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Ali Abunimah presents powerful arguments in favour of a one-state solution to establish justice for Palestinians, finds Orlando Hill

Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket 2014), xv, 331pp.

The two-state resolution has for a long time been the agreed framework for the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Historic Palestine, today consisting of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would be partitioned into two independent states. The Palestinians would recognise the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and Israel would retreat to its pre-1967 borders.

However, as Ali Abunimah points out in The Battle for Justice in Palestine, the two-state solution presents some serious problems. Firstly, what would happen to the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who would remain within the pre-1967 borders? The tension between Jewish Israelis, who want Israel to be a Jewish state, and the Arab Israelis, who do not, would persist. That is the problem with the two-state solution; it relies on the continued violation of fundamental Palestinian rights. For Israel to maintain its exclusive Jewish identity it must maintain a Jewish majority. There are three groups of Palestinians that represent a threat to this majority: those who remain in Israel; the refugees in exile; and the residents of occupied West Bank and Gaza. The threat from the two latter groups can be dealt with by denying their right to return and building ever higher walls – at least in theory. But what do you do with the Arab-Israeli citizens and their instance on having babies? And what about the inevitable tendency that humans have for miscegenation? What kind of apartheid scenario would have to be set up to guarantee the Jewish identity of the state of Israel?

Ali Abunimah asks whether Israel even has a right to exist as a Jewish state. Does any state have the right to exist at all? ‘States either exist or do not exist and other states either recognize them or do not, but no other state (besides Israel) has claimed an abstract “right to exist”’ (p.52). No one has ever demanded the resurrection of East Germany, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union based on their right to exist, separate from the right of the residents of the territory to self-determination.

Another problem with a two-state solution is that any newly independent government would have to face ‘an international neoliberal economic and geopolitical order that constrains every state’s sovereignty and scope for action and hinders economic democracy in favour of an unrestrained capitalism that only exacerbates inequalities’ (p.56). That was demonstrated when Salam Fayyad, a former IMF official, was appointed Palestinian prime minister after the 2007 US-instigated civil war that split the Palestinian Authority between the West Bank led by Fatah and the Hamas-led Gaza Strip. Fayyad introduced neoliberal policies that led to a boom of housing speculation and debt driven consumption in the West Bank. In 2009, the West Bank was described as ‘the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever’ by the New York columnist Thomas Friedman (p.87). However, similarly to all other neoliberal experiments, it ended with a small elite enriching itself, while the vast majority were left in misery. That is the reality that the backers of a two-state solution envisage: an entrenched neoliberal system where an elite of Israelis and Palestinians collaborate to enrich themselves while the majority of Palestinians and poor Israelis are left in misery. The truth is that ‘capitalism cannot be retrained by national boundaries’ (p.141).

Could Israeli Jews ever accept a one-state solution in which they are a minority as the whites in South Africa did? Israel was created to ensure that Jews ‘would never again have to depend on the goodwill of others for their safety and survival.’ It is ironic then that the most dangerous place to be a Jew is Israel. As the South African political scientist Steven Friedman points out ‘democracies that survive protect Jews who live in them better than the Jewish state’ (p.68). Israel’s existence today is only guaranteed by the backing of the United States and other international sponsors. How long will young Jews from other countries be willing to support a state that becomes more and more similar to an apartheid state?

According to Ali Abunimah, Israel, with its reliance on Diaspora support, is not invulnerable to pressure. ‘No regime can survive if its only resource is brute force; it must have internal and external legitimacy’ (p.64). Abunimah reminds us that as late as 1989 the consensus was that the ANC’s demand for a one-person, one-vote system was unacceptable and that it would lead to a bloodbath. The same could be said for the Northern Ireland peace agreement. Before it happened who could ever imagine that Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would create a power-sharing government?

The first step towards a one-state solution has already been taken by a group of Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals in the 2007 One State Declaration inspired by the South African Freedom Charter and the 1998 Belfast Agreement. ‘The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948 … Power must be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all people in the diversity of their identities’ (p.274).

Tagged under: Palestine Middle East
Orlando Hill

Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.

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