 

It ensures we do not get side-tracked by hasbara ‘whataboutist’ tactics and thus giving space for oppression. Activists, allies and potential allies can rally around this call for a transition to democracy and human rights and close our ranks around a political project for genuine liberation and decolonization.

The ODS initiative: an ODS tool

Launched by Palestinians and allies, the One Democratic State Initiative describes itself as “a political endeavor that identifies Zionism’s politicization of identity and establishment of a Jewish state as the root cause of suffering and violence in Palestine, and that, accordingly, proposes the transition to a secular, democratic, non-identitarian state in Palestine as the only possible solution. The purpose of the Initiative is thus to mobilize individuals, entities and political parties, in Palestine and abroad, behind such an endeavor.”

The ODS Initiative thus aims at reaching a stage where the main issue, “A democratic state or a Jewish state?”, takes the front stage in the political discourse regarding the occupation and liberation of Palestine. To accomplish this, it is reaching out to Palestinian and pro-Palestinian individuals and groups, as well as to all willing to listen, by means of online campaigns and on-the-ground meetings.

Practical examples include the reporting of the Huwwara rampage and the Aqaba meeting, the commemoration of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre, the displaying of Palestinian art, or sharing of existing material such as Visual Palestine’s infographics, articles by Awad Abdelfattah or videos displaying Zionist racism, all in the context of an ODS solution.

The results so far have been a reach of close to 1.5 million persons, most of whom are in Palestine, over 100,000 of whom have interacted with us and thousands have signed up and shared their contact details as supporters of the One Democratic State solution.

The ODS Initiative has also particularly placed emphasis on reaching out to the several existing ODS movements in a bid to create a collaborative platform that would allow all to work together on specific campaigns and activities. 

This includes, for example, putting ODSI sign-ups in contact with local ODS activists or groups, organizing joint events that put well-known ODS supporters in contact with interested ones, co-authoring articles such as this one, or collaboration for the purpose of making use of existing material, such as colonial activities documented by, and environmental justice issues documented by studies by, and presenting them in laymen’s terms in Arabic, English and Hebrew.

Would you take part ?

The first step in any revolutionary endeavor is to build a solid narrative based on facts that challenges existing widespread hasbara/propaganda, that energizes existing activists and activates support for action including boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. Envisioning and working for a better future is certainly along the line of “lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness.” 

We urge Palestinian and pro-Palestinian political movements, media, activists, solidarity groups and celebrities to push forward the One Democratic State solution in their discourse regarding Palestine, its occupation and its liberation. We further invite all those willing to sign up as supporters of the ODS solution and/or to contact us to help build a decentralized yet organized network. The settler-colonial apartheid state will be dismantled, One Democratic State will be established in its stead, and Palestine will be free.

Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian scientist and author, founder and director of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University

Alain Alameddine is a member of Lebanese political party Citizens in a State and an activist in the One Democratic State Initiative