The Case for Binationalism
Why one state—liberal and constitutionalist—may be the
key to peace in the Middle East
Gradually, some might say predictably, our attention is being drawn
back to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This renewed focus is understandable.
In response to the tragic events of September 11, the United States
has tried to build and sustain a broad anti-terrorism coalition, and
Israel's status is problematic for many of the countries in the coalition.
Moreover, the Bush administration has made a series of statements since
September 11 indicating a plan in the works for the establishment of
an independent Palestinian state. While the details of the plan have
not been revealed, and Palestinians are skeptical, the idea of
an independent Palestinian state—what is commonly referred to
as the two-state solution—seems to be back, at least for
And yet for many Palestinians, myself included, the two-state solution
has already lost a great deal of its historic appeal. The political
events and institutions subsequent to the Oslo Accords of 1993—all
the painful renegotiation and implementation leading to the second intifada—are
to my mind responsible for the shifting enthusiasm.1
The period since Oslo has revealed the "unrepresentativeness" of the
Palestinian Authority; it has not generated meaningful territorial gains;
and it has not resulted in any progress on the crucial question of the
return of refugees. Moreover, developments since Oslo have raised serious
questions about the attractions of a separate state as a vehicle for
expressing Palestinian aspirations and advancing Palestinian interests.
Thus we have seen the development of social and economic "structural
dependency" between Israel and the Palestinian regions; the emergence
of "overlapping domains of national consciousness" due to factors such
as daily labor movement to and from Israel; and the emergence of a new
Palestinian national elite that shares economic interests with the Israeli
All of this—both the political dead-ends of the Oslo process
as well as greater economic integration and associated changes in consciousness—makes
it worth our while, it seems to me, to reconsider the idea of binationalism
in Palestine. Binationalism in this context expresses the idea that
the land of Mandate Palestine should be transformed into a secular state—a
constitutional-liberal state, with Arabs and Jews as its national citizens.
Its famous maxim is "One Land for Two Peoples" and its most famous proponents
are the Palestinian American writer Edward Said and Azmi Bishara, a
Palestinian-Israeli member of the Israeli Knesset. The advocates of
binationalism typically distinguish it from the more familiar two-state
solution, according to which two states, one Israeli and the other Palestinian,
are imagined to coexist next to each other. It is also, of course, sharply
distinguished from the current situation, in which a recognizable Israeli
state coexists with disparate, partially autonomous, Palestinian areas
within the West Bank and Gaza strip, while the remainder of the
latter areas remains under the control of the Israeli army, whether
its inhabitants are Palestinians, or Jews living in the largely isolated
colonies commonly known as settlements.
With the failure of Oslo, and in the face of the post-September 11
conflict, binationalism has garnered increasing support among Palestinians,
but that increase thus far has been marginal. In a recent discussion
of binationalism, Salim Tamari argues that binationalism hasfailed to
attract broad Palestinian support because, as a political posture, it
does not offer a "programmatic position but [is] simply the expression
of a desired outcome": an ideal, not a plan. In addition, he argues
that proponents of binationalism do not address the problem of overcoming
institutionalized Zionism, nor, on the other side, the difficulty of
overcoming the general Palestinian resistance to being incorporated
in a Europeanized and industrialized society. Moreover Tamari says,
the binationalist alternative involves giving up the struggle for military
withdrawal from the occupied territories and the dismantling of colonial
settlements. Even an independent Palestinian state of limited scope,
Tamari says, has a better chance of launching these struggles through
continual efforts to consolidate its territory and future re-negotiations
of agreements that had been signed. And lastly, he says, binationalism
would weaken the bonds and trappings of Palestinian identity and force
Palestinians to reconsider their Arab ties.
These criticisms of binationalism all have some force. But despite
the current limits on support for binationalism—not only on the
Palestinian side, but even more so on the Israeli side—I propose
that we take it up seriously as a political project. While it now has
the status of a "utopian" political proposal, talking about binationalism
in practical terms may force people to confront more seriously the limits
of alternative approaches, and their own denial about those limits.
