Israel-Palestine, a single de facto state

In recent months, Israel has experienced two politically relevant processes: the parliamentary elections held in November 2022, which have facilitated the most extreme and ultra-nationalist government in its history; and the massive popular mobilisation against the reform of the judiciary, with constant demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Israelis since January 2023.

In both cases one could find a very present absence, using an oxymoron, a fashionable rhetorical figure that defines contradictory expressions such as the living dead or thundering silence: there are no Palestinians. It was not a major issue in the election campaign, in political programmes, nor is it present in the massive movement rejecting Netanyahu. To continue with other expressions, one could think of the elephant in the room, as the Anglo-Saxons allude to an omnipresent and at the same time uncomfortable topic, which leads to pretending to ignore it.

"Israel will either be a Jewish country or a democratic country, the two options are incompatible," a Spanish diplomat posted to the Middle East recently predicted. Despite the use of Israel's innovative technological character -Start up nation- or the gay paradise of some parts of the territory, the political drift points towards an exclusively Jewish conception of the country, a growing confessionalism of the state at the same time as the democratic framework is being reduced.

Israeli policy-makers are working to establish a situation of de facto annexation that is irreversible, with various categories of citizens and rights, an objective that has been achieved for years now, a level of violence that is bearable for the Palestinians themselves and the international community, a situation that is perfectly possible, although incompatible with the rules of the rule of law and democracy: equal rights for the entire population, separation of powers, and between church and state.

The peaceful and progressive future of Israel-Palestine is conditional on a democratic solution to the situation of colonial discrimination of the Palestinians, today divided within the borders of the 1948 State of Israel - 20% of the population - in the so-called 1967 occupied territories of Jerusalem, Gaza and Golan, where 600,000 Jewish settlers have already illegally installed themselves in settlements; the Palestinians of the diaspora, especially in Lebanon and Jordan. The geographical and legal fragmentation of the Palestinians is another goal long pursued and also achieved.

It is a fiction to decouple Israeli technological initiative, military competence (continuous attacks on Syrian soil for a decade now; nuclear capability), it is a fiction to decouple a promising future for Israel from the colonial occupation of the Palestinians.

In the first four months of 2023, more than a hundred Palestinians and a dozen Jewish Israelis have been killed or died in violent circumstances, a conflict whose disproportionate number of victims does not adequately illustrate the disproportionate number of contenders, which are not comparable and do not allow for equidistance: there is a colonial situation of force and a colonised population.

This May marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe, in Arabic), which is the period since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the operation that would have been called ethnic cleansing if the label had existed, which displaced 800,000 Palestinians, well studied even by Israeli historiography; and 30 years since the Oslo accords that established the solution of two neighbouring states.

Provocations, victims, violence for three quarters of a century, could feed the argument of endless history and irresolvable conflict, but nothing could be further from the truth, everything indicates that the situation is anything but stable, and very recent circumstances have altered the picture. The very long, though not eternal, conflict has been made possible by an ongoing series of political decisions and permitted violations of international legality, which may or may not continue. At the very least, the political and social framework is in permanent change, and has accelerated in recent times, as the following references can show.

In much of the world, a revision of colonialism is taking place lately, symbolically affecting commemorative statues and museum collections, far removed from imperial visions or civilisational fantasies. There is now enough time for colonisers and colonised alike to take a new, more scientific than nationalistic approach to the phenomenon. And the exception is the so-called 'settlement colonialism' that is still being practised in Israel in 2023. In this sense, it could be said that the times are moving more towards a historical re-reading of past colonialism than a practice of future colonialism.

It is also possible to apply the maxim confirmed in most European countries that colonial violence ends up taking its toll on the coloniser; it was experienced in Spain with the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera from 1923 onwards, the coup d'état of 1936, the civil war it provoked and the Franco dictatorship; it was experienced in metropolitan France with the various military solutions and the coups d'état of the early 1960s. It can be interpreted that Israeli colonial violence will end up affecting, if it is not already affecting, today's Israeli citizens, the dissenting, the moderate, the Christian, the non-ultra-Orthodox ultra-nationalists (there are also ultra-Orthodox non-ultra-nationalists).

Shlomo Ben Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister and former ambassador to Spain, has on several occasions described the political and social situation in his country as South African, without advocating a solution to the conflict that is also South African, which would be a single state with citizens equal in fundamental, social and political rights.

