Married to Another Man

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Anne Alexander spoke to Ghada Karmi about her new book and the situation in Palestine

June was a bad month for supporters of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It remains to be seen whether Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will re-establish Fatah's authority over the Occupied Territories, or whether the survival of the Hamas-led government will mean in effect a "three-state solution", with Israel dominating a Fatah-led entity in the West Bank, while besieging Hamas in Gaza. But both scenarios underline the impossibility of constructing a viable Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

In this context, Ghada Karmi's latest book is all the more important. It takes its title from a report sent by two rabbis in 1897 to Zionist colleagues in Vienna, following their mission to investigate the possibility of building a Jewish state in Palestine. "The bride is beautiful," they wrote, "but she is married to another man." As Karmi explains, this captures the essence of "Israel's dilemma". Establishing an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine is only made possible by excluding millions of Palestinians from their land.

Ghada Karmi challenges the consensus of many European and US policy-makers: that the solution to the conflict lies in the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine. "I think it's simple to see why the two-state solution cannot work," she told me. "It's inequitable for sharing up the land. Even if the proponents of the two-state solution were talking about a 50-50 split, you could say that gets rid of the inequitability of the way the land is divided, but what you actually have is a fifth of the original Palestine if the Palestinians are lucky. The refugees are the heart of this conflict. There's no way that 6.5 million refugees are going to fit into that fifth of the original Palestine."

The only route to genuine peace with justice, she argues, lies in the creation of a single state for the two peoples. "If you had one state and you didn't have to worry about partition, you actually can keep those settlers in place. Why not? They are citizens of the joint state. You can share the water properly because it is one state. You can bring back the refugees because there is territory to absorb them, and Jerusalem can be shared."

The problem is that the merger of the two populations in current circumstances would do nothing to redress the imbalance between the two sides, and would thus only reproduce existing inequalities in a new form. Yet for Karmi, because the one-state idea overturns the central premise of Zionism - "a state based on ethnic exclusivity, and on a way of thinking running counter to the way we want the modern world to be" - it offers infinitely more hope.

The deep military, economic and political ties between Israel and the Western powers, particularly the US, account for Israel's staying power in the face of courageous Palestinian resistance.

Karmi argues that the persistence of pro-Zionist policies through successive generations of British and US political leaders cannot be explained solely by designating Israel a "client state", manipulated by Western colonialism. Instead she sees a basic cultural affinity between the US and European states on the one hand and Israel on the other.

Christian Zionism, a set of Protestant beliefs which sees the restoration of the ancient Jewish state of Israel as an essential prelude to the return of the Messiah, plays a crucial role shaping the policy of the imperialist powers, she argues.

The question here is whether the US ruling class supports Israel out of imperial self-interest, or because it is in the grip of an ideology which argues that Zionism is an instrument for the realisation of biblical prophecy. And despite the importance of Christian Zionism in the US today, I would argue that it is the logic of imperialism which drives Western policy towards Israel.

Without an explanation which goes beyond ideological factors, it is hard to account for the continuation of US support for Israel even during periods when Christian Zionists were far less influential than they are today, or to explain French backing for Israel during the Suez Crisis of 1956, since Christian Zionism is militantly anti-Catholic.

The relationship between the imperialist powers, Israel and the Arab states also overshadows the route to Palestinian liberation. It is the failure of the US occupation of Iraq, and US reliance on vulnerable Arab rulers who face growing discontent from below which are the weak links in the chain of support for the Zionist project.

From this perspective, the creation of a democratic Palestinian state, which would include Muslims, Christians and Jews as its citizens, has to be part of a wider revolutionary transformation in the Middle East.

Ghada Karmi argues eloquently that a different Middle East is both necessary and possible. This is a brave and timely book which raises questions no-one involved in the Palestine solidarity movement can ignore.


Married to Another Man is published by Pluto Press, £14.99