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After Palestine’s Statehood Bid
It’s odd that the Israel-Palestine conflict always calls up talk about solutions rather than resolutions, as if some moral puzzle bedeviled the future of the Palestinians and Israel.
Perhaps this is because no state has come into existence amid such paroxysms of morality.
Times change, and the moralizing about Israel is now obsolescent. The 20th Century agonies of genocide and dispossession that initiated the conflict have begun to lose their bearing on the course of events. Even the post-1967 debates about settlement and occupation are, whether we like to admit it or not, settled. The injustice of the occupation, the aggressive cruelty of the settlements, Israel’s lack of interest in peace – these now pass almost for established facts in the mainstream media. Abbas’ appearance at the UN simply highlighted how Israel is running out of friends, not to mention credibility.
As for the United States government, there are other facts to be faced: that the executive branch has been against the occupation and the settlements from their beginning, and that the United States Congress, the very motherland of Zionist hysteria, is, for all the damage it does, making a fool of itself. Even this hysteria will abate somewhat as the Arab Spring and the increasing entrenchment of Muslim and Middle Eastern people in American society alter the negative stereotypes of ‘Arabs’. As for Canada, the more it apes the US Congress on Israel, the more ridiculous it will appear on the international stage.
Something else has changed, some years ago. Israel may want US support, but, as one of the world’s strongest military powers, it no longer needs it. It has a large, sophisticated arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. With luck it could probably wipe out the United States, never mind the tiny occupied territories. It has proven ruthless and its strategists apparently contemplate nuclear retaliation in the face of defeat by conventionally-equipped forces. It is hysterically eager to defend ‘threats to its existence’, i.e., attempts to deny it anything it may want. Its arms industry is so advanced that many cutting-edge American projects – drones, missile and anti-missile systems, surveillance software – are co-developed with Israel.[i] Faced with economic sanctions, it would happily conduct a land-office business selling weapons systems to all comers. The Western world may dream and pro-Palestinians may fantasize about imposing a solution on Israel, but that won’t happen.
The internal politics of Israel are no more promising than the external circumstances. Israel has moved further and further to the right over the years. Its opposition is evanescent except when demanding better conditions for Israeli Jews. Its Arab population, despite discrimination, is utterly unwilling and/or unable to challenge the existing order. All the desperate, self-sacrificing attempts by the Palestinians to change this power balance have failed, so thoroughly that even Hamas makes great efforts to contain those who seek to confront Israel with force. In short, Israel has all the power; the Palestinians have none.
The failure to ‘get tough’ with Israel is only in a very extended sense a matter of political will: the sentiment to impose a peace is there, but so is the danger that Israel’s response would be catastrophic for the region and beyond. It is this unspoken risk that, most likely, deters any action on the part of the traditional ‘Great Powers’. At the end of the day, there is no longer any point talking about ‘solutions’, as if the real world will miraculously contort to solve some moral conundrum. There is no conundrum. The morality is clear; and if anyone wants to be useful in helping the Palestinians, he would do well to admit that Israel will yield only when the balance of power alters. Either the regional powers, one way or another, will eventually pose a real and perceived threat to Israel, or nothing will change. This does not mean that morality has been somehow superseded; of course the rights and wrongs are still what they are. But the pointless, endless, obsessive exhortations that pass for morality no longer have any bearing on events, or any potential to accomplish genuinely moral ends
Yet the traditional friends of the Palestinians are unwilling to face such cold facts. Finding themselves impotent, they seek refuge from the realities of power in the comforting world of ideals. Here too, things have changed. The realization that negotiations will go nowhere has prompted some commentators and activists to posit a miraculous detour around Israeli power and intransigence. They reject the ‘two-state solution’ – a mere resolution which would give the Palestinians less than they deserve, but a place to live their lives. The so-called one-state solution, once a marginal view, is becoming mainstream. It is deployed against Palestine’s bid for statehood, which is said to concede too much to Israel. Its partisans include a number of Palestinian expatriate academics and a wide range of well-wishers, all of whom have, in the changed climate of opinion, gathered a much wider audience.
For that very reason, it is time to stop being polite about their position, which has the potential to damage Palestine’s future. Respectful disagreement doesn’t seem enough to shake these people from their delusions.
