Israel Middle East peace process Palestinians

A choice between the unlikely and the impossible

Apparently this little way station of relatively calm conversation has helped to spark another blog, which will be part of John Sigler’s “For One Democratic/Secular State in Israel-Palestine.”

John, who maintains a bibliography project focusing on the one-state solution, has been a welcome contributor here. But apparently he was frustrated by some limitations, indicating that one reason for establishing his new blog was “a recent series of exchanges and discussions exploring the issue in some detail on Dan Fleshler’s `Realistic Dove’ website.” He continues:

The exchanges were conducted on the comment threads and remained civil though, like this blog, the administration was already strongly opinionated (in that case, in favor of a two state solution; whereas this blog is clearly supportive of the one state idea).

Giving full credit where it is due, the administration [DF: he is referring to me] did allow alternative perspectives and even opposing points of view; however, due to the bias of the administration, the posted topics kept the discussion within a Zionist Left framework that essentially confined alternative perspectives to the role of reactionary polemics.

…One of the interesting things about the reactionary polemics at Realistic Dove is that because of the framework, the articulation of the one state case had to be analytical, deconstructing the opposing arguments point by point, in some cases almost line by line…Such a methodology removes rhetorical flourish and turn of phrase from the discussion, replacing it with a detailed analytical response to the contentions being challenged. As part and parcel of maintaining the bibliography project, there are many new articles being presented that deserve this analytical treatment and this is what this blog intends to do.

I hope John will continue to supply his “reactionary polemics” to this blog from time to time. The “detailed analytical” approach has limitations, though. When the analytical arguments for both the one-state and two-state solution are stripped down to their core, they are both based on faith and hope.

John, who used to be a passionate two-state supporter, is part of the crew that believes a workable two-state solution will never be implemented, that we are past the point of no return, that Israel is already one de facto state with different ethnic and cultural groups, and the world should accept this fact and make the de facto state more just. In the intro to his bibilography project, here is part of the explanation for his faith in this possibility:

Living in a country – the United States – where Jews and Nazis, African-Americans and Ku Klux Klan members, Kurds and Turks, black and white South Africans, Irish Catholics and English Protestants, Serbs, Croats, and Albanians all manage to co-exist within the same state, the same polity, and the same society; the argument that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims simply can never do the same carries no weight whatsoever. Of course there are grievances, tensions, and even sporadic violence, but this is true of all multicultural states, and regardless of what either Israelis or Palestinians have to say about, they do live in a multicultural state.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not Jews need and deserve a state of their own (which, I believe, they do), that statement is radically idealistic. As a result, there is no way to prove that is impossible, any more than one can prove that the U.S. will never be a socialist country. It would take many thousands of words, I think, to even begin to show that two nationalist movements that have been fighting for many decades in Israel/Palestine are simply not going to live together in one polity as easily as, say, Kurds and Turks in Los Angeles. Or, if they are going to live together so easily, it will not happen for generations. To believe otherwise requires faith in –or hope for–the impossible, in my view.

I would prefer to put my hopes in something that is unlikely –perhaps even highly unlikely– but not beyond the realm of the plausible. There are enough Palestinians, other Arabs, Israelis, Americans, Europeans and others of good will who still cling to the belief that two contiguous states can be carved out between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and that their relationship need not reduce the Palestinian state to a “bantustan” that will always be under the thumb of the Israelis.

But I don’t want to provide specific bases for these hopes right now. This blog is meant to attract constructive ideas. I am hoping others who share my hopes will explain how we could move from the intolerable present to a better future that includes two states, and will share why they believe it is possible to do so, despite the daunting odds. If I don’t hear from anyone else, or if I don’t hear anything convincing from anyone else, I’ll chime in after a few days.

14 thoughts on “A choice between the unlikely and the impossible

  1. To say that the Klan and African Americans exist in eh US today is to ignore the role that Klan played as a hidden political party with a militia that helped govern and actively oppress blacks. It took massive social effort to dissolve Klan power and establish a more neutral governmental and social norm about race in this country. The marginal Klan and Nazi presence today is not the concern. The larger presence of Klu Kluxers and Nazis in earlier time is the concern. when such groups have authority is the real issue and the issue in conflicted regions.

    Comparing the situation in the US where hate groups are currently marginalized to other places where insitutionalized or ethic militias exist is simply wrong. Saying that Turks and Kurds live together in Turkey ignores that Kurdish cultural rights are suppressed and their distinctiveness denied. Two Kurdish militias are at war with the Turkish state and probably guarentee some social Kurdish freedom in Turkey. some of the internal and external resistance to Turkish entrance to the EU is based on the lack of Turkish willingness to accept a guarantor of social parity within an multiethnic Turkey. While Ankara and Turks display tolerance to Jews and Christians, this tolerance does not extend to Kurds. Not to mention the criminalizaton of anyone asserting an Armenian genocide, a crime that occured prior to the Kemalist state.

