Christison vs Neumann
Michael Neumann for the two state and Kathleen Christison for the one state solution as published in the print (not web) editions of CounterPunch magazine. A more detailed expose of the arguments for a one state solution are found in books like mine on Sharing the Land of Canaan (2004) and more recently books by Virginia Tilley, Ali Abunmiah, Ilan Pappe, and others.
CounterPunch newsletter Vol. 15, no. 1
January 1-15, 2008
The One-State Illusion: More is Less
By Michael Neumann
The one-state solution is an attractive ideal mistaken for a live option.
Most of the arguments for the one-state solution are not arguments about whether it’s possible. They are arguments about whether the solution is just, and the two-state solution unjust.
These arguments establish the obvious. Of course the two-state solution is unjust. It cements Zionist usurpation of Palestinian land. It lets the perpetrators of this usurpation go scot-free, without so much as compensation for their victims. Worst of all, it perpetuates a state based on racial supremacy. Israel’s notion of Jewishness, the determinant of who should hold sovereignty, is ultimately biological. It is based on kinship. In practice, this kinship does not, as in other countries, depend on tracing family lines back to residence in the sovereign state but simply on closeness to anyone considered “Jewish”, in the racial sense of the term.
What then of the one-state solution? I hear it’s very just indeed. But what is it, exactly? Apparently, it speaks of a society in which Jews and Palestinians enjoy the same democratic rights. One Jew, one vote; one Palestinian, one vote.
In at least one respect, this sort of one-state solution is less just than the two-state solution. That’s because it leaves “Jewish property”, including the settlements, in place. Some advocates of the one-state solution are explicit about this, though they never seem to mention it when criticizing the two-state solution. Others are silent on the matter of the settlements, or make vague references to adjudication – not a promising way to expel committed fanatics.
A just one-state solution has not been proposed by anyone engaged in the one-state/two-state debate. I’m not sure anyone in recent memory, including the Hamas leadership, has proposed it. A just solution would essentially repair the injustice done by Zionism. This would require far more than a democratic “binational” state in Palestine. It would require that the Jews who came as Zionists to Palestine leave, and with them their descendants. (This is not ethnic cleansing; the original Jewish population and their descendants would remain.) Beyond this, it would require that massive compensation, in the billions, be paid to Palestinians who lost their homes and livelihoods. This compensation would have to remedy not only dispossession, essentially a crime against property, but also all the deaths and agonies the Palestinians have suffered because of the Zionist project. There would have to be criminal proceedings against thousands of Israelis who have committed human rights violations, and convictions would have to involve further compensatory payments. Israeli firms that profited from and/or supported the occupation be subject to yet further punitive and compensatory damages.
Such a state would right, as much as possible, the wrongs of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but that of course doesn’t mean the one state would be a just state. If one-state proponents are really so big on justice, why does it sound as if all we need is a single Palestinian state and justice will be done? Shouldn’t we be hearing about justice for poor and the marginalized in this wonderful new future? Does resolving an ethnic conflict somehow ensure economic and social justice for all?
Is this too much justice? Either one-staters are as serious about justice as they claim to be, or they’re not. If they are, then they should be addressing all types of injustice in Palestine. But if they are willing to sacrifice justice to practicality, then it’s time to consider what’s practicable and what isn’t.
The two-state solution, despite some nonsense about the settlers being “too deeply entrenched”, is practicable. If Israel withdraws and the Palestinians get a sovereign state, the settlers will leave in a large hurry, just like the settlers who swore they would die before quitting Gaza. And a two-state solution will, indeed, leave Palestinians with a sovereign state, because that’s what a two-state solution means. It doesn’t mean one state and another non-state, and no Palestinian proponent of a two-state solution will settle for less than sovereignty.
This is not, by any means, to say that Israel will agree to a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state. But that’s just why the idea that Israel would concede a single state is laughable. It is one thing to vacate the settlements. They represent and benefit a smallish minority of Israelis. For many more Israelis, they are a great big headache. The occupation is expensive; it earns Israel near-universal opprobrium; it requires semi-open borders, which constrain security arrangements; above all it requires Israel to spread its forces all over the landscape rather than concentrate them for efficient military operations.
