By Ali Abunimah (2006)
“Crazy!” my Jewish friends and family might say, but this small book (a quick read in two nights) spells out a very strong argument for ending the status quo in Israel-Palestine which few think is good for anyone.
This might have been “bold” in 2006 but the one-state idea has received much more attention in recent years.
The status quo isn’t working for anyone.
Israeli Jews live in constant fear of the “other” and discomfort that the realities of the occupation don’t match up with their religious ideals of justice, fairness and טוֹב.
Palestinians live under the daily grind and humiliation of the occupation, the unrelenting violence and death, the brutal treatment at the hands of the “other”.
The exalted two-state plan has been the ostensible goal of the international community and U.S. Administrations for decades. Presumably, Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” envisions two states. But that idea is dead and it’s time for a formal burial.
For most observers familiar with the “facts on the ground” and the rapid settlement expansion on Palestinian territory in recent years, the notion of two states existing side-by-side evaporated 10-15 years ago. But then what?
Ali Abunimah (a Palestinian-American) proposes urgent action on two fronts: dialogue and resistance. “One is in the realm of dialogue, imagination, and construction of an inclusive vision,” Abunimah says. “At the same time, there is a pressing need for resistance to the outcome Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians, one that can only lead to greater bloodshed and suffering on all sides. These appear to be contradictory mandates, but they mist go hand in hand.”
Chapter One, An Impossible Partition, is a good history lesson for anyone who needs a refresher. I would add, ten years after the book was written, that Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk has recently called for the international community to recognize the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories as unlawful under international law, a fairly new development which adds more fuel to Abunimah’s call for dialogue about alternatives.
Chapter Two, “The State of Israel is Coming to an End” focuses on the demographic realities which pose an insurmountable hurdle for Israel to remain as a democratic Jewish state.
In 2004, Professor Arnon Soffer, chair of geostrategic studies at the University of Haifa, predicted that by 2020 there would be 6.3 million Jews and 8.8 million Palestinians due to the high Palestinian birth rate. Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer at the Hebrew University, noted that even using the lowest possible credible estimates for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, the trends are “incontestable” : Within a few years Palestinians will form a clear majority.
Israeli planners and government officials have been engaged in all sorts of contortions to redraw the lines of Jerusalem proper to grab as much land with as few Arabs as possible to address this demographic challenge.
Chapter Three, It Could Happen Here is a chilling warning. Many might turn away and prefer not to look, just as many Germans did in the 1930s. Israeli Professor Zeev Sternhell, a world specialist on fascism, who headed the Dept. of Political Science at Hebrew University, puts it best in his op-ed in Haaretz on January 19, 2018. “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism“. In the very same issue, Jeff Halper, an Israeli-American Jew, shares his opinion. “The ‘Two-state Solution’ Only Ever Meant a Big Israel Ruling Over a Palestinian Bantustan. Let It Go.”
Chapter Four, A United, Democratic State in Palestine-Israel sketches out with broad strokes what a One State might look like, reminding the reader that this isn’t the first time in world history where different ethnic and religious communities came together as one. In fact, the idea isn’t even a new one for the Zionists and Palestinians. And Belgium offers some lessons.
Chapter Five, Learning from South Africa provides some comparisons between Israel-Palestine and apartheid South Africa. Israelis today will bristle at the mention of the two in the same breadth, but there’s no denying the similarities. Although South Africa still has a long way to go, they have already come far in dismantling the apartheid regime that priviledged the white Afrikaners and treated the black Africans as subhuman. What did it take for the Afrikaners to give up power? What will it take to get the Zionists to give up their power? Abunimah says the whites were able to dismount without being devoured because the ANC was ready with a vision that allowed them to do so. The Palestinians must begin providing a vision of one country with equal rights for all — Jews and Palestinians.
Living in what amounts to a self-contained moral universe in which the victors are the permanent victims and the “others” are invisible except as a threat allows Israel — as with apartheid South Africa — to justify to itself almost any measure.
Chapter Six, Israelis and Palestinians Thinking the Unthinkable
Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli geographer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, predicted more than twenty years ago that eventually Israel would be faced with the choice between extremist solutions to maintain its exclusivist “Jewish character” or binationalism.
Palestinians do not have the political or material strength to stop the settlements and walls that have rendered a two-state solution unworkable. But Israel’s might is useless in a struggle that is not about winning territory but securing democratic rights for all.
The PLO and its older leadership never appreciated the need to build international support; they were/are more concerned about statecraft and setting up embassies in foreign countries, and gaining recognition in the halls of power. But the younger Palestinians, both in Palestine and the diaspora, aren’t waiting. They are eagerly building the international connections and solidarity with people around the globe. That might explain why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is spreading so rapidly, and why Israel is responding so harshly to BDS supporters.
Ali Abunimah’s book might have been ahead of its time, but it’s very important reading right now, today. I highly recommend it.