Originally written by Ernie Halfdram and published on his excellent The Bureau of Counter Propaganda blog in 2007, the essay below really has hardly aged in my opinion. Now READ!
For months I’ve been saying I would write a review of Ali Abunimah’s One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. It’s beginning to look like that won’t happen. In any case, the principal reason I wanted to review it was because I thought it was about time I articulated, all in one place, my critique of the so called ‘two state solution’. I do have a couple of specific criticisms of Abunimah. One of these is that it doesn’t seem to me to be an improvement on Viriginia Tilley’s earlier, more thorough, and more erudite The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock. But that’s not a serious criticism. For one thing, a shorter and less erudite book may have been necessary in an attempt to bring the arguments to a wider audience. Neither book has yet come out in paperback, but One country has an Amazon sales rank (11 June 2007) of 89,830, while Tilley’s book is at 192,900. For another, it is probably important that this time it was a Palestinian, and specifically a child of the Nakba, who made those arguments.
Meanwhile, Pluto Press published yet another book on the subject in February by ex psychiatrist, Joel Kovel, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine. It will probably be some months before I get around to reading Kovel, and maybe this time, I’ll actually review it. I had read some snippets by Kovel somewhere or other not too long ago and recall thinking he was psychologising political matters. Raymond Deane’s review of Overcoming Zionism on the Electronic Intifada, however, said that it expanded on the ideas he first developed in a 2002 article in Tikkun magazine entitled ‘Zionism’s bad conscience’, an article that I found little to differ with.
And now, Zed Books has just published Where Now for Palestine, the Demise of the Two State Solution, a collection of essays edited by Jamil Hilal that was reviewed recently by expatriate Israeli Miko Peled, on The Electronic Intifada. It seems likely that I’ll come back to these issues when I’ve read the latest contributions to the debate. Meanwhile, I consider this a work in progress and welcome comments.
When I write of Palestine, by the way, in case it’s not obvious, I mean the area administered as such under the British League of Nations Mandate between 1923 and 1948 from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, excluding TransJordan. I definitely do not mean the Palestine Authority or the area the PA allegedly administers.
Abunimah draws certain conclusions from the South African experience that buoy his optimism about the potential for a unitary state throughout Palestine and some of these are quite persuasive. A point that comes through very strongly is that even after generations of the most ruthless, selfish, and brutal oppression, dispossessed people have an astonishing capacity for forgiveness. The bloodbath the Boers feared for decades, or at least claimed to fear, never eventuated, even though the Blacks would certainly have been well within their rights to seek some kind of vengeance. However, I think Abunimah glosses over some really significant differences between the situation in Palestine and that that pertained in apartheid South Africa.
Israel is not the first example of a settler colonial state and each has its particularities. But it is possible to distinguish two ‘species’, as Moshe Machover writes, of the ‘genus’ settler colonialism. And this is where the distinction between Israel and apartheid South Africa becomes apparent.
The crucial difference is whether the indigenous population is harnessed as a labour force to be exploited, a source of surplus product; or excluded from the settlers’ economy – marginalized, exterminated or expelled, ethnically cleansed.
South Africa belonged to the former species…a system in which black Africans were the main source of surplus value. Apartheid was a system designed to keep the non-whites at hand, as an essential resource of the economy – but without civil rights. Zionism deliberately, consciously and explicitly chose the other model: use of indigenous labour power was to be avoided. The Palestinian Arabs are not regarded as a useful exploitable source of surplus labour – but are themselves surplus to requirement. They are not needed to be at hand or even at arm’s length, but are to be moved out of the way. They were to be ethnically cleansed or – in Zionist parlance – ‘transferred’.
As Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote in Counterpunch in January
In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel).
The SA economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.
The 1996 South African Census, incidentally, shows that Avnery’s ballpark figures were not far off – 10.9% for ‘White’, 76.7% ‘African/Black’, 8.9% ‘Coloured’, and 2.6% ‘Indian/Asian’ (3.5% including ‘Unspecified Other’).
These two differences are significant. Even if they had wanted to, white South Africans could not have exterminated the more than 36 million Blacks, nor driven them over the border. The creation of the Bantustans was always recognised as a transparent ploy to deprive Black South Africans of political rights within ‘South Africa proper’, while keeping those whose labour they required available. And they did require a great deal of Black labour to do the hard, dirty, dangerous work in the mines and on the farms that underpinned the whole economy.