Everyone agrees that circumstances are now disastrous. Moreover, there
is considerable pressure to find a solution to the conflict, and much
disquiet, not all of it publicly expressed, about the two-state solution.
If binationalism is a desirable outcome—as even its critics sometimes
acknowledge—then it may have some chance of crystallizing opinion
and emerging as a serious alternative.
Objections to binationalism reflect an attachment to a particular
understanding of de-colonization and colonial struggle. But this trajectory
is neither necessary nor even, in the case of the Palestinians, strategically
The standard model of de-colonization reflects the anti-colonial struggles
of the twentieth century that culminated in the formal independence
of many British and French colonies such as India, Egypt, and Algeria.
The nationalist elites of the colony wrest a set of formal, governmental
powers from the elites of the colonizer power, and exercise those powers
over a formally delineated territory (the ex-colony). This shift in
the locus of political authority typically follows a period of mass
resistance to colonialism. The new territory then becomes the depository
of the national identity of the newly de-colonized people, who are now
"subject" to the authority of the new national elites (whose newly acquired
formal powers are defined by international law).
On a substantive level, de-colonization is understood as a symbolic
and material shift of colonized resources from the colonizers to the
colonized. The new national elites of the ex-colony undertake to salvage
what the anti-colonial movement had constructed as the "culture" of
the colonized from the ravages of the colonizers, and to release the
economic wealth of the ex-colony from the colonial grip and transfer
it to its true owners, the citizens of the new nation-state. This usually
takes place through pursuit of combined strategies of economic growth
and redistribution by the new elites, with the post-colonial state playing
a large role—as in Egypt and India—in developing and implementing
While the transfer of powers to the new nationalist elites has sometimes
created a margin of improvement in the lives of the citizens of the
new nation-state (in income, health, and education), these improvements
have historically proven to be neither lasting nor as substantial as
one might have hoped. Some analysts argue that the ability of the new
elites to create a more dignified life for their citizens was seriously
curtailed by the continuing intervention in these territories by the
imperial powers of the day: that de-colonization simply meant a shift
from official political subordination to unofficial subordination to
an outside power (neo-colonialism). Moreover, nationalist elites often
proved to be either unwilling or unable or simply too corrupt to pursue
a serious project of development and modernization in these new states.
Such projects often required the ability to resist or circumvent the
demands and needs of the imperial centers (imposed in the form of international
trade treaties, military deployments, oil interests, and so on). But
the skill and resolve required for such maneuvering have often been
These limitations by themselves do not condemn the nationalist project.
For Palestinians to have a state—to enjoy the trappings of national
independence over a formally delineated territory (that occupied by
Israel in 1967) with East Jerusalem as their capital—would undoubtedly
be a substantial achievement. They would have the experience of being
equal in their national destiny (and consequently humanity) to that
of other previously colonized people: no trifling matter. And they would
also conceivably see the same margin of improvement in their circumstances—greater
income, improved health, better education and housing. Again nothing
that should be dismissed too lightly.
But for Palestinians, the national solution now seems to have reached
a dead end. Oslo proved the nationalist goal unattainable. The Oslo
accords of 1993 were signed by the PLO and Israel, and were designed
to be implemented over time. The terms of the accords suggested a progressive
liberation of Palestinians from Israeli colonial control through a piecemeal
withdrawal of the Israeli army from the areas occupied by Israel in
1967. Negotiation over issues deemed too controversial, such as the
status of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return
home (from exile in Lebanon, for example), were deferred to a future
The period since Oslo has repeatedly revealed that the Israeli political
and military class has no serious intention of conceding to their Palestinian
counterparts any set of powers, nor any stretch of a decently contiguous
territory that would allow that nationalist project to succeed, even
on a modest scale. The eruption of the second intifada has simply, to
my mind, called the bluff of the Israelis. It has both revealed and
put an end to the Israeli elites' strategy in Oslo of what I would call
neo-dominance—from direct military occupation and economic hegemony
before Oslo, to partial withdrawal from population centers and economic
siege after Oslo. The withdrawal would never be more than partial. What
distinguishes the Israeli response to the Palestinian anti-colonial
struggle at this particular historical juncture from its French or British
historic colonial equivalent is its unwillingness to permit a historic
shift to neo-colonialism to occur, via the route of Palestinian formal
national independence. Similarities in the way Likud and Labor conducted
themselves in the Oslo negotiations and subsequent discussions about
implementation show that it would be a mistake to attribute this policy
to one party (Likud) rather the other (Labor). Indeed, the political
migration to the right of many members of the Israeli peace movement
as the second intifada broke out, and the election of Ariel Sharon as
Prime Minister, indicate the breadth of opposition to Palestinian independence
outside the political class. Israel has yet to create its post-colonizer
So even if the two-state strategy succeeded, its payoff would be limited.
