Imad Alsoos, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and Shir Hever, scholar and journalist
The increasingly plausible discussion of a one-state solution between Israel and the West Bank intentionally ignores Gaza. But Gaza will be an essential component of any final status in the areas of mandatory Palestine. Two million Palestinians live in Gaza, 75% of which are refugees whom Israel expelled by force in 1948 and their descendants. Israel’s desire to avoid dealing with Gaza is long-standing. Yitzhak Rabin reflected the Israeli desire to ignore Gaza when he said “As far as I’m concerned, Gaza can drown in the sea. In reality Gaza refuses to do this, so we’ll have to live with this ulcer for many more years and generations.”
What do Gazans think about Israel’s moves towards annexation of parts of the West Bank and the emergent one-state reality? To determine the perspective of Gazans on the one-state-solution, we extensively interviewed by phone seven Gazans in December 2019 and January 2020. Most did not raise principled objections to a one-state solution, but rather highlighted pros and cons on the path towards such an end-state. The most frequently cited reasons for pessimism about the prospect for a one-state solution were “the settler-colonial nature of the Zionist movement,” “political divisions among Palestinian parties,” and “Western unconditional support for Israel.”
These Gazans express disappointment with Fatah and Hamas governance under the occupation as facilitating acceptance of the one-state solution. The Great March of Return, a popular regular protest which takes place on the border between Gaza and Israel demanding the return of the refugees and the end of the siege, is then a repudiation of those parties as much as of Israel. The Gazans we interviewed also highlighted the social and the demographic elements which will make many Jewish Israelis hesitant to accept a one-state solution. One Gazan wondered: “what guarantee can the Israeli Jews have that if they become a small minority, they will not face genocide, given what they did previously especially in 1948.” He added the Israeli society is secular and western in comparison to conservative and religious society like the Palestinian one; “I doubt that we are ready to live within secular state.”
Some Gazans thus continue to argue that the two-state solution is still the least difficult option. The one-state project, they emphasize, should not overlook or be a free pass for the current practices of the occupation and settler-colonialism. Without international sanctions on the violations of international law similar to those which were imposed on the Apartheid regime in South Africa, they do not see this solution, or any other solution, as possible.
TENSION BETWEEN ANNEXATION AND SEPARATION
The history of the Zionist movement describes a constant tension between the “annexationist” and the “separationist” camps. The former seeks a settler-colonial territorial expansion, often grounded with religious justifications for destroying or expelling the native Palestinian population. The latter seeks a classical colonial rule which favors economic expansion and exploitation to territorial expansion. Claiming to be more “rational” (i.e. not religious), it argues that a two-state solution will ensure a Jewish majority on the Israeli side of the Green Line – 1967 borders. The separationist camp was strongly represented in the administrations of Israeli prime ministers Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, but since 2009, the annexationist camp has been firmly in power, and the separationists are in retreat. The ultimate achievements of the separationist camp during the two decades in which it was in power were the Oslo Agreement, the Separation Wall and the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005. Annexationists therefore consider Gaza to be a painful reminder of the separationist policies. They cannot allow the situation in Gaza to stabilize because that would undermine their annexation plans for the West Bank.
Just as with the Oslo Agreements and the Separation Wall, the Israeli authorities failed to fully disengage from the Gaza Strip because the annexationist elements refused to recognize any sovereignty over Gaza than the Israeli, and refused to relinquish control. As with Giorgio Agemben’s concept of the Homo Sacer, separation therefore takes a symbolic form: the Palestinians of Gaza aren’t rid of Israeli domination, but the pretense of separation allows the Israeli forces to dehumanize them and repress or kill from them without consequence.
The Israeli “peace camp” frequently mimics the dual colonial gaze by choosing not to see the Gaza Strip. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin surprised many when he called for a one-state solution by granting Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians, an act which was lauded as progressive and generous but what would such an Israeli-West Bank union mean for Gaza, other than perpetuating a reality of an open-air prison for people without rights?
Netanyahu’s July annexation plan is for the annexationist camp the equivalent of the Oslo Agreements for the separationists. The materialization of nationalistic aspirations can make or break the entire annexation strategy. If annexation fails to meet the messianic expectations of the Israeli right-wing, it is too late for the separationist camp to be revived. Israeli politics will be forced to take a new direction.
GREAT MARCH OF RETURN: FROM HUMANITARIAN DISCOURSE TO RIGHTS DISCOURSE
The Great March of Return (GMR) is a non-violent strategy, introduced by civil society groups in Gaza and later appropriated by Hamas, in order to pressure Israel to end its siege on Gaza and to recognize the right of return. The GMR started on Land Day on March 30, 2018 as weekly protest, and became a monthly protest since December 2019. Israeli forces shot dead 317 protesters and injured 19,400 and brought international attention to the misery in Gaza. It also transformed into a bargaining tool between Hamas and Israel to ease the siege. Our interviewees think that the achievements of these protests are small, but that the continual protest in the face of repression is unique, and is an important non-violent approach, relevant especially should the Palestinians agree on a one-state solution. Currently, it is the only strategy of resistance that can unify the major factions, Fatah and Hamas.
The GMR is revolutionary because it undermines both the colonial gaze and the Hamas model of armed resistance at the same time. It is a spectacle carefully designed by Palestinian civil society actors based on their understanding not only of the Israeli dual colonial gaze, but also on their understanding of how that gaze is perceived in the global media. The Israeli refusal to see Palestinians as human beings is exposed as snipers open fire on unarmed civilians, including journalists, medics and children. The attack on the fence reifies the segregation and brings the one-state solution to the fore by showing the cruelty embedded in partition.