Clearly in 1948, the Zionists thought they could drive the Palestinian population out and get away with it. And they were right, although they stopped before finishing the job. It remains to be seen whether Israel will succeed in its current campaign of slower, quieter ‘transfer’. Certainly the Israeli economy has very little reliance on indigenous labour. Zionism was founded on the principle, although not the practice, of ‘Hebrew labour’, and has never used indigenous labour very much. According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey Annual Report, between 1999 and 2006 the proportion of employed Palestinians working in Israel and the settlements decreased from 22.9% to 9.6%, suggesting an intention to eliminate Palestinian labour from the economy entirely.
Not only was the Black working class numerically huge and utterly indispensable to the South African economy under apartheid, it was organised. In contrast, the Palestinian working class is marginal to the Israeli economy and unorganised. I would like to think that Abunimah is right and the similarities will outweigh the differences. But in my view, these factors militate very strongly against a resolution to the conflict in Palestine resembling that in South Africa.
The main difference I have with Abunimah, and with Tilley as well, although she is sometimes ambivalent on this point, is that they argue that ‘facts on the ground’ established since the occupation of June 1967 have made a just partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a ‘Palestinian’ state, by which is presumably meant a non Jewish state, an impossibility. My position, in contrast, is that a just partition of Palestine has never been a possibility and indeed, any partition along ethnic or religious lines is inherently unjust.
Any approach that aims to resolve the problems in Palestine through partition starts out from the assumption that one of the two states will be Israel and that Israel will continue to be a specifically Jewish state. Clearly, if in the process of partition or by any other means, Israel were to relinquish its ‘Jewish character’, it would completely obviate the whole motivation for partition. In other words, any two state ‘solution’ assumes that a Jewish state in Palestine is either desirable or at the very least a fait accompli that we have to live with. The point of any version of a two state ‘solution’, therefore, is to preserve the ‘Jewish character’ of Israel.
We often hear formulations like ‘Israel has a right to exist’ or ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’. Indeed, since the election of the Hamas ‘government’ of the PA in January 2006, and the consequent strangulation of the PA, one of the Quartet’s principal demands has been that Hamas formally recognise this. So it has received considerable press coverage. Jonathan Cook’s ‘The Recognition Trap’ in Counterpunch last December emphasises
In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel's character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory.
John V. Whitbeck’s ‘What 'Israel's right to exist' means to Palestinians’ in the Christian Science Monitor in February also provides a cogent analysis.
To demand that Palestinians recognize "Israel's right to exist" is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians' acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them.
Nevertheless, promotion of a two state ‘solution’ inevitably presupposes acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. And this in turn has further implications.
I think it goes without saying, but there does seem to be considerable confusion about the issue, of what it means for Israel to exist. And what it means is specifically to exist as a Jewish state. It simply makes no sense to speak of a Jewish state that does not privilege Jews or Judaism in some way. Even if the form this privilege took were entirely trivial, like the name of the state or the design of the flag, it would still slight and offend those not so privileged.
In conception and implementation, a Jewish state embraces inequality and is therefore inherently undemocratic. Clearly, Israel exhibits the forms of democracy, at least at a superficial level. All Israeli citizens have the right to vote for their representatives in the Knesset, for example. But a number of factors show that Israeli ‘democracy’ is not really democratic, as many who support its existence understand the term. Perhaps most important from this perspective is that Members of the Knesset and their parties are required to commit themselves to the oxymoron that Israel is and ought to be Jewish and democratic. Furthermore, systematic inequities exist in distribution of access to government jobs and services. Significantly, the spouses and families of Jewish Israelis are entitled to Israeli citizenship while those of Palestinian Israelis are not. Israel’s 1950 Law of return provides that ‘Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.’
So the first point is that to support a two state ‘solution’ in Palestine, which as I said means accepting the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, requires an implicit endorsement of an undemocratic state privileging some people over others on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Most of those who support partition of Palestine do not agree with this in principle. Even the media, which are pleased to characterise Israel as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, at the same time denigrate Iran and Pakistan as Islamic states. Where this leads is to the dilemma that to call for a solution to the Palestine problem that incorporates the persistence of a Jewish state means either endorsing the principle of undemocratic ethnocracy, or the even more bizarre position of condemning ethnocracy in principle, but accepting it in just this one case. In practice, usually the latter. In other words, one logical consequence of support for partition is acceptance of at least one, and probably two or more, sectarian states.
