For two reasons, I’ve been hanging fire on replying to Jerome Slater’s essay “The Jewish State Controversy: Can Zionism Be Reconciled With Justice to the Palestinians?” First, I’ve been expecting the essay or at least a substantial excerpt to appear at the MondoWeiss Thunderdome. Second, a true response to Professor Slater ought to respect the serious thought and long experience he’s put into his work.
Because I substantially agree with Slater, I might see my own contribution to the discussion of his essay as supplementary, but I suspect that my own way of expressing in effect the same position would invite substantial misunderstanding and resistance. For now, I’ll confine myself to some notes, beginning with the main part of a comment I left at his blog.
On current evidence, the underlying tendency of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be for some version of an Arnon Soffer n-state solution: Forcible separation resulting in a secure and independently viable Israel next to two independently non-viable Palestinian sub-states, with the international community, in cooperation with willing direct participants, being asked to make the situation as tolerable as possible for the largest possible number of short-end-of-the-stick’d Palestinian Arabs. Sometime in the future – less than a blink of an eye in the history of the region, but perhaps beyond the life horizons of most of today’s decision-makers – a federation of some kind might become practicable. In a certain sense, all other differences in demeanor, sensitivity, and possibly in intention aside, Professor Slater and Professor Soffer agree: It’s just a question to be worked out by all participants how easy or hard it’s going to go.
A common “fashionable” response among Palestinian solidarity activists is to declare the 2-state-solution (2ss) defunct. Unfortunately for them and their vision of ideal democratic justice, the possibility that the 2-ss may appear in decline as an alternative does not make any species of 1-state solution easier to implement.
Every argument against the 2ss – especially if centered on hardening Israeli intransigence and illiberalism – is an even stronger argument against the 1ss coming about except by way of one of the two mirror image apocalypses: Eretz Israel or forced destruction of the Jewish state.
Neither of these “final solutions” seems politically possible, at least on the basis of any evidence I’ve seen anyone present. Though E.I. seems at least imaginable, because Israel has for a very long time possessed the raw military ability to bring it about, if only for an historical moment, Israelis have generally understood that it would be unsustainable against firm opposition that starts with its neo-imperial patron and includes numerous much larger nations in its immediate vicinity. Still, we cannot quite exclude an attempt to consolidate E.I. – either as an apartheid state or as an ethnically cleansed one, or some combination. E.I. may yet be sought, either all at once or piece by piece or both, as a measure of last resort, but the project seems to point to an immensely destructive, even mass suicidal end result.
As for the other 1-state alternative, where is the evidence even of a significant minority of Israeli Jews interested in a new life as hated minority in “Bi-National Palestine”? Assuming Israeli Jewish refusal, where is the evidence of a world community with the will to destroy a militarized nuclear-armed state in the interest of ideal justice? Why, in short, would it be more realistic to imagine alteration of the main factors that have made either of the 1-state solutions impossible and highly undesirable, than to imagine removal of the main political impediments to the 2-state solution, even now?
Any 2- or n-state arrangement won’t be ideal or likely even approximately “fair,” but it seems to me that movement toward a bi-national or possibly federated single state will have to proceed through intermediate more or less dramatically un-fair arrangements, including the current ugliness. “Universal Palestine” is the universal homogeneous state concentrated in a single, embattled region. It is as likely a candidate to be the last pacified region of the world state of states, of global human justice, as the first.
This observation does not imply that working for and conceiving of Palestine at peace – in one state or in some multi-state state, or in some other as yet undreamt format – but the full implications of this goal explain why progress seems so difficult, why the “reasonable” solution that “everyone understands already” seems so hard to bring about: The Holy Land is the spiritual and arguably the historical and geographical fulcrum of the world. Peace on Earth and Peace in the Holy Land are the same peace.