November 15, 2012

EDITOR: The Netanyahu election war is raging on, and the world, as usual, does nothing

Burnt body of Gaza baby girl, murdered by the IDF on November 14th, 2012

So another war is started by Israel on Gaza and Palestine, with the ‘international community’ doing its best to look elsewhere. The newly elected Hussein Obama is otherwise busy, with stopping the PA from putting a resolution before the UN assembly, and the EU is taking its time in upgrading Israeli-EU relations to an all-time high, in return for Israel’s settlement policy, one assumes, as they are now importing 100 times more from the settlements than from Palestine! History will judge the twisted and hypocritical position taken by the west towards the people of Palestine, and especially the almost two million prisoners in the Gaza open prison, where they are isolated and incarcerated by Israel, with no contact with the outside world. None of the Israeli atrocities would have been possible fora single hour, if the Israel was not supported by the west totally, uncritically and unquestioningly.

In the meantime, Israeli fascism marches on, with more and more legislation of the Nuremberg kind being passed every day. Below you can read about the funding of schools relative to their ‘contribution’ to enlisting in the Army of Occupation. All this legislation and regulation is accepted by the WHOLE Jewish political scene in Israel, with the so-called left being in total hock to Netanyahu, and its leader, Yachimowich, trying to court the settlers as hard as she can. If she is a socialist, she must be a National Socialist.

Of the articles below, most have been written by terrified liberal Zionists in Israel, and hence do not represent my views; they are brought here as part of establishing the main theme of the blog today – the swift move towards fully-fledged fascism of the Israeli polis. This is noted with growing fear by many in Israel, but it is just too late – they should have seen this coming decade ago, when they did nothing about the continued occupation and its iniquities. For decades they felt that the occupation is nothing to do with them – they maybe did not like it, but could live with it; now the roof is indeed coming down on their heads, combining fascism and crazed religious nationalism, and they are too petrified to do anything about it. Netanyahu was always an artist of using fear.

Washington Post front page: Washington Post

The winter of Israel’s descent from democracy: Haaretz

Every person and party that is not anti-democratic must wake up and join the fray. Including, of course, the Labor Party.
By Sefi Rachlevsky     | Nov.14, 2012

Naftali Bennett’s victory in the primary held by Habayit Hayehudi constitutes a continuation of the earthquake. The latest public opinion polls give his party’s joint slate with National Union 13 Knesset seats. That was not a typographical error; seven seats are expected to move from Likud to the religious parties.

Bennett made sure that half his slate would be picked by three rabbis, headed by Dov Lior. He cooperates gladly with the rabbi who ruled that Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers at Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, is “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust”; the rabbi whom religious Zionist Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun once named as the source of a ruling that the Jewish laws of rodef and moser (which allow a person to kill someone who is trying to kill him ) applied to Yitzhak Rabin, thus leading to his murder; the rabbi whom Menachem Livni, head of the Jewish terror underground of the 1980s, said had sent him out to murder Arabs. The rabbi who endorsed the book “Torat Hamelekh: The Laws of Killing non-Jews” will rule the party that seems likely to be the second-largest in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next coalition.

Nor are Lior and Bennett alone. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party is expected to win at least 12 Knesset seats, while United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, is expected to win six. Am Shalem, the new party of Shas MK Chaim Amsellem, will win votes from secular Israelis who are unaware of the political positions that will lead him to join National Union. In short, the extremist religious parties are expected to have more than 30 MKs in the next Knesset.

It doesn’t stop there. More than half of registered Likud members are religiously observant, and a majority of them are extremists. Moshe Feiglin and around half a dozen more Jewish extremists are expected to be on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, whose late father Yosef “Tommy Lapid” was a champion of secular Israelis, is putting up a rabbi as his party’s candidate for education minister – a rabbi who is less extreme, but who still wants to “fix” homosexuals and dreams of a state governed by halakha (Jewish law ).

Altogether the next Knesset is expected to include around 40 MKs who want a halakha state. The vast majority of them also hold racist and anti-democratic views.

Nor are they alone: “Likud-Beiteinu” will hold more than 30 Knesset seats. The political implications of the two parties’ merger have already been dissected, but too little has been said about Likud’s being swallowed up in an anti-democratic sea. Thus we are looking at a Knesset in which around 70 of the 120 seats are upholstered in khaki.

The Knesset is Israel’s legislature. The outgoing Knesset also discussed social-welfare and defense issues but its main role was legislating, and what it mainly legislated was a raft of anti-democratic laws. In most cases bills that rode roughshod over democracy passed their first reading by a large majority. It was only after public figures outside the Knesset sounded the alarm that disaster was averted.

The outgoing Knesset contained a handful of people who tried to mitigate the damage. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ), the humanist Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), Eitan Cabel (Labor ), Meretz MKs led by Zahava Gal-On; Dov Khenin and Mohammmed Barakeh (Hadash ). A handful will be insufficient in the next Knesset; the threat that has risen up to destroy Israeli democracy is too great.

In “The World of Yesterday” Stefan Zweig did a marvelous job of describing the wonderful summer of 1914. How sweet it was. How preoccupied people were with their own affairs. How even after Europe embarked on the suicidal process that led to two world wars, those leaving for the battlefield sang that they would be home by Christmas.

Israelis would do well to remember this winter. It may be our last winter as a democracy.

Worst of all is the fact that this existential threat has thus far been gathering force unopposed. The camp that is supposed to try to stop this evil is busy with its own affairs – as if these were ordinary times, as if the personal were everything.

This is the time to ring all the warning bells. Any deed that could possibly be done to wake the public from its daydreams before disaster strikes is an honor to perform: handing out bumper stickers in the street, holding parlor meetings and demonstrations, influencing the political system, anything that might help. The only shame is in standing on the sidelines. Losing is permissible. But to lose the battle for democracy without even a fight is an unpardonable sin.

