Year 51: Alternative Futures for Palestine-Israel

(from  Helen Rainger)

As part of the Sydney Ideas series hosted by The University of Sydney, Professor Mark LeVine, Professor of History at the University of California, brought us ideas both familiar and less so. Whilst his starting point was an image of a conflict with an inherent imbalance of power, the challenge came in seeing that Israel is not so strong as to have complete control over Palestine and its future and Palestine is not so weak that it will just ‘disappear’ and be taken out of the equation. Where are we now in this 51st year of the Occupation?

The “two-state solution” wording is familiar yet hollow but very few institutions and national bodies dare to say this openly. If we accept the reality of the one state that currently exists under Israeli control how then can this reality be shaped to address the needs of both Palestinians and Israelis? Various scenarios are possible with some being more, or less, “likely”.

First, one state combining the land area of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In any such future state Israel is seen as unlikely to give full equality to Palestinian citizens because the demographics would more and more favour the Palestinians.

Another model that is held up is that of a bi-national state with the two land areas being distinct but in a union with one Government. The problem here is much the same as that which bedevils two states, the Israeli settlers in the West Bank. (Mark LeVine did not even mention the very limited bantustan model with the Palestinians being given small land areas from the West Bank and Israeli settlers being confirmed in the much larger areas).

Another possibility which is “unlikely right now” is that of two peoples having different sovereignty over the same territory. Just as Israeli settlers on the West Bank are still Israeli citizens and subject to Israeli law (while their Palestinian ‘neighbours’ are subject to military law), so two Governments would exist for their people wherever they lived. In theory Palestinians could remain in Israel, ‘return’ to Israel or be in the West Bank and still be under Palestinian sovereignty.

LeVine argued that it has not only been the proliferation of settlements that has made two states impossible. From 1967 Israel took over Mandate Palestine and began the process of making sure that the two areas could not be separated. Many Zionists see the “Biblical heartland” (Judea and Samaria) as part of eretz Israel and have worked to ensure the integration of the two areas.

The well-known journalist Anthony Lowenstein was also present at the lecture and was part of a panel which looked more closely at the role of the Israeli media in cementing the occupation, the problems of the Palestinian leadership and how any process of decolonisation in Palestine-Israel has both similarities and differences when compared with other such movements elsewhere.

22nd September 2017