Put differently, the GMR is not just effective in piercing the Israeli segregation policy, but also in piercing the reluctance of certain Palestinian factions to adopt the one-state solution. Hamas was overwhelmed by the popular support to the GMR and has being building on it to pressure Israel to ease to siege on Gaza.
If Palestinian factions chose the one-state as their option, then the form of resistance that the GMR introduces would serve as both internally unifying and externally the most available effective strategy. Taking effectiveness as the focal point, the experience of the Palestinian First Intifada and the Second Intifada are good examples as the former pushed Israel to accept the ‘peace process’ while the latter gave Israel the pretext to increase its project of settler colonialism.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE SERVICE OF SEGREGATION
International actors, especially Europeans, who recognize the division within the Zionist movement, tend to favor the separationist camp and adopt the “rational” approach propagated by separationist Zionists as if Palestinians will only resist so long as they have nothing to lose, and material comforts can disarm the Palestinian uprising. Most recently, Trump-Netanyahu plan – known as “Deal of the Century” – was based on precisely this logic, a restating of Netanyahu’s “economic peace” agenda: pacifying Palestinians with the promise of economic development.
In the context of the Gaza Strip, this has taken the form of the Singapore analogy. Singapore’s rapid economic growth despite its small size, population density and lack of political freedom has been presented as a model for Gaza to imitate. Of course, it is easy to forget that Singapore’s economic growth was propelled by large-volume trade and the free movement of goods, capital and people into and out of the country, none of which is allowed by the Israeli government regarding Gaza.
Palestinians are wary of the Singapore analogy, as they recognize it to be an excuse to justify segregation. One of our interviewees said “we are dependent on Israel financially and economically.” In light of the burning humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip right now, a severe lack of clean water, electricity and health services, talk of Singapore-like prosperity ring hollow and dishonest.
These economic conditions could be addressed more practically within a one-state reality which incorporated Gaza, especially compared to the Apartheid and Bantustan state that the Trump-Netanyahu plan proposed to address the humanitarian catastrophe. The existing infrastructure and social welfare institutions available to Israelis are far from satisfactory, and stretching them to include two million Gazans will be a monumental challenge, but this is surmountable with political will. A priority would be to offer immediate, even if partial, relief to the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza by reopening hospitals to Gazan patients and their families, reconnecting Gaza to the already-existing Israeli water system, electricity system and sewage disposal system, which have been constructed and designed to control and serve the entire area of Israel/Palestine anyway.
Over time, a policy based on a one state reality could help deal with the crushing problem of unemployment in Gaza, through removing checkpoints and absorbing tens of thousands of Gazans in various sectors of the economy. This could reach the many Gazans who already depend on social security and pensions (for work which they did for Israeli employers before the siege) and civil servants who would establish basic services (such as unemployment benefits and income guarantee). In the even longer term, dismantling the refugee camps and rebuilding as residential neighborhoods would alleviate the population density. A unified education system and trade policy would create a chance for the next generation to recover from the damage imposed by the siege and occupation, and social programs would be implemented to accelerate the closing of social gaps.
INTERNAL PALESTINIAN PERSPECTIVE: PROS AND CONS
Internal political divisions among Palestinian factions impede dialogue which might allow a coherent Gazan policy towards these challenges. However, these disagreements can simultaneously facilitate a shift towards a one-state solution.
The Fatah-led PLO’s acceptance of the Oslo agreement and cooperation with Israel on security has only outsourced the occupation and given a free pass for Israel to expand settlements. This acceptance has intensified the divisions among the Palestinian factions. One Gazan approvingly argued that “Hamas played a role in the failure of Oslo,” referring to its suicide bombings between 1994 and 1996. He also criticized Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s actions to isolate and repress opposition, which led to political division and the colonial geographic separation between Gaza and the West Bank.
Some local Gazans therefore argue that an internal dialogue among all Palestinian factions must take place before the one-state solution would become an acceptable option: “Palestinian factions need to learn to disagree and to come into compromise over one national strategy.” In such discussions, “all Palestinian factions, mainly the resistance current including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad should be included”; otherwise, it will face the same end as the two-state solution and will intensify the Palestinian suffering and loss of territory. Another Gazan concurred that “any solution needs a unified Palestinian front” to be able to become a way out for the “Palestinian plight.”
However, our interviewees emphasized “the current internal situation leads to nowhere and seems eternal.” “We cannot comprehend these divisions.” The interviewees added that both sides: Fatah and Hamas, failed to provide good governance whether in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. Instead, they politically divided the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” cementing the colonial policy of segregation. Any viable solution must “make of the one-state solution an acceptable option for Gazans as much as the West Bankers.” Without that, the project is doomed to fail.
This paper explored the one-state solution from the eyes of local Palestinians in Gaza. Despite the broad principled support for it, Gazans are chiefly concerned with survival and immediate solutions first such as ending the occupation, and are skeptical after having experienced so many broken promises.
We conclude that the discourse about a one-state solution requires a more detailed discussion and planning in order to become a viable option in the near future among local Palestinians. Palestinians are aware that as Apartheid fell in South Africa, the African National Congress was quick to compromise on economic equality in order to achieve political equality, and later regretted it. A rights-based solution is therefore better than a humanitarian-oriented solution. Injustice cannot be addressed stage by stage, but a vision of the goal in which all people are treated respectfully and equally from the very beginning in terms of politics, economy, religion, culture and, for its main purpose, security.
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