“There is only one state between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river “

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Since the breakdown of the Oslo peace process, Israelis and Palestinians have started thinking about a bi-national solution in one state for both peoples.

Bashir Bashir, 38, teaches political theory at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Palestinian professor with an Israeli passport is the co-initiator of “Rethinking the politics of Israel/Palestine. Partition and its Alternatives”, a project organized by the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue in Vienna. The project and book have been presented in Brussels and Vienna in February 2015. This is a longer English version of an interview published in the Austrian news magazine profil.

Since the Oslo Peace Process failed to achieve it’s goal – a Two-State-Solution – Israelis and Palestinians seem to be forced into the reality of one state for both nations. In order not to have the extremists on both sides drive the debate about the future of Israel/Palestine, Bashir Bashir calls for a “new political grammar for the question of Palestine.”

Profil: Is the Two-State-Solution really dead or could it be revived after the Israeli elections in March, if a left-centrist government wins?

Bashir Bashir: I am not very hopeful that Tzipi Livni will bring peace to all of us with her centrist party. And is Labour left? What does that even mean? The Labour party built settlements as much as the right wing Likud party. The centrist zionist camp is as useless for a peaceful solution as the right wing parties. Even Avigdor Lieberman says he wants peace. He does not mean it. The discourse has become twisted. The question is no longer if you are for peace, but whether or not you are ready to make a historical compromise for a comprehensive settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. If the peace is hollow and the agreement not sustainable then peace cannot last. For a sustainable peace one needs to be ready to make painful compromises.

Profil: Does a bi-national state for both Israelis and Palestinians have a better chance for realization than the Two-State-Solution?

Bashir: The death of the peace process requires not only revising the process but the entire discourse. It is not just elements like the settlement policy, the shift to ultranationalism, or trusting the Americans for too long. Last year the Americans were stubbornly optimistic that their initiative would be paving the way to solve the problems. Now, alongside the Americans, there are others who are willing to listen to other ideas. It is rare for a European Institution like the Bruno Kreisky Forum to support an initiative like ours. Our ideas are spreading.

Profil: What would a bi-national state look like?

Bashir: We are asking: Is the Palestinian struggle about a state? And what would the state do to us? I do believe there is a beginning of a shift. Who is Palestinian politically? I am Palestinian culturally, emotionally and by identity. Legally and constitutionally I am not Palestinian, I am Israeli. What is happening now is that the state between the mediterranean sea and the Jordan river is clearly becoming one state for both peoples. If this happens, self-determination would also count for the Palestinians in Israel. In other words: I, we, would all end up in one state, and the Palestinian nationality would include „Israeli Arabs“ like me.

Profi: Won’t both peoples fear they might loose their cultural and political identity?

Bashir: Early Palestinian nationalism did not describe a Palestinian state, it spoke about Arab unity. Early politicians essentially placed their priorities somewhere else. Fatah was the only one who began speaking about a state. Up to the sixties the Palestinians called for liberation. Self-determination, independence and a national identity came later, when people like Issam Sartawi started to speak about it. Yassir Arafat backed the idea. Today people are shifting back to the ideas which were present before the two-state-solution became fashionable. For example, Israel’s right wing president Reuven Rivlin wants a Jewish state, but wants to give some rights to the Palestinians – it’s a bi-national state minus. The Palestinians would have civil rights in Israel minus some rights. This is not enough. But it is the beginning of a shift in the debate.

Profil: Would you prefer a One-State-solution to a Two-State-solution in the borders of 1967?

Bashir: It has become impossible. Not because the Palestinians still want the maximal solution, but because there is no revival on big ideologies of some sort. You go to Nablus and the people on the street tell you: „We want to live. We want to have access to our land.“ Our rights are our rights and let us decide what arrangement serves us best. People don’t care so much about how far these rights are respected. When you look at it from this perspective you suddenly have a huge spectrum of opportunities.

Profil: Would you prefer to be a citizen of Israel if you get all civil rights?

Bashir: If it would truly be a bi-national state the question becomes insignificant. The question of national identity, however, is a different issue. Personally, my national identity is of no importance once the practical issues are resolved. It serves only the purpose of getting civil rights. If you have them, national identity is not so important. As long as something is imposed on you which is not you, you fight for your own national identity. But if you live in a state which guarantees your rights as a citizen, the national identity becomes secondary. I see the nationality of the oppressed as a critical engagement tool. But nationalism by itself is problematic.

Profil: Can you imagine that the Palestinians would be happy to have the Israeli security apparatus be responsible for everyone’s safety? Or the other way round?

Bashir: If we join forces, it’s irrelevant. You will have a joint army, a joint police force, you are speaking about togetherness, about partnership. If they all abide by the rule of law – by the constitutional law – then we will have a safe basis for all of us. Many Israelis talk like you. It is a colonial thinking, and the colonial language of a settler society. These terms „to stay in Israel“ or „not to stay in Israel“ apply to immigration. The settler society moves here and there and they talk like this. But the Palestinians are not immigrants here. They are an indigenous population. The Palestinians do not see themselves as guests or aliens, they see themselves as belonging to this land. This alienation has been created, has been forced on them by colonial practises like transforming language, transforming landscape, and renaming archeology.

Profil: Are you are trying to save this current state from becoming a racist apartheid state?

Bashir: Exactly. There is only one state. Let’s discuss our rights here. Lets discuss one state with national rights for two peoples.

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz