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ISR Issue 52, March–April 2007


The one-state solution

Ali Abunimah
One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
Metropolitan Books, 2006
227 pages $23


ALI ABUNIMAH has written a refreshing book arguing that the only realistic solution for the Palestinians is to fight for a single state.

He points out that this idea did not originate with him, but dates back to an earlier phase in the struggle for Palestine. The dominant Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) argued in 1969 that: “What we want to create in the historic borders of Palestine is a multi-racial democratic state…a state without any hegemony, in which everyone, Jew, Christian or Muslim will enjoy full civic rights.”

Over the years, the Palestinian liberation movement has distanced itself from the position of a singular democratic state. While the reasons behind this de-emphasis are complex and many, Abunimah does not spare the betraying role played by Arafat and the PLO leadership.

Israel had transferred responsibility but without power or independence and Palestinians came increasingly to see the Palestinian Authority not as a vehicle for liberation but as a proxy force designed to relieve Israel of the various costs of enforcing the occupation itself. Arafat had not liberated his people from occupation but joined them under it.

Abunimah explains that “voting for Hamas…was a way to defy what Palestinians saw as a corrupt ‘peace process,’ whereby foreign aid was traded for political concessions while Israel continued to expand the settlements.”

His book also documents the many difficulties that the Palestinians have faced in their struggle for liberation since the terrorizing theft of their land by Zionists in 1948, and the murderous invasion to occupy territories in 1967.

The other main obstacle is the United States. Abunimah points out that in the global “war on terror,” Israel is seen as a key ally of the United States, and the U.S. Congress consistently stands with Israel, missing no opportunity to endorse all Zionist positions placed before it.

He mentions Senator Barak Obama, the “first U.S. politician who inspired me to pull out my checkbook,” but soon exposed himself as “more hard-line than…the Bush administration. He opposed allowing Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian Authority legislative elections, even after the Bush administration urged Israel to allow the election to proceed.”
In writing this book, Abunimah has challenged conventional wisdom regarding a solution to the occupation, both of the establishment as well as many supporters of the Palestinians.

When President Jimmy Carter appeared on CNN and spoke about his own book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, he mentioned his opposition to a one-state solution.

The Palestinians, if they were given a right to vote on an equal basis with all Israelis, would play a major role in making decisions about the whole country. And with the rapid population growth of the Palestinians…in the foreseeable future the Palestinians would actually have a majority in that nation.

Democracy and majority rule are apparently not part of Carter’s worldview.

Many on the Left also favor a two-state solution, not due to a fear that a single state would be overrun by Arabs, but because they think it is more “realistic.”

Abunimah argues that there is only one body with a monopoly on violence in Palestine, the Israeli state, and Palestinians live in varying degrees of disenfranchisement, inside and outside the borders of 1967. His point is that it isn’t “realistic” to believe that out of this situation, some sort of Palestinian state could be cobbled together.

He writes: “In such a hopeless situation, clinging to the prospect of peace through a two-state solution becomes a valuable placebo against the painful reality, even if no serious effort is made to implement it.”

If there is fault to be found in Abunimah’s argument, it would be an overly abstract view of how a single state would be achieved. As he reaches for an analogy to South Africa, his portrayal of apartheid’s final overseer, F. W. de Klerk, suggests that apartheid’s destruction began with an individual’s moral rebirth. It would be more accurate to state that white minority leaders had no other choice but to cave in, due to the incessant struggle for freedom by Black South Africans themselves.

Abunimah does, nevertheless, view resistance as critical, and draws connections to the international struggle to end apartheid in South Africa:

Palestinians and their allies need, morally and strategically, to turn to resistance that maximizes pressure on Israel without killing innocent civilians, capitalizes on global support, mobilizes the greatest number of people, and does not foreclose the possibility of future reconciliation.

The clearest lesson from South Africa’s example is that the Palestinian message and methods must make it clear that the target is not the Israeli people but an unjust system that denies one people their rights, identity, and dignity, and condemns the other to increasing isolation, fear and moral corruption.

In the struggle for liberation, we must never lose sight of what we are ultimately fighting for, no matter how far off it may seem. When many others have moved away from this discussion, Ali Abunimah’s book refocuses it on the right goal, even if he’s not clear about the path from here to there.
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