Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Liberal Zionists Should Support the Palestinian Statehood Bid -- And Why Most Don't

With the notable exception of a few Israelis and Michael Lerner here, I have yet to see liberal Zionists give unqualified support to the Palestinian Authority's statehood bid at the United Nations.What I have seen is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the Netanyahu government.

I hear things like,  "If only Netanyahu had been serious about peace," "If only he had not preferred Lieberman," "If only he was willing to freeze settlements....we wouldn't be in this mess." Or: "We Israelis deserve all this; we had the best partner in Abu Mazen imaginable, and we screwed up. Instead of a negotiated peace, we are now witnessing Palestinian unilateralism."

The closest position to support I have seen in a mainstream media publication is this article by Yossi Alpher in the International Herald Tribune. Alpher argues that by going to the UN, the PA is making concessions that it could never make with its own people. He views the statehood bid as a way to leverage progress towards a viable two-state solution.

Ideally, the Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state can be leveraged into a two-state agreement that serves Israel’s vital needs, as well as those of the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t work, the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties.        
Americans for Peace Now have posted this on their website. To its credit, it does not oppose the statehood bid, as does the center left organization,  J Street (which is better named "O[bama] Street".) But I don't see an explicit endorsement either.

This strikes me as odd. After all, liberal Zionists have endorsed the principle of "two states for two peoples". Were they to regret  Zionist unilateralism in 1948 the way they regret Palestinian unilateralism in 2011, I would understand. In other words, had they said, "History has shown that unilateralism doesn't work; that the unilateral declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 was a tragic mistake for which generations have paid and continued to pay," their insistence on a settlement acceptable to both sides would be reasonable.

But the ones I have seen don't do this. Instead of cheerleading for the Palestinian two-state solution on at the UN, and writing editorials and op-eds that endorse the statehood bid (while questioning its efficacy in achieving true statehood), most see it as a counter-productive gesture that does not advance the peace process. The liberal Zionist New York Times opposes it. So does the liberal Zionist establishment in the US.

I think the reason is that all Zionists fear Palestinian empowerment. The Zionist left is willing to grant Palestinians enough unilateralism to move forward the Left's two-state solution through the UN, and nothing more. Alpher says that if the UN bid doesn't move the two-state solution forward:
....the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties
In other words, if Mahmoud Abbas can't move the two-state solution along through the UN, it should be "delivered" to ("imposed on"?) the two parties. And then what? Will their be sanctions on Israel and Palestine if they refuse the delivered solution? Will the Palestinian diaspora have a voice in the solution? Will those who support Hamas, whose military wing is comparable to the  Irgun and the Stern gang? And what of the Israeli public and the settlers?

I have my misgivings about Mr. Abbas's move simply because I do not think that he has the authority to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people. He is not the elected representative of the Palestinians, either in the diaspora or in Palestine.  He is propped up by Western and Arab money.  He is, I fear, willing to forego the legitimate rights of the Palestinians for the sake of a negotiated settlement; and if he had Yossi Alpher for a negotiating partner, a peace agreement between them (without real peace) could be attained.

The liberal Zionist's first and foremost concern is not justice but peace and quiet for Israel. As I heard a young activist say, "Israelis want to be free of the Palestinians; they don't want the Palestinians to be free". I agree with Alpher that we have to move beyond Oslo. But the post-Oslo paradigm for peace should be to abandon seeking a two state solution, and to work instead towards an equitable division of power between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and outside it.

Let there be compromise, but let it not be a rotten one.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to disagree with the alleged fear that liberal Zionists fear this example of Palestinian empowerment. What kind of practical effect will the declaration of a Palestinian state exactly have? I'm all for their emancipation, and increased freedoms, but as you touched upon, unilateral movements aren't exactly the best idea in the Middle-East, let alone in the world. I'm not saying that I'm totally against this, but my pessimism won't allow me to think this is a relevant maneuver. especially due to the (relatively) recent events in the Middle-East, and to a lesser extent the world.

In essence, I can't exactly blame liberal Zionists for being worried about this. I can, however, fault the Zionist organizations for following Moshe Dayan's advice of being a 'mad dog' in regards to every (perceived) danger and threats. Sometimes a gentle approach is needed; empathy is one of the greater weapons on the human arsenal, after all.

evets said...

Jerry -

Your vision seems to be getting increasingly messianic, and you sound more and more like your prophetic namesake. Any settlement not based on absolute purity of heart and yielding anything less than absolute justice is now unacceptable.

Did the Union fight the Civil War with this purity of heart? Did the warring parties in Northern Ireland broker a settlement out of a sudden fit of perfect selflessness?

Given human history, I'd say your moral demands can't be met. I can't quibble with their desirability, but I'd settle for less purity and a bit of naked self-interest so long as a fairly just solution could be achieved.

I guess you'll argue that anything as morally deficient as a 'fairly just' solution would be unstable, but I'm not convinced.

The only thing that does seem certain is that the day of absolute (or even maximal) redress for past transgressions will never come.

Jerry Haber said...

"What kind of practical effect will the declaration of a Palestinian state exactly have."

Considering that twenty years of negotiation have yielded nothing, and that the Palestinian people are worse off for them, one can only say that if the statehood bid has no practical effect, that will be better than the negotiation, which has a negative one.

But it already has isolated Israel, shown the weakness of America, and -- here's the kicker -- the Palestinians wont even get their aid cut off for their boldness.

In fact, the Palestinians, though incomparably weak, have learned from the Israelis than when they spit on the Americans the Americans will do nothing more than deplore the weather.

Jerry Haber said...

evets -

Since when is a call for a fair compromise an insistence on absolute justice?

I explain myself here

evets said...

Jerry -

I already read the prior piece. I felt then as now, that you expect too much from liberal Zionists. I only half-agree that they're motivated by a desire of 'freedom from Palestinians'. They're also motivated by a degree of human decency and sense of justice. Their motives are mixed. They're flawed humans. But getting a majority of Israelis even to that level of sanity/magnanimity would be a significant accomplishment, maybe the most that could be expected. Hoping for more, in order to produce what you deem a fair compromise will require messianic intervention.

It's not that I don't like your solution. I agree with it. I disagree with J Street's position (though I wouldn't put them in cherem because of it). I just think you're condemning people for falling short of an unrealizable ideal. The only compromise that can be achieved will not be fair, though it might come pretty close. 'Fair' left the building decades ago.

MJ Rosenberg said...

I support the Palestinian bid 100%.
MJ Rosenberg