Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One Palestine, One State

There is a growing argument in favour of a one-state settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict, largely as a result of the failure of Oslo and the intensifying occupation policies that accompanied it. In this vein, there was a brief 'to do' over the question of a one-state versus two-state settlement in Palestine over at the Democrats Diary. There is also a debate on Counterpunch beginning with a highly defensive and bitter attack on the one-state idea by the very sharp Michael Neumann, and now followed up with a counter-point by the former CIA analyst Kathy Christison. I think it's worth discharging some of the acrimony over this question, because our role as pro-Palestinian activists is not necessarily to work for one kind of settlement or the other: it is to strengthen the Palestinians as much as we can, in part by disabling Israel's major patron, so that they can decide what deal to accept and under what conditions. If the two-state argument is mistaken, as I think it is, there is no space for sectarian moralising about it. The fact that some in the pro-Palestinian movement - only a minority but loud enough to be damaging at times - take the view that all two-staters including Noam Chomsky are sell-outs and so on has made it more difficult to have a serious discussion. It also sets a massive elephant trap for activists to fall into. If we spend all our time anathematising others in the movement, we will achieve even less in the future than we have in the past despite what are undoubtedly improved prospects for mobilising opinion. So, I should say the following: to be a 'two-stater' is not the same thing necessarily as a liberal Zionist, since the latter acknowledges no injustice other than the 1967 war and is committed to the moral value of having a Jewish nationalist state, while the former need not be; to be a 'one-stater' is not to be ethereal, aloof and moralistic, neither to foreclose options nor foreswear temporary and unsatisfactory compromise, since a single Palestinian state is a long term goal, the road to which can be marked by many half-way houses; 'one-staters' do not have a monopoly on justice any more than 'two-staters' have a monopoly on political realism.

Well, from the above, it is clear that there are a number of concurrent and apparently incompatible criteria at work in this argument. Justice demands that what is a racist-nationalist state should be abolished by one means or another; that the effects of ethnic cleansing should be reversed as far as possible; and that Arabs and Jews should live together as brothers and sisters. Realism stipulates that such demands are incoherent, moralistic, historically disembodied, almost certainly unattainable, and a diversion from the one true settlement, which is that aimed at by the PLO since 1988, endorsed by the UN, the ICJ, and formally accepted by every actor including Israel - a Palestinian state based in Gaza and the West Bank, with some settlement for the refugees. The argument from justice has a set of historical facts, and an analysis, but no clout; the argument from realism has a concrete plan, a blueprint that Israel could accept and that would potentially stop the bloodshed and provide relief for the Palestinians. This is an alluring story, but there's something oddly disquieting about it. For a start, if 'realism' is so hostile to moralism, why does one detect its tincture in the claim (repeated in Neumann's piece) that 'realism' is a 'real world' solution aimed at ending 'real suffering' in the 'here and now', whereas pursuit of one-state would keep the slaughter in motion. Isn't this exactly the language of strident urgency that liberal imperialism activates in order to suppress rational discussion of the latest 'intervention'? Further, when an argument is raised against unwieldy utopianism and maximalism, there is usually straw flying amid the feathers. What if compromise and settlement turns out to be the utopian option? What if those who consider the long-term survival of the Israeli polity in its current Zionist form a viable option are the idle fantasists? If analogies to previous debates suggest themselves - those between sensible colonialism and anti-colonialism; those between abolitionists and ameliorists - it is because the terms of 'realism' are so familiar. Finally, the argument from 'realism' seems to overestimate the value of legal opinion and 'consensus', in part because it happens to be convenient in conventional arguments to say 'we have the legal consensus, all actors are committed to this in theory, the UN backs it, the PLO has gone out of its way to make it happen, conceding much and receiving little, and only America and Israel's refusenik stance thwarts it'. But diplomacy and law are the products of power, and the relevant centres of power do not at present support even a two-state settlement. How practicable, as opposed to utopian, is a two-state settlement?