Moreover, that strategy no longer shows much promise. But is binationalism
a more promising alternative given the contemporary structure of the
Israeli military and political class?
Why a binational state?
Endorsing binationalism would mean a fundamental shift in the Palestinian
political agenda. Rather than basing their claims on a right to national
self-determination and appealing to international law to arbitrate their
relationship with the Israelis, Palestinians would appeal to constitutional
liberalism with its conception of individuals—whatever their race,
religion, or ethnicity—as equal, rights-bearing members of a single
political society. Rather than attaching their claims to a contiguous
territory—as national subjects, over which their own elites could
exercise authority as national elites—Palestinians would attach
their claims to Israeli resources as national citizens of the state
of Israel (as a historically persecuted minority).
Several considerations suggest that the shift to binationalism holds
greater promise for Palestinians than an independent state:
Generals or Judges?
A change in Palestinian political discourse would carry with it a
fundamental shift in the institutional focus of Palestinian politics.
When Palestinians try to establish their existence as independent national
subjects of an independent state, Israeli military generals emerge as
the primary players in the negotiations. If they set out to negotiate
their lives within the state of Israel as national citizens, Israeli
judges would play the primary role. Palestinians would present their
legal claims (constitutional rights) before a judicial forum. Judges
are better than generals for Palestinians, for several reasons.
The Israeli military establishment is very effective in mobilizing
Israelis around exaggerated concerns about state security. The appetite
of Israel's security interests has proven to be insatiable. Israeli
demands for crippling security arrangements and land (and water) concessions
would likely render a so-called independent Palestinian state neither
independent nor truly Palestinian.
Moreover, in the two-state world, Israeli generals would be governed
in their bargaining with the Palestinians by "the rules of war" (informed
by the background fact of Israel's military superiority). Such rules
would allow Israel to utilize its superior power to extract concessions
from the Palestinians in a way that the international community would
find acceptable and typical of the relationship between two states at
war, as distinct from two communities in conflict within a single state.
In contrast, Israeli judges—while historically preoccupied with
balancing liberalism (committed to equality) with Zionism (a nationalist
movement the historic expression of which has often been racist/anti-Arab2)—are
constrained by Israel's international reputation as the only "democracy"
in the Middle East. Israeli elite judges tend to look to their Western,
primarily American, counterparts as models, and have become concerned
with the latter's judgment of their performance. For example, in the
Qa'dan case, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that regulations and laws
that allowed only Jews to live in land administered by the Jewish National
Fund were discriminatory. Qa'dan himself was a Palestinian citizen of
Israel who was prohibited from leasing a house in such an area; the
binationalist Palestinian legal posture would be modeled on the position
of Palestinian Israeli citizens, who insist that liberalism trump Zionism.
Indeed, Palestinian Israelis have made some headway in overturning the
Israeli judicial rationalization that allowed them to be treated as
extra-state citizens—an argument based, as ever, on state security.
In a nutshell, binationalism would be better for Palestinians, because
dealing with Barak the judge (head of the Israeli Supreme Court) is
better than dealing with Barak the Army General/Prime Minister. A diffuse
liberalism exercises some constraint on the former and none on the latter.
