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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Speaker raises efficacy of ‘one-state solution’

Published: March 2, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, an independent nonprofit that provides information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believes a one-state solution is not something to be afraid of after all. His lecture, titled “Who is Afraid of the One State Solution,” was the keynote address of Brandeis Apartheid week, in past years called Israeli Occupation Awareness Week, an involved discussion about the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, Abunimah is also the author of the book “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The one-state solution proposes that Israel become a nonsectarian state with equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of ethnicity or religion. In “The One State Declaration,” a statement authored by Abunimah in collaboration with others and issued in 2007, Abunimah argues that the two-state solution “presumes a false parity in power and moral claims between a colonized and occupied people on the one hand and colonizing state and military occupier on the other.” The declaration goes on to outline the bases necessary for the one-state solution, such as “the creation of a nonsectarian state”; “the recognition of the diverse character of the society”; and “the establishment of legal and institutional frameworks for justice and reconciliation.”
Abunimah explained that upon writing the declaration he “looked for principles that were reasonable and universal.” He went on to say that “these are all things that people in [the United States] have fought and died for”: such protections Americans now have such as habeas corpus, laws against voting disenfranchisement, separation of church and state, etc.
The separation of church and state is the most galling for Abunimah, who argues that it is impossible for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic. “The claim that Israel should be a Jewish state can be asserted, not defended—not legally, politically or ethically,” Abunimah said. “Israel has reached a moral, political and ethical dead-end. The notion that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic violates the rights of Palestinians, which is fine if you don’t see Palestinians as humans, but, if you do, it is wrong.”
Abunimah is pushing for the one-state solution because it would declare Israelis and Palestinians to be equal whereas, not only does a two-state solution fail to assert equality, but seems less and less likely to occur given current circumstances. “The two-state solution is increasingly in the realm of political science fiction,” Abunimah explained.
“Nobody likes being called an apartheid state but the good news is that apartheid can end,” Ali Abunimah said. “Giving up your privileges does not force you to give up your identity, your culture, language or religion.” Defending the use of the word “apartheid” when describing Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians, Abunimah explored the 1994 abolition of South Africa’s apartheid.
Abunimah explained that, right up until apartheid ended, the white minority in South Africa was opposed to integration. Based off of opinions polls conducted in the ’80s and early ’90s, Abunimah said that the “vast majority of whites completely rejected the one-person, one-vote system, convinced it would lead to bloodshed.” Israeli President Shimon Peres made similar comments in 2009 regarding a one-state solution for Israel.
While Abunimah admits that there was incredible violence in South Africa while apartheid was being phased out and that there would be violence in Israel, this does not mean that apartheid should have remained in place in South Africa, nor should it remain in place in Israel.
He referred to the 1948 Palestinian exodus—called by Palestinians “Naqba,” which is Arabic for “calamity”—as just one of the reasons that apartheid needs to be stopped; in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were relocated from Israel with the use of violence.
Many people—some of whom were in the audience—deny the severity of the forced relocation. “Denial is an admission in a sense that if Naqba were true, it would be an unconscionable moral stain on Israel,” Abunimah said. “We must condemn Naqba denial as strongly as we must condemn Holocaust denial.”
Abunimah also spoke about how important he believes this topic to be and how discussions must continue no matter how uncomfortable. “I think it is important these questions are being asked at Brandeis …” Abunimah said, citing Justice Brandeis’ devotion to free speech. “I wholeheartedly believe in the values of this community.”
For speaking out about these issues, Abunimah has endured “defamation, demonization and outright lies.” He is especially bothered by “the anti-Semitism against Jewish students participating in the discussion. We must stop the anti-Semitic smears against students who are just doing what this university is about—speaking freely.”
Abunimah particularly took offense at a column that Alan Dershowitz published in The Huffington Post about the conference taking place at Harvard this weekend to discuss the one-state solution. Dershowitz called the conference an “anti-Israel hate fest” and wrote that Harvard should not allow such a one-sided conference to be held at Harvard just because of “free speech and academic freedom.”
Abunimah brought up Martin Kramer, an Israeli scholar who Harvard made a senior fellow to discuss Middle Eastern issues despite having, according to Abunimah, suggested that, in order to stem the growing Palestinian population, Israel should limit the food supply. “Harvard got him because of ‘academic freedom’ but Alan Dershowitz believes discussing a one-state solution does not fall under ‘academic freedom’ and is unbecoming of a great university like Harvard,” Abunimah mocked.
Reactions to Abunimah’s lecture varied; looking around the audience, many seemed positive, although there were a few displeased people.
“I think many of the things that were said were said in a way that conveniently left things out or gave a macro level of the conflict and not a micro level—at some points they were even factually incorrect,” Ariel Baron ’15 told The Hoot. “An example would be his reference to the ‘wall.’ I hope he knows that this ‘wall’ of which he speaks is a separation barrier of which 3.4 percent is a brick wall and the rest is a fence … This is important because the connotation a fence makes in people’s mind is very different from the connotation that a wall makes.”
“I really found Abunimah’s talk to be very illuminating and convincing,” Scott Oglesby ’12 told The Hoot. “His ideas were something that I really like a lot, and are sometimes well thought out, but I do have some questions about natural biases that occur with people who are passionate on either side of the debate.”
Oglesby’s reaction is precisely what Abunimah wanted to result from his lecture. He wants “to provoke discussion and thought and to engage people in how to bring justice,” Abunimah said. “I hope it will be resolved in a peaceful way that will recognize the humanity of everyone.”