Every person and party that is not anti-democratic must wake up and join the fray. Including, of course, the Labor Party. The party behind Israel’s Declaration of Independence, now being trampled; the party whose leader was murdered by the anti-democratic, racist forces that oppose territorial withdrawals and that now threaten to take over Israel, cannot stand on the sidelines.

It’s worth taking a look at Bennett’s gleaming smile as he says that there will never be peace here, that almost 400,00 settlers are what matters most. Look at his intention: for the Arabs to submissively accept their current situation, in which they are deprived of citizenship, a situation of de facto apartheid. Look, and remember why that gleaming smile looks familiar. Remember, and take action.

Recipe for Labor’s fall: Haaretz

Shelly Yacimovich is correct in claiming that the Labor Party, which she heads, was never a left-wing party. The occupation has eaten away at everything here that was good.
By Zeev Sternhell     | Nov.15, 2012

Shelly Yacimovich is correct in claiming that the Labor Party, which she heads, was never a left-wing party. Indeed, it was one big jumble in which all kinds of positions and opinions found a place, and after the Six Day War, it lost its direction completely and became a helpless entity. Yet even before the Six Day War, beginning with the establishment of the state, its famous pragmatism has been nothing but blatant opportunism that blinded its eyes. Since it did not take its own ideology seriously, the Labor Party was convinced that the various sorts of right-wing parties would also betray their principles.

Among the former prime ministers, Golda Meir’s expression “socialism for our time” very soon turned into a joke, while what David Ben-Gurion called “the rule of the workers’ movement” was nothing more than a creation of dependence between the workers and the power structure of the Histadrut labor federation and the Mapai party. Another prime minister, Menachem Begin, waited 30 years until he won the elections, but did not give up the principle of Jewish sovereignty west of the Jordan River; yet 35 years after the political upheaval of 1977, the Labor Party is still wandering in the desert without a compass. For this it can thank Shimon Peres, the party’s well-known deserter, and Ehud Barak, who instead of continuing from the point where Yitzhak Rabin stood at the time he was assassinated, returned to Meir’s blueprint from the Yom Kippur War.

For many long years, the Labor Party has believed that since the nation has moved toward the right, it must slide down the slippery slope with it. Instead of trying to curb the process, it merely accelerated it. Its leaders did not think of the possibility that in addition to ideological weakness, the reason for the continual defeats at the poll since 1977 lay with them – their lack of courage, of intellectual integrity and of inner conviction.

Now Yacimovich is trying to follow in their footsteps. According to her way of thinking, if she is obsequious toward the settlers, she will be received with open arms by the right, and the Likud voters will swarm to her tent. It did not cross her mind that her end will be the same as that of the hero of the Elon Moreh settlement, Peres. Victory in elections can be achieved when one presents an ideological and personal alternative that is moral and worthy of governing, and not when one presents a copy of something else and tries to flatter people.

But the truth of the matter is that Yacimovich and Lapid are not fighting over the votes of right-wing Likud supporters, but rather over the reservoir of floating votes from the Kadima party. The real struggle is within the center bloc. As it usually happens here, the elections will be about the next war and the influence it will have on the territories. A substantial change will take place only if another quarter of a million Israelis begin to realize that there is a connection between the struggle against neoliberalism and on behalf of a just society, and doing away with the occupation.

“Socially oriented” people like Yacimovich can be found in abundance on the right of the political map too – bringing down the price of food, cheap mortgages, and annexing the settlements go together in their minds. From Labor, too, we have heard that there is consensus over the settlements. That was the reason why after Rabin’s assassination, it was nothing more than a shadow of a ruling party. Therefore, divorcing itself from the settlement enterprise is, for the Labor Party, not only the right thing to do but also a matter of survival.

When compared with Western countries, Israeli politics is so distorted that in wide swaths of the Israeli public, the word “left” has become a derogatory term. Why is it that in the whole of the Western world, from Oslo to Buenos Aires (but excluding the United States ), authentic socialist and social-democratic parties, both in power and in the opposition, are proud to carry a left-wing banner, while here it is only Meretz that bears that flag aloft?

The occupation has eaten away at everything here that was good. Social democracy does not tolerate selective justice, and the fight against neoliberalism is not just over bread, but also over the dignity of man. That is the real, proper consensus – and without it, the old-time Zionism will turn into a passing episode.

Israeli Arabs fume at plans to reward schools for IDF enlistment: Haaretz

New program to incentivize schools according to a number of criteria including matriculation results, drop-out rates and absorption of special-education students, as well as, a service to the State rate.

By  | Nov.14, 2012

Education Minister Gideon Saar and IDF chief Benny Gantz

Education Minister Gideon Saar and IDF chief Benny Gantz at an event encouraging IDF service at a Jerusalem high school on August 1, 2012. Photo by Shiran Granot

Emil Salman

MK Ahmed Tibi Photo by Emil Salman

The Arab community is enraged over a plan by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to pay differential bonuses to teachers based on the percentage of a school’s students who perform military or civilian national service.

The new model was detailed in a letter sent recently to high school principals nationwide. It states that the bonuses will be determined by four elements: “educational, social-ethical, improvement in educational achievements, and improvement in social-ethical achievements.” Specifically, the criteria will include results on the bagrut (matriculation ) exams, drop-out rates and absorption of special-education students.

The criterion that has Israeli Arabs up in arms, however, is the “measure of service to the state”: the percentage of graduates who do military or civilian national service, which will account for fully 20 percent of the bonus. While “educational” and “social-ethical” criteria will each count toward 50 percent of the bonus overall, within the latter, “service to the state” is worth 40 percent, compared to only 10 percent for, say, absorbing special-ed students.

