David Remnick has written a 7,000 word essay describing the “one state reality” in Israel/Palestine. The article appears in the November 17 issue of theThe New Yorker.
The opening page of the article features a gritty photo of Israel’s President, Rueven Rivlin, with an ominous caption about the demise of “talk” about the two-state solution. The evident purpose of the article is to discredit Rivlin and his prominent advocacy for a one-state solution, granting citizenship and equality for all.
Remnick warns that such talk is a fig-leaf for right wing one-state ideology that has no intention of granting equal rights of citizenship to Palestinians. The conclusion we are expected to draw, it appears, is that we should pay no attention to Rivlin and his crazy one-state talk.
Note that Remnick does not believe the Palestinians will ever have a truly sovereign state. Any two-state solution with a chance of working, he says, must include federal arrangements on security, water, cell phone coverage, sewage and other infrastructure, he says. Remnick does not spell it out here, but what this means is that in any two-state solution Palestinians will not have an army, will not have control over their water, and the IDF will continue to patrol the Jordan Valley and all of Palestine anytime they deem it necessary for security. The key feature of this “workable” two-state solution would be that Palestinians will not have the right to vote in Israel. It means the notion of a Jewish state, as distinguished from a shared power arrangement that protects both Jewish and Palestinian cultures, can remain intact.
Remnick scapegoats Rivlin as a false front for the Israeli nationalist right wing, but he praises him for “being nice” and curbing some of the racist vitriol and jingoism. Be a nice boy, just don’t talk about one state with equal citizenship and rights for all!
Here is a closer look at Remnick’s article:
1. Remnick puts the problem front and center. Israel’s new president advocates for one state with citizenship and equal rights for all. Rivlin is sketched as a Borscht belt comedian, an eccentric who says crazy things. In other words, Remnick suggests Rivlin and his one-state talk should not be taken too seriously. On the other hand, Remnick notes favorably how Rivlin has become an “unlikely moralist” standing up against racism. Rivlin describes the problem as a lot of extremists talking too loudly, and nobody listening to each other. Remnick describes how Rivlin has been taking a lot of heat for this from Israelis.
2. Israeli politicians, says Remnick, are not sufficiently engaged with fighting the challenges to democratic practice. Remnick cites hate speech, attacks by settlers on Palestinians, Knesset legislation aimed at left wing peace groups, and polls showing that 30% of Israelis believe Palestinian citizens of Israel should not have the vote. Not sufficiently engaged when it comes to hate speech and Palestinian Israelis, but too much engaged when it comes to extending such citizenship to Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, suggests the article.
3. Remnick lists a litany of reasons for the “curdled atmosphere” that make up the one state reality today. He includes “the persistence of the occupation” but then adds a long laundry list that blames Palestinians, the wider Arab world and anti-Semitism. Reading this list, the typical American Zionist reader of The New Yorker will find no cause to alter his or her view that Israelis are the victims and that there is nothing to be done:
The reasons for the curdled atmosphere are many: the persistence of occupation; the memory of those lost and wounded in war and terror attacks; the Palestinian leadership’s failure to embrace land-for-peace offers from Ehud Barak, in 2000, and Ehud Olmert, in 2008; the chaos in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon; the instability of a neighboring ally like Jordan; the bitter rivalries with Turkey and Qatar; the regional clash between Sunni and Shia; the threats from Hezbollah, in Lebanon, from Hamas, in Gaza, and from other, more distant groups, like ISIS, hostile to the existence of Israel; the rise of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe and its persistence in the Arab world; a growing sense of drift from the Obama Administration.
All these extraneous factors, explains Remnick, have pushed Israeli society to a “fearful embattlement.” What Remnick does not include in his list here, although he alludes to it elsewhere in his article, is that this “curdled atmosphere” is also a consequence of the Zionist project itself–a problem which won’t be fixed by any “workable two-state solution.”
4. Remnick points again to the teen kidnappings this summer, and how this “outraged the nation,” leading to all manner of ugly retaliation. He cites examples, including a grizzled description of the revenge killing of 16 year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was captured in East Jerusalem during Ramadan, choked, beaten, and burned alive. He prominently places the “confession” by the killers of how they regret the act, and how they are really decent human beings.
