Monday, June 25, 2007

Where Do You Stand?

I really liked this post asking of leftist/socialist commentators on Israel to be more forthright on where they really stand on the issue--and exploring the implications of what a "one-state solution" would mean for Middle Eastern Jews:
My starting point is this.

All democrats - whether liberals or socialists - should support any democratic movement for national self-determination: including both Palestinian arab and Israeli jews.

I've got no real objection to people who believe that it would be best if one day, all states were to melt away. That is a matter of theology. But there are good reasons that nation states exist at the moment: in particular, that they are an effective device for securing the wellbeing of regional minorities.

Just as any supporter of Israel should be asked to make it clear whether they support a viable self governing Palestinian state, and oppose its destruction; any supporter of Palestinian self-determination should be asked to make it clear whether they support a viable self governing Israeli state, and oppose its destruction.

The coalitions which are behind much of British pro-Palestinian politics are led by political parties, campaigns and individuals, many of which seek the destruction of the State of Israel.

They do so explicitly, by calling for a single state. They do so implicitly by calling for the right, not of compensation, but of "return" of the descendants all all those who left Israel in 1948, with no thought to the position of the descendents in Israel of the refugees from tyrannical and hostile Arab states. Increasingly, many also openly ally themselves with Hamas which unapologetically promotes genocide of jews.

The coalitions and advocacy organisations which are active in Left politics at the moment at times seem to shy away from making it clear what, exactly, they would like to see happen in the Middle East. I would like them to spell it out.

Will supporters of boycotts, speaking tours, and trade union motions tell me: are you an advocate of a single state, and of the imposition by force of a Hamas or Arab nationalist government on the regional minority of jews? Or are you opposed to such a solution?

As far as I can tell, the Socialist Workers' Party and many of the other leading campaigners on the issue of Palestine are in favour of precisely that. I might have misunderstood them. If that is not where they stand, and they have some other plausible vision of what the triumph of their politics would mean, I would like to hear it.

What, exactly, are you campaigning for?

Wouldn't it be better if, instead of motions about the "occupation" (Of the West Bank? Or from the "Jordan to the Sea"?) and "the right of return of the 1948 refugees (and their descendents)", they just said:

"Yes, we are in favour of the replacement of Israel and Palestine with a single state, ruled by a Palestinian regional majority. If that means the Hamas or the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is left with a free hand to deal with the jews, then that is what must happen. You can't make an omlette without breaking eggs. Remember: the jews are colonisers of Arab lands, and we must offer unconditional support the liberation struggle of Palestinian people, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends."

If it was clear that this is what the campaigners around the issue of Palestine were aiming for, wouldn't that be much better? We would all know where we stood.

I want to say that "starting point" is worth stressing on both ends. The post focuses on the position of leftists who want to see Israel wiped off the map. But I have no common cause with right-wing "pro-Israel" (in quotes because I don't think keeping Israel in a perpetual state of anti-democratic dominance and cataclysmic conflict with its neighbors is by any stretch "pro-Israel") speakers who are unwilling to demand that Palestinians deserve a state, full, equal, and sovereign, to live side-by-side with Israel. Such a demand does not absolve such a state from its obligations to live peacefully with its neighbors--but responsible state behavior has as a pre-requisite the existence of a state. Israel, as Tom Friedman long ago noted, can be Jewish, democratic, and in control "from the sea to the river"--pick two. The former two are far more important to me than the last. Or perhaps my nominal "friends" on the right would like to inform me as to which of the first two they would jettison?

But that point exists in common with the focus of the post. The abolishment of Israel--however it is phrased--would do critical damage to the well-being and safety of Jews. If we're very lucky, it won't lead to a genocide. However, I think its advocates are far too sanguine at playing dice with Jewish lives. When its your life at stake, you can roll the dice; until then, Jews have a right to some measure of control over their own bodies. "We cannot live without our lives," to quote Barbara Deming. And even if genocide didn't occur, a binational state with Jews as the minority would almost definitely deprive Jews of the unconditional protection of the country, which is something I think we can legitimately demand of the world community today. Israel may have been justified in 1947 because of the Holocaust, but if Israel had already existed in 1933 there wouldn't have been a Holocaust in the first place. And definitionally, such a state would mean the end of a "Jewish" state. The post author is right: states can serve as very important protectors of regional minorities. Jews should not have to be perpetual minorities. There is room, in this big wide world, for a place where Jews are not dependent on and subservient to someone else. We have the right to a place where are the norm, and not the margin. We have a right to be the center somewhere.

