Trending Topics:

What Comes Next: Once the one-state reality in Israel/Palestine is recognized, the basis for a comprehensive peace will be clear

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 22 Comments

whatcomesnexthorizontal

This post is part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here.

Whatever comes next in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the State of Israel is here to stay.

To acknowledge this fact is not to nod to Israel’s “right to exist”—people have rights, states are supposed to protect them—but to bow to the one-state reality in historical Palestine. There is but one sovereign entity in that territory and there is presently no combination of political forces that can produce a second or compel the first to surrender its sovereignty. Anyone who would see peace in Israel-Palestine must first grapple with the many implications of the one-state reality.

Number one is the need to adopt a tragic view of history whereby Zionism is both a Jewish national liberation movement and a settler-colonial project. The State of Israel is both an electoral democracy with liberal features, albeit ever fewer, and an exclusionary polity. There is no contradiction here—look at the United States—and, indeed, Shira Robinson argues that the legal niceties of exclusion are precisely what made Israel a “liberal settler state.” The need of David Ben-Gurion’s lawyers to justify second-class citizenship for Palestinians in Israel, incidentally, speaks to the one sense in which Israel is held to a double standard. Alone among the surviving settler-colonial states of the world, Israel’s founding is judged by post-Nuremberg standards. There is no right of return for Maoris or Mohicans. It is cold comfort for displaced Palestinians, who may never get to exercise their right, but because Israel was born in the twentieth century its ability to use nineteenth-century methods of conquest is not unfettered.

A corollary is that the same body of international law that Palestinians reference in support of their national rights also provides for the existence of the State of Israel. The UN admitted Israel—recognizing the settler-colonial project as a fait accompli—despite the world body’s nominal commitment to decolonization. The recognition is explicit in the text of several UN resolutions and juridical opinions, but more to the point, it is inherent in the very logic of international law, which after all is intended to police the behavior of states. As Mezna Qato and Kareem Rabie put it, “Laws have no enforcement agents except for the states they regulate.” Qato and Rabie offer this insight as part of a critique of the Palestinian movement’s abandonment of national liberation in favor of a discourse of rights that is so safe as to be indistinguishable from “liberal pieties and moralisms.” It is hard to contest their conclusion that international law has functioned mainly to protest Israel’s colonizing acts, while vouching for the legitimacy of the settler-colonial project itself. But if international law were fully and evenly applied, up to and including UN Resolution 194 stipulating the right of return, the State of Israel would not be legislated out of existence. The question would be the nature of the state—a political matter first, and a legal matter second.

Advocates for the Palestinians, therefore, do themselves no favors when they see Israel only as the oppressor of an occupied and dispossessed people. It is true, as Zachary Lockman showed years ago, that the Zionist and Palestinian historical narratives make sense only in relation to one another. But Israel did not simply appropriate Palestinian customs or import European ones. Like other settler-colonial projects, Israel created something new from the old, reviving and modernizing the Hebrew language, fostering a polyglot culture that drew upon traditions Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Arab, Persian and Turkish, Levantine and North African, to list a few. It is true as well that the rancorous debates of Israeli politics make little sense without reference to the unresolved question of Palestine. Much as many Israeli Jews wish it were otherwise, “the territories” cast a shadow over every “domestic” dispute. At the same time, Israel is a complex society in its own right, shot through with the overlapping tensions of religion, race and class that are familiar from other settler-colonial settings. The advent of BDS tactics should not deter pro-Palestinian activists from serious study of Israel, not in some naïve search for progressive allies (though those brave few deserve hearty solidarity), but in continuous effort to understand the “domestic” social and political currents that shape the Israeli state and, in turn, drive its approach to the questions of Palestine and Israel’s place in the Middle East. Max Ajl’s analysis of the summer 2011 encampments in Tel Aviv is an example of how to take Israel seriously without writing Palestinians out of the story.

Last, the one-state reality seems to obviate the recurrent discussion about which “solution”—two states or one—is most just or most readily achievable. Some may see such neutrality as an abdication of responsibility to present a positive political program or yet another missed opportunity to miss an opportunity. And these critics may be right. But surely the “solution,” if there is one, will be conceived and made possible through the cumulative lessons of struggles on the ground and the interactions those struggles occasion.