The two-state solution is practicable because many Israelis can accept it. It doesn’t challenge what Israel is all about; indeed, that is the moralistic objection to two states. Israel is a Jewish state; it is committed to that. One-staters apparently believe that Israel will give up the reason for its existence and at the same time expose itself not to the risk but to the certainty of being “swamped by Arabs”. This, in turn, would indicate a willingness to accede to anything an “Arab” majority might enact, including a full right of return and dispossession of Zionist usurpers. Can anyone seriously imagine this? If it took thousands of lives and many years to get the settlements out of Gaza – not Israel, which is still sovereign there, but only the settlements – how long is it supposed to take before Israel gives up its existence, its rationale, and the security of all its Jewish citizens.
Well, never mind the time constraints. Maybe two-staters are too soft, too eager to see that ordinary Palestinians in the occupied territories are freed from their agonies. Suppose, in the leisurely, bloody, starvation-ridden fullness of time, a single state gets implemented. Then we come to the oddest illusion of all: that if you put two antagonistic peoples together in one state, their antagonism will vanish. Why? What issues are resolved? Will Palestinians and Jews cease to compete for state power? Will Israeli Jews, because they have lost their Jewish state, feel disposed to hand over their homes and businesses as well? Does binationalism turn men into angels.
Recent history suggests otherwise. The binational state that bears closest comparison with Palestine is Lebanon, where many Palestinians now live. Even subtracting the toll exacted by Israeli invasions, the carnage there has exceeded by orders of magnitude that of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most encouraging examples of binational states, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, are now dissolved or on the brink of dissolution. Then there is, or was, Yugoslavia. Is there such warmth between Israeli Jews and Palestinians that we may expect a better outcome there than in these countries?
The fact is that a single state guarantees nothing. Notoriously, the democratic process does not ensure that the will of the majority really prevails. Dominant economic groups know how to confuse, divide and conquer. They may well, through a mixture of bribery and manipulation, remain dominant – why, in this day and age, does this need saying? In Palestine, the dominant economic group is composed of Israeli Jews. They may well push for further expansion of the settlements. This expansion may well be reinforced by a repressive binational state apparatus, with a permanent presence all over the occupied territories – where, in the name of justice, no square inch will be retained for exclusively Palestinian use. Yes, there will be Palestinians in Haifa and Tel Aviv, just as there are today. There will also be Jews in Nablus, Jenin, and Ramallah; as well as everywhere else they can buy land from distressed Palestinians. This does not necessarily make for a love feast.
It is no good promising that all the nice stuff will come later. How? Presumably, a single state is supposed to bring justice – not after mass slaughter but after elections. Really? Will millions of Jews just leave if a majority says they should? Will they agree to crushing compensatory payments? Will they also agree to be sued or imprisoned for exercising what they consider their rights to self-determination and even survival? If not, if the one-staters actually are thinking of a bloodbath, they should let us know, and tell us why they think a bloodbath will really bring justice to the Palestinians.
Against all this, one-staters keep repeating that a single state is just. If appeals to justice were enough to get the Israelis to abolish Israel, there would never have been a problem in the first place. Perhaps, that is why the most recent expression of one-state ideology, The One State Declaration, does not answer a single one of the hard questions the one-state solution raises.
For example, most Palestinian property in Israel is now occupied by Jews, who firmly believe they have a right to their homes. Will these people be expelled, or not? Another example: will the settlers be kicked out of their settlements? Will they be disarmed? By what army? Will Zionists be expelled from the armed forces? How? Not a whisper of an answer is to be found. Instead, we get generalities. Perhaps, this is why neither Fatah nor Hamas, who together must represent roughly 100 per cent of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, have no time for binationalism.
That dispossessed Palestinians have a right of return is beyond obvious. It is equally obvious that we should all love one another and gather all the poor and oppressed into our bosom. What is less obvious is what should be done about it.
It is said that the two-state solution renounces the right of return. This confuses the solution itself with the words that may accompany it. Indeed, any agreement establishing a Palestinian state might involve the Palestinian representatives asserting such a renunciation. Both morals and historical realities put any such assertions in proper perspective.
