After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine
Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor (eds)
In the media, particularly in Australia, the ‘two-state solution’ to the Palestine/Israel crisis – that is to say, the proposition that peace depends upon the creation of a new Palestinian state alongside Israel – serves as an identifier more than an actual idea. If you pay lip service to ‘two states’, you are a responsible, serious person. If you don’t, well, you aren’t.
Julia Gillard supports two states, as does Tony Abbott. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, David Cameron and just about every other Western leader: all agree this is the only realistic and reasonable basis on which the crisis might be resolved.
Yet if a two-state solution were ever realistic or reasonable, it’s almost certainly not now, because Israeli settlers have relentlessly continued their colonisation of the land out of which this putative Palestinian state might be carved: half a million of them, along with a huge network of roads and housing complexes and other infrastructure, are now ensconced in the Occupied Territories. Without the removal of the settlements, any new state would necessarily be a Bantustan more grotesque than those established under Apartheid – and there’s no prospect whatsoever of an Israeli government carrying out mass evictions.
In practice the two-state solution functions increasingly as a rhetorical gesture, an irritable reflex response by defenders of the status quo. The ritualised commitment to two states works like Augustine’s famous prayer: ‘Make me chaste – but not yet’. The very implausibility of the proposal is in fact its point. One can buttress one’s liberal credentials by bloviating about the necessity for a Palestinian state – and then, because that’s not on the agenda, dutifully join the chorus defending Tel Aviv’s latest atrocity.
The importance of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, a new collection of essays edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor, is that it reorients a topsy-turvy discussion.
The mainstream consensus about Palestine makes the acceptance of ethnically defined states – nations that consciously privilege some citizens over others on the basis of their ethnicity or religious beliefs – the political default.
Now, of course, ethnic chauvinism was the basis for most nationalisms in the early modern period but few people today would accept its premises in other contexts today. Australia and the US were also colonial settler states but no-one – at least, no-one of any moral integrity – looks at the dispossession of the native Americans or Indigenous Australians as policies to be defended, let alone continued.
Yet, as Jonathan Cook notes, ‘since Israel’s creation more than six decades ago, members of the Palestinian minority have been forced to live in a self-declared Jewish state that systematically discriminates against them – a fact that even Israel leaders are increasingly prepared to concede, though they have failed to take any meaningful action to correct such injustice. Poverty among the Palestinian minority exists at a rate four times higher than among Jewish citizens, proper up by a system of segregation in education.’
Even more tellingly, Loewenstein quotes Peter Beinart’s explanation of what his defence of Israel entails.
‘I’m not asking [Israel] to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes,’ Beinart says. ‘I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.’
Because Beinart, the leading representative of liberal Zionism in the US, has been grappling honestly with these issues, he spells out what most commentators are afraid to say: the fundamental illiberalism upon which the two-state consensus rests. In no mainstream debate other than Israel/Palestine has the notion of equal rights been so systemically redefined as bad thing.
The Zionist colonial project was based on expectations from a different age, taking for granted that homicidal anti-Semitism lurked ineradicably in the West, so that Jewish people would be relentlessly persecuted unless they lived under a Jewish state.
Those assumptions were wrong.
In the developed world, anti-Semitism has become an ideology of a crackpot fringe. And has Israel become a place of safety, a magnet for Jews the world over? On the contrary. Most Jews in the West have no intention of moving. Why would they? Omar Barghouti quotes former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, about Israel: ‘Few of us know any other existential reality apart from our unrelenting war with everyone, all the time and over all issues.’
By contrast, the underlying assumptions of the one-state solution are much more compatible with contemporary democratic sensibilities. Barghouti puts it like this: the argument for ‘a secular, democratic unitary state in historic Palestine … is the most just and morally coherent solution to this century-old colonial conflict, primarily because it offers the greatest hope for reconciling the ostensibly irreconcilable – the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinian people, particularly the right to self determination, and the acquired rights of the colonial settlers to live in peace and security, individually and collectively, after ridding them of their colonial privileges.’
In other words, the one-state argument is not, as some Zionist apologists suggest, about driving Jews into the sea. It’s a position – or, rather, a range of positions, since there are different versions of the argument – predicated on the notion that people with different ethnic and religious identities can, in fact, live together, even after the process of decolonisation.
The obvious example is South Africa. For years, defenders of apartheid told the world that majority rule meant that whites would be massacred by blacks. They’d lose their culture, their identity, their very lives. Apartheid might have been ugly but it was necessary in pre-emptive self-defence – or so the argument went.
South Africa today might not be perfect but apartheid nonetheless came to an end without a hint of the reprisals and massacres that white racists prophesised. So why not in Israel?
The various essayists in After Zionism don’t put forward a consensus. Their differing positions as to how a one-state solution might be achieved and what it would look like hint at the difficulties ahead. But they offer at least glimpses of a way forward.
Two states, by contrast, seems less and less like a solution and more and more like a roadblock.