Although Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute twenty percent of the population, they cannot partake in the Jewish ethos of the state and are considered an obstacle to the common good. How can Palestinian citizens both maintain their independent identity and achieve equality? The writer offers a binational model as the most just solution.
By Fady Khoury
Recent legislation targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel is the product of the right wing’s view that they are “bad citizens,” because they, the Palestinian citizens, identify with the “Palestinian enemy” and refuse to acknowledge their “Israeliness.” But what constitutes a good citizen? The Good Citizen is one who invests in the state, who shares the collective goal of its prosperity, who contributes to the common good. The Good Citizen is willing to sacrifice in order to defend the state when it is threatened by external forces, abides by its laws, is an active participant in its political life and perceives its demise as his or her own.
So is it possible for Palestinian citizens of Israel to be Good Citizens within the Jewish state paradigm? Or does the exclusive identity of the state make it impossible? In my view, Palestinian citizens cannot be Good Citizens under the present paradigm, without it conflicting with the main features of their identity. If a state is to be defined based on ethnic characteristics, it must include components from its indigenous minorities’ collective identity, if they are to be invested in its development and prosperity.
This view is based on the indigenousness of the minority. Minorities that are the product of immigration are morally less entitled to voice such demands, since the mere act of immigration may be construed as acceptance of the constitutional identity of the entity to which they immigrated. Classic democratic theory holds that the majority should decide on the parameters of the state. Meaning, the state should adapt to the majority, and the minority must adapt to the parameters set by the majority.
I object to this view. The structure, nature and overall identity of the political entity, cultivated at the formation stage of civilian life, should be determined through a just and moral process.
John Rawls suggested such a process, which he called “the veil of ignorance.” It refers to a hypothetical situation in which the decision-makers are equipped with relevant data about the society to which their decisions apply, with the exception of that regarding the social group to which they belong. This exercise is meant to make them consider the implications of their decisions on all sectors of society, forcing them to choose policies that are the least harmful to the weakest groups. The model is intended to guide us in eliminating partisan consideration in our quest for justice and morality, by considering the ramifications of decisions on all social groups.
The identity of a state should be decided according to this principle, as should the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Back to the initial question: how can my identity, as a Palestinian who is also a citizen of Israel, who in some respects shares the same values as fellow Jewish citizens, not stand in contradiction to the state’s identity? Under the premise of the state’s Jewish identity, my identity is an obstacle, and thus full equality can never be achieved. Any attempt to be a virtuous citizen through my cultivated Palestinian identity will fail. A choice must be made between the two.
The state constantly attempts to redefine the identity of its Palestinian citizens. It preserves the monopoly in determining which contents are to be taught in the minority’s separate education system, and in principles regulating laws and policies. This in turn invites a counter-attempt from the Palestinians to reinforce their identity and differentiate themselves, leading to self imposed segregation. Being good citizens in the Jewish state requires assimilation. Being a Palestinian is a danger to the state’s identity.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict around the lines of the two-state solution – with a Jewish state within the Green Line and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – will not fix that. A large Palestinian minority will remain inside the Jewish state and a Jewish minority will probably remain within the borders of the Palestinian state. On the other hand, the binational state model, a one-state solution for the two nations, could, if genuinely implemented, give the Palestinians and the Jews the opportunity to be good citizens while preserving their ethnic and cultural identities.
The question remains whether a binational state model should be applied to the entire territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, or only within the Green Line. I don’t see any reason to limit the binational state only to the territory within the Green Line. Those who call for this solution must justify the need for borders. And the question of fairness towards the Jews of Israel arises, since from their standpoint, such a demand means that they would have to give up their identity’s exclusivity inside the Green Line while the Palestinians would have an all Arab state in the 1967 territories.
Even those who call for two separate states, one Palestinian and one Jewish, must explain how that would solve the Palestinian minority’s issue, which is relevant today and would still be relevant with the existence of a sovereign Palestine in the 1967 territories. There would be an absence of the groundwork enabling the Palestinian citizens of the Jewish state and the Jewish citizens of the Palestinian state, should the settlers choose to stay put, to be good citizens. The two separate ethnic states model simply will not bring regional peace, nor will it ensure domestic stability within the two states.
Arguments against the validity of the binational solution focus on claims of hatred between the two peoples. In my view, this hatred has been created and can be reversed. Most people want to live in dignity and equality. Once a structure that can offer this is established, the legal system will then deal with the violent extremists from both sides.
From the standpoint of a decision-maker who doesn’t know to which group they belong, a binational state would be the model of choice, the most moral and just. In this territory, each of these groups can preserve and cultivate their identities. If you are Jewish, you may insist on the Law of Return; as a Palestinian, you would insist on the refugees’ return – the two concepts aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
If a binational state is established, Jews and Palestinians will be citizens of a state that reflects the main features of their identities and fulfills their group’s right to self-determination. A strict constitutional frame would need to be put in place to guarantee the collective rights of both peoples, and more importantly to educate future generations, who will view their partnership as a sacred constitutional value.
The constant talk of separation fosters the belief that inherent dangers are supposedly lurking in the other side’s agenda and intentions. This doesn’t have to be the case. It became the case due to an approach of exclusivity, on the part of both the Palestinians and the Jews. In the binational state, we will all be motivated to be Good Citizens.