Former Knesset Speaker Abrum Burg has an op-ed in Haaretz in which he not only endorses the one-state solution, but calls the entire left to do the same. Burg has flirted with the idea in the past, but he was never so explicit:
So enough of the illusions. There are no longer two states between the Jordan River and the sea… we [the left] must consider how we can enter into the new Israeli discourse. It has intriguing potential. The next diplomatic formula that will replace the “two states for two peoples” will be a civilian formula. All the people between the Jordan and the sea have the same right to equality, justice and freedom. In other words, there is a very reasonable chance that there will be only one state between the Jordan and the sea – neither ours nor theirs but a mutual one. It is likely to be a country with nationalist, racist and religious discrimination and one that is patently not democratic, like the one that exists today. But it could be something entirely different. An entity with a common basis for at least three players: an ideological right that is prepared to examine its feasibility; a left, part of which is starting to free itself of the illusions of “Jewish and democratic”; and a not inconsiderable part of the Palestinian intelligentsia.
The conceptual framework will be agreed upon – a democratic state that belongs to all of its citizens. The practicable substance could be fertile ground for arguments and creativity. This is an opportunity worth taking, despite our grand experience of missing every opportunity and accusing everyone else except ourselves.
The rest of the article is interesting as well; Burg writes against the habit of Jewish leftists to argue on behalf of the state and even the government abroad, thus helping the right carry out its policies undisturbed: “Let the right-wing MKs, the Katzes and the Elkins, travel around the world and show the beauty of their faces without the deceptive layer of makeup we provided.”
In Israel, there is a real fear of confrontation with the armed messianic forces living among us. Anyway our government policies are drawn from the power of the settler vision. It seems that the only way to balance this is an alternative suggestion of one state between the Jordan and the sea. Secular, democratic, egalitarian and civilian.
It looks like recent developments and the expansionist policies of the current government have convinced Burg that it’s time to join the growing one state camp.
It’s interesting to note that the current Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a rightwing hawk, also prefers a single state to two, arguing that “this land is not divisible.” Rivlin doesn’t support the “one person, one vote” model Burg is referring to, but mulls over what seems like a multi-national entity, possibly with two parliaments.
This is from an interview I did with Rivlin a year and a half ago:
“There is a conflict in the Middle East between two entities, and they’re both right, each in their own way. This is our only home, and therefore all kinds of solutions can be found. One could establish a system in one state in which Judea and Samaria are jointly held. The Jews would vote for a Jewish parliament and the Palestinians for an Arab parliament, and we would create a system in which life is shared. But these are things that will take time. Anyone who thinks that there are shortcuts is talking nonsense. As long as Islamic fundamentalism thinks that Jews are forbidden to settle in the Holy Land, we have a problem. It will not be resolved by an agreement, even if we obtain a promise from all the Arab states that it will be fine.
“So if people say to me: Decide − one state or division of the Land of Israel, I say that division is the bigger danger.
Joseph Dana and I have a cover story for The Nation this week on the Israeli activists who takes part in the unarmed protest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We discuss the history of the joint struggle, its political significance and the challenges lying ahead.
Though we say it in the text several times, it’s important to remember that this is a Palestinian struggle, and the Israelis who take part in it are neither its leaders nor its leading strategists. Jonathan Pollak, whom we interviewed just before he started serving his prison sentence, made sure we understand that:
“The participation of Israelis in demonstrations, unfortunately, does make a difference,” says Jonathan Pollak, one of the first activists to take part in the demonstrations and now media coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a Palestinian umbrella organization of local. “It makes a difference because of the racist nature of our situation. Open-fire regulations, for instance, are a lot more stringent, officially, when Israelis are present. It is, however, important to remember that we are not much more than a side note in the movement, and that it is the Palestinians who are at its center.
“People are often fascinated by the fact that a handful of Israelis cross the lines this way. But currently this is what we really are, a handful, and the real question, in my opinion, is, How come only so few do so? The sad answer is that most Israelis simply don’t care; to most Israelis, Palestinians simply don’t really exist.”
