Monday, February 17, 2014

Israel and Palestine: Shifting Paradigms and a Single State

It's time for Israelis and Palestinians to reconsider how they view the conflict and their own aspirations.

"I knew that people expected me to harbour anger towards whites," Nelson Mandela wrote in the Long Walk to Freedom, recalling the morning after his release from 27 years in jail. "But I had none. In prison, my anger towards whites decreased, but my hatred for the system grew. I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies while I hated the system that turned us against one another."

The late South African president chose the path of truth, justice and reconciliation. Just as blacks and whites drafted a new constitution for a united South Africa so too can Israelis and Palestinians if they choose to live as equal citizens of one state. Segregation would end, political prisoners released, Palestinian refugees in exile allowed to return, loss and dispossession addressed through compensation, a truth and reconciliation commission formed, democratic elections held. Talk of existentialism and boycotts will be irrelevant.

A transformational point

Israel doesn't like the parallels being drawn between it and the South African apartheid system. But equivalences exist. Israel has in place a formal system that undeniably privileges Israeli Jews while it legalises discrimination against Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) through dozens of checkpoints, segregated roads, arbitrary arrests, house demolitions, land confiscations, collective punishment and forced deportation. Israeli legislation bans Palestinians (and no other ethnic group) from living in Israel after marrying an Israeli citizen.
"There was a time that a two-state solution may have worked. By virtue of Israel's doing, the realities on the ground make it increasingly unlikely. A secular democratic state, however, for both peoples is not a mirage."
Just as South Africa was at a transformational point when apartheid ended and Mandela gained his freedom, Israel today in the face of a growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, is also at an important juncture. Nearly 66 years after Palestinians were forced out of their homes and 20 years after the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed, there is little one can point to that shows any measure of success from the so-called peace process.

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