And while some constraint is not enough, it is better than no constraint
Palestinians would be far better off economically, in my view, if
they attached their legal claims directly to the resources of the state
of Israel as national budget (to be distributed, after a struggle,
equally and justly among its national subjects, Jews and non-Jews
alike)—rather than hoping to benefit from the pursuit of national
economic development within the boundaries of a nominally independent
Israel is, after all, a very wealthy country with a gross national
product close to a post-industrial European state. For Palestinians
to be partial beneficiaries of these resources—even with the disadvantage
of being historically disenfranchised and territorially dispossessed
within Israel—would likely be materially better than to be citizens
of a poor and thirsty state, bound in economically dependent and hostile
relations with a very powerful neighbor. The pursuit by many Palestinian
Jerusalemites of an Israeli identity that would allow them access to
the resources of a rich welfare state is a case in point. In other words,
in the new dispensation, Palestinians would be like immigrants to a
wealthy metropole rather than nationals of a poor third-world country.
Not that I idealize the status of immigrants. I am perfectly aware that
"racism" is the organizing principle of the life of the dark immigrant
to the metropolitan center (as is the case now with Palestinian Israelis).
Still, life for the average Palestinian stands to improve.
Matters look similar when we shift attention from distribution to growth.
The pursuit of economic growth by a newly independent Palestinian state
would be seriously curtailed by the neoliberal development projects
of the World Bank and the IMF, not to mention the International trade
treaties, all of which would eventually be imposed on the new state.
Economic growth in the post-colonial context often, though not always,
involves a significant role for the state. But the professional representatives
of neoliberalism and international trade are usually antagonistic to
substantial state involvement in regulating and protecting the economy.
In contrast, Israel already has in place a developed and sufficiently
regulated economy (admittedly in the process of being deregulated) that
would prove to be of great benefit to the national newcomers, the Palestinians.
An independent state would also be less advantageous when it comes
to labor market regulation. A Palestinian state would most likely promote
employment for Palestinian citizens by continuing to export a mass of
cheap and unprotected labor for the Israeli economy; as citizens of
an independent Palestinian state, Palestinian workers would continue
to earn their income by crossing the border. Indeed, at the moment,
the interests of Israeli military generals in setting up checkpoints
and sieges converge with the interests of Israeli employers who benefit
from cheap and unprotected Palestinian labor. The military blockades
create borders, and borders make labor cheap. This labor pool is now—and
under a two-state solution would remain—outside the scope of Israeli
labor regulation because of its foreign status. It seems unlikely that
the Palestinian elite of a new state would be able to extract a protective
regulatory regime for these workers in Israel: they would be too afraid
of losing the "leverage" that comes from supplying cheap labor.
Binationalism, in contrast, would offer the possibility of labor alliances
inside of Israel with other groups of unprotected workers and would
allow Palestinians to acquire in time the same benefits and protections
as Israel's current domestic labor force. Instead of having Palestinian
ministers negotiate trade deals and protective arrangements (from a
position of weakness) across national borders, Palestinian political
representatives, in shifting political alliances, would press for labor
market regulations, and for new programs of education and training to
upgrade the skills of Palestinian workers.
Finally, a binational state would foster alliances between Palestinians
currently under occupation and Palestinian Israelis to combat discriminatory
Israeli land and housing policies. The Israeli state's policies of land
expropriation, control of water resources, and distribution of land
and housing benefits within its boundaries (undefined as they are) strikingly
correspond to those pursued in its capacity as an occupying force in
the West Bank and Gaza. The latter is a simple continuation of the former,
though in Israel proper there are greater efforts to rationalize land,
water, and housing polices through legislation. Such policies have consistently
favored Ashkenazi Jews at the primary expense of Palestinians (who have
historically owned much of the land and the water) and Mizrahi Jews
(who have historically received a smaller share of the Jewish Israeli
pie). A civil rights agenda within a binational state would condemn
Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as forms of discrimination
in the distribution of land and water resources, rather than as invasions
of national territory. Reconfiguring the complex schemes of benefit
distribution that these settlements are based on (in terms of the ethnicity
of the users, the nature of land and water use, transportation benefits,
access to benefits of Israeli welfare state, etc.) to remedy Palestinian
historic dispossession is conceivable through a discourse of civil rights.
