One state advocates, how would you get from A to B? –Part 1

In my previous post, I praised Hussein Ibish’s critique of those who support a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response, Adam Horowitz wrote that he found Ibish’s pointed questions to be “boring” because they reprised familiar objections, and because many of his concerns have already been addressed by one state advocates in “creative and interesting ways.”

I thought Ibish was devastating precisely because he summed up crucial questions that, in my judgement, have NOT been answered very well. A number of commentators joined the fray and took a crack at answering Ibish’s questions, including Aryeh Amitay and participants in this blog and MondoWeiss.

Keeping track of the back-and-forth, I realized something that many in the pro-Israel left would not be willing to admit: I have much in common with some–although certainly not all–people in the one state camp. Some of them are people who see no difference between Bibi and Pol Pot, nasty paleo-conservatives and other predictable characters. But others share many values with me. We have the same commitment to ending Palestinian suffering, the same anger at the continuing occupation. Within that group, some understand that Jewish nationalism is a reality that can’t be wished away. They advocate a bi-national solution in which Jewish Israelis would continue to keep their national customs and identity, and –according to some of them– even the idea of a Jewish homeland would not necessarily disappear. In many ways, it is a beguiling notion. They are hearkening back to the ideas of Judah Magnes and Martin Buber and other Zionists who believed a bi-national state was the only way to avoid an ongoing confrontation between two national movements. If I’d been around in the 1920s and 1930s, I’d like to think that I would have found Magnes Zionism to be very attractive.

But this digital conversation has helped me to understand why the gaps between the one-staters and those on the leftward edge of the two state camp are so vast. This is more than a matter of political disagreements. Compared to them, I hold Palestinians much more responsible for the mess both peoples are in. I feel a connection to the Jewish people that some of them find primitive and atavistic (or unpatriotic). But what separates us is something deeper, I think, a difference in mindsets and in our approaches to complex problems, perhaps to life itself.

Ibish is a practical man. He finds the one-staters to be thoroughly impractical. His –and my– bedrock assumption is that the conflict cannot be solved unless large swaths of Israelis and Palestinians agree with the solution. One of his main objections to the one-staters is that they don’t explain how they plan to persuade the Israeli people to discard their national narrative, the mythos they absorbed as kids, the organizing principles of their political identities, and then agree to something entirely different. They don’t offer a practical political path, a means to get from A to B.

Those who argue with him don’t seem to care about the obligation to get from A to B. Their answers are based on what they believe the world should look like, a vision of justice, of wrongs being righted. And so, in recent on-line conversations, they often didn’t answer the questions Ibish was posing; they answered questions that they believed to be more important.

Ibish asked: “what, as a practical matter, does this vision of a single, democratic state offer to Jewish Israelis?”

“Don,” on my blog, responded that: “Palestinians have no obligation, morally, to ask the question. They do have a moral obligation to free themselves.” He also asserted that “Palestinians have no obligation, morally or any other way, to `reach out’ to their oppressors. It is Israelis and diaspora Jews who have a moral obligation to reach out to Palestinians.”

Don completely dismissed or ignored the notion that, if they want to achieve their goals, one-staters have a practical obligation to foster much more support among Jewish Israelis. That is an admittedly extreme example of a mindset that was very common among the one-state proponents responding to Ibish. Their ideas exist in a kind of pristine intellectual space that has no connection to what more than a handful of people actually believe, or could be persuaded to believe, in Israel. For that matter, while there is more support for the one state goal in the territories, most Palestinians don’t endorse it either.

What is most important to the one-staters, at this point, is explaining why the two-state solution won’t work and figuring out and then proclaiming what they believe to be a just and workable alternative. One gets the sense that at least some of them literally believe that is all they need to do, that they have no obligation to do anything other than espouse an ideal in the blogosphere.

Responding to the challenge of explaining how, precisely, to achieve a one state solution, Aryeh Amitay provided a list of what HE wanted the Israelis to do. His first two ideas are:

“1. Cease…all collective punishment to Palestinians, including freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and other common manifestations of occupation. Terrorism will be addressed specifically, without hysteria and without generalizations, as if it were no more than another form of crime in Israel.

2. At first, all Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza will be granted permanent residence in Israel, allowing them to work and trade with Israelis and in Israel.

These and other ideas he suggests are attractive. But he doesn’t even pretend that there is a remote possibility that Israelis would accept them in the forseeable future.

Ibish notes in his book, “Operating strictly at the level of intellectual abstraction, one-state advocates move within a theoretical political space and are unencumbered by the behavior of any political party or grouping…0ne state rhetoric is comforting, ostensibly moral and ethical (although in many cases there is an obvious latent content that is far less lofty), and sheltered from the distasteful realities of actual political conduct.” That habit of mind explains, in a nutshell, why our two camps appear to be speaking entirely different languages.

There is no lack of evidence that the two state solution is in serious trouble. Perhaps the one-staters are right when they say that this trouble is irrevocable. Indeed, it may well be true that neither outcome is feasible. But the question is, which goal is more unlikely? Which goal is within the realm of what is possible?

We’ve got political parties and institutions in both the territories and in Israel working for similar, if not identical goals. We’ve got a corpus of international law that supports two states, the readiness of the international community to put its resources behind a concrete two state solution, a promising peace initiative from the Arab states. We’ve got the support, in principle, of majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians for similar, if not identical, goals. We’ve got at least a few promising precedents, such as the evacuation of settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

We might not have enough. But all they’ve got are ideas and ideals that have no chance of affecting the current, gritty, sad reality of the conflict. Which horse should Palestinians and Israelis be betting on?

Comments are closed.