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A binational state is actually a compromise — ask Derrida

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Last summer Jeff Halper made the observation that the Israel/Palestine situation was moving from a South Africa model to an Algeria model. That is to say, the situation was now so extreme that some Palestinians imagined ultimately evicting Israeli neocolonials from the land. A bloody outcome indeed.

Halper himself envisions a South Africa outcome: one in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians share the land.

His view is of course in contrast to the Zionist paradigm, which is essentially colonial: Jews get the great majority of the land, Palestinians are consigned to enclaves.

I relate these paradigms as a preamble to an excerpt of a review by Adam Shatz of a new biography of philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), in the LRB that contains some vital wisdom about Israel Palestine, echoing Halper’s point.

Derrida was born in Algeria and throughout the independence struggles of the 50s and 60s, he always held out for a third way, in which French colonials would have their place in Algeria. That didn’t happen. They got evicted.

As you read this excerpt, consider that in the shadow of the Algerian experience, Derrida, a leftwing visionary who was active against apartheid, favored a third way in Israel/Palestine: a binational state. This represents a compromise of both national aspirations, and thus could actually be the most just outcome of a terribly polarized situation. Shatz/LRB:

Derrida returned home in 1957, at the height of the war of independence, to do his military service, teaching at a school southwest of Algiers. Derrida’s postcolonialist admirers will be disappointed, and his conservative critics surprised, to learn that he opposed both the FLN [national liberation front] and the partisans of Algérie française, holding out for a third way that might allow natives and settlers to share the country, perhaps in a federation with France. (In 1952, Derrida wrote a paper for a history class on ‘our African empire’: the idea of Algeria as an independent, majority-ruled republic was at that time as inconceivable to him as it was to Camus.) When a close friend serving in Brazza wrote to him about the torture of an Arab teenager, Derrida was horrified but refused to take a position: ‘Any attempt to justify or condemn either group is not just obscene, just a way of quietening one’s conscience, but also abstract, “empty”.’

In 1959 Derrida and Marguerite [Aucouturier, his wife, a psychoanalyst] returned to France. After a miserable stint teaching philosophy at a lycée in the provinces which ended in a nervous collapse, he landed a job as a lecturer at the Sorbonne. But his psychological state was precarious, his thoughts never far from his family in Algeria. In 1961, a year before independence, the historian Pierre Nora, a lycée classmate, published a scathing little book, Les Français d’Algérie, pillorying the colons as genocidal in their hatred of Arabs. Derrida sent Nora a 19-page single-spaced letter. He agreed that independence was now inevitable, but recoiled from Nora’s ‘harshly aggressive’ tone, his ‘desire to humiliate’. One couldn’t blame the pieds noirs while letting the true ‘masters’, the French government, off the hook. He was particularly angered by Nora’s scathing depiction of liberals like Derrida as de facto supporters of colonial rule.

Impressed by the letter, Nora suggested that they publish their debate, but Derrida preferred not to. ‘I realise that I love [Algeria] more and more, love it madly,’ he wrote to Nora after spending a final summer there in 1961, ‘which does not contradict the aversion I have long stated for it.’ After independence came in July 1962, his family – 15 of them – camped out at the Derridas’ flat outside Paris, before moving to Nice. Derrida, who would return to Algeria only twice, often spoke of his ‘nostalgeria’; he continued to insist that ‘a different type of settlement’ might have led to less suffering. Peeters suggests that Derrida had Algeria in mind when he expressed the hope that Israelis and Palestinians might find a way to live in a single, binational state. His experience of the Algerian war accounts for the moral sensitivity – the attention to nuance, the refusal to choose sides, as well as the occasional utopianism – of his political thinking.

One other note: As Mark Braverman said on our site, “The problem is not that we are not engaged, the problem is that we are VERY engaged, and it is the nature of that engagement that must change.” Just as Derrida faulted the masters of the disastrous Algeria situation, the French government. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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27 Responses

  1. seafoid on November 27, 2012, 11:58 am

    Algeria was such a tragedy. The country has still not recovered from the war. A bit like Vietnam, I think

    Surely Israel can do better than this.

    • pabelmont on November 27, 2012, 12:43 pm

      seafoid: That Israel “can” do better is irrelevant, although mathematicians are always interested in proofs of possibility — no point wondering much about an impossibility.

