How Avi Shlaim moved from two-state solution to one-state solution

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Jadaliyya has posted an excellent interview with the British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, in which Shlaim states that he is an “Arab Jew” because he was born in Iraq and describes the long history of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in the Arab world before the rise of Zionism in the 20th century.

Palestinians, Shlaim says, were not the only victims of Zionism.

[T]here are other victims of Zionism—the Jews of the Arab lands. There was a Jewish community in Iraq which had been there for two and a half millennia, and had no wish to leave. It is only because of the rise of nationalism in the twentieth Century that peaceful coexistence was no longer possible.

Shlaim has no faith in Donald Trump’s ability to resolve the conflict. Trump is only listening to Netanyahu. Shlaim points out that President Obama promised to treat Palestinians fairly in Cairo in 2009 and did not follow through at all, but failed to pressure Israel, instead increasing aid. When will U.S. establishment voices begin to echo this truth:

The American-sponsored peace process, which began in 1991 after the Gulf war, is all process and no peace. It is a charade. It is pretence. It is worse than a charade because the peace process gives Israel the cover it needs to pursue its aggressive colonial project on the West Bank.

Shlaim was once proud of his Israeli background, which included serving in the Israeli armed forces in the 1960s. He used to be for partition as realistic, but today he has given up on the two-state solution. Because he observed Israel’s steadfast refusal to allow a Palestinian state.

I was a proponent of a two-state solution for most of my life because there can never be absolute justice for the Palestinians. I believe that the creation of the state of Israel involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians but I don’t want to go a step further and say that Israel should be dismantled in order to deliver justice to the Palestinians. I accept the reality of Israel within its original borders, I accept the legitimacy of Israel within its original pre-1967 borders.

Edward Said described the two communities as two communities of suffering. We have to take into account the tragic history of the Jews as well as the suffering of the Palestinians. The two-state solution seemed to be not a perfect solution but a reasonable solution. The PLO by signing the Oslo Accords gave up the claim to 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine in the hope that they would get an independent Palestinian state on the remaining 22 percent, on the West bank and Gaza. So I supported the two-state solution but Israel under both Labour and Likud governments continued to expand settlements. This is incompatible with a two-state solution.

The settlements represent land-grabbing, and land-grabbing and peace-making don’t go together, it is one or the other. By its actions, if not always in its rhetoric, Israel has opted for land-grabbing and as we speak Israel is expanding settlements. So, Israel has been systematically destroying the basis for a viable Palestinian state and this is the declared objective of the Likud and Netanyahu who used to pretend to accept a two-state solution. In the lead up to the last election, he said there will be no Palestinian state on his watch. The expansion of settlements and the wall mean that there cannot be a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. The most that the Palestinians can hope for is Bantustans, a series of enclaves surrounded by Israeli settlements and Israeli military bases.

So a two-state solution is no longer a viable option and that is why I have become a supporter of the one-state solution, a single state with equal rights for all its citizens. Ideologically, I don’t have any problem with a one-state solution. Ideologically, it is very attractive, it is a noble vision of two communities living in harmony in one space with equal rights for all its members. But, I am not naïve enough to think that the one-state solution is a realistic prospect because there is no support for a one-state solution in Israel. And if pushed really hard I think Israel would withdraw to the wall on the West Bank and annex whatever bits it wants of the West Bank. It would annex the main settlement blocks in Ma’ale Adumim, and the whole area around Jerusalem, and it would do so unilaterally rather than have a one-state so I am not in the least bit optimistic that the one-state solution is a viable proposition. But this is where I stand and I blame Israel for eliminating the alternative of a two-state solution.

Note that the one-state solution is the idealistic alternative, two peoples sharing sovereignty democratically. And if you object that it is not realistic, alright– but neither is two states.

Shlaim also says positive things about BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: that it frightens Israel and it is the only hope Palestinians have of making progress globally.

BDS is a global grass-roots movement which has been gathering support at a very impressive pace and it has had a large number of successes with major companies divesting from Israel. It has also had considerable impact on public opinion throughout the world, delegitimising the Israeli occupation. The Israelis take it very seriously. They have formed a unit with a budget of GBP 40 million in order to fight BDS by launching personal attacks on individuals and delegitimising them rather than engaging with the arguments of BDS. And it seems to me that there is no hope that western governments will change their policy of support for Israel….

So going back to BDS, there is no hope for the Palestinians to bring about the end of occupation through the support of western governments or the UN, the only hope that the Palestinians have is through BDS.

That is not to say that in the foreseeable future BDS could bring about an end of the Israeli occupation. But that is the only hope the Palestinians have of making progress.

It’s amazing that these simple straightforward ideas are not reflected in the U.S. discourse. Though I would say that progressive Americans readily accept these ideas, and that is why the Democratic Party establishment is today running scared of these ideas entering the mainstream.

H/t Jonathan Ofir. And Michael Smith. 

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Normally I try to steer clear of broad stroke generalizations, but I just have to say: I have found that Iraqi Jews (specifically those Jews of Iraqi origin who moved to Israel after the zionist false-flag attacks against them/their families and their wonderful, ancient community) have the most sensible and reasonable viewpoints about Israel and Palestine. I am referring to such people as Naeim Giladi, Ella Shohat, and this person Avi Shlaim. If only more… Read more »

And in conclusion yes, “It’s amazing that these simple straightforward ideas are not reflected in the U.S. discourse. Though I would say that progressive Americans readily accept these ideas, and that is why the Democratic Party establishment is today running scared of these ideas entering the mainstream.” Bingo! Other than continuing #BDS, the growing number of rank & file Democrats can bring this situation to the forefront, so that, eventually, the US mainstream TV news/infotainment… Read more »

Thanks for this. I guess it’s never too late for some. I only hope it’s not too late for Palestine and the Palestinians while a few more Israelis screw their brains and hearts on tight and right. You write: “It’s amazing that these simple straightforward ideas are not reflected in the U.S. discourse. Though I would say that progressive Americans readily accept these ideas, and that is why the Democratic Party establishment is today running… Read more »

“Stephen Pollard, editor of the British Jewish Chronicle, wrote that the term has been used by anti-Semites for centuries and called the letter “jaw-droppingly shocking.” There are Catholic Lobbies , Presbyterian Lobbies , Anglican Lobbies. Perfectly OK to refer to them as such. But “Jewish Lobbies” = shrieks , howls , wailing and gnashing of teeth as reference to such a non existent pressure group is FFS “Jaw droppingly shocking”. Mr Pollard once you have… Read more »

“The PLO by signing the Oslo Accords gave up the claim to 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine…” Well, if this sentence were to be phrased in the present tense, it would be quite a sensation. Perhaps it’s true that the PLO gave up its claim, but in reality today the PLO is not giving up its claim to the entire country. Similarly, the PLO agreed (past tense) to erase all the sections of the National… Read more »