5. Remnick outlines how the country as a whole has moved to the right, and how hard-line politicians spewing annexation are more openly jingoistic, and how racist elements now operate closer to the center of politics. Ah yes, of course, see the reasons in 3, readers are invited to think.
6. Remnick notes how Rivlin is “no doubt sincere” when he says he would give Arabs full civil rights in a Greater Israel.” But, warns Remnick, don’t go there: “[Rivlin] can be viewed as the more benign face of a right-wing one state-ideology” that wants to turn the occupation into a permanent security police state for Palestinians.
7. What is Remnick’s vision for two states? Remnick notes that any two-state solution with a chance of working must include federalist arrangements on security, water, cell phones coverage, sewage, etc. What this means in practice, of course, is no sovereignty for Palestinians. The land is too small for the two peoples to live wholly apart; yet they cannot live wholly together, says Remnick. The occupation, on this model, will remain consistent with whatever the security needs are. Palestinians will have no vote to influence this security apparatus in a Jewish state–ever.
It’s unlikely Palestinians would accept such a compromised two-state solution, and if they will not voluntarily accept it, the occupation remains. In other words, there does not appear to be much of a difference between the occupation security police state envisioned by the right wing settlers and what would likely result from a federated “workable” two state solution. The one difference: with a nominally two-state solution it is much easier to deny Palestinians the vote and say over their security police state, which will remain Israel. That’s where Rivlin comes in.
8. Nothing to see here about a one-state solution, move along, Remnick says:
To most Israelis and many Palestinians, a one-state solution is no solution at all. It seems like the by-product of left-leaning desperation or right-leaning triumphalism. Even many of those who know that a two-state peace settlement is far from imminent believe that a binational state represents not a promise of democracy and coexistence but a blueprint for sectarian strife—Lebanon in the eighties, Yugoslavia in the nineties. And yet the idea has a rich history.
In other words, Remnick suggests that no right thinking people would opt for a one-state solution.
9. On the right, says Remnick, one-state visions originally came from a failure to recognize the presence of “the other” in the land (“a people without land for a land without a people”); nowadays right wing one-state visions are pushed by extremists like Caroline Glick, who writes for the conservative Jerusalem Post and refers to the opera “The Death of Klinghofer” as “anti-Semitic smut,” and an “operatic pogrom” …. and by comedians like Rivlin, suggests Remnick. On the left, says Remnick, the idea originated with early Zionists like Brit Shalom and Ahad Ha’am, who had a vision of shared political power and who emphasized a Jewish spiritual revival in Israel/Palestine rather than a majority Jewish state. Martin Buber also warned against forming an unsustainable military state, although today the military state does not look so unsustainable–unless one wants to achieve peace, of course.
10. Remnick describes how two states were first discussed in 1936 and culminated in the UN partition plan in 1947. By 1948 the thought of a one-state binational state had dissolved and talk of two-states was moot with Syria asserting sovereignty over the Golan, and Jordan asserting sovereignty over the West Bank.
11. Remnick reports on a conversation with Meron Benvenisti (Deputy mayor of Jerusalem 1971-78). Benvenisti spoke out against the occupation from the outset and recognized early that the settlement process would make the occupation irreversible. The settlements meant that any Palestinian state would become a collection of Bantustans, he warned. Here is what else Benvenisti told Remnick:
“David Grossman (the novelist) says that occupation is the source of all evil. This is not true. The problem is the privileged condition of the Jewish ethnic group over the others, those defined as the ‘enemies,’ the ‘terrorists.’ You divert attention, so that it is easier to define, and you restrict your anger and fight a battle that to me is irrelevant. For the Israeli left, it is important that the game [of negotiations] goes on because it soothes their consciences. They are serious people. But they are serious in trying to salvage the Zionist creed. They need to remain Zionists, and for them the definition of Zionism is a Jewish state. They insist on seeing the beginning of the conflict in 1967. They can’t cope with 1948.”
This statement would seem to be directed at Remnick as well: the occupation is irreversible, why are you still talking about two states? Remnick does not take up the challenge to engage with this view.
I asked Benvenisti how his vision of one state would work. “Sometimes it is enough to be a diagnostician,” he said. “When you get into prescriptions, people tend to dismiss the diagnosis.”
