Friday, October 09, 2015

Unilateral Withdrawal: Something Everyone Can Agree On

Unilateral withdrawal is not a popular idea in Israel right now. The dominant narrative is that Israel tried that in Gaza (and Lebanon), and was met with rockets and terrorism from Hamas (and Hezbollah). I'm in what I take to be a pretty distinct minority in thinking that unilateral withdrawal was a success, albeit not a rousing one. Did it lead to peace? No. But it wasn't like there was peace when Israel still maintained an occupying presence. And my general sense is that both Israelis and Palestinians would be better served if their conflict could be reformulated into a standard, not-particularly-remarkable dispute between two sovereign nations; rather than the current ghastly hybrid of independence war cum counter-insurgency cum war of survival cum border dispute cum everything else that we have now. So while I'd be of course very happy if unilateral withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state provided permanent peace and happiness to Israelis and Palestinians alike, the point is that even if it doesn't it's still no worse under that dimension than the status quo, and comes with significant other benefits besides.

Liel Liebovitz has an article in Tablet today that makes a conservative case for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank along roughly the same lines as I outlined above. It begins with a lot of tendentious hyperbole purporting to show that the sole cause of any Israeli/Palestinian animosity is irrendentist Palestinian maximalism and/or Jew-hatred, and that anybody who thinks that the ongoing occupation or lack of a Palestinian state might also play a role is a dupe. This is nonsense of the same degree and caliber as the idea that the conflict persists solely because of Israeli aggression and oppression as against saintly Palestinian suffers. The truth is, of course, that there is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of bad actors and bad acts on both sides of the equation that play their part in preserving the delightful status quo.

But the point is that, for purposes of this argument, none of that matters. As Liel observes, it is a silly mistake to premise unilateral withdrawal on the idea that it will create a perfectly just, tolerant, and peaceful state of affairs between Israel and Palestine (and within each nation) such that we'll all wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. I mean, maybe that will be the result -- in which case, huzzah! -- but it's not a requirement for success. If a viable, functioning Palestinian state is created and its first move is to lob rockets at Israeli border towns, well, that's no different than what we have now, except for the fact that it would be definite expression of Palestinian sovereignty and the resulting conflict would be no different from any other armed conflict between sovereigns. Liel's view of the likely outcome of unilateral withdrawal is probably the most cynical one possible, and he still concludes it is better than the status quo of enduring occupation. I'm more optimistic -- I think it might tamp down on violence, though it won't eliminate it, and might redirect anti-Semitic and extremist anti-Israeli tendencies, thought without abolishing them -- so for me it's an even an easier call.

What is impossible to support is the idea that maintaining the occupation, and maintaining Israeli sovereignty over those lands which all agree will eventually be part of a Palestinian state, has any significant positive utility. One can think the Palestinian public sphere is made up primarily of monsters (as Liel seems to), or unblemished martyrs (as his mirrored-equivalents on the left seem to), or the usual in-between mix of saints and schmucks and regular folk (as I do); one can hold any similar range of views about Israelis. In any and all permutations, the case for Israeli clinging onto the West Bank falls apart.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Welcoming Zionish To the Blogosphere

A bunch of UK students have launched Zionish, a liberal Zionist site (more of an online magazine than a blog by the looks of it). A quick browse demonstrates that it is has a lot of potential. So welcome to the internet, Zionish! With precisely zero irony or sarcasm intended whatsoever, I find your thoughts intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Islands of Non-Democracy

The United States is a democracy ... for the most part. If we define, as a basic element of democracy, that all persons permanently under the jurisdiction of the sovereign have equal democratic voting rights, then the United States has some islands of non-democracy: residents of D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and various other American overseas territories do not have a voting member of Congress or (except for D.C.) a vote for the President.

This got me thinking: How many other places are in a similar situation? How many non-democratic islands within democracies are there? One obvious potential example is Israel with regard to the Palestinian residents of the West Bank -- the idea of a perpetual occupation threatens Israeli democracy precisely because it seems to promise a permanent state of affairs wherein a chunk of persons under the jurisdiction of the Israeli sovereign lacks equal democratic participation rights. Of course, that raises the question of why this state of affairs is deemed more threatening to Israel's democratic character than the disenfranchisement of Puerto Rico, et al, is to America's democratic character. But I'm poorly positioned to investigate that argument since I think the American case absolutely poses a significant threat to America's democratic character.

But I digress. As I said, what I'm curious about is the prevalence of this state of affairs. I don't know the status of Bermuda vis-a-vis the U.K., or Aruba and the Netherlands, or French Guinea and France. Are they fully represented in the political structures of their sovereigns the same as someone from Manchester or Rotterdam or Nantes? This of course doesn't even get into non-democratic states where nobody has significant voting rights of any kind, but for the moment I'm just interested in the democratic world. Is this normal? Do most democratic states in fact have a few non-democratic pockets? And what are the implications if the answer is "yes"?