On November 12, 2012, Nazareth based writer, Jonathan Cook, published a long interview in Mondoweiss with the secretary general of the National Democratic Alliance, Awad Abdel Fattah. While I recommend the reading the whole interview, I bring here some excerpts concerning Abdel Fattah’s support for the One Democratic State (ODS) as the goal of the Palestinian struggle, the political context in which this goal is raised and its implications. I omitted the questions, added sub-titles and tried to collect the most relevant sentences – but all the rest is Abdel Fattah’s words as they appear in the interview:
On the role of Palestinians inside the 48 territories
Our traditional strength derived from the fact that we, as a community, survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 [the Nakba]. We remained in our homeland, even as it was transformed into a Jewish state.
But today, our strength derives from something different: we pose the biggest challenge to Israel’s claim to be a democracy.
We live in a complex relationship both to Israel and to the wider Palestinian people, and therefore historically we have tended to assume we should be led by the Palestinian national leadership rather than seek to have an active voice ourselves.
But changing political circumstances – the failures both of the Palestinian national leadership to remain united and clear-sighted and of Israel to engage in a meaningful peace process – make that an irresponsible position to maintain.
The struggle for real coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis requires not just brotherhood but confronting Israel’s colonialism and its institutional and law-sanctioned racism.
In my view, if we try to achieve equality without strengthening our national identity first, we risk losing both our civil and national rights.
But our vision must extend beyond the local, the parochial. Our fight for our national rights inside Israel also, of course, has a relevance to the larger Palestinian national movement. Given the current impotence of that movement, it is our duty to take a significant role. Some Palestinian intellectuals even suggest that, given our familiarity with Israeli society, we have the potential to become the most dynamic part both of the national movement and of the struggle for a truly democratic alternative.
Lessons from South Africa
Our demands must be based on the principle of equality and not on the basis of separation and partition. Ronnie Kasrils, a South African Jew who became a military leader in the ANC, told me he had warned the PLO at the time of the Oslo Accords to reject the idea of partition. He pointed out that the ANC had rejected the Bantustans, a very similar formula to Oslo.
When the PLO was established in the 1960s, it was an important and unifying organization that embodied the character of the Palestinian nation and ended fragmentation. But it was given a monopoly over resources and decision-making that corrupted the mainstream leadership. Its humiliating compromises aborted the Palestinians’ main objective: the establishment of a single secular, democratic state in Palestine.
We have lost the consistency and clarity of the strategic goal that directed the South African resistance: the abolition of racism and the achievement of full equality. The Palestinian elites, on the other hand, began by proposing a single state and ended by demanding a state on just 22% of Palestine and accepting Israel as a Jewish state. Recently, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA chairman, has again suggested he is ready to compromise on the right of return.
If you talk to former ANC leaders who have visited Israel and the occupied territories, they will tell you that, in fact, Israel is more dangerous and brutal than its South African counterpart. The Israeli regime originally sought to purge the land of its indigenous population precisely so that it could declare itself a democratic state and become part of the Western democratic family, which lent it every means of support. The expulsion of about 80 per cent of the Palestinian people from the 1948 borders Israel created was the first instance of racial segregation. One can therefore say that the Palestinians are at the same time the victims of Israel’s Jewishness and its democracy.
Those of us who talk about a one-state solution in the Israel-Palestine context are often dismissed as utopians. But the case of South Africa shows things can change fast and without warning.
While it is true that the Zionist colonialist regime has gained momentum on the ground since Oslo, it has also increasingly lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Particularly important is the fact that many people are waking up to the idea that Israel is an apartheid state and that it deserves a resolution no different from what happened in South Africa. Racist regimes are illegitimate and cannot survive.
On the current struggle for ODS
The debate about one state is being revived by Palestinians, even among those who have yet to accept the idea. But one of the problems is that the PA is still using this discussion as a way to frighten Israelis. The demand for justice and equality should not be used as a scare tactic: in fact, we should be making the argument that one state would be good for Israelis too.
The overriding goal now is to reunite all the Palestinian people, wherever they are, under one project – to incorporate marginalized groups like the Palestinians in Israel and the refugees into one comprehensive struggle. It’s time to unite all groups and individuals who embrace the democratic option in a single movement.
As the (NDA) party’s secretary general, I have to take the initiative and push the debate towards the ANC’s approach. I have always been a believer in a single state as the most just and ethical solution to the conflict.
In the context of the two-state solution proposed by Oslo, collective rights became essential, as there could be no equality without these rights. This was reflected in the demand of the NDA for self-determination for the Palestinian minority in Israel through a cultural self-rule under our party’s slogan of a “state for all its citizens”.
Some of us in the party were skeptical from the start both about the Oslo process – I personally never gave up on one democratic state and so preferred not to run for the Knesset myself – and about it being possible to reform the Jewish state. We assumed it would never sanction such a challenge. But for those members, including myself, the goal of the struggle itself was to clarify these matters, forcing the state of Israel to reveal its true nature through its need to retaliate against our legitimate and democratic demands.
But now with the irrelevance of the two-state solution, we as Palestinians in Israel have to rethink our approach. We have to respond.
Our duty now is to take as our starting-point the universality of the struggle by Palestinians – in Israel, in the occupied territories, in exile – against Zionist colonialism. The correct response to our shared situation is a struggle for a one-state solution. This is based on an understanding that an end to Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories will not transform Israel into a normal state that can treat its non-Jewish citizens equally.
Think about the problems our party, the most innovative on this issue (ODS), has faced. As founders of the NDA, we resorted to allusion rather than to clarity on this point…
But the debate has started to gain momentum because the reality gets clearer every day. Those interested in the conflict can no longer ignore the fact that Israel’s so-called temporary occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has proved to be permanent.
The eruption of the second Intifada was an expression on a mass-scale of the frustration of Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories with the Oslo process.
Also, Palestinians in Israel have hundreds of thousands of relatives living in exile as refugees. They have a profound stake in a just solution not only for themselves but also for the wider Palestinian people.
Israel’s racist practices, coupled with its two bloody wars against Lebanon and besieged Gaza in 2006 and 2008, have led many observers, academics and political activists around the world to redefine Israel as a colonialist-apartheid regime. Because all Palestinians, including those living in Israel, are subject to a unitary system of oppression, we need a unitary form of redress. Racism, apartheid and colonialism are illegitimate and therefore need to be dismantled.
The first challenge is to break the imbalance of forces created by the “peace process”, which has left deep flaws and distortions in the consciousness of many in the Palestinian elites. They came to be one of benefactors of the peace industry, and therefore had an investment in accepting the de facto division and fragmentation of the Palestinian people. Palestinians must rediscover the values of national liberation and the spirit of anti-colonial resistance that the national movement championed for decades.
It is worth noting that scores of Israeli anti-Zionist intellectuals have recently come up strongly in favor of one democratic state. Though they are on the margins of the margins of Israeli society, they add a vital moral dimension to the struggle for justice. They are integral to a united movement for a truly democratic solution, which ensures the emancipation of the Palestinians from this most dangerous form of colonialism. Israeli Jews will only be able to live in safety when they accept that they are part of the region and not of the West.
In case you know Arabic – you can read more on Abdel Fattah and ODS in حيفا الحرة.