Thursday, February 12, 2009


The results of the Israeli election were confusing at best, with a majority of the country shifting significantly right-ward but a plurality unifying around Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party. The best thing we can hope for over the next couple years is stasis, with some kind of unity coalition centered around Kadima and Likud that treads water until the government inevitably collapses and the next set of elections come around. The worst case scenario is a stable right-wing coalition made up of an emboldened Likud, the racist Yisrael Beiteinu, and the various representatives of Israeli ultra-orthodox parties.

The problem is, we're running out of time. Stephen Walt (yes, that Stephen Walt) wrote a provocative post asking what happens if the two-state solutions ceases to be feasible. I'll say right from the start that I find Walt's thesis in the Israel Lobby to be severely problematic on a lot of levels -- a sentiment I've expressed before. But his point that the two-state solution is moving further and further out of reach every day is I think solid -- the only question how far off the point of no return is. Eventually, Israeli settlements will become so entrenched that they will be impossible to dislodge. Yet even an Israeli government that maintains the status quo today will certainly not remove the settlements -- if anything, it will likely maintain the policy of slowly expanding them. Without evacuating the settlements, a Palestinian state can't be created, and the two-state dream dies. And as outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated, if the two-state solution dies, Israel is "finished" as a Jewish state.

Some Palestinian maximalists already get this. One Palestinian adviser put it thus to Jeffrey Goldberg a few years back:
The most farsighted among the Palestinians now understand that settlements are good for their cause. Michael Tarazi, a Palestinian-American and Harvard-trained legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, told me, “Settlements are the vanguard of binationalism”-a single state that would soon have an Arab majority. “I don’t care if they build more,” Tarazi said. “The longer they stay out there, the more Israel will appear to the world to be essentially an apartheid state.”

He went on, “The settlements mean that the egg is hopelessly scrambled. Basically, it is already one state. There are no signs saying ‘Welcome to Occupied Territory.’ It’s one country, the same electricity grid, the same aquifers. Except that the three million Christians and Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank don’t have the same rights as the five million Jews in Israel, and the Arabs in Israel are second-class citizens compared with the Jews. Now the cause is justice and equality.”

I'm watching this occurring -- watching Israel spiral seemingly inexorably towards its own self-immolation -- and I want to shake those "pro-Israel" people who are out there clearing the brush towards suicide. You're killing the Jewish state. I understand why Israeli voters would take a right-ward turn -- that's the common response to being under constant siege and attack (though inexplicably, nobody seems to realize that Palestinians will react the exact same way under the circumstances). What I don't understand -- or at least, can't forgive -- is the actions of the "pro-Israel" community outside of Israel which expends much of their energy trying to prevent the United States from heading off Israel's self-destructive policies. What do they think the end game is? What do they think will happen once the settlers get so far entrenched its impossible to remove them?

The minute the Palestinian community decides to shift its strategy away from securing a Palestinian state, and towards demanding full voting rights, equality, and political participation in the state they currently live in (Israel), Israel is finished as a Jewish state. It cannot justifiably deny millions of people under its jurisdiction voting rights and political equality indefinitely. We're getting to the point where the combined Arab/Palestinian population of Israel and the territories will have a stable majority over the Jewish population, and eventually the Palestinians will realize they can get everything they want simply by calling for democratic elections. What grounds will any of us have to object, if we can't offer them a state immediately?

Walt says that unless something changes, there are three potential outcomes. First, outright ethnic cleansing: Somebody pushes somebody else out entirely -- in Israel's case, simply expelling the Palestinian population by force. Second, actual, factual apartheid: a sub-class of Israeli society with no rights, restricted from the same roads, communities, and institutions as the majority. Third, binationalism, i.e., the end of the Jewish state.

All three are unacceptable. The first would be a violent war crime, and impossible for any human being of good conscience to support. I also imagine it would likely provoke war with all of Israel's neighbors. The second would be hideously immoral, and would make it impossible for America or the Jewish community to support Israel in any way whatsoever. I could not identify with a state that would so brazenly abandon democracy and liberal ideals. The third would be exceedingly dangerous -- the history of multi-ethnic states with a history of conflict is not good, and even under the best case scenario a binational state would cease to be a haven for the Jewish people fleeing oppression. I wish there were more alternatives, but someone has to give me a plausible route to them: without a two-state solution, what else but this happens?

