Principles of Jewish Israeli-Palestinian Partnership


Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, forty-six years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and sixty-five years since the inception of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba, we reached a political impasse that provides neither freedom for the Palestinian people, nor satisfies the security demands of the Jewish-Israelis. We are not closer to a viable and just two states solution, and are living in a de facto one regime of Israeli domination and discrimination. In an attempt to pave a new path for historical reconciliation and political engagement, we believe that there is a need to depart from the current paradigm of a solution based on the logic of partition.

We, a group of Israeli Jews and Palestinians, represent various constituencies (inside Israel, Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Diaspora) from different socio-political and professional backgrounds, convened in Vienna during the course of 2011 and 2012, under the auspices of the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue to explore together ’Alternatives to Partition’. Our deliberations resulted in proposing several principles that would secure the individual and collective (including national self-determination) rights, interests, and identities of Jews and Palestinians alike in historical Palestine/’Eretz Yisrael’.
This novel type of intellectual and political engagement is not merely utopian exercise, but one that takes into consideration the solid empirical reality manifested in the growing intertwinement of lives, rights and identities of Palestinians and Jews in Israel/Palestine as well as the factual developments on the ground (inter alia Israel’s ongoing colonial-expansionist project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as in the southern Negev/Naqab). We grounded our intervention on premises and concerns of justice (e.g., the Palestinian refugees problem, refraining from inflicting injustices to the agents of a previous injustice) and on an inclusive and egalitarian notion of democracy.

The “Alternatives to Partition” project does not name, or imply, a specific governmental/institutional formula or modality for ending the conflict. It rather focuses on fundamental principles that need to be taken into consideration in the design and implementation of any viable solution, and which can be accommodated and realised in various constitutional and/or institutional arrangements (be it two states, federation, confederation, bi-national state, parallel state structure, consociational democracy, etc). In other words, we have come up with a set of guiding principles that go beyond the binary predicament of binary “one state/two states” or any hitherto theoretical institutional arrangement as the preordaining principle or parameter of a political solution; as it has been, times and again, factually and empirically rendered obsolete.

We believe that living together respectfully alongside each other is both desired and possible. This document does not aim to suggest any concrete detailed solution, but rather to lay out a new political grammar and vocabulary to differently understanding and framing the discourse and actualities of just and durable solution in Israel/Palestine. Our departure point lies in the belief that fate of the two people is inextricably linked; that Israeli Jews and Palestinians are part of the Middle East, and that neither will be granted exclusive privileges or sovereignty over the entire land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Basic Principles

1. Each person residing (or holding residency status) between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea will be granted equal individual, political, economic, and social rights, including the right to be protected and secured; to be treated equally regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion; to move freely; to acquire and possess property; to sue in court; and to elect and to be elected.

2. The collective rights of Israeli Jews and Palestinians - linguistic, cultural, religious and political will be guaranteed in any political framework. It is understood that neither will solely have any exclusive sovereignty over the entire land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (including land possession, access to natural resources, etc.).

3. The abolishment of all exclusive Jewish privileges, including in land possession and access to natural resources. All resources - material and political - will be distributed based on restorative and distributive justice principles.

4. The recognition of the Palestinian right of return as embodied in UN resolution 194. The implementation of this resolution will take into account the present reality on the ground, and that the moral and political injustice of Palestinian dispossession of the past should not be mended by means of new injustice.

5. Jews and Palestinians living in the diaspora will be able to receive immunity if in danger (according to UN resolutions), and will have a privileged status in this process compared to any other ethnic and national group. Otherwise, the new political institution(s) will legislate democratic immigration laws to regulate citizenship.

We believe that a mutual recognition based on these principles can advance an alternative political project, in which the memories of exile and refuge will turn into an inclusive implementation of rights, citizenship and belonging.


Arab Engagement with the “Jewish Question”

