In light of the escalating Palestinian-Israeli conflict, MedyaNews brings you an incisive article originally penned by Joost Jongerden, a university senior lecturer at Wageningen University. The article, first published on BNNVARA’s Joop platform, delves into the critiques of Edward Said and Abdullah Öcalan on the two-state solution. Jongerden explores how these thinkers offer alternative paths to co-existence, making their ideas more relevant than ever. To read the original article, visit BNNVARA’s Joop.
Violence takes various forms. Sometimes it manifests through drones, paragliders, and pick-up trucks, and its impact results in the destruction of lives. At other times, it appears in the form of occupation and colonisation, whose consequences are less immediately visible. The impact is not so much the immediate destruction of physical lives, but rather making life itself unliveable. Many have argued that the Palestinian and Kurdish issues have arisen from the confluence of these two forms of violence. Two thinkers from the region themselves, however, have also made clear proposals for a solution: Edward Said and Abdullah Öcalan.
Born in 1935 in Jerusalem, Edward Said and born in 1947 in Urfa, Abdullah Öcalan have very different careers but similar ideas. Said became a professor of English literature at the respected Columbia University in the United States, Öcalan after an aborted study of Law and then Political Science became the leader of the PKK. His political ideas did not come to fruition at the university, but in prison, where he has been since his abduction from Kenya in 1999. Both intellectuals see the core of the problem of violence as anchored in the idea of the nation-state and its exclusive identity politics. Both see the solution in strengthening the principle of citizenship, which is only possible with others. No separatism, but co-existence.
In his article “The One-State Solution” from 1999, the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said argues that the continuation of Israeli settlement colonialism and Palestinian resistance against it worsens the prospects for real security for both parties. In this context, Edward Said resolutely rejects the idea of separate states for Jews and Palestinians, embodied in the two-state solution of the Oslo Accords. He argues that there is no valid justification for pursuing homogeneity, an idea behind the two-state solution, of which the aforementioned Law of the Jewish Nation-State is a logical consequence.
Said calls for a radical political reorientation and reminds us that a select group of influential Jewish thinkers, including Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Hannah Arendt, have previously also advocated this. The key to progress, he argues, lies in the practice of citizenship, the primary means for real self-determination and co-existence. He believes that this can best be achieved in a joint secular state, in which Jews and Palestinians are equal.
The Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan follows similar reasoning. Inspired by the political philosopher Murray Bookchin, he sees a solution in new forms of citizenship, but 20 years after Said, he places the emphasis on a form of citizenship beyond the state. In captivity, in preparation for the trials that were conducted against him, Öcalan developed his state criticism. The nation-state, he claims, is a centre of obsessive identity politics and destroys the plurality that should form the basis of a democracy.
In accordance with Edward Said, Öcalan does not call for a two-state solution for Turks and Kurds, but a democratisation of Turkey, where an ethnic definition of citizenship should be replaced by a civil definition. Where the current ethnic definition of citizenship sees the expression of identities other than Turkish as an existential threat, a civil definition accepts that citizens of Turkey can have diverse identities, including Kurdish. In addition, he argues that a deepening of democracy through self-organisation is the way to self-determination. He sees actual co-existence arising in a gender-equality-based participatory democracy.
Both Said and Öcalan conclude that there are two options: the continuation of conflicts, which are becoming increasingly sectarian in intensity and where the survival of one group is defined in the destruction of the other, or the active pursuit of alternative paths of co-existence. The increasingly threatening prospects of ethnic cleansing make their proposals more relevant than ever, but in the rhetorical violence of realpolitik, they are also less audible than should be the case.
Joost Jongerden is an associate professor at the Department of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University.