By Antoine Raffoul
Until recently, we had never heard of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). After some research on the subject of the One-State vs the Two-State solution, we discovered a long Study published by the ATFP in 2009 entitled “What’s Wrong With The One-State Agenda“. It made for interesting reading and shed some light on the people behind the ATFP which claim “to promote an end to the conflict in the Middle East through a negotiated agreement that provides for two states – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace and security”.
This document (the ATFP calls it a Study) was originally drafted by Dr Hussein Ibish (who is a Senior Fellow at the ATFP) at the time Israel was launching its criminal ‘Operation Cast Lead’ on Gaza in December 2008. That onslaught left 1400 Gazans dead and most of the Gaza Strip in ruins. One would have thought that ‘Operation Cast Lead’ would provide the ATFP with the clearest example yet of Zionism’s consistent policy of using force to attain total colonial stranglehold in all of historic Palestine. Events of the last 62 years would also provide a clear evidence of this policy.
A good reading of ATFP’s Study raised many questions some of which we put in writing to Dr Ibish, the author, via the ATFP website. An automated confirmation was received promising a reply which never came.
Overall, the Study attempts to demolish the whole basis on which the One-State solution is being promoted by its advocates including this writer.
It is surely high time that all politicians, historians, writers and academics who still believe in and support the idea of a Two-State solution to the Israel-Palestine tragedy to come forward and submit, once and for all, a clear and transparent statement outlining exactly what they really mean by the Two-State solution. They have had 62 years to advance this idea and they have failed.
This ATFP Study, whilst calling for an end to the Israeli occupation through negotiations, does not take into account the failed UN Resolutions, the endless summits and the numerous peace conferences which have dotted the Middle East political and diplomatic landscape since 1947. After 62 years, we are no closer to resolving this tragedy than we were when it started in 1948 with the Palestinian Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel. Over the years, Israel, through its huge military machine and the ‘eternal’ support of the United States, has managed to reinforce its illegal occupation of Palestinian land not only since 1967, but since 1947 when an illegal Partition Plan was forced upon the Palestinian people. The occupation continues unchecked, the illegal settlement construction is in full force and moves forward unabated, the destruction of Palestinian homes and farmland has become a daily occurance and the flagrant Israeli defiance of International Law is a routine phenomenon as the international community looks on.
Throughout all of historic Palestine, this picture of unrelenting colonisation by Israel is a very well documented one. It is probably the most documented conflict of modern times. The colonial picture has not changed but the Palestinian landscape has. Israel’s occupation of all Palestine is pretty much complete and in line with the first Zionist declaration in 1897 which called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine within 50 years. The Zionists finally managed it in 1948 – missing their target date by only 1 year.
The force of this near total occupation can only be maintained via a huge military machine and through an outdated Apartheid political system which will surely fail. The network of physical obstructions built throughout the Palestinian landscape offer us a clear system of control unseen since WWII: from exclusive roads for Jews only, to the massive number of illegal settlements, to the prison Wall wrapping around Palestinian villages along and out of the Green Line, to the checkpoints and watch towers reminiscent of a Nazi regime and finally, to a judicial and political racist system which favours the occupier and dehumanises the occupied. This is a picture of a solid iron grip over a whole indigenous people. Not just in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, but also a grip over the 1.5 million Palestinians inside Israel, otherwise called ‘the others’.
It is through this window that a One-State vs a Two-State debate must take place. The writer advocated a One-State solution back in 1968 as the dust settled on the 1967 war between Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It was another wake-up call to focus on that Zionist declaration of 1897. Total occupation of historic Palestine was set in motion after the six-day war ended. If that was not enough to convince the world that Israel was determined to continue the course set for it 70 years earlier, then it must take a second look over the last 62 years since the Nakba of 1948. It would be nothing short of ignorance to bury one’s head in the sand and cast a blind eye to all that Israel is doing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. What is happening there is nothing short of total occupation: physically, militarily, ethnically, and politically.
Which brings us to the ATFP Study: ”What’s Wrong With The One-State Agenda“.
It is truly farcical, despite the above facts, that anyone should be calling for a Two-State Solution. It begs the question of what has been learnt by the American Task Force on Palestine (or any other Task Force or Think Tank for that matter), from the last 62 years which have seen millions of Palestinian refugees linger in their miserable camps and millions more suffocate under the longest and most cruel occupation in modern times.
In true fashion, the ATFP Study goes on the attack from the word go, against the authors of such publications as “The One State Solution” by Professor Virginia Tilley, “One Country” by the founder of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, and against the authors of the “One State Declaration” issued in London and Madrid in 2007 on the 60th anniversary of UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan).
The ATFP believes that because Israel ‘withdrew‘ from Gaza (my italics) and from some small illegal outposts in the north of the West Bank, the logical conclusion would be that the Zionist leadership would not be adverse to the transfer of “sovereignty over a sufficient number of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements to accommodate a viable and acceptable Palestinian state…”. The key word here is, crucially, ‘accommodate’. Israel accommodates and a Palestinian state becomes magically viable. The ATFP author, Dr Ibish, must be blind to all the facts on the ground and fails to explain Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements about the ‘natural growth’ of his illegal settlements. If anything, ‘natural growth’ is what we call an illegal and one-sided ‘accommodation’.
