Book review: The Impossibility of Palestine by Mehran Kamrava holds out little hope
The occupation of the West Bank is the physical embodiment of the destruction of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. At every turn in the hilly territory slated to be the future Palestinian state, Israel’s imprint on the land is unavoidable. From the road systems to the electricity grid and the Israeli settlements that dot every hilltop, Israel’s colonisation project has been exhaustive over its 49 years of existence. Palestinians have been corralled into urban areas, as villages and farmland have been swallowed up by Israeli settlement expansion and Tel Aviv’s machine of control.
The endurance of the occupation has enabled honest discussion about the death of the two-state solution, as envisioned by the Oslo peace process after the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1993, to become mainstream.
While Israeli politicians have stubbornly long-thumbed their noses at international efforts to erase their footprint in the West Bank, western governments have exhaustedly reinforced the narrative that two states for two peoples is the only practical solution to the century-long conflict. Such conversation is dying out. Israel’s liberal allies speak now of boycotts over Tel Aviv’s occupation and the real possibility of a bi-national, one-state solution.
Palestine was never going to be a state, and likely never will. That is the essence of a timely new book, The Impossibility of Palestine: History, Geography and the Road Ahead, by the political scientist Dr Mehran Kamrava on the impossibility of Palestinian statehood. The readable volume presents the history of Israeli colonisation and efforts to liquidate Palestine of its native inhabitants was a goal of most Israeli politicians, regardless of their political allegiance.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War failed to remove all Palestinians from the land, the Israeli government set in motion an elaborate programme of divide and rule, thus splitting the Palestinian body politic to ensure total dominance. The majority of Kamrava’s detailed research is gleaned from Israeli historians who gained access to their country’s state archives in the late 1980s and set about rewriting the foundation myths of the country.
As such, he has particular insight into the Israeli mindset in establishing the country’s colonial relationship with the native people of Palestine.
There is, for example, particular attention to the cognitive dissonance prevalent in Israeli society about the nature of its relationship with Palestinians. Until this day, the occupation of the West Bank has been cloaked in temporary terms in Israel. The land is held until it can be given back for peace. The occupation is necessary for security. Slowly this cognitive dissonance is melting away as a new generation of Israeli politicians, many of whom are West Bank settlers, remove this facade and openly state that Israel intends to occupy indefinitely, and that the status quo is, in fact, ideal for Tel Aviv because it maintains control of the land and its resources without having to provide Palestinians with any rights.
Having analysed Israel’s domination of Palestinians through the classic colonial mechanism of divide and rule, Kamrava turns his attention to the fractured nature of the Palestinian political sphere. His analysis of the political climate is sobering, noting that “anger has given way to resignation, and hopes for a better future are replaced by desperation to hang on to the little that is there. Today, the Palestinian nation endures. But just barely.”
This is not to say that statehood is inherently alien to Palestinians. The elements of statehood such as institutions, individual leaders and an engaged citizenry are visible.The primary challenge is that these elements have not been able to come together and form the foundation of a state due to the long arm of Israeli occupation.
In Kamrava’s view, this division accelerated during the Oslo peace process in tandem with Israeli efforts to carve up the territory of the West Bank with new walls and checkpoints. Indeed, the famous West Bank separation wall was built in the early 2000s, as Palestinian institutions began to fight with each other and groups like Hamas rose to prominence.
Today, there is near total division among Palestine’s political parties, and its state institutions – having pivoted towards the international community for help – are dependent on donor aid (that can easily be withheld in case of violent resistance against Israel).
The physical and political separation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the rise of Hamas as a viable alternative to Fatah’s corrupt power in Ramallah, would not have developed had it not been for the infrastructure that Oslo created. After all, Mahmoud Abbas was the last leader to genuinely fight for a two-state solution when he pursued statehood recognition at the United Nations. Despite the fanfare and subsequent punishment of the Palestinians by withholding international donor aid, the statehood extravaganza did nothing for Palestine on the ground.
The conclusion one has at the end of this melancholy book is that a new framework is desperately needed. Whether this takes the form of one state or a bi-national federation is less important than the acknowledgment that the Oslo peace process has been exploited by Israel and the international community to facilitate the complete entrenchment of Israeli control over Palestine.
Given the dire situation on the ground, we need a fresh debate about securing rights for all people who are subjects of the Israeli regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The conversation cannot begin without a tacit acceptance and acknowledgment of the history presented in The Impossibility of Palestine.
Joseph Dana is an opinion writer at The National.