03 December 2007

02 December 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 11

Last week’s class coincided with the opening of the Annapolis summit between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the representatives of several Arab states. One might expect that the readings would have focused on legal issues relating to the two-state solution, beyond Jerusalem. Instead, we chased the binational dystopia—not a proposal for co-operation, in this instance, but for ending Israel.

Our guest speaker was Beshara Doumani, who also featured on the Chomsky panel last week. He didn’t really want to talk about the binational solution, but on “realistic” political options for Palestinians. These included reconceptualizing the idea of the Palestinian political community, mobilizing against the Annapolis proposals for statehood, and demonizing Israel as usual. Very realistic, indeed.

Doumani claimed (in class and in the assigned reading) that Zionists, the UK and US always failed to make room for Palestinians. Excuse me? Who accepted, and who rejected, partition? Who accepted, and who rejected, 242? He also declared that a Palestinian state would prevent self-determination. I told him in response that if Israel really wanted to destroy the Palestinians, he would have been a useful accomplice.

Faced with this criticism, Doumani—having lectured us for half an hour—complained that I was speaking for too long. Ah, the classic cop-out. He was comforted later on by the many students who agreed with him or took what he said seriously. Later he claimed that Israel bore responsibility for what is happening now in Gaza (up to the level of "war crimes"), and implied that American Jews were to blame for goading the world to align against Iran. He claimed I had misunderstood him. I think I understood too well.

We also discussed the binational state (which most people liked in theory). Our basis was an essay by Lama Abu-Odeh, who confuses “binationalism” with proposals for a unitary state. “single political society”; Palestinian claims to Israeli resources—these are just the old rejectionist recipe, containing none of the elements of binationalism, which at the very least requires power-sharing among representatives of two national communities.

Abu-Odeh might be surprised that some of her ideas resemble proposals made by Vladimir Jabotinsky in the early twentieth century. Her version of Jabotinsky’s federalism, however, is rather comical: she proposes that Jewish regions be taxed to pay for Arabs ones. She also expects Mizrachi Jews to move to Palestinian areas; the opposite would be more likely, as Arabs flocked to “European Jewish” regions.

True binationalism died, in no small part due to lack of Arab support in 1947. It was buried in the Middle East by the Lebanese Civil War. It has since been further undermined by the shocking history of Arab persecution of minorities, for example in Darfur. The two-state solution remains the only way to advance the aspirations of both peoples. What a shame we have given it such meager consideration.

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