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Reviewed by:
  • Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative
  • Rex Brynen (bio)
Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative by Asher Susser. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011. 297 pages. $29.95.

Much of the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” resembles nothing quite so much as the Monty Python’s dead parrot comedy sketch. Is it “just resting” and capable of being revived? Or is it actually dead, but “nailed to the perch?” A combination of deep political divisions on the Palestinian side and an Israeli government unwilling to make the compromises necessary for peace makes it difficult to imagine any meaningful progress any time soon.

Such stalemate has led to calls for an alternative model to the two-state paradigm upon which negotiations have been based for most of the past two decades. Some activists advocate for a one-state approach that would see Israelis and Palestinians join together in a single binational country. Some right-wing Israelis and their supporters hope that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza might be compelled — whether through continued occupation, limited self-rule, or arrangements with Jordan — to accept something less than self-determination in their own independent state. It is in this context that Asher Susser has written Israel, Jordan and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative. In it he explores the logics of binationalism and partition; traces the evolution of the two-state paradigm within Israel and Palestine, as well as the alternative vision offered by the one-state solution; and summarizes the perspective and position of Jordan. Most fundamentally, he argues that — however difficult the current political climate might be — there is no practical or just alternative to the two-state solution.

Much of the book’s argument for a two-state imperative is based on what the author sees as the political impossibility and moral shortcomings of a binational state — “a remedy that would in all likelihood be infinitely worse than the existing malady” (p. 213). While such an outcome might be “infinitely worse” only in the eyes of those attached to the notion of Israel as a Jewish state, Susser certainly makes a convincing case that the one-state idea is a goal that lacks any plausible method of achievement. After all, what would possibly convince the majority of Israelis — who, in this respect, Susser is representative of whom — to surrender the very raison d’être of Israel (namely, its Jewishness) in favor of becoming a growing minority in a new Israel-Palestine?

There are many parts of Susser’s treatment with which one might quibble. I felt, for example, that discussion of the refugee issue failed to adequately communicate the nuances of the Palestinian negotiating position. I would also suggest that he paints too generous a view of Ariel Sharon’s intentions in disengaging from Gaza. He does not give adequate attention to the emergence and dangers of what might be termed the creeping “Bantustanization” of the Palestinian territories. The matrix of spatial control established by settlements, outposts, roads, closed military zones, and the separation barrier requires greater discussion, especially given the view of some that it increasingly precludes, both geographically and politically, the very two-state solution that Susser favors.

Another part of the book that would benefit from expansion is the conclusion, where the author suggests that progress toward a two-state solution might best be achieved incrementally, through a series of partial or even unilateral steps by the two sides. Certainly, given the current political realities in the region, it is difficult to imagine that grand peacemaking efforts on the Camp David (2000), Taba (2001), or Annapolis (2008) model could make any progress today. At the same time, the almost two decades since the Oslo Accords have also highlighted the costs involved when supposedly “interim” measures become dangerously “interminable.” Even if one accepts the overall logic of Susser’s argument, the challenges of designing partial initiatives that improve rather than weaken the prospects for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel are formidable.

That being said, the value of Israel, Jordan [End Page 734] and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative is not that every reader will agree with every diagnosis of...


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