“This decision is out of place,” said Mohammed Heidari, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee’s subcommittee on education. “Compensation should be based solely on pedagogic achievements. What’s the connection between enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces and schools?”

Since most Arabs do neither army nor civilian service, he continued, “the clear meaning of these payments is discrimination. This idea was created to discriminate against Arab schools.”

The ministry responded that under its model, each school will be judged only against its peers. Hence Arab schools won’t be judged against Jewish schools on their “service to the state,” but only against other Arab schools.

Heidari stressed that the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee will continue to oppose even civilian service as long as it isn’t severed completely from the Defense Ministry. “In the current situation, it’s an alternative form of military service, and a majority of Arab society opposes it,” he said.

Responding to complaints from Arab principals, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ) sent a letter to Sa’ar demanding that the service criterion be dropped.

“Alongside important criteria like special education, preventing drop-outs and educational achievements, it was determined that enlistment in the army or national service is a criterion that entitles schools to 20 percent of the bonus,” he wrote. “This is a nonegalitarian criterion that widens the already existing gap between Jewish and Arab schools and appears to constitute clear discrimination against Arab teachers and schools.”

The principle of differential bonuses based on the school’s achievements is part of a reform signed with the Association of Secondary School Teachers in August 2011. The Education Ministry, the union and the Finance Ministry then spent the last year finalizing the criteria, and the first payments are slated to be made to teachers at the end of the current school year.

EDITOR: Akiva Eldar is retiring from Haaretz

One of the most knowledgeable and prescient writers of Haaretz is sadly leaving the fray. He will be missed badly, with his liberal commentary and insight into the Arab world, shared by none of his colleagues. Carlo Strenger, who has recently moved beyond the corpse of the Two State solution, is honouring Eldar while disagreeing with him:

An open letter to Akiva Eldar: Haaretz

Carlo Strenger replies to Akiva Eldar’s farewell letter, asserting that the two- state solution is in fact dead.

By  | Nov.15, 2012

Dear Akiva,

I felt a twinge of pain when I read your farewell column Tuesday. You ended it saying: “Having reached the age of 67, the age of retirement, I watch with trepidation as the 1967 lines fade away, taking with them the outline of a peace that is within arm’s reach, the border of a democratic, Jewish and moral state – a country in which it would be pleasant to live the rest of my life. I watch with trepidation, yes – but not with despair.”

I have always greatly valued your journalistic integrity and your phenomenal knowledge. And I joined you in the relentless attempt to make the two-state solution happen, because, as you wrote, you have devoted most of your professional life to an effort to keep the 1967 borders alive in the public mind.But, as you know, at the end of 2011 I came to the conclusion that the the two-state solution was dead, and I have repeatedly written about this. We argued about this many times, and you wrote a column entitled ‘The Defeatism of Israel’s Left’ as a reaction to my op-ed entitled “We’ve Lost: It’s Time to Think about One State” – even though you didn’t address me by name because we are friends, and you couldn’t reach me before publication.

In your column you wrote that the one-state solution was nothing but a mirage, and that it would never work. You warned that when Palestinians would be a majority in the greater State of Israel, they might do onto us what we had done to them, and that the country could become well nigh unlivable for Jews. And you pointed out that this state would be unmanageable, because it would not be able to agree on anything – from its name to the national anthem.

I agree with every word. As opposed to those on the radical left who believe that a binational state is good and just, I think it is a recipe for decades of strife, and for a demographic battle between Jews and Arabs over gaining a tiny majority in the new parliament.

Nevertheless I believe that it is my duty to differentiate between what I want to happen and what I actually think to be a likely scenario. As you wrote in a recent column entitled “American Jews are Giving up on Israel”, Israel’s center-left bloc is simply incapable of chipping away at the strong majority of the right-religious bloc, and that all efforts from Haaretz commentators could never counteract the power of the free daily newspaper financed by Sheldon Adelson.

In fact it is at this point misleading to talk about a center-left bloc: except for Meretz no Jewish party even wants to be called left. Shelly Yacimovich has built her platform uniquely on social issues, skillfully riding the wave initiated by last year’s social protest movement. She is carefully avoiding the Palestinian issue, and in an interview to the ultra-right Radio station Arutz Sheva said that the Labor Party she leads historically isn’t a left-wing party, but belongs to the center.

In other words: Any politician who makes the Palestinian issue central to his or her platform is unlikely to get more than the three mandates that Meretz already has in the current Knesset.

Netanyahu can certainly take some credit for this situation: He has succeeded in convincing Israelis that there is no hurry in dealing with the Palestinian issue, because, after all, there has been very little terror during his tenure.

He can share this credit with Hamas. Israel’s right-wing politicians have an almost foolproof argument against engaging with the Palestinians: Hamas has made it clear, time and again, that it wouldn’t honor an agreement reached by Fatah, so why bother working towards one?

Hamas also makes sure to remind Israelis what could happen if it was to to be in charge in the West Bank, by firing rockets from the Gaza Strip – as in the last few days – strengthening the case of Israel’s right. Add to this that the Arab Spring has turned into an Islamist awakening. Even commentators who are generally more upbeat about potential developments in the Arab world are now turning glum.

Proponents of the two-state solution, like us, are at this point in history bereft of a political strategy. It has become impossible to convince Israelis to take risks for peace when the Middle East is so unstable, and the potential for further Islamist takeovers is so high.

Under these circumstances, it is unrealistic to expect Barack Obama to try coaxing Netanyahu into peace negotiations again. Tom Friedman has written in a column tellingly entitled “My President is Busy”, that Obama’s hands are full with weighty issues, and that he is unlikely to devote much energy to work towards Middle East peace with Netanyahu as prime minister for another term. Similarly Peter Beinart, a vocal supporter of the two-state solution, has claimed that Obama does not think that it is his job to stop Israel from driving itself over a cliff.

