The writer, a militant of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen), was active in the various solidarity committees mentioned in this article, in the section entitled The Years of Deadlock.
Both major zionist political blocs – Labour as well as the Likud – are entrenched behind an ideological parapet: the denial of the rights and even the very existence of the Palestinian people. However, a few cracks appeared in this parapet even before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. Paradoxically, the largest shift occurred within the ranks of the Herut Movement, the most ideologically committed component of the Likud.
Moshe ‘Amirav, member of Herut’s Central Committee and the movement’s candidate for the headship of the government’s Press Office, had drawn up his own peace plan, which he proceeded to discuss over a period of several months in secret talks with West Bank Palestinian figures known to be PLO supporters. According to ‘Amirav, some of these meetings were also attended by other representatives of his party, including Knesset members. He continues to claim that senior leaders, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, were briefed about what was said in these meetings.
‘Amirav met the head of the Centre for Arab Studies in East Jerusalem, Faisal al-Husseini, and Dr Sari Nusseibeh, a lecturer at Birzeit University. He showed them his proposals and asked for their comments. Indirectly, he enquired what position the PLO would take regarding his peace plan. Eventually he received a reply: his proposals could serve as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In order to advance the launching of such negotiations, ‘Amirav agreed to go to Geneva to meet the PLO leader, Yasser ‘Arafat; but the planned meeting never took place.
The person who torpedoed this project was probably the Minister of Defence, Labour’s Yitzhak Rabin. After Menahem Begin succeeded where Labour had failed for years and signed a peace treaty with Egypt, Rabin was afraid of a possible success by the Likud in advancing an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The Labour Party, rigidly adhering to its ridiculous Jordanian Option even after it has become clear that nothing is less realistic, had to prevent the Likud scoring a success where Labour was unwilling to try. Faisal al-Husseini was put under administrative detention, following which ‘Amirav’s proposed journey to Geneva was cancelled. The existence of the secret talks was then revealed by other participants, who wished to convince public opinion that al-Husseini had been detained for holding talks with Israelis rather than for taking part in organizing demonstrations and disruptions of order, as claimed by the Security Services.
When the affair blew up, ‘Amirav became a target of attacks by his comrades and rivals in Herut. Those who had known about the talks were less courageous than him and disclaimed any part in the affair. He was supported by only four or five second-rank Herut functionaries, including Shim’on Dar’i, head of Herut’s youth movement, Beitar. ‘Amirav was brought before a Herut disciplinary tribunal, but refused to recant. Quite a few Herut people who did not support him were nevertheless opposed to expelling him from the movement, even after he dared stage a one-man demonstration against Ariel Sharon’s move into a house he had acquired in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Eventually ‘Amirav was forced to resign all his official positions in Herut and was banned from speaking publicly as member of any of the movement’s bodies. Thereupon he tore up his membership card and shortly afterwards joined the small Centre Party, in which he is still noted for being relatively dovish. Shim’on Dar’i was forced to resign his position in the Herut youth movement but has not recanted.
Most interesting was the fate of another Herut functionary, who was interviewed by an East Jerusalem newspaper and expressed a position similar to ‘Amirav’s. Colonel (res.) Shmu’el Pressburger, one of Ariel Sharon’s supporters in Herut, published an article in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv (12 November 1987). ‘Compared to Islamic Jihad’ he wrote, ‘the PLO is a moderate body, with whom it is almost possible to live; and herein lies a solution that requires unconventional thought and action’. Shortly after the publication of that article, Pressburger was selected by Herut’s Jerusalem branch as their official candidate for the mayorship of the city.
The interesting, and original, element in ‘Amirav’s proposals is his attempt to bypass what can so far be regarded as the most widely accepted political solution: Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied by it in 1967, and the creation there of an independent Palestinian state. This solution is at present supported by the vast majority of countries around the world, by the central trend in the PLO and by most of the Israeli left: the Communist Party, the Progressive List and the various groups attached to them. Within the Zionist left as well there are voices supporting such a solution with added provisos like ‘demilitarization of the Palestinian state’ or ‘minor border changes’. ‘Amirav, whose search for a compromise solution started off from a position of Zionist maximalism that aspires to preserve a single political entity between the Jordan and the sea and even dreams of including in it the Jordan’s East Bank, finally arrived at a sort of federalist idea.
Almost in parallel, a small group calling itself the Confederation Group got organized inside the Labour Party. It is led by Arieh Hess who, just like ‘Amirav, lives in Jerusalem. He too tried to meet Faisal al-Husseini and Sari Nusseibeh, and he too declares that he is prepared to meet Yasser ‘Arafat; but, as a faithful pupil of the ‘left’ Zionist school, he stipulates, as a precondition for such a meeting, that ‘Arafat declare his support for his (that is Hess’s) confederal solution. Paradoxically, although their ideas are essentially similar, the ‘right-winger’ ‘Amirav is much more consistent and courageous than the ‘left-winger’ Hess.
Apart from small circles of Herut members, few Israelis are familiar with the writings of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The general public knows little about him except that he was the founder of so-called ‘revisionist’ Zionism and Menahem Begin’s mentor. In the Zionist labour movement he is branded as a fascist, although during recent years some labour Zionists have occasionally quoted several of his more liberal sayings in order to embarrass the Likud.
The fact is that the same Jabotinsky who inspired the hawkish policy of the Israeli right wing is also claimed by Moshe ‘Amirav as an inspiration for his own ideas. Since ‘Amirav is not an isolated individual but expresses a certain trend within Herut, it may be of some interest to have a brief look at Jabotinsky’s doctrine as reflected in ‘Amirav’s eyes today, in the 21st year of the occupation.
On 14 October 1987, when he was still member of Herut’s Central Committee, Moshe ‘Amirav published in Ma’ariv a detailed exposition of his position entitled ‘Historical Revisionism as a Possible Basis for a Peace Settlement’. This is what he wrote in that programmatic article:
Not necessarily in the topical connection of my meetings with pro-PLO Palestinian leaders, I have recently found myself reflecting on the problem of legitimation. “Your meetings help to legitimize the enemy”, I have been told. And this subject, in a broader historical context, deserves to be publicly discussed.
The more I reflect on this subject of de-legitimizing the enemy, I find in it the root of the conflict, the tragic seed of calamity, that prevents us, Jews and Arabs, from relating to each other without stereotypes and prejudices.
Right from the very beginning of the conflict, the de-legitimation of one’s rival is clearly evident not merely as a tactic but as a heavily emotional ideological attitude.
