In Palestine, a Dream Deferred | The Nation


In Palestine, a Dream Deferred

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When Palestinian and Jewish socialists, notably Noam Chomsky and the Israeli Matzpen group, advocated a binational state in the 1970s (an issue ignored by Abunimah), its realization was premised on large-scale social and political transformation: Radical movements on both sides, with strong and capable constituencies, would pull toward each other and end their separation. When that option evaporated with the deepening colonial expansion of Israel and the rise of Jewish fundamentalism, many socialists shifted toward advocating a two-state solution, while remaining hostile to political Zionism. With the global retreat of radical politics since the mid-'70s, there is even less reason to believe a binational constituency exists in Israel-Palestine today. "Binationalism without social, political agents on the ground is an idea: an interview here, an article there," says Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian leader of the National Democratic Assembly in the Israeli Knesset, who, as a supporter of a state for "all its citizens," can hardly be accused of hostility to binationalism. "Are there masses--social movements--that are raising binationalism? I say no. There are not.... Among the Palestinian masses, the mood is still national. National-Islamic. Not binational." And if the binational idea remains largely divorced from politics, it has no legs to stand on.

About the Author

Bashir Abu-Manneh
Bashir Abu-Manneh teaches English at Barnard College.

Bishara is hardly mentioned by Abunimah, who ignores much of the literature on binationalism. The binational idea has a history in both societies, and it cannot be encompassed in a few passing references to PLO documents and to Martin Buber's writings. Unlike Khalidi, Abunimah overlooks Towards a Democratic State in Palestine (1970), the only one-state proposal ever produced by Fatah, written in English by a group of Palestinian intellectuals at the American University of Beirut. (Written for foreign consumption under the aegis of PLO official Nabil Shaath, the document mainly sought to convince a Western audience that Palestinians accepted the Jewish presence in Palestine.) Abunimah's discussion of the PLO amounts to two paragraphs, one of which is a long quote. He ends with this: "But if a single state was unthinkable in the past, many of the conditions that made it so have changed. Perhaps the most important is that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians now understand that the other community is here to stay."

But the fact that they know this doesn't mean that the conditions for binationalism are emerging. Nor does it make sense to describe the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as "intertwined," as Abunimah often puts it. One can make that claim only about either Palestinians living inside Israel, however unequal their access to power and social goods may be, or about occupied Palestinians between 1967 and 1991, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin started instituting his policy of closure and separation. Only then was Israel significantly dependent on Palestinians and their migrant labor. As Mona Younis argues, only then did Zionism make a partial exception to its exclusionary logic of expulsion and incorporate the Palestinians into the Israeli polity as subordinate laborers. And this, in turn, gave the occupied Palestinians some leverage to pursue certain forms of mobilization. The first intifada is a great example of what such inclusionary dynamics can generate, and it's the closest Palestinians have ever come to decolonizing Gaza and the West Bank. Even then their democratizing force was checkmated by an exiled PLO bureaucracy that feared losing its authority--and crushed by severe Israeli repression. Today the situation in the occupied territories is totally different, and much worse, leaving Palestinians with even fewer options for change and transformation than before. Israel has unilaterally cut Palestinians off and excluded them from access to its territory and settlements, even to their own surrounding areas. How can walls and closures be described as intertwining? In fact, Israel is no longer and in no way dependent on occupied Palestinians, while Palestinians remain dependent on Israel in every way. And this, incidentally, may well explain why Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians (shelved by Hamas for the past eighteen months, while Israel's deliberate targeting of civilians continues) were prevalent as a resistance tactic after Oslo and its institutionalization of closure. However morally indefensible and politically counterproductive, suicide bombings were the only way desperate Palestinians felt they could "get at" their occupiers. Notions of interdependence, then, are simply wrong, and miss what is fundamental about Zionist colonization since 1991: its powerful exclusionary form. Comparisons with American settler-colonialism and its treatment of Native Americans are, therefore, much more apt than comparisons with inclusionary settler-colonialisms like apartheid. One hopes that the Palestinian solidarity movement doesn't get too distracted by the surface similarities between South Africa and Palestine, like the question of violence or boycott, to understand their crucial differences--and that it aspires to be as uncompromisingly realist as it is hostile to political Zionism.

Palestinians are entering a critical stage in their history. More oppressive structures are firmly established now, raising the possibility of permanent dispossession and national disintegration. Geographically and politically divided, Palestinians around the world know neither their immediate goals nor their long-term objectives. Such a deep crisis requires widespread collective engagement and effort. It may be useful to take the recent Palestinian Prisoners' Document of National Conciliation, amended and agreed upon by both Fatah and Hamas on June 27, as a launching pad for emerging debates and discussions. The prisoners clearly call for the end of the occupation, dismantling of all settlements and realization of Palestinian national rights. Their position is supported by a majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories, who realize that it may well prove to be the strongest basis for national unity today. A national liberation movement can achieve success only if it is based on values of self-organization, independence, democracy and active mass participation, including women and workers. A new anticolonial national movement is still possible and ever more necessary. And if the outcome of decolonization also produces a constituency in Israel happy to live in peace and equality with the Palestinians without walls and borders, so much the better. But there's no shortcut around the struggle against the occupation.

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