Ruth Tenne: Married to Another Man

Reviewed by Ruth Tenne in London
Special to

One Complete Palestine – A Utopia, or a Feasible Solution? Ghada Karmi -Married to Another Man: Israel’s  Dilemma  in Palestine, Pluto 2007

From the outset of her book Dr. Ghada Karmi declares her personal interest in finding a solution – being "a Palestinian who experienced at first hand Israel’s creation and in 1948 and is still living, along with millions of others, through its consequences.” Accordingly, I should also state my special interest in reviewing her book as an Israeli who was born to socialist-Zionist parents and lived through the creation of the State of Israel, kibbutz life, compulsory army service, and Israel’s higher education system. I hold a dual nationality but I have no intention of ever living, or visiting, the Israeli state – against its policies I have been campaigning for many years.

Dr. Karmi is setting out the scene for her thought-provoking book by discussing the trauma the formation of Israel inflicted on the Arab world having "found itself confronted with a new creation which was alien to it in every sense." She painstakingly demonstrates the mental and physical cost of the military defeat of the Arab forces (1948) which left them unable to halt Israel’s seizure of 20 percent of the land allocated to Palestinians by the UN 1947 Partition Plan, and becoming the ruler over 75 percent of historic Palestine.

Karmi’s outrage is very palpable when she refers to the Zionist attempts to deprive the Israeli Arab of their collective identity and to "factionalize" the Arab world through alliances with non-Muslim groups in the region. I feel, however, that Dr. Karmi somewhat overstates her case when she argues that "a long -cherished Zionist aim [is] to see the region broken up into collection of minorities among which the Jewish state would stand out as the most cohesive and powerful – a neo Ottoman empire of ethnic-religious connection with Israel (instead of Turkey) at the centre." This view, I believe does not reconcile easily with Dr. Karmi’s proposed solution of a unitary, secular and democratic state for both Israelis and Palestinians. The Zionist colonial project has been buttressed, I believe, by military strategies backed up and spurred on by US   policies in the region. These strategies are guided by the belief that an offensive campaign is the best defence rather than by sheer imperialist motives that run at the core of superpowers such as America, or Russia. Indeed, Ghada Karmi convincingly argues that the "early Zionists understood that their project could only succeed and survive with the support of the great powers."

The various factors which contributed to Western government’s support for Israel are thoroughly dissected by the author – focusing on the Jewish lobby and its powerful impact on US policies, the religious clout of the Christian Zionist in the States, the pro-Zionist influence on the media, and the guilt feeling engendered by the Holocaust The latter was especially at  play in Germany whose successive governments have given the Israeli state and its citizens billions of dollars in reparation – a fact which, I feel, stands in a stark contrast to Israel’s refusal  to  acknowledge its responsibility for the Palestinian refugee question. The Zionist narrative, the author argues, has a special hold on many Jewish people across the world for whom the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state has become psychologically and emotionally unattainable – resulting in the conviction that anti-Zionist manifestations equate with anti-Semitism and "if Israel no longer existed it would be the end of Judaism too."

Having set the contextual backdrop of her treatise Dr. Karmi turns to assess the peace negotiations and past agreements which forced the Palestinians to concede to a derisory concept of self-autonomy that "could only have produced a short-term political fix.” This drove her to seek a durable solution to the present impasse that leaves the Palestinian community subjugated, fragmented and scattered across the region facing a rapidly diminishing territory which is unable to meet their needs. She believes that the "parameters of such a solution were clear, and the only difficulty was how to implement them, not because of their complexity, but because of Israel’s obdurate clinging to its settler, colonialist ideology, Zionism, and the Western support that allowed or even encouraged it to do so."

Though I agree with the spirit of Ghada Karmi’s assertion and her lucid analysis of the parameters at play I suspect that her solution of a unitary, democratic and secular state for both peoples amounts to a utopian vision which has little grounding in reality. It seems to me that there is an unbridgeable gap between Dr. Karmi’s present perceptions of the Zionist state and her hopes for the way to which it may be transformed in the future. An unfavourable comparison could be made with President Bush’s intentions of ‘liberating’ Iraq and ‘democratizing’ the Middle East. The  experience of Iraq demonstrates that imposing a free vote for all, instituting a democratic constitution and establishing a parliament composed of  multi-ethnic, or  multi-creed, groups  does  not in itself give rise to a democratic, secular state which embraces justice and shows respect for human rights. Moreover, melting into the long-established State of Israel will invalidate the decades-long aspirations and courageous struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination and diminish their overwhelming desire for governing their own sovereign, independent state.

In reality, any expressed wish by the Palestinian leadership to merge into one state with Israel will be interpreted by Western governments as an admission of being   unprepared for governance (a view that US, and Britain hold firmly). Moreover, it will be understood by the Israeli government as a defeat of Palestinian nationalism only to be exploited by annexing the entire Palestine and turning the Palestinians into second class citizens suffering discrimination in all spheres of life.

