Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some of What’s Wrong With the Liberal Zionist Vision of the Two State Solution

Liberal Zionists in Israel and the diaspora have, for many years, put forth a vision of two states in historic Palestine, i.e., a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. The borders between the states would be the 49 armistice line (the "green line"), with land swaps to recognize "demographic realities," i.e., the half a million Jewish settlers who have settled over the green line since 1967. In exchange for the settlement blocs, the Palestinians would be given land within pre-67 Israel "of equal quality," a concept that is left vague. They would be asked to recognize the state of Israel as a Jewish state, to forego the right to return given them by Resolution 194 and international law, and to keep their state nonmilitarized.

This view is not only accepted by liberal Zionists (Jews and non-Jews are included within that description, as well as any one who believes in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state – I can't think of any better description for that view than Zionist) It has also been accepted by some Palestinians and their allies who see it as preferable to the status quo. It is not half a loaf; it is more like half a slice. But, the argument goes, it is better than nothing.

What I would like to argue briefly is that the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution is not morally justifiable, and a peace agreement along its lines constitutes what Avishai Margalit calls, although not with reference to the liberal Zionist vision, a rotten compromise. Margalit distinguishes between bad compromises, which are justifiable or excusable for the sake of peace even when the principles of justice are violated, and rotten compromises, which either result in, or preserve, an inhuman system. The cases of inhuman systems he gives (slavery, racist tyranny) are worse, I believe, than the current system of Israeli occupation – but what that system shares in common with the more extreme versions is the dehumanization of those under occupation. I wish to argue that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians that produces a Palestinian state that is only marginally better than occupation, and in which there is still a significant degree of Israeli control, hence, of dehumanization, would be, if not a rotten compromise, than something perilously close to it.

I grant that, at first glance, the liberal Zionist vision of the two-state solution tries to end the dehumanization of the Palestinians. After all, it is claimed, the withdrawal of the IDF would give the Palestinians control over their own lives. They would not be bound by all the restrictions, e.g., immigration, decisions taken without their representation, that are placed upon them now. They could stand on their own two feet.

But this is a liberal Zionist illusion, based on the underlying liberal Zionist myth that the Palestinians have nothing to fear from the Israelis provided that the former behave themselves. In fact – as the disengagement from Gaza has abundantly shown – the issue is not whether there is an IDF military presence, or even a settlers' presence on the West Bank. The issue is whether Israel has effective control over the Palestinian state by virtue of its military and economic power. By "effective control" I don't mean "total control". Israel has never had total control over the Palestinians – nor is that fact remarkable. American slaveholders never had total control over their slaves, as the slave rebellions and other acts of resistance amply show. But it is abundantly clear, and has been pointed out by many, that the liberal-Zionist vision doesn't take into account Palestinian security needs – beyond having them outsourced to countries friendly to Israel. And a truncated non-militarized Palestine with security guarantees for Israel would not guarantee a sufficient level of dignity, security, and independence that a peace agreement must provide in order for it not to represent a rotten compromise. If the Palestinian leadership accepts such a compromise, out of weakness, so much the worse for them.

The liberal Zionist vision is indeed motivated by moral concerns. The vision recognizes that it is morally wrong, not just inexpedient, for Israel to have day to day control over the lives of Palestinians. It is less concerned with the measure of effective control Israel will have over the future Palestinian state, and indirectly, on the lives of the Palestinians living within it. I don't think it is concerned with that at all.

The strange thing about the compromise offered by liberal Zionist groups like J Street is that it is not really a compromise at all. In a compromise, both groups give up things that are dear to them in order reach agreement. Yet in the liberal Zionist vision of the Two State solution, the Israeli side gives up things that the liberal Zionist wants to give up in the first place – the West Bank and Gaza. The liberal Zionist does not mind sharing Jerusalem, nor does it mind withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza – on the contrary, it argues such a withdrawal to be in Israel's long-term interests. The liberal Zionists, in order to sell the plan to not-so-liberal Zionists, argue that in the worse case scenario, Israel's security would not be seriously threatened after such a withdrawal. So in fact, the liberal Zionist vision combines moral concern with the Palestinians under occupation with concern for the future of the Jewish state if the occupation continues. It offers to the Palestinians things that it is not interested in to begin with – and presents these as painful compromises.

