Akiva Eldar Trashes Israeli “Binational State”
Akiva Eldar is hands-down one of the finest columnists writing for Israeli newspapers today. Along with Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Alex Fishman and a few others, he shines light into places many Israelis would prefer not to look. He is a national journalistic treasure, though one that few Israelis would recognize as such.
But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t falter, as he has in his current column, The Defeatism of the Left. The problem? Eldar is a throwback to the Salad Days of liberal Zionism. Not the weak-kneed, inconsistent liberal Zionism of people like Ethan Bronner, Gershom Gorenberg and others like them, but rather a real, principled Zionism represented by figures like Yitzhak Rabin (not that I’m idealizing him), Lova Eliav, Matti Peled, and other throwbacks to an earlier era. With them, it might’ve been possible to have a real two state solution back in the day. But “the day” has long passed. The lions of old like Eldar cannot give up on their dreams, even though political circumstances, including the rise of the Israeli permanent far-right majority, have left them in the dust.
As I’ve written here recently, I’m somewhat reluctantly coming to the conclusion that a binational or unitary state is the only possible future for Israel. Eldar can’t cross that threshold. He cannot give up on the dream of a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority. I wouldn’t mind his nostalgic embrace for a concept thay may’ve outlived its usefulness. But what I reject is Eldar’s misguided argument against the binational state.
Essentially, he says that because we Jews fatally abused the Palestinian minority for six decades when we were the majority, when they become the majority in this new binational state, they’ll do the same to us:
The desperate leftists propose joining together two hostile communities with a bloody feud between them and endless prejudices about each other. For 64 years the Jewish community realized the Zionist vision using discriminatory immigration and residential laws, unequal division of resources and hegemony over religious and national symbols. For 45 years a Jewish minority has deprived the Palestinian collective in the occupied territories of political rights and violated the dignity, property rights and freedom of movement of millions of human beings.
What will happen when the Palestinian minority in the binational state becomes the majority?…What will we do then, when the Palestinian majority exercises its right to vote?…The Palestinian parliament can copy the behavior of Israel’s Knesset in the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Eldad era.
Is anyone willing to guarantee that the Palestinians won’t replace Israel’s Law of Return…with a law enshrining the Palestinian right of return? Can anyone guarantee that they won’t turn the Jewish National Fund into the Palestinian National Fund; replace the blue and white flag with a black, white and green flag with a crescent moon on the side, and replace “Hatikva” with…“Biladi, Biladi?” Who will light the torches on Mount Herzl on Independence Day? Or perhaps the government of Israstine will ban ceremonies marking the Jews’ temporary victory.
Why wouldn’t they give funding preference for schools in Arab local councils, rename the Israstine international airport after Yasser Arafat and change the name of Ariel University Center of Samaria to the Arab University of the West Bank? We’ve been riding them for decades, why wouldn’t they want to turn the tables on us? At best we’d come out of it with only a few broken ribs.
…Is [Knesset speaker Rivlin] genuinely willing to cede his place on the daïs to Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi and settle for interjections from the Jewish opposition parties’ back benches? True, “United Jerusalem” will not turn into “United Al Quds” during his term; that irresponsible mortgage, taken out by him and his friends on the new Zionist left, will be paid by all of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Now, without a constitution or other safeguards I have no doubt this would be true. Long-term suffering always nurses grudges in ethnic states (viz. the former Yugoslavia). If we throw all the Palestinians and Jews together in a single state without spelling out rights and responsibilities in a legal document, then certainly vengeance and payback would become the order of the day.
But instead of Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia or Soviet Union, places which never resolved these ethnic rivalries, leading to massive bloodshed and even genocide, why not look to other states like Northern Ireland, Switzerland or Canada, which have, however imperfectly, addressed many of these issues?
An Israeli constitution would spell out the rights of all ethnic groups. It would protect religious liberty. It would guarantee political and economic rights to majority and minority groups. Both sides have a stake in guaranteeing rights of the minority because in the beginning the Jews will be the majority. But in decades, the Palestinians could become the majority. With proper safeguards, neither side need feel its rights, position or status would be endangered.
