The following piece by Sarah Irving appears this week. As a writer, reviews are a double-edged sword. They’re helpful and interesting but I don’t always agree with their conclusions. This piece is no exception:
After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine is a new collection of essays edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor. It is important to start by saying that this is an important and timely book, a significant contribution to the literature on the one-state/two-state debate and a useful reader on the main arguments and strands of support for one-statism.
However, the book falls into the same, perhaps unavoidable, pitfall as many edited volumes, of a slight sense of incoherency and bolted-togetherness, and connected to this there are some significant gaps.
The book’s blurb says that it “brings together some of the world’s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution.”
The former is certainly true; the contributor list includes such names as Ilan Pappe,Ghada Karmi, Omar Barghouti, Diana Buttu, Saree Makdisi and Sara Roy. There is a good mix of academics, legal/political practitioners, journalists and activists, and also of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals.
Whether the second half of the claim is so true is one of the main problems. After Zionism starts with a fair amount of scene-setting — Ilan Pappe writes about the history of and attitudes within Israel to the Nakba, the 1948 mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. This is a fine chapter in itself, but familiar ground to anyone who’s read his previous work.
Then we get trenchant critiques of the Oslo process, of Israel’s history of cynically undermining any attempts at negotiations, and of the weakness of the Palestinian “leadership,” particularly as revealed by the Palestine Papers. The latter chapters contain a fair amount of repetition — indeed, they could probably have been collapsed into a single section. The same problem accompanies a lengthy discussion of the opinions and activities of American Jewish communities.
Then there is a certain amount of argument and polemic. The best comes from Saree Makdisi, in a spirited romp through the impossibility and injustice of a two-state solution and his perceptions of the under-rated power of the Palestinian position. One might disagree with his analysis, but the book is worth buying just for this joyful, defiant shout, along with Omar Barghouti’s clear, cold evaluation of the need for a “decolonization” process that grants equal rights to all citizens of the new state, while facing its violent colonial past head-on.
But where, then, is the promised “explor[ation of] possible forms of a one-state solution”? It is there, sort of, but because of the structure of the volume, it is peppered rather haphazardly through the book. John Mearsheimer demolishes the idea that one-state debates are all about starry-eyed visions of co-existence. He foresees the nightmare twin of the one-state solution that many activists aspire to, believing that “the Palestinians are not going to get their own state any time soon. They will instead end up living in an Apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews” (136). Along with several other contributors, he believes that there will be a de facto one state, with Israel annexing the West Bank.
The only divergence is on how far there is scope for Palestinians within this new entity to challenge its racist nature and, eventually, turn it into a place in which both Jews and Palestinians can live a just existence. Mearsheimer thinks that a “democratic bi-national state” will be the long-term outcome, but given the untrammelled violence perpetrated by settlers in the West Bank, as well as the Israeli army’s abuses, this is a chilling prospect for the short to medium term.
One of the drawbacks of the book is that there is never any coherent overview of what the different proposals are, or evaluations of how they compare. Some are presented only by their proponents and therefore never subjected to the criticism and scrutiny imposed on the two-state idea — such as Jeff Halper’s “’Two-State Plus’ solution … in which self-determination is disconnected from economic viability. Less elegant than the others … it is also far more workable” (125). And, except for Halper’s chapter and to some extent those of Barghouti and Karmi, there is little engagement with the real nitty-gritty of what a one-state solution might actually look like, and how it might be implemented.
It would also have been nice to have a little pre-Oslo historical background to the one-state idea. There are passing references -– including in Ahmed Moor’s introductory piece (11) — to the fact that, until the late 1970s at least, some form of one-state solution was the norm amongst most Palestinian movements. An overview of those visions, and why they were sidelined for several decades, might shed light on current attitudes and the challenges one-state campaigners might face.
Finally, more in the way of references would have been useful. A volume like this should serve as a stepping-off point, where the reader can be introduced to new ideas and take their curiosity further. To do that, one needs to know where to go for more information. To take one example, Ahmed Moor’s stylish, broad-brush chapter, for example, contains a multitude of interesting points and citations — but scant direction on where they come from.
Despite its flaws, After Zionism is an important, informative, sometimes inspiring, sometimes infuriating, collection. But it does need to be read as a set of debates, and falls short of being the definitive text it could perhaps have been.
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, of Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.