The Palestinians refused to recognize the Zionist enterprise as an authentic national liberation movement of the Jewish people. At first their attitude to Zionism was one of contempt, giving rise to a belief in the ephemerality of the Zionist enterprise. In the atmosphere of the 1920s, when European colonialism was flourishing, it was convenient for the Palestinians to persuade themselves that this is just another colonial enterprise that the Jews of the European metropolis had chosen as a branch for their own settlement.
In a later development, the colonial view of Zionism acquired the meaning of [regarding Israel as a latter-day] Crusader State. Both conceptions implant in the mind of whoever believes in them a feeling that the existence [of Zionism and Israel] is historically ephemeral. The Zionists, for their part, out of almost the same kind of obstinacy, also refused at that time to recognize the national existence of this country’s Arabs. In the Zionist vocabulary of those days they were referred to as a “population”, never as a “people”. According to the same vocabulary, the country was described as “empty” or “desolate”.
As opposed to the Revisionists, who were the first to recognize the national existence of the Palestinians, the [Zionist] socialist labour movement suffered from conceptual confusion, from which it has never managed to rid itself. The socialist Zionist leaders regarded the conflict merely in class terms: The Jewish proletariat, which has the well-known socialist right to “develop desolate countries”, is struggling against the “Arab effendis“; when the ignorant Arab peasant tenants are freed from the effendis‘ yoke, they would be glad to co-operate with the Zionists bearing of the banner of fraternity and development.
Typical of that attitude was Ben-Gurion’s claim that “the [Jewish] national home can be developed without depriving a single Arab child”. Even when the Arab Rebellion broke out in 1936, the leaders of the Yishuv refused to regard it as a national uprising and called it “riots” or “events” – that is, mob actions.
The mutual de-legitimation policy has in fact persisted to this very day: Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinians as a people and is pleased with UN [Security Council] Resolution 242, which describes them [merely] as refugees. The Palestinians, for their part, refuse to recognize the existence of Israel and are pleased with the UN [General Assembly] resolution that equates Zionism with racism.
Some of the Zionist conceptions to which we still hold on took shape in those stormy times [of the 1930s]. It was not for nothing that the main dispute raged between the socialist labour movement and the nationalist revisionist movement. The difference between them was not only over the goals and the means of achieving them, but over the very perception of reality. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, unlike the leaders of the labour movement, recognized the Palestinians as “a specific national entity”, and even noted that they have a patriotic consciousness.
…Jabotinsky’s perception of the reality of national conflict between two peoples also led him to outline the way to a just solution of the problem. His formula was “One country in which there are two nationalities”. Since he was opposed to partitioning the country, he put forward an interesting distinction between national rule and national sovereignty, a distinction which makes it possible today to propose a federal solution, which I shall describe in detail in the sequel. The rise to power of the Herut movement in 1977, was not only a political victory of Jabotinsky’s disciples, but also re-introduced into the public debate about the conflict some of his conceptions and principles.
Jabotinsky’s disciples were not surprised when Menahem Begin was the first Jewish leader to recognize the Palestinians as a nationality and even signed a document recognizing their “legitimate rights”. The autonomy proposal that he put forward also comes straight from the political doctrine of Jabotinsky, who already in 1922, in his famous Parity document, noted that he preferred to make a concession in the matter of sovereignty rather than give up part of the territory.
Starting from the historical positions of the Revisionist movement, it is now possible and necessary to arrive at a principle that will guide us towards finding a solution to the conflict: the principle of partnership over the country, while recognizing the legitimacy of the Palestinian people’s demands.
Of course, ‘Amirav is still a faithful Zionist; but his emphases are worth noting. Most important perhaps is his attempt to present the Revisionists as the first Zionist current to recognize that the Palestinians are a nation. Hence his critical appraisal not only of the classical positions of the Zionist labour movement, but also of Resolution 242, on which the Zionist consensus insists as a basis for political negotiations. Note that the official position of both the Likud and Labour is opposed to any talks with the PLO, not only because it is branded as a terrorist organization but also because it refuses to accept Resolution 242.
So, ‘Amirav is criticizing several Zionist dogmas: the country was neither empty nor desolate; a Palestinian people did exist and had a patriotic consciousness; the problem to be solved is not merely that of refugees but a national problem; and the national aspirations of the Palestinians must somehow be responded to. Based on his historical analysis, ‘Amirav formulates a series of proposals that, taken together, add up to a scheme for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The historical Greater Land of Israel, which stretches over an area of over 100,000 square kilometres, from the Mediterranean Sea to the desert, is at present inhabited by seven or eight million people, about half of whom are Jews. In the centre of this land there is a relatively small area called Judea and Samaria [i.e., the West Bank – ed]. On the basis of the principle of partnership, it is possible to arrive at a settlement of Minor Partnership over Judea and Samaria, and in parallel with it a Major Partnership over the historical Land of Israel.
Within the Major Partnership – or, to use international terminology, the Confederation– the two states on either side of the Jordan River will form an association by means of various economic treaties, like the European Economic Community, and will co-operate in developing regions such as the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Eilat, a common port on the Mediterranean, irrigation projects in the Jordan valley, and so on.
Co-operation is also possible in other areas, as is now customary between states that have mutual confederal ties. Within the Minor Partnership, an autonomy will be set up in Judea and Samaria, which will enable its Arab inhabitants to exercise a large measure of self-rule. Within this framework, they will be able to have national paraphernalia such as currency, postage stamps, a flag and a national anthem. The administration capital of the autonomy will be in East Jerusalem. Israel will continue to run the spheres of security and foreign relations, as well as to be the source of authority. The settlements will remain where they are and the zone will be open to [free] movement. According to the Jabotinskian model, the Arabs in this zone will exercise “national rule”, whereas we shall exercise “sovereign rule”. This is the only possible meaning of “partnership” over the country.
The advantages to Israel of a settlement of partnership over the country are clear: national security without territorial compromise; peace without a demographic problem.
The advantages to the Palestinians are no less important: the settlement of Minor Partnership will enable them, for the first time in their history, to exercise self-rule. The option of self-determination or a state will always be open to them in Jordan. They can continue to aspire to a state in Judea and Samaria as well, but in a situation of peace this aspiration will be expressed by diplomatic means rather than terrorist actions.
At this point, wrote ‘Amirav, the reader may well ask whether the Arabs would agree to this scheme.
In order to find an answer to this, I went to talk with Palestinian leaders who are PLO supporters, to hear from them whether they would agree to this scheme.
In our talks my Palestinian interlocutors surprised me almost as much as I surprised them with these ideas of mine.