Morally, the right of return is not some contractual entitlement, like a royalty agreement, that you can just renounce, any more than you can just renounce your right to free speech. If you have it, it stays with you. Besides, the Palestinian leaders cannot on their own initiative annul the rights of the Palestinians themselves. Most important, in the real world, verbal renunciations don’t stand up to changing power relations.
For now, Israel will not honor a Palestinian right of return; to “demand” it is the emptiest of gestures. That right will be honored only if the Palestinians become powerful enough to enforce it. If or when that happens, the fact that some leaders verbally renounced the right will count for nothing. The Palestinians will be free to say: this was never our will; this was a renunciation obtained under duress; those who renounced it should not have done so. Or, more simply: we may have renounced that right, but now things are different. Right or no right, we want to go back to our homes, and we will apply pressure to return. History is full of paper renunciations that, when times change, lose every iota of their force.
The longing for a single state is all too understandable, but the single-state ideology is not. It places a reliance on good will and moral argument that I find incomprehensible. Perhaps, this veneer of optimism covers an unwillingness to recognize that violence, justified or not, has brought results – the evacuation of the Gaza settlements and Israel’s willingness to contemplate more evacuations. Moral appeals, on the other hand, have brought nothing whatever.
Thousands of Palestinians suffered, sacrificed, even died for a sovereign Palestinian state. The two-state solution offers that state on terms the Israelis might conceivably be induced to accept. There is no chance at all they will accept a single state that gives the Palestinians anything remotely like their rights.
In the name of realism, one-state ideologues abandon the goal of Palestinian sovereignty to pursue an illusion: that the Israelis will give all of Palestine to the Palestinians, yet inhabit all of Palestine as well. If others fight for a smaller but genuinely Palestinian state, they are called sellouts, collaborators, or cowards. Should this one-state propaganda barrage have any effect, it will be to fragment the Palestinians and get them not more, but less. cp
Michael Neumann’s The Case Against Israel is available from CounterPunch Books. Call 1-800-840-3683 or order online through www.counterpunch.org.
CounterPunch newsletter Vol. 15, no. 2 January 16-31, 2008
The Debate over Israel and Palestine: One State or two?
by Kathleen Christison
Michael Neumann makes a strong case against a single Palestinian-Jewish state as the solution for the conflict in Palestine-Israel in his “The One-State Illusion: More is Less” in the January 1-15, 2008 issue of the Counterpunch newsletter. But there are critical flaws in his argument.
Neumann correctly condemns the two-state solution as unjust because it “cements Zionist usurpation of Palestinian land,” perpetuating the existence of Israel as “a state based on racial supremacy.” His problem is that the one-state alternative to this racist two-state solution comes across to him as simply impractical. And why? Because . . . well, essentially because Israelis -- these Israelis whom he accuses of racism, land theft, and dispossession of the Palestinians -- simply couldn’t conceivably accept it. The notion, he says, “that Israel would concede a single state is laughable. . . . There is no chance at all they will accept a single state that gives the Palestinians anything remotely like their rights.”
Apparently this is the bottom line: if Israel opposes the idea of a single state, then a single state simply must be an impossible dream, not worth mentioning and certainly not worth struggling for. The case Neumann puts forth is ultimately an argument for the notion that might makes right. Israel has the power to impose its will and the power to avoid unpleasant concessions, and so one state in which Israel would “give up the reason for its existence” is unthinkable.
I find it sometimes difficult to navigate Neumann’s logic. He asserts that the two-state solution “is practicable” because “many Israelis can accept it.” That old argument again: that if it’s okay with Israel, it should be okay for the Palestinians. Furthermore, he says, a two-state solution is “practicable” because the Jewish settlers in the West Bank will leave voluntarily if Israel withdraws and the territory is given over to a sovereign Palestinian state. Neumann rightly makes it clear that anything less than a real, fully sovereign Palestinian state would be unacceptable. But then he brings his own dream of two states crashing down by asserting that Israel will not “by any means . . . agree to a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state.” Exactly. This is precisely why advocates of one state are pushing for this alternative.