This is why I think that the two-state solution is dead. To this day I tremble when I write this: my heart cannot yet accept the facts that my brain analyses. But ever more former proponents of the two-state solution, likecolumnist Nahum Barnea, are coming around to the same conclusion.

Here then, is my question to you, Akiva: if it is indeed unrealistic to think that the two-state solution will come into being, are we not intellectually and morally obliged to look at the alternative with clear eyes?

Could it be that the time has come when we have to change our thinking radically, and when we must stop trying unsuccessfully to push Israel’s majority into a direction they do not want to take?

Could it be that we should begin a dialogue with figures on Israel’s rightlike Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, and among the settlers who genuinely believe in a peaceful and just coexistence with Palestinians?

Maybe it will work in our favor: if we present Israel’s citizens with the details of a one-state solution, they might conceivably wake up. They might realize that they keep electing parties that lead them into catastrophe.

But judging from history, there is a good chance that this will not happen. For many years we have alerted to the consequences of not separating from the Palestinians. Time and again, we repeated our mantra that this would either lead to apartheid or a bi-national state, and we didn’t succeed in convincing Israel’s electorate.

Maybe we must start discussing ideas like Lev Grinberg’s thoughtful modelfor an Israel-Palestine Union between two democratic nation-states divided into seven regional states. Because even if the two-state solution fails, we need to find ways to allow Jews and Palestinians to live alongside each other in peace and dignity.

I don’t expect you to agree, but I look forward to continuing our dialogue and friendship.



No Arabs allowed: Haaretz

It isn’t – heaven forbid – that we think it’s okay to discriminate against Arabs. After all, they are also human beings. But still, nu, you understand, they have so many restaurants of their own.

By  | Nov.14, 2012
The Soho restaurant in Rishon Letzion apparently refused an Israeli couple’s request for a reservation. Landlords deny requests from Arab citizens to rent their apartments. Businesses look for excuses to fob off Israeli applicants who seek employment, and residential communities make sure that only certain Israelis can live there.There is nothing unusual about this. Even the excuses make sense. The restaurant is full, the apartment has been promised to someone else and the employer prefers someone with slightly different qualifications. How can anyone complain about explanations like these?Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, these rejections have a common denominator. The people who were rejected suffer from a serious handicap. They are Israelis who don’t have Jewish names.Their name is Mahmoud or Sama, Khaled or Fatima. Their affliction is too hard to bear. They are Arabs. They might spoil the appetites of the diners lucky enough to have the right name: Tamir or Anat. They will frighten the neighbors named Tseela or Avimelech. They might interfere at the plant where Sasha and Olga work. Oops. Those aren’t Jewish names either, but each of them is “one of us.”The Soho restaurant that, according to the recordings, refused to take a reservation for Mahmoud and Sama Safouri from Jaffa didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It only wanted to stay in business. And a good business better not host, hire or rent to an Israeli who insists on introducing himself by his real name and speaks Arabic rather than Hebrew, English or Russian.What disaster would befall an Arab if he introduced himself as Moshe and not Moussa, Shlomo and not Suleiman? Even the Soho restaurant has no problem with Mr. and Mrs. Safouri – it’s only their weird name that’s disturbing. Ask hundreds of restaurants in Israel that hire, with no discrimination, Arab waiters, cooks and even hosts – they only have to change their names.There can be no excuse for this disgrace. Formally, Israel boasts a legal system free of discrimination; one that is blind to a citizen’s race, color or sex. But this legal system is cut off from the reality, a handsome show window that hides an impenetrable wall of racism.

This is a reality based not on equality but rather lordly slogans like “without loyalty there is no citizenship.” It rests on rabbinical rulings and toxic sermons against Arab citizens, like those by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed against renting apartments to Arabs. This is a reality that applies “No Jews allowed” to Arab citizens.

Uprooting this evil cannot depend only on the complaints of a few courageous Arab citizens who have not yet despaired of demanding their rights, not only vis-a-vis the state but mainly vis-a-vis Jewish Israeli culture. The people and authorities must boycott businesses that have adopted racism as a norm. Or maybe we don’t have to boycott. Maybe we can decide that every Jewish citizen who wants to make a reservation at a restaurant or hotel will adopt an Arab name. There’s no need to try hard to be original; after all, all of them are Ahmeds or Mahmouds.

It would be interesting to know how a popular restaurant would react if one day it received reservations only by people with Arab names. How would hotel owners react if on a weekend the reservation list filled up with Ahmed and Fatima from Herzliya Pituah and Aziz and Rima from Israel Aerospace Industries, while rounding out the day with Gal and Erga from Umm al-Fahm?

Would they shut down the restaurant and close “for renovations,” only so they wouldn’t have to host Arabs? Don’t worry. None of this is going to happen. No Jew is going to identify himself as an Arab, not even for two hours of pleasant dining at a restaurant.

It isn’t – heaven forbid – that we think it’s okay to discriminate against Arabs. After all, they are also human beings. But still, nu, you understand, they have so many restaurants of their own.

Jonathan Cook: ‘It’s time for Palestinians in Israel to stand firm against the Bantustan plan of Oslo’: IOA

By Jonathan Cook, – 12 Nov 2012

An interview with Awad Abdel Fattah

Jonathan Cook

The following interview was conducted in Nazareth with Awad Abdel Fattah, secretary general of the National Democratic Assembly party. The NDA (Al-Tajamoa in Arabic, and Balad in Hebrew) is one of three parties in the Israeli parliament representing Israel’s Palestinian minority, which numbers 1.4 million and comprises nearly a fifth of the country’s population.

The NDA is best known for the activities of its former leader, Azmi Bishara, who was forced into exile in 2007 after Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, accused him of assisting Hizbullah during Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon. No proof has so far been forthcoming.

