Sunday, November 25, 2007
A Note On "Viability"
Why do I insist on Israel's resettlement of, say, around three hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, if the Palestinians can have a "viable" state on the West Bank and Gaza of their own? Shouldn't the Palestinians just drop the demand of resettlement of refugees -- any refugees -- within the 1948 armistice lines? I don't have the time now to answer these questions, but I do want to say a few words about the curious notion of "viability." For several years now, the US and/or the Quarter have called for a "viable and democratic Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel." I have never heard of the call for a viable Israel; Israel's viability is taken for granted. Why, then, a "viable" Palestine? Well, there is the fear that considering what Israel plans to keep-- close to 80% of mandatory Palestine for most of the mandate's period -- and the control that it wishes to continue to have over the West Bank and its resources, a mini-Palestine will not be "viable". So the term "viability" seems to reflect the minimum conditions of a state's continued existence that keep it from degenerating into anarchy. Once we have taken the patient off life support, the patient should be able to stay alive. Now, let's think of other terms besides "viable". How about "strong", "secure", "independent", "economically prosperous, with room for natural growth and expansion"; a state "that neither dominates nor is dominated by its neighbor state" (you know, the one established by Eastern Europeans), and "that has the same opportunities possessed by the other state"? Wouldn't it make more sense to use those terms rather than the anemic "viable"? Frankly, talk of a "safe and secure Israel besides a democratic and viable Palestine" reveals the zionist, and, arguably, racist assumptions of the speaker. It implies that Israel has needs of security guarantees from the Palestinians, where the history of the conflict shows precisely the opposite. Both sides have killed thousands of each other (the Jewish side admittedly killing more of the other side, but let's reserve that point, for the sake of argument), but only one side has successfully thwarted the national aspirations of the other side, and kept millions under the longest occupation in modern history, if one includes those areas that it seized outside the 1947 partition plan. The phrase also implies that Israel is a liberal democracy (a questionable assertion, as students of liberal democracies will tell you) and that the Palestinians are somehow uniquely challenged in this regard. The original thinking behind the two-state solution for Palestine was that because there were two communities with strong feelings of nationalism, the partition of the country was the way to satisfy the central claims of both communities. When the Arab Palestinians thought they had the upper hand, they rejected partition; when the Zionists thought they had the upper hand, they rejected partition. If the two-state solution has any hope for success, it must be recognized by the majority of peoples of the region as at least partially just, even if the governments, beholden to special interest groups, are unable to conclude an agreement. A lot of people think that the concern with justice is naive; that the world is in an unjust place, and that power rules. That may be. But I can tell you that if one side feels that it has been unjustly shafted in a peace agreement, that the "state" and the territory it has received is not just less than what belongs to it by right, but considerably less than what the other side got -- then this is a recipe for disaster, instability, terrorism, and war. A solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, if it has any chance of succeeding, must at least give the strong impression to both communities that it is leveling the imbalance between the two states. A more equitable division of Palestine will help in this regrad; federation between the two states will also help. Recognition of historical injustice, even if it implied, will help. And attempts to get the maximum number of groups on board will also help. Since none of the above will be considered at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, that is why this whole affair is -- I hope -- doomed to fail. I would not like there to be a third or a fourth intifada, But if waging an intifada is a necessary condition for achieving justice for the Palestinians, then I can no more deny the Palestinians the right of armed resistance than I can any other group under occupation. As the good book says, "Justice, justice, you shall pursue."