    Kosovar Albanians, along with their discrimination to Kosovar Serbs, are headed to unification, many think, to Albania proper. Comparing conflicted ethnic regions and states to essentially pacific multinational configurations such as the US is an example of a faulty analogy. Right now, the US government is willing to act as final guarantor or social parity. No one guarantees ethnic parity in conflicted regions. That’s the problem. How do people such as Jews and Palestinians attain such a guarantor.

    For a more philosophical and detailed view, I suggest that people read Eric Alterman’s column in the current edition of the Nation. In plain language: How can people who cannot even agree to officially part politically, somehow agree to one state.

    Israel has lots reasons to be criticized. Zionism was just one of many imperfect nationalist movement and only a fool thinks that Israel did not involve Palestinian displacement. Sad and tragic as is the ocndition of Palestinians and terrible in a different way the reasons that led to Zionism and the creation of Israel, ignoring the conflicting claims and attempting to resolve them by cheek by jowl coexistence is, in my view, potentially tragic.

    Of course there are places where people get along. In my view the jury is still out on South Africa. Land seizures of white farms are in the offing. Northern Ireland? Let’s wait a bit there as well and that region has gaurantors: a prosperous Irish Republic with the EU. Without an internal or external guarantor of ethnic equity, a binational state will be a paper utopia and a recipe for disaster. If national coexistence is simple, let’s throw Lebanon into the mix of multi-ethnic Mid East state.

  2. the argument that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims simply can never do the same carries no weight whatsoever

    Never is a very long time. The question is rather whether a one state solution is a practical solution to the conflict at this point.

    At one stage I may have favoured such an idea, especially if a third party could guarantee a fair and democratic rule of law, e.g. according to the Two Stars for Peace plan. But the USA has long since lost its image of neutrality in this conflict, and would simply be seen as another occupier. If the USA is not neutral enough, I don’t think any country in the world is neutral enough.

    And without a third party, I can’t image it working. Extremist Zionism and extremist Arab/Islamic nationalism would fight each other until one won and ended up oppressing the losing populace.

    On the other side, they say ‘good fences make good neighbours’, but I don’t know whether the two state solution would work either at this point. The prospective Palestinian state would be very small, and would end up dependent on Israel, Jordan or Egypt (neither the paradigm of good governance) simply to survive.

    If the rest of the middle east were an example of good governance, free press and equal rights, the solution would be much easier. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just a concentrated mess inside a wider mess.

  3. Ok, guys. Back in the real world here I would like to make a couple of points. Israel is a remarkable enterprise. The universities are world class. The military is maybe not has good as the myth but still pretty good. In multiple fields the country is flourishing. And its got the support of at least most Jews, evangelical Christians, and aside from the left, on the whole the average American. Last but not least, the military cemeteries are testament to the cost.
    The Palestinians are a dysfunctional society. More a death cult than a people. The rest of the Arab world is a basket case when you subtract oil. Its a place of honor killings, religious fanatacism, and is more a cesspool than a society.
    So, in essence John’s plan is for Israel to stike the tent, fold up the flag, get flooded with millions of Arabs, and revert to dhimmi status, the ones that live anyway. And he reason they should do this is why exactly, can someone tell me. Whatwould the motivation be.
    Last but not least, I think the world is geting a little tired of the Palestinians. Do you think they give a shit in India, China or Japan. Sarkozy, just got elected in France, Merkel is in Germany. And In general I think the Europeans are waking up. These academic exercises are rediculous and a little boring. And are generally the product of thoroughly assimilated Jews who want to be liked on their college campuses.

  4. The difference between the ideal and the reality is that one is a hated majority and the other the oppressed minority.

    And 10 years after unification, they change places.

  5. “Don’t oppress, don’t be oppressed” as the NORM, makes the relentless expansions the exception.

    “Oppression is acceptable” makes peace and justice the exception.

  6. Among Israelis that support the two-state proposal there are many that do see it as a strategy to keep Palestine unhealthy, and therefore weak both politically and militarily.

    There are many that regard a healthy neighbor as likely a better neighbor than an unhealthy one.

    Among single-state supporters there are three possible approaches:

    1. Israeli or Jewish dominance to the level of control, annexation and/or forced removal of Palestinians
    2. Islamic and/or Palestinian dominance to the level of control and/or forced removal of Jews
    3. Civil institutions consented to and capable of peaceful transition

    It would be an interesting poll question to determine to what extent two-state advocates favor a weak Palestine, not peer and within what conditions they would support a healthy Palestine.

