Two new books published this week by Palestinian writers offer a way forward for those currently locked in struggle in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Both argue the need for a democratic, secular state on all the land currently occupied by Israel. In his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American writer and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, argues that the "conventional wisdom" of the two-state, land-for-peace equation needs to be rethought. Partition, he argues, is a flawed idea that is doomed to fail. The only viable choice is a return to the proposal of one country with equal rights and votes for both Israelis and Palestinians. And in her book Married to another Man, launched in London last night, Palestinian-English doctor and writer Ghada Karmi reaches the same conclusion. What has prevented a solution to the conflict over the years, she argues, is "the original and unresolved Zionist dilemma of how to create and maintain a Jewish state in a land inhabited by another people". The only solution in the long term, she argues, is a one state solution.
As an editorial on Electronic Intifada argues, what is needed is a new approach, an anti-apartheid struggle for the dismantling of the network of walls and checkpoints, for a single democracy in historic Palestine. Ali Abunimah says between a quarter and a third of Palestinians in the West Bank already support a bi-national state or a secular democratic state, and an even larger number of Arab-Israelis. "Not an Islamic state, but a state for Palestinians and Jews with equal rights," he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. "It’s remarkable that support for a two-state solution is so tepid even in the West Bank and Gaza when there is… a multi-billion-dollar industry… to promote it. I also think it is remarkable that support for a one-state solution is so high and increasing given the fact that there is no official leadership that is advocating it." Fatah has allowed itself to become totally identified with the failed peace process and cannot see a way beyond it; Hamas of course wants an Islamic state, not democracy or secularism.
As Ghada Karmi says, from where we begin, it may seem like totally Utopian idea, but it is nonetheless an idea whose time has come and which is worth fighting for. After all, what do the Palestinians have now? Gaza resembles a ghetto. It is surrounded by a wall, its coast and airspace are controlled by the Israeli army. Gaza has no public finance, no international aid, no functioning economy and this week Israeli bombing raids killed seven people. West Bank farmers are separated from their land by a giant wall, and there is no viable economic life or civil society. In effect the leading Palestinian factions are now fighting over two poverty-stricken, unsustainable Bantustans where they are herded together in such a way as to be politically powerless. The decision to elect a Palestinian authority, on the basis that Israel was committed to a two-state solution was perhaps understandable, even unavoidable, at the time. But from the Oslo Accords onwards, Israel has used its military might, and the acquiescence of the major powers, to keep control over every aspect of Palestinian life and economy and repackage the occupation. The Palestinians urgently need to develop a leadership that looks beyond Oslo and which can appeal to Israeli Jews, offering them a way out from the Zionist trap in the shape of a single, democratic, secular state.