A democracy founded on equal justice and civil rights for all citizens is a ridiculously utopian vision, but it is also the only realistic solution.
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
—The Balfour Declaration (1917)
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (1960s)
No justice, no peace.
—Slogan used in protests against police violence (from the 1980s)
If God as some now say is dead, He no doubt died of trying to find an equitable solution to the Arab-Jewish problem.
—I. F. Stone (1967)
Impelled by centuries of persecution culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, the State of Israel was established on land captured by Great Britain from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and inhabited for centuries by Arab Palestinians. Despite the Balfour Declaration’s pious but vague stipulation that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” quite a lot was done, and thus in the effort to resolve one gross injustice a second gross injustice was committed and has continued to this day.
“If the Jews give one-tenth the devotion to Arab relations that they’ve given to the land, they can build a secure homeland,” wrote I. F. Stone in 1945. That did not happen. Instead, a political and economic struggle was spun into an ethnic struggle featuring implacable hatred on both sides. The abortive U. N. partition plan of 1947 sparked a war that resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel by force. In 1964 Stone wrote, “The usual Jewish attitude toward the Arabs is one of contemptuous superiority.”
Partition has never been the solution to such conflicts, whether it appears in the form of a wall, a border, a system of apartheid, or endemic prejudice that institutionalizes injustice. No justice, no peace. So long as the State of Israel’s slow-drip ethnic cleansing continues, though the level of violence fluctuates and creates at times the illusion of peace, the war will go on.
There is no reason to expect this atrocious situation to change. It would require extraordinary events and extraordinary leaders—one thinks of F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela—to imagine a better future and bring it into being. What’s needed is not a “two-state solution” but a single inclusive democracy founded on equal justice and civil rights for all citizens, whatever their religious, racial, ethnic, or linguistic differences. That’s a ridiculously utopian vision, but it is also the only realistic solution—not just for Arabs and Israelis, but for all of us, everywhere.