It’s hard to grasp just what particular embrace of unreality drives this ‘proposal’ or its faithful companion, the notion that PLO leaders from Arafat to Abbas needed to be ‘tougher’. Tougher, that is, like the university professors and other verbal warriors standing behind their comfortable, far-off barricades. I see a lot of ways – nine of them – in which the ‘tough’ one-state solution is blatantly nonsensical. I will present them as a guide to the illusions which obscure a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
First is the confusion of wishes with political platforms. I wish for all the world to live in harmony. This is a wish. It is not a political demand, because it won’t happen (see below). Wishing for mountainously more than the Palestinians can get is not being more radical than demanding only a little more than they can get. In the same way, it would not be ‘tougher’ or more radical to come out in favour of world revolution in the midst of the Arab uprisings. This would not be a radical stance; it would not even be a political stance. It would simply be a wish mistaken for a political demand, a retreat into childishness.
Second, it is bizarre to suppose that, because someone won’t concede half of something, they are likely to concede all of it. Some Israelis at least claim to favour a two-state solution; some reject it. But none say: “we cherish Greater Israel; we will not yield one inch of it, but we will yield all of it, if only we can abandon the ideal of a Jewish state. We look forward to the prospect of being swamped by Arab demographics and to minority status in the country we built.” There is no sharing here: in a single state, one side or the other would prevail. In a democratic state, the ‘Arabs’ would prevail and hold sovereignty over the Israeli Jews. It is a real feat of willful blindness to suppose that, somehow, the Zionists who would not share in 1948 will share today, when they are much stronger and no less fanatical than they were at the start.
Third, childishly exaggerated demands are not a canny negotiating tactic. If I’m making 50,000 dollars, I might demand 70,000, but not 70 million. It is not clever to demand the whole of Israel when Israel won’t yield even the half that almost the whole world says it must surrender – the occupied territories.
Fourth, the two-state solution is not a bad solution because it won’t give the Palestinians true sovereignty, or because it will result in Bantustans, a Palestine cut into miserable islands by strands of settlements. That’s not criticism, it’s word-games. By ‘the two-state solution’ is meant two sovereign states; otherwise it would be called the one-state-one-non-state-solution. No advocate of the two-state solution has shown any disposition to accept Bantustans. The ‘collaborationist’ PLO and PA have consistently rejected such proposals. [ii] The attempts to make a Bantustan ‘solution’ stand for the two-state solution are a particularly sleazy example of bad faith.
Fifth, a good test case for the one-state solution is not South Africa. In South Africa, blacks and colored vastly outnumbered whites; land and resources were abundant; and the government was unable to control either township violence or the emergence of a Cuban-supported threat on its borders. Most important, the Boer régime was the mere colonial excrescence of the supremely powerful white nations of Europe and North America. South Africa was not the sole sovereign territory of a race determined to maintain its one and only nation against all challengers. A better test case lies just next door, Lebanon. In Lebanon, even if you don’t count those massacred under Israeli sponsorship at Sabra and Shatila, or those killed by Israeli bombs, far more Palestinians have died than in Palestine under Israeli rule. This should be an antidote to the poisonous theory that, if two peoples are locked in deadly conflict, it’s a great idea to pack them into a single state.
Sixth, the Right of Return is not, as one-staters claim, precluded by the two-state solution. It has nothing to do with the two-state solution: it has to do with Israel in its pre-67 boundaries. That there is a Palestinian state in the occupied territories in no way implies that dispossessed Palestinians – individual Palestinians – forfeit their rights. To think otherwise is to fall for the Israeli debating gambit of insisting, whenever convenient, on regarding the Palestinians as one collective lump. ‘The Palestinians’ can, collectively, have a state, some kind of political representation. Acquiring collective political representation in one state has nothing to do with honouring individual property rights in some other state.
Seventh, there is confusion about the relation of rights to political ‘solutions’. Neither ‘The Palestinians’ nor anyone else has a legal right to Palestine, because international law – lacking a sovereign body to enforce it – is a polite fiction. ‘The Palestinians’, in my opinion, have a moral right to all of Palestine, and to expel all Jews who are there because of the Zionist project. No agreement which merely declares a state in the occupied territories can change this moral right, because having such a state doesn’t even resemble compensation for the loss the Palestinians have suffered. Maybe quite a few billion dollars in reparations would do this, but not the mere establishment of a state. The two-state solution therefore cannot be seen as some substitute for morality or justice. It resolves a conflict. It does not solve a moral problem.
Eighth, a two-state solution does not mean that any Palestinian rights are abandoned, because however that state is formed, those who form it cannot be held to represent the Palestinians. The reason is simple: you only get representative government after you have a state, not before. So there will always be grounds to repudiate whatever arrangements the founders of the state have made. Inevitably there will be attempts to refute such reasoning, but they don’t matter. Either the Palestinians will eventually get the real-world power to determine their own engagements, or they won’t. What people say about those engagements won’t tilt the balance one way or the other.