Let me take my lead from the 'real world'. In the West Bank, Israel has imposed a "settlement grid", as Virginia Tilley puts it, a network of Jewish Only roads and settlements as well as a 'separation wall' which will eventually incorporate about half of the West Bank into Israel. The colonies and roads are protected by IDF troops, the separation wall by border guards. And the whole system from Jerusalem to Jericho populated by approximately half a million Israelis, many of them fanatics armed to the teeth. It contains 450 roadblocks, 70 manned checkpoints, and 300 kilometres of segregated highway. It is designed to be irreversible. It is designed to make 40% of the West Bank inaccessible to the Palestinians. It is designed to fragment its landscape and eliminate the basis for a viable polity. The settlements have not ceased to expand, and there is no reason to expect that they will in the prevailing circumstances. Israelis will have added motive to try and move into these frontier zones because it is one area where the Israeli state provides a real welfare system of sorts. On top of this, Israel goes to great lengths to frustrate any possible basis for economic development in the Palestinian areas. Not just by withholding tax revenues so that Palestinians can subsidise the occupation; not only by imposing a blockade; not only by stealing land and destroying olive groves; but also through its discriminatory water restrictions, which has had a devastating impact on agriculture and on domestic consumption. We can add to this the impact of movement restrictions on the right to work. This is a policy, as Sara Roy puts it, of de-development. B'Tselem's 2002 report on Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank concludded that Israel's aim was both to rule out the possibility of an independent sovereign state and "drastically restrict the possibilities ... for economic development, and for agriculture in particular". The result of economic restrictions and fragmentation is a system of disarticulated micro-economies attached to the Israeli one, not a potential national economy. The fact that Palestinian society has not completely collapsed in the face of this onslaught is a miracle of resilience. Aside from being a long-term and vitally important national project for Israel, pursued so far with great success, the occupation and colonisation of the remaining Palestinian territories provides the Israeli Defense Force, perhaps the most important power bloc in the Israeli state, with rentier motivations for continuing with the occupation.

As figures such as Virginia Tilley and Tony Judt have argued, even the mere fact of half a million armed colonists with a strong body of support within Israel proper militates strongly against a two-state settlement. This may not be 'irreversible', but any reversal would not originate in the Israeli power structure, which has no interest in it. Further, whatever supposed international 'consensus' exists, it is totally absent in the centres of US power, which are almost entirely supportive of the most aggressive wing of the Zionist movement. Gaza is an interesting case in point. Here, we were supposed to be witnessing a unilateral withdrawal, a peace gesture, and end to the occupation of that part of Palestine as the basis for a future settlement. At the initiative of Ariel Sharon, the settlements were taken apart and the settlers removed to their astonishment and grief. Tears flowed all the way from Gush Katif to the Jordan Valley. What next? Would Sharon really disengage from the West Bank that he was able to so triumphantly reinvade in 2002? Was he really a peacenik, despite all appearances? Dov Weisglass revealed all: it was an attempt to sidestep a peaceful settlement with an imposed Israeli one backed by the US, which would avert Palestinian statehood or any deal for the refugees. The new 'Kadima' coalition ('Avanti' in Italian) that Sharon helped to found has pursued this solution relentlessly: the growing settlements in the West Bank, especially those contiguous with the separation wall; the fostering of civil war and the destruction of Gaza; the planned reduction of Gaza's already heavily infringed territory through ethnic cleansing, and so on. The movement for a two-state settlement could once boast a coalition uniting the PLO with reform-minded Israelis, but that has been decisively defeated for the time being. Indeed, given the Israeli state's hostility, the Palestinian leadership's corruption and opportunism, and the absence of serious regional allies for the Palestinians, it is hard to see how it ever stood a chance. Israel, as Neumann acknowledges, will not accept such an outcome. So the criticism of the one-state solution, that it lacks a supporting agency capable of enforcing it, also happens to apply to the two-state solution.