They admitted that after the defeat in Lebanon, there are new tendencies for moderation and sobriety within the PLO, and the ideas I raised seemed fairer and more realistic than the prospect of establishing a Palestinian state at present, which they know to be unattainable. They declared unambiguously that the PLO is prepared to recognize Israel – if Israel will recognize the Palestinians as a nationality. And here I should like to end with what I said at the start of my article: I am increasingly convinced that this business of “de-legitimation”, of each side denying the existence of the other, is the root of the problem. It is our duty to adopt the views of Jabotinsky: to recognize the Palestinians as a nationality, to conduct peace negotiations with them – not with Hussein – and to make them a fair offer, an offer of true partnership over a Greater Land of Israel.
This is the duty of the Likud, its most important task for the next few years. There are two reasons for this. First, only the Likud can make peace; a settlement proposed by the [Labour] Alignment and opposed by the Likud will not pass, but a settlement proposed by the Likud will be accepted by the Alignment.
Second, only the Likud, loyal to the historical views of the Revisionist Movement, has a realistic solution that is capable of satisfying the national aspirations of the Palestinians, as well as [Israel’s] national security and the integrity of the country. Will the leaders of the Likud rise to do what Ze’ev Jabotinsky would do were he living among us today?
The drawbacks of ‘Amirav’s scheme are clear. Palestinian self-determination, he says, can be realized only in Jordan. In this he follows Ariel Sharon, who has repeatedly proposed helping the Palestinians to overthrow King Hussein and set up a Palestinian state in Jordan. More importantly, ‘Amirav’s scheme does not actually include an end to the Israeli occupation. In essence, he takes the autonomy proposed in the Camp David agreements and extends it, but does not go much further than this.
How then can ‘Amirav claim or hint that he received positive responses from the Palestinian side? Can any Palestinian seriously regard ‘Amirav’s scheme as a fair offer? In order to answer these questions, one needs to read ‘Amirav’s formulations carefully. Actually, he says, he is only proposing a temporary settlement. As he puts it, the Palestinians ‘can continue to aspire to a state in Judea and Samaria as well, but in a situation of peace this aspiration will be expressed by diplomatic means rather than terrorist actions’.
On the other hand, on several important points ‘Amirav’s proposals depart from the historical Zionist consensus, and for this reason they deserve to be taken seriously. First, ‘Amirav lays some of the historical blame for the conflict upon the Zionist movement. Second, he understands why Resolution 242 cannot be acceptable to the Palestinians. (In this connection it is worth mentioning that, until some time after the October War of 1973, even the Israeli Communist Party refused to cooperate with leftist groups that rejected Resolution 242 as the sole basis for a solution.) Third, ‘Amirav speaks of the ‘principle of partnership over the country, while recognizing the legitimacy of the Palestinian people’s demands’. Partnership over the country means partnership over the whole of it. ‘Amirav demands for Israelis rights beyond the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 border), but at the same time he is prepared to accept that the Palestinians have legitimate demands also inside the Green Line.
Fourth – and this is perhaps the most important element in ‘Amirav’s approach – is his idea of including Jordan in a joint Israeli-Palestinian political framework, thereby extending a little the confined horizon within which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed by almost everyone. If a solution is to address the problem of all the Palestinians, it cannot ignore that part of the Palestinian people living in Jordan. In the longer term, a tripartite Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederal framework may serve as basis for a larger federal union of the Arab Mashreq.
This option is certainly never considered by the racist Zionist doves, whose sole wish is to preserve a small Jewish polity with as few Arabs in it as possible. Their faces turned towards western Europe and North America, those Zionist doves are prepared to immure themselves in a small Jewish ghetto, to turn their backs on the surrounding region and live happily ever after as a small western enclave. ‘Amirav’s scheme, therefore, even if it does not include an independent Palestinian state, may be much more attractive to nationalist Palestinians, who do not wish to see a rigid border between themselves and Israel in its pre-1967 borders.
Athough deserted by virtually all his friends when it came to the crunch, ‘Amirav is nevertheless representative of a group within the Likud who are prepared, under certain conditions, to recognize at least part of the Palestinians’ rights.
The Confederation Group in the Labour Party is actually one person’s baby. Like ‘Amirav, Arieh Hess lives in Jerusalem; and like him he is very energetically active in propagating his ideas, which are, however, less consistent than ‘Amirav’s. He publishes a newsletter called On Both Sides of the Jordan whose motto is ‘For the Advancement of Federalism in the Land of Israel’. In the first version of his scheme, Hess speaks of subdividing the land between the Jordan and the sea into Swiss-like cantons, which will have confederal ties with Jordan. He even composed a draft constitution whose main points are the following:
The Confederation of the Land of Israel will consist of ten cantons, of which seven will be Israeli (together comprising the present territory of the State of Israel) and three Palestinian, centred around Nablus, Hebron and Gaza. The Confederation’s capital will be Jerusalem, which will have a joint umbrella municipal administration as well as two separate administrations for its Israeli and Palestinian parts. Security will be exclusively the responsibility of the Israeli government, which will be elected in the same way as in present-day Israel. The Palestinian cantons will have their own representative in the UN, and will have full authority in the spheres of education, economy, law, police, external relations and rehabilitation of refugees. This Confederation will offer to form wider confederal ties with Jordan, but the Palestinian cantons will also be free to form such ties on their own, without the Israeli cantons.
In a pamphlet (undated) published by the Confederation Group, the ideological implication of their scheme is explained as follows:
‘The confederal scheme is a political and ideological compromise in the matter of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Confederation does not mean partition of the country; but neither does it mean annexation of the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to Israel, or for that matter to Jordan. This scheme also does not lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the territories, that is, to the formation of a third state between Israel and Jordan. At the same time, the confederal scheme recognizes the right of the Palestinians to develop their own political, cultural and spiritual life.
The confederal scheme recognizes the Palestinians as a people, but does not recognize their claim over the country. The confederal scheme recognizes and accepts that in the historical Land of Israel there are now three political protagonists: Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian; and it accepts all the implications of this. At the same time, this scheme takes into consideration and recognizes the historical and geographical affinity of both Jordan and Israel for the districts of the West Bank.
The same pamphlet also says:
‘The Tripartite Confederation scheme accommodates both the Principle of Return, which is sacred to the Palestinians, and the Israeli Law of Return. Every Palestinian now living outside Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip will have the choice of returning to settle there.
Like ‘Amirav, Hess too is prepared to go towards the Palestinians only so far as this does not threaten the Zionist basis of the Israeli state. Since both, though differing in their ideological origins, had similar pragmatic motives in developing their ideas, their schemes are rather similar and equally vague. This vagueness need not be held against them. ‘Amirav and Hess, whose schemes are not completely worked out, have left them rather fluid, and in this respect are perhaps open to further development. To the extent that they are more than isolated curios, but rather reflect an increasingly widespread feeling that something must be done, the appearance of these schemes is encouraging.
