American Jews Far left Israel Palestinians Zionism

More conversations about one state vs. two states

All right, let’s say you believe everything about Israel is worthy of contempt and insult, and the Jews should never have set foot in Palestine, and the whole Zionist enterprise must be halted.

So what do you want to do? Short of throwing out millions of Israeli Jews by force (which, of course, is an option that has its adherents on the blogosphere), what’s your plan? If you believe a two-state solution will keep intact a majority-Jewish entity that has no right to exist, the only other option is a bi-national, unitary state. So, how do you get there, my lefty friends? What would it look like?

If you dive in and follow the conversations between respondents to my previous post ( “The Price of Demonization,”) you will find a long, fascinating, impassioned exchange of ideas, mostly between between “John S.” (an American Jew who advocates a 1-state solution) and Richard Witty (a 2-state advocate).

John is one of the more articulate defenders of the 1-state idea that I have encountered, and the fact that he insisted that his position is an extension of his Jewish identity is worth noting. I think Richard (and, sometimes, Dan Fleshler) did a good job of showing why this idea is thoroughly impractical, and that those who advocate it are doing more harm than good to the victims of occupation. I won’t paraphrase. Look for yourself. One comment I made to John S, however, is worth repeating:

Leaving aside whether what you say is either right or practical, it is the product of an American Jewish man who is, in no uncertain terms, telling the Palestinians what is best for them.

It is one thing to tell Israelis to renounce their core identity and give up everything except some sort of vaguely defined Jewish-Israeli culture that you seem certain –based on no evidence–will be preserved, somehow. It is quite another to tell Palestinians that the two-state goal they have been pursuing for decades is not worth pursuing.

It is as if, in the comfort of your home, you were reading about migrant farm workers making demands of Company X in the subtropics, and telling them, “No, you should not be demanding so little. You should be demanding more! I know what’s best for you. I know Company X. You’ve been living in the subtropics with Company X for decades now, and I’ve been watching this struggle from far away in America, but I know that you should not settle for an imperfect solution. You should hold out for something more because, based on my reading of the history of the German confederation and other nation-state formations in Europe, I am confident that I have the answer…and Sari Nusseibah, and Faisal Husseini (may he rest in peace), and Yasser Abed-Rabbo and all of your other moderate leaders have not come up with it.”

…There is, as I understand it, a very tiny one-state movement that shares your views in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, mostly among academics. Why do you think this movement has not caught on? Are the Palestinian people too short-sighted to understand that the half-loaf is worse than the full loaf?

…I am not quite sure how to characterize your attitude, but it does not seem to be taking the clear-cut wishes of the victims into account, due to your absolute certainty that you know their “oppressors” better than they do.

Another set of conversations about possible solutions has been happening on Leonard Fein’s blog, on the APN website for quite some time. His latest, “On the Anniversary of Israel’s Independence” sparked comments from some very learned men on various, possible, eventual arrangements between Israelis and Palestinians. Some of them are in the camp that believes a 2-state solution should only be a temporary fix, and that eventually some other configuration will be needed if Israel wants to retain any moral compass.

One respondent, Tom Mitchell, was skeptical. He noted:

I believe that other solutions besides the two-state solution must be looked at BEFORE they can be dismissed as drivel. Partition as a solution to ethnic and national conflicts has gotten a bad name in the 20th century due to Ireland in 1921-22, South Asia in 1947 and Palestine in 1948. But few consider or are aware of the record of failures that has been power sharing in ethnic conflicts outside of Europe.

The leading theorist of power sharing, Arend Lijphart (a Dutch-American political scientist who is based in San Diego) based his theory of “consociational democracy” on only four cases in Western and Central Europe: Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Only two of these four–Belgium and Switzerland–involved an ethnic conflict. The other two involved either sectarian or ideological conflict…

…Attempts at implementing consociational power sharing have failed in Cyprus, Lebanon, Malaysia, Northern Ireland (twice), and Nigeria. Most of these Third World attempts took place after 1948 so that there were few experiences for Zionist leaders to go on other than their own experience living with Arabs in Mandatory Palestine for thirty years. That experience was not a promising one.

Similarly, in one of the comments, Fein expressed impatience with dialogue and speculation about “what might yet be in some distant future.” He wrote:

. For better or for worse, the situation is what it is. There is no significant disposition on either side to recognize the national claims of the other within a unitary state, and the consociational model has about as much relevance, given the bloody history of the relationship, as does my bathtub.

For a fascinating and quite brilliant exposition of the Belgian case and an explicit comparison of Belgium to Israel/Palestine, see the essay by Robert Mnookin in the 2007 issue of Deadelus. Mnookin’s conclusion?

“A single state solution–with some sort of consociational federal, or confederal, regime–does not provide a model for a stable long-term solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even assuming (as I do not) that it would somehow be acceptable to the parties.

“In circumstances where there has been a protracted history of ethnic violence between two peoples of roughly equal population, where their economic circumstances are profoundly different, where there are deep internal divisions within each community, and where there is no cadre of experienced leaders with constituents willing to accept collaborative problem solving, such a regime is unlikely to provide an arrangement for an enduring peace.”

That is why most of the world, including most people in the Balkans, thought that the only way to bring peace to that region in the 1990s was to divide it into what are essentially ethnic states. Restoring them into one polity and returning to the days of artificial Yugoslavian unity (which was made possible only by totalitarian dictat, under Tito) would have meant endless bloodshed and strife and torment. I am afraid the same thing applies to the current situation of Israelis and Palestinians in what was once Mandatory Palestine.

I have yet to hear any advocates of a unitary, bi-national state provide a good answer to the objections noted above. Even if you think it is the right thing to do, it is an impractical and dangerous thing to try to do. So, as I’ve written repeatedly, you are not doing Palestinians any favors by advocating it.

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