The first section is a great inside look at how central the Israeli-Palestine Question is to most conflicts in the news today. Miles also examines the ethnic cleansing, the continuation of annexation of Palestinian lands, the settlements, a book review of Abuminah's One Country - A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, as well as the meddling of American foreign policy and its effects, a debate by an advocate of One-State against a Two-Stater, and the plausibility of either solution (which I also examined earlier). In it, the examples of Northern Ireland and South Africa are upheld as a paradigm for future models of the Israel-Palestine conundrum. Are we ready for this long fight for a state for all its citizens? I quote Miles,
"While chances at the moment seem highly improbable, the goal, the vision, the possibility needs to be maintained, for its own end, and also to guard against the bleak view of seeing only a prison landscape. A better world is possible and while it may be well over the horizon at the moment, the hope for it needs to be maintained."
Uncertain Outcomes: The Israeli-Palestine Question
By Jim Miles
After 9/11, 2001, when I first started examining the various landscapes – physical, political, cultural, military – of events relating to that day, I had no real idea that it would lead me into an advocacy position of Palestinian rights, but everything about the American empire at the time pointed towards Israel and Palestine as the then current focal point of the majority of the Middle East, European, and Asian political problems. I had long been familiar with American arrogance and patriotic jingoism, with its various wars of suppression supposedly in the name of protecting the free world from communism, with its corporate mentality as witnessed by the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investments as supported by the World Trade Organization and others in the group of the Washington Consensus, and with its military supremacy, its phoney antagonism to communism, but most notable in its formidable yet essentially unusable nuclear arsenal. I had a lot of the pieces for the puzzle, but had not put them together into a coherent framework. When that framework did materialize and I was able to see the big picture quite distinctly – yet still with puzzle pieces missing – Palestine-Israel appeared to be the central focus. There are many other nuances in different areas of the globe, but the central feature remained Israel and the Middle East.
Now with events in Iraq and Afghanistan becoming predominant within the newscasts, Israel-Palestine has not seemed to be central to the picture. Unfortunately it still is, as the Zionist lobby in America has the ear – and foremost its wallets – of many Americans in its thrall, and those same groups are now clamouring for an attack on Iran because of Iran’s alleged desire to completely destroy Israel and Israel’s self-willed fear of Iranian nuclear power. Regardless of that global centrality, even if it were not there, the question of what will happen in Israel-Palestine remains.
That basic Palestinian-Israeli question relates to what will be the ultimate kind of country that rises from the current conflict. The ‘status quo’ has never held the same within Palestine-Israel except for the one factor of the power dominance of the Israelis in most aspects of life over the Palestinian people. The geographical situation has changed over time: from the initial Jewish immigrants; the rebellions against the British by both the Palestinians and the Jews; through the sudden and swift changes forced by the nakba and twenty years later the Six Day War (or the naksah); to the gradual and seemingly inexorable pace of settlement colonies in the occupied territories. It has seen government structures within Palestine grow and develop, from a relatively unconstituted state of subjection by conquest to an acceptance of the PLO as the Palestinian representatives, the creation of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the democratic victory of Hamas denied and subverted by everyone caught out on the weak limb of their own democratic discourse. Still the question lingers as there have been no political settlements, only vague negotiations for future status, roadmaps that lead nowhere, and ‘horizons’ that do as all horizons do by simply retreating as the searcher advances. The question remains. What will be the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
It is obvious that the current situation will not remain that way for long. Events within and outside the area both provide momentum towards some kind of change towards some kind of settled outcome, of which there are several, some kind, some not.
