A Palestinian house reflected in an Israeli glass building in Haifa. (Credit: Sherene Seikaly, 2003)
As President Barack Obama embarks on his listening tour in the Middle East, he is likely to witness the impact of two decades of the Oslo peace process. Twenty years, dozens of summits and millions of dollars have brought Palestinians and Israel no closer to establishing a viable peace.
The US-brokered agreement has been associated with a mantra of establishing two states for two peoples, living side by side. In fact, Israel has existed as a state since 1948 and Palestinians have remained internally displaced within that state, exiled from it and occupied by it in adjacent territories. More significantly, Jewish Israelis and non-Jewish Palestinians, Israeli citizens and stateless civilians alike, are inextricably populated throughout a single territorial entity under Israeli control. The call for two states is really a call for the separation of two populations based on ethno-national homogeneity. The proposal has failed, not just because of a lack of accountability, but because it is fundamentally flawed. Like prescribing aspirin to deal with cancer, Oslo offered truncated self-rule as a prescription for Jewish-Israeli settler-colonialism and domination.
Much like Marcus Garvey’s proposition in response to the Black Question in the United States, Zionists insisted upon the creation of a Jewish homeland in response to systemic anti-Semitism in Europe. The horror of the European Holocaust catalyzed the Zionist option and has, since then, eclipsed all other responses to institutionalized and ethnic-based bigotry. It has thus been excruciatingly difficult, if not impossible, to critique Jewish-Zionist domination in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) without falling prey to accusations of anti-Semitism. Fundamentally, however, both the opposition to anti-Semitism as well as to Jewish-Israeli privilege is rooted in an anti-domination discourse.
Establishing a Demographic Majority
Due to the insistence upon maintaining a Jewish demographic majority, Israel’s establishment and maintenance has necessitated the ongoing forced displacement of Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Well before Israel’s establishment, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s chief architect and two-time prime minister, said that in order to be successful, Jews must comprise 80 percent of the population, hardly a plausible ratio in light of a vibrant Palestinian society in 1948. As put by the Israeli historian Benny Morris during an interview discussing his book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited,
Ben Gurion…understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst…that has to be clear, it’s impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen there.
And so based on that vision, Zionists demolished 531 Arab villages and expelled some 700,000 Palestinians from what is today Israel proper. The “problem,” so to speak, is that Zionist forces did not expel all Palestinians. Instead, the 100,000 Palestinians remaining within Israel at the conclusion of the 1948 war today constitute a 1.2 million-person population, approximately 20 percent of Israel’s total population.