I’d like to continue a recent discussion at this site on the Jewish state and a possible settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and do so by addressing the very interesting and subtle comment by Shmuel.
Shmuel begins by quoting my response to another critic: “I am suggesting that in a Jewish state it would be possible to privilege certain matters of particular concern to Jews, but yet not mean that the Arabs would be treated as second class in all other ways of far greater consequence. You appear to be simply denying such a possibility, but you have provided no analysis of why such a system is impossible.”
Shmuel then writes:
“This was actually the premise of Israel’s declaration of independence, the platform of various political parties and governments throughout Israeli history, and it is an idea still espoused by many Israelis. Yet, it has never worked, de jure or de facto. Furthermore, there is an “us or them” attitude – reflected most grotesquely in the Israeli obsession with the “demographic problem” – that is unlikely to change as long as any sort of preference or privilege is afforded to one group over the other. With a Palestinian state next door, this may even get worse. You are basically talking about nuances of identity and administration that require an incredible amount of good will – far more, in my opinion, than the un-nuanced “one man one vote” approach. As Jerry Haber (Magnes Zionist) points out, the part of whatever democratic polity may emerge that will be Jewish will not cease to be so simply because it does not have greater privilege or control than the non-Jewish parts of society. What comes naturally will come naturally, but I believe it is asking for trouble to begin the entire experiment with any kind of declared inequality – even nominal inequality. With regard to Israel continuing to serve as a safe haven for persecuted Jews, I’m convinced (and have heard as much from Palestinians) that a solution is possible, without the need to define Israel as a specifically Jewish state."
I would like to see Shmuel develop his argument, and I have several queries for him:
First, you do not appear to reject my argument that in principle there is no inherently irreconcilable conflict between a formal recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the treatment of its Palestinian citizens as full equals. Rather, you say that this was the way it was supposed to be, but it hasn’t worked. Does that imply that it can never work?
Second, if so, what is the alternative? If I understand your argument correctly, the implication of “the un-nuanced one man one vote approach” that you favor would require a single binational state. If so, why would you consider that a more realistic alternative than relatively small privileging of Jews in a Jewish state? That a binational state would be morally preferable in an ideal world is not the issue--we don't live in that world. If the Israelis won’t grant full equality to a minority currently constituting 20% of a de facto Jewish state, what possibility is there that they would do so if they became a minority in a binational state?
Third, I agree that the need--or alleged need, if you prefer--for a specifically-defined Jewish state would be greatly and maybe completely alleviated if the Jewish “right of return “ to Israel could be maintained. Can you develop this? Has it become part of the negotiating process, even informally? Would that work even in a binational state? And if immigration were unlimited for Jews but not for others, why wouldn’t that be an inequality? And if you concede that it would be, then wouldn’t that undercut the argument that other inequalities--which you agree might be nominal--cannot be allowed?
Here’s my own bottom line. Given the history of the Jews, it was necessary to establish a Jewish state, somewhere, and in light of that same history, it cannot be said that the need for a Jewish state—de facto or formal—has definitively ended, for all time. That the creation of that state in Israel in a land already inhabited by another people created an injustice is undeniable, but the dilemma of Zionism—there was an imperative need for a Jewish state, but no place to put it—could and of course should have been mitigated in many ways by the Israelis, none of which they did.
It’s not too late to mitigate the inevitable injustice to the Palestinians, but given Israeli attitudes, not to mention the inevitable consequences of more than 80 years of binational conflict, the most that can be expected is an end to the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state, along the lines accepted by practically everyone, including, it now appears, the West Bank leadership.
We all know that Netanyahu raised the issue of a formal acknowledgment of Israel as a Jewish state as a pretext to avoid any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but unfortunately the demand apparently has taken on a life of its own among most Israelis. That being the case, the Palestinians should agree to the demand, but only as part of an overall settlement that created a viable Palestinian state, accompanied by guarantees that the Israelis would now grant fully equal economic and civil rights to the Israeli Arabs.
This latter argument cannot be refuted by observing that the Israelis have already made that commitment to its Arab citizens and violated it, so what would stop them from doing so in the future? Not much, probably. But that’s not the point: what is the alternative? Isn’t it more likely that the Israelis would live up to their principles in conditions of peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole, than under the current circumstances?
To conclude: we live in an imperfect world, full of injustices, tragic dilemmas, and circumstances we can’t control. There is no perfectly just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even in principle, let alone in practice. If those who rightly abhor Israeli policies give up on a two-state settlement in favor of a binational state that under all present and foreseeable circumstances is pure fantasy, they will get nowhere at all.