Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian, key advocate for BDS against Israel and supporter of a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine. He’s passionate, cluey, media savvy and opposed to racism committed by Israelis, Palestinians or anybody else.
He’s been profiled in the Jewish newspaper Forward at a time when one-state advocates are becoming far more respected and heard in the mainstream. Just this week information about my forthcoming book with co-editor Ahmed Moor, After Zionism, on the one-state solution, went public.
Here’s Abunimah in the Forward:
Abunimah’s idea, on which he elaborates in his 2006 book, “One Country: A Bold Proposal To End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse,” is based on the notion that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing to cede the minimal amount of land to satisfy the demands of the opposite side. The two-state solution, he likes to say, is pure “political science fiction.”
For Abunimah, 41, an American of Palestinian parentage, the one-state solution is as much a pragmatic remedy to an intractable conflict as it is a way to rectify Zionism’s historical wrongs. In Abunimah’s single state, Palestinian refugees who were forced out or fled in 1948 and 1967 would have the right to return to their homeland. But Abunimah can grow vague when pressed on just how things would work out from there.
In his book, for example, Abunimah says, somewhat boldly, that the one state he envisions would retain a Law of Return for Jews even as Palestinian refugees could also return under its reach. But Abunimah dialed back that concession in his interview with the Forward. Jews will be subject to what Abunimah terms a “nondiscriminatory” immigration policy, he said. “It is not a question of Jews coming or not coming,” he said. “It should be a home to anyone who is persecuted.”
Most of the returning Palestinians would move to new cities on empty land. Some would demand to return to their homes in Israeli cities, and these cases should be handled “as ethically as possible.” Certain settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would remain in place, no doubt, transformed from Jewish-only municipalities into mixed neighborhoods. Like the white flight from South Africa at the end of apartheid, many elite Jews would leave, Abunimah predicts. But most would stay — in particular, poor Jews, religious Jews and Jews of Arab origin.
“The people most likely to leave would be those with means, those with second passports, those who aren’t prepared to muck it along in a society where they don’t have so many built-in advantages,” he said. “It is very important to recognize that for some people it is about privilege.”
Abunimah is under no illusion that the majority of American Jews or Israelis would willingly agree to such a proposition. In fact, most would go “kicking and screaming.” Already, Abunimah’s detractors, who include Zionists on the left, have painted his idea as a kind of reverse Nakba — the term Palestinians use to refer to their ejection in 1948 — with Israel devolving into violent chaos and Jews fleeing.
And yet, as the two-state vision stagnates, with even negotiations towards it seeming distant while Jewish-only settlements continue to spread in the occupied West Bank, Abunimah seems to be gaining traction. Abunimah’s knee surgery will pause his touring for now, capping a weeklong speaking tour of some of the most elite schools in the country: Oberlin College, Brown University, Brandeis and, most recently, Harvard, which played host to a conference on the one-state solution. To his detractors, Abunimah is preaching to the choir, a tiny sliver of far-left Israel haters with an outsized voice on college campuses. Indeed, the one-state solution has zero backing from Palestinian, Israeli and American political leadership. But Abunimah sees things differently.
“People see that there is really not a two-state solution; there is no peace process,” Abunimah said. “We are at the point where there is nothing left to pin false hopes on, and that is pushing people to say, ‘What are the alternatives to this?’”