The flexibility of Hess’s thinking, for example, was demonstrated shortly after the outbreak of the uprising in the Gaza Strip, before it spread over the West Bank. He published then a ‘Gaza plan for solving the Palestinian Problem’ , whose main points are as follows:
‘Israel shall propose that the Gaza Strip be recognized as a Palestinian city-state, like Singapore in the Far East; this city-state shall be completely demilitarized, without any military presence or a local army. The Gaza city-state shall become a member of the UN and the Arab League and have diplomatic legations all over the world. The Gaza city-state shall have its own flag, national anthem, currency and all other paraphernalia of a modern sovereign state. The identity cards and passports of its inhabitants shall be Palestinian.
The plan also had another component, which was in fact an adaptation of Hess’s original confederal scheme to the new situation and to the freshly awakened awareness of Gaza’s special position:
Israel shall propose that the West Bank be divided into two Palestinian cantons, working and organized according to the Swiss model. These cantons shall be responsible for releasing land for construction, running various economic and community projects, taxation, economy, education, postal services, telecommunication, and issuing identity cards and passports. The identity cards and passports shall be Palestinian or Jordanian, according to the inhabitants’ choice.
The Gaza city-state and the Palestinian cantons shall gradually establish a series of central organs of power, such as a legislature, a federal cabinet and other central authorities. Representatives of the Palestinian cantons shall be incorporated into the delegations of the Gaza city-state abroad, in the UN and in the Arab League. Gradually, the Gaza city-state and the Palestinian cantons will grow into a Palestinian political federation.
On the subject of sovereignty Hess wrote:
On the West Bank, there shall be [joint] Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty, for a period of 20 years. Sovereignty in Gaza shall be Palestinian. Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank shall be in all spheres directly under the authority of the State of Israel and the Knesset. Arab villages in Wadi ‘Ara and the Triangle [i.e., parts of Israel bordering on the West Bank] shall be able to join the West Bank cantons, although they shall remain under Israeli sovereignty. Jewish settlements in the West Bank will be allowed to absorb new members, each settlement according to its capacity; no new settlements shall be established. Any Jew wishing to settle in a site where there is no existing Jewish settlement will have to do so of his own accord and using his own resources.
As for Jerusalem, this new version of Hess’s scheme repeats the idea about one umbrella municipal authority and two separate sub-municipalities; but now the Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem are offered the choice of carrying Palestinian documents and passports and voting in elections to the federal Palestinian parliament.
It is easy to see that the Palestinian uprising prompted Hess to take a big step forward. This second version of his plan implies the creation of a Palestinian state, albeit federally tied to Israel. His doctrinal flexibility allowed him to break yet another Zionist ground rule, which forbids any Israeli concession whatsoever regarding the Green Line. He is prepared to consider a scenario in which Arab villages that are now inside Israel would incorporate themselves in a separate Palestinian structure.
Of course, the schemes of ‘Amirav and Hess have many drawbacks. They fall short of regarding Palestinians and Israelis as two groups having equal rights, both of which must be allowed to be implemented in full. Being Zionists, they necessarily load the scales in the Israelis’ favour. But – unlike the main dovish current in Israel, including most of those who support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – ‘Amirav and Hess start from the premise that there is nothing wrong in having Arabs and Jews living together. They do not keep looking for ways to separate people according to origin and national affiliation but, on the contrary, keep trying to reduce this separation and temper it with some measure of partnership.
Lately, however, ‘Amirav has joined the Council for Peace and Security, a group composed mainly of pro-Labour Party retired army officers. Under the influence of his new milieu, he too has begun to stress the ‘demographic danger’, the Zionist doves’ argument in favour of withdrawal from the occupied territories.
Both ‘Amirav and Hess have continued their activities after publishing their respective schemes. ‘Amirav has taken part in gatherings, public meetings and conferences against the occupation; and Hess too has sought various ways to push his ideas. In March 1988, for example, he published a proposed form of Palestinian identity card, for distribution in the occupied territories, as an illustration of the situation advocated by him.
Gorni’s ‘Realistic Utopia’
Ideas similar to those of ‘Amirav and Hess are occasionally voiced by other people as well. Thus, on 8 February, Ma’ariv published an article entitled ‘A Confederal Settlement as a Realistic Utopia’ by Yosef Gorni, a Labour Zionist and lecturer in modern Jewish history at Tel Aviv University. Gorni’s ideas are essentially similar to those of ‘Amirav and Hess; but he deserves special mention because his ‘realistic utopia’ contains an additional element. Gorni does not forget the ties of Egypt with the Gaza Strip and of Israel with the Sinai Peninsula (in both cases, ties that were formed as a result of military occupation), and therefore his confederation scheme includes not only Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, but Egypt as well. He writes:
‘First, I should like to point out that the federal idea has accompanied Zionist political thought from the time of the Second ‘Aliyah [1904-14], through the Weizmann-Faisal Agreement following the Balfour Declaration, to David Ben-Gurion’s proposals in the 1930s and it is worth emphasizing that Ze’ev Jabotinsky too was not opposed to it.
On the face of it, there is no substantive connection between these proposals, which cropped up at different times and under different historical circumstances. But on second and deeper thought they can be seen to have common elements. They followed from a recognition of the rights of Jews and Arabs alike to national determination; they combined national autonomy with a political unity of the peoples of the Middle East; they based the political settlement upon large-scale economic cooperation; and they tied the settlement to a democratic superpower that has interests in this region.
These principles may also form foundation stones for a present-day regional political settlement. Because all other solutions – whether the one aspiring to absolute Jewish sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel, or the one that speaks of its re-partition into two absolutely independent states, or even that proposing to return most of the territories of Judea and Samaria to Jordan – have apparently gone up in the smoke of the burning tyres and the rubber bullets that fly in the Palestinian camps.
The details of Gorni’s scheme are as follows:
1. Creation of a federal or confederal political entity, consisting of three sovereign states: Egypt, Jordan and Israel, and an autonomous Palestinian region in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The internal and international status of the autonomous region will be similar to that of the large Soviet republics, the Ukraine and Byelorussia. Territorially, it will have two focuses: Judea and Samaria, and the province of Gaza. To the latter shall be added the western part of Sinai, including the town of al-‘Arish, in order to solve the problem of population density in that part of the country.
2. Israel’s security borders shall be drawn according to the Allon Plan, with territorial corrections in Judea and Samaria, and the demilitarization of Sinai.
3. The walled part of Jerusalem shall have extra-territorial status, like the Vatican in Rome, and shall be run by representatives of the three religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
4. Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and the province of Gaza shall be allowed at an extent equal to the proportion of members of the Arab nationality living in Israel within the Green Line.
