The difficulty a writer faces in writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is buried in decades of mythmaking. Most writers and readers are still in awe of the Zionist narrative and are either afraid or lack the tools with which to challenge it. Even people with experience in Mideast politics like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Dennis Ross, still claim that if only America pursued the right foreign policy or the Palestinians had different leaders then the Palestinian people would have a state of their own and Israel would be living in a state of peace and security. Clearly they do not see the writing on the wall.
Jamil Hilal’s book Where Now for Palestine, the Demise of the Two State Solution (published by Zed Books) is like the biblical Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall. Thorough and compelling, this book contains eleven illuminating essays with razor sharp analysis on the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the demise of the two-state solution.
“The policy imperatives of political Zionism have been oriented towards occupying land with no, or the minimum of, Palestinians.” Hilal writes, and indeed, from the earliest days of the Zionist enterprise Zionist strongman David Ben Gurion made it clear that this was a zero sum game: Us or them, there will be no compromise on the issue of land. To guarantee the success of his plan to win the land and get rid of its people he orchestrated Israel’s massive military buildup.
Today’s policies of aggression and expansion are part of the legacy of Ben Gurion, and as Ilan Pappe writes: “occupation proceeds from the same ideological infrastructure on which the 1948 ethnic cleansing was erected.” The last 40 years have provided ample opportunities to move forward with the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but no Israeli government was ever willing to give up the land. Instead, Israel continues to allocate massive resources to further its military buildup and expand the settlements in the West Bank. Jamil Hilal sums it up when he writes: “Israel’s policy has amounted to a systemic negation of the basic conditions necessary for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.” As the layers of myth are uncovered we are struck by the realization that it is inconceivable that a Zionist government will be willing to share the Land of Israel.
The debate regarding the future of Israel/Palestine is becoming more widespread but unfortunately this is happening mainly outside of Israel. In as much as any discussion exists within Israel it is on the fringes of the Israeli left and among Palestinians, but rarely together. The recent debate between historian Ilan Pappe, who also contributed to this book, and veteran peace activist Uri Avneri, is noteworthy. During the debate, Pappe argued that the two-state solution is neither a viable nor a desirable solution and that effort needs to be exerted to create a secular democratic state in Israel/Palestine. Avneri, in an effort to support his claim that Israelis and Palestinians cannot possibly live as citizens with equal rights under one democratic state resorted to the following argument: “The inhabitant of Bil’in will pay the same taxes as the inhabitant of Kfar-Sava? The inhabitants of Jenin will enact a constitution together with the inhabitants of Netanya? The inhabitants of Hebron and the settlers will serve in the same army and the same police force, shoulder to shoulder, and will be subject to the same laws? Is that realistic?” If history has shown us anything it is this: It is not realistic to expect that any Zionist government will ever give up land, so we find the two people living in one state but governed by very different laws.
To gain control of the enemy and rally its own troops, so to speak, Israel set out and accomplished two major tasks: The fragmentation of Palestinian society on the one hand and the alienation of Israelis towards Palestinians on the other. Sharif Elmusa explains it like this: “Rationalization of the necessity for a Jewish majority in Israel requires the Arabs to be pictured darkly, bent on the annihilation of the Jews, and as culturally incapable of forming democratic, pluralistic systems”. Indeed, recent research by Nurit Peled Elhanan substantiates this claim. She has shown that the trend in Israeli textbooks is to show the “Arabs of Israel” as the Palestinians are called, as poor, uneducated, untrustworthy and bent on killing Jews.
However, the reality is that the Palestinians in Israel, as in other countries, have always been peaceful, hardworking, educated, and socially and politically active. For decades Palestinian leaders have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to reach a negotiated agreement with Israel; Palestinian democratic institutions have proven themselves effective and representing the people’s wishes both before and after Oslo; and the most striking example to contradict the stereotype of Palestinians in Israel is Gaza: 80 percent of the people live below the poverty line, the government is incapacitated, and with little help from the outside world the literacy rate remains well over 90 percent.
For several decades Israel has been using extrajudicial assassinations and other, less lethal means to destroy and to delegitimize the Palestinian leadership. One of its biggest achievements in this regard is the Oslo agreement. Karma Nablusi writes that prior to Oslo the PLO represented Palestinians who live within Palestine and those in Al Shatat, outside Palestine. Today there is no representation and no body within which Palestinian voices outside of Palestine can be heard. By containing the PLO within the PA, Oslo succeeded in diminishing the representation for Palestinians outside Palestine and by doing so in effect took the refugee problem and the right of return off the negotiating table. Now the very future of the PA is unclear and Israel is on the verge of yet another victory: the complete destruction of Palestinian political representation.
One point which all the contributors to this book raised is that the so-called peace process, rather than lead to a resolution, is enabling Israel to destroy Palestine. So the question that begs to be asked is what now for Palestine? Hilal writes: “Neither Fatah nor Hammas has put forth a strategy for a national struggle that deals with the situation after the collapse of Oslo.” According to Ziad Abu Amr: “The PA is becoming a facade hiding an actual Israeli occupation, and a tool helping Israel regulate its occupation.” These are serious charges and they are being laid at the feet of today’s Palestinian leadership. Jamil Hilal further suggests: “The Palestinian movement should articulate a detailed proposal for a bi-national state, and begin to canvas for such an idea among Palestinians, and, more importantly, among Israelis.” But, in its daily struggle to stay alive, the Palestinian leadership too fails to see the writing on the wall.
People in the West buy into the Israeli narrative because Israel has created an almost fool-proof system that keeps it in control of the Palestinians and of the media. As Husam Mohamad states: “The present peace efforts lay most of the blame for the violence on the victims rather than the perpetrators.” Israeli violence is never seen as the cause for the impasses. Qassam rockets falling in Israel are terrorist attacks that cannot be tolerated, whereas the devastation caused by Israel in Gaza and the loss of innocent Palestinian lives is reported as justifiable retaliation. As long as the relations between the two sides are characterized by the imbalance of power, there can never be meaningful negotiations. Only once the occupation is dismantled and the continuous threat of Israeli attacks is lifted, can Israelis and Palestinians work together and resolve the conflict peacefully.
If Israel has its way things will get progressively worse for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. This book suggests a clear and courageous direction by which both people should move forward together: Dismantling the PA and establishing a democratic, secular state in all of Israeli/Palestine that will protect the national rights of all its citizens and will focus on human rights.
For sixty years Israelis have been living as occupiers in Palestine. From the day it was established, Israel has been governed by an extremist, uncompromising political movement with a colonialist agenda. In this book, Jamil Hilal and ten other brilliant writers offer Israelis a way to be liberated from the daunting, self-destructive task of policing an occupied nation: “A secular democratic state with no distinctions between citizens according to religion, ethnicity or national origin.”
Miko Peled is an Israeli peace activist and writer living in San Diego, and co-founder of the Elbanna Peled Foundation. He is the son of the late Israeli General Matti Peled. He can be reached at mikopeled at aol dot com.