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April 26, 2013

After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine

by Jason Kunin

After Zionism

After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine is an anthology of essays published in the latter half of 2012, when, as contributor Saree Makdisi writes, the Palestinian struggle seemed to be “reinventing itself” (90) away from its long-time aim of a Palestinian state and more toward a South African-style rights-based struggle.

Underlying this shift has been a growing disconnection between the official Palestinian leadership, who continue to play the game of international diplomacy and cling to the vanishing hope of an autonomous Palestinian state, and Palestinian civil society, who in Madkdisi’s words have shifted the “struggle from the plane of state diplomacy to the plane of the symbolic and the imaginary” (99).

In their introductory chapter to After Zionism, the editors – Antony Lowenstein, an Australian Jew, and Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian-American – note that the anthology was actually first conceived in 2010, so the reinvention Makdisi refers to had actually been building for some time, at least since 2005, when the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions launched their international call for a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel that has been steadily picking up steam every since. The period has also seen some remarkable and creative acts of non-violent resistance in villages such as Budrus, Bil’in, and Nil’in.

Though not highlighted as such, Makdisi’s is really the keynote essay in this collection, which focuses on the growing support among both Palestinians and their allies for a one-state solution – the aim of the Palestinian national movement up until 1974, when the focus shifted toward the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the 22% of Palestine that comprised Gaza and the West Bank. Unlike the one-state goal that preceded it, the two-state option gained traction with the international community, including liberal Jews, so that by the time the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 it had achieved the status of international consensus, with most Palestinians behind it.

Oslo, however, saw the PLO give way to the Palestinian Authority, a transformation that led to the sidelining of Palestinian refugees – the largest single Palestinian constituency – as it focused narrowly on administering and policing the territories. Diana Buttu, in her essay, refers to the PA as “Israel’s security subcontractor” (84), as its chief function was to suppress rebellion while Israel continued its land-grab in the territories. Mahmoud Abbas’s campaign to have Palestine granted state status at the UN – a goal he achieved a few months after the publication of this book – is, for Makdisi, a disaster that actually undermines the rights of the majority of Palestinians, the refugees.

Most of the contributors to After Zionism will be familiar to many – Ilan Pappe, Omar Barghouti, Sara Roy, Ghada Karmi, Jonathan Cook, Phil Weiss, Jeff Halper, John Mearsheimer, among others – and they sometimes tread familiar ground. Pappe, for example, contributes an article about the 1948 expulsion of roughly 700,000 Palestinians during the Nakba and the process of “Nakbah denial” in Israel, mostly repeating information treated more extensively elsewhere, though succinctly summarized here for who are new to the topic or who have not read his important book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Similarly, John Mearsheimer, best known as co-author of the controversial best-seller The Israel Lobby (2007), returns to an argument he has made repeatedly, that the United States could end the Israel-Palestine conflict tomorrow if not for the power of the “Israel lobby,” which pro-Israel champion Alan Dershowitz, quoted by Mearsheimer, called “the most effective lobbying and fund-raising effort in the history of democracy” (140).

Mearsheimer would be advised to exercise caution in giving weight to the self-aggrandizing claims of Dershowitz, who in my opinion gives lobbyists like himself far too much credit. U.S. policy towards Israel is and always has been determined largely by a calculation of its own interests in the region. Israel lobbyists merely push against an open door. When leaders of Israel brag of their power – such as when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon boasted, “we the Jewish people control America” – they are largely spouting hot air, stoking their egos while stupidly fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Like many others in the collection, Mearsheimer believes that a single bi-national state in Israel-Palestine is an inevitability, and like Antony Lowenstein, who makes the case more extensively in his own essay, he argues that “the Internet is a game changer” (147) in undermining the power of Israel and its lobbyists to control the flow of information. Lowestein believes that social media and web-based journalism providing daily updates on Israeli human rights abuses have precipitated the beginnings of a “collapsing media consensus” (186) on Israel, though he notes that the criticism of Israel that now sometimes appears in the corporate media is still largely informed by a mission to “save” Israel from itself.

Several essays in the latter part of this collection try to imagine what a post-Zionist bi-national state should look like. Ghada Karmi, in her otherwise perceptive essay, treats with serious consideration a bizarre anti-humanist model put forward by Israeli writer Yoram Avnak, who proposes that a single bi-national state should maintain a demographic balance of 45 percent Jews, 45 percent Palestinians, by cancelling the Jewish right of return and limiting the Palestinian right of return to maintain the demographic balance.

Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICHAD), argues for a single bi-national state that is part of a larger regional confederation, an idea Hannah Arendt proposed back in the 1940s. He insists, however, that whatever shape a single state takes, it must allow for the national aspirations of Israelis as well as Palestinians, for as he points out, “Whether it should have come into existence or not, an Israeli-Jewish national identity exists and we must work towards integrating it into a bi-national reality” (132).

In maintaining this position, Halper complains that he finds himself increasingly alienated by a growing tendency on the part of his Palestinian partners to withdraw from joint actions with allied Israeli groups, even explicitly anti-Zionist ones, as part of a general tendency to resist “normalization” with Israel, a trend noted as well by Joseph Dana in his overview of the sorry state of Israeli peace groups. Consequently, Halper is concerned that the Palestinian national movement may be drifting “from an inclusive South African model to an exclusive Algerian one” (132).

Omar Barghouti, by contrast, lays out the case against according equal recognition to an Israeli national identity. Barghouti insists, “Recognizing the national rights of Jewish settlers in Palestine or any part of it cannot but imply acceptance of the colonists’ right to self-determination” (198). To claim that the Jewish right to self-determination in Palestine is equivalent to that of Palestinians, he argues, blurs “the essential differences between the inalienable rights of the indigenous population and the acquired rights of the settler population” (202). Instead, a truly decolonized Palestine requires the “indigenization” of the Jewish population - somewhat akin to the indigenization of European settlers in Caribbean states.

After Zionism is an anthology best dipped into rather than read continuously. Among the essays there is a certain amount of repetitiveness, with several authors retreading the same ground. Jonathan Cook’s essay on the complex network of laws within Israel that bar Palestinian citizens from accessing the same right to land and mobility as Jews is an excellent piece of journalism that nevertheless seems to belong in a different anthology.

Still, there is much in After Zionism that gives hope. Phil Weiss and Antony Lowenstein, for example, both describe the generational shift away from Zionism among Jews, and John Mearsheimer points to statics that indicate the Jewish state may already be unraveling. He notes that as many as 750,000 Jews have now permanently left Israel, no longer desiring “to live in an Apartheid state whose politics and daily life are increasingly shaped by the ultra-orthodox” (152). Most encouraging are themes that run through most of these essays, that the Palestinian struggle has become “internationalized,” and, more importantly, that it is being driven primarily by civil society and ordinary citizens, bypassing the level of governments, corporate media, and public officials whose interest in maintaining the status quo are increasingly at odds with popular sentiment.

Despite the enormous obstacles to a one-state solution and the powerful international consensus around the now impossible goal of a Palestinian state – impossible because Israeli settlements in the West Bank are too extensive and entrenched – as the Palestinian struggle becomes more of a popular struggle, it is turning away gradually from the dead end of this international consensus towards a model that has the potential to provide real justice and a hopeful future for the people who live in Israel-Palestine. As Makdisi writes,

The mere fact that the loudest champions of the creation of a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank are Israelis, running the gamut from soft-core liberal Zionists to seasoned and wily politicians like Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, should be the clearest warning necessary that there is something profoundly flawed with this idea from a Palestinian perspective. (94)

Jason Kunin is a Toronto teacher and writer.