A Review of Two Books on the Palestinian National Movement

In The Nation, Bashir Abu-Manneh reviews Rashid Khalidi’s account of the failure of the Palestinian national movement, The Iron Cage, and Ali Abunimah argument for a bi-national state, One Country.

When Palestinian and Jewish socialists, notably Noam Chomsky and the Israeli Matzpen group, advocated a binational state in the 1970s (an issue ignored by Abunimah), its realization was premised on large-scale social and political transformation: Radical movements on both sides, with strong and capable constituencies, would pull toward each other and end their separation. When that option evaporated with the deepening colonial expansion of Israel and the rise of Jewish fundamentalism, many socialists shifted toward advocating a two-state solution, while remaining hostile to political Zionism. With the global retreat of radical politics since the mid-’70s, there is even less reason to believe a binational constituency exists in Israel-Palestine today. “Binationalism without social, political agents on the ground is an idea: an interview here, an article there,” says Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian leader of the National Democratic Assembly in the Israeli Knesset, who, as a supporter of a state for “all its citizens,” can hardly be accused of hostility to binationalism. “Are there masses–social movements–that are raising binationalism? I say no. There are not…. Among the Palestinian masses, the mood is still national. National-Islamic. Not binational.” And if the binational idea remains largely divorced from politics, it has no legs to stand on.

Bishara is hardly mentioned by Abunimah, who ignores much of the literature on binationalism. The binational idea has a history in both societies, and it cannot be encompassed in a few passing references to PLO documents and to Martin Buber’s writings. Unlike Khalidi, Abunimah overlooks Towards a Democratic State in Palestine (1970), the only one-state proposal ever produced by Fatah, written in English by a group of Palestinian intellectuals at the American University of Beirut. (Written for foreign consumption under the aegis of PLO official Nabil Shaath, the document mainly sought to convince a Western audience that Palestinians accepted the Jewish presence in Palestine.) Abunimah’s discussion of the PLO amounts to two paragraphs, one of which is a long quote. He ends with this: “But if a single state was unthinkable in the past, many of the conditions that made it so have changed. Perhaps the most important is that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians now understand that the other community is here to stay.”

But the fact that they know this doesn’t mean that the conditions for binationalism are emerging. Nor does it make sense to describe the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as “intertwined,” as Abunimah often puts it.