But it goes beyond just being undemocratic. Because the Jewish state necessarily privileges Jews as an ethnicity, it is also inherently racist.
Curiously, it was not until 1970 that the Law of return was amended to define Jew.
For the purposes of this Law, "Jew" means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.
While it also provides for recognition of converts as Jews on the basis of religion, the basic principle is descent, irrespective of religious belief or practice or membership of a religious community. In other words, it establishes a racial category.
The same 1970 amendment also vests ‘the rights of a Jew’ ‘in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.’
While it may be, as some have argued, that the vesting of the rights of a Jew in these populations is strictly a humanitarian measure, there is a striking resemblance between them and those defined as Jewish and ‘of mixed Jewish blood’ under the November 1935 First Supplementary Decree to the Nazi Nuremburg Laws.
ARTICLE 5 (1) A Jew is an individual who is descended from at least three grandparents who were, racially, full Jews... (2) A Jew is also an individual who is descended from two full-Jewish grandparents if: (a) he was a member of the Jewish religious community when this law was issued, or joined the community later; (b) when the law was issued, he was married to a person who was a Jew, or was subsequently married to a Jew; (c) he is the issue from a marriage with a Jew, in the sense of Section I, which was contracted after the coming into effect of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor of September 15, 1935; (d) he is the issue of an extramarital relationship with a Jew, in the sense of Section I, and was born out of wedlock after July 31, 1936.
ARTICLE 2. (1) The provisions of Article I shall apply also to subjects who are of mixed Jewish blood. (2) An individual of mixed Jewish blood is one who is descended from one or two grandparents who, racially, were full Jews, insofar that he is not a Jew according to Section 2 of Article 5. Full-blooded Jewish grandparents are those who belonged to the Jewish religious community.
What makes the Nuremburg Laws racist is that they provide for the systematic oppression of a group identified on the basis of real or imagined descent. It is crucial to understand that race is not a biological category, but one constructed by the racist on a social basis and imbued with pseudobiological meaning. Race is a phenomenon that only exists insofar as the racist defines it and deploys it. Racists may decide to identify the target race on the basis of any arbitrary characteristic: skin colour; eye, lip, head, or nose shape; hair characteristics; language; cultural practices; surname; religious observance, or indeed, religious observance of forebears.
Although the intent was a category defined strictly in terms of descent, religion was used as a proxy marker of descent two generations back. The Nazis didn’t just pretend Jews were a racial group. By identifying Jews as a race, they created the race. That’s as real as race gets as a category. It doesn’t matter what markers the racist claims to use in identifying members of a race. What makes it a race is not the markers, but the racism. Just like any other kind of racism, it is based on the racists’ perception of race as a biological category.
The Law of Return identifies a Jewish race on much the same basis as the Nuremburg Laws. The intention in this case however is not to oppress but to privilege Jews, and concomitantly, to discriminate against non Jews living in the Jewish state.
So, in supporting a two state ‘solution’, which, as I think I’ve demonstrated, entails accepting a Jewish state in some meaningful sense, it becomes necessary to embrace racism, again, either as a general principle, or just in this one case.
As Joseph Massad explained in al Ahram in April,
…Zionism and Israel are very careful not to generalise the principles that justify Israel's need to be racist but are rather vehement in upholding it as an exceptional principle. It is not that no other people has been oppressed historically, it is that Jews have been oppressed more…
By Zionism, I mean the belief that a Jewish state – a state that privileges Jews in some meaningful sense – is a good idea and has a ‘right to exist’. It arises from the premise that all Jews have common interests, that all non Jews have opposing interests, and that Jews and non Jews cannot join forces to combat anti-Semitism.
Zionism assumes that anti-Semitism will inevitably arise wherever Jews live among non Jews.
The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized--for instance, France--until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.
That’s how Theodor Herzl, ‘the father of Zionism’, put it in his seminal 1896 work, Der Judenstadt.