The worst possible scenario, the most repugnant of the choices, is that of genocide/ethnic cleansing. While few actually advocate this, the refrain is still evident in some Israeli voices. And while few actually advocate measures that would apply ethnic cleansing in one grand large gesture, it could be argued that most of the events that have occurred in Palestine-Israel over the past half-century are in essence a prolonged form of ethnic cleansing. The UN “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” states that genocide “is a crime under international law” which involves various acts “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such.” Of the five acts listed in Article Two the first three are apparent within Palestine-Israel: “(a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Along with genocide, Article Three finds punishable, “(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide”  Obviously there will be arguments and rationales from the Israelis about defence of their country and the fight against terrorism, but the overall presentation of information coming largely from Jewish revisionist scholarship is that if the above three parameters are applied to Israel, then they are participating in genocide/ethnic cleansing. 
Even before the nakba the Zionist plan included settlements placed intermittently within the Palestinian population to prevent and block a contiguous Palestinian geographic area. The nakba provided a focus in which over five hundred Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed quickly and ‘efficiently’, if terror, murder and expulsion can be considered ‘efficient’. After the 1967 Six Day War colonial settlements became the norm again, continuing the earlier Zionist plans to split the Palestinian areas into non-functional territories surrounded by a Jewish state. Certainly there have been incidents of killing, either in groups as with Tantura, Jenin, Sabra, and Shatilla or within the ongoing IDF interventions during either of the intifadas or as basic ongoing crime and punishment within the daily lives of the occupied Palestinian territories.
To date this settlement pattern has been successful for the Jewish state as the majority of Palestinians reside in small non-contiguous areas, many cut off from their former agricultural areas, water sources, cultural centres, and employment, having to communicate on back roads threaded under and around roads preserved for Jews only. The situation within these bantustan style cantonments very deliberately inflicts “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” with the Israeli voice expressing the idea that hopefully conditions will be made so miserable that the Palestinians will “choose” to leave. This ‘status quo’ will not remain; the pressures are much too great. Gaza is essentially an immense outdoor prison camp; the Westbank is divided up into three small areas, none of which have any control over any aspect of what could be considered state-hood, except when acting as proxies for the Israelis.
Guarding a series of prison-based cantonments is not a viable means of achieving peace for the region, nor of establishing a democratic state. While the situation with Iran remains tenuous, the direction that Israel will take is also uncertain, and while I am loathe to enter into conjecture about the future, an Iranian ‘venture’ on the part of Israel or the U.S. could open up the path to more severe and impulsive genocide/ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.
While genocide/ethnic cleansing is an illegal and morally repugnant manner to have a final outcome (especially in consideration of the Jewish trauma from their own holocaust), the path to the other two main solutions are also highly problematic, although much more favourably arguable from a moral-legal perspective. Those two aspects, first the “two state” outcome, secondly the “democratic state for all the peoples” outcome, will require enormous efforts by both sides to make them agreeable, and while not everyone can be satisfied, the majority would hopefully improve the lot of both groups such that peace and a healthy social-cultural-political interaction could grow between the parties.
Yankee Go Home
The path would be made much easier if one of the main protagonists would simply ‘butt out’. For while there are two cultures, two identities trying to achieve a peaceful home, it is compounded by a third group that is there only for the fortune of political and geostrategic considerations – the Americans, who really do not care about the Palestinians at all and are only supportive of Israel for their grand strategy towards the Middle East. To a lesser but still influential sector, the American Christian right simply wants the Jews to succeed and fulfill Christian prophecy so that they can come in afterwards and establish their own Christian kingdom. A further complicating factor is the Jewish lobby, most highly recognized under the acronym AIPAC, but extending into many more organizations and operations that influence American politics. Even with full and open ended approval of the Bush administration, the Israelis have not progressed to a Palestinian final settlement as expressed above, perhaps recognizing deep down the complete moral contradiction that would have in light of their own history; or perhaps as they recognize that the moral force behind the situation has turned against the use of more explicit violence and relocation, they hesitate to do so unless conditions become suddenly more catastrophic. One of my favourite refrains, “yankee go home”, would not solve the situation but would facilitate - given other appropriate conditions – a more equal dialogue between the two identities.