We're running out of time, and we're looking at two years of doing nothing but treading water. That's not good enough. The path Israel is going down will kill the state, and yet a significant portion of my community is acting as enablers. It's maddening. It's infuriating. It needs to stop.

UPDATE: Jon Chait responds (to Walt, not me).
[S]ettlements are reversible. To make peace with Egypt, Israel abandoned settlements in the Sinai peninsula, forcibly uprooting residents there. It did the same when withdrawing from Gaza recently. It was prepared to do the same in the West Bank in 2000 and 2001, though it never had to follow through because negotiations collapsed.

Clearly, the larger the settlements, the more political leverage it takes to uproot them. That's why, in addition to being a drain on Israel's economy, the settlements are highly counterproductive. But if Israel's government and population can be convinced that a real peace is attainable, then they should be able to dismantle the settlements. The settlements are an obstacle, but not the primary obstacle.

Chait is right that in general, settlements are reversible. And Israel has evacuated settlements before -- in Sinai, and in Gaza. As Chait notes, though, the larger the settlements, the harder it is to muster the will to get rid of them. The question is when we reach a tipping point such that "hard" becomes "impossible". The West Bank settlements constitute 7% of Israel's population, I believe. If that figure keeps growing, where is this "will" going to come from? And while we're waiting for the "will" to emerge amongst the Israeli political class, what happens if the Palestinians stop demanding the uprooting of the settlements, and start demanding voting rights in Israel? How will Israel's offer of a two-state solution be received in such a circumstance? I'm not sure.


Jack said...

So I guess you don't think Netanyahu is Nixon in China?

Anonymous said...

I don't think there'll ever be a satisfying solution,but ideally:I'd want a binational state(one state) limiting Israel to people of Jewish heritage is quite discrimintory.

M said...

And what about limiting France to people of French heritage? And Germany to people of German heritage? And Spanish to people of Spanish heritage?

Just as in all of those countries, foreigners can immigrate to Israel but it will take them some time to gain citizenship. The law of return is similar to the one in Germany, and in many other countries in which one can establish a valid case to his or her heritage.

The argument Israel cannot be the Jewish nation state is a discriminatory argument, as it argues one national group of people is not allowed to have its own nation states while other can still enjoy this luxury in an era that is still very much dominated by nation states (the emerges of Kosovo, and the possible partition of Belgium are two recent examples).

If you are arguing the same about all nation states, and all nations (no matter if you agree there is such a thing, the majority of people in the world still perceive the concept of a "nation" if in accordance to either the primordial or modern school of thoughts) then you are an idealist. If you are arguing only the State of Israel cannot be a nation state, in this case of the Jewish people, then according to the widely accepted European Union definition of anti-Semitism you my guest to find out yourself.


David, this is an excellent post. Unfortunately, the Israeli voters and politicians are short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

I think Chait's being disingenuous. He might be right that settlements aren't the "primary" obstacle, but the political will to remove them is only one part of the obstacle they represent. Given the continued expansion of the settlements and how many of them, even the "legal" ones, are built using illegal means but with the tacit support of the government and the way that conflicts between settlers and Palestinians result in more restrictions on Palestinians, they represent an ongoing provocation. I also don't really know how the Palestinians could take talk of a two-state solution in good faith as long as the settlements keep expanding.

Anonymous said...

The Palestinian issue might be more rooted in Islam then politics. I'm puzzled why the world chooses to ignore the inevitable Islamic progression that occurs in every nation that contains a large percentage of muslims in its population.

As the muslim population grows in a nation they start to ask for autonomy. As they grow stronger in numbers they begin to demand autonomy. Eventually they grow until they gain control of the government.

At that point other belief systems begin to suffer rapid decline. Uncovered women are harassed on the street. Non-muslims are excluded from government and better jobs. Churches are burned. Non-muslim religions are banned from openly showing their faith.

All of these things would happen to Israel if they are forced into a binational existance with Islam. The Koran's message to its followers is clear. All non-muslims must either submit, convert or be killed by Islam.

It looks as though Islam will overtake most of Asia, Africa and Europe during this century. I don't think it is asking too much to allow the Jews to control the small sliver of land called Israel. If co-existance was an option I'd have a different opinion. But when you look at the history of every muslim nation you have to conclude that a binational state would be the doom of Israel.