Outsiders have a role, of course, partly to press in international arenas for an end to Israeli impunity and partly to educate the public. The world needs to know about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to understand why US-sponsored attempts to breathe life into the Oslo process are so half-hearted. The world also needs to know that the State of Israel is no ephemeral interlude, but the culmination of a project that has altered Palestine irrevocably and will be formative of Palestine’s future. The sooner the one-state reality is clear, the sooner the basis for a comprehensive peace can show its face.

ctoensing
About Chris Toensing

Chris Toensing is editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, DC.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

22 Responses

  1. Hostage
    Hostage
    October 17, 2013, 10:27 am

    A corollary is that the same body of international law that Palestinians reference in support of their national rights also provides for the existence of the State of Israel. The UN admitted Israel—recognizing the settler-colonial project as a fait accompli—despite the world body’s nominal commitment to decolonization.

    Not at all. Israel deliberately violated the body of international minority rights law that applies to the creation of states. It lied about constitutional protections for minority rights in order to get into the UN. It still complains when the UN human rights organs point out that Israel discriminates against minorities in violation of its Charter obligations.

  2. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    October 17, 2013, 10:56 am

    “Whatever comes next in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the State of Israel is here to stay”. Not necessarily, in a one state scenario with a projected Palestinian majority in 10/20 years and assuming those Palestinians were given equal rights, how could the state of Israel survive? And if the Israelis are so against a two state solution because it would mean abandoning the claim to sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, why would they go for a one state solution when the demographics would be against them in the near future? The Israelis are more against a one state solution than a two state one, what they have in mind is the “fried chicken” option whereby they annex [in a de facto sense first] the 60% of the West Bank they administer now and concoct some exotic constitutional formula for the Palestinians, walled off in Bantustans surrounded by settlements, while still claiming sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
    The claim that there is only one sovereign entity in that territory could not be more wrong, as long as the occupation continues sovereignty [self determination] resides with the Palestinian people, until the occupation ends and the legitimate sovereign returns in the form of an elected government in an independent Palestine. The solution to Israel/Palestine is all rather simple, we do not need Professors of this that and the other to tell us the answers, just end the occupation and abide by International law, unless that is done there will be no solution.

    • Sibiriak
      Sibiriak
      October 18, 2013, 10:54 am

      HarryLaw:

      Not necessarily, in a one state scenario with a projected Palestinian majority in 10/20 years and assuming those Palestinians were given equal rights, how could the state of Israel survive?

      It wouldn’t, of course.

      The Israelis are more against a one state solution than a two state one, what they have in mind is the “fried chicken” option whereby they annex [in a de facto sense first] the 60% of the West Bank they administer now and concoct some exotic constitutional formula for the Palestinians, walled off in Bantustans surrounded by settlements, while still claiming sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

      Exactly.

      The claim that there is only one sovereign entity in that territory could not be more wrong….

      I agree…and that claim seems strangely out of sync with the rest of the argument.

  3. talknic
    talknic
    October 17, 2013, 12:02 pm

    The article sounds rather like not treating the abused who has in turn become the abuser. A slippery and dangerous slope that ain’t gonna stop the abuse.

    We had no problem throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait with far less warning. What’s the difference?

  4. Donald
    Donald
    October 17, 2013, 12:06 pm

    “Alone among the surviving settler-colonial states of the world, Israel’s founding is judged by post-Nuremberg standards. There is no right of return for Maoris or Mohicans.”

    What? Native Americans are badly treated in many ways, but they aren’t confined to reservations anymore.

