The 1.x-State Solution 2: “What the Conflict Is Really About”

A post by guest author KatherineMW at Ordinary Times, written on the occasion of the controversial Israeli decision to expropriate land connecting the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion to Jerusalem, explicitly as retaliation for the murder of Israeli teenagers, promises to tell us “What the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Really About.” Yet we are not going to get at “What the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Really About” if our explanation for it ignores or misstates the nature of that conflict.

While seeking to establish Israeli wrongs, especially this newest one, as both undeniable and egregious, the blogger makes an assertion that one might expect to be taken as irrefutable in liberal and left internationalist circles, at least the ones that have not lined up on Vladimir Putin’s side in recent months: “The acquisition of territory by force,” she writes, “is entirely against international law, and is one of the most serious and dangerous violations that exists – the same kind that Russia is currently trying to commit in Ukraine, and receiving far more attention for.” We can initially set aside the question of “attention,” I think: The Zionist-Arab conflict in roughly its current form has been receiving attention – some would say, I think wrongly, inordinate attention – for quite some time, and whether this specific incident, which is at this point more a plan than a reality, rises to the same level as, or even belongs in the same conversation with, Russian actions in the Ukraine is dubious. It is at least arguable that the Russians and Russian-backed separatists seem to have been the ones benefiting from global distraction, for instance during the recent Gaza war. In any event, how important such loss of focus on other people’s problems may be to anyone is impossible to measure objectively: The Russian imperial-revanchist context may lead us to ask how many battalions “attention” possesses.

The more serious problem is posed by the claim that the Israeli and Russian cases are of “the same kind.” Contrary to KatherineMW’s assertion, this latest Israeli encroachment on territory occupied or claimed by Palestinians is not the same kind of “serious and dangerous violation” as the Russian incursion in Ukraine in relation to the intended founding of a new state of “Novorossiya.” The Israeli plan or its implementation might constitute a serious violation, maybe a dangerous violation, or it may be neither serious nor dangerous, but, whatever else it might be, the expansion by Israel into West Bank land that is not the property of a recognized and established nation-state would not be the same as crossing a recognized national border between two nation-states and carving out a new territory. If not necessarily with more right, but with the same approximate intention, and with thusfar greater success, the Israelis have more in common with Ukrainian nationalists than with Russian expansionists and Russian-Ukrainian separatists at this time, while the Russian attempt to construct or consolidate a newly nationalized territory where one does not presently exist happens to have more in common conceptually with the Palestinian cause than with the Israeli one.

The last observation may seem trivially abstract, but the underlying question is also the whole underlying question, the real “what” that the Zionist-Arab conflict is “about.” Israel and its supporters at base do not and, arguably, cannot authentically support or recognize as valid a Palestinian state-national claim in the full sense, though in the West only those on the Israeli and American right are typically impolite or honest enough to say so. Hamas, old-line PLO, and fellow travelers also recognize what almost no one who opposes Israeli conduct from “the middle” wishes to confront: that a true, independent Palestinian nation-state is impossible and perhaps always was impossible without the elimination of the Zionist state, likely implying mass expulsion of Israeli or formerly Israeli Jews. Simply to presume that the pessimists on both supposed “extremes” must be wrong is to place oneself outside the conflict as it is actually being prosecuted, to have decided in favor of one faction without ever hearing the case, and at the same time to place oneself on what seems to be the or a losing side.

For this reason, though members of the international community, including so called “liberal Zionists,” sing the pleasing tunes, there has never been a true “2-state solution” on offer, but only an offer of at most of one state for the Israelis and something else for the Palestinian Arabs, as I have noted many times (most recently in “Israeli Realism” and “The 1.x-State Solution“). Even the most generous offers to the Palestinian Arabs, the ones the leadership is excoriated in the West for declining, were acknowledged by honest Israelis as unacceptable. No acceptable offer could be made because the only offer acceptable to an honest Palestinian nationalist leadership is one that eventually would precipitate the destruction of the Zionist project and substitution for it of an Arab or perhaps Arab-internationalist project, a post-Israeli state as little a real state for the Jews as the de-militarized remnants of Palestine would supply a satisfactory state for the Palestinians. The impetus toward a 1-state exclusionary solution is captured, like a candid snapshot, in the absurdity of the 1947 UN Partition Plan: the “two pseudo-state” solution in pure form, depicting two obviously non-viable and unstable products of diplomatic conception – misbegotten twins of a type that only an international bureaucrat, the kind of people who once upon a time created the East Prussian corridor, could love. The proposed map suggests a broken pinwheel ready to fly apart, not a coherent state or set of them. Yet even the superficially more rational and integral, ideally or ideally-liberally more just, bi-national state would be less than a nation-state for either people. In other words it would satisfy neither set of aspirations.

