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December 23, 2009

A one-state solution in the area is not as farfetched as it might seem.

Steps to create an Israel-Palestine

By Jonathan Kuttab
December 20, 2009

For a while, it seemed that a two-state solution might actually be achievable and that a sovereign Palestinian state would be created in the West Bank and Gaza, allowing Jews and Palestinians at last to go their separate ways. But these days, that looks less and less likely.

With Israel in total control of the territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and unwilling to relinquish a significant part of the land, it’s time to consider the possibility that the current situation — one state, in effect — will continue. And although Jewish Israelis may control it now, birthrates suggest that, sooner or later, Jews will again be a minority in the territory.

What happens at that point is unclear, but unless continued military occupation and all-out apartheid is the desired path, now may be the time for Israelis to start putting in place the kinds of legal and constitutional safeguards that will protect all minorities, now and in the future, in a single democratic state of Israel-Palestine. This is both the right thing and the smart thing to do.

In recent years the idea of a one-state solution has been anathema to Israelis and their supporters worldwide. This has been fueled by the fear of the “demographic threat” posed by the high Palestinian birthrate. Indeed, many Israeli supporters of a two-state solution came to that position out of fear of this demographic threat rather than sympathy with Palestinian national aspirations.

At the root of their fear was the belief that despite Israel’s best efforts to push Palestinians from land and property and to import Jewish settlers in their stead, the Arab population would keep climbing. And that, when the Arabs reached the 51% mark, the state of Israel would collapse, its Jewish character would disappear and its population would dwindle into obscurity.

Yet that scenario is not necessarily the inevitable result of either demography or democracy. Religious and ethnic minorities have successfully thrived in many countries and managed to retain their distinctive culture and identity, and succeeded in being effective and sometimes even dominant influences in those countries. Those who believe in coexistence must begin to seriously think of the legal and constitutional mechanisms needed to safeguard the rights of a Jewish minority in Israel-Palestine.

It is true that the experience of Israel with its Palestinian minority does not offer a comforting prospect. The behavior of the Jewish majority toward the Palestinian citizens of Israel has not been magnanimous or tolerant. Where ethnic cleansing was insufficient, military rule, land confiscation and systemic discrimination have all been employed. The relationship was not helped by the actions of Palestinians outside Israel who resented losing their homeland or by the behavior of some Arab countries, neither of which accepted the imposed Jewish character of Israel.

Yet it is possible, especially during this period when Jews are still the majority in power in Israel, to begin to envision the type of guarantees they may require in the future. Other countries have wrestled with this problem, and while each situation is different, the problem is by no means unprecedented.

Zionism will ultimately need to redefine its goals and aspirations, this time without ignoring or seeking to dispossess the indigenous Palestinian population. Palestinians will also have to deal with this reality, and accept — even enthusiastically endorse — the elements required to make Jews truly feel at peace in the single new state that will be the home of both people.

Strong, institutionalized mechanisms will be needed to prevent the “tyranny of 51%.” A bicameral legislature, for example, should be installed, in which the lower house is elected by proportional representation but the upper house has a composition that safeguards both peoples equally, regardless of their numbers in the population. A rotating presidency may be preferable to designating certain positions for each minority (as in Lebanon). And constitutional provisions that safeguard the rights of minorities should be enshrined in a constitution that can only be amended or altered by both houses of parliament with a large (80%) majority.

Both Hebrew and Arabic will be designated as official languages, and governmental offices will be closed for Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays. New laws will be enacted that strengthen the secular civil courts in personal status matters, while leaving some leeway for all religious communities to have a say in lawmaking, including Reform and Conservative Jews who currently chafe under the Orthodox monopoly over Jewish personal status matters in Israel. Educational systems that honor and cater to the different communities will give each a measure of control over the education of its children within a national system that maintains professional standards for all publicly-funded schools. Strong constitutional provisions will be enacted to prohibit discrimination in all spheres of life, while independent courts will be enabled to enforce such provisions.

Many on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, will reject this line of thinking, and in all cases, it is clear that a lot of goodwill and much careful thinking is necessary. But as the options keep narrowing for all participants, we need to start thinking of how we can live together, rather than insist on dying apart.

Jonathan Kuttab is a Palestinian attorney and human rights activist. He is a co-founder of Al
Haq and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kuttab20- 2009dec20,0,3289579.story

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Two successful convoys spur flood of humanitarian assistance!

George Galloway interview with Richard Hall at leading English Newspaper in the Middle-East – The Daily Star (Beirut)

BEIRUT: It was a typically cold London day in January earlier this year when, in front of thousands of people demonstrating against the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, British MP George Galloway announced a convoy of aid would be travelling from London to Gaza under the banner “Viva Palestina.”

Almost a year later and after two successful convoys, 86 vehicles of all shapes and sizes are currently making their way through Turkey, hoping to deliver humanitarian aid to the population of the Gaza Strip.

The first Viva Palestina convoy made the journey in March this year, travelling by land to Italy where it crossed the Mediterranean by ferry to Greece. From there it made its way through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, finally entering Gaza at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt. The current convoy, dubbed “Return to Gaza,” will take the same route. The second convoy from the United States departed on July 4 this year, flying into Cairo before also crossing in Rafah.

Viva Palestina organizers aim to highlight the blockade’s damaging effect, while delivering much-needed aid to Gazans.

“The people of Gaza are dying because of a siege imposed for no other reason than that, in a free and fair election, they voted for a party that the big powers and the Israelis didn’t like. We think that’s immoral, so if our government will not do something about it, we will,” Galloway told The Daily Star.

