Anyone who follows developments related to Palestine will have heard countless times the lazy assertion that “everybody knows” what a final outcome will look like.
It is common refrain from a Middle East peace process industry that seeks to define the limits of permissible discussion about political outcomes. Anything that does not fit with Israel’s priority to remain a “Jewish” state is automatically deemed “not pragmatic” or “utopian” at best, or “extremist” and betraying a desire to “destroy Israel” at worst.
US President Barack Obama echoed this consensus in his recent Middle East speech when he said:
What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows – a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Of course that depends on what the meaning of “everyone” is. Nadim Rouhana, founding director of Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Centre for Applied Research in Haifa challenges this broken conventional wisdom in a new article: The Colonial Condition: Is Partition Possible in Palestine?.
Rouhana, a professor at Tufts University, and a drafter of the Haifa Declaration and the One-State Declaration takes on the very idea that partition (“the two-state solution”) is an appropriate framework for Palestine:
Proponents of partition argue therefore that resolving this conflict should simply be a matter of devising a well-designed internationally supported negotiation process, because the parameters of partition are all “well-known.”
But such an argument overlooks the practicalities of colonialism and the complex political and physical realities it has been producing on the ground for generations. The argument fails to notice the colonizers’ patterns of violent domination and ingrained sense of superiority that has to come with the process of colonization, the continuous dispossession and demographic control of the native population, and the epistemological and psychological systems that have emerged among the colonizing population to deny or justify dispossession and domination. It also fails to see why the colonized indigenous population cannot accept surrendering their homeland and/or renouncing their original belonging to it, why they resist, and why they withhold granting legitimacy from the colonial project. The partition argument also pays no heed to the historical evidence about resolving conflicts caused by settler colonialism.
Rouhana points out that, historically, conflicts that emerged in a context of settler colonialism have never been brought to an end with a stable partition between the indigenous people and the settlers. A two-state solution ignores the rights of Palestinians inside Israel, and in the context of Zionism’s explicit goal of creating an exclusively Jewish state, any partition that left a substantial minority of Palestinians inside the “Jewish” state’s borders “could lead under certain circumstances to further ethnic cleansing and war crimes.”
This is precisely the argument I have put forward in an article that will appear in the September issue of Ethnopolitics (my article is part of a “Symposium” which means the journal will publish critical responses to it from three other scholars).
The key point here is that Palestine has too often been analyzed as an exceptional case, without reference to either the broader literature and field of ethnic conflict, and without careful comparison to other cases.
Rouhana, who has said he plans to expand his paper into a longer article, reaches a conclusion that ought to be increasingly obvious to all except those to whom everything is already “well known”: Partition or not, Palestinians inside Israel are going to continue to press for their full national and political rights which will push Israel in the direction of “bi-nationalism.”
“If that is the direction anyway,” Rouhana asks, “why should Israelis and Palestinians not start thinking about alternatives to partition?”
As the growing discourse about a one-state solution demonstrates, they already are, and it is a debate that will only continue to grow as the mirage of a two-state solution recedes ever further from political feasibility and lived reality.