Obvious allies in this movement would be Mizrahi Jews.
Binationalism is more promising for Palestinians because the mobilizing
agenda for political activism would appeal to "civil rights" rather
than the current "anti-colonial struggle to achieve national independence."
And that appeal would, I expect, be met with greater sympathy and support
in the United States.
The United States greatly matters in this Israel-Palestine context
not only because it is the world's only superpower, but also because
it has been so receptive to Zionist mobilization in support of Israel
at all societal levels: the elite (political and economic class), the
intelligentsia and mass culture. (The official two billion dollars of
annual aid is only part of a larger package—financial, military
and otherwise—that Israel receives from the U.S. on a regular
basis). Indeed, Israel-identified American Jews are established members
of the American elite and intelligentsia.
The mobilizing agenda of "civil rights" for Palestinians as nationals
of Israel would have greater resonance in the United States than an
agenda of "national independence," in part because Americans in general
lack a firm grip on such concepts as "colonialism" and "anti-colonial
struggle." Not possessing a national consciousness as a colonial power
(in contrast to the contemporary British and French), while at the same
time thinking of their nation as an ex-colony (of Britain) that has
done very well despite having been a colony, most Americans don't
quite grasp the racialized and dehumanizing bond between colonizer and
colonized. In particular, they find it hard to understand the bloodiness
of anti-colonial resistance. I spend a lot of classroom time explaining
to my American students that colonialism is bad, and that colonial
powers fight to keep their colonies.
But most Americans do understand well the idea of a civil rights struggle.
One of the more important ways in which Americans acquire a national
(and nationalist) self-consciousness is by learning about the history
of the American civil rights movement. Martin Luther King is a staple
of contemporary American political pedagogy, and the distinction between
the civilly disobedient King and the nationalist freedom fighter Malcolm
X is fundamental. A Palestinian civil rights movement based on a King-like
strategy of long-term civil disobedience would have the potential to
change the political balance in the United States in several ways: (1)
within the community of liberals committed to civil rights, it may create
a division between groups more and less strongly identified with Israel;
(2) it may force a crisis within the consciousness of many progressive
Zionist Jews by bringing to the surface the suppressed tensions between
liberalism and Zionism; (3) it could create the possibility of identification
with the Palestinians by the American black intelligentsia and middle
class; and (4) it could make it more difficult to sustain the current
demonization of Palestinians and idealization of Israelis in American
To be sure, the circumstances of American blacks at the time of the
civil rights movement were different in important ways from the current
conditions of Palestinians. Some 10 percent of the soldiers in the Union
Army were black, and black soldiers played a similarly large role in
World War II. Moreover, despite segregation and the black belt in the
South, black Americans were geographically very dispersed. Furthermore,
black and white Americans spoke the same language and had broadly similar
religious affiliations. And the civil rights movement—as King's
"I Have A Dream" speech powerfully underscored—expressed the longstanding
identification of blacks as Americans. The differences from the condition
of Palestinians are clear. Still, it remains true that a demand to be
treated with respect as equal citizens, pursued through civil disobedience,
is more likely to resonate in the United States than the forcible insistence
on having a separate state.
A binational state would allow Palestinians to identify with all of
Palestine, whereas an independent state would force a contraction of
Palestinian national imagination. While some Israelis have colonially
extended their imagined nation to include the West Bank (Judea and Samaria
in their discourse) as part of the "rightful" land of Israel, binationalism
would allow the Palestinian national imaginary to make a similar but
reverse move by reclaiming land they were brutally called upon to dis-identify
with after the creation of Israel. Jaffa (in Israel) becomes the fantasized
extension of Ramallah (in the West Bank), Haifa (in Israel) the extension
of Hebron (in the West Bank) and Galilee the extension of Nablus.
