After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine
Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor (eds)

In the media, particularly in Australia, the ‘two-state solution’ to the Palestine/Israel crisis – that is to say, the proposition that peace depends upon the creation of a new Palestinian state alongside Israel – serves as an identifier more than an actual idea. If you pay lip service to ‘two states’, you are a responsible, serious person. If you don’t, well, you aren’t.

Julia Gillard supports two states, as does Tony Abbott. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, David Cameron and just about every other Western leader: all agree this is the only realistic and reasonable basis on which the crisis might be resolved.

Yet if a two-state solution were ever realistic or reasonable, it’s almost certainly not now, because Israeli settlers have relentlessly continued their colonisation of the land out of which this putative Palestinian state might be carved: half a million of them, along with a huge network of roads and housing complexes and other infrastructure, are now ensconced in the Occupied Territories. Without the removal of the settlements, any new state would necessarily be a Bantustan more grotesque than those established under Apartheid – and there’s no prospect whatsoever of an Israeli government carrying out mass evictions.

In practice the two-state solution functions increasingly as a rhetorical gesture, an irritable reflex response by defenders of the status quo. The ritualised commitment to two states works like Augustine’s famous prayer: ‘Make me chaste – but not yet’. The very implausibility of the proposal is in fact its point. One can buttress one’s liberal credentials by bloviating about the necessity for a Palestinian state – and then, because that’s not on the agenda, dutifully join the chorus defending Tel Aviv’s latest atrocity.

The importance of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, a new collection of essays edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor, is that it reorients a topsy-turvy discussion.

The mainstream consensus about Palestine makes the acceptance of ethnically defined states – nations that consciously privilege some citizens over others on the basis of their ethnicity or religious beliefs – the political default.

Now, of course, ethnic chauvinism was the basis for most nationalisms in the early modern period but few people today would accept its premises in other contexts today. Australia and the US were also colonial settler states but no-one – at least, no-one of any moral integrity – looks at the dispossession of the native Americans or Indigenous Australians as policies to be defended, let alone continued.

Yet, as Jonathan Cook notes, ‘since Israel’s creation more than six decades ago, members of the Palestinian minority have been forced to live in a self-declared Jewish state that systematically discriminates against them – a fact that even Israel leaders are increasingly prepared to concede, though they have failed to take any meaningful action to correct such injustice. Poverty among the Palestinian minority exists at a rate four times higher than among Jewish citizens, proper up by a system of segregation in education.’

Even more tellingly, Loewenstein quotes Peter Beinart’s explanation of what his defence of Israel entails.

‘I’m not asking [Israel] to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes,’ Beinart says. ‘I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.’

Because Beinart, the leading representative of liberal Zionism in the US, has been grappling honestly with these issues, he spells out what most commentators are afraid to say: the fundamental illiberalism upon which the two-state consensus rests. In no mainstream debate other than Israel/Palestine has the notion of equal rights been so systemically redefined as bad thing.


The Zionist colonial project was based on expectations from a different age, taking for granted that homicidal anti-Semitism lurked ineradicably in the West, so that Jewish people would be relentlessly persecuted unless they lived under a Jewish state.

Those assumptions were wrong.

In the developed world, anti-Semitism has become an ideology of a crackpot fringe. And has Israel become a place of safety, a magnet for Jews the world over? On the contrary. Most Jews in the West have no intention of moving. Why would they? Omar Barghouti quotes former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, about Israel: ‘Few of us know any other existential reality apart from our unrelenting war with everyone, all the time and over all issues.’

By contrast, the underlying assumptions of the one-state solution are much more compatible with contemporary democratic sensibilities. Barghouti puts it like this: the argument for ‘a secular, democratic unitary state in historic Palestine … is the most just and morally coherent solution to this century-old colonial conflict, primarily because it offers the greatest hope for reconciling the ostensibly irreconcilable – the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinian people, particularly the right to self determination, and the acquired rights of the colonial settlers to live in peace and security, individually and collectively, after ridding them of their colonial privileges.’

In other words, the one-state argument is not, as some Zionist apologists suggest, about driving Jews into the sea. It’s a position – or, rather, a range of positions, since there are different versions of the argument – predicated on the notion that people with different ethnic and religious identities can, in fact, live together, even after the process of decolonisation.

The obvious example is South Africa. For years, defenders of apartheid told the world that majority rule meant that whites would be massacred by blacks. They’d lose their culture, their identity, their very lives. Apartheid might have been ugly but it was necessary in pre-emptive self-defence – or so the argument went.

South Africa today might not be perfect but apartheid nonetheless came to an end without a hint of the reprisals and massacres that white racists prophesised. So why not in Israel?

The various essayists in After Zionism don’t put forward a consensus. Their differing positions as to how a one-state solution might be achieved and what it would look like hint at the difficulties ahead. But they offer at least glimpses of a way forward.

Two states, by contrast, seems less and less like a solution and more and more like a roadblock.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

More by Jeff Sparrow ›

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  1. The South African example is the closest fit we have for a single-state solution to the Israel/Palestine question. With goodwill, which still exists, and a secular approach, it might work. It’s worth a try.