In some versions, anti-Semitism is actually hardwired into gentiles – Moses Hess, for example, writes of the Germans’ ‘inborn racial antagonism to the Jews’ (Rome & Jerusalem, 1862). A formulation like this implies a very strong version of biological determinism, but ultimately, that is where Zionism leads. If anti-Semitism were really just a social phenomenon, then there would be viable social approaches to its eradication and there would be no necessity for Jews to isolate ourselves from non Jews. So to adopt the Zionist position as I’ve defined it, which support for partition requires, also means adoption of a biological determinist position.
In this respect, Zionism counterposes itself directly to the socialist principle of class solidarity. Specifically, Jewish employees have interests in common with their Jewish employer that they do not have in common with their non Jewish coworkers. It fosters the illusion of alliance between classes whose interests are directly contradictory and the illusion of division between those with common material interests.
To be fair, in more recent times, some have recast the justification in terms of nations’ right to self determination. The French have a right to self determination in France, so why shouldn’t the Jews be entitled to exercise the same right in Palestine.
There are a number of rejoinders to this argument. One of them is that the Jews per se do not possess any of the usual defining characteristics of a nation, like a common language, residence on a contiguous territory, and so forth. It is of course significant that this state of affairs came about through millennia of oppression and dispersion and is not our fault, but that doesn’t change the current situation. More importantly, even if the Jews were in fact the kind of group that had a right to exercise self determination, it is preposterous to suggest that it could be exercised in a territory in which another nation is transparently entitled to do so and specifically at their expense.
Wherever a Jewish state was established it would have to displace somebody. Although primarily a secular ideology, Zionism has always preferred Palestine on the grounds that in Jewish scripture a supernatural being gave the mythical ancestor of the Jews the right to take that land from the indigenous Canaanites by military conquest. As Ilan Pappé has said, ‘Zionists don’t believe in god, but they believe god gave them Palestine.’ Or words to that effect. As Golda MeirLe Monde on 15 October 1971,
"This country exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask it to account for its legitimacy."
In this context, colonisation is not in our interests. Colonisation can only mean the oppression of the colonised. Our movement benefits from the success of those fighting colonial oppression and suffers from their defeats.
Supporters of Israel will sometimes argue that Zionism is nothing like colonialism, per se, as there is no metropolitan country directing the colonisation for its own benefit. This is doubtless the case. But it doesn’t actually change anything. It’s just a casuistical semantic trick. From the perspective of the colonised people, if Zionism is not colonisation, it is in any case indistinguishable from it – ‘a distinction without a difference’. Furthermore, Herzl, who coincidentally just happens to refer to the process in Der Judenstadt as ‘colonization’, and other early Zionists sought support from the Kaiser and other potential colonial patrons quite explicitly on the grounds that economic benefits would indeed accrue to the European sponsors of Zionism.
The Society of Jews will treat with the present masters of the land, putting itself under the protectorate of the European Powers, if they prove friendly to the plan. We could offer the present possessors of the land enormous advantages, assume part of the public debt, build new roads for traffic, which our presence in the country would render necessary, and do many other things.
…A great period of prosperity would commence in countries which are now Anti- Semitic. For there will be, as I have repeatedly said, an internal migration of Christian citizens into the positions slowly and systematically evacuated by the Jews…
The States would have a further advantage in the enormous increase of their export trade; for, since the emigrant Jews "over there" would depend for a long time to come on European productions, they would necessarily have to import them…
They would also derive strategic benefits.
… We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence…
And social benefits, not least that they would be shed of the Jews.
Another, and perhaps one of the greatest advantages, would be the ensuing social relief. Social dissatisfaction would be appeased during the twenty or more years which the emigration of the Jews would occupy, and would in any case be set at rest during the whole transition period. (Der Judenstadt)
So embracing the two state ‘solution’ also entails an implicit endorsement of colonialism. And not just any kind of colonialism, but specifically settler colonialism. The objective was not to administer Palestine from afar, as the British did in India, for example. It was always to settle as many Jews as possible in Palestine to achieve a Jewish majority and in Herzl’s version and most others, a sovereign Jewish state.
Until the Holocaust, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe never considered Palestine a desirable destination. But by 1947, immigration still only brought the Jewish population up to about a third of the 2 million living in Palestine. With immigration failing to create the desired majority, the alterative was ‘transfer’, or ‘ethnic cleansing’ as it known nowadays.
The idea was not new – Herzl mentioned it in his diary entry for 12 June 1895.