And, in different form, Palestinians have the same rights. Such is the demands of democratic nationalism. And so it is that one-staters--on either side, for whatever reason, have the fundamentally wrong idea. They show insufficient respect for the bodies of both Jews and Palestinians. And as such, they are playing dice with the lives of people who have bled for too long.


Brian Shapiro said...

I haven't read about the debate on this enough, but I don't see why a one-state solution has to involve imposing minority force on a majority. For example, a state can conceivably have two different parliaments, a parliament for Jews and one for Palestinians, that only have the right of veto over affairs that effect both of them, or have to congress over certain issues. Two-government states have existed in history, including in ancient Greece. I am not a believer in the abolishment of a nation-state, i think that ideology is wrong-headed, but i think there can be many compromises, especially when national boundaries are in conflict.

Michael said...

any supporter of Palestinian self-determination should be asked to make it clear whether they support a viable self governing Israeli state, and oppose its destruction.

It's a good, and fair, question. Sadly, I have tried asking it before, and only gotten equivications in response...

The probligo said...

" would be best if one day, all states were to melt away. That is a matter of theology."

For me that illustrates in two sentences the whole problem of the Middle East. But then I come from a small, secular democracy so what do I know?

"They show insufficient respect for the bodies of both Jews and Palestinians. And as such, they are playing dice with the lives of people who have bled for too long."

Ne'er truer word were spoken. And for as long as religion and race are the basis for division it is a conflict that will not be resolved.

Anonymous said...

This is generally a good article, but I think the analysis on the "right of return" is lacking. I do respect that the author points out the array of problematic, potentially genocidal, motives that can animate calls for a right of return. However, it is crass and simplistic to dismiss the idea of a right of return as nothing more than a code-phrase for the annihilation of Jewish identities in the Middle East. That, not too long ago, men and women were pried from their homes by force and are still deprived of an official recognition that the act of expulsion were wrong (or in some extremes, happened) recalls the worst of the political injustices American Indians have faced here. Just as Palestinian activists and their allies can and should be legitimately asked how they stand on Israel's future, I think all who casually or emphatically ally themselves with Israel need to answer on Palestine's past.

I know many in the pro-Israel camp whose understanding of the conflict is such that they would greatly like to see the incidence of Palestinian violence against Israelis decline and ultimately come to an end - (a hope that I share and believe that most conscientious activist on both sides of the issue do)- and that once such a peace was established the whole trouble of the region would be "over". Such a position fundamentally denies that Israel has or is doing anything unjust in refusing Palestinians a claim to their homes and histories. To these advocates, violence in the region is the problem. Older injustices are not worthy of mention.

And so my question, that I would like to see all in the pro-Israel camp answer, is this: Do you believe that the people of Palestine are suffering injustice from Israel? Or would you to happily count the conflict as resolved if Palestinian extremists were to lay down their weapons?

I think a negative answer to the first is disturbing in its utter refusal to acknowledge the perspective of the oppressed in Palestine. I think an affirmative answer to the second is disturbing because it validated what the worst elements of Palestinian movements have said for some time: that recognition of a Palestinian perspective will only be purchased in Israeli blood. I do not know how such a standpoint could possibly earn peace for Israel or Palestine.

David Schraub said...

Matt: I don't deny that many, if not most, of the Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes during the War of Independence suffered some form of injustice. And indeed, I am open to the prospect of monetary compensation (though I note that this has never been seen to be on the table when the subject is Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries at the same time) to remedy that.

The problem is "solved" when both Israelis and Palestinians have a state to call their own and which are peacefully co-existing side-by-side. If the Palestinians lay down their arms, but don't get a state, that is a grave injustice. And if they get a state, but continue to wage war against the Jewish citizens of Israel, that too would be a grave injustice.

Brian: I think the "two government" solution strikes me as practically unworkable. For one, the most aggressive advocates of a one-state solution (groups like Hamas) would never accept it (they're on the record as demanding an Islamic government that any remaining Jews would have to live under). For two, it is unclear that a majority of residents will support it--why would a Palestinian majority in a one-state scenario even agree to such concessions for its Jewish minority? Third, it doesn't solve for the problem of perpetual marginalization--even if Jews are granted allowances and exemptions by the state, they'll still be the Other. And fourth, and most important, because the Palestinian side would undoubtedly demand (and receive) an equal say in foreign policy and immigration decisions, Israel would likely lose one of its most important functions for the global Jewish community: a place that we know will take us in when we have nowhere else to go.