Although the NDA has three legislators in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, both the party and its former leader have faced a relentless campaign of intimidation and persecution from the Israeli security services over many years. There have also been efforts at each national election to have the party disqualified from running.

The election due this January is no exception: even at this early stage, petitions have been submitted to the Central Elections Committee from senior legislators to ban the party and two of its Knesset members, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka.

The NDA’s chief point of friction with the Israeli establishment is over its campaign for “a state for all its citizens”, its demand that Israel be reformed into a liberal democracy. This has been classified as “subversive activity” by the Shin Bet.

This interview followed the recent publication by Abdel Fattah of a booklet in Arabic arguing both that the Palestinians inside Israel need to take a more central role in rebuilding the Palestinian national movement and that it is time for Palestinians to turn away from the illusions of the Oslo process and develop their thinking about a one-state solution.


Your new booklet has caused some controversy. What led you to reconsider the position of Palestinians inside Israel in relation both to the Palestinian national movement and the two-state solution?

As far as I am aware, this is the first serious attempt to examine the role of the Palestinians in Israel as regards the national movement. Maybe it is not surprising that there is a degree of reluctance to confront this issue. We live in a complex relationship both to Israel and to the wider Palestinian people, and therefore historically we have tended to assume we should be led by the Palestinian national leadership rather than seek to have an active voice ourselves.

But changing political circumstances – the failures both of the Palestinian national leadership to remain united and clear-sighted and of Israel to engage in a meaningful peace process – make that an irresponsible position to maintain.

The reluctance also relates to the dominant political trend here for many decades. Until the 1990s, the only non-Zionist party Israel allowed to stand in national elections was the Communist-affiliated Jebha faction (Hadash in Hebrew), a joint Arab-Jewish party. The Communists wanted to improve our situation and end discrimination but that was the limit of their political horizon. Their strategic mistake was to believe that we could become equal citizens even while Israel continued to be a Jewish state. In fact, their political platform did not really counter Zionism; rather it was designed to strengthen the Zionist left to make it easier to negotiate a two-state solution.

The result was that the Arab leaders of the Communist Party stressed their Israeli rather than their Palestinian identity. Their struggle against discrimination never sought to challenge the Jewish character of the state, or identified a relationship between the two.

My party, the NDA, is the first to rethink these historic positions. We accept our intimate connection to Israeli society but reject the Communists’ approach that puts a premium on Jewish-Arab brotherhood. We see the impasse in the peace process and our own inability to realize equal citizenship in a Jewish state as intertwined. The struggle for real coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis requires not just brotherhood but confronting Israel’s colonialism and its institutional and law-sanctioned racism.

The strategy of the Communists is risky, especially when one understands that Israel has no interest in making us equal citizens. A very real danger is that we deepen our identification with our Israeliness, thereby eroding our Palestinian national identity, while at the same time achieving no better conditions, no greater rights. In my view, if we try to achieve equality without strengthening our national identity first, we risk losing both our civil and national rights.

But our vision must extend beyond the local, the parochial. Our fight for our national rights inside Israel also, of course, has a relevance to the larger Palestinian national movement. Given the current impotence of that movement, it is our duty to take a significant role. Some Palestinian intellectuals even suggest that, given our familiarity with Israeli society, we have the potential to become the most dynamic part both of the national movement and of the struggle for a truly democratic alternative.

Is there a role model for the Palestinian national movement’s struggle?

Yes, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. There are several useful lessons from there, as I discovered during a visit in 2008.

The first is that our demands must be based on the principle of equality and not on the basis of separation and partition. Ronnie Kasrils, a South African Jew who became a military leader in the ANC, told me he had warned the PLO at the time of the Oslo Accords to reject the idea of partition. He pointed out that the ANC had rejected the Bantustans, a very similar formula to Oslo.

Second, the South African resistance did not sanctify any single means of struggle. It made use of peaceful, military and popular struggle, as the circumstances dictated. At different times, one means took precedence over another. For example, following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the banning of the ANC, there was a shift to armed struggle. However, the popular means of struggle – demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins and civil disobedience – remained essential.

And third, the leaders of the resistance were largely successful in controlling internal conflicts. The unity of the democratic national movement in South Africa was essential and it was decisive in its victory.

On the issue of unity, the Palestinian national movement has split in a dangerous manner even before it has come close to achieving its goals, and a key part of it has become almost-complicit with the occupation. This has parallels with the political distortions created by the apartheid system for the Coloreds and the Asians.

When the PLO was established in the 1960s, it was an important and unifying organization that embodied the character of the Palestinian nation and ended fragmentation. But it was given a monopoly over resources and decision-making that corrupted the mainstream leadership. Its humiliating compromises aborted the Palestinians’ main objective: the establishment of a single secular, democratic state in Palestine.

We have lost the consistency and clarity of the strategic goal that directed the South African resistance: the abolition of racism and the achievement of full equality. The Palestinian elites, on the other hand, began by proposing a single state and ended by demanding a state on just 22% of Palestine and accepting Israel as a Jewish state. Recently, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA chairman, has again suggested he is ready to compromise on the right of return.

What are the important differences between the Palestinian situation and that of the South African resistance?

The regime in South Africa was clearly and overtly racist, which made it easier to open an international front against it, particularly as the leaders of the resistance adopted and promoted a clear and consistent democratic discourse. The Israeli regime has been more sophisticated and subtle. It has pursued many racist policies in an implicit manner.

If you talk to former ANC leaders who have visited Israel and the occupied territories, they will tell you that, in fact, Israel is more dangerous and brutal than its South African counterpart. The Israeli regime originally sought to purge the land of its indigenous population precisely so that it could declare itself a democratic state and become part of the Western democratic family, which lent it every means of support. The expulsion of about 80 per cent of the Palestinian people from the 1948 borders Israel created was the first instance of racial segregation. One can therefore say that the Palestinians are at the same time the victims of Israel’s Jewishness and its democracy.