We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries whilst denying it any employment in our own country…Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. [Benny Morris, Righteous victims, pp. 21-22]
…a gradual infiltration of Jews…is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened…
Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians traces the history of the idea of ‘transfer’, as well as explicit decisions not to articulate ‘the Arab problem’. In November 1917, prominent British Zionist Israel Zangwill wrote
…the Arabs had read my article in Pearson’s Magazine, in which I pointed out the difficulty in the existence of the Arab population in the Land of Israel…and this caused much agitation among them. Now the Zionists asked me not to raise the question and I agreed for the time being. [cited in Masalha, p. 17]
Vladimir Jabotinsky’s seminal 1923 article, ‘The iron wall’, was absolutely clear that there was no possibility of the Palestinians voluntarily relinquishing control over their land.
I repudiate this conception of the Palestinian Arabs [as fools]…We may tell them whatever we like about the innocence of our aims, watering them down and sweetening them with honeyed words to make them palatable, but they know what we want, as well as we know what they do not want. They feel at least the same instinctive jealous love of Palestine, as the old Aztecs felt for ancient Mexico, and the Sioux for their rolling Prairies.
And there is no longer any doubt, if there ever was, that there was an explicit plan. On 10 March 1948, David Ben-Gurion and his closest advisors, ‘the Consultancy’, finalised ‘Plan Dalet’, to rid the country of its indigenous population. Ilan Pappé’s recent book, The ethnic cleansing of Palestine, identifies documents that confirm the plan’s existence and implicate those who formulated and carried it out. He also argues that Plan Dalet meets all the criteria attributed to the crime against humanity of ethnic cleansing, as defined by the UN, the US State Department, and others.
So the two state ‘solution’ also implies acceptance of ethnic cleansing as a strategy of nation building, at least in this case.
The number of Arabs forced to flee the area that became Israel has always been contentious, but the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates it as about 711,000. On 11 December 1948, the UN General Assembly resolved, among other things
…that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return… (UNGA Resolution 194, Article 11)
Sixty years down the track, some of these people are still alive. Together with their descendants, according to UNRWA, as of 31 March 2006, they comprised 4,375,050 refugees, all of whom are entitled to return to the homes they fled within the Green Line if justice is to be served. Nobody knows how many would exercise the right of return, but if all 4.375 million returned, joining the 1.423 million already living there at the end of March 2007 according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics Monthly Bulletin of Statistics No. 4/2007, they would outnumber the 5.408 million Jews by 390,000, eliminating the Jewish majority.
This is one of the reasons Israel has always rejected the refugees’ right of return outright as ‘national suicide’. Without a Jewish majority, the Jewish state would no longer have any meaning, at least if it were going to be a recognisable functioning democracy. And without a Jewish state in Israel, there is no longer any reason to partition Palestine, obviating the two state solution entirely.
So an acceptance of the two state ‘solution’ implies a rejection of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, once again suggesting embrace of either a principle that refugees, indeed any kind of absentee, are not entitled to return to their homes, or a special exception in the case of the victims of the Nakba.
To summarise then, support for partition of Palestine – the two state ‘solution’ – entails acceptance of the fundamental Zionist principle that one of those states should be a Jewish state with a robust Jewish majority. To accept the Jewish state implies embrace of:
· An undemocratic ethnoreligiously exclusive state, an ethnocracy;
· Biological determinism;
· Ethnic cleansing; and
· Permanent exile of absentees and expropriation of absentees’ property.
It goes without saying that these principles are directly antithetical to the kind of principles that support class solidarity, or even bourgeois liberalism. The alternative is to claim to reject these principles except in the case of Israel and brand oneself a hypocrite.
This is the principal reason there has never been a possibility of partitioning Palestine and arriving at a just outcome – it requires acceptance of abominable principles or gross hypocrisy. That is why I insist on enclosing ‘solution’ in quotes – the two state ‘solution’ solves nothing.
