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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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.