Neumann, on the contrary, sees this Israeli intransigence as a major reason for disdaining a one-state solution, the idea being that if Israel will not agree to give the Palestinians rights in separate state, it will certainly not relinquish its own status as an exclusivist Jewish state by allowing Palestinians equal rights with Jews in a single state. This is indeed a persuasive argument -- the best in Neumann’s arsenal -- but it does not take account of possibilities that are themselves practicable in the eyes of many serious analysts. Few foresaw, for instance, that white South Africans would willingly give up their racial supremacy, end the apartheid system, and turn over their fate to a huge majority of blacks. Nor did many foresee the peaceful breakup of the Soviet Union.
There are other inconsistencies. For instance, in arguing that a two-state solution is practicable because Jewish settlers would readily leave any territory from which Israel withdrew, Neumann uses as an example the Gaza settlers, who he says left “in a large hurry” when Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005. Yet a few paragraphs later, when he is trying to demonstrate how difficult it would be to induce Israel to give up its Jewishness, he makes the evacuation of settlers from Gaza seem a much more serious problem: in this instance he muses on how difficult it would be for Israel to relinquish its very raison d’etre when merely getting the settlements out of Gaza “took thousands of lives and many years.” Neumann is more nearly correct in his second formulation about the Gaza settlers: they definitely did not leave in a large hurry, but had to be removed bodily and with great trouble.
Neither would most of the West Bank settlers be easy to remove, even if Israel relinquished control, as Neumann believes. Indeed, the fate of the approximately 450,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is by far the most intractable problem facing any peacemaker. The huge numbers of religious zealots who have moved to West Bank settlements because they believe they are fulfilling a divine mandate would not under any circumstances “leave in a large hurry,” any more than the less zealous Gaza settlers did. But the monumental problem of the settlers confronts the framers of a true two-state solution every bit as much as it does those who envision a single state. (The reference to a true two-state solution means, as Neumann himself makes clear, establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, not a “non-state” truncated by the continued presence of large blocs of Israeli settlements.) Neumann dismisses any suggestion that the settlers and their settlements could be incorporated into a single state, and does not appear to recognize that leaving the settlers in place would equally undermine a two-state solution.
Neumann frequently overstates the difficulties involved in achieving a single state and appears to believe that anything short of his notion of absolute justice is actually unjust and unacceptable. A “just solution,” he contends, would have to repair the injustice done to Palestinians by Zionism. Fair enough, but he seems to go to unnecessary lengths by requiring as a condition of true justice that Jews who came to Palestine as Zionists, along with their descendants, would have to leave. True justice would also require that Israeli Jews relinquish all homes and property that once belonged to Palestinians.
One-state advocates do not go this far -- which in fact is the particular beauty of the one-state solution as it is being advocated: there might be, and indeed should be, a truth and reconciliation commission, as in South Africa, to rectify the worst injustices, but advocates of a single state are not vindictive or bloodthirsty and do not demand that injustice be inflicted on the Jews of Israel. The effort to rectify injustices committed against Palestinians -- including repatriating those who wish to return, paying compensation for property destroyed or expropriated, and arranging for resettlement and compensation for those refugees who choose not to return to Palestine -- would be a massive task, necessitating careful attention to millions of individual cases, as well as land redistribution and huge compensatory payments. But the task and the monetary outlay would not be insurmountable. Nor would this rectification be so rigid as to do serious injustice to Israel’s Jews.
A single state would not, as Neumann points out, be the democratic paradise that its framers would like -- certainly not immediately and perhaps never. “Notoriously,” he says, “the democratic process does not ensure that the will of the majority really prevails. Dominant economic groups know how to confuse, divide and conquer,” and the dominant economic group now and into the future is Jewish. It is impossible to argue with this premise, but if Neumann thinks this reality would be different in any two-state situation, he is whistling in the dark. Even in a decent, fully sovereign Palestinian state, the economy would be heavily dependent on Israel; the state would be almost totally landlocked (except for Gaza, whose coastline would be under Israeli scrutiny, if not control), it would be surrounded on three sides by Israel, and it would be dependent on open borders for, among many other things, imports and exports, free movement between the West Bank and Gaza, and labor opportunities for Palestinians inside Israel. Israel will dominate, and could easily strangle, the economy of a separate Palestinian state. In a single state, Palestinians would at least have some say in regulating the state’s economy, its commerce and investment, its international relations. Not perfect, but more nearly so than any foreseeable two-state scenario.
