Jeff Halper, a Jewish Israeli, is an anthropologist, former university lecturer, political activist and author. He has published numerous articles and books including his autobiographical work entitled “An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel”, and is currently working on a book entitled “Global Palestine”.
However, Halper is best known as the co-founder and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an NGO that actively resists the Israeli government policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). ICAHD has recorded that about 25,000 homes have been demolished in the OPT since 1967. For the past 15 years, ICAHD has run a summer rebuilding camp which brings international peace activists together to rebuild a demolished Palestinian home, an activity Jeff Halper maintains is purely political in scope. 185 houses have so far been rebuilt. The purpose is to non-violently challenge the occupation and refuse to remain passive in the face of injustice.
Jeff Halper was recently in London for the ICAHD UK yearly conference. Ceasefire’s Livia Bergmeijer sat down with him to discuss his views on the recent developments in Israel/Palestine and on possible prospects for the future.
You’ve written extensively recently about your support for the one-state solution, arguing that the possibility of a two-state solution has long been dead. Why do you believe that a one-state solution is the only possibility to create a just peace in Palestine?
Jeff Helper: First of all the facts on the ground – the settlements, the wall, the highways and the fragmentation of the territory – are all just so massive and so permanent and are constantly being expanded that there’s no more place for a coherent, functional, viable, sovereign Palestinian state. And second of all, there’s no political will in the international community to force Israel out of the Occupied Territories. Israel’s certainly not going to leave voluntarily, so there have to be massive international pressures on Israel to get out and that’s completely missing. So, if you take those things into account there’s no way in which a two-state solution is viable, and we simply need to stop talking about it.
Now, we’re in a situation where a two-state solution is gone but there isn’t a ready alternative. The one-state solution is a possibility but it isn’t necessarily the default. There are two possible one-state solutions: one is a democratic state with one person, one vote. The problem with that is it ignores the national component. We’re talking about two national groups: Palestinians and Israelis. It’s a bi-national reality. So the other alternative is a bi-national one-state. The problem with that is that bi-national states don’t work very well because the whole point of being a nation is to have self-determination and national identity. And in Israel/Palestine it’s hard to see how that would happen especially because there’s no geographical distinction between the two peoples. They’re completely mixed up.
I’m actually considering an alternative solution that people haven’t talked about very much because everybody’s kind of stuck on the one-state/two-state binary, and I’m not sure if either one of them will work. What I’m talking about is more of a regional approach. I say that the problems facing Israelis and Palestinians and everybody else in the region are really regional in scope, they’re not localised. Israel/Palestine is too small a unit to cram everything into. If you take security, for instance, that’s a regional issue. Economic development, water, the refugees, these are all crucial regional issues. Even if there’s a beautiful Israeli-Palestinian peace and the country is prospering, if it’s in a region that’s poor and autocratic and unequal it’s not good for anybody.
You need what’s called “even regional development.” I’m playing with the idea of a Middle Eastern Economic Confederation that looks something like the European Common Market of 30 years ago. Not the European Union, that’s too much, but more of a looser confederation of countries whose economies become integrated because Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon all make up the historical, natural, cultural and economic unit of that part of the world. What we see with the Arab spring is the desire for greater participation of people and communities in the political process and I think Europe could have a role in harnessing that. The United States is so pro-Israel that it has taken itself out of the political game. But Europe has a model, which is certainly not perfect, but which works better than most other models, and could therefore help promote something similar in the Middle East.
The vision is a model that allows people to participate in the region as a whole, move around freely, and yet have their citizenship rights protected to preserve their national identities, whatever they may be (this could include national identities but also religious, ethnic, and other identities). In other words, if Palestinian refugees want to come back and live in the Galilee, they can come home, and they come home as Palestinian citizens.
Israelis that really want to live in Hebron can live in Hebron as Israeli citizens living in Palestine. In this sense it’s similar to Europe whereby you keep your citizenship but nevertheless you’re free to live and work throughout the region. I think that’s a better model than even the one-state solution, because of all the structural problems inherent in the one-state model.