09 May 2007 - Koogler finds Abunimah's gap
I subscribe to a monthly e-mail update from the Middle East Review of International Affairs, which is run by Professor Barry Rubin, a seasoned analyst of Palestinian politics. The update lists the latest articles across a variety of academic periodicals about the Middle East. The amount of new research that appears every month is simply staggering—there’s no time to read even a small portion of it.
There are also thousands of blogs about the Middle East, and probably hundreds (if not more) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few offer their own thought and analysis; most just point to other sources. One of the original ones, however, is an interesting blog called Foreign Policy Watch, run by Jeb Koogler, a student at Brown University, who writes very well about current issues in U.S. foreign policy.
One post that caught my attention was a report on an appearance by Electronic Intifada co-founder Abu Animah, who is traveling the country to hawk his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. The book’s self-proclaimed “boldness” is really just shameless oversell: all Abunimah really does is hype the one-state solution, the oldest, bluntest and worst approach.
Koogler went to hear Abunimah defend his thesis that a single state is “is both desirable and inevitable.” Koogler was prepared: “I actually read Abunimah's book about three months ago because I was interested in the idea he was putting forth. By the end of it, however, I was disappointed. There were major flaws in his reasoning, I felt, and the conclusions he came to just didn't follow logically for me.”
Abunimah’s talk did nothing, Koogler says, to dispel this impression:
In the question-and-answer session, I followed up with him on the points that didn't make sense to me in his book, nor in speech. I pointed out to him that although I wanted to believe that the argument he put forth was true (since the establishment of a peaceful, binational state sounds a lot better than an uneasy two-state solution), I couldn't understand how he would think that Israeli Jews would ever except such a solution. He responded by saying that in South Africa, the white minority changed their minds once they realized that there was no alternative solution. Like in South Africa, in the next few decades in Israel, he said, Jews will become a clear minority and they will be forced to realize that they no longer live in a Jewish state. Short of genocide or mass expulsion, they will conclude that the only solution is a binational state that includes the Palestinian population, Abunimah suggested. I responded by pointing out that the Israeli leadership on both sides of the aisle have no intention of ever letting it get to this. To think that Israeli leaders will just wait around for another few decades until the Palestinian population overwhelms the Jewish population is highly unlikely, I argued.
It is clear that Abunimah not only fails to understand (or distorts) Israel but South Africa as well. His argument that “the white minority changed their minds once they realized that there was no alternative solution” disregards the fact that the anti-apartheid movement proposed a reasonable alternative from day one of the struggle, whereas the Palestinian leadership has long resisted such solutions.
Abunimah apparently takes this point up in his book, and argues that the Afrikaner establishment would have continued to ignore the Freedom Charter and other proposals were it not for the presence of a “struggle.” But what was the character of that struggle? Was it aimed at terrorizing white civilians, or at winning their support? Abunimah talks about “necklacing,” but that was directed against blacks.
Abunimah acknowledges that convincing Israelis to accept his “bold proposal” will be a challenge. He seems to believe that international pressure will force Israelis to change their minds. This is a common argument among activists of Abunimah’s ilk—some of whom do not much care about the character of that pressure, whether it comes from human rights organizations or Islamist/right-wing antisemitism.
I was once told over breakfast by a Palestinian official that it was important for American Jews to push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because “a new Holocaust is always possible.” He was not worried about the effects of the ongoing antisemitism that tends to rise when the conflict flares up; he was, in a way, reveling in it, using it as a strategic weapon in the hope of gaining concessions.
Ironically, the ultimate argument against the single-state solution in the form that Abunimah is presenting it—binational, secular, democratic—is that the Palestinians have rejected this formula in the past and continue to do so today in their own society. If they cannot govern themelves as a secular democracy that respects human rights, why should they be expected to do so with Israel?
That is not to say there cannot be some kind of shared institutions established between Israel and a future Palestinian state. But the two nations, as they now stand, practice different and irreconcilable forms of politics. Abunimah would say the Palestinian situation as the result of occupation, but that excuse didn’t fly in South Africa and it won’t fly here. The weaker party, too, bears a moral burden.
I haven’t even addressed the issue of Abunimah’s constant apologies for Palestinian terror, and his ongoing campaign of misinformation about Israel and the region’s history. He seems to be one of a cohort of dulcet-toned radicals who project a moderate image—he claims to have once supported a two-state solution; I’ve yet to find proof—but evade questions that point to their fundamentally extreme beliefs.
I’ve not seen many people who have the courage, knowledge and restraint to debate Abunimah. Ron Kampeas, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, gave Abunimah a lamentably easy ride on C-SPAN, weaving and feinting around the real issues and questions, never really challenging his guest. Koogler, sincere in his desire to learn more, caught on rather quickly—and commendably.