Ninth, the two-state solution does indeed perpetuate the Zionist state – in the sense that it fails to abolish Israel. My mortgage and car rental agreement also have this failing. It is beyond silly to suppose that, therefore, the two-state solution is ‘Zionist’. You might as well say that the Palestinian refugees of 1948, who left Israel to the Zionists, were also perpetuating Zionism, were collaborating with it. Yes, they had no choice. Neither do Palestinians today, when Israel is immeasurably stronger than in 1948. That is why the two-state solution fails to implement the Right of Return, enforce the rights of Palestinian Israelis, end world poverty, and many other things. To suppose otherwise it to conflate radicalism, not with good wishes, but with studied obtuseness masquerading as trenchant critique and tactical acumen.
How can so many misconceptions and feats of obfuscation crowd into one ‘solution’? The culprits seem to be two large delusions.
The first, often repeated, is that the two-state solution is now impracticable because the settlers are ‘so deeply entrenched’. Let’s suppose that for most one-staters, this is not a bad-faith manoeuvre to permit the settlers to hang on to their ill-gotten colonial existence. What then explains such spectacular blindness? In 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians left the homes their families had occupied, in some cases for centuries. What exactly makes it impossible for today 500,000 Jewish settlers to move in the opposite direction? Amid so much silliness, nothing is sillier than the claim that only a one-state solution is possible because the settlements are ‘too deeply entrenched’. Maybe they are, but they don’t have to go anywhere. It’s the settlers, not the settlements, that have to get out. One would have thought the whole trip to Israel would take, oh, between fifteen minutes and a couple of hours. Will it destroy their psyches to leave? so we were told about the settlers in Gaza, who seem to be recovering nicely. Is Israel’s commitment to the settlements unshakable? Then why were the Gaza settlers expelled and their settlements abandoned?
In Algeria, French settlers had established themselves for twice as long as their counterparts in the occupied territories. Their government was firmly behind them:, as one historian writes: “‘Mendès France [the prime minister] was determined to ‘maintain the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, of which Algeria is a part’, and in January 1955 appointed the tough former Resistance leader, Jacques Soustelle, governor-general of Algeria. Soustelle, affirming a policy of ‘integration’, argued that ‘It is precisely because we have lost Indo-China, Tunisia and Morocco that we must not, at any price, in any way and under any pretext, lose Algeria”‘[iii] As for the settlers themselves, I have provided an appendix, should anyone be interested, with some touching testimony to how deeply rooted they were. Colonists, settlers, always swear that the colonised land is ‘part of them’, that they will never leave, that they would sooner lay down their lives. Like the settlers in Gaza, they always either leave or submit to the new régime. So it has been all over British Africa, with the Boers in South Africa and the Dutch in Indonesia. The only difference is that these colonists could not expect to be showered with the sort of money and sympathy that the Israeli settlers will get.
The second delusion underlying the one-state solution has to do with a fetishism of non-violence. It is neither courageous nor even intransigent to suppose that, somehow, a resolute Palestinian stance can conjure up whatever is wanted – a sovereign state, full Palestinians rights everywhere, Jews and ‘Arabs’ living side by side in happy harmony. Absolutely no facts about Israel do anything but refute this article of faith. What is really behind all this idealism? My guess: the one-state solution belongs to those over-protected souls who simply cannot face the idea that anything should ever come down to physical force. Somehow, somehow, if the right words are spoken, if the right positions taken, if enough saintly non-violence blooms, all will be well, all can be overcome. I have argued elsewhere[iv] that there is no historical basis for this dogma.
Perhaps this is behind all the talk about how the two-state solution is ‘dead’. What are dead are the negotiations for two states; they died long ago. But only someone whose whole world is statements and empty verbal ‘support’ and positions and moral authority would think that a solution must emerge from negotiations. No, a solution will emerge when Israel has had enough, and withdraws, as it did in Lebanon, as it did, though not fully, in Gaza. No negotiations are necessary. The two-state solution emerges full-blown when Israel ceases to have a military presence in or over the occupied territories, and in those territories there arises a truly sovereign state. This can perhaps be formalized through negotiation, after the fact, but it can never be obtained by negotiation. It can be obtained only by making the current or anticipated cost of occupation, in one way or another, too high.
The Palestinians can never prevail militarily against the Israelis, but they have had at least this much success: Israel already finds it too costly to maintain permanent forces in the occupied territories. Though Israel will listen only to force, force can speak without actual violence. Perhaps Israel’s enemies will find greater unity and more power: for example, Turkey and Egypt might cooperate not only economically but in the enhancement of their militarily capacities. Or perhaps Hizbollah will prove itself so enduring a threat that Israel, finally, decides it prefers peace to cheap real estate and the joys of trying to bully a defenseless people in oblivion. In these hopes lies the life of the two-state solution; indeed of any solution. The good wishes of the one-state solution play no role in any future reality.
