After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine

An interesting introduction to the reasons why many believe the two-state solution is dead; and contains some references with a road map for the one-state solution. People may say that one-state, with co-existence and equal rights, is idealistic, “an interesting concept” and will never happen. But it doesn’t look as though settlements are going to be reversed any time soon… my review of ‘After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine.’

Originally published in Middle East Monitor

“We come together on this book not because we agree on everything – we don’t – but because of a shared belief that Jews and Palestinians are destined to work together, whatever our differences in background, ideals and daily life. We are connected with our desire to see peace with justice for our peoples.”

It this premise that Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Noor’s book ‘After Zionism One State for Israel and Palestine’ explores, through the vision of a one-state solution. The idea is that the two-state reality for Israel and Palestine is dead and cannot offer a just resolution for people living there. It was lost along with persistent colonisation of the West Bank and an increasingly fragmented Palestinian society. ‘After Zionism’ is an impressive compilation of essays from authors who explore the Israel Palestine conflict with the one-state solution “in mind”.

“Why can’t we go back to Oslo?” the editors of the book ask in the introduction. The Oslo Accord, signed in 1994 between Israeli Prime Minister and Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, was a significant negotiation towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state adjacent to an independent Israeli state, or the two-state solution. As the first one to one agreement, or display of partnership between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), many had high hopes for the agreement; “All around the world people believed that the process of achieving peace in the Middle East was finally underway,” Diana Butto tells us in her chapter, ‘Success in Oslo: The Bantustanisation of Palestinian Territories’.

But as Butto, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, goes on to argue, negotiators on the Israeli side never intended to attain peace but rather to consolidate and prolong Israeli control. Post-Oslo, Palestinian hopes for an end to the occupation of land since 1967, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the right of return for refugees sadly never materialised.

In ‘The State of Denial: The Nakba in the Israeli Zionist Landscape’, Ilan Pappe takes us back further, to the Nakba of 1948, the double entendre of the Israel Palestine debate. To Zionists, this date is the culmination or finishing post of a 2000 year-long dream to return to their homeland. To Palestinians this was their worst nightmare. With the birth of the Zionist movement, came the massacre of thousands of Palestinians and their forceful removal from their homes; ethnic cleansing in all but name.
The Palestinian version – “an expeller and expelled” – was typically identified as propaganda and the realities of the Nakba have been removed from the official Israeli education system and the media. Although not completely denied in Israel the real horrors of the Palestinian expulsion are not widespread, Pappe argues. If it were truly acknowledged, forthcoming peace plans would not be formed on its dismissal. Take, for example, the Oslo Accord, which omitted the Palestinian Right of Return. If the true extent to which Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948 were recognised, such an integral part of justice would not be sidelined in peace deals.

‘After Zionism’ is rich in history and context, pointing to many failures in the past or attempts at two-state solutions that form a convincing argument for its abandonment. But whilst delving into history helps to answer why a two-state solution is no longer feasible nor the basis upon which peace agreements should be built on for the future, it does not offer a strategy, a way forward or a solid alternative. How can we implement a solution that does not maintain the status quo?

The answer to this question is not set out comprehensively and is difficult to find amongst the book’s pages. Perhaps one of the reasons is because no major institutions or mass movements have “adopted” a feasible version of the one-state solution, according to Ghada Karmi, a research fellow at the University of Exeter. In her chapter ‘How Feasible is the One State Solution?’ she put into words my own frustrations very clearly:

“Beyond saying that the endpoint – a situation of equality between citizens of a unitary state irrespective of religion or race – is a ‘good thing’, no one has come up with a blueprint for the new state, or produced a roadmap of how to get there.”

Amidst the list of obstacles to the one-state solution, Karmi does put forward Israeli writer Yoram Avnak’s vision of one state. He advocates entirely separating the “church” and the state and banning religious parties. He proposes a secular education system and the establishment of Arabic, English and Hebrew as official languages. State parliament representation would be evenly split, with 10% for others groups. A neat idea, but how do we get there?

The most refreshing and structured suggestion is by far and away Jeff Halper’s essay, ‘Beyond Regional Peace to Global Reality’, in which he does not stop after offering the drawbacks to the one-state solution, and the failure of the two-state, but goes on to offer a forward thinking, solid alternative; the regional economic confederation.

The economic confederation has a two-stage approach. The first demands that the Palestinians accept a semi-viable state, albeit settling for less than the whole of the Occupied Territories. This would only be done on the condition that a regional economic confederation between Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would develop within five to ten years. Within this confederation, anyone in the region can live and work, ultimately extending economic burdens across the region and attempting to solve the refugee issue. This, argues Halper, would make the separation wall, the checkpoints and the separate roads defunct.

The common question or drawback that is always highlighted is how to compel Israeli groups, who are in such a privileged position to give up rights that they have? Palestinian human rights activist Omar Barghouti answers this well in his chapter. There is no need for them to be “persuaded” he says. Instead, we should embark upon a strategy of resistance to end Zionist occupation and oppression upon which the basis of a peaceful coexistence based on equality can grow. For example, this resistance could come through the Boycott Divestment Sanction movement (of which he is a founding member).

Political commentators have recently argued that amongst Palestinians, support for a one-state solution seems to be growing. The current statistical research supports this thesis but the numbers in support are small. In 2009 a Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre Poll concluded that just 20 per cent of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and a mere 9 per cent of Jewish Israelis wanted a bi-national resolution. If, as the authors of the book hold, “the one-state solution’s time has surely come”, perhaps more practical solutions such as education, raising of public awareness and a political agenda prioritising peace is the first stage to winning over public opinion. The concept of one nation is at an early stage and now needs to be woven into the collective consciousness of each nation in the region so that it is no longer just an intellectual aspiration.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Book Reviews, Palestine and Israel