      But look at Israel today, its leaders, its political parties and its people and their ideas. They have not retreated from bloody-minded racial triumphalism (what else could motivate and justify the trashing of Gaza, of Lebanon, etc.?) and have not retreated from dedication of Israel as a Jewish state, the State “of” the “Jewish People” (whoever they may be) (if I’m one, I vote against Israel).

      So where is a binational state to come from — even though strictly speaking “possible”? And democratic? Was that part of it?

  2. Scott on November 27, 2012, 12:45 pm

    If the pied noirs had nuclear weapons, they would have used them.

  3. Mondowise on November 27, 2012, 1:20 pm

    borders based on the green line is already a huge compromise, any further compromise is more injustice to Palestinians.

  4. Mooser on November 27, 2012, 1:43 pm

    A bi-national state (actually it would be multi-national, and multi-religious and multi-ethnic) in Palestine would be a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt it can include Jews, as it has in the past. But what do you do with all the Zionists?

  5. Mooser on November 27, 2012, 1:47 pm

    “The problem is not that we are not engaged, the problem is that we are VERY engaged, and it is the nature of that engagement that must change.”

    Look at what the Allies did in post WW2 Germany for encouragement. We pulled that off, imperfectly, but it got done, and the possibility of a Nozi revival was eliminated, and the country put on a new course. It’s not beyond us.

    • john h on November 27, 2012, 2:32 pm

      Who is “us”?

    • LeaNder on November 27, 2012, 2:53 pm

      Moose, dear be so kind and sign for me a White House petition, seems I was deleted since I do not really live in 50674 Somner, WA but in .50674 Cologne, Germany.

      The petition at the end you have to sign for me is a petition against this petition, strictly a petition that has the support of Alan Dershowitz who thought this should never have happened:

      Launch a Federal investigation into the malicious prosecution of George Zimmerman in Seminole County Florida

      Now I strictly don’t need to explain but you have to sign this one for me, please, please, please:

      Investigate George Zimmerman for Civil Rights violation in his killing of Trayvon Martin

      My endless gratitude will try to protect every step you’ll take from now on into the future to it’s very hopefully more human end.

      • Mooser on November 27, 2012, 6:25 pm

        Sure, Lea, a pleasure. Consider it done!

      • LeaNder on November 27, 2012, 8:35 pm

        Thanks, Moose. ;)

        Thanks Moose, I realized I am not deleted yet. Strictly I have the same associative line of thought as seafroid. Look at this by Diwataman, what he is trying to tell you is, look Trayvon had it coming, just like the girl in a mini-skirt. This guy is soooo sick.

        I was also on serial suspension at Trayvon’s age, don’t ask me for what.

      • Mooser on November 28, 2012, 1:07 pm

        “Trayvon had it coming”

        All the girls around me say I’ve got it coming, but I get it while I can.

      • American on November 27, 2012, 9:01 pm


        I signed it and sent it to other friends of mine…..imo, from what I saw in the case Zimmerman deserves prison time.

    • seafoid on November 27, 2012, 5:24 pm

      4 million women were raped, Mooser. It wasn’t all beer and skittles.

      • Mooser on November 27, 2012, 6:42 pm

        “4 million women were raped, Mooser. It wasn’t all beer and skittles.”

        I’m not sure what you are getting at, but I think some kind of internationally supervised process will result in fewer atrocities, and at least make some attempt to separate those guilty of crimes, from those not. Remember, when Israel goes under, the Zionists are a danger to Jews, too. How do you think they will deal with Jews in Palestine who are opposed to their campaign to reconquer Palestine for Zionism? Any Jew, any former Israeli who is willing (or who knows, even eager) to live with the Palestinians under the new regime of equality will be the Zionist’s enemy. And those who prosper in the new system, along with Palestinians most of all.
        Israel will have to be de-Zionised.

      • seafoid on November 28, 2012, 7:33 am


        I don’t think post war Germany is a good example. The ethnic cleansing that was sanctioned by the Potsdam agreement was used to justify what the Zionists did in 1948.

        The years 1945-48 were brutal for ordinary Germans. There was nothing moral about what the Allies did.

        It should be possible to get Israelis down off their high horses while treating everyone with respect. Or else sanctions.