Following the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza. Only basic humanitarian supplies were allowed to enter the territory, causing a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the words of commissioner general of UNRWA, Karen Abu Zayd.

This blockade was tightened following the Israeli invasion in December last year.

The convoy aims to cross into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt on December 27, the one year anniversary of “Operation Cast Lead.” The Israeli military operation, which began with air strikes, caused the death of over 1,400 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, and 13 Israelis, including three civilians.

Approximately 260 members of the British public departed with the convoy on December 3, among the volunteers are hairdressers, mechanics, chefs, unemployed and retired, with many more joining along the way.

“We stayed in our cars and tents in car parks, we had a night on a boat and we slept in a sports stadium, who knows where we will stay next,” said Joti Brar, a web producer from the United Kingdom taking part in the convoy.

Joti, who decided to take part in the convoy at the last minute, says she was surprised at the generosity of the general public when fundraising for her trip.

“It wasn’t only the amount people were giving, what amazed me was the kind of people who were willing to give – non-political people, people who you would never expect. I think a lot of people in Britain have been touched by what happened to the Palestinians, and are very pleased to know they can do something,” she said.

Joti’s own reason for getting involved was that the Palestinians “are victims of an unjust situation that isn’t of their making,” a sentiment she says is shared among other volunteers on the convoy.

Organizers say the name “Viva Palestina” was inspired by the British “Aid to Spain” movement of the 1930s, where labor organizations sent medical supplies and personnel to Republicans fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

All those taking part have spent the past few weeks fundraising for the voyage, relying on donations from well-wishers to pay for the supplies they have taken with them.

“We brought all sorts of things, mostly medicine and medical supplies. Then there’s blankets, clothes, toys for children, pens and pencils. We have brought as much as we can fit into the vehicles. Hopefully what we’ve brought is things that are useful,” said Joti.

Organizers have emphasized that, more than just delivering supplies, the convoy aims to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. On the day of its departure, Galloway spoke of the convoy’s “symbolic” and “totemic” value, designed to “inspire public opinion to demand an end to the siege.”

However, it is not only public opinion the convoy aims to inspire, says Galloway, but those taking part.

“The chances are that the people taking part have a life changing experience. They go to the Gaza Strip, they see the situation, and they are determined to come back. That is what happened to me. In 1977 I visited Lebanon for the first time, I went to the Palestinian camps there and 35 years later I’m still involved.”

There are worries among volunteers as to whether the Egyptian government will allow the convoy to pass into Gaza.

Both previous convoys faced problems entering the territory, with the US contingent having to wait 10 days before being allowed to enter.

Organizers and participants alike say they will not return home until they are given permission to deliver the aid.

“We will stay at the border until we are allowed in. The fact that we have come this far shows we are committed,” insisted Brar.

Galloway echoed that sentiment, urging the Egyptian government to allow them entry.

“I hope they have no problems. I think it would be a big mistake for the Egyptian government to divert attention from where it should be: on Israel, on the anniversary of its infamous attacks on the Gaza Strip. Who knows, but one lives in hope.”

As the third Viva Palestina convoy nears its destination, plans are already afoot for several more.

“Next year we will bring a Viva Palestina Hugo Chavez convoy from Venezuela, maybe one from Iran which we are currently discussing. And people from other countries such as Australia and South Africa are also asking if they can get involved,” said Galloway, adding that the convoy may also travel to Lebanon.

“If we can save a day in Turkey and a day in Syria, then we may try and send the convoy for one day into Lebanon and then back out again into Syria.”

End
———————
Alice Howard
Viva Palestina UK – Administration Manager
Tel: 07944 512 469
Email: alice@vivapalestina.org
Website: http://www.vivapalestina.org/

Palestina aid convoy to Gaza received Syrian boost.

The international convoy carrying humanitarian aid from London to Gaza has swollen in size during its journey from Syria into Jordan.

More than 400 people from around the world are now travelling on the convoy after volunteers from as far afield as Italy and Malaysia joined up in Damascus.

The amount of aid being carried in approximately 150 vehicles has also grown following donations of medical supplies and equipment received in Syria.

The convoy, organised by the charity Viva Palestina and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, received a huge welcome from Syrians and Syrian’s exiled Palestinian population as it passed through the country.

Flag waving people took to the streets to cheer on the convoy, while a number of official receptions were held, including one at the Syrian border as the convoy arrived from Turkey.

Kevin Ovenden, convoy organiser, said ‘the level of support has been tremendous, and I would like to thank Syria for welcoming us so warmly. Unlike in Britain and the United States, in Turkey and Syria, the issue of Palestine, the people, the civil society and the Government are as one.’

He added ‘However, the international nature of this convoy demonstrates the depth of popular support for the Palestinian people around the world, and more governments need to recognise this reality, including those in Britain and US.’

The convoy, which includes ambulances, trucks, vans and jeeps, has now entered Jordan and hopes to land in Egypt on Christmas day, following a ferry crossing at Aqaba.

It will attempt to break Israel’s illegal three and a half year blockade of Gaza on 27th December by passing through the Rafah crossing to deliver its cargo of medical, humanitarian and educational aid.

The date marks the first anniversary of the beginning of Israel’s 3 week assault on Gaza which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.

For further information on Viva Palestina or to make a donation visit http://www.vivapalestina.org

Press information from Alice Howard on Tel:07944 512 469 or via email alice@vivapalestina.org

———————
Alice Howard
Viva Palestina UK – Administration Manager
Tel: 07944 512 469
Email: alice@vivapalestina.org
Website: http://www.vivapalestina.org/

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