5. The Jewish inhabitants of the autonomous Palestinian territory and the Arab inhabitants of Israel shall be allowed to choose between citizenship according to their national affiliation and citizenship of the state in which they live.
Gorni’s scheme is much worse than those of ‘Amirav and Hess. It is much more typical of the hypocritical aspect of ‘left-wing’ Zionism, which in the guise of moderation tries to get more than even the right’s dreams of achieving in the foreseeable future. In his compromise scheme he tries not only to extract acceptance of additional Israeli annexations (Point 2), but also to squeeze a few hundred thousand additional Israeli settlers into the occupied territories (Point 4). For some reason he also wants to embarrass the Egyptians, and perhaps also foment a quarrel between them and the Palestinians, by proposing the annexation of parts of Sinai to the province of Gaza.
The idea of turning the walled part of Jerusalem into an extra-territorial zone does, it is true, undermine its annexation to Israel; but the conceptual world it belongs to is that of the Middle Ages. While ‘Amirav and Hess propose a municipal division of Jerusalem along national lines, Gorni has the city divided according to religion.
Despite the blatant shortcomings of Gorni’s scheme, it reflects at least an attempt to react in a new way to a changing situation. Like the schemes of ‘Amirav and Hess, it gives expression to a feeling which is seeping into the Zionist camp, that solutions must be sought in new directions.
The years of deadlock
The 1980s have been years of political deadlock in the region. Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories seemed far off, a growing number of Israelis went to live across the Green Line, and some voices began to say that the occupied territories had in fact (if not in name) been irreversibly annexed to Israel. The clearest among them was the dovish voice of Meron Benvenisti, formerly vice-mayor of Jerusalem, who repeatedly claimed that the status of the occupied territories is indeed irreversible; and therefore the Israeli left, as well as the Palestinians, should stop the useless struggle for Israeli withdrawal and struggle instead for equal rights under Israeli rule.
The political deadlock, and probably also the internal situation in the PLO, led some Palestinians in the occupied territories to see a greater need for contacts with sympathetic Israelis. Encounters of this kind were made easier due to a resolution of the Palestinian National Council that approved of contacts with Israeli ‘democratic forces’.
Such contacts, which had hitherto been sporadic, became more regularly established. The Committee for Solidarity with Birzeit University, whose activists included members of all Israeli left-wing tendencies, first declared its existence in a demonstration on the campus of Birzeit University, which had been closed by administrative edict.
Shortly after that, on 29 November 1981, about 250 supporters of the committee arrived in the centre of Ramallah to demonstrate against the closure of the university, and in effect against the occupation. The demonstration was dispersed using tear-gas – hitherto unprecedented where Israeli demonstrators are concerned – and dozens were arrested. The brutal suppression of that demonstration broke many mental barriers on the Palestinian side and prepared the ground for real cooperation. In February 1982, the Birzeit Solidarity Committee held another demonstration in Ramallah. On the following day, 21 February, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported:
A military force called to the site started trying to disperse the demonstrators, who were aided by local youths who threw stones at the security forces. Tear-gas canisters were used, which the demonstrators threw back at the security forces.
Two years later, conditions had ripened for the creation of a joint organization of Palestinians and Israeli leftists. This was an ad hoc body, a Committee in Defence of the Rights of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Ali (Abu-‘Ali) Shahin. Not surprisingly, two of the Palestinian founding members of the committee were to be three years later Moshe ‘Amirav’s interlocutors: Faisal al-Husseini and Sari Nusseibeh.
Shahin was a Fatah member who had been caught and condemned to 15 years’ imprisonment. After his release from Israeli jail, he was exiled from his home in Rafah to Dahaniah, a small Beduin village on the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt, where he was held in isolation. After one year’s exile, the Israeli authorities decided to deport him from the country.
The committee in his defence, which met in East Jerusalem, held several protest actions, culminating in a demonstration held in the grounds of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom overlooking Dahaniah where Shahin was being held. This demonstration was unprecedented in several respects. For one thing, it was the first one in which Israelis and Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line took part on an equal footing. Also, for the first time Palestinians from the occupied territories agreed to take part in a demonstration inside Israeli territory, and even accepted the hospitality of a kibbutz (some of whose members were active in the committee).
In the end, Abu-‘Ali Shahin was deported to Lebanon. But before dissolving itself, the committee held one final symbolic demonstration. Several dozen Israelis and Palestinians gathered on the site of the village of Bashit, Shahin’s birthplace, whose inhabitants were expelled or fled in 1948 and which is now a Jewish settlement. On the hill of Bashit’s old graveyard the demonstrators planted several dozen olive trees. They were attacked by the present inhabitants, who after the demonstration was over tore out all the olive saplings.
During the committee’s last meeting, all those present expressed a wish to continue working together. Faisal al-Husseini then raised a novel idea, as food for thought: the creation of a joint organization of Israelis and Palestinians, which would work out plans for joint future activity for the day following the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The reasoning behind this idea was quite simple. Among Palestinians as well as within the Israeli left, there are differences of opinion as to the genuine solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inside Israel, those such as Rakah (the Israeli CP) and parts of the Zionist left, who regard the two states solution as the ultimate one, refused in those days to collaborate with those for whom the creation of a Palestinian mini-state alongside Israel is not the be-all and end-all. Similarly, among the Palestinians there were then deep differences between mainstream Fatah supporters, who really favoured the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and those who were prepared to raise the demand for such a state merely as a tactical step, and yet others who in those days still opposed it altogether.
Al-Husseini’s suggestion, that one should start planning for the ‘day after’, was designed not only to encourage some long-term thinking – not a bad thing in itself – but also to enable all concerned to work together within one common body, and thus to facilitate collaboration that is not confined to the struggle for a Palestinian state. As far as the future is concerned, clearly one has to think in terms of a form of coexistence that goes beyond normal relations between two states.
For various reasons, al-Husseini’s idea was not taken up. But the experience gained in the Shahin Defence Committee served as a basis for the creation of another joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, the Committee against the Iron Fist. Its first militants belonged to the nucleus that had been active in the Shahin Committee, but they were soon joined by others. New forms of protest actions were tried. For the first time, use was made of the fact that East Jerusalem has been officially annexed to Israel, which meant that licence could be obtained for demonstrations there. These demonstrations, although held in occupied territory, were legal and many Palestinians could join them without risking immediate arrest. Later, use was made of the Israeli law that allows holding a picket with less than 50 participants without obtaining prior police permit. Such pickets were repeatedly held near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem.
