In the last day everyone has been talking about Peter Beinart’s article abandoning the two-state solution in Jewish Currents. Beinart says the effort to create a Palestinian state has failed, and it’s time for liberal Zionists to endorse equality between Jews and Palestinians. Beinart went further on Twitter, praising Ali Abunimah’s groundbreaking book of 2006, One Country, (which treated the two-state solution as apartheid), and in an op-ed in the New York Times today, in which Beinart deplores the idea of “separation” of Palestinians and Jews.
The goal of equality is now more realistic than the goal of separation. The reason is that changing the status quo requires a vision powerful enough to create a mass movement. A fragmented Palestinian state under Israeli control does not offer that vision. Equality can. Increasingly, one equal state is not only the preference of young Palestinians. It is the preference of young Americans, too.
Beinart pointedly abandons an argument that he had made on numerous occasions, that a binational state doesn’t work. Now he says what Yousef Munayyer said in his 2015 debate with Beinart, it won’t be easy but one democratic state has to be the vision.
Any discussion of Beinart’s shift must acknowledge his status and sincerity. This is a writer of establishment prominence. He was once Martin Peretz’s righthand man at The New Republic–so he had to be an ultra-Zionist. He gave private talks at AIPAC, the rightwing Israel lobby group. He wrote a book supporting the Iraq war, and later renounced his own position. His 2010 piece in The New York Review of Books on the failure of the American Jewish establishment, itemizing its moral collapse in enabling the occupation, was hugely significant in that Beinart was importing ideas from Walt and Mearsheimer and B’Tselem too into the mainstream. He followed that up with a book, “The Crisis of Zionism”, that opened with the author’s horror at Israeli human rights violations and later skewered DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for leading standing ovations for Netanyahu. Beinart became a hero at liberal Zionist gatherings. Young people wore t-shirts that said, Beinart’s Army, at J Street conferences.
Beinart’s stature in liberal Jewish communal life means that his new opinion represents a potential Walter Cronkite moment, as Robert Herbst puts it. The moment when America’s leading broadcaster came back from Vietnam in 1968 and said that America was not winning the war, it was a “bloody… stalemate;” and Lyndon Johnson famously said, he’d lost the country.
A lot of people will tell you that Beinart’s political revelations are not original, and while I agree, I would respond that he is charismatic and a gifted writer. I won’t forget him telling a large hall at J Street some years ago that if Israel/Zionism fails, Jews will be walking through the rubble of that error for generations… And here is a fine passage from the Jewish Currents piece:
For generations, Jews have seen a Jewish state as a tikkun, a repair, a way of overcoming the legacy of the Holocaust. But it hasn’t worked. To justify our oppression of Palestinians, Jewish statehood has required us to see them as Nazis. And, in that way, it has kept the Holocaust’s legacy alive. The real tikkun is equality, a Jewish home that is also a Palestinian home.
Beinart joins a list of liberal Zionists who have abandoned the two-state solution, and his joining that list means it is only going to grow. Some of the liberal Zionists who have preceded him are… Gershon Baskin in the Jerusalem Post last year:
Those of us in Israel who have supported and struggled to bring about a two-state solution are now forced to accept the new reality that [Netanyahu] will create, and we will have to join the ranks of the Palestinian people who will fight for democracy and equality in a non-nation-non-ethnic-secular state.
Ian Lustick in his book of last year, Paradigm Lost-– Lustick who had once been a two-state activist, now calling for a struggle for equal rights.
Or Eric Alterman saying that liberal Zionism is a contradiction in terms, in the Nation… Lara Friedman of Foundation for Middle East Peace, formerly of Americans for Peace Now, calling for sanctions… Larry Derfner publishing his book “No Country for Jewish Liberals” and supporting BDS…. or decades ago, anti-occupation legend Jeff Halper abandoning his Zionism…
Beinart’s defection from the two-state/separation camp puts huge pressure on the leading liberal-centrist Zionist organizations J Street, Americans for Peace Now, New Israel Fund, and Israel Policy Forum, to stop the beastly talk of “separation” and demographics and move further to the left. J Street is already under a ton of pressure. Its opposition to annexation has been lip service and ineffective, in the view of the alumni of its own youth branch, and these young people, many of them communal Jews, are surely exulting in Beinart’s new opinions– and trying to outdo him. I bet that IfNotNow endorses BDS before long…
Conservative Zionist David Harris lately complained that both the Jewish donors and Jewish bleachers are pressuring him to take a “macho” stand against Israel. Donors and bleachers both! The organized Jewish community is plainly in flux on Israel and the left can take credit for driving this discussion. Beinart’s endorsement of Ali Abunimah shows that the Palestinian narrative of Zionism is now in the Jewish tent, and it’s never leaving.