    And similarly, to what extent single-state advocates are comprised of those that would suppress or throw out minorities within a single state whether from Israel or Palestine.

    Until such a poll is taken, and drafted and conducted in a manner to actually represent the reality, we are again forced to speculate as to what “others” think, and then make speculative conclusions as to what is best.

    Speculation as to others’ experience is what happens when people don’t talk to each other directly, and instead shoot first.

    The process of speaking rhetorically is not different in that respect. Speculate rather than validate. Shoot first, inquire later (if at all).

    In Gaza, to me it is obvious that Hamas continued shelling Israel TO shift the discussion to the orientation towards the common enemy. I would be surprised if the orders to escalate the shelling for that purpose didn’t come from the top in Hamas, so as to preserve Palestine at all.

    They are still a “revolutionary” organization that operates in the factional mode of “earning” the trust of their community by their prowess during struggle.

    And that is back to the same.

  7. One of the problems of one-staters is that any realistic Palestine is deemed by them to be a “bantustan.” That is, they think that Palestine should have unrestricted sovereignty if a two-state solution is to exist. There is one twentieth-century case that disproves the one-state case in at least two ways.

    In January 1922 the Irish Free State was given independence within the British Commonwealth by London after a 30-month armed struggle by the IRA against British rule. There were three main limitations on Irish sovereignty from the Irish point of view. First, Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State of 26 counties and Northern Ireland consisting of 6 of the 9 northeastern counties in Ulster, the northernmost province in Ireland. Northern Ireland remained a province of the UK, which then became formally the UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Second, the four main Irish ports were available to British use during wartime to service British warships and were closed to enemy use. Third, Irish members of the Dail were required to take an oath of loyalty to the British monarch. Mainly because of this last requirement–a symbolic limitation–the IRA split in two and the more nationalist portion under the political leadership of Eamonn De Valera fought an 11 month civil war with the Free State before giving up the struggle. De Valera, after hundreds had been killed, entered parliament in 1927 claiming that the oath was no longer important. Within a few years he was taoiseach (prime minister) and in 1937 with a new constitution he renamed the country Eire/Ireland and began an economic war with Britain to remove the few restrictions on Irish sovereignty. During World War II Ireland maintained strict neutrality at the official level (while secretly allowing British antisubmarine aircraft to overflow northwestern Ireland) to the point of De Valera sending his condolences to the German ambassador when Hitler commited suicide. In 1949 the Irish government officially declared itself the Republic of Ireland.

    This fortunate outcome was possible for several reasons. First, there was partition and the Anglo-Irish had Ulster to flee to. Second, pressuring Anglo-Irish landlords and other Protestants in the Free State to leave kept the IRA occupied for two decades. Third, De Valera was ruthless in suppressing the IRA during World War II through internment. Fourth, because Ireland maintained correct legal relations with Britain it was able to gradually free itself from the restrictions imposed by London in the December 1921 peace treaty that ended the Irish War of Independence.

    If the PLO under Arafat had taken a similar approach in 2000, Palestine could be in the first decade of independence with it well on its way to gradually easing some of the restrictions on Palestinian sovereignty. I write some, because limitations on the Palestinian armed forces would probably have to remain for several decades if not forever.

    In Northern Ireland the Catholic minority suffered because Ireland foolishly maintained legal claims, which it had no intention of implementing, to the territory of Northern Ireland. The Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland also boycotted the Stormont parliament periodically and made it easy for the Ulster Unionist Party to maintain its hegemony in Irish politics. In 1998 Ireland gave up its legal claims against Northern Ireland by altering its constitution and a year later the Ulster Unionists went into power sharing with both the SDLP and Sinn Fein. This power sharing only lasted for three years as the IRA failed to promptly disarm as called for in the Good Friday Agreement.

    Peace between Palestine and Israel would also allow Pal. Israelis to work to improve their status within Israel. But just as Ireland remained the most religious and impoverished country in Western Europe for decades, Palestine may remain one of the most religious and impoverished countries in the Arab world.

    This is the basic choice. Israelis are not about to give up their sovereignty. Zionism is a relatively proved hypothesis in academic terms: it diagnosed Jewish statelessness as the reason for anti-semitism and predicted that the situation would get much worse and result in a catastrophe. The prediction came true. Anti-semitism still remains, but that is mainly in the Third World. In political terms the theory is even more successful. This is because its audience are not academics but descendants of Holocaust survivors and of those discriminated against in the Muslim Middle East. The modification that the classic theory needs is the two-state solution. Its modifications and adjustments will occupy future generations.