With the nuances imposed by history and different realities, the system of institutional discrimination known as apartheid largely defines the situation in Israel-Palestine, as has been recognised and documented by local human rights organisations and others of little debatable trajectory such as Amnesty International (report of February 2022, 'Israeli apartheid against the Palestinian population: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity') or Human Rights Watch ('Israel's abusive practices constitute crimes of apartheid and persecution', report of April 2021).

It should be recalled that the International Criminal Court included the 'crime of apartheid' as a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute in 1998 (article 7).

The equating of apartheid-style supremacism with the situation in Israel-Palestine has long since gone far beyond Palestinian kufiyya and bong circles; just as the international reach of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and press for its compliance with international law, is noteworthy.

Another change of scene concerns the Abraham Accords, sponsored in September 2020 by Donald Trump as US president, and by his son-in-law, which have led to closer diplomatic and political relations, or to the surfacing of those kept in elite and security secrecy, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Far from the grandiloquent declarations of the communiqués, and the undoubted achievement of having succeeded in separating the Palestinian conflict from Israel's relations with some Arab countries, the process has languished since the departure of the Trump administration, in the face of the indifference of Arab public opinion (beyond the odd flag at the World Cup in Qatar) and with Saudi Arabia further away every day from signing the communiqué.

Another new element affects precisely the world's second largest arms importer, Saudi Arabia, which announced in early March the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran, broken since 2016, an agreement that to widespread surprise has come about with the mediation of China.

The agreement defuses the most powerful security glue that has united partners of convenience for years against Tehran; and the steps following the announcement reveal the willingness of both sides to move towards a new situation, which has direct effects on the Yemeni civil war, such as the exchange of a thousand prisoners in mid-April.

Last but not least, a change of script affects the United States, probably more the public, civil society, public opinion and public opinion than its government, bearing in mind that history shows that Israel is a matter of US domestic policy and this will be accentuated as the November 2024 presidential elections draw nearer.

Changes can be detected, and this is how one can interpret a recent and lengthy analysis published in Foreign Affairs magazine, with its century of history behind it and international reference, entitled "The reality of a single state of Israel. It is time to give up the two-state solution" (link to original in English, published on 14 April).

Signed by four scholars in International Relations from George Washington University and the University of Maryland in the US, the text points out that "the temporary 'occupation' status of the Palestinian territories is now a permanent condition in which a state ruled by one group of people rules over another group of people".

For the authors, the Oslo peace process "ended a long time ago. It is time to deal with what the one-state reality means for politics, policy and analysis. Palestine is not a state-in-waiting, and Israel is not a democratic state accidentally occupying Palestinian territory".

The highly commendable Foreign Affairs analysis adds that "the entire territory west of the Jordan River has long constituted a single state under Israeli rule, where land and people are subject to radically different legal regimes, and Palestinians are permanently treated as an inferior caste. Politicians and analysts who ignore this one-state reality are doomed to failure and irrelevance, doing little more than providing a smokescreen for the entrenchment of the status quo".

They argue that "a one-state settlement is not a future possibility; it already exists. Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, one state controls the entry and exit of people and goods, oversees security, and has the ability to impose its decisions, laws and policies on millions of people without their consent"; yet, they add, "forced to choose between Israel's Jewish identity and liberal democracy, Israel has chosen the former. It has locked itself into a system of Jewish supremacy, in which non-Jews are structurally discriminated against or excluded in a tiered scheme: some non-Jews have most, but not all, of the rights that Jews have, while most non-Jews live under severe segregation, separation and domination".

The article recalls that the law passed in 2018 defines Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people" and holds that "the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people"; it makes no mention of democracy or equality for non-Jewish citizens.

Leaving aside Foreign Affairs' analysis, one might conclude that in the last century the approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been one of statehood, as proposed by the United Nations in 1947 and Oslo in 1993, one state for each community, logical because that is how the international community works and it is the state that grants nationality and rights to citizens. However, the approach may be changing.

This is suggested by a Palestinian, Israeli and international citizenship in transformation; a situation on the ground that implies a de facto annexation of the whole of historic Palestine, already irreversible barring further ethnic cleansing that would not be accepted by the international community today.

The Palestinian liberation movement, in state terms, would be better expressed today as the liberation movement of the Palestinians, which will also be that of all residents regardless of their religious affiliation, political orientation or cultural affiliation, citizens with the same fundamental, social and political rights of a single multicultural and multi-religious state, as they are almost everywhere; like the one that already exists on the ground, but truly democratic for its entire population.