The Arab engagement with the “Jewish question” is quite rare, certainly during the last few decades. Put differently, it is fair to say that Arab intellectuals in general, and Palestinians, in particular have hardly engaged with the “Jewish question” and its centrality in the Arab-Israeli conflict. One might argue that the so called “Jewish question” emerged and developed mostly, if not exclusively, in Europe. More precisely, the Jewish presence in Europe turned into a “question” mainly either because of the centrality of Christianity (albeit secularized Christianity) as a defining characteristic of the social, cultural, and political make-up of Europe or/and because of the development of nationalism as the defining modern force of identity. Consequently, both (and especially nationalism) have challenged the Jewish communities existence as citizens of post-Enlightenment states and as part of the cultural, and socio-economic fabric of European societies. Under both, one could argue that the Jews were viewed/constructed as the ultimate internal “other” for many European peoples and as aliens and strangers thus were treated with suspicion. Clearly, this is partly the context in which the Jews in Europe experienced anti-Semitism (a phenomenon that has its roots mostly in European political, intellectual, and religious thought and practice); racism, exclusion and most recently the mass killings that occurred during the Holocaust- of the Second World War. There was a wide range of responses to the Jewish question in Europe. These include conversion (giving up religion to Christianity or giving up religion altogether); assimilation (abandoning particularities in public); exclusion and disadvantage (racism and anti-Semitism); cultural or national autonomy (ideas entertained in Poland and Russia but were never materialized); and massacres, ethnic cleansing, and genocide (pogroms and Holocaust). It is partly in light of the failure of European peoples and nationalisms to come to terms with and accommodate the Jewish presence in Europe that the Jewish question “immigrated” to the Middle East and to Palestine particularly.
Indeed, Jewish communities and religion were an integral part of (and largely co-existed with) the Arab-Islamic socio-cultural milieu for centuries. The modern encounter of the Arabs and Palestinians with the “Jewish question” which emerged in Europe has been mediated mainly through Zionism and its attempts to build a Jewish state in historic Palestine. Since their early encounters with the Zionist movement the Arabs and the Palestinians understood and viewed Zionism as an alien to their societies and equated it to the colonial movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which sought to dominate, exploit, and in the case of Palestine, to de-Arabize Palestine. Furthermore, the “immigration” of the “Jewish question” from Europe to Palestine in the form of political Zionism relegated the “Jewish question” to a national issue which is supposed to get resolved exclusively through creating a Jewish sovereignty and state in Palestine. Early Arab and Palestinian engagements with and responses to Zionism and their failures and successes have received a plausible share of attention from scholars. However, besides the often and traditionally rehearsed views on the colonial and imperialist characteristics of Zionism and the claim that the Jews don’t qualify and make a national groups, we today have had very little attempts to further explore these claims as well as the considerable challenges which emerge from the last seventy years of societal, cultural and political developments of Jewish presence in historic Palestine. The lack of a serious and profound engagement with and study of the Jewish question, identity and rights in Palestine (without ignoring the settler colonial dimension) is particularly evident in the Palestinian and Arab political and social thought during the last three decades. In light of the changing realities locally and regionally, Palestinian nationalism is undergoing a gradual process of redefinition. It is in this context of redefinition where a serious and profound engagement with Jewish identity, rights, and nationalism in historic Palestine becomes a challenging moral and political imperative. The engagement with the Jewish question and Jewish rights therefore is not only a moral and normative requirement but also a pressing political necessity and thus the outstanding significance.
Furthermore, the recent developments in the Arab world and the wave of democratization we are witnessing, point out to the emergence of a revised and thinner version of Arab nationalism which acknowledges the particularities and importance of nation-state (al-Dawla al-Qutriya) as compared to the thick version of Pan-Arabism and Nasserism which sought to transcend these. Given the centrality of the Palestinian cause for Arabs in general and Arab nationalists in particular and given the increasing intertwinement of Palestinian and Jewish nationalisms, an engagement with the Jewish question, identity and rights in Palestine are currently very pressing issues. Indeed, the presence of Jews in the Arab world- e.g. Arab Jews- and the major roles some of them played in cultural, social and political life of their respective countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria pose serious challenges to our understanding of contemporary Arab national identities and to the post-1948 Arab nation-state building and decolonization projects. Moreover, “Arab Jews” raise challenges to Zionism and the hegemonic role European Jewry and its experiences of persecution and anti-Semitism have been playing in determining the operative cultural and political values of Israeli society and state. Therefore, our proposed two-day workshop aspires to fill this remarkable gap in academic and political field during the last forty years through inviting Arab engagements with the Jewish identities, rights and nationalism in historic Palestine. More specifically, our proposed workshop seeks to study, explore and critically assess the challenges Arab engagements with the Jewish question pose to Palestinian and Arab nationalisms in light of the profound changes these nationalisms have been undergoing lately.