Furthermore, a Jewish settler colony in Palestine serves the interests of imperialism and consequently conflicts with the interests of workers everywhere, including, significantly, Jewish workers in Israel itself. A recent petition of Israeli citizens launched by the Alternative Information Center supporting an economic and cultural boycott of Israel makes the connection explicit.
the connections between the violent oppression of the Palestinians in the OPT, and the oppression of the working poor, women, immigrant workers, the unemployed, Arabs, and other minority groups within Israel. The ongoing conflict in the region prevents Israeli workers from effectively mobilizing against neo-liberal reforms and an accelerated process of privatization, under the guise of an ongoing state of emergency in which national security always take precedence…
Apart from these points, Abunimah and Tilley argue that the construction of the extensive permanent network of Israeli roads and settlements ensures that, even if I am right and there was never any realistic possibility of a just partition, there certainly not such a possibility anymore. For the last four decades every Israeli government, Labour or Likud, has quite consciously and explicitly expanded these ‘facts on the ground’. Whether they admitted it openly or not, the objective was precisely to preclude a return to the Green Line or anywhere near it. The Oslo ‘peace process’ only accelerated the building.
"Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours...Everything we don't grab will go to them."
Ariel Sharon, then Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998
At some level of abstraction, one could argue that the settlements can all be dismantled, or indeed turned over to the Palestinian state, and the settlers resettled within ‘Israel proper’ and compensated. But concretely, this is not possible. Nearly 10% of Israel’s Jewish population, over 400,000 people now live in the West Bank. Among them are many of the most militant fanatics. They believe that they have a divine mission to ‘redeem Eretz Yisrael’. They are motivated by loyalty to a ‘higher power’ than the mere state. And they are quite prepared to die, and kill, for their principles. Not only are they willing to use violence, they are trained and equipped to do so. Even if they were non-violent, as were their counterparts in Gaza, the Jewish population of Israel, and the world, for that matter, simply will not tolerate the use of force to remove nearly half a million Jews under any circumstances. Some of them were born there and many have children who were born there. Even if they moved to the settlements for the financial incentives offered by the state and other parastatal instrumentalities concerned with Judaising ‘Judea and Samaria’, many settlers have put down roots and would resist evacuation.
But this is all in the realm of fantasy, anyway. Without engaging in considerable self deception, it is nigh impossible even to imagine that Israel has clung to the territories for forty years, pouring in billions upon billions of dollars in infrastructure, with the intention of leaving. Even if there were the slightest plausibility to that illusion, surely the Oslo ‘peace process’ would have at least slowed construction sometime in the fourteen years since 1993 if they had any intention of ever withdrawing to the Green Line.
In his letter to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon of 14 April 2004, for example, US President George W Bush wrote
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
The fundamental problem with this approach is that, even if the Palestinians were to agree to the envisaged ‘changes’, they would still represent a reward to Israel for its intransigence over four decades. The message is, it is not legitimate to acquire territory by force and the Fourth Geneva Convention makes specific provisions against settling populations in occupied territory.
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
But if you can do it for long enough, then it’s ok.
More importantly, assuming there were some instrumentality that could negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians, it is decidedly unrealistic to expect them to be willing to agree to the kinds of border adjustments that the placement of Israeli Jewish only settlements in the West Bank suggest that Israel would demand. So ‘mutually agreed changes’ are not necessarily a likely eventuality.
Even if the Palestinians were prepared to agree to an exchange of territory, and even if the exchange were of land of equal value and area, it is almost inevitable that Israel would seek to transfer areas like the Little Triangle, the Galilee, and the Bedouin areas with high densities of Israeli Arab population. While many liberals and ‘progressive Zionists’ condemn the Lieberman Plan, as it is known, they have not proposed alternative areas of ‘Israel proper’ that they would be prepared to part with in the land swap. It’s only fair, after all. They are Palestinians, so they should live in ‘Palestine’. And it just coincidentally alleviates the demographic pressure on Israel’s coveted Jewish majority. Obviously, the Israeli government is competent to negotiate the status of the Palestinian Israeli citizens who live in the areas to be exchanged.
Advocates of the two state ‘solution’ often assert that unification of Palestine as a secular democracy, or even a binational state, is an unrealistic pipedream. In April, Uri Avnery, an advocate of partition, wrote
The Zionist Left has indeed collapsed in the last few years, and its absence from the field of struggle is a painful and dangerous fact. In today's Knesset, there is no effective Zionist party that is seriously fighting for real equality for the Arab citizens. Nobody is able today to call out into the street hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands, in order to pressure the government to accept the peace proposal of the whole Arab world.
