Secular democracy and the future of Palestine

A Palestinian demonstrator climbs The Wall during a protest in the West Bank village of Nilin (Issam Rimawi - APA Images)

Haidar Eid

Mondoweiss  /  January 28, 2022

It is an established fact that Israel is an apartheid state. The questions then are – how to dismantle it and what comes next?

The two-state solution continues to lose support in Palestine. More and more Palestinians are realizing that that the so-called peace process has only resulted in the production of new Israeli facts on the ground, and new repressive practices that make a functioning Palestinian State impossible. No wonder then that a recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center indicates growing support for a one-state solution among the Palestinians at the expense of  the two-state solution.

The irony, though, is that the facts on the ground do not seem to have convinced the Palestinian leadership, right or left! Instead of fighting to crush Zionism and its apartheid policies in Palestine, the leadership of the PLO tries to coexist with it. Their argument, which have been shared by some international scholars and activists over the years, is that the two-state solution is supported by an “international consensus,” notwithstanding the fact it is nothing more than an unjust solution dictated by Israel and the US that it ignores our basic rights as humans. In this article I argue that the only hope for us, Palestinians, lies in an anti-apartheid form of resistance that mobilizes the components of the Palestinian people and international civil society and that ultimately leads to the establishment of single state in Palestine.

Apartheid Israel

It is an established fact that Israel is an apartheid state.  The latest reports by Human Rights Watch and even Israel’s most respected human rights organization, B’Tselem, not to mention reports by so many Palestinian human rights organizations, have concluded that the regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is an apartheid regime.

In fact, Apartheid Israel has reached its long dreamed of goal, namely Israeli sovereignty over all of historic Palestine, with non-viable enclaves providing a ghetto autonomy in which the remnants of the Palestinian people can slowly diminish. This has left Israel holding a highly undesirable package, however: a territory containing more than 4.5 million politicized Palestinians with no independent state of their own, fragmenting Israel as effectively as Israel itself has fragmented Palestinian’s national community. The problem remains as old as the conflict itself: what to do with the people, when all Israel wants is the land?

The two-state solution, as I have always been arguing, is a racist solution par excellence to this dilemma in that it is based on separating communities based on their ethno-religious identities, derived from the late 19th century ethno-nationalist ideology that led to the emergence of racist dogmas like Nazism, apartheid and Zionism.

It contradicts the democratic principles of 20th and 21st centuries, and as many intellectuals have argued, the conditions for an independent sovereign Palestinian State have been killed off anyway by the irreversible advance of the settlements in the West Bank. In sum, the racist two-state solution which does not provide Palestinians with their basic rights, including freedom, equality, and return of refugees to the towns and villages from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948. 

The question, then, is how to dismantle apartheid ?

A political vision

One problem to answering this question has been the absence of a clear-cut political program offered by oppressed Palestinians. The right-wing elite in Palestine has sidelined serious and critical Palestinian intellectuals and activists who argue for alternatives to the two-state paradigm they benefit from. The situation, however, has lately changed, especially after the demise of Edward Said, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Hisham Sharabi and some principled left-wing leaders who posed a serious challenge to the two-state dogma. The emergence of the BDS movement and the rise of popular resistance in the West Bank, 1948, and Gaza, together with the rise of principled voices calling for secular democracy in mandate Palestine, all have paved the way for an alternative solution, one that guarantees Palestinian fundamental rights.  Hence, the BDS call of 2005 in which Palestinians have asked the international community to live up to its responsibilities and boycott apartheid Israel, divest from it and from companies benefiting from its violations of human rights in Palestine and impose sanctions against it until it complies with international law. Palestinian civil society has learned the South African lesson very well. BDS is, however, a rights-based movement that has refrained from endorsing a political solution.

But some activists have been working on an alternative, one that divorces itself from racist solutions, whether limited “administrative autonomy,” as proposed by the Camp David Accords and the Oslo Accords, or a two-state solution that provides the Palestinian people with token independence.

These activists demonstrate we are left with one option only: a secular democratic state for all its citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, or race. It is obvious that there are challenges for the one-state solution like those challenges the South African anti-apartheid activists had to deal with after the collapse of that white supremacist regime. A secular democratic formula necessarily means the dismantling of the apartheid privileges that assign third-class citizenship to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and deprive the 1967 Palestinians of their fundamental human rights. A secular democratic formula will definitely guarantee the right of return of those Palestinian refugees who have been living in miserable refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Interestingly, two-staters have always argued that the two-state solution is in line with international law notwithstanding the fact that it deals with the rights of only one third of the Palestinian people, and denies the internationally-sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees and third-class citizens of apartheid Israel.

What a secular democratic State basically means for us is the elimination of the military occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem, unification of all Bantustans and ghettos in Palestine, the return of Palestinian refugees and their compensation, civil rights and freedom. As the late Palestinian intellectual giant Edward Said put it back in 1999: “The notion of an Egyptian State for the Egyptians, a Jewish State for the Jews, simply flies in the face of reality. What we require is a rethinking of the present in terms of co-existence and porous borders.” And that can only materialize in a secular democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University