At the same time, meetings were held with Israelis belonging to other groups with the hope of enlarging the Committee against the Iron Fist. As a result, a few militants of the East For Peace movement (a group of dovish Oriental Jews) joined the committee; but on the whole there was no great success on the Israeli side. Nevertheless, it seems that the committee’s activities were in tune with the need felt by Palestinians in the occupied territories to develop new forms of action that might help break the deadlock.
New forms of action often go together with new ideas. A new idea had been raised by Sari Nusseibeh in 1985. On 19 October of that year, he published an article against the autonomy plan, in the East Jerusalem paper, al-Mawaqif. Here are a few excerpts:
By definition, autonomy does not give full political rights. On the contrary, it gives individual human rights, such as the rights of expression and movement. It would also grant some collective human rights (such as conducting municipal affairs), but it does not allow the individual or the community to implement their sovereign right to conduct their affairs.
The sovereign capacity for self-determination, which is acquired by means of full participation in the implementation of the political rights enjoyed by the ordinary citizen in his own country, including the right to elect his representatives to the legislature and to be elected to executive authority… that capacity does not exist in an autonomy but would exist in a framework of full incorporation in the State of Israel.
We, inhabitants of the occupied land, should think a little about these possibilities. For it is possible that at some stage it might be better for us to raise the banner of incorporation and get equal rights. If we find that the present slogan, demanding an independent state as a people with its own identity, is unrealizable and that what we are offered instead of it is autonomy, then it would be better to struggle for this goal [of incorporation in Israel].
On the face of it, what Nusseibeh is saying goes in a totally opposite direction to ‘Amirav’s scheme. Whereas the latter proposes an extended form of autonomy, Nusseibeh prefers incorporation into Israel over autonomy. Nevertheless, in an interview with the Israeli weekly Koteret Roshit (13 November 1985), Nusseibeh stressed that ‘the ultimate aim is to liberate myself from you and set up a state of my own, with my own parliament and government, a state in which I would be able to participate in building my own future and that of my children. But it seems to me that if matters continue to move in their present direction the possibility of realizing this ideal would melt away. One should find something else that would be best for us’.
The Palestinian uprising two years later succeeded in reversing several developments. For one thing, it cut off many of the ties between Israel and the occupied territories and re-asserted the latter’s separate identity. But the ideas born during the preceding period of deadlock will not just fade away. The Palestinians wanted to put an end to the occupation, and during the 1980s some have realized that there is more than one way in which the occupation could come to an end. It may end by the withdrawal of lsrael’s forces from the occupied territories; but it can also end in other ways, such as the one outlined by Sari Nusseibeh. A situation in which all the inhabitants of the occupied territories become Israeli citizens and are able to participate in all aspects of Israeli political life, sharing all the duties as well as all the rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens – this too is a form of abolition of the occupation.
In such a situation, Nusseibeh told Koteret Roshit, ‘I shall continue my struggle as part of an ongoing historical process leading to the secular democratic state, but the struggle will have to employ democratic means. I shall propose to amend the Law of Return so that it will include Palestinians as well as Jews’. He also talks about establishing a party whose programme would include the return of all Palestinians, and full equality of rights for Arabs and Jews. ‘If we have a majority, I would also change the name of the state and its flag’.
A similar voice has also been heard on the other side of the Green Line. Muhammad Kiwan is a well-known militant of the Palestinian nationalist movement inside Israel since the 1950s; he is one of the founders of the Abna’ al-Balad movement in Umm al-Fahm and practises as a lawyer in the nearby town of Hadera. In a short article published in the daily Hadashot (20 April 1988, the eve of Israel’s Independence Day) he described the ideal state of which he dreams. Since this is the first time that the secular democratic idea of Palestinian nationalism has been given such detailed interpretation by a Palestinian citizen of Israel, it is worth quoting him at some length:
I dream of a secular democratic state for both peoples together. Such a state can only come into being in the very very long term, after a strenuous and prolonged activity of mutual persuasion. It will mean that instead of today’s partial democracy for Jews there will be true democracy, without a ruling people and a subject people. My state will allow the right of return to the exiled Palestinians, and the right of immigration for Jews who would want to live here, but the structure must be secular because through religion it is impossible to set up true democracy.
As I am aware that the Jewish public in Israel has always been taught to believe that a secular democratic state means the liquidation of the State of Israel – an interpretation quite different from my own ideal – it is clear to me that such a state can only come about after we prepare the ground for it by mutual education, and by giving equal opportunities, and by co-operation between both peoples on a truly equal basis. Only then will it be possible to convince the Jewish public that such a state is really for the benefit of both peoples, not just one.
…If we make use of this period by educating people for equality, there will not be any ground for suspicion or fear; because the coming generations will not have our complexes, and will live as human beings, not as rulers and subjects. In the Switzerland of today, for example, a citizen’s ethnic origin is of no importance; what counts is what an individual can contribute to society and its welfare. The right criterion is: the right person for the right place. That is to say, not as in the bad Lebanese model, whereby the prime minister must belong to one ethno-religious community, the president to another, the chief of staff to yet another; but each [should be chosen] according to suitability.
The flag will have five colours: black, red, green, blue and white [that is, the colours of both the Palestinian and the Israeli flags].
The national anthem must be based on love for human beings, on their contribution to society, on full equality.
The official languages will be Hebrew and Arabic, but not as at present. For example, I have recently lodged a complaint with the Administration of Lawcourts in Israel against the practice that has become prevalent in the Hadera Magistrates’ Court whereby an Arab citizen who does not understand Hebrew must, in a civil case, pay for translation [although Arabic is nominally an official language]. Recently I had a client who had to pay 200 New Shekels for the translation of the cross-examination of a single witness.
The political regime will be based on a free parliament. It is enough to mention that at present one of the conditions for being allowed to run for the Knesset is that the party in question recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. It is enough to mention that what exists today in Israel’s Knesset is democracy for Jews, not for Arabs. My parliament will not be called Knesset, because this term means Jewish Congregation. I want a parliament that is democratic in the full sense, with a constitution that shall guarantee that if even that parliament deviates from the fundamental principles of human rights, then one would be able to appeal to the Supreme Court, which shall have the right to overrule discriminatory laws. That is, a Supreme Court whose authority is anchored in the constitution, so that the parliament cannot deprive it of the right to overrule discriminatory laws.
Equal rights for women. This is very important; it also includes the right to have an abortion, because every person is responsible for his or her body and has a sovereign right to decide. There should be legislation to guarantee that homosexuality shall not be illegal, and whoever wishes to have such relations would be free to do so.
As for the Law of Return, in practice it is a dead letter in the lawbook, because as we know Jewish immigrants are not coming. But in principle it is a law based on racial privilege, on granting priority to anyone who was born Jewish over any other race…
If such a Utopian state comes into being, it will be open not only to persecuted Jews but also to exiled Palestinians as well as to other ethnic groups, such as the Kurds.