There is no doubt that the real disease is not the 40-year long occupation. The occupation is a symptom of a more profound disease, which is connected with the official ideology of the state. The aim of ethnic cleansing and the establishment of a Jewish State from the sea to the river is dear to the hearts of many Israelis, and perhaps Rabbi Meir Kahane was right when he asserted that this is everybody's unspoken desire.
On the surface, it appears that we have failed. We have not succeeded in compelling our government to stop the building of the wall or the enlargement of the settlements, nor to restore to the Palestinians their freedom of movement. In short, we have not succeeded in putting an end to the occupation. The Arab citizens of Israel have not attained real equality.
Because of Israeli racism and intransigence, the only practical solution is partition. In fact, it is largely because of that very racism and intransigence that partition can never work. Anyone who believes that an independent Palestinian state bordering Israel will be able to develop free of Israeli interference might consider how free of Israeli interference the independent country to the north has been over the last three decades, notwithstanding the UN peacekeeping forces stationed there.
They often speak of a requirement for contiguity in the Palestinian state. In his April 2004 letter, Bush, a strong advocate of the two state ‘solution’, wrote
…the United States supports the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent, so that the Palestinian people can build their own future…
In reality, of course, a contiguous Palestinian state has never been possible. It’s as if they had forgotten that some 30km of Israeli territory will separate the northeast corner of the Gaza Strip from the nearest point in the West Bank. In any two state arrangement, an intransigent Israel could cut the vulnerable corridor and isolate the ‘independent’ Palestinians from each other as easily as they have since November 2005, when they specifically undertook not to in the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA).
In the last few days, a new idea has emerged – the ‘three state solution’. In a 12 June article in the Forward, Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, recommends establishment of two Palestinian states, one in Gaza and one in the West Bank. He acknowledges that
Gaza is a godforsaken piece of land that has almost nothing to recommend it. Not only is it the most densely populated area in the world, but it also contains a higher percentage of penniless refugees living in squalid, overcrowded camps. Socially and economically, Gaza is less developed than the West Bank.
Obviously, his concern is neither justice nor viability. Indeed, what recommends the ‘three state solution’ to him is that it indefinitely removes the refugees from the agenda.
Neither Fatah nor Hamas would be able to speak — or even claim to speak — for the Palestinian people as a whole. Unable to speak for the Palestinian people as a whole, each of the two will find it easier, if not to stop insisting on the right of return, at least to put it aside for the time being.
So for those who do claim to want a meaningful form of self determination for the Palestinians, we can safely relegate van Creveld’s plan to the circular file.
Among those arguing for a two state ‘solution’ are Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine and Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. In their 31 May Boston Globe article, ‘A two-state solution is still the way’, they argue
It's a matter of real, feasible opportunities, which can make compromise easier for both sides.
The two-state solution stipulates a historic compromise, a grand deal that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians have repeatedly said they support. It involves an end to Israeli territorial claims in the West Bank and an end to Palestinian claims inside Israel.
It requires a Palestinian recognition that those refugees from the 1948 war choosing to return will largely do so to a new Palestinian state rather than to what is now Israel, and an Israeli recognition that a fulfillment of the right they believe they have to settle in the West Bank will be either in a Palestinian state or as part of a negotiated minor West Bank land swap. It requires complex compromise formulas to both divide and share the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, to divide and share resources such as water.
Their commonsensical approach presupposes that sensible peace loving people like themselves can determine what it befits the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 to accept. They are competent to determine who shall represent the refugees as well as the residents of the Occupied Territories. It goes without saying that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are adequately represented by ‘their’ government. And they lay claim to a realistic perspective!
Moshe Machover sums up the argument against partition
In these circumstances any ‘two-state settlement’ is bound to be a travesty: not two real sovereign states (let alone two equal ones) but one powerful Israeli state dominating a disjointed set of Palestinian enclaves similar to Indian Reservations, policed by corrupt elites acting as Israel’s proxies. This was the real prospect even under the Oslo Accords of 1993; and since then the situation has deteriorated much further, with the virulent malignant metastasis of Israeli colonization, and the weakening of the Palestinian Authority under Israeli pounding and international strangulation.
I have argued that Israeli attitudes that proponents of partition claim make a unified democratic secular state unrealistic also make a truly economically and politically viable Palestinian state equally unrealistic. People like Avnery are wrong to think there is a just two state ‘solution’. But the question remains, are they right about the one state solution?