The American-Israeli relationship is a tenuous symbiotic one with the Israeli government relying heavily on American military and financial subsidies along with the political support. American aid, mostly in the form of military aid, is generally calculated to be around the three billion dollar mark per year , with much of that going into military research that is then exported around the world. This constitutes one third of American foreign aid and makes up about seven per cent of the Israeli annual budget and supports an Israeli per capita income of twenty-six thousand eight hundred dollars . Going the other way, AIPAC exerts great pressure within the U.S. electoral system with its ability to target legislators with financial assistance or conversely with electoral challenges. Arguments swirl around the two as to who has the most significant impact over the other, but regardless of that, the reality for others is of a double-headed monster threatening the countries and cultures of the Middle East.
I realize the likelihood of the duo self-extracting themselves from this relationship is minimal, making the chances of a successful resolution that is acceptable to both sides equally unlikely. It would require a politician/statesman of enormous personal presence – or maybe even enormous skills at subterfuge to get around his or her compatriots – in order to separate the two. However other peoples have resolved their problems, not perfectly, but at least beginnings towards peace and reconciliation have been made and the killings and subjugation of other peoples has been significantly diminished.
Israel, by it sheer military power, could readily prevail in the Middle East without U.S. support. The Arab governments are not united behind Palestine and never have been. Jordan has always played the geostrategic game to its advantage, never being a vociferous voice against Israeli atrocities or occupation, nor challenging or threatening in any way militarily. Saudi Arabia is much closer in its ties to the Americans than it is to the U.S. Egypt pursued and achieved peace with Israel, again with massive U.S. foreign aid ($2 billion per year) under a non-democratic government. Lebanon is so torn apart by its own internal factions that it will never be a threat to Israel other than that Israel seems to want the territory up to the Litani River, a mainly Shiite area mixed up with Palestinian refugees, natural antagonists to Israeli desires. Syria has never seriously threatened Israel and the recent incursion by Israeli jets, while still not fully understood as to its full strategic significance, does indicate an Israeli ability and readiness to intrude freely on their air space. Without the U.S., Israel would be able to defend itself against any regional challengers.
That would lead to the conclusion that Israel derives moral support and perhaps even moral ‘diversion’ for its actions in Palestine, while the world in general foments about the imperial hubris of the U.S. as it attacks various countries for its own strategic interests (control of oil, containment of China and Russia being foremost). The U.S. gains a military protégé that is capable of supporting its strategic efforts under the guise of a ‘war on terror’, provides intelligence information, and may or may not accompany the U.S. on an attack on Iran. The combination is lethal and in the short term makes a peaceful settlement in Israel-Palestine remote at the present, but the effort still needs to be put forward as to what that eventual outcome could be.
Two State or One State?
Regardless of the U.S. role, the two identities involved have several levels of definition for what will eventually become of whatever form of co-existence is imposed or chosen. Ethnic cleansing is still a possibility as discussed above. The remaining solutions concern the central idea of a two state or one state solution, with the two state solution carrying within itself several possibilities. The one state solution is obviously a singularity, but the internal workings of such a state could have many possible permutations.
Canada’s CBC Radio talk show “The Current” recently hosted two authors, Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian refugee and American educated founder of The Electronic Intifada, and Akiva Eldar, a Ha’aretz diplomatic affairs correspondent.  The two duelled verbally about their respective ideas, Abunimah favouring the single state, Eldar supporting the two state idea.
Abunimah spoke first, arguing that a government was needed that represented the population of 11 million Arab and Jewish people, to provide “protection for all the communities” with “equal rights”. His view of the current situation is that of a reality “intertwined and inseparable on the ground.”
Eldar started by saying the situation had “nothing to do with religion” but with “national and personal identity” and insisted the one state solution was “not doable”. He continued saying that “most Palestinians I know” support him and “after one hundred years of animosity, we need a good divorce lawyer.” “If we wait any longer,” he said, “we’ll find ourselves in a one state and it’s going to be hell.”
