Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
In her book, Virginia Tilley maintains that “the one-state solution is not an option to be argued. It is an inevitability to be faced” (87). The evidence provided in Ali Abunimah’s and Tilley’s books suggests that the window of opportunity for a viable Palestinian state has long passed. The one-state solution is the only one on the table, and for Abunimah, Tilley, and a growing number of activists and intellectuals, the question remains whether it will be a repressive sate, tethered to an imperialist project and based on exclusionary Jewish nationalism -– or a secular, democratic state with full rights for all.
Both Abunimah and Tilley rest their cases on the geographic and demographic “facts on the ground.” Abunimah’s first chapter details the 1947 Partition Plan. In that year, Jews constituted only one third of the region’s population. Though Zionists had long attempted to purchase land in Palestine, Jews legally owned less than 6% of the land. Yet the UN Partition would give the Jews 55%, containing most of the arable surface. The two states would have to be cut awkwardly in terms of geography, and nearly half the inhabitants of the proposed Jewish state would be Arab –- “raising fears among the Palestinians that the Arabs whose homes were inside the designated Jewish area might be forcibly removed as the Peel Commission had recommended” (23f). Moreover, why -– as Abunimah’s father put it at the time -– would you partition what’s yours? Given these geographic and demographic realities, it is not surprising that the Arabs rejected the Partition Plan. War ensued, and the terrorism of the Israeli forces, the Irgun and Stern Gang in particular, resulted in the displacement of 700,000 to 900,000 Palestinians into the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and surrounding countries. 78 percent of the territory was now in Israeli hands.
The late Tanya Reinhart suggested through the title of her book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, based on a quotation from Ariel Sharon, that subsequent Israeli policies represented a continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine undertaken during the ’48 war –- confirming the fears of Palestinians that Partition would merely serve as a foothold for the Zionist enterprise of extending an exclusively Jewish state throughout “Greater Israel,” a task impossible without the removal of non-Jews. The 1967 war -– the “Six Day war” –- ostensibly resulted from Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, but was a calculated attempt by Israel, with backing from the United States, to punish the Arab nationalist Nasser and grab more territory. The ’67 war resulted in the further displacement of 100,000 Palestinians and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip/Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and Jerusalem. Months later, Israel began moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank and Gaza -– a policy in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Tilley’s book discusses in depth the Israeli settlement policy, a major barrier to a two-state solution. Contrary to the notion that the settlements are mobile, easily dismantled outposts populated only by extremist Zionists, Tilley describes as typical “a two-story town of hundreds or thousands of stone residences draped along a neighboring hillcrest, its outer edifice forming a continuous defensive stone bastion, with tendrils of new construction stretching toward the neighboring settlement” (19). The larger settlements have other markers of permanency: “major shopping malls and cinemas, full school systems, recreation centers and parks, synagogues and cultural centers, and adjacent industrial zones with factories representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments” (19f).
The settlements –- Jewish-only enclaves –- that pock-mark the West Bank, often cited as the locus for a future Palestinian state, further divide the land with roads and transportation infrastructure which are only available to Jews, as well as roadblocks and checkpoints for Palestinians. The separation wall now being built by Israel is illegal, according to a July 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, because it creates “a fait accompli on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case… [it] would be tantamount to de facto annexation” of vast swaths of Palestinian land (Abunimah, 34). Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is not evidence that the settlements can be abandoned. Rather, the Gaza pullout was quite advantageous to Israel since it provided a diversion from increased settlement activity and construction in the West Bank, and foisted responsibility for controlling the impoverished Gaza onto the Palestinian Authority (Tilley, 30). Meanwhile, Israel has virtually sealed off Gaza, preventing food, medicine, money, and people from entering or leaving, thereby creating massive humanitarian, economic, and political crises.