Avnery writes, ‘There is no doubt that 99.99% of Jewish Israelis want the State of Israel to exist as a state with a robust Jewish majority, whatever its borders’. That means there would have to be about 540 Israeli Jews who disagreed, and that might be just about right, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the number was even smaller than that.
Opinion polls consistently show deep hostility and distrust towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, with 18% expressing deep hatred for Israeli Arabs and 40% saying they should leave Israel. Moshe Machover, again
Faced with the evident present infeasibility of an equitable two-state setup, many people of genuine goodwill have reverted to the ‘one-state’ formula. This is, abstractly speaking, an attractive proposition. The trouble with it, however, is that a truly equal one-state setup is no more feasible in the short or medium term than an equal two-state one – and for exactly the same reason. Given the actual imbalance of power, a single state embracing the whole of Palestine will be no better than an extension of direct Israeli military occupation and subjugation.
…A genuine resolution of the conflict will become possible in the longer term, given a change in the present balance of power. It is impossible to foresee exactly how this change may come about. But it seems quite certain that it will not be confined to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, while all else remains as it is: it will necessarily involve tectonic movements in the entire region, as well as international global shifts.
People have often argued that the solution to the Palestine issue would be part of a pan Arab revolt. Machover writes of ‘a radical-progressive social, economic and political transformation of the Arab East, leading to a degree of unification of the Arab nation – most likely in the form of regional federation.’ In my view, such an eventuality has been off the agenda for quite some time – ‘It has not as yet recovered from the defeat of secular Arab nationalism’. More recently, however, there are glimmers of a revival in self activity among the Arab workers, especially in Egypt. Unfortunately, at this point, the bulk of the resistance to imperialism and to the corrupt and authoritarian regimes of the Arab world is Islamist in character. While I certainly would not rule a regional conflagration out, it seems to me that the kind of insurrection in the Arab world that can deliver a just outcome in Palestine will only occur in a context where the working class has started to take the offensive globally.
Clearly one prerequisite for any just solution in Palestine is going to be either the eclipse of US hegemony in the region, or the withdrawal of its openhanded support for Israel. Machover concludes on a guardedly hopeful note.
While there are few grounds for immediate optimism, there are some hopeful signs pointing to the longer term. American economic and political power, outwardly robust, is beset with symptoms of decline. US Military power is of little avail and is overreaching itself. Meantime, a new radical progressive counter-globalization movement is gathering momentum in parts of the Third World. It is yet to take off in the Arab East. But much depends on all of us.
Proponents of partition are right that, as Ilan Pappé put it on Flashpoints on 18 May 2007, ‘Israelis are willing to face 67… Liberal Israelis… conscientious Israelis…Nobody in Israel is willing to face 48’. This is a real obstacle for the one state solution. Advocates of the one state solution are right, too, partition embroils its supporters in endorsing positions they reject. There has never been a realistic prospect of a truly viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza without an unimaginable volte face on the part of Israel and Israeli Jews. Even if there had been, the settlement project has both rendered it permanently moot and demonstrated Israel’s true intention never to relinquish the West Bank. Neither outcome is feasible in the short term.
What we probably will see, once the Wall completely encircles the parts of the West Bank without a Jewish population, is a unilateral ‘withdrawal’ and annexation of the ‘settlement blocs’ and the Jordan Valley. The objective would be to replicate the situation we are witnessing in Gaza.
Those who struggle for justice in Palestine need to be clear about these things. In particular, we need to avoid implying support for ethnic cleansing, ethnocracy, racism, and colonialism. We need to take a strong stance in support of the refugees’ right of return and we need to insist on all steps that will alleviate the immediate suffering of the Palestinians in the territories. In particular, withdrawal of Israeli troops, removal of roadblocks, checkpoints, and the wall. We have to demand an end to house demolitions and ‘targetted assassinations’. Release of all political prisoners. The list goes on.
Just as important is to struggle for the US, the EU, and all the others who turn a blind eye to, or actively support, Israeli atrocities, to cut off the racist regime. Part of this is the campaign for boycotts and divestment. These are tactics that may not have much impact in themselves, but the campaign for them has certainly frightened the Zionists and their supporters. Above all, we need to recognise that there will never be a just solution in Palestine without our activity outside Palestine. As Machover says, ‘much depends on all of us’!