Why Israel/Palestine needs a new definition of self-determination

The separation and "ethnic purity" currently seen in Israel disturbs even the honest among its advoc

Condoleeza Rice's recently published memoirs contains an interesting passage about Palestine/Israel. Rice relates a conversation she had with Tzipi Livni in March 2004, with the discussion particularly focused on Livni's concerns regarding the Palestinian refugees' right of return.

The Israeli politician's central opposition to the refugees' return -- that it could "change the nature of the State of Israel, which had been founded as a state for the Jews" -- is nothing new. But the former Secretary of State's response is instructive.

I must admit that though I understood the argument intellectually, it struck me as a harsh defense of the ethnic purity of the Israeli state when Tzipi said it. It was one of those conversations that shocked my sensibilities as an American. After all, the very concept of 'American' rejects ethnic or religious definitions of citizenship. Moreover, there were Arab citizens of Israel. Where did they fit in?

These doubts are then duly silenced by an affirmation of the narrative of a "thousands-year-old process" to "reestablish 'the Jewish state'", and thus, "despite the dissonance that it stirred" in her, Rice backs Livni's argument that the Palestinian refugees should not return, in order to "allow the democratic state of Israel to be 'Jewish'".

But this discomfort at Livni's defence of "ethnic purity" is not so easily dismissed, and as Rice hinted, the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel illuminates the "dissonance" of Israel's 'Jewish and democratic' nature.

One long-standing example, now receiving more coverage, is the treatment of Bedouin Palestinians. A striking case study is the village of Atir-Umm al-Hieran in the Naqab (Negev), whose story has been told by the Israeli NGO Adalah in their report 'Nomads Against Their Will'.

Pointing out that the new attempts to expel and dispossess the Bedouin population "perpetuate a policy that was conceived of and initiated more than sixty years ago", Adalah's report details how after 1948 the village residents were repeatedly relocated until "the Israeli military governor in the area finally ordered them to move" to their current location -- a village still "yet to be granted official recognition by the state":

Israel now wants to demolish their homes and expel them yet again, for a fourth time, to a small number of specially-designated reservation-like towns created to "contain" the Bedouin whom it has expelled from their homes. In parallel, the state plans to settle Jewish citizens of Israel on the land, on top of the ruins of their village.

The Israel Land Administration (which manages 93 percent of the land in Israel) described these Bedouin citizens as "a special obstacle" in its plan to 'develop' the area with new Jewish towns. Described in court proceedings as "intruders", the residents of Atir-Umm al-Hieran are being targeted for eviction because of "[the state's] desire to set up a new Jewish community on their lands, by the name of Hiran".

This is one example of routine policies in a state still defended by some as a bastion of progressive democracy, and these stories of discrimination and state-sanctioned ethno-religious privilege are appearing in the western media with greater frequency. Yo Zushi has blogged on the subject for the NS. The Economist recently reported on the Israeli government's plan to remove around an estimated 30-40,000 Bedouin from their villages and "pen...them into cities", while the BBC made the link between this mass-eviction and another one planned in the West Bank.

Rarely, however, will stories like these be framed as policies which are the logical outcome of the state's very identity. The moment of candour in Rice's memoirs is a reminder that the discrimination faced by the Palestinian minority is inherent in the definition of Israel as 'Jewish and democratic'.

Jurist Ruth Gavison was a founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In her 2003 essay, The Jews' right to statehood, Gavison was honest about the consequence for the Palestinians:

The Jewish state is thus an enterprise in which the Arabs are not equal partners, in which their interests are placed below those of a different national group -- most of whose members are newcomers to the land, and many of whom are not even living in the country.

Gavison goes on to acknowledge that Palestinians in the Jewish state are limited in "their ability to ...exercise their right to self-determination", and that "the needs of Jewish nationalism do, in some cases, justify certain restrictions on the Arab population in Israel".

This is the uncomfortable reality that Rice chose not to dwell on, even though understanding these facts is an essential element of any peace-making worthy of the name. The nature of Israel's policies towards its Palestinian minority goes to the very heart of the conflict -- and points us towards a solution.

An analysis that makes the links between what is happening in the hills of the West Bank and the Negev desert is a necessary part of imagining a future solution "that protects the rights of both the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis", a redefining of self-determination whereby both groups share a common homeland based on equality. It is the alternative to the separation and "ethnic purity" that disturbs even the honest among its advocates.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer. His latest book is Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.