The demographic argument is inherently racist
*an interview with Hanan Ashrawi *
*bitterlemons:* Israel's demand to be recognized as a "Jewish state" at
Annapolis caused an uproar among Palestinians. This doesn't seem like a
new demand, so why the uproar?
*Ashrawi:* It is new in a sense. It is new as a prerequisite for
negotiations. The demand has always been the recognition of Israel. Then
Israel added the recognition of Israel's "right to exist", and then the
recognition of it's right to exist as a "Jewish state". But when the PLO
recognized Israel in 1993 there was an assumption that that was it, in
the context of a two-state solution and international law and UN General
Assembly Resolution 181 and Security Council Resolution 242.
This issue of the Jewishness of the state came up recently mainly
because of the so-called demographic issue--which to me is an inherently
racist issue--which became the central motivation for the two-state
solution among the Israeli right, including Ariel Sharon. The fear of
the demographic balance, projections for the birthrate and so on, led
people to this position, and now Israel wants to ensure that there is
always a Jewish majority.
*Ashrawi:* Once you start raising this issue it means that you want to
eliminate the Palestinian refugees' right of return because they happen
not to be Jewish. Israel sees the return of Palestinian refugees as a
demographic way of destroying the state of Israel. Hence it has become a
main prerequisite for qualification for the "good housekeeping seal": if
you are a Palestinian who adheres to the right of return you are not
qualified for negotiations or as an interlocutor because you want to
destroy Israeli demographically.
It is also unacceptable to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. These are
the people saying Israel should be a state for all its citizens. The
irony is that this is seen as something entirely unacceptable by Israel.
But every state should be a state for all its citizens. It cannot be a
state for a select number of citizens depending on ethnicity or
religious affiliation. So in a sense, Israel also wants the Palestinians
to negate the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure that
they remain second or third class citizens.
Finally, there is a question of principle. People recognize states. They
do not recognize the right of any state to exist. The moment you
recognize a state you recognize its right to exist. But you don't
recognize the nature of the regime or form of governance. I don't only
recognize the US as long as it is maintains a democratic, presidential
system, France as long as it is a secular republic or Iran as long as it
is an Islamic state. It is ironic that at a time when we as Palestinians
are struggling to have a state that's pluralistic, democratic, open,
inclusive and tolerant and are fighting internally against absolutist
and exclusionary ideologies, we are asked by Israel to accept their form
of exclusionary ideology.
*bitterlemons:* Israel claims that upholding the right of return would
be the end of a two-state solution because two Palestinian states would
essentially be created. Is this a fair position?
*Ashrawi:* A right is a right and it cannot be negotiated. You do not
enter negotiations having relinquished a right and violated
international law. You have to uphold international law, recognize
rights and then negotiate their implementation.
It is Israel that is destroying the two-state solution with its
settlements and by refusing to accept a viable democratic state on the
1967 borders. There are now voices increasingly calling for a one-state
solution and democracy as the answer, with one voice and one vote.
To me, the demographic argument is by definition racist. I think
Palestinians have the right to independence, statehood and
self-determination as a legal and political imperative. It is not an
issue that has to become a threat or that we formulate in response to
somebody else's position.
*bitterlemons:* Israel says the idea of two states for two peoples is
embodied by UNGA Resolution 181. Is this your interpretation?
*Ashrawi:* The language used was a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state".
If they want to accept 181, then let us take all of it. Then we go back
to the whole partition plan. We have agreed to give them 78 percent of
historic Palestine. If they want to use 181, then they can have 54
percent of Palestine and then they can say they have a "Jewish state".
*bitterlemons:* But is that your understanding of 181? Does it call for
this kind of ethnic division?
*Ashrawi:* No it doesn't. But it describes the state as Jewish and
that's why Israel wants to use it. 181 was a response to the Jewish
Question. It was decided to give part of Palestine to Jews for as long
as it would not endanger the rights of the indigenous Palestinian
population. Now Jews have a state. But does this mean that this state
can be exclusionary and discriminatory? Does it mean that this is the
language that should be used in twenty-first century? If they want to
use 181, let's take it in its totality.
*bitterlemons:* In view of the apparent US endorsement of the Israeli
demand, what can Palestinians do?
*Ashrawi:* We don't have to accept the Israeli demand. If anyone came up
and said the US should be legitimate only as a Christian state there
would be an outcry. But the fact that the US took their cue from the
Israelis and adopted Israeli language is not new. It doesn't mean we
have to accept it.
*bitterlemons:* But how significant is it?
*Ashrawi:* It depends on how you pursue it. It's significant in the
sense that the US adopted the Israeli position, but this is not new. But
will it be translated into concrete steps when it comes to refugees, or
the suggestion by some Israeli racists of a land swap based on
demography? Would the US endorse such racist solutions? Would they
accept the negation of the rights of Palestinians? That's the issue.
*bitterlemons:* Do the Americans understand that this is the issue?
*Ashrawi:* If they don't, they have no business mediating. The
implications of these words are enormous. The Palestinians see this as a
way of forcing them to accept the Israeli narrative and therefore negate
the Palestinian narrative and Palestinian legitimacy. If you want a
peace process you have to incorporate the legitimacy of the Palestinian
narrative.-/ Published 17/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org/
/Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator and a member of the Third Way