These geographic and demographic realities are the product of Zionist ideological imperatives and conscious political planning. Abunimah’s book, unfortunately, provides only minimal examination of politics and ideology, but Tilley delves more fully into the former. Tilley points out that support for Israeli expansion and settlement is not limited to hard-right Zionists. Both left- and right-wing Zionists support the settlement project, and settlement construction actually accelerated under the “dovish” Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The settlement economy is bound up with the larger Israeli economy, particularly with regard to water and natural resources and as a captive market: in 1999, Israel accounted for 71% of West Bank imports and 97% of West Bank exports (Tilley, 44f). Finally, Israeli law recognizes only “Jewish” as a national identity, and significant portions of state resources, such as land, are designated for Jewish-national use (46). The privileged status of Jewish national identity means that any Jew in the world can immigrate to Israel and immediately claim citizenship, but Palestinians are denied the UN-promised right of return to their homes, sometimes mere miles away. Zionism as an ideological and political project is predicated on a Jewish demographic majority. Achieving this feat in a place where Jews were a minority required the transfer of Palestinians, as Zionist leaders acknowledged from the beginning. Israel has attempted to continue this transfer through military, geographic, and political methods. The notion that Zionists would grant the Palestinians a viable, sovereign state is fanciful.
Abunimah’s and Tilley’s accounts provide convincing arguments for the one-state solution based upon the impossibility of an equitable and sovereign Palestinian state. However, both books lack a sustained argument against Zionism as an ideology, primarily articulating the one-state solution as a pragmatic measure. Joel Kovel’s recent book Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine goes further. Kovel supports a one-state solution not just because it is the only satisfactory option remaining, but because it exemplifies the universalistic aspirations of humanists and socialists.
Also missing from both Abunimah’s and Tilley’s books is any sense of the political perspectives necessary to achieve a secular democratic state in Palestine. Tilley, like Abunimah, pays scant attention to Israel’s role as regional watchdog for US imperialism and as a strategic ally in the “war on terror.” Tilley devotes only a small section to the US-Israel “special relationship,” in which she overemphasizes the role of the so-called “Israel Lobby” –- as distinct from geopolitical drives -– in shaping US foreign policy. This approach not only provides an opening to the anti-Jewish canard of global Jewish domination, but leaves activists in a theoretically impoverished position for confronting US imperialism.
In an exchange in New Left Review, Yoav Peled chides Tilley for the assumption “that the one-state solution ‘would resolve the entire conflict in one magisterial gesture.’” Peled charges that Tilley wants to have it both ways: to have one secular, democratic state, but one in which Zionism and the “Jewish National Home” are preserved. Peled maintains that “no peaceful solution to the conflict is possible without the assent of at least a sizeable majority of Israeli Jews, practically all of whom are ardent Zionists.” Abunimah’s One State shares Tilley’s idealistic approach. Abunimah cites a Fatah statement calling for “a multi-racial democratic state… a state without any hegemony, in which everyone, Jew, Christian or Muslim will enjoy full civic rights” (108), but he fails to explain in what way this statement can be understood as reflecting more than a moral position, made without taking into account the political context.
The implementation of the one-state solution will not come through policy-making or simply persuading all concerned parties with moral and intellectual appeals. Achieving a secular democratic state requires the self-organization of Palestinian workers resisting Israeli occupation, and other people throughout the Middle East opposing corrupt, pro-Israel, US-backed regimes. Peled is correct that the persistence of Zionism among ordinary Israelis is a barrier to the one-state solution. But, as Tilley points out in her rebuttal, Peled’s “response seems to suggest that all views [regarding Zionism] are set in stone and, effectively, that no solution is imaginable.” People’s ideas and consciousness change on a wide scale not through persuasion alone, but through experience in mass societal upheaval. Although ordinary Israelis benefit in some material ways because of the occupation, there are tremendous economic and social cleavages and contradictions in Israeli society which, in conjunction with Arab mass movements, have the possibility of shifting Israeli workers away from identification with Zionism and their own ruling class. Finally, activists in the United States can lend solidarity and political support to the Palestinian and Arab resistance, and work at home to weaken the US imperialism which keeps the Zionist apparatus afloat. Only through these political struggles from below can true democracy in Palestine be won.
Reviewed by Matthew Richman, PhD student in History
University of Pennsylvania