There are other problems with Neumann’s argument. He dismisses totally the possibility that two antagonistic people could ever live together in anything like harmony, but ignores any comparison with countries where this has worked with some measure of success, such as South Africa and Northern Ireland, and uses flawed models to demonstrate that the one-state idea is not workable. He exhibits some misunderstanding of Palestinian politics and political sentiment when he contends that Fatah and Hamas together represent “roughly 100 percent” of Palestinians in the occupied territories. In fact, there is a large and growing independent trend among Palestinians dissatisfied with both factions and eager for political alternatives.
Probably most disturbing is Neumann’s dismissal of any concept of justice as a reason for attempting to find an alternative solution. He mocks one-state advocates for being too visionary about the justice that a single state would embody. It is difficult to argue against cool cynicism like this without appearing foolish and hopelessly unsophisticated. But Neumann’s disdain is so crippling that he ultimately takes us nowhere. The one-state solution, by his lights, is an impossible dream, and not too well thought out or just in any case. Likewise, despite his greater advocacy of two states and his belief that this would give the Palestinians a “genuinely Palestinian state,” he makes it clear that this solution is not really likely either and to his mind is also unjust because it leaves Zionism untouched.
Neumann is no Zionist and, unlike those soft Zionists who want an end to the Israeli occupation but oppose the one-state solution, seems to have no particular desire to preserve Israel’s existence as an exclusivist Jewish state. He is totally condemnatory, in fact, of Zionism’s unjust, racist nature. Neither, apparently, is he particularly sold on the notion that Palestinians and the advocates of one state are inherently any more moral or just: he raises the suggestion that one-staters might actually intend a bloodbath against Jews and asserts that these advocates treat any Palestinians still working for two states as “sellouts, collaborators, or cowards.” (This is quite untrue. The Fatah leadership of the Palestinian Authority is frequently labeled collaborationist, but this is not because it supports two states, but because it cooperates with Israel in economically strangling Gaza, scuttling Hamas despite its victory in democratic elections, failing to oppose Israel’s settlement program, and so on.)
Neumann’s absolute dismissal of any notion that Israelis will ever be able to do justice to the Palestinians, as whites in South Africa finally did to blacks, is unsettling. He obviously gives no credence to the substantial upsurge in probing discussion of the nature of Zionism and its uncertain future among Israelis and diaspora Jews. He apparently sees no redeeming qualities in Israelis, no possibility of Israelis submitting to a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation process, no possibility even that over the longer term Zionism will implode from the sheer weight of its injustice and the pressure of demographic realities. In the end, his pessimism leads him simply to support the status quo, which means supporting Israel’s continued existence and its continued oppression of Palestinians, simply because he can see no other solution.
His pessimism is understandable. It is obviously much more difficult to imagine militant religious zealots among Israeli settlers listening to moral appeals about the injustice they have inflicted on Palestinians than it ever was to imagine white racists in South Africa giving up their sinecures and their power. But it is just as difficult to imagine those religious zealots conceding anything to a separate Palestinian state. Which makes the two-state solution just as impracticable and unlikely as one state. And since we are all advocating the near-impossible, why not advocate the more just impossibility?
If we discard justice, one wonders where we are left with respect to other critical issues. What use, for instance, is there in ending Israel’s occupation at all? If we care only about practicality and not justice, there is no particular reason for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Bush likes the occupation; all the Democratic presidential candidates and even more so the Republican candidates like it; Israel, of course, loves it. The same question applies to other issues. What except the promise of justice fueled past struggles against oppressive but seemingly immovable systems? Justice may ultimately be the only, or at least the primary, reason for pursuing any political cause. For this reason, discussion and advocacy of all alternative solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must continue.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.