Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Can Something That Was Never Alive Be Dead?

(Readers: this appears under a different headline, not mine, at Open Zion here)

Is the two-state solution for Israel-Palestine still viable? Perhaps it is time to admit, in the spirit of Voltaire, that the two-state solution was never about two states, nor was it a solution, nor could it ever be viable. 

It was not about a Palestinian state, because a state’s fundamental purpose is to provide security and a sense of security to its citizens. But even the most far-reaching of the two-state proposals did not allow the Palestinians to have a strong army. After a century of Zionism, security and the sense of security are what the Palestinians crave most. That is why in poll after poll, what Palestinians on the West Bank oppose most is “an independent Palestinian state that would have no army, but would have a strong security force and would have a multinational force deployed in it to ensure its security and safety.”


Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images

That there are Palestinian leaders who were compelled, out of weakness and fatigue, to agree to a non-militarized Palestine is irrelevant, as is the very sensible belief that developing countries should not invest heavily in a military. A people that has always relied on the “kindness of strangers” must be able to defend itself. That is valid for the State of Israel, and it is equally valid for the State of Palestine. 

It was not a real solution, because it did not meet the minimum set of reasonable conditions for statehood.  For example, the proposed borders of the state, even after land swaps, would finalize the Judaization of the greater Jerusalem metropolitan area, providing Palestinians with a hole in a Jewish bagel. The settlement blocs would divide the Palestinian state from North to South and the Negev would divide the Palestinian state from  East to West. The other elements of the Clinton proposals or the Geneva Initiative, i.e. security arrangements, refugees, etc.,  all favor the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians. 

Advocates of the two-state solution will respond, “Yes, but at least the Palestinians will have a state. Had they accepted the partition plan in 1947, they would have had a larger state without refugees.” Really? Had the Palestinians joined the Zionists in accepting the partition plan in 1947, it is more likely that neither side would have honored it. Even the Zionists, who accepted it, discarded it at the earliest opportunity.  Both sides years later failed to honor the Oslo Accords they signed, and Israel was quick to appeal to security concerns in order to justify territorial gain in 1956 and 1967.

What really determines the security of the Israelis and the Palestinians is, not surprisingly, the balance of power between the peoples. And, under any of the proposed two-state solutions, the Palestinians would be dependent to a large extent on Israel’s largesse. 

For the two-state solution to be a viable option, there must be a fair and equitable division of the land and resources of Israel/Palestine, a division that provides for a symmetry of power and resources between the two peoples, including room for immigrants from their respective  diaspora communities. The current two-state proposals, justified entirely by facts on the ground, and by a desire to solve the Jewish “demographic problem,” distribute land and resources in a grossly inequitable manner. This is a sure recipe for breeding terrorism, vigilantism, and irredentism. Even the accepted US formula for two states: “a secure Israel alongside a viable, contiguous Palestine” is humiliating. If you don’t understand why, just switch the two names.

How about a one-state solution? Or, to be more precise, how about a different “one state” from the current one state ruled by Israel, in which the Palestinians of Israel are excluded from the nation-state, rendering them politically impotent, and in which Palestinian subjects of the West Bank and Gaza, are under Israel’s control?  A more equitable binationalist state may be the solution for the future, but it is presently thwarted by opposing nationalist narratives, hardened by the occupation and by the Israeli policy of "hafrada" (segregation), which fosters mutual ignorance and distrust.

Instead of focusing on impractical political solutions, friends of Israel and Palestine should adopt more fundamental principles. Here are two:

Joint Struggle for Civil Rights and Self-Dermination. Recently, several prominent Israelis have called on Israel to withdraw unilaterally from parts of the West Bank in a move they termed, “Peace Without Partners.” Yet this return to Zionist unilateralism will achieve neither peace nor the minimum of justice required by both peoples for coexistence. Rather, people of good will from around the globe should become “Partners Without Peace” in a struggle for the civil rights and self-determination of Palestinians (and Israelis, who already have them.) 

