The Colonial Condition: Is Partition Possible in Palestine?

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1 Analytical Paper The Colonial Condition: Is Partition Possible in Palestine? Nadim N. Rouhana* Whether we conceptualize the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians as a case of settler colonialism or a clash between two national movements has direct implications for the type of solution one envisions as being possible such as the partition of Palestine into two states or seeking alternatives to partition. Given the critical practical implications for future peace-making efforts, this question should best be framed in analytic and not ideological terms. That is to say that such a discussion will be best conducted in a way that separates indisputable historic developments from their ideological and psychological justificatory wrappings or self-serving narratives. Whatever its justificatory system national, religious, or humanitarian the (mainstream) Zionist movement undeniably sought to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. This explicit goal, which was pursued openly and proudly, necessitated bringing Jewish immigrants from outside Palestine mainly from Europe in the first stages to establish the state in a country inhabited by another people, the Palestinians. The success of such a project would necessarily mean expropriating the country from its indigenous inhabitants. Rationalization and justification systems aside, in such a project, the violent displacement and forceful control of the indigenous inhabitants is inevitable. To say that Zionism is a settler colonial movement, therefore, is, at the very minimum, a description of the process in which Palestine was taken over, and does not necessarily contradict the argument that Zionism is a national movement. But this national movement sought to achieve its goals by taking over a populated country through a colonial project. Ironically, the colonial mark s striking presence on this conflict has been absent from the conflict analysis; at most, the conflict has been analyzed as being one between two national movements. Palestinians, by consensus, maintain that Israel has been created as the outcome of a colonial project and that it continues to act as such in the West Bank, Gaza, and inside the state of Israel itself. Israelis do not see Zionism as a colonial project. In fact, they react intensely to even the suggestion of such an analysis. Zionism rationalizes away such a framework by Jadal 1 Mada al-carmel

2 applying elaborate justificatory systems such as using biblical religious promise to establish secular political rights. But even if the vast majority of Israelis deny the reality of the very practicalities of colonialism, that does not mean that the colonial practices do not manifest politically in ways that parallel colonialist projects, or that Israel did not engage in typical colonial undertakings (such as land and resource expropriation, ethnic cleansing, marginalization of the remaining indigenous population, construction of an exclusionary identity, Judaizing of time and space, forceful domination, instilling deep, intrinsic fear of the colonized in the colonialist worldview, etc.). Israelis self-image and their aversion to invoking the settler colonial model should not obscure the analytic implications for how a colonial project develops, what it is capable of doing in order to defend itself or to maintain colonial privileges, and how the conflict between settler colonialism and the indigenous population can be resolved. Partition and settler colonial conditions The experiences of conflict between settler regimes and the local populations whose lands they sought to colonize have centered around different demands depending on the historical era in which each regime has emerged and the nature and potency of the indigenous resistance to colonization. These demands have varied from seeking the departure of the settlers, to building a common homeland with them. While strategies of national resistance movements often differ depending on their context and goals, resistance to settler colonialism always faces severe human rights violations in the forms of ethnic cleansing, ghettoization of indigenous peoples, land robbery, or structural, political, and military violence from the settler population and their institutions. Nevertheless, partition has not been a demand of colonized indigenous populations, and no settler colonial project has ended with a partition of the colonized land between the settlers and the indigenous population. Like other indigenous populations around the world, Palestinians factually, the indigenous population of the land rejected the various partition plans including the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of Of all Arab parties in Palestine only the small communist party at the time called the National Liberation League in Palestine accepted the UN partition plan and considered partition a fair settlement of the conflict (but only after the Soviet Union which was one of the first countries to recognize Israel endorsed it). It is also true that later on, the Palestinians themselves represented by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), advocated partition into two states. Starting in the 1970s and culminating in 1988, the partition of Palestine into two states Israel, and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has been advocated by the PLO. It was in fact Israel who rejected such partition, until recently. Now, finally, the principle of partition seems to be accepted by both sides even if historically Palestinians rejected the principle at first, and Israelis rejected it later. Proponents of partition argue therefore that resolving this conflict should simply be a matter of devising a well-designed internationally Jadal 2 Mada al-carmel

