Saturday, February 17, 2007

A single state

"Isn't being Zionist OR anti-Zionist kind of counterproductive in 2007, when the world has known a Jewish state for 60 years now?" - Betty, on this blog

There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in "Greater Israel," and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, "After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality."Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic. - Tony Judt, "Israel: the Alternative", October 23, 2003, NY Review of Books

My answer to Betty's question in response to Magwitch's post on Israel is no, it's not counterproductive to take a position (Zionist or anti-Zionist) with regards to the future of the Jewish state.

The reason it is not counterproductive to me is that there is one way to create a future for the holy land that actually gives equal rights to any Jewish and Palestinian citizens - to ensure equal citizenship rather than continue with the preservation of Israel as it currently exists -- that is, a state predicated on unequal citizenship. The way towards this future is a binational state, as laid out by Tony Judt in the powerful article in the NY Review more than three years ago which I have quoted above.

The easiest way to knock the proposal for a single state for both Jews and Palestinians is to say that it is "not realistic" - though the idea of two states living peacefully side by side is itself highly problematic. The second criticism, that such a state would no longer be a "Jewish state" because Jews would be a demographic minority - merely underscores the problematic nature of Israel as it currently exists as a country whose identity is based on Jewish supremacy. The analogy is problematic, but it reminds me a bit of Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode writing to his constituents after newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, saying he would be sworn in on the Quran.

In his letter, Goode wrote that strict immigration polices are necessary "to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

"The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran," he wrote.

The argument against a "right of return" to Israel/Palestine is based upon similar fears of Israel being "overwhelmed" by Palestinians - and although there are legitimate concerns about how a Jewish minority would be treated in a binational state, the powerful force of the US in the region seems to offer good protection.

In response to that concern, I offer two rhetorical questions: Are the rights of the Arab minority in Israel protected now? And, is Israel a safe place for Jews today, even as a Jewish state with Jewish supremacy?

Judt's article is well-worth reading and thinking about. He began the article with this grim picture:
The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the "road map." The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: "It's all Arafat's fault." Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?
And yes, some of the details have changed, but the basic contention -- that a "peace process" leading to two states side by side "is finished" -- continues to ring true.

1 comment:

Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

The position of Arab Israelis is a big problem and you are right to point to it. I'm not clear on what the parameters for a "binational state" are, but I do think that, forgetting the Palestinian territories, Israel needs to become a better democracy within its own borders. It is very disturbing, but in a lot of conversations about Israel I have talked to people who warn about the "birth rate"--Arab Israelis have a higher birth rate than Jewish Israelis, and Jews fear being overwhelmed. In fact, if trends continue, Jews will be in the minority in the forseeable future. Which is why Israeli actively encourages Jewish immigrants along with a host of other policies. Those fears are not irrational, given that the "Jewish state" is ringed by hostile countries, but they do point to a need for Israeli to pay a lot more attention to what is happening within its own borders--and that includes mundane things such as education and health care as well as issues of citizenship.