Jadal 1 Mada al-Carmel
Separation and Bi-nationalism
Separation and division
The principle of separation is the leading principle of the Israeli perception of
“peace” and illustrates its intentions: not reconciliation based on equality and on
historical justice, but an aspiration to get rid of the Occupied Territories, so as to get
rid of the Palestinian Arabs in order to preserve the Jewish majority in the State of
Israel, and thus restore the definition of the state as the state of the Jewish people.
However, the division is not between Jews and Arabs alone; it is also between Arabs
and Arabs. Division would mean perpetuation of the separation between segments
of the Palestinian people: between Palestinians in Israel and Palestinians in the
Occupied Territories; between these two groups and the refugees; and between
groups separated inside the Occupied Territories.
This system of divisions and separation expresses the fundamental aspect on which
the definition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is established: denial of the
Palestinians as a nation. Israel “agrees” to grant second-class Israeli citizenship to
Palestinians inside Israel and third-class Palestinian citizenship to residents of the
Occupied Territories, with the condition that the Palestinian refugees and the
Palestinian nation completely give up the right of return. As such, Israel refuses to
recognize the rights of Palestinians as a nation. The Palestinians are required to
forgo their nationalism, that is, their very sense of belonging to the land. They are
granted limited rights only if they declare themselves strangers in their own
homeland. This conception underlies the seemingly innocent formulation of “the
Jewish nation-state.” The denial of Palestinian nationalism is evident in the
sweeping rejection of the right of return, which also affects the status of Palestinians
In light of this consequence, the recognition of Palestinians’ rights as a nation should
be seen as a precondition for any discussion of Israel/Palestine. In this context the
concept of “nation” does not refer necessarily to a distinct identity, but should be
seen as a category that defines rights, with belonging to the land as its focus. The
lack of a comprehensive Palestinian national position undermines the basis for
claiming rights and perpetuates the framework dictated by Israel, whereby the
struggles of various Palestinian groups remain divided. Furthermore, recognition of
Palestinian nationalism and national rights should be a condition for pursuing a
profound and open discussion of the national rights of the Jews.
On these grounds I believe that a bi-national framework is crucial for any thought
and discussion on the question of Palestine. The concept of “bi-nationalism” does
not necessarily refer to the one-state solution, as it is commonly understood in the
political discourse. Rather, it involves fundamental principle elements whose
realization should be advanced by any political process: (a) national and civic
equality between Jews and Arabs; and (b) reconciliation based on historical justice.
Considered in this way, the concept of bi-nationalism does not describe a “solution,”
but rather serves as a crucial point of departure and perspective to direct the
struggle towards democratization and de-colonization, based upon the recognition
of both Palestinian and Jewish rights. Underlying this point of departure is the
recognition that it is impossible to separate the discussion on the rights of the
Jewish people from the discussion on the rights of the Palestinians.
Bi-nationalism is first of all a description of the reality already established by the
Zionist regime–one obviously asymmetrical and colonial; it is the reality in which
Jewish superiority is exercised in different ways upon geographically divided
Palestinian groups. At the same time the concept also indicates the possibility of an
alternative reality based on the principles of equality. Many of the participants in
the current debate prefer to avoid the term “bi-nationalism.” I think in doing so, they
disregard fundamental features of the present reality.
I do not find the continuous attention to “models” (one state, two states) to be
productive; in fact, it blurs fundamental questions. I believe that we must first
articulate the principles to which a political process should aspire. Regardless, I do
not think that it is possible to isolate the question of Palestine, and it should not be
discussed independently, because the issue of Jewish national rights can only
seriously be discussed within a general framework that includes the entire Arab
Rights of the Jews
This proposed framework requires us to ask the question that is almost never
asked: what are the rights of the Jews in Palestine? We naturally focus on the rights
of the Palestinians, since Palestinian rights are those that are constantly breached.
However, another fundamental question for discussion is specifically about the
collective rights of the Jewish people. The rights of the Palestinians are in fact
selfevident and undeniable according to principles of justice and historical precedent.