Although the new unitary state may have democratic-sounding constitution and law which endorses the equality of all its citizens, the clauses of Fourth Geneva Convention which apply to subjects under occupation will cease to have any legal jurisdiction over the new unitary state – thus, opening the way for the former Israeli state and its military and police forces to continue their suppression of the Palestinians without any fear of international intervention or of human rights law. Dr. Karmi, in truth, concedes that even her own surveys show a majority support for the two-state solutions. She admits that "in recent years a concern with recouping Palestinian identity, and society fractured by Israel’s separation and closure policies added powerfully to the desire for independence."

This wish is also borne out by the findings of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre which show a clear majority for a two-state solution ( 51% in support of  a two-state solution against 30% support for a one-state solution – with significantly more West Bank Palestinians than Gazans supporting a one-state solution. ) An article by the Alternative Information Center (June 2007) contends that "much of the support for bi-nationalism moved directly from a bi-national solution to support for one Palestinian state.” It argues that "support for a bi-national solution is not a position of acceptance or tolerance, but rather a position of exhaustion and a reflection of the discrediting of every other solution." Among Israelis the idea of sharing a state with the Palestinians is even less popular. Dr. Karmi cites a Peace Index Poll (2003) which demonstrates that 73% of the Israeli interviewees feared the emergence of a bi-nationalist state with only 6% in favour of the concept.
Is There a Solution?

I would argue that in spite of depicting the Palestinians as a powerless pawn in an international game in which Israel seems to enjoy an invincible supremacy, the Arab world has the power to change this state of affair dramatically.

The Saudi peace proposal (2002) should become an enforceable working plan sanctioned by a UN resolution. This seemingly unachievable objective could  be attained by a concerted action of the Arab League’s exercising its oil and trade power  and backed by an international grassroots campaign for imposing economic, academic and cultural  boycott with the aim of forcing Israel to commence negotiations on  the terms of  the Saudi plan. At the very early stage of the negotiated Saudi plan the Palestinians should be granted a UN member- state so as to become an equal partner in negotiations on the international borders of their state, the refugee question, and the status of East Jerusalem. The Palestinian state – which will be recognised by international law as a contiguous entity comprised of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – should be awarded a special reconstruction status on the lines of the post -Second World War’s Marshall Plan. The Israeli army will be required (by a new UN resolutions) to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders at the very beginning of the negotiations – being replaced by an international forces which will be assigned the authority to intervene in any local conflict. Jewish settlers who wish to stay in Palestine, following the Israeli army’s withdrawal and the dismantling of all the settlements, the checkpoints and the illegal wall, will be required to become subjects of the new state. This may sound improbable but as Prof. Michael Neumann notes -" if the Israeli army withdraws, the Palestinians would have no difficulty persuading the settlers it was time to leave. The Algerians did the same with settlers much more deeply rooted than in Palestine. If it’s so impossible, why did it already happen- why did Israeli troops make it happen- in Gaza?" (Palestine Chronicle 16 May 2007)

The refugee question ought to be resolved under a UN special committee comprising   the Arab League, the EU, US, Israel and Palestine (including representatives of the PLO Executive Committee.) The final Plan for Peace will be adopted by a UN resolution and be concluded in a peace treaty between the states of Israel and Palestine. The options presented to Palestinian refugees may include: (a) return of their old homeland in Israel, (b) citizenship of the new Palestinian state and (c) full citizenship in their host country – thus abolishing their refugees status and camps. 

Such a plan may be quite expensive but it would be partly balanced by the gradual  diminishing of UNRWA’s responsibilities,  and recompense for the total assets of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees held by Israel in the past 60 years which amount to over 740,000 acres of agricultural land, 25,000 urban homes, 11 ,000 businesses, shops and workshops, frozen bank deposits, valuables and art treasures that became the property of the State of Israel under the , now defunct, Custodian of Absentees Property  ( re. David Grossman Present Absentees, Hebrew 1992.)

The proposed "reconstruction plan" may extend to include the present host countries of Palestinian refugees so as to implement fully their integration as equal citizens. Such a scheme may encourage Pan-Arabic economic links which could lead to a confederation between Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt.  

Israel’s expected refusal to accommodate a great number of Palestinian refugees may have to be encountered by citizenship swaps, namely, balancing the number of refugees returned to Israel by the number of settlers undertaking Palestinian citizenship, or residency. This may turn to be a sticking point of the negotiation but the longing of young Palestinians to return to an alien society thought to be an entrenched enemy may not be as strong as that of past generations. (Dr. Karmi’s  recent survey  of 100 young Palestinian women also indicates that their wish to enjoy  freedom of movement and to lead normal life besides their own people may override their desire to return to the homeland of their ancestors.)   

The escalating conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as well as Israel’s present attempts to reach a nominal agreement with President Abbas which will abandon the rightful aspirations of the Palestinian people, demand an urgent resolution to the present impasse. A two-state solution based on the Saudi plan may not fully fulfil the legitimate rights of the Palestinians but it may offer a workable and acceptable   programme for peace. Borrowing Dr. Karmi’s metaphor, I believe that the ageing and war-torn bride of Palestine may find solace in accommodating the two rivalries for her love, thus, enabling them to lead their life in separate and independent "homes" where they will  be the masters of their own destiny.

-Ruth Tenne lives in London. She is a contributor to

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