Putting away the partitionist’s knife: Palestine and approaches to “ethnic conflict”

Just in time for the big debate on Palestinian “statehood,” an article I wrote challenging prevailing scholarly views on the inevitability of partition in Palestine has been published today by the leading journal Ethnopolitics.

In fact, I have two articles in the issue. First is my original thesis which takes on some the the main figures in the field. This is followed by three responses to my article from academics Sumantra Bose, Heribert Adam, and Anthony Oberschall.

Finally, I close with another article taking on those responses. It all makes for a good rollicking read.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most academic journals, the ability to read the full articles is restricted to those with electronic journal access. Most university students and faculty will have such access through their university libraries, and some public libraries also provide it. Otherwise you can purchase a copy of the articles from the publisher. I am sorry that I am not able to provide copies.

But here’s a brief excerpt from my opening article, “A Curious case of exceptionalism: Non-partitionist approaches to Ethnic Conflict Regulation and the Question of Palestine,” in Ethnopolitics, Vol. 10, Nos. 3-4, September-November 2011:

For decades, but particularly since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, a consensus encompassing national leaders, international officials, academics, advocates, media and non-governmental organizations has asserted that the partition of historic Palestine into Israeli Jewish and Palestinian states is the only possible solution to an otherwise intractable conflict. Paradoxically, as this assertion has been made with ever greater fervor, there has been growing recognition that the possibility of such an outcome — a two-state solution — seems to be receding as Israeli colonization eats deeply into land expected to form the core of the Palestinian state.

When it comes to other territories, the most widely advocated approaches for the democratic regulation of ethnic conflict are non-partitionist models in all their varieties — ‘integrationist’ or ‘consociational’, federal, binational, unitary or other constitutional forms that accommodate two or more antagonistic groups within a single polity. Consociationalism and integrationism, in particular, ‘have become the focal point of both empirical and theoretical debate’ in this field (Caspersen, 2004, p. 570).

In this literature, Palestine/Israel is recognized as an ‘ethnic conflict’ comparable to others, so one would expect to find significant attention given to whether there are alternatives to the two-state solution in that case, or at least theoretical justifications for the nearly exclusive focus on partition. What emerges, however, is that Palestine/Israel is largely ignored. When it is included in analyses, it is treated as an exception, and scholars allow the sort of partitionist arguments to stand that they effectively refute in other cases.

This article takes the work of Donald L. Horowitz, John McGarry, Brendan O’Leary and Sumantra Bose as representative of this genre. Application of these scholars’ own analytic frames to Palestine/Israel results in the conclusion that Palestine/Israel is not an appropriate case for partition, a finding often contrary to their own assertions.

Which, if any, of the non-partitionist approaches they advocate elsewhere could work in Palestine/Israel is an open question that is beyond the scope of this analysis. This article should be read, above all, as a call for scholars to begin seriously to consider Palestine as a site for non-partitionist approaches, at a moment when it has become patently obvious to all but the most dogmatic that efforts to achieve a ‘two-state solution’ have utterly failed.

And here is one of my key conclusions:

An attempt to bring about a two-state solution along the pre-1967 ‘Green Line’ boundary would not—as many assume—be little more than a formal ratification of an already existing and agreed upon division. There is every likelihood that it would be a repartition as costly, violent and unpredictable as the one that occurred in 1948, and no more likely to ‘resolve’ the conflict. It may be time to recognize that historic Palestine today resembles one giant Northern Ireland, but with a lot more firepower, including, on the Israeli side, nuclear weapons.

Tags

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.