Close to three decades have passed since the beginning of the Oslo peace process between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. The Oslo talks subsequently led to two separate agreements in 1993 and 1995 – the so-called Oslo I and Oslo II Accords. At the time of Oslo I, Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote about a Palestinian capitulation of “astonishing proportions.”

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears obvious that the Oslo Accords did not bring Palestinians any closer to having their own state. In fact, the Oslo peace process can be seen as having undermined “the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.”[1] This is the argument presented by, Leila Farsakh, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The Oslo peace process can be seen as having undermined “the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.”

Farsakh is the editor of “Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition,” a recently published and refreshing book for which she assembled an impressive array of contributors. Many of the featured scholars are young Palestinians who approach the perennial quest for an independent Palestinian state from different angles and disciplines.

Book Cover

Book Cover

The edited volume is divided into two sections. The first half of the book is largely dominated by a historical approach to the topic of Palestinian statehood. Three different authors delve into the experiences of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel, and East Jerusalem, and the challenges they face to materialize Palestinian statehood.

Tareq Baconi, author of the much-praised – and deservedly so – “Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance,” argues in his chapter that Israel has succeeded in confining Hamas to the imperative urges of governance and stabilization in the Gaza Strip, to the detriment of national liberation. [2]

Hania Walid Assali and Maha Nassar, who respectively explore the situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Israel, concur that both groups lack a political forum to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood.[3] They also agree that the difficulties to participate in the Palestinian national political program faced by East Jerusalem and Israeli Palestinians alike are not only the results of Israel’s constraints but also of the Palestinian leadership’s failure to proactively engage them.

Although the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank features prominently throughout the book, there is no chapter in the volume especially dedicated to them, something which the reader would certainly have appreciated.

Moving away from the historical approach of the first half of the book and adopting a political economy perspective, Adam Hanieh presents a powerful critique of the Palestinian National Authority’s (PA) state formation efforts, which he sees as both technocratic and driven by neoliberal economic tenets.

The Palestinian Authority’s state formation efforts are both technocratic and driven by neoliberal economic tenets.

The inherent danger in a technocratic approach towards economic development for Palestine rests in the fact that within this framework, Israeli settler-colonialism is no longer seen as an imposition of unequal power relations but as “a question of administrative regulations that may potentially constrain Palestinian development (or indeed, assist it).”[4]

As Hanieh remarks, Palestine’s economy is to a large extent dominated by Palestinian capital groups operating from the Gulf. These investors also play a big role in the realm of culture, as could be observed with their sponsoring of the Palestinian Museum, located in Birzeit and inaugurated in 2016. The museum has been subjected to its fair dose of criticism, not least because it opened empty in a daring conceptual proposal that received little praise both in Palestine and abroad.

Leila Farsakh Book Editor

Leila Farsakh, Book Editor

Furthermore, many Palestinian artists would have preferred the sizable budget allocated to the Palestinian Museum – the $28 million spent on its construction – to be distributed to smaller ongoing artistic projects. Despite its faults, Hanan Toukan concludes in his chapter of the edited volume that the Palestinian Museum is “a triumphant moment in the cultural history of the Palestinian people.” [5]

The second half of “Rethinking Statehood,” features chapters that are largely grounded on international and human rights law. Susan M. Akram shows that the Palestinians’ right of return is based on their legitimate claim to Palestinian nationality, whose origin lies in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, according to which Palestinian Ottoman subjects became Palestinian citizens. Palestinians’ national rights would later be violated in the Nakba. [6]

The 1948 dispossession of around 700,000 Palestinians would naturally take center stage in the event of a transitional justice process for Palestine/Israel, argues Nadim Khoury in his chapter. [7] At the same time, he notes that intra-Palestinian aggression and Palestinian acts of violence against Israelis should also be incorporated into transitional justice mechanisms. Khoury emphasizes that one of the advantages of transitional justice is that it is agnostic as to whether the transition should be to one state or two states. [8]

[In ‘Mornings in Jenin,’ Susan Abulhawa Brings the Human Tragedy of the Israeli Occupation to Life]

In a chapter that engages in a discussion with Khoury’s, Mazen Masri envisions a one-state solution in which transitional justice would be enshrined in the constitution. Masri advocates for a multicultural system that would include Jews and Palestinians while making sure that “the main relationship between the individual and the state is that of citizenship and not ethnic/religious background.”[9]

Farsakh is similarly aware of the dire necessity of striking the right balance between individual and national rights if a one-state option is to succeed.

