The Big Idea: On Israel-Palestine, a one-state solution?
David Grant, CT editor-in-chief - Collegiate Times , Thursday, September 25
Bashir Bashir is a fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and a professor of political theory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He spoke on the subject of what he called the "Politics of Reconciliation," Wednesday night in Torgersen Bridge, regaling the audience with personal experiences and political views on possible resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Collegiate Times editor-in-chief David Grant caught up with Bashir for an interview before his talk.
Q: How do you see the political scenario right now, on the ground, between Israel and Palestine?
A: We are facing a very critical time. The Palestinian front is very fragmented. We have certain challenges internally, such as the 9th of January when (Palestinian President) Mahmoud Abbas is out of office. What will we do with that? The most challenging thing at this point is the relationship between the Palestinians themselves and that is the question of unity.
In Israel as well things are being settled after the issues with (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert. One of the things that I certainly believe is that a serious, fair settlement to the conflict is something that we are not approaching. Certainly, in the light and nature of the American involvement in the process -- I don't think the American involvement in the process is constructive. The maximum offered by the Israelis, backed by the Americans, is not something that answers the minimum of the minimum to the Palestinian national aspiration for emancipation, freedom and self-determination.
Q: There's been a change in Israeli political leadership. Tzipi Livni is now the head of the centrist Kadima party after prime minister Ehud Olmert surrendered his party's leadership over corruption charges. Livni had been the lead negotiator with the Palestinians and is seen in some circles as more centrist, or moderate, than Olmert. As you look to the future, how do you describe the evolution of Israeli politics?
A: One of the things I think is a mistake ... is to think as if there are substantive differences between the different major Israeli parties vis-à-vis settling the dispute with the Palestinians. That could have been right slightly right to a certain extent 20 years ago.
But now whether the ruling party is the Likud, or Kadima, or the Labor party, their views are not substantively different on settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They might differ on what is the best way to ... "manage," as they say, the Palestinians, but they certainly have, I would say, some form of consensus, driven by a wide-spread Jewish Israeli consensus, on the terms of settling the conflict with the Palestinians. And the terms and conditions that are enjoying consensus in Israel are not fair terms.
Q: On the Palestinian side, the current president, Mahmoud Abbas, has lost a great deal of credibility with the Israelis, the Arab world, and his own people. There is Marwan Barghouti, a popular hero of the second Intifada, who said he would run for the presidency though currently jailed by the Israelis. People in the West Bank, at least, are rather both restless and forlorn about peace or an improvement in "the situation," their term for the Israeli occupation. Could you talk a little about the future of the Palestinian political situation?
I think the Palestinian political situation is very, very, very troubled. This is one of the worst episodes in the Palestinian national project. There are a few things at work here. One of the most problematic ... is this segmentation and the fragmentation between Hamas and Fatah.
If there is any chance for Palestinians to get back on track fighting for their independence and freedom, to be supported internationally, they need to reorganize their national home. Reorganizing their national home means getting to clear terms and rules of the game in relation to sharing power and reforming their national institutions. The most pressing issues for the Palestinians are reforming the Palestinian Liberation Organization so that it becomes a more inclusive frame. That means including Hamas.
I think Abu Mazen (Abbas' colloquial name) enjoys certain support in the West Bank and even in Gaza. The issue of Abu Mazen is connected to a broader issue that connects to the national segment of the Palestinian national project which is what is going to happen to Fatah. Fatah is a very weak, very fragmented... it seems to suffer from different diseases connected to leadership, transparency, responsibility, to democracy.
The most pressing challenge in that front, on that issue, is reconvening the sixth conference for the Fatah movement. If they succeed to convene that conference, that is going to generate more confidence in the leadership. Currently they are fighting, they are divided, and thus they suffer from an issue of legitimacy. Fatah is an extremely important and influential movement, but for them to regain the initiative and be a reliable, credible voice amongst the Palestinians, they need to re-energize their movement, they need to be more united.
Another issue is Hamas. Hamas cannot continue to carry on like this because they are not succeeding. Perhaps they are succeeding here and there tactically and they have had some success governing Gaza, but maintaining the geographic division is one of the biggest catastrophes that can happen to our cause. Hamas needs to revise its political program and practices and they should know that they cannot run the show alone. There is an urgent, pressing demand on the rest of the Palestinians, especially the so called left-Palestinians, to regain initiative, to start moving, to start engaging heavily into politics. The whole political spectrum needs to be more connected to the people's concerns.
Q: And what of Barghouti, who many say is the "next generation" in Palestinian political leadership?
Barghouti might be a good solution for the Fatah under certain circumstances. He represents, whether right or not, some hope to the Palestinians. He enjoys legitimacy from being a political leader in prison and from (his work in) the second Intifada. That is not the full legitimacy you need to be a leader – you need to be elected. So I hope he is going to join the political game in Fatah and be part of it.