3 supported negotiation process, because the parameters of partition are all wellknown. But such an argument overlooks the practicalities of colonialism and the complex political and physical realities it has been producing on the ground for generations. The argument fails to notice the colonizers patterns of violent domination and ingrained sense of superiority that has to come with the process of colonization, the continuous dispossession and demographic control of the native population, and the epistemological and psychological systems that have emerged among the colonizing population to deny or justify dispossession and domination. It also fails to see why the colonized indigenous population cannot accept surrendering their homeland and/or renouncing their original belonging to it, why they resist, and why they withhold granting legitimacy from the colonial project. The partition argument also pays no heed to the historical evidence about resolving conflicts caused by settler colonialism. Historically, settler colonial projects have ended in one of three ways: 1. The native population was eliminated or reduced to a group or collection of groups with marginal political significance (e.g., Australia, North America). 2. The settlers were defeated, and most chose to return to their mother country (e.g., the French in Algiers, the Crusaders in the Holy Land). 3. A new political order emerged, after periods of violent domination and a long and persistent struggle by the indigenous populations an order that included both settlers and the local population (e.g., New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and one can even say Northern Ireland). Three main characteristics distinguish the Palestinian case from other historic settler-colonialist cases and are of central importance to the question of partition. Could any of these characteristics promote the logic of partition, even if it would be a historical first? The first characteristic is that mainstream Zionism sought explicitly to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine, a state that by definition, cannot include the indigenous population in its national definition. Perhaps, then, this should favor partition into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. But a two-state solution will leave a significant Palestinian group inside Israel where inequality is in effect a defining cultural and political force of the state. Equality is seen, rightly, as a fatal threat to the very idea of Zionism. Thus, partition does not address this major source of conflict. Nor can Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state for reasons that are too complex to describe here, but in essence because it means recognizing the legitimacy of Zionism, which claimed their homeland as the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people. Such a partition, thus, could lead under certain circumstances to further ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Second, Israel was established based on a UN resolution, and partition was stipulated in UN General Assembly Resolution (resolution 181 of 1947). Thus, if the Jadal 3 Mada al-carmel

4 UN endorses partition, and the partition resolution is now accepted by the concerned parties and internationally, and indeed, supported regionally, how can one but pursue this option? But a closer examination of the UN resolution would show that it stipulated that although the Jewish state would have had a Jewish majority of 55%, full equality was envisioned for the Arab citizens, along with a whole range of cooperation and economic interdependence between the two states. Thus, even according to the original UN partition plan itself, an exclusive Jewish state, the fundamental tenet of Zionism, was not envisioned. Third, unlike many other settler colonialists, the Zionist settlers had no single mother country. By the time the partition plan was endorsed by the UN in 1947, the Zionist settlers had started to form a new identity based not on their countries of origin but on the Hebraic roots and the new political and cultural imagination of the new Jew. There were ordinary influences from the mother countries, but Zionist settlers did not see themselves as the emissaries of any country and, in many cases, moved to sever the emotional relations that a settler would otherwise have with the motherland, because of the discrimination and persecution they faced in some of the homeland countries. In the historical process that ensued, a new people was formed in Palestine, the Israeli-Jewish people, whose only connection is to that land (except perhaps for groups of recent immigrants, particularly the Russian immigrants). That nation, even if formed as a result of a colonial project, has the right to selfdetermination in that land and the right to live in security in it. Does this recognition of the right of the Israeli-Jewish people to self-determination lead to a solution based on partition? Possibly, but not likely. In the case of partition into two states, the political forms of self-determination in the state of Israel in its 1967 borders will have to be negotiated with the indigenous population, the Palestinians. The Palestinians in Israel will not negotiate away their rights to nationhood and equality, and such rights necessarily lead into the demands for bi-nationalism. 1 Furthermore, a just resolution to the refugees problem, which means the right to return to the part of Palestine that became Israel, will also lead to the direction of bi-nationalism inside Israel. Such a partition is not accepted by the Israelis. In conclusion, beyond the underlying difficulties of the frequently stalemated negotiation over partition such as the exclusive and expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank the questions of borders, security, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees we should ask a fundamental conceptual question: Is partition even applicable in conflicts that are settler-colonial in essence? Based on the analysis above, the partition under discussion will lead to a bi-national Israel. If that is the direction anyway, why should Israelis and Palestinians not start thinking about alternatives to partition? In such alternatives self-determination will be redefined to incorporate the national existence of both groups the entire Palestinian people and the entire Israeli Jewish people in a common homeland, the entire Palestine, based 1 See, for example, The Haifa Declaration. Jadal 4 Mada al-carmel

5 on full group and individual equality in a democratic, inclusive, and multicultural state? Once such a vision is accepted, the intellectual and political projects will become how best to think about forms of government and patterns of institutions that lead into its materialization. * Professor Nadim N. Rouhana is the founding director of Mada al-carmel and the editor of this issue of Jadal. Jadal 5 Mada al-carmel

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