This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
The One State/Two State debate has ignited again with Ian Lustick’s, “Two State Illusion” in the Sunday New York Times. Ilan Pappe has also weighed in on the subject in his essay, “The Two State Solution Died Over a Decade Ago.” [link]
Of the two, I would chose Pappe’s – with a caveat. The Two State solution hasn’t actually been on the table since the 1967 war. That’s going on fifty years.
What’s important is the future. While serving up American-size rhetoric on the dangers facing Israel/Palestine in the years ahead, Lustick is weak on what it would take to reach his goal of expanding justice and security for Jews and Palestinians. Pappe is more direct but he, too, comes up against the disturbing reality that no one from within the Middle East or outside of it has the answer to the urgent question: How can Palestinian freedom be implemented?
The current Egyptian and Syrian situation model how the impasse in Israel/Palestine is being handled. With regard to Egypt, America, along with Europe, Russia, China and the international community at large, has accepted martial law and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and Left of center dissidents as necessary for a stable Middle East. In Syria, the deal America and Russia brokered a few days ago accepts the Assad government as the organizing framework for national stability. Egypt and Syria signal containment as the policy of choice. Justice is bartered for stability.
The present peace process follows this containment policy. Though containment represents a continuation of past policies toward Palestinians, it is now intensified and adjusted for regional instability in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Containment allows Israel to keep everything it has taken in Jerusalem and the West Bank – with more to come. The Palestinians need to get something out of containment, too, if not for their future, at least so the policy can be maintained in an effective manner. Historically, Palestinians were able to destabilize the Middle East region. In the present, the Palestinian threat to destabilize has lessened dramatically. Thus the peace process offer to Palestinians isn’t more land or a real state – on the negotiating table is less of both. Rather the offer is limited to the promise of more international assistance, employment projects and an enhanced economy.
Yet the warning bells continue to sound on the future of Israel/Palestine. Palestinians can’t live forever under an increasingly dispiriting occupation. Israel’s victory has stretched its resources thin; the instability in the Middle East can cut for and against Israel. Lustick understands the dangers ahead but he remains on the fence; he thinks catastrophe can be averted by Israeli and Palestinians citizens realizing their joint interests outside of the national identities they’ve heretofore assumed as defining. While there’s some hope in this sensibility, the idea that the Israel/Palestine divide will be overcome outside of inherited national identities is difficult to imagine.
One of the arguments Lustick alludes to is that the borders of Israel and Palestine are blurred. Israel has an internationally recognized border – which it doesn’t adhere to. Palestine has an international border-in-waiting – which it can’t assume control of. Lustick’s mixing and matching of the One State/Two State solution comes partially from this geographic and identity interweaving of Israelis and Palestinians. This includes more than a million Palestinians within Israel’s internationally recognized border.
While Lustick is an American political scientist, Pappe is an Israeli historian. Of the two, Pappe is more convinced that only one democratic, secular state of Israel/Palestine will suffice for the future of Jews and Palestinians. Pappe isn’t a fence sitter. He is direct. Nonetheless, there are issues Pappe is unable to resolve. He begins with the counter forces to present Israeli hegemony:
There are no political parties of any significance in Israel that offer to change this reality. There is no real Western plan to stop the solidification of this one state on the ground, let alone offer a viable alternative to it in seriousness. Factors such as the fragmentation on the Palestinian side, the disintegration of the Arab nation states around Israel and a continued unconditional American support to Israel, all act as a buffer that cushions the Israeli Jewish public from any potential threats to their new enlarged, racist, but economically viable state.
What is Pappe left with if state-actor politics can’t do the job?
The moral validity of this new geo-political enlarged state of Israel has been eroded significantly since the successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign by Palestinian civil society began few years ago. Israel’s own actions have contributed to the state’s further de-legitimisation in the eyes of the civil societies around the world.
The past struggle in the West against South Africa’s apartheid regime shows that intentional rejection of a regime’s legitimacy is a bottom up process, and this may still happen to the new, enlarged state of Israel. The role of Palestine’s friends world-wide has therefore not changed and this is to continue with the same commitment and vigour to pressure their governments to sanction this new regime for its criminal policies.
One state is Pappe’s answer. If not, catastrophe lies ahead:
The strategy for the people inside has also not changed much. The sooner they realise that they cannot struggle any more for an independent Palestine inside the ‘Palestinian space’, the better. They could instead concentrate on uniting the Palestinian front and strategising a struggle plan, together with progressive Israelis, for a regime change in this new one state that was established in 2001. There is an urgent need for a new strategy to reformulate the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in the land of Israel and Palestine.
The only reasonable regime for this seems to be one democratic state for all. If this is not going to happen, the storm on Israel’s borders will gather with even bigger force than hitherto. Everywhere in the Arab world, people and movements are seeking ways of changing regimes and oppressive political realities – surely this will also reach the new enlarged Israel; if not today, then tomorrow. The Israelis may occupy the best deck on the Titanic, but the ship is nonetheless sinking.
Pappe’s direction ends in indirection. Pappe features mutual Israeli and Palestinian solidarity as a primary strength precisely because the national and international actors are weak – at least in their intentions toward Jews and Palestinians. Perhaps he has no other choice. But if his rhetoric is hopeful, Pappe seems already behind the regional and international curve. Right now the Middle East future is less about movements for changing regimes and oppressive political realities and more about state actors consolidating their power.
Pappe’s appeal to the Titanic is historical and literary – shall we say musical? But nation sinking is dangerous and not only for Israel and its majority Jewish population. In the case of a catastrophe visited upon Israel, what will happen to Palestinians? The likelihood of Palestinians escaping Israel’s sinking without devastating them is slim.
It seems everyone believes that the collapse of Israel is in the near future and automatically assumes that collapse is in the best interests of Palestinians. This assumption needs probing. It’s as likely that the Egyptian and Syrian model of containing Palestinian freedom would be imposed either by the Palestinian leadership that emerges in the wake of the collapse or, perhaps more likely, by outside powers in the Middle East (in consort with that Palestinian leadership) whose self-interest is to control Palestine.
Is it possible that countries like Egypt and Jordan – with assistance from Saudi Arabia – might step in to help Israel in its time of need? Don’t laugh. Israel is part of the security network in the Middle East. If you think that it’s only America – or Europe – that has a vested interest in Israel surviving and thriving, you haven’t been paying attention to the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Both Lustick and Pappe seek to avoid collapse by envisioning a consciousness that averts the catastrophe in the making. Their consciousness-raising arguments are politically weak. It’s unlikely that any Middle East actor will force Israel to its knees. Politically we have to assume that Israel isn’t going to collapse and that a Palestinian state is still-born. We also have to assume that, whatever the arguments in its favor, Israeli Jews, in consort with Jews around the world and the powers that be in the international system, are not going to voluntarily or through the use of force promote or demand one democratic and secular state for Jews and Palestinians.