Whether he stands the best chances as the leader of Fatah and then going on to run for the Palestinian presidency ... He is one of the strongest leaders within Fatah and he represents a younger generation that appears to be relatively clean from ... issues of corruption and all that stuff. In addition to being a new generation, he appears to be much more organic in coming from the grassroots, in being connected to what is going on on the ground.
He takes support from many, many groups. He seems to enjoy more support than any other Fatah leader within the Palestinian population. Now whether the forces of the Fatah are ready or going to allow him to be the one, that is a different story, especially because he is in prison.
Q: When you look at the two American presidential candidates, is there a substantive difference between the two in terms of their approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?
Let us start from the current American involvement, which has proved to be a huge failure. The current involvement and engagement brought more instability not only to the Palestinians but to the Middle East in general. What is needed is a change from that policy because it has been a failure. Now, I have no illusions that America is an honest broker. America is not an honest broker. A lot of people know that America sides with Israel.
For America to be more influential and for America to gain more credibility in the world as well as the Arab region, America needs to present a much more active role in the process and a much more fair and much more honest engagement in the process. This honest engagement does not require America to go out of its way to do things. All it needs to do is support international resolutions relevant to the Palestinian case.
I had the impression that Obama seemed to have better intentions, to engage in a much more constructive way in the conflict, a way that is much more than the ceiling that the Bush administration is now offering. Nevertheless, Obama, in his visit to Israel and his statements in America are very alarming in that he seems to be adopting a conventional, classical view that almost blindly sides with Israel.
There are two readings here. One reading is that maybe he is doing that because he is a politician and he has certain tactical moves he needs to make because of election considerations.
The other reading is that the man really has this latter understanding of the conflict -- that Jerusalem needs to be the eternal, undivided capitol of the state of Israel, for example. If this is the line then I don't think we are heading in a constructive way. If he is adopting the much more pro-Israeli reading, I don't really know whether there is a substantive difference between him and McCain.
Both of them are driven by election considerations and tactics and sensitivities especially in terms of the Jewish vote and all this stuff... But whether McCain is really committed to ... a much more constructive reading of the conflict that America needs to be much more engaged and much more honest as well as driven by issues of fairness ... I doubt that is really on the agenda for John McCain.
Q: You have spoken about the possibility, even the plausibility, of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Could you elaborate on that?
The Palestinian national project wanted the one-state solution from the very beginning. The Palestinians were saying, "This is Palestine, Israel is an occupying power, Zionism is a colonizing movement. We need to put an end to the occupation but we are open and keen to having Jewish Palestinians (as a part of a single state). They would be as Christians and Muslims." They were motivated by the idea of a secular, democratic state.
That was something that Fatah and others adopted until the late 1970s. Now it it's only in the late 1970s that voices inside Fatah said, "Listen, we probably have to take a different view and take a look at facts on the ground and the realities," and then they started working towards a two-state solution.
Here the Palestinians say, "Listen, we have given up 70 to 80 percent of historic Palestine. Now, we are willing to offer the state of Israel and the Zionist movement that we want only 22 percent of historical Palestine -- which is Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem." This has been the only game in town since 1988.
Now whether we have achieved any significant progress on the two-state solution, the answer is absolutely no. The opposite, in fact. I think we are distancing ourselves by the day from a workable, achievable two-state solution.
Even earlier, during the 1940s, when Brit Shalom (an early 20th century Israeli political group committed to coexistence between Jews and Arabs), and people like Judah Magnus (a prominent Israeli intellectual and the first Chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem), proposed sharing the land with the Palestinians.
They weren't necessarily motivated by issues of equality and all of this stuff but they said, "We certainly cannot ignore the existence of a nation here." So the roots and origins of the bi-national or the one-state solution are not only to be found in the Palestinian national movement but also in the Zionist movement.
Q: So why does the one-state solution stand out to you as the most viable way to end the conflict?
This is extremely important. Palestinians are not only after a workable, sustainable, and viable Palestinian state. This is not what we want. Palestinians are after a sustainable and viable Palestinian state that secures and answers their national right -- that brings them emancipation, national determination, the return of their lands, the 1967 borders, and a solution to the refugee problem including the honoring of the right of return.
If we look at what is happening on the ground, and we look in terms of coming to terms with reconciliation and historical injustice, I think we remain with very few options to come to terms with these historical and empirical de facto things on the ground.
We will come to realize that the one-state solution in the form of a bi-national state where the bi-national state is securing and honoring the collective rights of the Jewish Israelis and the collective rights of the Palestinian Arabs and guaranteeing universal citizenship rights to everyone seems to be the most appealing and desirable solution.
Copyright © 2008 Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech Inc. All rights reserved.