  5. smithgp
    smithgp
    October 17, 2013, 12:24 pm

    “Like other settler-colonial projects, Israel created something new from the old, reviving and modernizing the Hebrew language, fostering a polyglot culture that drew upon traditions Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Arab, Persian and Turkish, Levantine and North African, to list a few. ”

    This is a startling contention. Surely the effect of Zionist enterprise has been overwhelmingly destructive of Middle East Jewish culture, not creative. The vibrant, TRULY polyglot Jewish communities in Tehran, Cairo, Damascus, etc., etc. shriveled in the aftermath of the Nakba, partly as a result of strenuous Zionist recruitment and covert action (cf. the Lavon affair), and partly as a result of a sharp, understandable, if not excusable, rise in anti-Semitism in the region. The “reverse Nakba”–the exodus of ~800,000 Jews from the countries of the Middle East–may not have been the moral equivalent of the Nakba itself, but it was nonetheless a disastrous impoverishment of Middle East Jewish culture. I’m thinking what a “birthright” trip might be for American Jews today if Zionism had not become a campaign for ethnic sovereignty–if it had become a modernizing enrichment rather than a militaristic wizening of Middle East Judaism.

    None of this is to deny that Israeli Jews have the same inherent right to live in their homeland as the Palestinians they expelled. But isn’t this the whole point of BDS?

    • Sibiriak
      Sibiriak
      October 18, 2013, 10:59 am

      George Smith:

      Surely the effect of Zionist enterprise has been overwhelmingly destructive of Middle East Jewish culture, not creative…

      Creative destruction?

  6. Sycamores
    Sycamores
    October 17, 2013, 12:49 pm

    “Whatever comes next in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the State of Israel is here to stay.”
    no, not necessary. a small shift world politics and demographics could easily see israel vanish from our atlases.

    one question: why should israel exist? i still have not heard any reasonable answer to this question.

    israel is a colonial state with western roots it sticks out like a sore thumb in the Middle East, it has done nothing to endear itself to the region. instead it has cause nothing but tension and strife.

    if israel vanish tomorrow no one would miss it.

    now we can talk about the UN, the Holocaust, 1SS and Jewish nationlism but lets not start an article with a debate killing line like “the State of Israel is here to stay.”

    only when all possibilities are on the table do people realise what’s at stake.

    PS: the Arab narrative goes back far longer than any modern zionist narrative.

  7. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    October 17, 2013, 1:11 pm

    Israel’s founding is judged by post-Nuremberg standards (to some extent) because it happened after Nuremberg. That is what “post” means — after.

  8. hophmi
    hophmi
    October 17, 2013, 1:44 pm

    See examples above of how dogmatic ideologues respond to pragmatists, even pragmatists within their own movement.

    You’ve got to get rid of these people, pro-Palestinian movement. They’re dragging you down.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      October 17, 2013, 2:00 pm

      “You’ve got to get rid of these people, pro-Palestinian movement. They’re dragging you down.”

      No, it simply has to ignore racist concern trolls like you.

    • Donald
      Donald
      October 17, 2013, 2:42 pm

      You have to be more specific, hophmi, if you have a serious criticism of the various people above you in the thread. I agree with the call to be pragmatic–on another thread (the one about Peratis), I agree with David Samel and Shmuel that we should welcome allies whose opinions we don’t totally share. I found some of her opinions wrong, but am glad she supports some form of BDS. I myself don’t know how far I would take BDS (certainly not as far as the brutal sanctions on Iran, not that there is any chance of that anyway.)

      I wasn’t making a general complaint about Toensing’s post–just about one particular sentence.

      Now on your side, if you 2SS supporters wish to make progress, I think you’re all going to have to get a lot tougher on Israel. Stop making excuses for their crimes and start supporting attempts at pressuring them

    • Sycamores
      Sycamores
      October 17, 2013, 5:09 pm

      hophmi,

      when talking about Palestine/israel in relation to an 1SS all questions and theories should be discuss.

      colonial states are here one day and gone the next nothing too strange about that, history is full of examples.

      i put this simple question to you: why should israel exist?

      and if you are going to use the UN for your answer forget it.

