While in Jerusalem this blustery January I sat down with Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport, Fatah political council member Awni al-Mashni, British businessman and member of the House of Lords Andrew Stone, and social entrepreneur Avner Haramati who had brought us together. In this gathering I learned about a new grass-roots initiative called "Two States, One Homeland."
This initiative has been around for about a year and it has as yet to find the open support of any of the political parties on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side. In fact, at this stage, the program is attacked from all sides, which means it does not fit comfortably in any of the usual categories of Left and Right, secular and religious, settlers and peaceniks. Since it does not advocate for a removal of the settlements it seems to Palestinians and BDS activists to promote normalization and acquiescence in the occupation. At the same time, it would require of the settlers to give up their privileged position in the framework of a confederation that confers the same freedom of movement and settlement anywhere in Israel-Palestine to the Palestinians, including those currently residing outside the country. Just as Jews from all over the world enjoy the right of return and are encouraged to claim Israel as their patrimony, Palestinians from all over the world would enjoy the right of return and should feel welcome to make their home in Israel-Palestine. Israel would remain a Jewish state in its historic homeland that comprises the entire Land of Israel, just as Palestine would comprise the entire territory now depicted on every Palestinian map. In other words: two states, one homeland.
The plan recognizes that the attachment of the Jews to their land is not a right-wing issue but an issue of Jewish religious and historical sentiment. The initiative requires for Israelis to accept that Palestinians as well claim all of historic Palestine as rightfully theirs. In place of a physical or geographic division of the land, which would be a loss to both sides, the plan thinks of the division in the legal terms of citizenship and institutions, not place of residence.
The initiative takes into account some of the big obstacles that have hitherto stood in the way of any peaceful resolution of the conflict, most notably the Israeli settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Right now, most Palestinians object to accepting any Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line as legitimate. As Awni al-Mashni points out, however, it is unrealistic for the Palestinians to think that 350,000 settlers would ever be evacuated under any peace agreement. He also believes that Israelis will need to come to terms with the fact that the Palestinians will not go away. The urgency of this initiative arises for him from the fact that Palestinians tend to think that Israel is a temporary entity, that it will eventually collapse or be defeated and that the Palestinians can simply wait until that happens. For al-Mashni, this is a self-defeating, fatalistic, and troubling attitude that will result in many more years of needless Palestinian suffering. Palestinians, he says, will have to accept that the settlers won't go away and that Israel won't go away. Palestinians will have to learn that Jews have as much right to access and residence near the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron as they do. By the same token Israelis will need to recognize that Palestinians have every right to seek residency in Jaffa, the "pearl of Palestine," without therefore needing to claim citizenship in Israel.
As a matter of policy, Two States/One Homeland decided not to accept foreign funding. They made this decision even before the recent push in the Knesset to Israeli human rights groups that receive financial support from foreign governments. They are nevertheless interested in raising international awareness for their initiative. Andrew Stone is planning a working session of the group at the House of Lords in March and the initiators are also planning to visit the US and speak to interested parties in New York, Boston and D.C. According to Lord Stone, the most important piece that is missing is a draft constitution that can help skeptics envisage how such a confederacy might be enacted. His own advocacy for a political solution takes into account that economic opportunity and aid alone will not be sufficient to build up Palestinian society. In his view, in order to become persuasive, the idea of a confederation of Israel and Palestine will require a workable legal framework, something he wants to encourage some of his colleagues in the British parliament to get in involved in producing.
A cursory search for this initiative on Google yielded this article by Lily Galili, as well as a video documenting the founding conference (see HERE). The group is also on Facebook.
Walking away from this meeting this blustering January in Jerusalem, I was uncertain what to make of the things I had just heard but I had no time to think about it. Instead I hurried to catch up with a group of students that was waiting for me to visit the Haram ash-Sharif. Waiting in line, I saw that the old rabbinic injunction is still posted that prohibits Jews from entering this hallowed ground for fear of desecration. The Old City was pretty empty, but the Haram was bustling with local Muslim families who were taking time out to relax with their small children in a safe place, without harassment. Jerusalem's Arabs are under siege. They are slowly encroached upon from every direction by infrastructure and neighborhood developments that they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as solely aimed at asserting Jewish presence at the expense of the Palestinians. Systemic impersonal repression along with the ever more frequent eruption of anti-Arab violence call forth the foolish acts of youthful daring that we have seen in recent months. In turn, these feed into Jewish fear of Palestinian terror. At this point, both sides are in despair. How can this cycle be broken?
I was impressed by the mutual respect that prevails between the members of this group. Awni al-Mashni spent twelve years of his life in Israeli jails. And yet, he has become an advocate for peace. As one of the participants in the 2015 founding conference, Dr. Merav Alush Levron (cited in the posted video) put it, the initiative is a matter of "morality" and "mutual recognition." What this fledgling initiative provides at this stage is a way of speaking about a shared future in a homeland that both nations care about. Recognizing that both care about the same homeland is an auspicious starting point not just for those who must find a way of coexistence but for us on the outside who tend to take sides in a conflict that cannot be resolved if either side loses. There has got to be a way for both to win, for both to feel that the presence of the other is a plus, not a loss.