Abunimah, by far the stronger and more eloquent of the two speakers, insisted “We’re already in a one state solution, there’s a fallacy that we have two separate states or entities. The fact that the Israeli government alone decides whether people in Gaza eat or drink, have light or darkness, is a clear indication that there is one government.” He continued his argument along ethnic lines, saying “Right now it is a purely sectarian state, a Jewish sectarian state where just as in Northern Ireland you had a sectarian Protestant state and they’ve found there that total victory of one side or the other was impossible….The only solution was power sharing, and if you think a one state solution in Palestine-Israel is impossible, go to Belfast” where the shared government “between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party…is the political equivalent of a Hamas-Likud coalition.” Current events, he stated, are “leading to the destruction of both peoples. It’s time for something new.”
Eldar argued that Israeli-Arabs did not want to leave the Israeli state if given the choice to move to the occupied territories, to which Abunimah replied, “Of course Palestinian citizens of Israel don’t want to leave, why should they? It’s their country, they were born there, but what they are agitating for is….converting Israel from an ethnic Jewish state which gives special and better rights to Jews into a democracy of all its citizens.”
When Eldar started to discuss the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, Abunimah had to interrupt to get him to agree that one had to include the settlers in Jerusalem in the total. Eldar argued that by removing 50-70 000 of the settlers that a two state situation could be accomplished. Abunimah’s counter argument derided both these aspects, “First of all, how can you exclude Jerusalem? Jerusalem is at the centre of this conflict….he is saying only ten to twelve per cent, fifty to seventy thousand, would leave. A Palestinian state with half a million settlers implanted in the middle of it is a bantustan as in the South African model and that’s why the Camp David accords failed, it wasn’t because of this myth that Arafat rejected a generous offer, it was because Palestinians understood that what they were being offered is a South African style Bantustan.” Arguing that while Israel “is increasingly being recognized as an apartheid state…the solution…is not more partition and apartheid, it is to start to bring the people together in a situation where they have equal rights and protections.”
Eldar’s response, “is a one state solution doable? Israel is a democracy…” became entangled in both participants trying to over talk each other, with clarity returning when Eldar argued that the “right of return” was “another non-starter”. Abunimah riposted quite vociferously, “What is a non-starter for you, it seems Akiva, with all due respect, is anything that approaches equality among all human beings regardless.”
The show host, Anna Maria Tremonti, closed off by asking, “What do you do? What happens?” When the two began overtaking each other, Abunimah again grabbed the lead, talking pointedly at Eldar’s phrase that it is “just the bottom line is different.” Abunimah responded, “The bottom line is equality and whether you can live with it and it sounds to me like you’re not ready but what we are talking about is the equality between Israel as a superpower and Gaza which Israel cuts electricity and water off from, that’s not equality."
“That’s wrong,” agreed Eldar.
“That’s a bantustan,” Abunimah added a qualification.
“A one state solution is a non-starter because most of the Israelis will not accept it so we are wasting our time discussing it,” Eldar continued.
“Most Israelis don’t accept a two state solution….”
“No that’s not true…”
…and the bell rang to end the round.
Lords of the Land
From this radio discussion, the weight of common sense argument and clarity of argument would have to ride in Abunimah’s favour, and it prompted me to go buy both author’s most recent books to see how their positions were represented within.
Akiva Eldar’s most recent work, co-authored with Idith Zertal, is Lords of the Land – The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (Nation Books, New York, 2005, 2007). Eldar takes a very negative view of the settlement process that he examines within the years indicated within the title. He recognizes them as being illegal, with his chapter that discusses the issue “analyzes the legalization [legitimation?] of the basic illegality of the civilian Jewish presence in the occupied territories.” Further, while arguing over the legality perspective he ironically supports Abunimah’s contention that there is already only one state, that by “Imposing Israeli judicial authority on the territories, and in thus expanding the authority of the Israeli courts beyond the boundaries of the State of Israel, the army in effect annexed the territories.” Because the inhabitants had no other recourse, they were “coerced….to recognize, whether they wanted to or not, this legal annexation and the authority of the Israeli judiciary system over them.” In full contradiction to what he tried to say to Abunimah on “The Current” he concludes, “This single act also rendered the state of Israel and the territories a single [emphasis added] judiciary-political entity, blurring the borders of June 4, 1967.” The actions of the courts “eventually afforded the highest legal and moral seal of approval to Israel’s ruthless occupation in the territories.” At least for my way of thinking, he is in agreement with Abunimah, that there currently is only one state, “intertwined and inseparable,” legally, politically, and geographically.