In sum, and given the practical mutual exclusivity of ethno-national claims, Zionist political, legal, military, and economic strategy from the beginnings up to this week’s headlines can be interpreted as, among other things, necessarily a more or less systematic if inconsistently enunciated effort to pre-empt a Palestinian national project, to make it not just improbable, but clearly impossible except on radically diminished terms. The Israeli perspective, and the underlying but typically unacknowledged implicit position even of the so-called moderate and liberal Zionists and their friends, does not accept that a Palestinian national project has been, is, or for the foreseeable future will be realizable except possibly as a stunted imitation, like a Bonsai reduction of a nation-state.

Israel can be expected to continue to insist on its prerogatives, including independence in resources, “security control,” and further incremental “natural” expansion and interconnection of already-consolidated holdings, that, with or without international backing or permission, it will tend to deny to whatever remnant of Palestine is set aside for the Palestinian Arabs. One may, of course, choose the other side, but the framing of the conflict as one between two states, rather than between an existent state and proponents of an at most virtual or aspirational state, is to focus on a problem that, by design, has not yet come into existence and may not do so for generations if ever.

7 comments on “The 1.x-State Solution 2: “What the Conflict Is Really About”

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  1. You write: “In sum, and given the practical mutual exclusivity of ethno-national claims, Zionist political, legal, military, and economic strategy from the beginnings up to this week’s headlines can be interpreted as, among other things, necessarily a more or less systematic if inconsistently enunciated effort to pre-empt a Palestinian national project, to make it not just improbable, but clearly impossible except on radically diminished terms.”

    Expanding on your point is this.

    • Right. The problem, and one hesitates to say so, since even admitting of the possibility is blasphemous, is that such pieces on “settler colonialism” are written almost universally on the unproved assumption of a practicable alternative, rather than with cognizance of the unfortunately easily evidence-able proposition that it’s still a settler-colonize-or-be-settler-colonized world, and even more immediately so in Israel’s region, and for Jews in that region. Presented with the alternative of shame and survival, a people may choose survival, and discover ready resources for converting the cause of shame into a source of pride.

      • Part of what I found useful in the Khalili piece was that the “necessity” of subjugation of the Palestinians for the Zionist project to succeed was identified in 1923 by Jabotinsky, amplifying your phrase “from the beginning”. At this point, the assertion of an absence of ” a practicable alternative” throws us into historical counterfactuals or asserting everybody did what they had to do’s.

        At this point we’re entering I think a discussion of whether or human choice, free will and morality are possible, or if all that represents “folk psychology”, eliminating everything but a neurological materialism.

        • Well…

          Previously to the 1920s, the very low estimation of a Palestinian national project – as non-existent – was captured in the slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land,” which apparently pre-dates Zionism as a formalized movement. To the extent a latent Palestinian Arab national potential was recognized, Zionists tried to pre-empt it financially, obtaining deeds to the land through the then sovereign power, the Ottoman Empire.

          Though I agree the question eventually goes to the very possibility of “human choice, free will, and morality” – or in short of meaningful justice – the nationalist or statist premise is that justice is conceivable only after, not before, the foundation of the state. Prior to the state there would be only the state of nature. During the period in which Zionism was consolidated, colonialism wasn’t generally taken to be an evil, and the Wilsonian Era notion of a right of ethnic self-determination also didn’t exist or was still being formulated (as a kind of corollary of nationalism). The inhabitants of a land that could be colonized were considered to be subsisting at a lower level of civilization, or prior to civilization. One might be expected or asked to treat them humanely, but not to recognize a legal right of possession on their behalf. Remember, at the time Americans were still busily completing the settlement of North America, and the European powers were competing with each other for control over vast expanses of the present day “developing world.”