This comment has been made often by the West Bank settlers. When the Oslo Accord spoke of "Gaza first" a popular rightwing bumper sticker was, "Tel Aviv first." The framers of Oslo were criticized for offering things that the rightwing was interested in keeping, but that they weren't.

If the Palestinians are asked to make painful compromises, then so should the Israelis. That should take some of the sting off of what the Palestinians are forced, through their weakness, to offer.

Let me take this back to the issue of land swaps. The liberal vision of land swaps is to give Palestinians land as compensation for the land of the settlement blocs. Let's take one "uncontroversial" settlement bloc for liberal Zionists – the settlements over the Green Line near Jerusalem. Now I ask you seriously – what lands in Israel could possibly compensate for these strategically settled areas, areas that were settled not only to provide more housing for Jews but to keep Jerusalem within effective Jewish control for perpetuity? Before 1967, Jerusalem was a circle split in two (unequal) parts, Jewish and Arab. With the settlement blocs, Jerusalem is now a Jewish bagel with a bite out of it; a tiny part of the hole is Arab. Given Jerusalem's national, religious and strategic importance, what does Israel plan to give in exchange? Land contiguous to Gaza? Land from the Lachish district.?

The integration of the settlement blocs around Jerusalem into Israel radically alters Jerusalem – and even were the Palestinian state offered all of the Negev from Beer Sheva to Eilat, that would not be begin to compensate.

That is why I suggested that in exchange for the Palestinians losing most of Jerusalem and its environs – a painful compromise – it should demand that Israel receive a significant number of Palestinian refugees. Now nobody in Israel wants this – which is precisely why it would be viewed by the Palestinians as a sacrifice worthy of their sacrifice. Or if not the refugees, then prime territory around Tel Aviv, or in the area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The response to this will be that I am making peace impossible. But my response to that is that the peace is not the end game – dignity and self-determination are. It is about time that liberal Zionists stop arguing that "peace is so close, if only we could find out the way to it" and start looking not so much at principles of absolute justice – the weaker party will never get that – but the minimum requirements of an agreement for dignity, humanity, and self-determination.

And to my one-state friends, I want to make clear that I am not endorsing a two-state solution. I am calling for liberal Zionists to examine the adequacy of the two-state solution that they are endorsing, and not just from the frame of reference of the liberal Zionist.

I didn't always feel this way. On the eve of Camp David II, I went to a demonstration in support of Prime Minister Barak at the Prime Minister residence. I heard him talk about settlement blocs, and I said to myself – Heck, if the Palestinians accept it, who am I, an Israeli, to be more Palestinian than they are? Isn't it more important to end the occupation, get an agreement, and start working together again? Isn't any deal better than no deal?

Not when that deal represents a rotten, or near rotten compromise. As a liberal Zionist, ask yourself how you feel if you were asked to give up most of Jerusalem, settle a million Palestinian refugees, and accept external controls on your security.

What would you be willing to give up for peace?


pabelmont said...

Beautiful! Consciousness raising and maybe conscience twisting.

evets said...

Is it in fact necessary for both sides to be equally pained by their concessions to justify an agreement? If you, in fact, are compelled by conscience to go 'liberal Zionists' one better and make deeper concessions -- if that makes you feel less pained -- are your concessions then invalid? Must they exceed your pain threshold? Must they match precisely the level of pain felt by your negotiating partner?

I don't think those who wish (on moral grounds) to give up settlements should be dismissed simply because such a concession is not painful. By that logic, one could argue for smaller concessions, those a majority of Israels might find quite painful. Your other points (about what constitutes a self-sufficient dignified state) can stand on their own without the argument from pain.

pabelmont said...

