Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hussein Ibish's New Book: "What's Wrong With the One State Agenda?"

My friend and colleague Hussein Ibish has a new book out: What's Wrong With the One-State Agenda? It's a terrific addition to the intensifying debate on the Middle East peace process, and -- if you read on -- there is also a useful Balkan connection to be made in regards to recent events.

But first to the book, which is Ibish's attempt to nip in the bud what he views as a fallacious and dangerous twist in articulating Palestinian aspirations in the region.

Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. Put simply, he sees the "one-state agenda" as an attempt to elide the considerable difficulties of (a) negotiating an end both to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza and (b) creating two parallel states -- Palestine and Israel -- by simply stating that a single state could encompass all citizens of the disputed region.

He argues that the fantastical nature of the proposal is rooted in its development as "a quintessentially diasporic discourse, largely reflective of the perspectives, imperatives and ambitions of those living outside of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories." The idea has little support among Palestinians in the region, and virtually none in Israel, Ibish observes.

Yet Ibish takes the one-state idea seriously enough to articulate its claims in an intellectual honest manner before demolishing it. In particular, he poses a series of pointed questions to one-state advocates. The first two questions Ibish poses are particularly stinging in their unmasking of the fantastical nature of the single-state agenda:

* "If Israel will not agree to end the occupation, what makes anyone think that it will possibly agree to dissolve itself?"

* "What, as a practical matter, does this vision of a single, democratic state in Israel/Palestine offer to Jewish Israelis?"

The book -- which is a short monograph of 137 pages -- is available for download here. It is well worth the time to read it. The book had its debut at an event hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week, and video of the panel discussion on the book that included Ibish, Robert Malley (Middle East and North Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group) and Aaron David Miller (Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar) will be available here in the next few days.

The discussion was terrific. But it quickly pivoted from the "one-state agenda" -- which all three participants rejected as fantasy -- to the prospects for the only other available option: the two-state solution.

At the panel, Ibish strongly asserted that a recent plan proposed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad -- Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State -- provides the blueprint for moving forward. Fayyad calls upon Palestinians to establish "de facto" institutions of governance, thus creating the necessary facts on the ground that will inevitably lead to recognition as a state. To quote directly from the document, Fayyad says:

... the Palestinian government is struggling determinedly against a hostile occupation regime, employing all of its energies and available resources, most especially the capacities of our people, to complete the process of building institutions of the independent State of Palestine in order to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years.

And here is where the Balkan connection comes in. In Kosovo, for nearly a decade after the revocation of the province's autonomy by rump Yugoslavia, Kosovar Albanians created such parallel institutions in nonviolent fashion under the leadership of the late Ibrahim Rugova. The problem with these efforts by the Democratic League of Kosovo was that the effort met with little international support or recognition, especially in the period when the international community was actively soliciting Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's support in ending the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.

Eventually, frustrations boiled over and an armed Kosovar Albanian force -- the Kosovo Liberation Army -- was created to press the issue of Kosovo's independence.

But the lesson for Palestinians in this is clear: create these parallel institutions proposed by Fayyad and actively press for simultaneous international recognition of these efforts.

(Ibish himself posts his thoughts on the questions raised by the Wilson Center panel about Fayyad's proposal and his answers here.)

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