As for the economy, in the long run it will have to be socialist, especially in Palestine-Israel, in view of all the injustice done to the Palestinian Arab people, particularly in the matter of land ownership, where Israel’s Knesset took care to enact draconian laws to rob Arabs of their lands. In order not to inflict an injustice on the other people [i.e. Israeli Jews] the land and means of production must belong to those who work them, and in this way we can solve this knotty problem.
Thinking about the day after, that is after the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is not merely a theoretical exercise in Utopia-mongering. Contrary to the belief of many who support the creation of such a state, it will not be a solution of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. It will leave unchanged the Zionist character of the State of Israel and may even put the Palestinian minority living inside it at greater risk. Their remaining lands may be in danger of expropriation, and the plans of ‘transfer’ – that is, mass deportation – may receive a big impetus. Every complaint of the Palestinian minority will be met with the reply: ‘You have your own state just across the border, so you can go there if you don’t like it here’. A Palestinian mini-state will also not solve the problem of masses of refugees, who would adhere to their dream of return.
The question is whether socialists can propose a plan of their own, which can serve as a programme for immediate struggle, and which also encapsulates a long-term solution to the national problem of Palestinians and Israelis alike. It seems to me that socialists have so far confined themselves to proposing principles for a long-term solution, whereas it is possible to be a little more specific, without sliding into nationalism.
The autonomy solution
About six years ago, a debate on the national question was reopened in the Socialist Organizatíon in Israel (Matzpen). Some comrades felt that for the needs of propaganda it was no longer sufficient to insist – as Matzpen had traditionally done – on recognition of the rights of both the Palestinian Arab people and the Israeli Jewish people to self-determination; and that something more positive, more concrete, must be proposed. In other words, a particular form of implementing the right to self-determination ought to be recommended.
The idea they offered for debate was that Matzpen should call for struggle for an Israeli-Palestinian bi-national state. One option was to support the creation of such a state in the whole of the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean (that is, in what is now Israel plus the occupied territories); while a second option was to call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, and the transformation of Israel itself (within the Green Line) into a bi-national state.
Those comrades went on to suggest that Matzpen should formulate a draft constitution for the proposed bi-national state. When they tried to formulate their ideas in some detail, it transpired that in order to make the state – that is to say, the state institutions – bi-national, they proposed the creation of two parallel structures of national institutions which would share power between them: Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews would each elect their own respective national representatives, and these two bodies together would compose the legislature and the executive power.
The practical implication would be that every citizen in the bi-national state would have to be labelled by nationality, and this would apply not only to international socialists who are not in the habit of identifying themselves by nationality, but also to members of national minorities who belong to neither of the large national groups, such as Circassians, Armenians and Black Hebrews (members of a Black sect who immigrated to Israel from the US). When one goes into greater detail, it turns out that the proposed constitution would divide even the members of Matzpen along national lines: members of Arab origin would have to vote together with all other Palestinian Arabs, for Arab candidates only, while those of Jewish origin would vote for other bodies, made up of Jews only.
True, the proposed scheme envisaged absolute equality between both national groups, irrespective of their numerical size, but it nevertheless implied an element of separation between citizens according to national origin; moreover, the separation would have to be institutionalized and anchored in the constitution. Those comrades who proposed this idea claimed that separation also exists at present, except that in the Zionist State of Israel there is separation plus anti-Arab discrimination; so their proposed constitution would be a step forward. The trouble was, however, that this bi-national scheme was supposed to be a solution to the national problem – the Palestinian problem and the Jewish problem in the Middle East. Although it represented an advance compared to the existing situation, it was a large retreat from the socialist solution to the national problem.
Four years ago, the bi-national idea was put into practice in the formation of the Progressive List for Peace, which ran for the 1984 general elections. Ever since its foundation, it is a bloc of two sections, one Jewish and one Arab, and membership in this movement is only possible through one of the two national sections. Members of Matzpen who in 1984 were active in the PLP’s election campaign, had to resign from it for this very reason: it was impossible to belong to it without joining one of the national sections; and the demand to allow the formation of a third, mixed, section was rejected. Some members of Matzpen who nevertheless decided to stay in the PLP (in its Jewish section, Alternative) thereupon left Matzpen.
There are, nevertheless, certain ways of implementing the right to self-determination that are quite compatible with a socialist structure of society. Of course, there is the classical bourgeois unitary form, whereby all citizens are legally equal; and the state in its laws and institutions does not separate, let alone discriminate, people according to national origin. Within such a political framework, it is possible also to satisfy the linguistic, cultural and educational requirements of groups belonging to different ethnic backgrounds, without however discriminating against any group.
But there is yet another form of political structure, examples of which can likewise be found in existing bourgeois states. Namely, a federal form of state. In this connection, it is worth reminding all those groups and individuals who call themselves Marxist-Leninists, what Lenin’s position was: ‘As far as autonomy is concerned, Marxists defend, not the “right” to autonomy, but autonomy itself, as a general universal principle of a democratic state with a mixed national composition… ‘ (The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1914).
Every state (other than a city-state), no matter how centralistic, devolves and distributes power in some form. Some of its powers are distributed functionally (into various departments) and some are devolved geographically. Even in the centralist Zionist State of Israel there are elements of distribution of power; for example, some aspects of power, albeit rather limited, are devolved to local authorities. This is a limited form of local autonomy. Another example is the administrative division of the country into districts, each with its own district commissioner with rather extensive local powers. Similarly, the police and the courts of law are organized along regional lines.
Regional division of power does therefore exist. But two questions need to be asked in relation to it. First, how democratic is the power exercised by the sub-divisions? Second, what are the criteria for drawing the boundaries of these sub-divisions?
As far as Israel is concerned, it is easy to answer both questions. As to the first question, only the power of municipal authorities is an elected autonomous power, albeit to a rather limited extent. The power of democratically elected local authorities is severely limited by state control. It is also clear that local authorities are treated very unequally, because the subsidies provided by the central government are determined by undemocratic criteria, according to partisan considerations and even more so according to considerations of nationality and ethnicity.
All other sorts of regional administration are not autonomous at all, because they lack the minimal ingredient of autonomy – involvement of the local population in policy decisions. The district commissioners are appointed from above, by the Ministry of the Interior. The ‘development of the Galilee’, for example, is entrusted to a senior government official, the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Galilee. This person does everything possible not for developing the Galilee, but for Judaizing it, against the express wishes of the majority of the Galilee’s [Arab] inhabitants.
