Review of Ghada Karmi, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2023).
Munich (Special to Informed Comment) – Following the inauguration of a far-right government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December 2022, the Israeli occupation machinery in Palestine has been turbocharged. In February 2023, the Israeli government approved the construction of over 7,100 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This week, it advanced plans for a further 5,700 settlement homes, breaking the annual record in only 6 months. The new settlers will add their numbers to the 700,000 Israelis already living in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the last months have seen armed settlers in the West Bank increasingly attack Arab villages, taking advantage of the passivity of Israel’s authorities. In February, and again in March, Jewish settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town of Huwara, south of Nablus. Last week, the settlers’ attacks against Palestinian villages went on for five days. Among other acts of violence, settlers torched at least two homes in Umm Safa near Ramallah and left at least one Palestinian dead and 12 injured in Turmus Ayya, also close to Ramallah.
The events of the first half of 2023, after the inauguration of the most right-wing government in the history of Israel, have made even clearer what many already believed, namely that the creation of an independent Palestinian state is not a real possibility. Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian physician and former Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, is one of the observers who have long perceived the need to think “beyond the two-state solution.”
In her latest book, “One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel,” Karmi provides a historical overview of the conflict in Palestine before introducing her two key arguments. Firstly, that the two-state solution is dead. As she puts it, “it is probable that no greater illustration of the triumph of hope over reality exists than the two-state solution.” Karmi enumerates some of the factors that make the establishment of two separate states in Israel-Palestine impossible: the Judaization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the isolation of the Gaza Strip, the construction of the West Bank Wall, and the unfeasibility of even a limited return of Palestinian refugees to the small and densely populated West Bank.
Karmi builds on a long tradition of Palestinian intellectuals who discarded the option of a two-state solution. Back in 1999, following the collapse of the Oslo Accords he never believed in, Edward Said wrote that it was time “to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen.” Meanwhile, in a recent book, Azmi Bishara noted that “the two ethnic groups are no longer separable in practice and cannot live in two separate states, so they must find a way to coexist equally in one.”
This brings us to the second main argument in Karmi’s book, namely that the only way out of the current conflict is “the reunification of Palestine’s shattered remains in a unitary state for all its inhabitants.” The author examines the two main variations of the one-state solution proposed over the decades. On the one hand, we find bi-national proposals, which imply that Arabs and Jews would share a country but remain ethnically separate. Bi-nationalism is an option that has lost ground in recent times. On the other hand, the secular democratic model proposes a political entity based on individual citizenship and the principle of one-person-one-vote. Karmi prefers this second option.
She argues that bi-nationalism would never do away with Arab and Jewish claims to the whole land, and considering the military and economic superiority of the Jewish population, Arabs would be second-rate citizens in the joint new country. The reality of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship clearly supports her views. Furthermore, considering the religious and ethnic complexity of both Israeli Jews and non-Jewish Arabs, Karmi points out that a secular democratic society would better reflect Palestine’s multiculturalism.
Karmi puts forward some proposals for the materialization of a single secular democratic state in Palestine, such as the need for the Palestinian Authority to move from being “a pseudo-government of a non-existent state with unrealistic aims into a campaigning body that leads the equal rights project.” Even so, Karmi is much more convincing when arguing about the impossibility of a two-state solution and the benefits of a secular democratic model than she is when explaining how this secular democratic state would come about.
This is not to say that the author is naïve, because she is clear about the fact that an equal rights system “will be different to accomplish, and can only be done in stages.” Still, some of the major obstacles in the way of a single secular democratic state in Palestine remain relatively unexplored in Karmi’s book. She notes that Israel’s exploitation of “Palestine’s land and resources” would be a serious challenge to face before the creation of a secular democratic state.
The problem, though, is even more complex. Legal and political equality would mean little without social equality. This is why Mazen Masri, a Senior Lecturer at the City Law School, University of London, remarks that “reparations, which should include restitution of property” would be needed to sustain a one-state option in Palestine, as they would contribute to “addressing the current state of economic inequality between Palestinians and Israelis.” The per capita GDP annually in Israel is currently over $44,000 US whereas the figure for the West Bank and Gaza barely overcomes the $3,000-mark.
In May 2021, after the Israeli crackdown on the Jerusalemite neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the beginning of Israel’s new offensive against the Gaza Strip, Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel initiated massive protests and boycotts that came to be known as the “Unity Uprisings.” Karmi describes the uprisings as marked by “an exhilaration, a feeling that something was changing.” Considering that pro-Palestinian voices in Europe and the US were stronger than ever in the wake of the uprisings, she writes that “the tragic routine of Israeli brutality, Palestinian defiance without result, and international indifference, was being challenged at last.” In the “Unity Uprisings”, where Palestinian resistance presented a united front, Karmi finds hope for the creation of a secular democratic state in the whole of Palestine. The unbalance of economic and military power between Israel and the Palestinians makes one think that Karmi might be too optimistic. But at the same time, one hopes that Karmi’s optimism is not misplaced.
 Ghada Karmi, “Palestinians Need a One-State Solution,” The Guardian, December 20, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/20/one-state-solution-palestinians-israel.
 Ghada Karmi, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2023), p. 87.
 Azmi Bishara, Palestine: Matters of Truth and Justice (London: Hurst and Co., 2022), p. 286.
 Karmi, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel, p. 169.
 Ibid., p. 150.
 Ibid., p. 148.
 Mazen Masri, “Constitutional Frameworks for a One-State Option in Palestine: An Assessment,” in Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2021), p. 228.
 Karmi, One State: The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel, p. 157.