The Study goes on to tackle the Right of Return for the Palestinian refugees to their homeland, which is a main demand by those advocating a One-State solution. The Study submits that “some form of limited ‘return’ to the new Palestinian state would be an integral part of conflict agreement”. Another key statement here is: ‘some form of limited return’. In other words, no one should expect the ‘sovereign state of Israel’, to “open its borders to large numbers of Palestinian refugees to return to live in Israel under any conceivable circumstances”. What are we to understand by ‘limited return’ and from which miserable camp will the refugees be ‘returning’. Does any one of the millions of Palestinian refugees have any say in this? The ATFP does not volunteer an answer.
One of the most sensitive issues this Study tackles is ethnic and national identities of the Palestinians and ‘Israeli Jews’. It states that “one of the greatest strengths of the Two-State solution is that it does not require Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile their national [and ethnic] narratives” when each people have a state of their own. But the reality on the ground shows that only one narrative is allowed to develop to the detriment of the other narrative, and that is the Jewish/Zionist narrative. The erasure of memory, the uprooting of the foundations of the Palestinian society, and the ethnic cleansing of a whole nation and its people, are daily occurrences in the OPT today. They remain solid proof of how one narrative claims sole right over the other under occupation. By promoting a Two-State solution (if at all possible now) on the basis that two peoples have had a bitter history of conflict, bloodshed and distrust, Dr Ibish conveniently forgets the lessons history teaches us. The most recent of these are Northern Ireland and South Africa, where truth and reconciliation forged the basis of a miracle of unity. Palestinians, throughout their history had no conflict with the indigenous Jewish and other ethnic groups in Palestine. Various communities, including recent arrivals after WWI, contributed to a colourful array of lifestyles and customs based on a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect. Many examples of that harmony can be heard in oral testimonies of living descendants of villages like, for example, Lifta west of Jerusalem (where Abunima’s family lived). Surely, the aim of a political solution cannot be the segregation of ethnic groups, as suggested by the ATFP Study, simply because they had a history of conflict, but rather to integrate and unite them in a single democratic, multi cultural, free state for all its inhabitants. Israel, as it stands today, cannot claim to hold that honour.
In Part III of the Study, Dr Ibish argues that “the creation of a single Palestinian-Israeli state is not possible given the existing international and regional power equations”. He writes that “Israel is not going to agree to dismantle itself simply because it has lost a moral argument or an academic debate”. That is probably true.
But, an examination of Zionism, shows that it was precisely its power of persuasion and the tireless efforts of its leaders in convincing the powers of the time, albeit backed by a lot of financial clout, that swayed opinions and shifted positions in an alliance which finally bore fruit in the notorious Balfour Declaration. Lobbying and arm-twisting were never far behind in this process to assist Zionism in realising their dream first declared in that onerous year of 1897. The core issue here is that the Palestinian struggle, though helped by academic debates, moral arguments and international boycotts, is fundamentally about self-determination, justice and freedom from occupation. It is not simply about scoring points in academic debates. Dr Ibish continues to argue that advocates of the One-State solution cannot ask an entire people [the Israelis] to simply abandon their national goals and strategies, even though the aim of these national goals and strategies is to ethnically cleanse and colonise an entire people. The call to abandon such goals and strategies must not only come from advocates of the One-State solution, but also from the ATFP and the international community at large.
In a desperate attempt to give credence to its Two-State logic, the author of this ATFP Study tries to have his cake and eat it. He concurs that there is no international support for Israel’s settlement activities or its illegal occupation. Major powers, including the United States, have called on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. This has made Israel’s legal position untenable in the eyes of the international community. But the Study uses this fact to forward a naive argument which is that the One-State agenda effectively “lets Israel off the hook” because the settlements, the occupation, the Wall and all resulting injustices become, in the one state, matters to be resolved “through the political and legal processes of that state, rather than [being considered] abuses committed by an occupying power…bound by the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international instruments”. This argument defies logic as it falsely assumes that a crime by a state within its borders is unlikely to be punished under International Law because such a crime would be considered, according to Dr Ibish, “one of civil rights within a given country…[and] the rights and interests of the international community in cases of domestic discrimination are not equivalent to those attached to territories considered by the UN Security Council to be under foreign military occupation”.
So, we are to conclude that the rule of the jungle within a state is to be tolerated because it is inherently a civic matter within that state and not answerable under International Law. Have we forgotten the Nuremberg Trials? Shall we dismantle the International Criminal Court? Have we forgotten Ruwanda? Or better yet: shall we tear up the Fourth Geneva Convention?
It is a fundamental error of judgment for this Study and its author to assume that the state envisaged by advocates of the One-State solution remains the same as the Zionist Apartheid State called Israel.
Antoine Raffoul is a Palestinian architect living and practising in London. He was born in Nazareth and was expelled with his family from Haifa in April 1948. He is the Founder and Co-ordinator of 1948: Lest.We.Forget. a campaign group for truth about Palestine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.