For the most part, the book is an excellent guide to a standard political style history of the development of the settlements. To their credit the authors find the process both legally and morally reprehensible. Their view of the future, should the settlement patterns continue, “will lead Israel along a sure path to more disputes, more hatred, and more bereavement.” Consistent with the interview, Israel is seen as a democratic state. Eldar’s two state solution, whether supported by Zertal or not, supports for the Palestinians the “non-starter” of not recognizing the settlements that are effectively annexing Arab Jerusalem, and another “non-starter” the denial of the right of return to Palestinian refugees and diaspora.
A two state solution has many permutations, from the prison-like to the relatively autonomous. If the current situation were stabilized ‘unilaterally’ there would still be much division and separation, with minimal access to other areas, and minimal control of access and egress. Some voices have considered a Jordanian partner to help ‘govern’ the bantustans, a form of governance that would be fraught with difficulty, and still provide only a nominal autonomy – without independence – and a nominal democracy – the kind imposed by an external controlling power.
The wall, presented as a defence against terrorists, and as a boundary to enclose settlements within Israel, may be presented unilaterally as a new boundary between Palestinians and Israelis. But as best described by Roger Lieberman a graduate student at Rutgers University, a unilateral declaration of the wall as a boundary creates a situation where “The economic havoc wreaked by the Wall and hundreds of checkpoints is seen by many hawkish Zionists as the most “practical” means of carrying out ethnic cleansing.” That perspective is compared to the Golan Heights where “depopulation, colonization, and annexation – is what a substantial and dangerous segment of the Israeli body politic (along with its enablers in America) has long had in mind for the West Bank.” According to Lieberman the Golan Heights serves as a demonstration as to the efficacy of “how Israeli unilateralism effectively erased a substantial Arab community in the Levant without many people in the outside world taking notice and protesting.” The wall, and a two state outcome based on it, would not provide a long-term stable structure. The added complication of the Gaza Strip and how it would fit into the arrangement seriously compromises any two state solution at this level.
The most advanced and probably only truly viable acceptable form of a two state solution would be the withdrawal of the Jewish people to the green line, including the areas of East Jerusalem they have annexed and the diplomatic-legal unification with Gaza Strip. The return of the Jordan Valley to Palestinian control would be a good part of this arrangement. While Israel cries ‘fear’ for its security, Jordan has proven consistently that it has no true aggressive stance towards Israel and has been very accommodating in maintaining a peaceful neutrality with its Jewish neighbour. While all this in itself represents a major concession on the part of the Palestinians in consideration of the land occupied and destroyed in the nakba and its aftermath, it could present a ‘realpolitik’ outcome to the current situation.
When there was a tentative agreement reached in 1993, many Palestinians thought, “that this unprecedented historic compromise, though bitter, was necessary. Those who rejected the creation of a state limited to the Westbank and Gaza Strip…were relegated to the margins of the Palestinian movement.” That the Israeli government was only interested in investing in more time to settle more territory became apparent not too much later.
It is the “enablers in America” combined with the ongoing perception of all options being “non-starters” that makes this argument academic today, yet at the same time essential. For while there are many non-starters, and many negative enablers, possibilities do exist and need to be kept up front where the moral and legal weight of the rest of the world can perhaps impose some form of saner view on the situation.