Unlike apartheid South Africa, Israel does not want to coexist with its native population; it wants to get rid of them through ethnic separation, after its failure to expel them completely. For Palestinians under occupation, Israel has constructed the Separation Wall and a special legal system for the settlers. The Wall separates Palestinians from Israel without giving them independence. In the Gaza Strip, Israel pulled out of the prison to control it from the outside. And inside Israel, the system has deteriorated towards apartheid: Palestinians in Israel have the right to vote, but they languish in a racist system that discriminates against them in all spheres of life. Our situation is similar to that of the Coloreds and Asians in South Africa, who were granted the right to vote but only for a race-based parliament.

Are there indications that Israel’s colonialist regime is weakening? And do you see any signs that the Palestinian leadership is seriously considering a one-state solution?

When I was in South Africa, I spoke to the former police minister in the apartheid government, Rolf Meyer. He was a key figure in negotiating the end of the apartheid regime, and by that stage he opposed apartheid. But when I asked him whether he foresaw the end of apartheid, his reply surprised me. Not at all, he said.

Those of us who talk about a one-state solution in the Israel-Palestine context are often dismissed as utopians. But the case of South Africa shows things can change fast and without warning.

While it is true that the Zionist colonialist regime has gained momentum on the ground since Oslo, it has also increasingly lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Particularly important is the fact that many people are waking up to the idea that Israel is an apartheid state and that it deserves a resolution no different from what happened in South Africa. Racist regimes are illegitimate and cannot survive.

The debate about one state is being revived by Palestinians, even among those who have yet to accept the idea. But one of the problems is that the PA is still using this discussion as a way to frighten Israelis. The demand for justice and equality should not be used as a scare tactic: in fact, we should be making the argument that one state would be good for Israelis too.

The overriding goal now is to reunite all the Palestinian people, wherever they are, under one project – to incorporate marginalized groups like the Palestinians in Israel and the refugees into one comprehensive struggle. It’s time to unite all groups and individuals who embrace the democratic option in a single movement.

The view you’re advocating appears to a decisive break with the political thinking of your own party. The ANC, for example, rejected collective or national rights and restricted its demands to individual rights within a single democratic state. But the NDA identifies itself as a nationalist party, and demands cultural and educational autonomy.

As the party’s secretary general, I have to take the initiative and push the debate towards the ANC’s approach. I have always been a believer in a single state as the most just and ethical solution to the conflict.

Remember that the NDA’s traditional position on this issue derives from the circumstances of its creation. The party was founded in the mid-1990s in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Oslo Accords, in which both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships agreed that our future as a minority lay inside Israel. This forced us to consider afresh the nature of our citizenship on the basis of the struggle to combat Zionism.

In the context of the two-state solution proposed by Oslo, collective rights became essential, as there could be no equality without these rights. This was reflected in the demand of the NDA for self-determination for the Palestinian minority in Israel through a cultural self-rule under our party’s slogan of a “state for all its citizens”.

Palestinians in Israel have many individual rights as citizens but these rights are usually subservient to, and therefore negated by, the national rights exclusively enjoyed by the Jewish majority. This is true for all the major issues of citizenship. Because they have national rights, Jews enjoy privileges regarding immigration; access to key resources like land; financial benefits, including employment, derived from Israel’s all-encompassing view of security; assistance from international Zionist organizations like the Jewish National Fund; and so on.

The implicit message of our platform of a state for all its citizens was that, given the reality that we are a Palestinian minority living in a Jewish state, our first priority must be to demand both individual and national rights.

This is why we are a nationalist party – not in a chauvinistic sense but because we recognize that there can be no hope of equality for us in a Jewish state unless we advance our own national rights, strengthen our national identity, and create and develop our own national institutions. This is a vital way of modernizing our society and confronting traditional tribal and sectarian divisions that Israel is keen to exploit through its policy of “divide and rule”.

Some of us in the party were skeptical from the start both about the Oslo process – I personally never gave up on one democratic state and so preferred not to run for the Knesset myself – and about it being possible to reform the Jewish state. We assumed it would never sanction such a challenge. But for those members, including myself, the goal of the struggle itself was to clarify these matters, forcing the state of Israel to reveal its true nature through its need to retaliate against our legitimate and democratic demands.

Our party’s first leader, Azmi Bishara, for example, used his position in the Knesset to transform what was a predominantly Zionist chamber into an arena of ideological confrontation. It was through his being in the Knesset that he was able to expose the inner contradictions of the Jewish state as a source of the structural discrimination against Palestinians in Israel.

But now with the irrelevance of the two-state solution, we as Palestinians in Israel have to rethink our approach. We have to respond.

As long as our struggle is within the context of a Jewish state, we must advance a national rights discourse to preserve our identity from the threat of Israelization. But in parallel we need to start articulating and developing a role in the Palestinian national movement, as part of a new Palestinian response to the Israeli policies of apartheid all Palestinians face.

Our duty now is to take as our starting-point the universality of the struggle by Palestinians – in Israel, in the occupied territories, in exile – against Zionist colonialism. The correct response to our shared situation is a struggle for a one-state solution. This is based on an understanding that an end to Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories will not transform Israel into a normal state that can treat its non-Jewish citizens equally.

So what is the most effective role Palestinian citizens can play in Israeli politics, assuming that a Jewish state will always exclude them from the centers of power?

Our traditional strength derived from the fact that we, as a community, survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948 [the Nakba]. We remained in our homeland, even as it was transformed into a Jewish state.