          By the time of the 1947 partition plan, the colonial era was over, but not the national era. The latter was entering its often brutal consolidation phase, especially in formerly colonized areas, including Palestine. The Zionist project was and remains a project with qualities of both colonialism and nationalism – in some ways like that of the Boers, but with important differences as well, including a significantly more credible claim of naturally rightful ownership based on indigeneity.

          The map also illustrates the extent to which the project had already advanced, and put a binary choice before the world. The world pretended that it could divide the baby in half, but neither side believed in the justice of the decision, and both rejected it, even though the Zionists, typically and indicatively for the practical superiority of their claim, were better able to negotiate the legal and historical, as well as material and military, complexities. They understood that they could formally accept the decision, then use the other side’s formal rejection of it to advantage in sorting out the resultant mess.

          Rightly or wrongly, or beyond good and evil, or perhaps without fully comprehending, the world fatefully decided to back the Zionist project, and set the entire sequel in motion, rather than choose some other conceivable, but not actually implementable alternative. In some sense the die had already been cast.

          Morris, who came to prominence first for exposing the mythology of the Israeli founding, has since entertained the argument that the mistake the Zionists made was in not being more thorough in their ethnic cleansing, leaving intact the bases for strife, war, and the same general measures under even more difficult conditions. So, under a pessimistic or some would say simply realistic judgment, the choice for an Israeli is that choice described above, but not as an abstract assessment of ideal justice: Either decline to defend the survival of the nation, or accept unflinchingly the requirements for it, all of them. It may not be something we find we can continue to support, but our co-responsibility for it, the continued commitment to the Zionist project of large segments of our populace, numerous historical and other ties, and the existence of shared enemies and other shared material interests all make separating from the conflict on simple or supposedly simple moral grounds difficult or impossible.

  2. I can’t recall the last time I said that anything would be simple. The Zionist project itself provides an example of making the improbable happen.

    Anyway, I find this exchange helpful. I have not much more than a superficial historical understanding of these events. Approaching it in a broad strokes manner frequently seems not much of a disadvantage, but here it does.

    I do find your Boer allusion interesting. It seems to me that the nation state/settler/colonial frame negates implicitly all “naturally rightful ownership based on indigeneity”. Of course the colonial enterprise also requires a robust regime of exception making to develop. Then it becomes one of the sources of its decline.

    • To be clear, was attributing the simplism to people like the one you linked. Also, I’m not comfortable attributing improbability to the Zionist project: In retrospect it appears, of course, absolutely necessary.

      As for the Boer question, “indigeneity” would be one potential contribution to a natural right argument. One can imagine a natural right argument without it, as in the claim that the land belongs to the one who works it or the idea of possession being 9/10ths of the law, and so on, but one can imagine the same natural right argument being strengthened with it: “He works it all day long, just like his forefathers, and has always been accepted by everyone to be the true owner of the land” and so on.

      In the case of the Israeli Jews, there is the claim, of course, that the Jews have maintained a continuous presence in and around the Holy Land for thousands of years. There is the related claim that the Jews have always maintained an “identification” with the land, a recognized identification, regardless of the physical location of particular Jews at any given time or over any given period of time. The significance attributed to such claims is demonstrated by the efforts of Palestinian Arab theorists to dispute them on their own terms, or to claim that, whatever can be said about the Jews of Palestine, the Diasporetic Jews who immigrated had no authentic genetic or other material connection to them. With the Boers there was no such controversy. They wore their (relative) alienness to the land on their skins.

  3. No, the Zionist project is survival, Jabotinsky knew well what this entailed, having grown up in Czarist era Odessa, Stangneth’s bio of Eichmann, who was the lead collaborator with Haj Amin Husseini, dispatches the nullity of ‘banality of evil’ although the evil of banality ,

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