Let us suppose the increasingly improbable anyway. Suppose that with a two-state settlement in mind, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 (both formulated when there was much more chance of their being successful), the Palestinian movement acquired reserves of strength and clout hitherto denied it. Let us say it acquired the ability to force an Israeli retreat from the West Bank, and end to the occupation of Gaza, the creation of a unified state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and some kind of settlement for the refugees. Such, the two-state argument says, is eminently possible, though most of its advocates acknowledge that it would not be justice. I agree that it is possible, at least, and that it would represent an improvement in the condition of Palestinians. It would go some small way to meeting the claims of justice, and by ending the war, it could undermine some of the key expansionist agents in Israeli society. It could even open up new possibilities for critical and post-Zionist thought to emerge in Israel, although there is no evidence from past partitions that this is likely to be the case. On the contrary, it would seem to bolster the logic of Zionism and potentially lead to the expulsion of Israeli Arabs who are already in an embattled position. And so long as the United States wished for a strong Israel, the latter would have the resources to defensively recuperate its military position. It would still have its nuclear weapons, a string of bought Arab regimes, a powerful intelligence service and an aggressive posture toward the region as a whole. It could easily formulate or provoke a pretext for re-invasion and annexation. Statehood is no protection from Israeli aggression as surrounding states have discovered. After all, the basis for present-day Palestine in the two-stare vision is territory taken from Jordanian and Egyptian occupation in 1967. And should Israel embroil itself in any regional war that could threaten its own existence, it is sworn to massive retalitatory attacks possibly using its nuclear weapons - the crazy Samson Option. So, the question is, without fundamentally altering the Zionist polity, would a two-state settlement be the basis for peace and stability, even if not for justice, that it is claimed to be? On the basis of the foregoing adumbrations it seems dubious.

At present, there is a de facto one-state solution of sorts in operation (not de jure in the areas of occupation). It is a state of segregation, pass laws, despotism for Palestinians and a thin veneer of democracy for Israelis. Most of those living in it lack the rights of citizenship, and many who do are essentially second-class citizens. It is a 'democracy' but a Herrenvolk democracy, a "Jewish and democratic state" which all political parties in Israel are prohibited from challenging. So, Israel is constitutionally committed to maintaining that formula - the majority of citizens within the state must be Jewish, even as it expands. To grant citizenship status to the Palestinian majority living in the territory controlled by Israel would violate that fundamental principle. The Law of Return, by allowing a massive level of immigration, including of those who aren't in fact Jewish, provides one source for a continued majority in an expanding Israel. Ethnic cleansing strategies and potentially genocide are logical outgrowths of that basic commitment, and we saw one such example in the recent attempted annexation of south Lebanon in which Israel tried to drive out the Lebanese population and take the territory under occupation. For some years, discussion of a one-state solution was seriously curbed in Palestine because the Fatah leadership saw it as being subversive of its diplomatic efforts. The rise of Hamas as the chief beneficiary of the second Intifada, coupled with Israel's policies designed to thwart a two-state settlement, may well have opened up discussion. Recent polling evidence suggests a much stronger level of support for a one-state solution among Palestinians than ever before (70%). It is acquiring support among leading Palestinians too. Ziad Abu-Amr, a former PA minister, and Sharif Elmusa have recently come out for such a settlement. But that would require abolishing the basic structures of the Israeli polity, and implementing Arab-majority rule. How could such a state of affairs be arrived at? I would point out, first of all, that the Palestinians alone lack the structural capacity to overthrow Zionism. They are not a labouring majority whom Israel tries to exploit, but a nationality that Israel is trying to destroy. No Palestinian COSATU will bring Israeli industry to its knees. The odd rocket or suicide attack isn't going to do it either. Secondly, and I am sorry to break this to some of the more naive sects, the Palestinians cannot rely on the solidarity of the Israeli working class, any more than they can rely on the ICJ or Fatah's diplomatic prowess. There is no movement from within to abandon Zionism: on the contrary, 94% of Israelis polled assert that Israel must maintain its Jewish majority. Thirdly, it seems obvious to me that the only contiguous population with an interest in solidarity with the Palestinians is the working population of the Middle East - but they have to free themselves of their mainly US-imposed dictators before they can really help free Palestine. In short, it would require a revolt across the entire region. This is a regional problem, and it must have a regional solution. There is nothing else coming down the pipeline, so far as I can see. Certainly, an international consensus, with regular chronicling of Israel's outrages by the UN or the ICJ, with diplomatic initiatives by those presently helping impose the misery, with international solidarity movements operating under increasing restrictions, and with marches in the street by those far removed from the action - all this can only go so far, and probably never as far as the supposedly very practical two-state settlement.