But today, our strength derives from something different: we pose the biggest challenge to Israel’s claim to be a democracy. Our political dissent finds expression not through armed resistance or violence but through non-violent struggle and modern political thinking. This both constrains the Israeli establishment in the reaction it prefers, which is violence, and strips Israel of its pretence of being a democracy. Israel struggles to justify its repressive policies against a “peaceful minority”; when it tries to do so, its anti-democratic agenda is revealed to the world.

Israel desperately wants to transform our strengths into weaknesses, and use them as an alibi to further marginalize us. At a minimum it wants to strip us of what is left of our lands and the rights we have as citizens; others, such as the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, openly advocate our forced transfer.

Look at Israel’s discourse about us: we pose a “demographic threat” to the ruling Jewish majority by having too many babies; our rising political consciousness, translated into the Visionary Documents [demanding wholesale political reform], threatens to destroy the Jewish state by reinventing it as a state for all its citizens; our efforts to renew contacts with the Arab world are seen as cover for a secret goal of forging ties with the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements; and so on.

The challenge for us is to reverse this discourse and shine a light back on Israel so that its colonialist and racist agenda is apparent to outsiders.

Given that there is an Israeli election rapidly approaching, what is the best strategy for the Palestinian parties, including the NDA, to adopt?

Well, just as unity is needed among the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories, we need the same here. We ought to be putting our energy into creating a joint list for the coming elections. Two of the three major Palestinian parties that contest elections, the NDA and the United Arab List [comprising Islamic and socially conservative factions] want to create such a list.

Even some among the Communists are moving in this direction, such as MK Hanna Swaid and [Nazareth mayor] Ramez Jeraisi. But others leaders of the party are adamantly opposed, worried that it would lose them what little Jewish support they still enjoy. The Communists’ objections should be identified as the sole obstacle to the establishment of a joint list.

There are, of course, parties that reject outright the legitimacy of standing in the national elections, especially the northern Islamic Movement [led by Sheikh Raed Salah] and my former party, the Sons of the Village [Abnaa al-Balad, a small Marxist party that has long been identified with George Habash’s PFLP]. The Sons of the Village, which was founded at the end of the 1960s and whose members have been subjected to constant harassment ever since, was one of the initiators of the NDA.

We are currently at a crossroad. There is a very serious debate, one that we regularly host in the NDA, about whether Palestinian parties should continue standing in national elections. On the one hand, running does confer a degree of legitimacy on a political system that is designed to exclude us. But on the other, the Knesset provides a platform for publicly contesting the state’s Jewish character and it makes our case visible to the international community.

My feeling is that by using the Knesset properly, as an arena of ideological confrontation, as Azmi Bishara did and our current Knesset members do, Israel will be forced to respond according to the logic of a Jewish state: by banning us. In the run-up to this election, senior members of the ruling coalition have already submitted applications to the Central Elections Committee for the disqualification of the party and two of our MKs, Haneen Zoubi and Jamal Zahalka.

My own experiences typify those of our membership. Over the past 30 years of my political activity, I have been routinely persecuted by the security services, with a series of arrests, interrogations, administrative orders, and delays and harassment at the airport.

The CEC will undoubtedly disqualify us, as it has done before. Then the issue is whether we fight our disqualification in the Supreme Court, which in the past has overruled the CEC, even if narrowly, or accept the disqualification and call for a boycott. In my view, we should adopt the second position. There is something unseemly about constantly turning to the Supreme Court to be allowed to stand. We are forced to appear as the “defendants”, seeking to justify our right to be allowed to use democratic tools. But we should be on the offensive, against Israel’s racism and colonialism.

Are there other ways to create unity among the Palestinian leadership in Israel?

A major channel would be the establishment of a directly elected and genuinely representative Higher Follow-Up Committee [the only national body for the Palestinian minority, dominated by village mayors and the political parties but nonetheless denied recognition by Israel]. It would be a Palestinian parliament inside Israel, giving us as a minority a significant national platform outside the Knesset.

At the moment the Follow-Up Committee is a weak and compromised body. In the past it played an important role in coordinating activities against the abusive policies of the state. But confronted by ever-greater hostility from officials, the Committee’s outdated structure has been unable to rise to the challenge. It has been unresponsive to the fundamental changes taking place among Palestinians in Israel. This is why we have been lobbying to reform and rebuild the Committee.

Elections for an independent assembly would provide an opportunity for Palestinians in Israel to hold their leaders to greater account, and that way encourage them to become more united and more effective. A reformed Committee is vital if we are to have a representative leadership capable of speaking with authority to other Palestinians and helping to develop the Palestinian national movement.

There seems to be a strong tension on these key issues between the NDA and the Communists. Can you explain why both sides appear unable to set aside their differences?

The Communist Party in Israel offers a very distorted interpretation of Marxism and internationalism. In fact, it has always adhered to Jewish nationalism. Every time an Arab nationalist party emerged – whether the al-Ard movement, the Sons of the Village, or our own NDA party – the Communists fought it, arguing that it was undermining the internationalist movement. But in practice they betrayed that movement. Look at Dov Chenin [the sole Jewish legislator in the parliament for Hadash]. He is unapologetic about supporting the Jewish character of the state. He sees no problem with that.

The NDA is a new leftist party. Our focus on nationalism derives from the peculiar political environment in which we find ourselves in Israel. We face oppression in a Jewish state not because we belong to the working class but because of our national identity. We are discriminated against because we are Palestinians. Upper-class and working-class Jews in Israel may be divided by their economic circumstances but they are still united politically in the project to steal our lands, and keep their privileges as Jews. Therefore to engage in an effective political struggle, we must revive and strengthen our national identity at the same time as fostering Jewish-Arab cooperation.

The Communists have to resolve this problem. They decided to sacrifice the national struggle to keep a few thousand Jewish votes so that they could continue to claim the party was a joint Jewish-Arab party. But things are changing, especially among the younger generation of Communists, who have been affected by our national-democratic discourse. This is worrying the party leaders.