How to make the shift
How can Palestinians make the transition from a political agenda based
on national independence to one based on civil rights? The most crucial
point in this context is to learn from the language and political strategies
of Palestinian Israelis in their movement of protest against the discrimination
of the Israeli state. Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel lived
under emergency rule from 1948, when Israel was created, until 1964.
They suffered all forms of blatant discrimination often rationalized
and justified by the Israeli political class and judiciary as required
by "national security" considerations. An elaborate alliance with Palestinian
Israelis and the advocates for their rights (such as Adalah, The Legal
Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) is of paramount importance.
All of the following activist strategies would be conducted in collaboration
with Palestinian Israelis. Palestinians would:
1. Delete "Right to self-determination" and "Independent State" from
the placards and replace them with "Equal Rights for Palestinians and
Israelis," "One Land for Two Peoples," "Human Rights Means Equal Rights,"
and "Occupation = Apartheid = Discrimination."
2. Stop using stones, bullets, and explosives, and instead use their
bodies, sitting or standing, as a peaceful mass, unarmed (except for
placards), occupying a space in protest, a space they are not supposed
to occupy. Example: check points, Jewish settlements, land in the process
of confiscation, house in the process of demolition, lines of closure,
encircled religious sites, etc.
3. Use their bodies in manual labor to reverse the effects of siege
and closure. Walk en masse to the next village where they're not supposed
to go, fill en masse the trenches that isolate a village, break down
en masse army earth barriers that besiege a Palestinian population,
replant en masse olive trees that have been uprooted, etc.
4. Create a new flag modeled along the lines of a pastiche of the current
Israeli flag and the Palestinian one to be used by the movement and
pitched as the flag of the new democratic state.
5. Organize en masse to fill out fake application forms requesting
Israeli citizenship to be mailed to the offices of the Israeli Military
Governor in the West Bank and Gaza, and to the Ministry of Interior
in Israel. Thousands, tens of thousands, a million!
6. Organize en masse to fill out application forms to be reunited (through
the return of the refugees) with family members living in exile, external
or internal. A Palestinian shift from an independent state to a binational
state agenda would self-consciously incorporate Palestinian refugees
living in refugee camps outside of the territories of mandatory Palestine
as equally entitled to citizenship in the new state. Refugees are in
effect severed members of Palestinian families who have been prohibited
from reunion with their families through a set of arbitrary and coercive
policies pursued by the state of Israel. They are also entitled claimants
in what would be a political movement demanding redistribution of land
and housing benefits as a remedy for their historic dispossession. Obvious
activist strategies for these refugees to pursue from their own exilic
sites would be 1,4, and 5 above.
7. Create an organization focused on Palestinians that mimics the work
of the Anti-Defamation League. This organization would take on the discourse
of the Israeli media, political and military class, intelligentsia,
and school curricula in Israel and argue that their representation of
the Palestinians and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict amounts to racism.
8. Create forums that would engage and attempt to forge alliances with
the Israeli left. One of the enabling aspects of a struggle pitched
as "civil rights" (as opposed to "nationalism") is that it raises several
possibilities for cross-national alliances. Obvious groups to target
would be Israeli human rights advocates who currently demand equal rights
for Palestinian Israelis. Others would be activists who advocate human
rights for Palestinians under occupation and call for the right of Palestinians
to have their own state. Such groups have gone a long way in overcoming
the military-induced fear for the "security" of the state by showing
willingness to incorporate some Palestinians in their state and to allow
the rest to have their own state adjacent to Israel. An attempt should
be made to push them to adopt a position that advocates incorporation
of all Palestinians within the Israeli state. The ethno-phobia that
underlies exaggerated fears about state security must be taken on bluntly
A brief outline of the
What would this new state, this new Israel, look like? I have proposed
that constitutional liberalism would provide the political philosophy
for a state that includes all Palestinians as equal members. But this
philosophy—as we know from comparing constitutional liberal states—can
be translated into a relatively wide range of institutional arrangements.
Here, I present only one of them, taking the United States as a useful
First, concerns over the fate of the cultural identity of the Palestinian
community (its Arabness), if its members were incorporated as citizens
within the state of Israel, could be accommodated through the conception
of the new state as federal in its constitutional structure.