      it’s not that radical of an idea for a question,

      http://www.debate.org/opinions/should-israel-exist should israel exist

      58% say no
      42% say yes

    • Eurosabra
      Eurosabra
      October 17, 2013, 9:37 pm

      I found it rather chilling but was relieved by the honesty: this is what pro-Palestinian theorists do with a brief for the State of Israel made on the basis of secular claims, namely, that the claim that Israeli Jews have the right to a certain security in existence (lent by the state) based on their rights as an existing human community, claims made without recourse to the “historical rights” or “lifeboat state” claim that no Palestine-in-place-of-Israel advocate can ever acknowledge. It turns out they also won’t recognize minimal claims based on the idea that OneState Palestine/Israel has to guarantee Israeli Jews’ human rights. Most edifying, if discouraging.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        October 18, 2013, 9:54 am

        ” the claim that Israeli Jews have the right to a certain security in existence (lent by the state) based on their rights as an existing human community,”

        The problem — as always — is that those Jews insist on building that “security” at the expense of the rights of the Palestinians. We’ve seen it all before. When you zios come out and say “1 state for all the people of historical Palestine, where everyone is fully and completely equal in every respect without regard for religion or ethnicity and everyone has the vote for a single state where everyone’s rights and security is guaranteed” then the conversation starts. But you won’t, because it’s always “Special rights for Jews! Special rights for Jews! And the Palestinians have to be okay with being second-class citizens.”

  9. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    October 17, 2013, 1:45 pm

    I found much of this article hard to understand. The proposition that international law must ‘provide for the existence’ of Israel as a state because it is a form of law that applies to states seems preposterous to me. As if a law applying to conspiracies and robber bands ‘provides for the existence’ of those organisations rather than seeks to dissolve them. (That’s not a proof that Israel’s existence actually does conflict with international law, only that this alleged proof that there is no conflict is invalid.) Mohicans and Maoris (what odd examples!) are not groups expelled from the United States or New Zealand and demanding to return. They are groups now enfranchised within those countries. On the other hand it would surely be morally wrong to deny the right of the descendants of Jewish people expelled from European countries during the Nazi era to return to those countries: I think there’s no question of a double standard.
    The outrage visited on the people of Diego Garcia receives little attention but is still an outrage.

    • Donald
      Donald
      October 17, 2013, 2:46 pm

      “Mohicans and Maoris (what odd examples!) are not groups expelled from the United States or New Zealand and demanding to return. They are groups now enfranchised within those countries. On the other hand it would surely be morally wrong to deny the right of the descendants of Jewish people expelled from European countries during the Nazi era to return to those countries: I think there’s no question of a double standard.”

      Yeah.. For myself, I don’t have any general complaint to make about this post, but was baffled by the Mohican/Maori statement The US has plenty to be ashamed of with respect to its treatment of Native Americans (most recently, poor Native Americans were hit hard by the idiotic government shutdown, yet another sin to be laid at the Tea Party’s white-centric worldview). But Native Americans aren’t confined to reservations.

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        October 17, 2013, 6:52 pm

        What if , ‘What comes next ‘ is a leveled multicultural anemic oligarchy,
        something like New York , NPR Terry Grosses cozy with fat cat Bloombergs and polster hack Schumers, good social liberals all, pontificating over the need to help the still poor Blacks and Browns, while they’ve endured 150 plus years of defacto if not dejure servitude.
        Plus an unsinkable aircraft carrier in a strategic part of the wilderness.

        That’s the promised land one state solution BDS is selling? Who’s funding this initiative behind the scenes, I can guess.

        an aging europe?

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        October 18, 2013, 11:06 am

        Donald

        But Native Americans aren’t confined to reservations.

        Legally, no. But the reality is Native American nations were destroyed, there ARE reservations (310 in the U.S.), and there is no justice. The “tragic view of history.”

  10. Ludwig
    Ludwig
    October 17, 2013, 8:40 pm

    Wonderful article and I completely agree with the sentiment. More pragmatism please!

  11. RoHa
    RoHa
    October 17, 2013, 9:29 pm

    “whereby Zionism is both a Jewish national liberation movement… ”

    Only it isn’t.

  12. Sibiriak
    Sibiriak
    October 18, 2013, 11:11 am

    the State of Israel is here to stay.

    —-

    The sooner the one-state reality is clear, the sooner the basis for a comprehensive peace can show its face.

    Contradiction. A “one state reality” ultimately means that the State of Israel is NOT here to stay.

Leave a Reply