The Palestinians in Israel have often been overlooked or, worse, distrusted by the Palestinian national movement? Are there signs of a change on that front?

Yes, though things have been changing for some time. Don’t forget that our first major uprising dates back to 1976, when the Palestinians in Israel staged a peaceful general strike. It was quelled by force, with six Palestinian citizens killed and hundreds of others wounded. Palestinians everywhere commemorate those events each year as Land Day.

And then in October 2000, at the start of the second intifada, Palestinians citizens forced themselves powerfully to the center of the conflict. Our community remained non-violent but we staged mass protests fuelled by outrage at Israel’s brutal suppression of our kin in the occupied territories. The demonstrations became violent only when the Israeli security forces were ordered to use live ammunition to suppress them. Thirteen of our number were killed in a few days and hundreds seriously wounded.

This uprising was the longest and most inclusive the Palestinian minority had ever gone through. But importantly it also showed Palestinians outside that we felt a powerful connection to their struggle for justice.

In the 12 years since then, Israel’s escalating oppression has eroded the distinction between our situation and that of our kin in the occupied territories. The feeling is growing that our fates are bound together.

In my view, one of the main obstacles preventing the Palestinian minority from moving towards coordinating action with the Palestinian national movement against Israel’s apartheid, colonialist regime is the grave impotence of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is running the occupation on Israel’s behalf. It has shown that it lacks the will and courage to take bold and innovative steps to extricate the national movement from this acute impasse.

Of course, the unique situation of the Palestinians in Israel, given that we are legally part of the state of Israel, necessitates careful handling of the challenges we face. But the complexity of our situation in the conflict should not deter us from rethinking our role and preparing to make a greater contribution to the general Palestinian struggle if and when the Palestinian national movement embraces the one-state solution.

So explain why the one-state debate has been slow to gain traction among the Palestinian parties in Israel?

Well, think about the problems our party, the most innovative on this issue, has faced. As founders of the NDA, we resorted to allusion rather than to clarity on this point for three reasons.

First, there were divisions within the party. Some of us had arrived as supporters of a one-state solution, while others were swept up in the euphoria at that time surrounding the two-state solution.

Second, we wanted to stay within the Palestinian national consensus, which after Oslo regarded a proposed solution as applying to the 1967 occupied territories only.

And third, as long as we chose to participate in Knesset elections, we were required to commit ourselves to the Parties Registration Law, which made and continues to make support for a one-state solution extremely difficult, if not illegal.

But the debate has started to gain momentum because the reality gets clearer every day. Those interested in the conflict can no longer ignore the fact that Israel’s so-called temporary occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has proved to be permanent.

Ironically, this grim reality was given cover by Oslo, the very process that was supposed to terminate Israel’s colonialism. The key premise of the Communist Party in Israel – that a reconciliation between the PLO and Israel would lead to equality for Palestinian citizens – had shown itself to be wishful thinking. The eruption of the second Intifada was an expression on a mass-scale of the frustration of Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories with the Oslo process.

Also, Palestinians in Israel have hundreds of thousands of relatives living in exile as refugees. They have a profound stake in a just solution not only for themselves but also for the wider Palestinian people.

Israel’s racist practices, coupled with its two bloody wars against Lebanon and besieged Gaza in 2006 and 2008, have led many observers, academics and political activists around the world to redefine Israel as a colonialist-apartheid regime. Because all Palestinians, including those living in Israel, are subject to a unitary system of oppression, we need a unitary form of redress. Racism, apartheid and colonialism are illegitimate and therefore need to be dismantled.

Where do you think the struggle of Palestinians must head next?

The first challenge is to break the imbalance of forces created by the “peace process”, which has left deep flaws and distortions in the consciousness of many in the Palestinian elites. They came to be one of benefactors of the peace industry, and therefore had an investment in accepting the de facto division and fragmentation of the Palestinian people. Palestinians must rediscover the values of national liberation and the spirit of anti-colonial resistance that the national movement championed for decades.

The Palestinians in Israel too were victims of the Oslo accords and its assumption that Israel would remain a racist Jewish state. They were excluded by all parties – Israeli, international and Palestinian. Only recently can we see people returning to reconsider the roots of the conflict.

The NDA party, which opposed Oslo from the beginning, has been leading the struggle against the root of the problem: the ideology of Zionism. Our political struggle was expressed through the slogan “a state for all its citizens”.

With an understanding of the inner contradictions of Zionism, Palestinians can struggle more effectively for a single-state democracy. Unlike the Palestinian national movement in the 1967 occupied territories, where horizontal and vertical divisions have dominated, Palestinians in Israel are in better shape, both politically and organizationally.

Despite ideological and political differences, the political parties here meet and agree on many crucial and tactical issues. But, given that we have been subjected to a heightened campaign of incitement, threats of expulsion and an economic suffocation that means more than half of us live under the poverty line, the minority needs real support and attention from solidarity movements if we are to contribute more effectively. More and more observers and academics warn too that the Palestinian minority is close to an explosion.

The NDA believes that Palestinians in Israel must reorganize themselves on a national basis, and elect their professional and educational institutions. This is a pre-condition for engaging more powerfully in the struggle against colonization and apartheid, and for justice.

It is worth noting that scores of Israeli anti-Zionist intellectuals have recently come up strongly in favor of one democratic state. Though they are on the margins of the margins of Israeli society, they add a vital moral dimension to the struggle for justice. They are integral to a united movement for a truly democratic solution, which ensures the emancipation of the Palestinians from this most dangerous form of colonialism. Israeli Jews will only be able to live in safety when they accept that they are part of the region and not of the West.

Jonathan Cook won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books); and his new website is