      • AhVee on November 28, 2012, 12:38 pm

        Mainstream phenomena have gone the way of the fringe within a remarkably short period of time before (racism, overt misogyny), provided enough intent is there. I hope that Israel will eventually find itself in a position that necessitates adopting such intent. History shows us that populations are fairly easily turned once circumstances change, so I, at least am optimistic that once Israel’s current state permutes and favors a bi-national state approach, its population will change to adapt. Once there is a consensus (and there has to be for a bi-national state to even be considered) that Zionism is unhealthy for the continued existence of this new idea, Zionism too will go the way of all ideas before it, which were deemed counter-productive to a prosperous society somewhere along their timeline. Low down: Once Israel finds itself faced with no other viable alternatives but a bi-national state and finally lets go of the Jewish nation idea, it will (have to) fight against Zionism as ferociously as it’s been breeding it these past decades.
        I’m more worried if such a circumstance will ever befall Israel, though hey, it might, if the Palestinians don’t fall too heavily in love with the two-state solution, thereby paving the way for negotiations (I mean once Israel is in a position in which it seriously has to negotiate, it obviously isn’t presently…) towards a 2SS, something Israel would obviously favor over letting go of their almighty Jewish state. I’m worried that once Israel starts flailing (and it will at some point), the Palestinians will jump at the opportunity to settle for less than they deserve, and somehow end up shooting themselves in the knee. (And yes, I consider the 2SS a first-class knee-shot.)

      • Mooser on November 28, 2012, 12:57 pm

        “It should be possible to get Israelis down off their high horses while treating everyone with respect.”

        Seafoid, I am not a rich man, but any time you want to go to Israel “to get Israelis down off their high horses while treating everyone with respect” I will buy you a ticket and wish you all the luck in the world.

        And believe me, I have nothing but respect for Israelis, and respect that the fact that a certain number of them are war and civil criminals, who will have to be in some way separated from access to power, (and for God’s sake, arms! And the ability to organise, but that’s going to be very tough, since they will be supported from outside)) for the sake of both Palestinians and Jews who wish to stay in the area. Oh yeah, I respect the hell out of them.

        OBTW, in this bi-national state, how will the resources be apportioned to support the number of people the Zionists have garrisoned there?

        Anyway, people can be a whole lot less fussy about the imperfections in the de-Zionisng process if the alternative is a good sacking.

      • Mooser on November 28, 2012, 1:05 pm

        ” There was nothing moral about what the Allies did.”

        Winning the war? Funny, I never would have suspected you of feeling that way. Well, what do I know, maybe the German WW2 Occupation of Europe and Russia was better than I though, and people do tend to be ungrateful. And after all Germany had done to help them in the war against obesity, often known as “The Battle of the Bulge”.

      • Citizen on November 28, 2012, 5:21 pm

        @ Mooser
        Good to know you are glad the ethnic Germans were transferred because they were born German in the East; how many died during the process, 2 million? And, hey, how many German women and girls were raped?

      • gamal on November 30, 2012, 8:11 am

        “how many died during the process, ” i knew one who at 14 walked from a German settlement in the east along with millions of others in a forced march, cant remember where from, he escaped and made his way to the toe of Italy and stowed away on a boat to Libya. He got to Tripoli with the intention of becoming a Bedouin, so he wandered around Tripoli till he saw a tall man in a white cape walking very fast with two camels. He followed him, the guy walked out of town and eventually stopped to find out why a 14 year old white boy was following him, they had no common language but the Bedou took him home and, he had taken the name Bashir when i met him in Coblenz, he fulfilled his ambition was taken in by the Bedouins eventually getting married and had kids, the tribe he was associated with were loyal to King Idriss when the king was overthrown by Khadaffi he got into difficulties and was finally expelled in the late seventies.

        His whole family had perished on the long march, he told me that something on the order of 4 million German settlers perished, he was granted German citizenship on his return and was a mainstay of the Muslim community in his town.

        In fact while there was “de-nazification” of a sort the Allies made sure that the same technocrats and industrialists who had been key to the Nazi regime remained in place, that was one of the central complaints of the Red Army Faction who nearly brought the state down in the ’70’s, just look at South Africa or Kenya, or anywhere else where vicious colonialism has been practiced, there is no easy cure, maybe Jews had better shape up and deal with the Zionists, what you afraid of few sun tanned Krav Maga adepts, the ME has always been multi-ethnic multi-faith, the nation state doesn’t suit it, the colonialists will be rejected and expelled or integrated in the fullness of time, the whole region is and has been fighting for liberation from foreign domination for 2 centuries in this latest iteration, when Abdel Krim revolted socialists and some others supported the rebels in the Riff, nowadays the generality of people in the core countries are going to have join the resistance or succumb to peonage, “De-Nazifiction” is going to have start in Washington, Bonn, London, Paris and all the other centres of the virus, instead of patronizing those engaged in anti-colonialist struggles you had better learn from them. Zionists are only the most overt of white supremacists the whole ideology needs tearing down, as Winona was pointing out.