Farsakh is similarly aware of the dire necessity of striking the right balance between individual and national rights if a one-state option is to succeed. No matter how challenging the realization of a one-state solution might be, it still appears a more attractive option. Establishing a parallel Palestinian state without changing the colonial foundations of Israel may be viewed as simply perpetuating “Israel’s colonial power and Palestinian dispossession.” [10]

The renowned Israeli historian and activist Ilan Pappé contributes the last chapter of the book, where he defends the framing of the Palestinian quest for statehood in terms of an indigenous cultural struggle is not antithetical to political national demands but rather complementary. Indigeneity, he remarks, is essentially “part of a political resistance.”[11]

There seem to be few reasons to be optimistic about the prospects of Palestinian statehood in the short to medium term. “Biden has reversed none of Trump’s most damaging policies.” Meanwhile, the Palestinian political leadership continues to be divided.

Nonetheless, some of the authors in “Rethinking Statehood in Palestine” present several recent developments that may nurture political progress. Yousef Munayyer writes that grassroots activism in the United States is increasingly bringing about “the conditions that can create change in US policy.”[12]

Baconi, on the other hand, explains that the inclusive discourse around the 2018-2019 Great March of Return has been able “to unite Palestinians across geographies in a single narrative.”[13]

Farsakh deserves special praise as the editor of the volume for her ability to coordinate a collective work where the various chapters seamlessly intermesh, avoiding the overlaps that make many edited volumes tedious when read cover-to-cover.

“Rethinking Statehood in Palestine” constitutes an invaluable volume with key insights on how Palestinians might come to be citizens with equal national and social rights in a democratic state. The path to such a future, concludes Farsakh, necessitates a departure from “the partition paradigm.” [14]

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[1] Leila Farsakh, “Introduction: The Struggle for Self-Determination and the Palestinian Quest for Statehood,” in Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2021), p. 1.

[2] Tareq Baconi, “The Gaza Strip: Humanitarian Crisis and Lost Statehood,” in Ibid., p. 67.

[3] Hania Walid Assali, “The Forgotten Palestinians: East Jerusalem and the Oslo Peace Process,” in Ibid., p. 95; Maha Nassar, “Between Two States and One: Palestinian Citizens of Israel,” in Ibid., p. 270.

[4] Adam Hanieh, “The Political Economy of State Formation in Palestine,” in Ibid., p. 35.

[5] Hanan Toukan, “The State, the Land, and the Hill Museum,” in Ibid., p. 121.

[6] Susan M. Akram, “Palestinian Nationality and ‘Jewish’ Nationality: From the Lausanne Treaty to Today,” in Ibid., p. 196.

[7] Nadim Khoury, “Transitional Justice in Palestine/Israel: Whose Justice? Which Transition?” in Ibid., p. 160.

[8] Ibid., p. 161.

[9] Mazen Masri, “Constitutional Frameworks for a One-State Option in Palestine: An Assessment,” in Ibid., p. 241.

[10] Leila Farsakh, “Alternatives to Partition in Palestine: Rearticulating the State-Nation Nexus,” in Ibid., p. 184.

[11] Ilan Pappé, “Indigeneity as Resistance,” in Ibid., p. 278.

[12] Yousef Munayyer, “Defending Palestinian Rights in the Trump Era and Beyond,” in Ibid., p. 146.

[13] Tareq Baconi, “The Gaza Strip: Humanitarian Crisis and Lost Statehood,” in Ibid., p. 70.

[14] Leila Farsakh, “Conclusion,” in Ibid., p. 295.