The United States would be a conceivable model to emulate.
Today in the area historically know as Mandatory Palestine, regions
of Jewish settlement are for the most part distinct and separated from
the regions of Palestinian settlement. Each region could be delineated
as a separate administrative unit (like the states in the United States).
Such Jewish and Palestinian units would enter into a "deal" with the
central government according to which they acquire a set of jurisdictional
powers allowing them to administer their units relatively independently.
For example, they would administer their educational and cultural institutions,
allowing Palestinian units to reconstruct their contemporary cultural
"identity" in a manner that self-consciously incorporates its unique
Arabness, Islamicity, and Christendom. (But also Eastern Jewishness,
opening the possibility that some Mizrahi Jews would choose to live
in these administrative units rather than in the European Jewish dominated
ones). A fundamental right that citizens of the new federal state would
acquire is the freedom of movement and the right to reside in the unit
of their own choice.
Federalism would not simply provide a venue for expressing cultural
differences. In addition, administrative units would be given, through
the federal constitutional arrangement, relatively autonomous powers
to develop their own economic strategies with aid from the federal government.
Finally, in order for Israel to transform itself into a federal
state that treats its citizens equally, some transfer of resources would
have to take place from the rich Jewish "units" to the poor (and thirsty)
Palestinian ones. This transfer would help to stabilize the future state
and prevent it from disintegrating into conflict (as is the case today).
But it is also morally required to do so, to accommodate the claims
of the Palestinians who have been unjustly dispossessed and exiled.
The transfer could take place in two stages. At the moment of the founding
of the federal state, Palestinian refugees would be given the option
of return to "Palestine," now become the federal state of Israel. For
those who wish not to do so, a fund would be established to compensate
them for properties lost and injuries suffered as a result of decades
of dispossession. The Holocaust claims campaign could provide a model.
Those who wish to return would live in the unit of their own choosing
and enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship within the new federal
structure. Needless to say, the number of those choosing to return would
largely depend on the amount of compensation offered.
Second, a tax system would be worked out within the federal state that
would ensure the transfer of resources over time from the rich (Jewish)
units to the poor (Palestinian) ones. Again the U.S. state and federal
tax structure could provide the model. The federal government would
use the taxes it collects, disproportionately paid by the richer units,
to assist the poorer units through federal programs. Such money would
help the poorer units to overcome their historic disadvantages in areas
ranging from infrastructure to educational institutions. Through such
a system, a gradual "reimbursement" process would begin to compensate
for the historic injuries Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians.
Warrior and citizen
Many readers, especially the Palestinian ones, are likely to find
a paradox implicit in my position. On the one hand, I am proposing an
almost unforgivably self-indulgent exercise in fantasy. "It would never
happen, the Israelis would never accept this," many will say. On the
other hand, I am proposing a risky shift in Palestinian political strategy.
In essence, I am proposing that the Palestinians give up the "warrior
ethic" demanded by the political strategy of national independence:
courage that involves staring death in the eye. What the Palestinian
kids call martyrdom for Palestine. In its place, I am proposing that
Palestinians adopt the ethic of the legal claimant: rights-obsessed,
constitution-fixated, friend of the lawyer, unwelcome but tireless visitor
to the courtroom.
The shift is profound and the risk is big, it could go wrong in a million
ways. But it is a risk worth taking. After all, what do they—we—have
I dedicate this piece (peace) to all those kids who died for Palestine.
They will forever be my heroes.
Lama Abu-Odeh is professor of law at Georgetown
Return to the forum on binationalism,
with Abu-Odeh and respondents.
1 In this summary of the effects of Oslo on
support for the two-state solution, I follow a recent discussion by Salim
Tamari in the Journal Of Palestine Studies. See his "The Dubious
Lure of Binationalism," Journal of Palestine Studies 117 (Autumn
2000). A shorter version of Tamari's piece appears as "The
Binationalist Lure" in this forum.
Originally Published in December 2001/January
2002 issue of the Boston Review