Today, those who would like to help Palestine must stop fighting a propaganda war they have already won. They must realize that the principal targets of their exhortations, the Western nations, will never dare to put serious pressure on Israel until the region itself is transformed. Hope lies only in the emergence of strong regional powers: in Turkey, and in any country in which the Arab spring proves successful. The emphasis here, quite frankly, has to be on obtaining at least an equilibrium of force. This means focusing on Israel’s military and especially its nuclear power, and on propagating the idea that, given this power, Arab nations would be not simply be within their rights to develop nuclear weapons: they almost have a responsibility to their populations to do so. It is Israel, after all, that boasts of its willingness to exercise a Sampson option that will take down the whole region in a nuclear holocaust. Such talk and such threats will be curbed only when Israeli learn to fear the nations for which they have such contempt.
What then might advance the cause of Palestinian independence? The best course is to argue that Middle Eastern countries can expect nothing from Israel until they pose a low-key and restrained but genuine threat to its existence. These nations should feel free to abrogate the nuclear non-proliferation agreements as long as Israel retains its own nuclear arsenal. This should not be considered a radical step. It would only be to assert the strategies of deterrence that all announced nuclear nations have embraced without compunction. It is not a path to war but to peace. Only when Israel sees it really cannot persist in defying the world, will the agony of the Palestinians end – if not in a solution, at least in a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Professor Neumann’s views are not to be taken as those of his university. His book What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche is published by Broadview Press. He contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. His latest book is The Case Against Israel. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Here are a very few of many testimonies to the depth of the Pieds-Noirs ‘commitment ‘to Algeria:
“Car les pieds-noirs s’étaient tellement identifiés à la terre d’Algérie qu’ils ne pouvaient pas concevoir de vivre ailleurs que sur leur sol natal. En ce sens, leur âme était aussi algérienne. Je pense que pour la plupart d’entre eux, elle n’a jamais cessé de l’être. Une partie de votre âme est restée en Algérie…Et le temps n’a pas effacé votre filiation avec ce pays. L’avouer, c’est aussi dire combien vous aimez l’Algérie, combien elle vous manque depuis cet été 62…”
For the pieds-noirs were so at one with the land of Algeria that they could not conceive of living elsewhere but on the soil of their birth. In this sense their soul, too, was Algerian. And time has not effaced your attachment with that land. To acknowledge it is also to say how much you love Algeria, how much you miss it, since that summer of 1962.
“Je suis née à Oran (Algérie) où :
La vie était belle !
Où le soleil brillait toujours !
Où il faisait bon vivre normalement !
Où l’on se sentait toujours en vacances !
Où l’on avait de belles plages !
Où l’on était heureux !
Où on avait des amis !
Où nos parents, sont nés, enfin toute une génération ! Que de bons souvenirs d’enfance, mariages, naissances
Enfin le pays que l’on croyait ne jamais quitter.
I was born in Oran (Algeria), where
Life was sweet!
Where the sun always shone!
Where it was good to live normally!
Where one felt always on vacation!
Where there were beautiful beaches!
Where we were happy!
Where we had friends!
Where our parents were born, that is, a whole generation! Where we have good memories of childhood, marriages, births,
In the end, a country one thought one would never leave.
Quitter n’était pas pensable, on nous avait promis que l’Algérie resterait Française ??”
Leaving was unthinkable, hadn’t we been promised that Algeria would remain French??
“Si les colons ont construit et bien construit, c t pour eux et leurs enfants, il pensait ne jamais quitter notre pays.”
If the settlers built and built well, it was for themselves and their children, he thought never to leave our country.
“1962 : LE JOUR LE PLUS TRISTE de ma vie. Quittez mon Algérie pays ou j’ai vu le jour..pays cher dans tout les coeurs des Pieds Noirs..”
1962: THE SADDEST DAY of my life. To leave my Algeria country where I first saw light land dear to all the hearts of the Pieds-Noirs.
1. Among many articles on Israel’s indigenous arms capability, this stands out because it details Israel’s arms sales to the United States. Yitzhak Benhorin, “US to purchase $700m worth of arms from Israel” http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3469677,00.html, accessed 28 October 2011.
2. The 1993 Oslo Accords did not constitute a settlement but a mere “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements”. The settlements were among the issues deliberately left unresolved.
3. Robert Gildea, France since 1945,Oxford (Oxford University Press) p.25.
4. See “Nonviolence: Its Histories and Myths”, Counterpunch, 8-10 February 2003, http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/02/08/nonviolence-its-histories-and-myths/
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