Jewish Engagement with the Arab Question
Denial, Confrontation/Opposition, Accommodation, Recognition

The Jewish question and the Arab question are inextricably intertwined. Yizhar Simlansky suggested that the Palestinian Questions isn’t an Arab Question but entirely a Jewish question’. Yitzhak Epstein, a Russian born teacher who settled in Palestine, strongly criticized Zionist leaders for their neglect of the existence of another national group that is deeply rooted emotionally and historically in the land. He referred to the lack of Zionist engagement with the existence of the Arabs of Palestine as “a hidden question” which is according to him weightier than all other questions put together. Some have argued (i.e. Simon Rawidowicz) that one of the most critical moral and political challenges facing Jews after 48 is the “Arab question”, a term often refers to the Arabs residents of the state of Israel and the refugees who expelled/ fled Palestine as a result of the Nakba. For some the Arab Question refers to 67 and the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Denial or non-recognition of the existence of a Palestinian national identity was a leading strand within Zionism. Some critics (i.e. Flapan 1979) have argued that the widely published statement of Golda Meir that “there were no such thing as Palestinians” was largely held among the majority of Zionist quarters and served as one of the building-blocs of the Zionist policy promoted by the mainstream and prominent Zionist leaders before Meir (Weizmann) and after her (Ben Gurion and his successors). Some scholars (i.e. Avigail Jacobson) argue that a close examination of Hebrew newspapers prior to the First World War demonstrates serious differences between the views and perceptions and attitudes of the Ashkenazi Zionists and Sephardi Jews- mostly the Sepahardi community in Jerusalem. While the first group adopted largely denial and competition (conquest of labor- Kivush ha-Avoda) towards the Arabs, the second called for serious engagement and cooperation with the Arabs.
“The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” stated the two Viennese rabbis that were sent in1897 by the order of First Zionist Congress president Theodor Herzl to explore the possibility of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Ignoring the presence of “that man”, namely the Palestinian Arabs, Herzl and other leading Zionists promoted Jewish emigration to/ settlement in Palestine and thus created what came to be known as the “Arab Question/Problem”. Indeed, Zionists were largely aware of the existence of Arab population in Palestine and of the possibility that this population would resist the Zionist project and its policies in Palestine but they either underestimated or ignored the gravity of this challenge/ problem. The main concern/consideration for these leaders was not the reality in Palestine but solving the Jewish problem and the historic Jewish affiliation with the land. Furthermore, Herzl (i.e. his novel Altneuland) and other leading Zionists knew that Palestine was populated by Arabs but they viewed these native Arabs as primitive and backward and that Zionism in the form of Jewish political entity will bring them, as individuals not as a collective, prosperity, progress and modernity. Some critics have argued that the early Zionist leaders insisted that the fundamental goals of securing Jewish immigration to Palestine and establishing and consolidating the Yishuv were to be achieved through alliance with great powers and not through dialogue and understanding with local Arabs.
Revisionist Zionists, most notably among them Jabotinsky, offered a different engagement with the Arab question. Jabotinsky insisted that the attempts of moderate Zionists (mostly labor Zionism) to address the Arab question through voluntary agreement with the Jews, promising economic benefits/advantages to local population, or pledging Jewish money and political support to neighboring Arabs are either naïve (buying Arab consent and loyalty through money) or suicidal (betraying European colonial powers). Jabotinsky expected that the native Arabs, like every indigenous people, will resist alien settlers as long as they have a gleam of hope to block the Zionist plans to render Palestine into a Jewish majority homeland. Thus, he concluded that a more appropriate way to dealing with the Arab question is to erect an iron wall of Jewish military force that is capable of breaking Arab resistance. Only after the Arab resistance is broken, the Zionists will enter into negotiations with the Arabs about their civil and national rights, though he didn’t spell out clearly what precisely he meant by national rights.
Indeed, one can identify additional and more engaging and constructive Jewish takes on the Arab question. “Brit Shalom” an organization that was established in the 1920s sought to promote an agreement with Arab leaders on Jewish settlement and on a binational solution in Palestine. This organization was dispersed in the late 1930s and the adherents of its ideas formed a small group called “Ichud” Union. Although the members of this group included distinguished and leading Jewish intellectuals of that time (mostly German Jews), it was marginal and its political impact was very minor. The members included: Judah Leib Magnes, Martin Buber, Hugo Bergmann, Ernst Simon, and Arthur Ruppin. Although she was never a member of “Brit Shalom” or “Ichud”, Hannah Arendt also supported a binational solution through which a Jewish homeland is achieved within the framework of a binational state.
While the above stated paragraphs explicitly suggest that there are various Jewish views/ takes and views on the Arab question/ problem and one ought to historicize and contextualize denial, (in)visibility and engagement with the Arabs of Palestine, our proposed two days international workshop aspires to invite leading scholars to critically reflect on, revisit and explore Jewish engagements with the Arab question. More precisely, our workshop is premised on the observation that after more than a hundred years and following the increased intertwinement of the lives, cultures, rights, identities of Arabs and Jews in Israel/Palestine, it is a moral imperative and a political necessity to revisit, rethink, and develop new Jewish engagements with the Arab question. Indeed, the inseparability of the rights and identities of Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine requires going beyond the approaches of paternalism, denial, iron wall, confrontation, implied recognition by way of opposition, and ad hoc and imposed accommodation. Surely, the demise of the two state-solution, the rise of political Islam, and the wave of democratization in various Arab countries pose new challenges and create new opportunities for normalizing Jewish presence in the Middle East as well as for going beyond the logic and ethics of partition (two state solution) and exclusive ethnic sovereignty and hegemony. Furthermore, “Jewish” in Jewish engagements goes beyond the \boundaries of the state of Israel and Zionism and reaches out to world Jewry and religious and secular Jewish takes on the Arab question. Thus, our proposed international workshop seeks to investigate a wide range of views which represent the richness and diversity of Jewish views and communities in Israel and the world concerning the Arab question.