As for the second question, it is clear that the boundaries of the various districts are gerrymandered so as to prevent Arabs being in a majority. Wherever the most logical boundary of a district would have included more Arabs than Jews, the authorities manipulated the boundary to include big Jewish towns.
It is clear that in a country where there is more than one national group, one of the most important criteria in drawing the boundaries of administrative sub-divisions is the national composition of each district. Proper democratic administration requires this. If the majority of the Galilee’s inhabitants are Arabic-speakers, the interests of proper democratic administration demand that the boundaries of the Galilee should be fixed so as to include as many Arabic-speakers and as few speakers of other languages as possible. In this way, the local inhabitants would have a local administration that speaks their own language. On the contrary, there is no justification (other than a purely formal geographical one) for including the north-eastern ‘finger’ of the Galilee, almost all of whose inhabitants are Hebrew-speakers, in the main Galilee district.
Sub-division of the country into districts with wide local powers and democratically elected local authorities, and the drawing of boundaries between them with utmost consideration for their national composition – this is a programme that socialists support not only because it advances democracy, but also because it is part of their struggle for transferring all political, social and economic power in society to democratically elected bodies of delegates. It is not merely a blueprint for greater democracy, it is also a foreshadowing of socialism.
This programme has no ‘positive’ or ‘constructive’ national ingredients. Its logic would have been just as valid if the majority of the Galilee’s inhabitants had been Jews, or if the Galilee were to be part of a secular democratic Palestinian state. But it is particularly pertinent in the existing situation, in which, in addition to the particular interests of the inhabitants of the Galilee as a geographic-economic region, and in addition also to the requirements of proper democratic administration, the Galilee has a different national composition the rest of the country. As Lenin said,
…it is beyond doubt that in order to eliminate all national oppression it is very important to create autonomous areas, however small, with entirely homogeneous populations, towards which members of the respective nationalities scattered all over the country, or even all over the world, could gravitate, and with which they could enter into relations and free associations of every kind. All this is indisputable, and can be argued against only from the hidebound bureaucratic point of view.
The national composition of the population, however, is one of the very important economic factors, but not the sole and not the most important factor. Towns, for example, play an extremely important economic role under capitalism… [and, we may add, under socialism as well.]
To cut the towns off from the villages and areas that economically gravitate towards them, for the sake of “national” factor, would be absurd and impossible. That is why Marxists must not take their stand entirely and exclusively on the “national-territorial principle”. (Critical Remarks on the National Questions, 1913.)
Territorial autonomy of regions, whose boundaries are determined to a great extent (though not solely) by the ‘national factor’, is indeed an integral part of democracy.
There are, it is true, national problems to which neither total political separation nor territorial autonomy are applicable. Such is the case where a national minority is dispersed, without constituting a majority in any district. Where separation and territorial autonomy are out of the question, other guarantees must be sought against national oppression. This was, for example, the situation of the Jews in Tsarist Russia, where the Jewish socialist Bund tried to deal with the problem by demanding a non-territorial ‘cultural-national autonomy’. I shall not enter into a discussion of this demand, because it is irrelevant to our present problem. In this country [Israel-Palestine] it is in principle possible for both peoples to separate from each other and form two separate national states; and it is also possible to sub-divide the entire country into autonomous regions.
At this point we should mention a very different concept of autonomy, the one included in the Camp David agreements. The autonomy offered to the Palestinians by the Likud government was emphatically non-territorial; it was ‘an autonomy for people, not for a given territory’. This formula shows at once that something is very wrong with the whole concept. When an oppressed national group is denied the right to exercise authority over a territory in which it constitutes a large majority, and is only allowed to run its own cultural and municipal affairs, the purpose of such ‘autonomy’ can only be to preserve a poslt1on of inequality. When it is possible to sub-divide a country into autonomous districts in each of which one national group has a clear majority, this is a preferable democratic solution.
It may be asked what the demographic situation would be if and when the Palestinian refugees are allowed to return. Would it still be possible to sub-divide Israel into geographically and economically reasonable districts with clear national majorities? In my view, a detailed analysis of the data shows such sub-division to be possible. The district boundaries may, it is sure, be as tortuous and ‘illogical’ as the Green Line or (perhaps more to the point) the borders of the 1947 UN partition resolution. So what? These boundaries will be analogous to municipal boundaries, which have purely administrative significance and do not hamper the citizens’ freedom of movement across them. The district boundaries will exist on the map; in reality they will be of interest only for the purpose of elections to the district council, taxation and other matters that will be under the authority of the autonomous district. Crossing them will be as uneventful as crossing from one town to the next.
A favourite trick of those who oppose the democratic solution of the national problem is to point out examples of countries where the national problem has not been solved, as proof that it cannot be solved. Paraphrasing Lenin, we can say that there is only one solution to the national problem, in so far as such a thing is possible in a non-socialist world, namely: consistent democratism. As proof of this we can point out Switzerland, for example.
Those who wish to evade the core of the problem do not like this example. They try to refute or devalue it. Switzerland is an exception, they say. In Switzerland there is a special kind of decentralization, a special history, special geographic conditions, a special distribution of linguistic groups, and so on and so forth. All this is just an attempt to evade the essence of the argument. It is true that Switzerland is exceptional inasmuch as it is not a uniform national state. But it is far from being the only such ‘exception’.
Spain and Iran are other examples of this kind. It is true that special historical and geographic conditions have enabled Switzerland to develop a more consistent democratism in the national question than Spain or Iran. But this is not a valid argument against our position. Surely, when one is looking for a paradigm, a model to be studied or copied, one should single out the best examples rather than the worst. In the present world, countries in which any kind of institution has been founded on consistent democratic foundations are rare, even exceptional. Does this prevent us from defending consistent democracy in all institutions?
Switzerland, which Lenin often quoted as an example, has one other advantage not pointed out by him. Unlike other federal countries, in which every national or ethnic group is concentrated in a single autonomous region where it constitutes a majority, Switzerland has no such concentrations. Each of its three major national groups has more than one canton. This has great long-term importance. No national group has a single geographical focus for its national aspirations, or a single legislative council around which its political ambitions might rally. Local questions, and even a measure of local-patriotism, tend to weaken national uniformity and allow other kinds of inter-personal and inter-communal ties to develop.
The Swiss example is a good one for another reason. Its way of dealing with the national question is compatible also with a socialist structure of society, and can be applied in widely differing areas. It can be applied within the 1948 borders of Israel (the Green Line), or in the whole area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, or in a united socialist Arab east. It can also be applied in a united Europe, divided not into large states but into many smaller cantons, which are more suitable for self-management.
And yet another advantage: division into relatively small administrative units, provided they are run democratically, facilitates maximal mass participation in the political process. From here it is not a far cry to a form of social self-rule based on a system of councils.