  8. How long before the Palestinian people come to grips with the Irish model? Does Middle Eastern culture support such a position?

    Does the Arab sense of ‘Honor’ preclude ever settling for less then 100% with a non-muslim party a particularly a party demonized throughout Arabia?

  9. Tom,

    Well said. But time is running out. People have been saying time is running out for years, but now the West Bank is being carved up with roads that are almost exclusively for Jews and more and more checkpoints.

    Shlomi Ben Ami has a good article in The American Prospect (June, 2007) about the failure of bilateral negotiations and the need for a new, bold international effort:

    “Israelis and Palestinians have shown themselves utterly incapable of reconciling themselves to each other’s fundamental needs…

    “..This Gordian knot can no longer be untied; it needs to be cut. The concept of interim agreements has become obsolete. What is called for is a second partition of Palestine under international supervision. Only a reverse engineering, starting at the end and working backward, might still save this effort from irreversable ruin.”

    A Palestinian state protected militarily by an international force that has a temporary, fixed mandate (say, 5 years), a Palestinian state that is no longer constrained by export controls and other economic barriers and has its own modern sea port and airport, a Palestinian state that has territorial contiguity of the sort that Clinton envisioned, need not be a “bantustan.”

  10. Richard,

    There may be no answers to Hamas. There are certainly no good answers.

    But there are clearly no answers unless and until there is a political horizon based on negotiations, and pressure from the Palestinian street and other Arab states isolates Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et. al. After tha bus bombings in ’96, when Arafat cracked down on terrorism, he had support from the vast majority of Palestinians in the OPTs because, at that point, they had not given up on the Oslo process.

    As I noted, there are no good answers. But that doesn’t mean incomplete, flawed answers aren’t worth trying

  11. This is really an academic discussion. Although I personally favor a bi-national state (which is very different from the secular democratic state John S. proposed), I recognize this proposal is not possible under current circumstances, both because of political feasibility and because the spirit of co-existence necessary for such a proposal to work is completely absent. I also don’t see a 2-state solution emerging either. The Palestinian leadership is divided, and Israelis don’t believe peace with Palestinians is possible. If current trends continue, I see continued infighting among Palestinians, more inhumane measures by Israel to control Palestinians, & further radicalization of the Palestinians. I see Palestinian radical groups emerging that will make us nostalgic for Hamas.

    As I mentioned in another blog comment, in the absence of a final resolution, we have to look for ways to substantially mitigate the conflict. I mentioned a 5-year comprehensive ceasfire/ hudna proposal apparently discussed by Hamas & Israeli leaders, the details of which are here:

  12. To continue my post…

    In the long term, once conditions between Palestinians & Israel improves, we need to think creatively about alternative solutions to the conflict. One thing we should keep in mind is that a 2-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders is a relatively recent idea. It was really only in the late 1980’s that it gained acceptance among a significant percentage of both Israelis & Palestinians, and it’s since become the solution that all peace-seeking people have become “locked into”. However, there’s a legitimate question whether partition is the best solution for accommodating both Israeli & Palestinians concerns.

    First, I don’t believe Palestinian refugees will accept any solution that deprives them of a right of return to their original residence; this is one of the major reasons of the breakdown of the peace process in 2000-1. Second, there is the disparity in power between Israel and Palestine. I agree “Bantustan” is too strong a term, and Tom does make some interesting analogies to the Free Irish State. But even with restrictions on its sovereignty lifted, a Palestinian state will be militarily inferior to & economically dependent on Israel. Third, in practical terms, there is a question whether a Palestinian state can accommodate all the refugees; as it is, the Gaza Strip is one of the most overcrowded places in the world. Finally, with Palestinian concerns unfulfilled, Israel will be deprived of the security and acceptance it craves.

    The immediate priority must be on alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians, stopping the violence, and building some modicum of trust between the two parties. Ultimately, I believe that sharing the land of Israel/Palestine provides a more sustainable basis for accommodating both parties’ needs than dividing it.

  13. Hi Dan, et al.

    First, thanks for “plug” as it were and yes, I do intend to continue visiting and participating here. However, right now and probably through July I am very busy (only partially activist related 🙂 so my participation will be limited.

    Anyway, I finally got around to my first article deconstruction on my one state blog if you’re interested:


    Just so you know, I haven’t finished reading all of your papers but I have finished “Israeli Politics as Settler Politics” and “The Native-Fighter Politician.” I’ll share a bit of feedback in email once I finish the third paper.

    John S.

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