Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Realism' for fantasists: one state, two states, and Palestine

We keep hearing that a two-state solution for the Israel/Palestine conflict is 'dead' or 'an illusion'. The way forward, we're told, leads to a single state in Palestine. This line was featured in a New York Times op-ed by Ian S. Lustick.   It had already gained sanctity from the endorsement of Tony Judt and some expatriate Palestinian academics.  If only the Palestinians who must live in the occupied territories had the luxury of immersing themselves in such fantasies!

There is a tiny grain of truth in the 'one-state' blather.  Negotiations for an independent Palestinian state won't go anywhere in the foreseeable future.  This lends initial plausibility to the idea that 'the two-state solution' is dead.  But this appearance of plausibility rests on a non-sequitur.  Negotiations, successful or unsuccessful, are of course not a 'solution', nor does anyone think that.  The 'solution'  referred to is an independent Palestinian state.  But the emergence of such a state does not require negotiation; it only requires Israeli withdrawal.  So it does not follow that the failure of negotiations excludes the emergence of independent Palestinian state.  So it does not follow that the failure of negotiations means the failure of 'the two-state solution'.

The one-staters' sophistry finds company in the bogus 'alternatives' they offer.  These resurrect, in one form or another, the tired idea of a binational state.  Binationalism went nowhere in the 1930s and is far, far less plausible today.

Are Israelis meant to have some incentive to destroy their current state and embrace binationalism?  One 'reason' offered is that Israel is in some portentous, usually cultural sense, 'doomed'.  Why anyone other than a terminally idealistic Zionist or obsessive philo-semite should give a shit whether Israel is doomed in this sense is beyond me.  Israel is about as un-doomed as a country can be.  Far from being an American client, as Chomsky robotically insists, it is one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Israel is all but invulnerable militarily.  It has a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal which, via missiles and submarines, it can deliver destruction anywhere in the world.  It has an extensive satellite network to direct its operations.  It is not only an exporter but an innovative developer of conventional weaponry, from the world's most advanced tank-protection systems to the very latest in fighter electronics.  Many advanced US defence systems use Israeli components.  The Palestinians, in recent years, have proven incapable of presenting the slightest challenge to Israeli security.  Hizbollah, its greatest enemy, is now preoccupied elsewhere, after which it will be in no shape to make Israel do anything at all.  Whatever the future of Syria, the idea that it will continue to be a source of sophisticated weaponry for Hizbollah ia a non-starter.   Israel has already shown in two air strikes on Damascus that it will not tolerate transfers of such equipment, and - now that the EU has declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization - it will have plenty of international support for that objective.  Besides, the Syrian conflict has driven a wedge between Hezbollah and Hamas, its closest ally in Palestine.

Israel's military strength comes with an ace in the hole against economic sanctions.  The world, including Middle Eastern countries, India and China, thirsts for Israeli defense exports, which hardly makes sanctions likely.  But that is not the whole picture.  For years, Israel has held back its most advanced and potentially lucrative products.  Any serious attempt to constrain Israel economically would result in the end of this restraint.  This wouldn't just be a gold mine; it would also constitute the most serious proliferation threat.  Any real economic assault on Israel would therefore be ineffective - and unthinkable.  The boycott movement has scored some successes and makes some sense, because it pressures Israel directly instead of trying to influence feckless Western governments.  But such grass-roots boycotts have never wrought change on their own, and there is no reason to suppose this one will be any different.

Israel is also, for similar reasons, strong politically.  True, it  has essentially lost the battle for world opinion.  Even the US executive branch is fed up with Israel, and Europe has seen Israel's true colours for some time now.  But this doesn't matter in the least because, for the reasons given above, none of these countries poses the slightest threat to Israel nor has any inclination of put serious pressure on Israel.  That is why Israel treats the world with contempt.  It can afford to.

So much for external pressure.  What then of the internal pressures that allegedly kill the two-state solution?

There is the 'demographic bomb';  Palestinians will eventually outnumber Jews in Israel.  It is a miracle of wishful thinking to suppose that this makes a 'one-state' solution anything but less likely.  Jews run Israel and they want to keep it that way.  If the bomb ever explodes, they can avoid its damage.  They can  institute a two-state solution in which the West Bank settlers come to Israel and large numbers of Palestinians are persuaded or 'persuaded' to move to Palestine.  Israel is entirely capable of this response.  One might add that many Israeli Palestinians seem pretty comfortable in the Jewish state and certainly prefer it to a miserable life in the West Bank or, heaven forbid, Gaza.  They don't pose a huge threat.

As for the Jews in Israel, of course there is no support whatever for a one-state solution:  this is  plain fact.  But the Jews control the state.  So there will be no one-state solution unless Jewish support grows exponentially.  But there is no reason for that to happen.  As we've seen, there's no appreciable external threat nor prospect of appreciable external pressure.  Internally, there are some economic problems, but this again is a case for a two-state rather than a one-state solution, because it is expensive and inefficient to maintain and defend hundreds of thousands of spoilt-brat settlers in the West Bank.  Certainly creating a new nation with millions of impoverished Palestinians demanding their rights will never be seen as some sort of economic incentive for a single-state.  As for the idea that such a state has become more likely because Israel is in cultural decline, or has lost its democratic or Zionist vision, that's just infantile.  It is precisely this decline or loss of vision that renders ridiculous the notion that Israelis will abolish their state in a quest for spiritual redemption.  Israeli's don;'t want to be redeemed; that's what the decline is all about.