Vienna Conversations

“The Vienna Conversations” is a group of European women and men, who have been engaged in the last few years in a profound discussion over how to (re)create the missing sense of ‘togetherness’ among Europe’s citizens and manifold communities. Their aim is to foster a new open context in which humanistic, universal and progressive values can be strengthened to address and confront the dangers of our time, dangers which threaten the constitutional principles of Europe and have a clear impact on the future of European diversity.


The European problem we are confronting is: Can we live together in difference? One of the main factors determining this is our—individual or collective—sense or senses of belonging in Europe.

Fostering a sense of belonging to Europe was a core aspiration of the European project from the start (2). Today, European politicians, officials and leading thinkers lament a dwindling of a sense of belonging in Europe, liked to fierce debates about immigration (4), yet regard it as key to a uniting, integrating EU. Although they rarely explain what they mean by the notion, over the last 20 years it has been subject to increasing discussion and study: theoretical, ethnographic, sociological, political (5).

The literature may sometimes confuse rather than clarify, but what it does do is show that belonging is a complex phenomenon, not an unquestionable good (7); a fundamental, human emotion and a political project taking many forms, especially in immigration policies, citizenship regulations and the EU’s elitist decision- and policy-making processes, all of which seek to determine who belongs and who doesn’t. These projects are invariably about exclusion rather than inclusion. They articulate, at the public policy level, the fundamental trait in all societies of making distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’(5-8).

All who have a position on the future of Europe take a political stand on the question of belonging—either implicitly or explicitly. Two stands dominate public debate and political action:

1. The right-wing and/or far right, anti-immigrant populists have a very narrow concept of belonging, seeing it as fixed, grounded in centuries of tradition, an expression of attachment to the nation, not transferable or applicable to immigrants.

2. The advocates of ‘more Europe’, who embrace diversity and inclusiveness, see belonging as a dynamic process and are ready to grant immigrants belonging in Europe and to their own communities. They acknowledge people’s potential to have multiple belongings in the EU’s transnational and cosmopolitan space, but seek to foster common belonging in and to Europe by de-emphasising the national and developing a European identity grounded in the idea that Europe has a common culture and history (8-10).

Critics see both of these models of belonging as flawed, ultimately exclusionary, homogenising and imposed top-down, though many commentators acknowledge that disaffection with the EU as an institution has led to the former model finding favour with publics at the expense of the latter (10-13).

In recent years, researchers have pointed to the existence of a range of more permeable and democratically determined forms of belonging emerging ground-up through:

1. social movements—e.g. immigrant action and support groups, contact zones, grass roots democratic initiatives like the Occupy movement—that challenge national and EU political projects of belonging through political, legal and constitutional struggle and negotiation;

2. some religious, ethnic and cultural groups which are part of this development; although some minorities within these groups, with thick patterns of internal belonging, exclude themselves from external belonging and opt-out of the mainstream, thereby challenging the already problematic ‘ideal’ of social cohesion;

3. observing what people actually do rather than relying on surveys about European identity and feelings about the EU. This very recent research has uncovered a broadly-based, lived European cosmopolitanism, compatible with strong feelings of national identity (13-19, 23).

An alternative, inclusive political project of belonging based on power relations is probably a contradiction in terms. But drawing on examples of and ideas for more permeable and inclusive forms of belonging, it may be possible to identify a framework of ethically and politically compatible senses of belonging in Europe within which aspirations and policies for building a more inclusive EU can be realised and the answer to how people can live together in difference be found (31-3).



Laura Wiesböck im Gespräch mit Robert Misik


Das European Balcony Project von Ulrike Guérot und Robert Menasse