Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Naftali Bennett Teaches Us About "One State" Politics

Batya Ungar-Sargon has a stellar interview with right-wing Israeli politician (and Minister of Diaspora Affairs) Naftali Bennett. I highly recommend you read the whole thing: it is testament to what can be accomplished when an interviewer doesn't shy from the hard questions and doesn't let up until she gets an answer.

Perhaps the most striking revelation Ungar-Sargon manages to extract from Bennett is that his proposed ideal solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one where many Palestinians are denied full civil rights in perpetuity.
So you’re saying that the security issues, the threat posed by a potential Palestinian state is such that it’s impossible to grant them full civil rights. 
Yeah. And another element is that we just have one tiny home — the land of Israel. They have I believe 200 times the size, the Arab world, the Muslim nation, the Arab nation, has 200 times the size. We don’t have another land. This is our tiny tract of land and I’m not about to sever it or divide Jerusalem, and 90% of Israelis would never do that.
Bennett's proposed solution (leaving aside Gaza) is for Israel to annex "Area C" of the West Bank and grant citizenship to everyone (Israeli or Palestinian) who lives there (Area C encompasses most of the land in the West Bank, and most of the settlements, but not most of the Palestinian population. Basically, it comprises primarily Israeli settlements and empty space, including -- most critically -- the empty space between Palestinian population centers. Areas A and B are not territorially-contiguous with one another, Area C bisects them into many small chunks). In the rest of the West Bank, and for the remaining Palestinians (the majority of them), Bennett proposes limited self-government but not statehood -- in particular, he does not support granting the Palestinian Authority control over immigration or an independent armed force. Israel would remain the ultimate sovereign authority, but most West Bank Palestinians would be barred from citizenship or voting.

As you might recall from the Marc Lamont Hill debacle, much of the controversy over his UN speech was his call for a single state "from the river to the sea." Hill nominally backs such a one state solution only insofar as it promises equal rights and citizenship for all its denizens; there are quite a few reasons to be skeptical about the vitality of those commitments.

But Bennett's proposal is for a one-state solution, from the river to the sea, which does not even purport to provide for equal rights and citizenship. And here we have a problem that I think demands serious attention and reckoning: it cannot be the case that the call for one state from the river-to-the-sea is more controversial if it (however nominally) carries a promise of equal rights compared to calling for a one state solution without even the patina of equality. If Marc Lamont Hill is beyond the pale, then far more so must be Naftali Bennett.

Of course, the hypocrisy argument depends on the relevant forum: nobody considers Naftali Bennett to be a progressive in good standing. But, particularly in Jewish spaces, we have to be honest with ourselves: who gets policed harder, the Hill-type one-staters or the Bennett-types? We might "disagree" with both, but do we ostracize both? Do we say both violate our partnership guidelines? Do we call for firing both from their media perches?

Certainly, for many progressive Jews -- including many progressive Jewish critics of Hill -- the answer is yes, and kudos for that consistency. But for many more mainline Jews, the answer is not yes, and they'd do well to acknowledge how limp their objections to someone like Hill must sound as a result. They can't cry bloody murder ever implicitly inegalitarian overtones in the call for a secular state for all its citizens if our response to its explicitly inegalitarian cousin is a sort of limp "agree-to-disagree" shrug.

There's one more little tidbit about the interview that I think is clarifying in an interesting way. In his effort to duck and dive around the fundamental injustice of his position, Bennett at various points suggests that the refusal to grant Palestinians (outside Area C) Israeli citizenship is no big deal because they could receive Jordanian citizenship instead. A quick look at a map of where Areas A and B are in relation to Jordan provide some suggestion as to why that's not really a useful offer.

But let's suppose Bennett modified his proposal just slightly. Let's say that he proposed to not just give Palestinians in Areas A and B Jordanian citizenship, but outright agreed to cede those territories back to Jordan outright. We can gerrymander the borders so they're territorially-contiguous with Jordan and each other. The result would be that most settlers (and some West Bank Palestinians) are annexed into Israel, with everyone becoming Israeli citizens; while most West Bank Palestinians become Jordanians.

My bare minimum requirement for a just Israel/Palestine solution is "every permanent resident gets full citizenship and voting rights in the state exercising sovereignty over where they reside." A two-state solution satisfies that criteria, as does a single secular river-to-the-sea state.

Some go further and suggest that this minimalist criteria is, more or less, all that matters -- and in particular, that if this criteria is satisfied, that there are no non-racist or ethnosupremacist justifications for caring about the demographic distribution of the new state. This is the claim that "pro-Palestinian" one-staters often level against two-staters -- that they are exhibiting nothing more than illiberal tribalism insofar as they think it is important and preferable that a Palestinian state have a Palestinian majority and Israel retain a Jewish majority. They are ever-so-nonchalant over the fact that their preferred solution would result in a Palestinian majority over the whole territory and state. Oh it does? Well that's democracy for you. Anybody who has a problem with that might as well back apartheid.

But here's the thing: the hypothetical "divide the West Bank between Israel and Jordan" solution would also satisfy this minimal equal-citizenship criteria (putting aside, for the moment, Jordan's decidedly-less-than-fully-democratic character). In that proposal, everyone gets full citizenship in the state that exercises sovereign jurisdiction over its territory. It happens to result in an arrangement where Palestinians are likely not the governing majority anywhere -- but hey, we're not supposed to care about that, right?

Wrong, obviously. I think most of those who purport to care only of establishing a basically liberal order between the river-and-the-sea would not be keen on a gerrymandered solution where the West Bank and Gaza are divvied up between Israel and its neighbors, even if all the governing jurisdictions were appropriately liberal in character. Insofar as such a state would result in Palestinians getting citizenship but nowhere being Palestine, would it really count as respecting Palestinian self-determination?

I think they'd say no. And I think they're right to say no! Palestinians qua Palestinians deserve a state -- they deserve a Palestinian state, where they exercise self-determination and they get to determine their own destiny. Rigging the borders so that one can claim formal neutrality but Palestinians happen to be minorities in every state is not actually a desirable option. And if I'm write, what this demonstrates is that pretty much everyone cares about demographics to some extent -- they care about collective liberation, they want to ensure that Jews and/or Palestinians as peoples get to self-determine. When they pretend like they're content with a sort of atomized individualism, where so long as everyone gets the ballot nobody has the right to complain, they're almost certainly counting on the assumption that their preferred class -- Jews, or Palestinians -- will be electorally dominant.

Again, I don't think that caring about the collective self-determination rights of Jews or Palestinians makes you a bad liberal. I think it is wholly compatible with liberalism, so long as you respect the rights of both groups to self-determination and your account of self-determination still provides for adequate protections for any minority groups in the state.

But the reason I'm a committed two-stater is that it's very hard to think of another outcome that simultaneously respects the self-determination rights of Jews and Palestinians while also satisfying the minimum equal citizenship threshold. The "make Palestine Jordanian again" proposal does, I think, a good job illustrating why even supposedly "secular" one-staters haven't fully drunk their own kool-aid.

1 comment:

The Reiner Girls said...

Your proposal would result in Palestinians being a majority of the new Jordanian state. As it stands now, a majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin. Obviously that number would increase.

Even more than the stagnant peace process, the barrier that prevents Palestinans from already having their own state is Jordan's lack of democracy.

(Note that I'm not excusing, or even commenting on, the lack of rights for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria/West Bank to vote in either Israeli or Palestinian elections.)