Discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fired by debates over historic romanticism with Zionism on the one hand, and occupation, settlements and borders, on the other. However, the most controversial debate has been sparked by a reluctant acknowledgement of the failure of Israel as a Jewish state. An increasing number of incidents of religious coercion by the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority, coupled with anti-Semitic vandalism have called into question whether Israel is really a safe haven for Jews.
Tony Karon (of Jewish descent), editor of Time.com, once argued that Israel is the most dangerous place on Earth to be a Jew. Tilley, however, spurs this argument out of the narrow confines of Jewish-ethnocism to the wide main-stream of global narratives. In doing so, she is quick to point out that her book is not intended to be merely an academic study - but deeply rooted in personal experience of harsh Israeli measures against the Palestinians.
Tilley’s opening chapter lays out the blueprint of her argument of a unitary state in simple, clear terms. Her assessment that if a Palestinian “state” is declared in a dismembered enclave, it would result in continuing instability, is both accurate and foreboding.
This is how she explains it: “The resulting Palestinian statelet would be blocked off physically from the Israeli economy, its major cities would be cut off from each other, and its government would be unable to control the territory’s water resources, develop its agriculture, or manage its trade with neighbouring states”. In addition it would comprise little more than a “sealed vessel of growing poverty and demoralization”. Tilley is emphatic that such a portent of Palestinian misery, is no accident but a calculated Israeli strategy.
Apart from the one and two-state discourses, the author also delves into additional nightmarish alternatives. These reflect subtle differences in implementation, yet are recognisable as either “hard transfer” or “soft transfer”. In the case of the former, it entails forced expulsion of the Palestinian population out of the country. In the latter, known as the Jordan option, the plan is to induce Palestinians to seek political rights across the Jordan River.
Chapter 2 presents a frightening overview of the ideological underpinning of Zionism. The author displays a keen insight of the twin grids - settlement and political - which collectively represent two of the most powerful Israeli symbols of intransigence. Hence settlements are not merely a “few clusters of trailers on windswept hilltops”. Many are small cities: Ariel, in the center of the West Bank, has over 20,000 residents; Ma’ale Adumim, stretching east from Jerusalem, houses over 25,000 people.
Tilley also shows how the Jewish settlements have paradoxically become the main impediment to the continuous existence of Israel by encroaching on the Occupied Territories to such an extent, that any Palestinian state in those areas would remain unworkable, making a single-state the only viable solution.
The various layers of “Jewish diaspora politics” and their interplay with state institutions are also scrutinised. The Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organisation, the Israel Lands Authority and the Jewish National Fund are deeply embedded in the political equation of the state. Tilley also explain why water is “also the silent factor driving Israel’s full annexation strategy”.
Chapter 4 places external actors such as the US and Europe under the microscope. This critical part of the book is key to understanding why international involvement has remained unproductive. The author does well to incorporate a compelling analysis of contemporary “geo-strategic” interests, which does not preclude the dubious roles of neo-cons and an array Zionist lobby groups.
Tilley’s persuasive arguments also carries an apt warning: “Looking to the South African experience for guidance or inspiration will avail little unless policymakers also adopt the principles, standards and values that guided that struggle: that is, that ethnic supremacy is illegitimate and cannot generate a just political system … .” By incorporating a second comparison with the Northern Ireland conflict, the author illustrates how prejudice, fear and suspicion were primary obstacles to a stable peace, since doctrines of ethnic or racial domination impeded trust.
Virginia Tilley has made a significant contribution to the one-state argument. Not only does her book expand on a number of vexing questions, but it also forces the reader to think out of the box and unearth an insightful solution to this brutal conflict.
Iqbal Jassat is chairperson of Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa. MRN’s objective is to dispel the myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster bridges of understanding by engaging the media.