What Israeli Jews do want, in a big way, is Israel.  Their idea of Israel is inseparable from the reality of Israel- that it is in its structure, purpose and foundations, a Jewish state.  For Israelis, to give up the Jewish state would be to give up Israel:  they have made this more than clear.  So one-staters must commit to the idea that although Israelis don't want to give up the occupied territories, half of what they have, they will give up Israel, all of what they have.  This is madness.

Some suppose that it is now 'impossible' for Israel to give up the occupied territories, because the West Bank settlers are too deeply entrenched.  Nothing supports this nonsense.  The same could have been said  of Gaza, where the settlers after some tough talk and a lot more breast-beating, left like sheep.  In Algeria, settlers were much more deeply entrenched, for far longer, than are the Jews in the West Bank:  they left.  In sub-Saharan Africa, settlers, vowing to fight to the death, have either left or submitted to the rule of the formerly colonized.  The day after Israel withdraws its forces from the occupied territories, the same scenario will play itself out.   This is so obvious one questions the good faith of those who peddle one-state solutions.  After all, the salient feature of these 'solutions' is that they leave the settlers in place,  threatened by at most the vague prospect that someone will eventually get specific about their fate.  How convenient.

In the face of all this, some contrive to dream that somehow, somehow, a single state of peace and love can prevail in Palestine.  They think of South Africa.  The apartheid rĂ©gime in South Africa did not fall because Nelson Mandela filled the land with his spirit.  International pressure played a small part.  A much larger part was Boer fear, after some reverses to Cuban troops in Angola, that the military balance with its neighbours would eventually tilt against South Africa.  The largest part of all was Boer inability to control raging internal violence, both against whites and between Zulus and Xhosa.  Moreover South Africa is a much larger, richer country with plenty of land for all, and most of its non-white population - who vastly outnumber the whites - hasn't been there for thousands of years.  The comparisons with South Africa are valueless.  More appropriate would be a comparison with Lebanon, another small state with antagonistic populations of similar size and a history of armed conflict.  The comparison, drenched with Palestinian blood, is hardly encouraging.   Why would anyone believe that forcing deeply antagonistic populations to coexist within a single state is a recipe for removing the antagonism?

Behind the invocation of South Africa is a blind,  dogmatic sort of faith in non-violence, and a misunderstanding of its very modest achievements.  Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King offer useful tactical lessons to the Palestinians.  If Gandhi played a role in Indian independence, he played a role in ushering in one of the greatest slaughters of modern times, and indeed it was the first stirrings of this slaughter that did much to convince the British it was time to leave.  Martin Luther King achieved much, but only with the armed and active support of the federal government.  Nothing comparable applies to Palestine.

Incredibly, Lustick also offers up Algeria as some sort of lesson in resistance for the Palestinian - as if they had anything like the Algerians' resources.   Though the French did contain the Algerian revolt, the Algerian revolutionaries retained large forces supported by much of the Arab world on Algeria's borders.  Unlike Israel, France was exhausted by the conflict and  no one thought the fight was over.  Unlike Israel, France was torn apart by the most ferocious opposition to the war: in February 1962, Parisians in their hundreds of thousands turned out to bury nine anti-war demonstrators killed by police .  Moreover the French left Algeria in largely because the settlers mounted a military-supported terrorist campaign that had real prospects of toppling the French government in a coup such as nearly succeeded in 1958.   Finally, though Algeria was officially part of France, not one person considered it the French homeland.  Palestinians face far more commitment, unity, and indeed raw power, with far less.

Lustick suggests that eventually a Palestinian state could eventually emerge from a single state as did Ireland from the UK.  Why, you might ask, does he prefer that to having two states without a one-state interval?  apparently because the Irish process was 'organic' as opposed to negotiated by diplomats.(*)  'Organic' in this case seems to mean 'involving centuries of misery and bloody conflict'. Lustick has the long-distance courage to see a slaughter of Palestinians in the occupied territories as progress. He thinks that if negotiations stopped and the PLO collapsed, Israel would have trouble controlling the bloody chaos that ensued, and this would bring an end to US unconditional support for Israel.   But Israel doesn't need unconditional US support, and the idea that America will stand up to bloody repression is truly comical in the midst of the Syrian catastrophe.   However it's nice to see that   And why?  Because Israel will be 'stigmatized'!  Yeah, that'll teach 'em!

No doubt a two-state solution is very unlikely.  The best hope would be that resurgent Arab and Turkish power convinced Israel its occupied territories were more trouble than they were worth.   But if the two-state solution is unlikely, a one-state solution is unlikelier still.  If the Israelis are under little pressure to withdraw from the occupied territories, this will hardly encourage them to give up control of Israel itself.  That some seem to suppose otherwise is only a testimony to rampant self-delusion.


*  Israel's  un-negotiated withdrawals - total from Lebanon, partial from Gaza - don't seem to have made it into Lustick's consciousness.


  1. The better comment on this issue is from Ilan Pappe. See http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36229.htm

    Your analysis simply boils down to "Israel is strong enough to do what it wants, and will do what it wants, and nobody can do anything about it."

    I think you will find history neither static nor predetermined.

  2. While it may be preceded by two states, in the long run, one state is inevitable because both peoples will realize it best serves their common interests.