Choosing independence over apartheid

After decades of struggling to get Palestinian national rights recognised at the international level, any new initiative to abandon what has been achieved should be viewed with scepticism.

December 1, 2003 · 4 min read

A bi-national state is a fine ideal, yet the loss of international attention and credibility likely to result from such a change of direction could set the Palestinian cause back many years. It would certainly invite further suffering upon our people.

Since Oslo the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become so widely accepted that governments the world over are now committed, verbally at least, to establishing a viable Palestinian state.

With such assurances, the implementation of a two-state solution appears imminent – even if Israel deliberately ignores this likelihood and blindly follows its path of expansionism, colonisation and destruction.

Forced to live in poverty, fear and unceasing humiliation, many Palestinians today despair of ever having a viable state of their own. The separation wall compounds this by physically confining Palestinians into tiny cantons cut off from the necessities of daily life such as school, work, family, healthcare and water.

The failure of the road map threatens a permanent state of apartheid, with temporary occupation transformed into enduring reality. In such circumstances, the appeal of a one-state solution is understandable.


As Palestine is carved into unrecognisable ghettos and walled prisons, notable scholars and intellectuals have started to question the feasibility of the two-state solution. Indeed, there is a growing consensus for a bi-national state shared between Israelis and Palestinians as an alternative route forward.

In the current climate, it is argued, any future two-state solution would in fact entail just one state – Israel, and a subordinate Palestinian Authority acting as a security sub-agency in an apartheid-style Bantustan.

Yet to give up on the idea of a state altogether because of Sharon’s efforts to render it meaningless would be a major step backwards. Logic dictates the opposite path: expose Sharon’s perversion of the two-state idea and fight for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders.

The concept of this nation must be unequivocal. Palestine must be allowed to exist as a truly viable and independent state across the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, with its national capital in East Jerusalem.

For this to come about though, an intensification of international commitment is needed – not only to ensure the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory, but also to dismantle settlements and outposts, remove settlers and guarantee the freedoms necessary for the development of genuinely democratic institutions.

The next step, the establishment of an elected, representative government, will strengthen Palestinian society and thus the Palestinian position vis-à-vis Israel.

In an ideal world, one state based on citizenship guarantees with constitutional protection for the religious and national identities of all its inhabitants would be an ideal solution. It would implicitly solve the issues of Jerusalem, borders, water, Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian minority in Israel.

However, it is difficult to see how the Palestinians’ surrendering their claim to their own state and throwing in their lot with the Israelis would bring this about. The assumption that demographic trends would redefine the Israeli-Palestinian balance, and that a secular democratic state would soon follow, is too easily ascribed to.

Israel remains an undemocratic state for the 20 per cent of its population who are Palestinian. Citizenship remains conditional upon ethnic and religious criteria. This is the essence of Zionism, and challenging it would be difficult.

Changing course towards such a path would not end the conflict. It would just create a new struggle on a new track. Decades of fighting for an independent state would be thrown away in favour of a 20-year battle against apartheid within one state.

It is quite possible that the geopolitical facts on the ground Israel is currently creating will curtail the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The establishment of a bi-national state remains a virtuous fall-back position.

However, such a development would involve considerable rethinking of the state system. Either way the Palestinian people will remain optimistic. In the end, we will succeed one way or another.Dr Mustafa Barghouti is president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and spokesman for the Palestinian National Initiative


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