There certainly will be mistrust given the history between the two peoples. Just read the comment threads here for right-wing Israeli dismissal of such plans. But knee-jerk derision is not a real response. It’s a defense against thinking the unthinkable. Unfortunately, thanks to the ultranationalists of Likud and the settler right, Israel has no choice but to “boldly go” (as the Star Trek voice-over narration once intoned) where no Zionist has gone before. Ultranationalism is a dead-end, literally. Two states are dead on arrival. The only way forward is a binational or unitary state.
Another quarrel I have with Eldar is his turning this into a battle with the Israeli left. While members of the Zionist left like Avrum Burg began to abandon classical Zionism as early as five or ten years ago, Nahum Barnea has shown this isn’t an issue of the left. Barnea, no leftist, recently told Israeli TV news that he was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that partition cannot work and a binational state was the only path to justly resolve the conflict.
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Avram Burg recently reiterated his continued support for a two-state approach over a single state.
The two-state approach is a breathing child, ill. The left is willing to neglect that breathing child, to euthanize it, and then say “I told you so” (just like Paul Krugman’s accurate description of republican campaign strategy).
“A long-overdue constitution could create a state that belongs to all her citizens and in which the government behaves with fairness and equality toward all persons without prejudice based on religion, race or gender. Those are the principles on which Israel was founded and the values that bound Israel and America together in the past. I believe that creating two neighboring states for two peoples that respect one another would be the best solution. However, if our shortsighted leaders miss this opportunity, the same fair and equal principles should be applied to one state for both peoples. ”
From the NY Times, August 4 op-ed.
To repeat Avram Burg’s words.
“I believe that creating two neighboring states for two peoples that respect one another would be the best solution.”
In large measure, the peace process in Northern Ireland was made possible by rampant corruption in the South and the way in which all the freedoms which the Republic had won from the British Empire (at the cost of starting a revolution when Britain was fighting for her life against Imperial Germany, with predictably harsh results), were being surrendered to what amounts to a German Empire.
Although John Major and Tony Blair have, with different levels of success, sought to claim credit for organizing the peace process, the actual driving force behind it was that the DUP and Sinn Fein discovered a shared visceral loathing for the Euro project which both Major and Blair hold dearest to their hearts. Both men are too insufferable to ever realize this.
Both parties are determined to govern Northern Ireland more calmly and competently than the current shower of vested interests misgoverning the Republic, and so far they are quite evidently succeeding.
It may not be many years before Sinn Fein get a united Ireland on terms which the DUP will not object to: namely that Stormont will be seen as a more natural centre for that entity’s government than Dublin, with wall to wall corruption and incompetence kept afloat solely by the willingness of Brussels, Berlin and Washington to keep pouring money and political support into the rancid stew.
If a United Ireland simply means a broken Republic being allowed to join a prosperous self-governing Ulster for rescue from its own political “elite” and the rubble of the Eurozone, the boys will be too busy laughing to throw bottles, let alone bombs.
But both Sinn Fein and the DUP are going to have show a lot of resolve: to go on working together, to resist and rout out all corruption -and to be seen to do so at every turn- and to resist any and all attempts to give the EU a role in “promoting peace” or “economic growth”, because you don’t get either from the massaging of vested interests towards a high ideological goal, which is the EU’s only available method in any field.
It may seem as if there’s no way that any of this is applicable to Israel, but these pages are forever alluding to corruption and vested interests, without ever seeing them as the ROOT problem. My own suspicion is that there is more than enough corruption in Israel and amongst the Palestinian administration, for a cleanup to be a strong unifying cause.
Just getting your heads down and dealing with the corruption -on all sides- rather than battering your heads against bizarre and perverse political positions, may surprise you by removing the reasons for those political positions being as bizarre and perverse as they are.
The leeches are fastened onto the artery pumping money from the USA to Israel, and from the arteries pumping money from the Iranians and the Arabs into rival Palestinian factions.
When did Reuven Rivlin become a member of the “new Zionist left”?