Therefore, it is precisely the rights of the Jews, currently based on a messianic
interpretation of history, that shapes the ongoing process of Judaization and
deArabization in Palestine; rights which are not obvious.
To recognize the rights of the Jews naturally means to limit their encroachment on
the rights of others and to object to the Israeli demand for superiority and total
control. The fundamental pre-requisite to the discussion of the rights of the Jews is
recognition of Palestinian national rights, including the right of return. Once we take
the recognition of Palestinian rights as a starting point, we can only then ask
ourselves about the rights of the Jews for “self-determination,” and for the
recognition of a Jewish sovereign community in Palestine. Otherwise this
recognition remains an empty declaration, and does not address the complexity of
The framework of the current political debate leaves room for only two extreme
options: one, accepting Israel as it is, according to its current self-definition. This
option is essentially assumed as a starting point for the “peace process.” The second
possibility is to completely ignore Israel, believing that it will somehow disappear.
This latter approach is not different in principle from the Zionist denial of
Palestinian nationalism. This framework aids in Israel’s propaganda, which
maintains that either one recognize Israel as it is, or one de-legitimizes the very
existence of the Jews. We have to establish a space between these two extreme
options. Otherwise, we inadvertently preserve the logic of the present discourse and
fail to challenge Israeli exclusivity and claims of superiority.
I believe that the task now facing us as Jews who support Palestinian national claims
is to generate a discourse towards equality in which we raise the question of the
Jews’ rights and request recognition of the right to self-determination. In order to
make the recognition of the Palestinian right of return meaningful, we must direct
our attention to reexamining the question of the Jews. These steps can form the
basis for a process of de-colonization, which in the context of Israel/Palestine not
only entails withdrawal, but also a process of significant change of Israeli
The concept “bi-nationalism” raises extreme anxiety among Israelis: the idea of
binationalism, namely the idea of equal co-existence, is considered a denial of Israel’s
right to exist. This fact, itself, indicates that underlying the definition of Israel is the
denial of the principle of equality. Most Israelis today refuse to even discuss
Palestinian national rights. We must not underestimate the reality of their anxiety,
which must be seriously addressed. But the only way for Israelis to deal with this
anxiety is to address its sources: the suppression and denial of the Nakba. We, as
Jewish Israelis, must accept responsibility for the Nakba as a precondition for joint
discourse. Israelis should understand that the Palestinians are not those who need
to give recognition to Jewish claims, but rather Israeli Jews must recognize
Palestinian. There is no reason to expect that the Jews will forgo their excessive
rights, unless they understand that taking this step is the only feasible option.
Indeed, forgoing rights is surely the only way to save Israel from its belligerent rush
to self-destruction, which is liable to bring disaster to the entire region.
It seems that on an essential level, this compromise is the only one not yet taken.
There is of course a de-facto Palestinian recognition of Israel, but not a serious
discussion on the question. They implicitly recognized Israeli superiority over the
land in exchange for Israeli recognition of a limited autonomy in the Occupied
Territories. The Palestinians were even demanded to give up their perception of
history without any expectation that Israel replace its narrative, which absolutely
ignores the history of the Palestinians and rejects any responsibility for their
From the Palestinian perspective, recognition of equality is liable to be considered a
compromise, since it means recognizing the equal rights of the colonizers. In fact,
during the last decade, and within the framework of the Oslo process, the
Palestinians have given up–explicitly or implicitly–most of their crucial national
positions, and accepted much less than equality in exchange. But I believe this
fundamental “compromise” is one that should be taken. It is precisely lack of
recognition of Jewish rights that underlies the condition for demanding Palestinian
self-denial located at the core of the “peace process.” Recognizing bi-nationalism
would provide a clear declaration of Palestinian sovereignty and a basis for a
partnership that ensures Palestinian rights.
There are various ways to realize these principles. First, one has to remember that it
is impossible to discuss the question of Palestine separately from regional politics;
this discussion must be carried out within the framework of the region and of the
Arab world as a whole. Bi-nationalism cannot be based on detaching the
Palestinians from the Arab world, but rather on merging Israel within this world.
This point suggests the complete context of the bi-nationalism framework.
*Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin is a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish History and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.