Yesterday's profile of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the Times was an important expression of mainstream liberal opinion. It was fair and limited. The author, Roger Cohen, is agonized by the moral position of an Israeli society that has morphed into a security state, and he expresses the fervent desire that the two sides will get to a two-state solution now. To his credit, Cohen wrestles with the spiritual crisis that Israel is in. He sees the horror of the wall, he quotes a rightthinking Israeli dot-commer as saying that the occupation has corrupted Israel. At the end of the article Cohen fights back tears at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv over the bravery that Rabin once showed. He wonders whether Livni, if she becomes P.M., will show such courage.
That seems to me the problem with the piece, a lack of detachment. Cohen only feels licensed to discuss ideas that are in the Israeli mainstream. When I would have him approach this struggle as a detached American. There is an assumption throughout the piece that Americans should be committed to the idea of a Jewish state.
"[T]he insidious one-state talk is a measure of the conflict’s dangerous drift," Cohen writes. Though he assures the reader, "It won't happen, of course."
Myself I don't regard the one-state talk as "insidious." There are hopeful ways of framing that objective--see Ali Abunimah. As for partition, its byproducts include the utter dehumanization of both sides and the shaping of both people's identities by violence.
Ironically, it is Livni herself, the Jabotinskyite, who puts forward the arguments here against a Jewish state. It is Livni who cites the European example, in which borders seem to be falling between nations. And Livni who says that some Palestinians regard the wall between Jew and Arab as a modern "ghettoization." Cohen writes, "One of Livni’s catchphrases is, 'There is a process of delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state.' She sees herself in a race against time..." At least, Livni is addressing a political reality: the more time passes with Israel licensing settlements and abusing Palestinian human rights, the more the Jewish state casts away its moral legitimacy--and the more leftwing Jews come out for a binational solution (just as the left framed the two-state solution a generation ago). C.f., Tony Judt, who is of course unmentioned. Or Avrum Burg, the former Knesset speaker who says that Israel's policies are "fascist."
Cohen cannot bring himself to mention these ideas. But as for the idea of a tunnel under the desert connecting the West Bank and Gaza as a Palestinian state, Cohen passes this along as reasonable...
I felt that Cohen was excluding other narratives as well. While his article touched on the power of the Israel lobby in this country, he equated its political weight--this is the new default liberal position--with the weight of the evangelical Christians and the Bush administration's vision of a war on terror. He writes:
The impact of Israel-loving evangelicals, the Jewish lobbyists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the post-9/11 conflation of global and Palestinian terror has made selling Palestine in Washington about as easy as selling the North Korean economic model.
I think this is a tautology. The "post-9/11 conflation of global and Palestinian terror" and therefore of Israeli and American interests--a wonderful phrase; I'm grateful to Cohen for it--is itself an expression of the power of the Israel lobby in American public life--whether it is advanced by AIPAC or by liberals like Paul Berman, Tom Friedman, and Lawrence Kaplan. The Times has the power to affect that orthodoxy. Cohen surely knows that an important book on the Israel lobby by Mearsheimer and Walt is lurking in the wings--a book that may well elevate the Palestinian "Naqba" of 1948 into the American conversation. I am sure that Livni worries about this book, how it could affect American political support. Why doesn't Cohen call up a realist? (Let alone an anti-Zionist).
Israel/Palestine is a giant problem for American foreign policy. It would be nice to have a discussion in this country about it without labelling ideas like a binational state "insidious."