    The alternative is to continue to see Israel as a sort of modern version of a Crusader state. History shows us they did not last long, and why that was so.

  2. “Now, of course, ethnic chauvinism was the basis for most nationalisms in the early modern period but few people today would accept its premises in other contexts today.”

    Damn well said, Sir. But what about Tibet, West Papua, and similar darling causes of small l liberals the world over. Same principle should apply there for mine. Oppose ethnic repression by all means, but ethno-nationalism is a concept that should be thoroughly dead and buried by now.

  3. Adam, the difference with such cases as Tibet and West Papua is that those places were annexed against the will of the local population. They should be entitled to self-determination. Any future Tibetan state, for example, should be a state for all citizens of that state – not a state specifically for ethnic Tibetans.

  4. It’s not that the the two-state solution is pie in the sky.The two-state solution is here. Palestine is a state, recognized by an overwhelming majority of UN members. Doesn’t mean squat because the Government of Israel has impunity for crimes of concern to the international community. The Palestinian state should accede to the Rome Statute, or try to, backed by Russian/Chinese Security Council referrals for Israeli state genocide and crimes against humanity. With paranoid Zionist hate propaganda debunked by individual criminal liability, the Israeli people can decide how long they want to live under a pariah state.

  5. Great piece. This is the only bit I’d be wary of:
    “In the developed world, anti-Semitism has become an ideology of a crackpot fringe.”

    I think there could be a renewed anti-Semitic threat in the near future, ironically thanks to Bibi’s likudnik government. Suppose Netanyahu drags the US into a failed war with Iran, aggravating America’s economic crisis and causing its national prestige to drop even further.
    How do you think Christian fundamentalists, the Tea Party movement and the Koch brothers will respond to the situation?
    My guess is the Teabaggers are going to start attacking the predominantly left-wing American Jews, falsely connecting them to the Likudnik hawks who pushed America into war with Iran.
    Yes, Christian evangelicals claim to be “philosemites,” but the “Israel” they revere now is a complete abstraction — they couldn’t care less about the perspectives of flesh-and-blood Jews in their own country. If the war in Iran goes how it looks like it’s going to go, you’re going to have millions of humiliated rednecks looking for a scapegoat. And it seems pretty likely to me that the Koch Brothers (and their fellow industrialists) are going to take that rage and redirect it towards left-wing rank-and-file American Jews, a demographic that has been a thorn in their side since at least the Civil Rights Era.
    You can count on Teabaggers never to blame the right person for their woes — since their idea of the Jewish People is basically an abstraction, it’s easy to imagine them feeling betrayed by that abstraction and taking it out in the form of pogroms against the living Jews around them. These are people, after all, who can carry both the Bible and Atlas Shrugged in their heads at the same time — reprogramming them from Zion-lovers to Jew-haters would be child’s play to the US right, as long as there was a crisis they could rewrite and exploit. (And as for America’s minority of right-wing, neocon Jews — well, there are rich gays on the right-wing too, none of whom care how many poor gays get bashed to death in Middle America as long as they’re safely clinging to the coast, or, in Peter Thiel’s case, living in a libertarian sea-castle.)

    That’s what worries me.

  6. Israel is here and will not be disappearing under mushroom clouds or by any other way. A two state solution is as Jeff says, a nice rhetorical excuse to avoid doing anything tough, like an actual solution. Such a solution could probably be not much more than what already exists, but it can be tweaked if the Israeli people become brave enough to vote in a government that can turn the tables and stop treating its arab citizens as second class, induct them into its national service along with the ultra-orthodox, and get them to mingle. Familiarity dispels contempt.

    Let’s be clear about certain things: Israel is not a pariah state. It is the only full functioning, clean (a relative measure to be sure), market state/democracy in the entire region, with a vigorous and free press. Yes, it has a shadow state in its military industrial complex and its relentless fear of persecution by its neighbours. That is not unreasonable since there are several states and militia groups nearby that make it plain the extirpation of the Jewish state and jews as their goal.

    Yes, the ultra-orthodox Jews which Bibi kowtows to are as much a problem with their zealotry as any anti-Semite. The Israeli fondness for military strikes and repression is odious. To be sure, there is some sympathy when not so long ago they were subject to almost daily suicide bombings and you could never be sure if you that you’d return if your spouse or kids would come back after leaving the house in the morning.

    In the end, the Israelis who by and large are pretty tolerant, secular, western and liberal, will have to take the government by the scruff of the neck and say: enoughs enough – you’ve built that stupid fence; you’ve got enough settlements – get rid of them, declare the two state solution and let the Palestinians have their capital in East Jerusalem. For the Palestinians they’ll have to decide whether Fatah or Hamas really represent their aspirations and can deliver the sort of life they want to lead – which on their record thus far – appears not. It will also remove the veil of respectability that currently disguises the very prevalent and rabid anti-semitism of these groups and among the public in the region. Yes, years of bilious hatred have bred a deep mutual antagonism, but that’s no excuse.

    Israel needs and can become the model democracy for the region, but it’s in its own hands.

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