Re-education and Fostering Understanding of the Other.  Both sides, as unequal in power as they currently are,  have to be re-educated to understand that at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict are conflicting foundational claims that can no longer be adjudicated. Their goal should be to work gradually towards a reasonably fair compromise between the parties that will allow both peoples security and flourishing. The ultimate goal should not a sanctification of the status quo, including the Israeli regime established in 1948, but rather a willingness to re-think how both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples can have equal opportunities to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

This is a herculean task for more than one generation. But there are no short-cuts.  During the very long night ahead of us, the joint struggle of people from Israel/Palestine and from around the globe should continue to focus on civil and political equality, until more come to realize that the problems between the two sides are foundational. Non-violent tactics that exert pressure on both sides, including boycotts and sanctions,  should be considered and adopted if they will further the aforementioned goals. 

The “We-all-know-what-the-solution-will-look-like–we-just-don’t-know-how-to-get-there” attitude may be comforting to liberal Zionists—but it is just another messianic illusion that allows them to sleep soundly while the oppression and injustice continues. Indeed, the messiah will come before an equitable two-state solution is implemented. And Zionism is not about waiting for the messiah.

Friday, May 4, 2012

“Was the Arab-Israeli Conflict Inevitable”

Recently, Prof. Efraim Karsh gave a talk at my university, in which he claimed that – contrary to received wisdom, the Arab-Israeli conflict was not inevitable, that the Palestinian Arab masses were willing to live in peace among the Zionists, that they were betrayed by their leadership, the Arab states, and the British.

Part of what he said made sense, especially the betrayal business, since it is pretty close to what Rashid Khalidi says in the Iron Cage. But, of course, the Zionists indeed made the conflict inevitable when they came, as settlers, to a country and conspired with the mandate authorities to carve out a state for themselves. That many of the natives were fellahin who weren’t particularly nationalistic, or did not have a Palestinian national identity is irrelevant, just as it was irrelevant for the millions across Africa and the Middle East where colonial regions become states.

But the best refutation of Karsh (which he dismissed as “bullshit”) was provided by Hans Kohn in 1929, after the first Arab disturbances against the Jews. Kohn, a Zionist who had emigrated from Germany to Jerusalem, broke with Zionism after the riots. Here is some of what he wrote.

I cannot concur with [official Zionist policy] when the Arab national movement is being portrayed as the wanton agitation of a few big landowners. I know all too well that frequently the most reactionary imperialist press in England and France portrays the national movements in India, Egypt, and China in a similar fashion – in short, wherever the national movements of oppressed peoples threaten the interest of the colonial power. I know how false and hypocritical this portrayal is. We pretend to be innocent victims…

Of course the Arabs attacked us in August. Since they have no armies the could not obey the rules of war. They perpetrated all the barbaric acts that are characteristic of a colonial revolt. But we are obliged to look into the deeper cause of this revolt. We have been in Palestine for twelve years [since the British mandate] without having even once made a serious attempt at seeking through negotiations the consent of the indigenous people. We have been relying exclusively upon Great Britain’s military might. We have set ourselves goals which by their very nature had to lead to conflict with Arabs…We ought to have recognized that these goals would be the cause, the just cause, of a national uprising against us. ..Having come to this country [as immigrants], we were duty bound to come up with constitutional proposals which, without doing serious harm to Arabs right and liberty, would have also allowed for our free cultural and social development. But for twelve years we pretended that the Arabs did not exist and were glad when we were not reminded of their existence (Hans Kohn, Letter to Dr. Feiwel, Jerusalem, 21 November 1929, cited in Paul Mendes-Flohr, ed. Martin Buber, A Land of Two Peoples.)

So Karsh was refuted already in 1929 by a far-seeing Zionist. Needless to say, when I confronted him with the passage, he dismissed it as “bullshit”. The more things change….