Israel and Palestine: the ‘One-Nation Solution’

The idea of a single Palestinian and Israeli state might be a radical one, but Ali Abunimah believes it is the only solution that can bring about justice in the region.
Creator of the Electronic Intifada, a non-profit publication dedicated to examining the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from a Palestinian perspective, Abunimah is a published author and journalist.
With his first stop being at McGill University last Tuesday, Abunimah is on a lecture and book-signing tour in Canadian universities to celebrate the Canadian release of his new book One Country. Published last year in the United States, he says that his book explains that “the conventional wisdom that you can bring about peace in Palestine/Israel by dividing the country is wrong.”
He believes the call for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Israel’s way of winning what he calls the ‘demographic war’ against the Palestinians.
Following the mass exoduses of 1948 and 1967, there now exists a diaspora of four million stateless Palestinians. According to Abunimah these people have been prevented from returning to their country “so that Israel can maintain to be a democracy by excluding those who are not a part of the privileged group.”
He said the roughly one million Palestinians living within Israeli borders are nominally citizens of Israel, but in reality they are second-class citizens. “They are excluded from the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country. Ending the occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza strip simply does not address that, we cannot say that if they end the occupation that they can continue to be a racist state within recognized borders.”
Between the borders of Israel and what was Palestine there are about 11 million people. There is little dispute that within a matter of decades the Palestinian population will exceed that of the Jewish population as it did prior to 1948. “Israel is therefore faced with the dilemma that they must either give equal rights to the entire population, or be seen as an apartheid state,” said Abunimah.
“The consensus position today seems to be ‘we can’t give them equal rights, we can’t expel them, we’ve done it in the past but we might not get away with it in the future, so we should create a Palestinian state. Then we can say they don’t need to vote in Israel, they don’t need political rights here, they have their own state,'” said Abunimah.
Abunimah pointed to political settlements – like the end of the Apartheid in South Africa and the Belfast Agreement in Ireland – to demonstrate that change can occur. “Change did not come in Northern Ireland because people simply woke up and said we were wrong all these years and now we should share power. It wasn’t only because people were exhausted by the conflict which killed over four thousand people. People now say that it is too late for us, we can’t get over it, but we do not want our children to have the same experiences or grow up with the same attitudes as we have.”
According to the author, it is therefore essential to look at the successes and failures of the transformative solutions in South Africa, and Ireland, in order to determine how they can be adapted in the Middle Eastern context.
Just like in South Africa, Abunimah said international solidarity is fundamental in putting pressure on Israel, so that the government doesn’t have the choice of maintaining the status quo.
One of the main obstacles to Israelis relinquishing absolute power is the genuine fear of the tables being turned, continued Abunimah, saying that this was one of the key obstacles that delayed whites from giving up power in South Africa. He said that although this must be addressed directly, history has shown that it is not insurmountable.
Another challenge to be addressed is the hate emanating from both communities. “The hate comes from people’s experiences, Palestinian children have real experiences every day that are unparalleled by children in any other parts of the world. Until there is a political settlement that enjoys broad support from the state based upon justice and equality, I don’t think you can eliminate the feelings. If people are treated unjustly and atrociously it will generate very bitter and harsh feelings,” said Abunimah.
The solution also begins with the creation of integrative schools so that children can get used to one another. Abunimah counselled that the state should create areas in the public space which are shared between the communities.
“So there are a lot of things that you can do when the political conditions exist. It’s a fallacy to say that we must wait until everybody loves each other until you can settle down and negotiate a political settlement, then there would never be a settlement. The political settlement is essential and then what goes along with that is the work of people on the ground creating conditions of justice that allows for reconciliation,” said Abunimah.

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