This discussion is (to my thought) quite weird. IMO there will be NO binational state (other than an indefinite continuation the present undemocratic, apartheid arrangement), and will also be no two-states, unless and until the effective pro-apartheid/pro-expulsion political majority in Israel loses power, which (IMO) can occur only when another extremely unlikely event occurs, namely, an international coup against the USA/Israel presumably based on a sudden 45-year late determination to enforce international law (and requiring Israel to remove all settlers and demolish all settlements as (e.g.) demanded-without-teeth in UNSC 465 (1980)..
It makes no sense to work for two-states (or for binational) EXCEPT by working on strengthening and energizing the international community. IT has started to talk about Syria and Iran. It is high time it returned to talking about Palestine and international law.
Try to imagine the Palestinian negotiating strength if and when the International community puts the screws to Israel and gives a 6-month or 1-year deadline for removal of all settlers and demolishment of all settlements.
And consider how much negotiating strength Palestinians have without that essential help. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
It’s impossible for me to overcome the fact that the Balfour Declaration was a negotiated instrument for a people’s land not apartied to the agreement, and it specifically stated, in addition, that the indigenous Palestinians would not be harmed.
From 1948 and on, the entirety of Israel existence, great and irreparable harm has been done to the indigenous Palestinians. To this day, the harm is denied and/or omitted by even those that consider themselves, “good Zionists”. But the political ideology, in practice, necessitates an ethnic cleansing of land. So, how can there be any good Zionists?
The ideal of a two-state solution is similarly an illusion. The thought that Israel, obsessed with dominating the region and the world to pursue its sole interests, would draw up an equal Palestinian state for the people it has been horribly damaging for 63 long years without relent is a laughable impossibility. Israel would obsess with controlling their new Palestinian twin, covertly and overtly.
The only solution is a one-state similar to the unification of South Africa under Nelson Mandela, ending the apartheid there for good. This has already been tried, tested, and holds valid. Israel continues to want to manipulate things to no end, despite having no standing to negotiate in the first place over ILLEGAL winnings.
Besides, I am holding a scroll here that covenants to Iranians all that land from circa 530 BC. It was written by Cyrus the Great, the one who rebuilt the Second Temple for Judea. The Hebrews of yore, the Cohenite Priests freed from Babylonian captivity, were given a new Zion by Cyrus the Great to serve as an autonomous satrap, or province, of the Iranian empire. The ideal was this: the land would be tolerant to all in it. So, Cyrus the Great may not only be the father of Zionism, but he made it clear: there can only be one-state, and it has to be tolerant to all.
What it boils down to is one state would be too expensive, in many ways, to the Jewish population. It would guarantee security for Jews, but not political control, and political control is what Zionism is about. The problem is that anyone can see that the state of Israel is no longer militarily defensible. Even a modest group like Hezbollah, with a little juice from Pakistan, could utterly decimate several cities. And there may be worse approaching unconventional threats.
What does political control do for Zionism? This control is much vaunted but it only really pays off when it exploits others. Is it this exploitation the basis for political control as an overriding Zionist requirement. Why have a state at all? Political control has not done anything for Judaism except lead it to near ruin. I know — I am one slim step from abandoning the faith of my fathers for centuries, ruling it out for my immediate family and progeny. It is just unbearable to be an American Jew of conscience against the backdrop of Israeli history and the facts of Palestine. Maybe better to not be a Jew. (But, I’m always threatening..and you know those who threaten don’t do it!)
A one state solution is a form of utopianism. It will be just a sucessful as securing individuals rights as Stalin and Mao’s utopias. After all, we have so many great examples of Arab countries in the world today that preserve individual, minority, not to mention women’s rights. However un-immaculate the conception of Israel was (no more than the US, Australia…), and how imperfect it is today, this “cure” will be far worse than the “disease”.
You don’t have an Israel that does very well at preserving individual, minority or women’s rights either. So what are you kvetching about? You expect the Arabs to do a better job than Israel at this?
I’m afraid the status quo is a disease far more virulent than the one-state “cure” would be.