The Haifa Republic utopia

In your book you propose such a utopian solution: The “Haifa Republic”. Can you explain what it refers to?

Boehm: The idea goes back to Menachem Begin’s 1977 autonomy plan proposing Palestinian autonomy preceding the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. While it fell short of a state – Begin was a staunch opponent of a Palestinian state – it offered national self-determination and even included the right of return. And most importantly: all Palestinians were supposed to receive Israeli citizenship. The plan was accepted with a vote in the Knesset, but obviously not pursued. Still, the essence of the plan could serve as the initial idea – especially as it was proposed by someone like Begin and can hardly be dismissed as “anti-Zionist”.

Of course, it needs to be renewed and re-legitimised. It should address both people’s right to self-determination in two entities along the 1967 border forming a common state, checked by a mutual constitution which regulates individual and national rights and shared institutions, with a constitutional court in Haifa. Between the two federal states, i.e., on the whole territory, there would be full freedom of movement and full economic freedom. Anyone living on the territory of historical Palestine is a citizen of the state. The Haifa Republic emerges from the idea of full equality and the same rights for all its citizens.

 

The idea of a federation has been an academic exercise for quite some time. It is easy to dismiss it as unrealistic. But you don’t?

Boehm: There have also been some political initiatives, such as the ‘two states, one homeland’ campaign, even if it has been quite weak. That’s due to the fact that Israel’s left disappeared for lack of meaningful politics. This is why we must offer such politics. For now, it’s allegedly only the right that is being ‘realistic’. This realism will drag us quickly towards annexation or the expulsion of Palestinians. Expulsion is the endgame of the vision of the Israeli right, and some say it openly. So what is the alternative to this path? Just repeating the two-state approach, which has failed? Surely not.

The thought that an apartheid reality can be contained in the future with more than 50% of the population being non-Jewish is unrealistic. The idea of a federation is currently the only realistic option for promoting equal rights. Don’t confuse ‘realistic’ with ‘simple’. But we have to fight for it in order to overcome our Gramscian moment: ‘The old is dying and the new cannot be born.’

Elections in Israel – right, or far-right?

Israel is moving towards another election. Looking at the polls, the most likely question seems to be: right, or far-right?

Boehm: The Israeli left is completely destroyed. And its remnants legitimise the right. They are backing candidates like Gideon Saar, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennet – who are even further to the right – for the sole purpose of getting rid of Netanyahu. Even the left-wing Meretz party is being swept along. Currently the only party to stand fast against the rise of the extreme ideological right is the Joint List (editor’s note: alliance of one Jewish-Arab and three Arab parties led by Ayman Odeh since 2015).

Many on the left know that ‘two states’ is a thing of the past. But as ‘good Zionists’ they cannot abandon the idea of a Jewish state. Their strongest allies in this are the Palestinian Israelis. Although the Joint List officially supports the two-state solution, they have the ability to move past it. When Jews elect Arab representatives; when the most liberal vote is the Joint List – which supports the civil state, citizenship, ethnic equality; indeed, when my own father, a reserve IDF officer and child of Holocaust survivors recognises that the Joint list represents him best, it is proof to me that joint politics are possible.

There can be a new coalition of Jews and Arabs. We can discover that identity isn’t necessary for representation: we can overcome the division. People then say: but what about the Palestinian militants, what about Hamas, etc.? It doesn’t matter. These joint politics need to start in Israel first. Unfortunately, the Joint List is not in good shape at the moment. A few weeks ago, I was more hopeful. But I fear it will not do well in the coming election, unfortunately. Nevertheless, these are the politics we need to promote.

When can we hope to see the Knesset vote on the Haifa Republic?

Boehm: History often moves faster than we think. I don’t know when, but it’s entirely possible we will live to see it – hopefully without first experiencing a wave of violence that surpasses anything we have yet seen.

Interview conducted by Rene Wildangel

© Qantara.de 2021

Omri Boehm is a philosophy professor who teaches at The New School in New York. In this interview he talks about his forthcoming book "A future for Israel" in which he re-examines a proposal from a 1977 plan approved by the Knesset, which became part of the Egyptian-Israeli ‘framework for peace in the Middle East’ agreed at Camp David in 1978.

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