        Palestine and all the Arabs will liberate themselves, look at the little Tamimi girls of Nabi Saleh they are the model, there are no safe places anywhere, the globe is being colonized, because white people have believed a load of shit about the rest of us and have been made cowardly by thinking that they are going to have easy privileged lives, y’all going to have struggle along with the other all the other billions, who like Hammas and Hizbullah and the Naxalites and the Farc etc are your comrades. or maybe the oppressors laws and good heartedness will deliver us all, or you at least, but i wouldnt count on it.

        Like the Jewish story of the Rabbi and the Rumour Monger, somethings once done cant just be undone.

  6. seafoid on November 27, 2012, 3:42 pm

    The bots are insane

    Back in 2008 ….

    When Mr Erekat asked Ms Livni: “Short of your jet fighters in my sky and your army on my territory, can I choose where I secure external defence?”. She replied: “No. In order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel – you have to choose not to have the right of choice afterwards. These are the basic pillars.”

    “Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible . . . the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state”. She conceded that it had been “the policy of the government for a really long time”.

    now in 2012
    “unilateral actions jeopardise peace” says the country with 850,000 of its citizens in the West Bank.


  7. on November 27, 2012, 6:24 pm

    “He was particularly angered by Nora’s scathing depiction of liberals like Derrida as de facto supporters of colonial rule.”
    Which they certainly were. What’s there to be “angered” about facts?
    No different than today’s “Anti-Zionists” who insist in imposing on the Palestinians the abomination of the “Law of Return”. Yes, people among us, who insist for obliging Palestinians to recognize citizenship to the smuggled Russian and American etc. colons and their murderous issue. When asked, many of these saboteurs answer that they do this because “Palestinians are weak against America”. Yet the Algerians were way weaker and enjoyed a lot less support in their time.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on November 27, 2012, 7:54 pm

    ● RE: “One couldn’t blame the pieds noirs . . .” ~ Derrida

    ● FROM WIKIPEDIA [Pied-Noir]:

    [EXCERPT] Pied-Noir (French pronunciation: ​[pjenwaʁ], Black-Foot), plural Pieds-Noirs, is a term referring to French citizens who lived in French Algeria before independence. Specifically, Pieds-Noirs include those of European settlers descent from France or other European countries (such as Spain, Italy and Malta), who were born in Algeria.[1][2] . . .
    . . . The actual origin of the term Pied-noir is unknown and therefore debated. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it refers to “a person of European origin living in Algeria during the period of French rule, especially a French person expatriated after Algeria was granted independence in 1962.”[1] The Le Robert dictionary states that in 1901 the word indicated a sailor working barefoot in the coal room of a ship, who would find his feet dirtied by the soot. In the Mediterranean, this was often an Algerian native, thus the term was used pejoratively for Algerians until 1955 when it first began referring to “French born in Algeria.”[7][8] This usage originated from mainland French as a negative nickname.[1] There is also a theory that the term comes from the black boots of French soldiers compared to the barefoot Algerians.[9] Other theories focus on new settlers dirtying their clothing by working in swampy areas, or trampling grapes to make wine.[10] . . .

    SOURCE –

    Generic Pied-Noir emblem –

  9. andrewpollack on November 27, 2012, 9:06 pm

    The colons (French colonists) were NOT expelled from Algeria, they left of their own racist volition. Which opened the way for the expropriation of the major economic institutions, and their running under worker self-management for the opening period after liberation.
    If the millions of recent settlers in all of historic Palestine go back to Brooklyn or Moldova, don’t expect me to shed any tears. It would, among other things, make it easier for Mizrahi Jews to come to grips with their own culture and find a way to live as equals with their Arab Palestinian sisters and brothers.

  10. Mooser on November 28, 2012, 1:02 pm

    “It would, among other things, make it easier for Mizrahi Jews to come to grips with their own culture and find a way to live as equals with their Arab Palestinian sisters and brothers.”

    They’re the ones who really tear at my heart. Those poor suckers, what chance did they have against the Zionists? Ashkenzi schlemiels and Mizrahi schlimazels.

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