One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

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9780805080346: One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

A provocative approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--one state for two peoples--that is sure to touch nerves on all sides
The Israeli-Palestinian war has been called the world's most intractable conflict. It is by now a commonplace that the only way to end the violence is to divide the territory in two, and all efforts at a resolution have come down to haggling over who gets what: Will Israel hand over 90 percent of the West Bank or only 60 percent? Will a Palestinian state include any part of Jerusalem?
Clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate, One Country proposes a radical alternative: to revive an old and neglected idea of one state shared by two peoples. Ali Abunimah shows how the two are by now so intertwined--geographically and economically--that separation cannot lead to the security Israelis need or the rights Palestinians must have. He reveals the bankruptcy of the two-state approach, takes on the objections and taboos that stand in the way of a binational solution, and demonstrates that sharing the territory will bring benefits for all. The absence of other workable options has only lead to ever greater extremism; it is time, Abunimah suggests, for Palestinians and Israelis to imagine a different future and a different relationship.

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About the Author:

The Jordanian-American son of Palestinian refugees, Ali Abunimah is the creator and editor of The Electronic Intifada, since 2001, and more recently of Electronic Iraq. A graduate of Princeton University, he is a frequent speaker and commentator on the Middle East, writing for the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One Country
CHAPTER ONEAn Impossible PartitionUK foreign secretary Jack Straw stood at the dispatch box in a packed House of Commons. After parrying members' questions on the intricacies of European Union (EU) budgetary reform and sugar subsidies, he became more ebullient when debate turned to the Middle East peace process. He commended Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his "courage" in pulling Israeli settlers out of Gaza and declared, "I am more hopeful about the prospects for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians than I have been at any time in the past four and a half years." Straw boomed, "I believe that gradually both sides have recognized that the only future for Palestinians and Israelis lies in peace and in two states."1 Straw could have learned something from those who had stood at the dispatch box before him. It was the British government after all, one still flush with colonial territories, that had in the 1930s first given its official imprimatur to partition as the solution to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Partition failed then, as it is failing again today, as it has failed every time it has been seriously proposed, always forthe same reason: There is no workable partition that is acceptable to a majority of Israelis and Palestinians.Partition of Palestine into one homeland for Jews and another for Arabs was first endorsed as a government plan in 1937. That year, the Palestine Royal Commission, headed by Lord Peel, formed after disturbances in Palestine and the outbreak of the Arab revolt, proposed to divide the country into two states, with the British retaining control of Jerusalem and a corridor leading to the port of Jaffa. The proposed Jewish state would include all of the Galilee in the north and the coastal plain down to the south of Tel Aviv. The Arab state would comprise all the rest of the country. Even with this plan, expectations of settling on a fair border between the two entities were low. "No frontier can be drawn," the report warned, "which separates all Arabs and Arab-owned land from all Jews and Jewish-owned land." The problem was the Arabs, or more specifically, the quantity of them: There were simply too many. While the area allocated for the Arab state would have contained only 1,250 Jews, the Jewish state would have contained more than a quarter of a million Arabs. "It is the far greater number of Arabs who constitute the major problem," the report concluded. Because it was impossible to construct a viable Jewish state given these facts, the Peel Commission recommended solving the demographic "problem" through the removal, "voluntary or otherwise," of all Arabs from the proposed Jewish state not just to other parts of Palestine, but even across the frontier to Transjordan (modern-day Jordan), a solution that today would properly be called ethnic cleansing.2A year after its release, the Woodhead Commission scuttled the Peel plan because it found that, at a minimum, the proposedJewish state would have an Arab population of 49 percent. The commissioners could not agree on any other partition scheme, and one member concluded that no form of partition was practicable. 3 In 1939, the British government issued a new White Paper on Palestine that also reversed the Peel Commission's key findings. Instead of partition, it endorsed a unitary state in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights.The next serious proposal for partition, and the most detailed, came almost a decade later. Toward the end of British rule in Palestine, granted by a League of Nations mandate, the British were losing control of the population and so handed the problem to the newly formed United Nations. In 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), composed of representatives of eleven states, recommended the partition of the country into independent Jewish and Arab states. A majority of the countries in UNSCOP (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay) voted for partition, while the minority (India, Iran, and Yugoslavia) proposed a single, federal binational state. Australia abstained. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly accepted the UNSCOP majority recommendation, Resolution 181, by a vote of 33-13 with 10 abstentions. Mainstream Zionist leaders endorsed the plan, but most did so "with a heavy heart" out of opposition to the idea of a Palestinian state and a desire for control over a greater area of territory.4 David Ben-Gurion, in his testimony to UNSCOP, had argued against partition because he believed that the entire country should be given to the Jews. He urged postponement of any decision until the Jews, by encouraging immigration, could become the majorityand thus take control of all the country.5 Nevertheless once the plan was passed by the General Assembly, Zionist leaders hailed it as a major diplomatic achievement, and there was widespread celebration in the Jewish community in Palestine and among Zionist supporters around the world.While international opinion was coalescing around UN plans for partition, the voices of those who would be most affected--Palestinians--had little bearing on the deliberations. Arab leaders in Palestine and