Ali Abunimah’s book, One Country – A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, is consistent with his arguments on “The Current”. Before discussing the one state outcome, he provides a well-written precis of events leading from the nakba to the present. It is readily accessible, combining anecdotal material with a clearly delineated sequence of events. Throughout it all he remains consistent with his message of democratic and human rights principles for all people. There is not really too much force behind his arguments until later in the book: his arguments are rational and academically sound, but seem to be just that, academic in the face of the real situation on the ground. But then he enters his discussion on South African apartheid and quickly demonstrates that this is more than purely an academic argument, that if the situation in South Africa - very similar to the one in Israel, from the warring occupiers fighting against the British and then trying to dominate and exclude the indigenous population – can be changed so dramatically, then there is a very real possibility that the same could happen in Israel-Palestine.
Abunimah begins this section with several recognizable arguments: first that the Africans and Arabs are seen as uncivilized peoples whose resistance to domination is irrational and motivated by hatred (the White Man’s Burden again); secondly, the Zionist and Afrikaners “responded to resistance” by “rhetorically reversing the colonial relationship, claiming that they…were the true indigenous people; and that neither the Afrikaner nor Zionist would have gained control “without the benefit of British power, which crushed and deligitimized indigenous resistance on their behalf.”
Abunimah defines two points of time in which the academic argument could become a viable reality. First is the “hope held out by South Africa…that when Israelis and Palestinians finally do conclude that separation is unachievable, there is an example of an alternative to perpetual conflict.” Similarly, when “Israelis and Palestinians commit themselves to full equality, there is no rationale for separate states.” Abunimah outlines several points as to how the unified government could sort out its binational, democratic, equal rights self. Hamas, much to the consternation of many, receives support as being the best group to lead any Palestinian identity within a unified state partly as they “have shown little inclination to implement far-reaching social changes along religious lines,” and have genuinely acted at the democratic people’s level, “while remaining remarkably open to peaceful coexistence with Israelis.”
The one state solution, while enviable as presented in the manner done by Abunimah, is far from being a timely proposal. As with South Africa, the two combatants would need to arrive at similar positions of recognizing that ongoing violence will do neither side any good. There are obviously huge obstacles, ranging from American involvement to the current insistence on the part of the Israelis that the Palestinians are terrorists, their state is fully democratic, and that their conquest of the land is a god given right. It will take some time, some significant about face in political ideology, to realize any stable outcome within Palestine-Israel.
There is a Way Forward
Current prospects are dim for any actual settled, peaceful outcome in which human rights and democracy are basic to whatever the final arrangement would be. Still in a state of tension, magnified by American threats and occupations elsewhere in the Middle East, no settlement is likely to be found soon. There are three over-riding possible outcomes to the Israeli-Palestine problem: bantustan style cantonments; a two state solution of some kind; or a one state solution of some form.
The status quo may deteriorate further into the unacceptable and repugnant form of prison-like cantonments. There may be an imposed ‘agreement’ based on the current wall outlines and the current settlement patterns in the West Bank and Jerusalem, with Gaza complicating that arrangement. How does one reintegrate a ‘hostile entity’ of ones own creation into a Palestinian ‘autonomous’ territory? A withdrawal to the Green Line would more than likely prove acceptable to the majority of Palestinians, reluctantly, bitterly, perhaps necessary.
The one state solution, from an academic human rights – democratic argument is most strongly and effectively argued by Abunimah and has the examples of Ireland (as in the radio discussion) and South Africa (as well-defined in his book) to work with. Obviously, from the way this presentation is worded, I, at the moment, favour Abunimah’s one state solution as the most significant humanitarian, egalitarian, and democratic manner into which the situation would hopefully evolve. It will not be an easy road to follow for either side as both have their internal factions to deal with as well as having external geopolitical interests imposing themselves upon the area. There are also many, many areas – religion, right of return for both groups, education, social structures and support, national and regional governance to name a few - that would need significant discussion and cooperation to facilitate a one state rapprochement. While chances at the moment seem highly improbable, the goal, the vision, the possibility needs to be maintained, for its own end, and also to guard against the bleak view of seeing only a prison landscape. A better world is possible and while it may be well over the horizon at the moment, the hope for it needs to be maintained.