Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

One State or Two in Israel/palestine: The Stress on Gender and Citizenship

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

One State or Two in Israel/palestine: The Stress on Gender and Citizenship

Article excerpt


As is the case with any of the three great Abrahamic religions, there is considerable ambiguity regarding the status and role of women both within doctrinal interpretations, and between religious and other cultural traditions in the community. These ambiguities are reflected in political practice and condition women's aspirations regarding what is possible for them to achieve. Nowhere is it more true that understandings of religious imperatives permeate politics and work to make other lines of division all the more intractable than in Israel/Palestine. The proclivity to violence between the two peoples not only victimizes women, but foreshortens attention to their specific political needs and the general issue of women's rights in the region.

Recently, the entire Middle East region and North Africa have been roiled from below by large-scale protest movements aimed at ridding entire states of their autocratic rulers. Some observers sounded an optimistic note, believing that the presence of women among the activists bodes well for the future. Reporting from Cairo Laura King titled her report "Protests raise hope for women's rights: Gender equality emerges on the front lines" (King, 201 1). About 20 days later Bob Drogin also reported from Cairo that "Egypt's women face growing violence. Sexual harassment is extreme and rampant. For a time it seemed that the protests might point to change" (Drogin, 2011). Carnegie Paper author Marina Otto way reports that the "struggle for women's rights and the core struggle to achieve democracy. . . must be seen as separate processes in the Arab world today" (Ottaway, 2004: 7). All-in-all, then, it is too soon to speculate as to whether these apparently democratic movements will advance the cause of women's rights in the region, or result in a backlash against women who ventured outdoors.

Debate over women's rights is heated in reference to the treatment of women in Islamic societies and Arab cultures generally. We seek to investigate this general question within the frame of the debate regarding a one- or two-state "solution" to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.2 Officially, the United States of America encourages a two-state solution on the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, carving a new Palestinian state and altering the borders of the present Jewish State of Israel. Presumably, an autonomous, sovereign Palestinian state will provide a homeland for the predominantly Muslim Palestinians, while Israel would do the same for its predominantly Jewish peoples.3

While the debate over a one- or two-state solution in Israel/Palestine has received considerable attention, it has yet to be done with extensive consideration of the perspective of women's rights, or with respect to the suitability of a secular or sectarian political regime to advance women's rights. Our point of view is, it is not obvious that a two-state solution would in fact improve the status of women in the region, if the two states were sectarian, rather than secular. The better solution turns not on which sectarianism predominates in one or two states, but on whether the one state is, or both states are sectarian at all. It is the sectarian/secular dimension that does the most work with respect to advancing the interests of women in the region, not whether one or two states are preferable. Both a Jewish Israeli state and an Islamic Palestinian state could provide relief for the majority of women living in the respective states, such as relief from violence, but would not advance the interests of women as a whole as seen from other perspectives, or so we argue.

When analyzing the gendering of citizenship there are a number of factors that must be taken into account. These include an examination of the distinction between the private and public spheres, the influence of religious law on personal and public matters, and a look at the ways in which women have responded politically to their respective situations. …

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