Arab states rejected the UN plan. They had proposed to UNSCOP that Palestine be given its independence as a unitary state, that there be a constituent assembly made of Arabs and Jews, that Jews participate fully in its government under proportional representation, and that Jewish immigration be curbed to prevent a Jewish takeover and the loss of the "Arab character" of Palestine.6 Even today, Palestinian speakers, including myself, are often challenged with the claim that had the Palestinians only accepted the UN plan they would by now have enjoyed their freedom and independence for nearly sixty years. But such twenty-twenty hindsight does little to illuminate the reality Palestinians faced. My father, who was twelve years old at the time, remembers that even in his small, rural village there was lively concern over the UNSCOP partition plan. Palestinians were universally against partition for two reasons. He explains: "First, they thought, you don't partition what's yours. They didn't see their rights to Palestine as disputable, so they did not see partition as a reasonable compromise. And also we knew--even as little children--and I remember talking about it, that if the Jews accepted partition it would only be as a foothold for taking the rest of Palestinelater." Palestinians simply didn't see why towns and villages a short distance away and to which they had deep ties should suddenly, by the decree of a distant body, be placed out of their reach behind international borders. It was simply inconceivable. Palestinians were being given hardly anything in the partition; they were losing more than half their country.Even if people could have been brought to see partition as reasonable in theory, the terms proposed by UNSCOP added insult to injury. In 1947, there were 1,293,000 Arab Palestinians--Muslims and Christians--and 608,000 Jews in the country. Although Jews were one-third of the population, most had arrived only recently after fleeing the horrors of World War II, and Zionist efforts to buy up the country had met with some resistance. The result was Jews owned about 6 percent of the land.7 Nevertheless, the partition resolution proposed to give Jews 55 percent of the country. The Palestinians, who were two-thirds of the population and owned the vast majority of the land, which they had been working for generations, were to make do with less than half of the country. Jerusalem would be declared an international zone. An example of the inequity in this is UNSCOP's decision that "the Jews will have the more economically developed part of the country embracing practically the whole of the citrus-producing area which includes a large number of Arab producers."8As the Peel Commission had found a decade earlier, a truly workable partition was impossible: Both of the proposed states were each to be broken into three awkwardly separated sections, while the Jewish and Arab blocs would be untidily intertwined. The Jewish state proposed by UNSCOP would havecontained 498,000 Jews, but also 407,000 Arabs (not including 90,000 nomadic Bedouins)--nearly half of the population--raising fears among Palestinians that the Arabs whose homes were inside the designated Jewish areas might be forcibly removed as the Peel Commission had recommended. The proposed Arab state would have contained 725,000 Palestinians and just 10,000 Jews, while there would be roughly 105,000 non-Jews and 100,000 Jews in the Jerusalem international zone.9Reading the UN records and debates, it is clear that the UNSCOP plan was adopted with misgivings and with recognition of at least some of its shortcomings, but what animated its strongest proponents was sympathy with Zionist claims for undivided Jewish sovereignty over a substantial part, if not all, of Palestine and a desire to solve the problem of Jewish refugees that had been created by Germany's extermination of millions of European Jews. Even for those who saw the issues of Jewish refugees in Europe and the question of Palestine as distinct, the plan had the attraction of appearing to be final. The UNSCOP majority recognized that "partition has been strongly opposed by Arabs, but it is felt that opposition would be lessened by a solution which definitely fixes the extent of territory to be allotted to the Jews with its implicit limitation on immigration. The fact that the solution carries the sanction of the United Nations involves a finality which should allay Arab fears of further expansion of the Jewish State."10 Just like the Peel Commission, the UNSCOP majority believed that partition, though far from perfect, offered the chance of eventual peace.The UN partition plan was never implemented. Fighting between Jews and Arabs broke out the day after its approval.Arab protestors attacked Jewish areas, and within weeks the Haganah, the Jewish military, began well-planned operations to conquer territory well beyond that which the partition resolution granted. The war of 1947-48 resulted in the partition of Palestine by force, rather than agreement, leaving 78 percent of the territory in Israeli hands, with the remaining 22 percent--East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip--under Jordanian and Egyptian rule respectively. Fewer than 180,000 Palestinians remained behind in the newly declared State of Israel, while between 700,000 and 900,000 were displaced to the West Bank and Gaza Strip or became refugees in surrounding countries.There was little more talk of partition and a separate Palestinian state until after the war in 1967 when Israel militarily occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria's Golan Heights, and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which remains the basis of the current consensus for a solution. Resolution 242 emphasizes "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security"--what has come to be known in shorthand as the "land for peace" formula. In exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, Arab states would recognize Israel, sign peace agreements, and establish normal relations. It was many years before either Israel or the Palestinian national movement was prepared to say it accepted this principle.With the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian leadership recognized Israel explicitly and limited its demands to the creation of a Palestinian state only in the West Bank andGaza, an enormous compromise given that these lands constitute just a fifth of the whole country in which Palestinians had been the overwhelming majority. The accords also affirmed the general terms of limited Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank. But Israelis and Palestinians deferred all decisions on so-called final status issues, including defining borders, the fate of settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees. At the time, it was impossible to narrow the vast gaps between the two sides. Various "confidence-building measures" were supposed to set the stage for agreement later on. Unfortunately, confidence only sank as developments on the ground made the unbridgeable gaps of 1993 even wider. 
 