Most of the world seems to wish for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, best if "just and lasting", but this "wish" is not strong enough to get the nations moving. They have sat back and watched for 44 years and seen the USA-Israeli trashing of international humanitarian law without much sign of troubled conscience or worries about (more) real-world consequences.

As a "deus ex machina" the nations have so far been a dismal failure. This has energized the hard-right (USA and Israel) and has taken pressure off the soft-right (Israeli "liberal" Zionists).

Palestinian resistance has not been of the wide-spread "terrorist" kind, but has limited its targets to Israel, letting up the pressure on other nations.

Why should any nation "get off its duff" when the USA opposes BDS actions by the nations and when there is no apparent near-term gain for the nations for taking action?

Spyker said...

Jerry one question
would you immigrate to Israel should it become a one state ?

Spyker said...

would you consider moving to israel should it become all you want it to become ?

Jerry Haber said...

Spyker, I live in Israel. I am an Israeli citizen who served in the army. I commute to the US to teach. Any other questions?

Anonymous said...

I think that it is futile to investigate which solution is immoral, as they ALL are.

The prospect of a single state is immoral as well, in that it contains the prospect of 51% ruling over 49%, whereas the two state solution (if constructed to make the states peers in self-determination by their own definition) realizes 80% ruling over 20%, not all that different than the proportions in South Africa (90/10), obliged to protect the rights of the white minority.

The difficulty with Palestine is that it would be nearly landlocked.

But, Israel/Palestine is NOT the only states that face that condition.

With good mutual intent, a fair two-state is possible.

Without good mutual intent, NEITHER a fair two-state nor a viable and fair single-state is possible.

So, Palestinians and Israelis and solidarity behaving themselves is a large component of the solution.

My assessment of Netanyahu's stated view is that military defensibility of the state of Israel is what constitutes the prospect of peace. Maybe 80% military defensibility, 20% good relations and communications.

In contrast, I state that 80% of the construction of peace is based on good relations and communications and defensibility constructs 20%, and solely as a risk hedge.

The political orientation creates divisiveness (even by well-meaning and moral dissent), which makes the 80% of good relations impossible.

You can't not speak up, but you can emphasize what and how you present.

Anonymous said...

You are obviously more knowledgeable about this, and have thought about this much more than I have. And so I definitely appreciate this essay and your thoughts.

Regardless, my impression is that you believe this negotiation is a zero sum game, and hence why you think compromises in which each side has to give up something of great value are required, and why you seem to feel that the best chance for long term peace is for a solution that offers the Palestinians the "minimum requirements of an agreement for dignity, humanity, and self-determination" which may exclude factors that what would actually support or value higher, short term peace.

My take on this is that it is a positive sum, win win solution, and in such a negotiation, we would not demand parity compromises, we would instead try to maximize the post negotiation state of each party, without forcing negative compromises.

Um, it is Rosh Hashanah and I have to return to my kids.

Thank you for an interesting essay, and I do wonder if your view is based on a zero sum game, and what might happen if you viewed it as a positive sum game.

L'Shanah Tovah

Jerry Haber said...

Sorry that I took so long to reply. Hope you had a nice hag.
I agree that negotiations should not be looked at as zero sum games. My post was to suggest that the two-state vision supported by most Israelis and their supporters is a rotten compromise between the sides.Strangely, none of my readers disputed me on this.

Jerry Haber said...

evets, I used the language of painful concessions because it is very common in Israeli governmental discourse at least since Rabin. Pain is really not relevant. But compromise is. Yes, I assume that successful negotiations require compromise in this case.I don't find that so far-fetched do you. And so my point, as I was recall, was that the liberal Zionist vision of two-states currently on the table (say, Geneva Initiative) reaches the level of rotter or near-rotten compromise.