Is Israel a failed state? asks ‘American Conservative’

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Gershom Gorenberg

The American Conservative is fabulous. It has a piece on Israel as a failed state, by Noah Millman. It is broaching a question that the New York Times and Washington Post will get around to in another five years, I guess. Millman observes that Palestinians have never reconciled themselves to the idea of a Jewish state– and gosh, doesn’t their opinion matter?

Millman is reviewing Gershom Gorenberg’s important book, The Unmaking of Israel:

[Post ’67] The Israeli state broke its own and international law, but more alarmingly from the perspective of the integrity of the state, it encouraged private parties to believe that they were acting patriotically when they broke the law and forced the state’s hand, all in an effort to establish “facts on the ground” that would (those responsible presumably thought) redound to Israel’s benefit—or, more properly, to the benefit of the “Jewish national movement,” since Gorenberg’s contention is that this activity in fact damaged Israel as a state and since it wouldn’t be correct to talk about this or that activity benefiting an entire ethnic or religious group like “the Jews.” Since 1967, Gorenberg relates, the settlement enterprise has undermined the Israeli state top to bottom. It has fostered secrecy and corruption in government…

Gorenberg is making the case that Israel has encouraged the reversion to a pre-state mode of being; it has revived a situation where Jews are locked in ethnic conflict with their neighbors rather than dominating an independent state with relations (whether conflicted or harmonious) with neighboring states. But why blame Israel for this? How do we know that the pre-state situation ever really ended? Did the Arab states make peace in 1949? No. Have the Palestinians reconciled themselves to the idea of a Jewish state? No. Have the Palestinian citizens of Israel at least reconciled themselves to it? No. So why should Israel effectively disarm themselves and say: we’ve got enough; we’re not going to fight for more—even though you will continue to fight so that we have less. Why should Israel be the sucker?

…Zionism’s goal was a sovereign, independent Jewish state in the historic land of Israel, as a means to the moral and spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation. If the occupation is destroying Israel’s fundamental character, dismantling the state, and corrupting the people, as Gorenberg contends, then Zionists above all should want to end it, as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, and not try to hold out for the most favorable terms—to say nothing of holding out for the approval and acceptance of those for whom the Jewish state can at best be seen as an unfortunate fact of life.

After all, it was always absurd to think that anyone but the Jewish people would ever truly endorse the aims of Zionism, because Zionism was a specifically Jewish national project. That project is properly judged a success or failure by what kind of nation it built, and how. Which is how Gorenberg judges it. And, to his dismay but not despair, he finds it wanting.

The issue of Israel being “an unfortunate fact of life” for its Arab neighbors and even second-class Palestinian citizens seems to me the great imponderable of the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel was offered a chance to legitimize itself in the eyes of its neighbors and in the eyes of the Palestinians too with that 2002 overture–offered a chance to show accountability for the Nakba by allowing a return of the refugees. That is the answer to Millman’s questions about the irreconcilability of the Jewish state  for its neighbors; no, they rejected it, for a long time, and then offered an opening to it. The delegitimization of Israel that we have seen since is one that Israel itself has assisted fully, by treating its neighbors and non-Jewish citizens, including those under occupation, with such contempt.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for glomming this piece.

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