 
Months after the 1967 war, Israel began moving settlers into the West Bank and Gaza Strip in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an "Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." This policy was for decades implemented by both Labor- and Likud-led governments. It was an explicit attempt by successive Israeli governments to change the demographic and geographic realities in the occupied territories, and ultimately force the world to accept permanent Israeli control over them as a fait accompli. The ambition was expanded in 1977 when Ariel Sharon, newly appointed agriculture minister, set in motion a plan to settle two million Jews in the occupied territories by the end of the twentieth century, including settlements in Syria's Golan Heights and in Egypt's SinaiPeninsula (which was returned as part of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt).11 Sharon and his associates planned what they called a "demographic transformation" that would result in a Jewish majority across the 1967 border. Mattiyahu Drobles, co-chairman of the Jewish Agency's Settlement Department, responsible for implementation of the plan, explained in May 1979:"[T]he state of Israel must for political and other reasons, develop the entire region of Judea and Samaria;12 and if in five years' time, 100,000 Jews will not live in this region, I doubt that we will have a right to this region. If Jews will live in Judea and Samaria it will be ours; if they will not live there, it will not."13Drobles asserted that the settlements should be strategically positioned in "the areas between and around the centers occupied by" Palestinians "to reduce to a minimum the danger of an additional Arab state being established in these territories. Being cut off by Jewish settlements, the minority population will find it difficult to form a territorial and political continuity." 14 His use of the word "minorities" to describe the Palestinians, even though they were and still are the overwhelming majority in the areas targeted by this program, was more a reference to intention rather than an acknowledgment of truth.Although Israel had not met the goal of outnumbering Palestinians in the West Bank, the results of the settlement effort are impressive by any standard and have created--as planners intended--an irreversible reality. By constructing settlements, as well as an extensive road network connecting them to Israeli cities, Israel has fragmented contiguous Palestinian territory into dozens of isolated patches in which the vast majority of Palestinians are corralled. Their freedom of movement isrestricted by walls, fences, and army checkpoints that turn the simplest excursion into an arduous expedition that may require detours of hours, if it is achievable at all.In the two decades from 1972 to 1993, Israel increased the number of settlers in the West Bank, not including Jerusalem, from 800 to 111,600. In the following ten years--which roughly coincided with the Oslo peace process--the number increased at twice the rate, exceeding 234,000 by 2004.15 In East Jerusalem, the settler population jumped from 124,400 in 1992 to almost 176,000 in 2002.16 Overall, the settler populati...

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