By all appearance, Remnick dismisses the diagnosis even without a prescription. [Hint: the one-state solution can look just like the “workable two-state solution” with one big difference–Palestinians get the vote, equal protection under the law, and justice. What’s so bad about that? From Remnick’s point of view it’s the end of a Jewish state run by and for the benefit of Jews. It means power sharing; that’s what’s so bad]
12. Remnick also spoke with Sari Nusseibeh, whose relatives are the holders of the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nusseibeh used to be a two-state guy, but now thinks that “classical two-state is exhausted.” The Palestinian leadership did not deliver: they “failed to translate the idea into reality” Remnick reports Nusseibeh as saying. It’s not clear what is meant by “classic two-state solution” here. But from the tenor of the article as a whole, one might infer that Remnick means the “classic two-state solution” with actual sovereignty for a Palestinian state is dead; new fangled two-state solution with continued occupation is what can be achieved. Remnick reports that Nusseibeh is now focused on civil rights for Palestinians in the occupied territories as well as inside Israel. Remnick does not elaborate or follow up what this might mean or what this might imply. The instability in the region as a whole “conspires against a leap of faith” says Remnick (meaning moving forward on the new two-state solution?). He cites Nusseibeh for the proposition that Palestinians have it better than most Arabs elsewhere: “under the occupation land and resources are taken but we don’t live in fear,” Remnick reports. Nothing surprising to American Zionists here.
13. Remnick notes there have been prominent Western proponents of a one-state solution, such as Edward Said, Tony Judt, John Mearsheimer, Virginia Tilley, and Ali Abunimah. He does not discuss any of their proposals, and he does not need to because those names will reliably extract a dismissive sneer from Remnick’s American Zionist audience. He also acknowledges that polling in the West Bank indicates that the status quo has pushed Palestinians towards supporting a one-state solution. But he studiously ignores these supporters of a one-state solution beyond mentioning some names.
14. Remnick then finishes with a flourish: his coup de grace to the one-state talk so to speak. He spends a paragraph building up the Palestinian bona fides of Husam Zumlot, an Abbas adviser, only to have him laugh at the idea of a one-state solution and to have him say that he wouldn’t want to live in an Israeli state anyway. “For the past forty-seven years there has been an international consensus about a two-state solution…. So how do you throw that away?” And Remnick quotes former Israeli president Shimon Peres:
“One state is nonsense,” he told me, adding, “Czechoslovakia had a divorce and they were better off. The Palestinians are well aware that no Israeli government would consider a binational alternative in which they were in the majority. The history of Jews living as a minority in Arab states is not a pretty one. Edward Said, when he was asked in 2000 by a writer from Haaretz what would happen to a Jewish minority in a binational state, replied, “It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know.”
“What persists,” concludes Remnick, is the one-state reality, the status quo of occupation, and, with it, the corrosive rhetoric and behavior that “has turned Rivlin into an unexpected prophet.”
15. Remnick quotes Peres as stating that South African Apartheid was broken not by sanctions, but by the feeling of being isolated in the world that sanctions brought about.
“Many Israeli friends have remarked on the élite in the country—doctors, artists, engineers, businesspeople; call it two hundred thousand people—who provide Israel with its economic and cultural vibrancy. That élite is no less patriotic than the rest, but if its members begin to see a narrowing horizon for their children, if they sense their businesses shrinking, if they sense an Israel deeply diminished in the eyes of Europe and the United States, they will head elsewhere, or their children will. Not all at once, and not everyone, but there is no denying that one cost of occupation is isolation.”
Remnick is betting that this scenario of decline can still be avoided through a “two state solution with a chance of working”….no matter how remote. In other words, despite the ugly one state reality, Remnick thinks that Israel can continue to have its cake and eat it too.
However, if Benvenisti is correct that the occupation is irreversible, and Remnick provides no reason why we should think Benvenisti is not correct, the only way to avoid the isolation and loss of elites that Peres fears may be to listen more to Israel’s one state president Reuven Rivlin and his crazy talk of extending citizenship to everyone and setting a goal of working for a state based on equal rights and protection for all… and to listen less to Remnick.
This piece first appeared on Roland Nikles’s blog two days ago.