Still, I think that even those handful of activists, as Jonathan rightly refers to them, are important. The Israeli left is going through an ideological and generational revolution. The older generation – you can call it the Peace Now generation – is in decline, and new forces, ideas and tactics are emerging. In a very generalizing way, one could say that the new left is less committed to the Two-States Solution, more critical of Zionism and believes in direct action and cooperation with Palestinians and international activists. The new left is not represented in the Knesset; it mobilizes support through social networks and has reasonably good connections to human rights groups and none-governmental organizations.
The formative years of the older generation were the seventies. Back then, only few would dare discuss the idea of a Palestinian state or a full withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967. The big peace rallies came a decade later, with the Lebanon war and the Intifada, and leading activists from those days entered the Knesset in the nineties. The greatest political achievement of this generation was Oslo; that was also the beginning of its decline. In the next decade or two, the same process could happen with the new left.
It is interesting to hear what Avrum Burg, an old Peace Now activist and former Knesset speaker, has to say on those issues (that’s from the article at The Nation as well):
“In fact, the Israeli left never recovered from Rabin’s assassination (…) Later, Ehud Barak came and presented his personal failure in Camp David [in 2000] as the failure of the entire way. When the head of the peace camp declared that there was no partner on the other side, it opened the door for unilateralism (…) There was something unilateral in Zionism from the start, but it became the only way after Camp David… We built the fence unilaterally, and we left Gaza unilaterally. Barak brought us back to the days of Golda Meir, who denied there is such a thing as a Palestinian people.”
“The meaning of Zionism in Israel today is to be Jewish and not Arab,” says former Speaker Burg, who attends the protest in Sheikh Jarrah regularly… In that context, the left cannot go on calling itself Zionist. We should ask ourselves whether Zionist humanism isn’t a contradiction in terms these days. We should go beyond ethnic democracy and toward a real joint society, in which Jews and Arabs are really equal.”
I believe that the activists of Bi’lin and Sheikh Jarrah, isolated and marginal as they look today, would set the political tone for the Jewish left in the years and decades to come. In 15-20 years, we might even find some of them in Parliament.
JERUSALEM – Around 300 people gathered in an unusually cold and rainy afternoon today for the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, the Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem which is the recent target of Jewish colonization. Four Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah have been already evicted to the street with settlers moving to their homes. This week it was announced that 20 more housing unites for Jews are about to be built at the site of the old Shepherds Hotel in the neighborhood.
The attempts to colonize the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are backed by the city mayor, Nir Barkat, and by the Israeli government. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused president Obama’s demand to halt construction in East Jerusalem until the city’s final statues is decided.
It is important to note that while Israelis are claiming that both Jews and Arabs can live anywhere they like in the so-called unified city, Jerusalem’s Arabs are in fact forbidden from buying houses in most Jewish neighborhoods of the city, due to legal matters concerning their statues is residents, rather than citizens of Israel. You can read a full explanation for this here, and see an extremely well-prepared Sky interviewer pushing Mayor Barkat on this issue in this video:
Among the protesters today were MK Dov Khenin of left wing party Hadash, former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg, and author David Grossman. “[Political] reality has changed dramatically after Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama,” Grossman told Ynet today. “Obama has done at last what he and the US should have done a long time ago.” Read the rest of this entry »
Avrum Burg is a nice and intelligent guy. I once interviewed him. We had breakfast at the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton, and talked for three hours. He is very self-aware, but also comes across as trying to impress. I think he is self-aware of that too.
Burg usually moves real fast to talking about the “Big” issues, like the role of Zionism in the Jewish history and the future of the Jewish people in a Globalized world. Coming from a politician (even an ex-politician) I always find this kind of talk boring and unproductive. There are real political battles to be fought – and that’s something Burg was never good at. At least he is honest and self-aware enough to admit to that too.