image of jerusalem 2013

Two States in One?
Edward was a rare bird. He was both an icon and an iconoclast!

2 October   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Robert Fisk, The Independent, 26 September2003

Professor Edward Saïd, a world-renowned scholar, writer and critic died last week. An outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights and a prominent Christian member of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile until1991 , he was also an arch critic of both Israeli practices and the Oslo Accords. Salman Rushdie once said that Saïd ‘reads the world as closely as he reads books’. And the Irish critic Seamus Deane described him as ‘a truly public intellectual who has a powerful influence within the academy and also a potent public presence. He is a very brilliant reader, of both texts and political situations’.

The last time I spoke at some length with Professor Saïd was at the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem. He looked old and frail - hunched over his breakfast cereals, a blanket covering his shoulders. He talked to me about his friendship and musical partnership with Daniel Barenboim and their joint attempts to straddle the Arab-Israeli divide through music. He also took me to task for defending a set of accords {Oslo} that he insisted fell short of granting Palestinians any legitimate and viable rights. I saw him one final time at a recent conference in London: the man had not mellowed, the ideas had not changed much, and the fiery zeal of a Palestinian in exile still irradiated his discourses. I shall miss the man - warts and all!

Edward Saïd had good reason to be a political sceptic. He sought reconciliation, but disagreed with its pathways to date. Indeed, a brief political somersault from Madrid to Oslo to the ‘roadmap’, and one draws the inevitable conclusion that Palestinians - and by osmosis Israelis - are getting a raw deal! Coming up with flawed ‘peace processes’ that are no more than mere guidelines with no fixed or finite destinations cannot convince either people to commit themselves to serious and painful compromises. The Quartet cannot overcome the mistrust, fear, trauma and polarisation on both sides of an ugly and piranha-like ‘separation wall’ without articulating end-goals or outcomes. Talking loosely about a settlement predicated upon International law, cessation of violence and two flags fluttering beside each other, is inadequate!

It is true that many religious and secular organisations - international as much as Israeli or Palestinian - have been struggling relentlessly for years to achieve peace and reconciliation between the two peoples. However, and if one were to overlook the historical or legal matrices of this conflict, the fact remains that the overriding obstacle toward peace is the Israeli illegal occupation since 1967 of Palestinian land. That is what Edward Saïd stressed almost mantra-like to his interlocutors and audiences, and that is the major hub of this conflict. All the physical, psychological or structural forms of violence manifesting themselves in Israel and Palestine today find their roots in an unyielding and insidious occupation.

As the debilitating stalemate continues, Israelis and Palestinians continue their tussle! And they constantly find themselves alternating between the frying pan and the fire, checkmating each other or trying to seize the moral ground as a justification for further bloodletting, murders and crimes against fellow human beings. Simply reading Elizabeth Laird’s new book A Little Peace of Ground gives a sour taste of the awful hardships Palestinian children face daily under occupation.

But without a Nelson Mandela, and without non-violent visions and strategies that meld both peoples together into the folds of a two-state solution, what is the alternative? If the two-state solution were indeed no longer physically possible due to the unbridled settlement policies pursued by Israel, and if demography is creating its own unalterable facts, what are we left with that can serve as a framework for a settlement? Edward Saïd often advocated a one-state solution, insisting that the alternative premise for two states adjacent to each other was neither practicable nor realistic. Indeed, an ever-increasing number of people are now also questioning the hitherto stated belief that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ultimately resolvable via a territorial partition that would separate the Palestinians from the Israelis. Instead, the one-state option is once more taking the shape of a radical alternative that would seek a way out of the deadly cycle of violence. Such an option would advocate for equal political and civic rights in one state - one-man, one-vote. By posting one homeland for both sides, the one-state solution not only does away with the conflict over history and legitimisation, but both sides can also maintain their ‘right of return’ without this being at the expense of the other, and Israeli settlers would not need to be removed from their settlements. Jerusalem could then also become the shared capital of a unitary Arab-Jewish state.

Clearly, irreconcilable differences appear at this stage. But despite the ideological narratives of Zionism on the one hand, and the Palestinian nationalist impulses on the other, is it not better to start considering again the paradigm of a one-state solution rather than slide inexorably towards segregation or drift even more dangerously towards escalating resistance and violence from both sides? After all, and unlike the two-state solution, the resilience of a democratic and secular unitary Arab-Jewish homeland is not contingent upon developments on the ground. It is a matter of a change of hearts and minds.

And yes, as Professor Edward Saïd would have also reminded us, we do have the example of South Africa!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   2 October


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: