originally published on Sept. 26, 2012 on Open Salon.
This really is about the clearest path I see toward the formation of a Palestinian state. This post has no other agenda - it is dedicated to that problem and that problem only.
So you want to establish a Palestinian state. OK. So do I.
How are we going to get there from here?
Before I begin to answer that question, I’m going to talk about what this post is about and what it isn’t. This post is about practicality, not morality. All I care about here is what will bring us closer to our goal, not who is at fault for what. I’m not interested in who is at fault for what because I believe that such a discussion will make our odds worse, not better. I’m interested in real allies, not phony ones.
In order to establish a Palestinian state, we need to influence the Israeli government. In order to do that, we need allies. Primarily, we need one kind of ally more than any other:
Why Jews? Because Israel is so used to nearly universal international condemnation that Israel is difficult to influence. Israeli Jews are influential because they’re citizens – they vote. American Jews are influential because we’re numerous and because, collectively, we influence both AIPAC and the US Government. So, if you want to establish a Palestinian state, you need us.
When it comes to this issue, we worry about two things:
1. The survival of other Jews.
2. Not seeing ourselves as oppressors.
Make no mistake about this: The first worry absolutely trumps the second worry. It’s not close. The second worry doesn’t even enter the equation until the first worry is addressed.
It does not matter whether you think that the survival of Jews is at stake. What matters is whether the allies you’re looking for think that. If we do, the probability of establishing a Palestinian state any time soon plummets.
It does not matter whether or not I want this to be true or whether or not you do. It is true. Assume this or fail. If you think there is another way to accomplish this, I’ll be more than happy to listen to it, but I really, really doubt there is.
You may not be inclined to believe me when I say that I favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, even though I’ve said so on these pages before. So, just to get this out of the way, so you understand that I mean it, I’ll explain why:
The point behind Zionism is to give Jews a homeland where we are the majority because after about two millennia of not being the majority anywhere, we never stayed safe to the point where we could reliably continue practicing Judaism. Given that the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, the only two options on the table are to integrate the whole Palestinian population into Israel, leaving Israel without a Jewish majority in about a generation and leaving Jews the twin untenable choices of becoming a minority yet again or practicing actual apartheid, or to establish a separate state for the Palestinians, leaving the Jews with a long-term majority within Israel. (In theory, the West Bank could be returned to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt, but I don’t see a constituency for that solution, nor do I think it would work.)
The two-state solution is therefore necessary. Further, the deal that is cut has to be one that is acceptable to both sides because if a deal is cut that is not satisfactory to the majority of one side, that population will continuously try to undermine the deal rather than supporting it. In other words, the stability sought through the two-state arrangement won’t be realized and the deal won’t do any good.
To have a prayer of being acceptable, the following conditions must be met:
· Either the West Bank settlements have to be closed or the Palestinians have to be compensated for them in money, land, or some combination.
· Some portion of East Jerusalem has to be made available to the Palestinians to serve as their capital.
· Palestinians need access to the top of the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques are.
· There has to be a mechanism for free movement between the West Bank and Gaza.
And, possibly but not necessarily, those Palestinians of whom it can be proven that they (or their ancestors) were physically forced out of Israel in 1948 should be compensated. However, this point could involve opening a can of worms that could complicate an already complicated negotiation. Please keep in mind what has so far stayed off the table:
Since the foundation of Israel, more Jews have been driven out of majority Muslim countries, primarily Arab countries, than Muslims have left Israel, voluntarily and involuntarily combined. No one has suggested compensation for Middle Eastern Jewish refugees, only Palestinian refugees. Given the imbalance of resources, such compensation might still be worth it to Israel to secure the peace, even without seeking compensation for Jewish refugees.
The Israelis want safety and stability and the Palestinians want freedom. Who has what they want at the moment? Nobody. The status quo therefore sucks.
However, if the Israelis do not believe that the creation of a Palestinian state will gain them safety and stability, the status quo becomes the most preferable alternative.
Therefore, the path to a two-state solution involves both persuading the Israelis that it will bring safety and stability and insuring that safety and stability actually occur.
A number of readers will find the idea that the powerful Israelis are worried about the stateless Palestinians ludicrous. If this is your opinion, I regret to inform you that your opinion is irrelevant. You want to change the behavior of Jews, and that is how most of us think. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s ludicrous; for all I care you can think of it as psychosis. All that matters is that it is a preexisting condition among this population that is necessary to address if we are going to have a prayer of achieving statehood for Palestinians.
It’s a reasonably sure bet that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not believe that the creation of a Palestinian state would buy Israel safety and stability. That’s certainly how he behaves. Stalling on the West Bank settlements, building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem (including announcing one while Joe Biden was visiting the country), diverting the Jordan’s water for Israeli agriculture; these are the actions of someone digging in.
He has avoided following the most sensible course for achieving peace. He’s dealing with two organizations: Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. The Fatah leadership has been concentrating a great deal on economic development and less on fighting Israel. Hamas, on the other hand, acts like it’s at war with Israel, missiles and all, and keeps the elimination of Israel as a state in its charter. How could Netanyahu undermine Hamas? By cutting better deals with Fatah such that the Gazan population sees that the alternative is better. There are no settlements in Gaza but there certainly are on the West Bank. Conciliation would go a long way.
But conciliation is not what we’ve seen from Netanyahu. Which, in his context, makes sense: the more frightened the Israeli population is, the freer the hand of the Prime Minister. In that regard, the Arab membership of the United Nations has been helping him out, and Ahmedinijad of Iran has been helping him out more.
How do you undermine a guy like that? By showing that he’s wrong. As things stand now, in order to do so, the best way to do that is to pick our battles. There are battles that can be engaged in, even now, the settlements and water rights being prime examples.
There are battles that can’t – not literally but figuratively, in that the arguments being made serve primarily to show the scope of international reaction to Israel. Engaging in those battles is a formula for strengthening Israeli intransigence.
The best thing we can do is avoid going over the top with our arguments. For example, I’ve heard the term “genocide” used in terms of what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. I’ll be unusually frank here: If you use the term “genocide” to describe what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, I think you’re a blithering idiot. “Genocide” means the destruction of an ethnic group. That’s according to Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term. We’ve seen what may be characterized as overly zealous military responses on the part of Israel but we certainly haven’t seen mass killings, concentration camps, anything like that. To claim that the territories bear any resemblance to Darfur or Bosnia is ludicrous; the IDF has gone through more measures to avoid killing mass numbers of civilians than any other military I know of in any conflict in the history of the world, period. Nobody but Israel drops a million leaflets saying “clear the area, we’re going to bomb here.” If they were genocidal, they’d just bomb. And, by the way, the genocide accusation completely ignores the fact that the Israelis aren’t killing Palestinian Israeli citizens, which they’d have to do if they were actually practicing genocide.
Now, just to look at what we’re trying to accomplish tactically, which is to recruit Jews to pressure Israel into a two-state solution:
Does anyone think that the best way to accomplish this is to spuriously accuse Jews of genocide? Really? The people for whom the term was invented? The people who know what being on the receiving end of the real thing looks like? Does anyone think that what the Israelis are doing entails the equivalent of cattle cars, labor camps, sonderkommandos, gas chambers, ovens, pits where line after line of people are lined up on the edge and shot so they conveniently fall into their own mass graves?
Such an accusation is both amazingly stupid and stunningly self-indulgent. When Netanyahu tries to persuade the Israeli people that allowing a Palestinian state would not result in safety and stability, he just has to point to these people and say “This is who those who want a Palestinian state are relying on for our safety.”
As a Jew, let me tell you: It’s a pretty convincing argument.
As someone who wants a Palestinian state, let me tell you: Don’t give it to him.
To use an example that doesn’t involve quite as much sheer lunacy, I’ve heard (or read) the term “apartheid” used over and over with respect to Israel. It doesn’t fit. In order to illustrate why it doesn’t, we have to distinguish between two Palestinian populations: Israeli citizens and territory Palestinians. Israeli Palestinians are citizens. They have votes. They have Parliamentary representation. I’m not saying they don’t face bigotry or that bigotry has no effect on their lives when it comes to, for example, municipal services like garbage collection, but that’s on the order of what minorities face here in the US. Unjust? Yes, and there are Israeli Jews involved in fighting that like there are Americans fighting bigotry here, but nothing remotely approaching apartheid. No separate water fountains, no separate hotels, none of that stuff.
In terms of its own citizens, what Israel practices is farther from apartheid than what any of the surrounding populations practice. If you’re looking for Jewish allies in the cause of justice, the way not to get them is to single out Jews for practices that are prevalent in the region, particularly when Israel is actually less guilty of this than its neighbors are. Singling Jews out under those circumstances will get you accused of anti-Semitism. If a large enough percentage of Jews can dismiss those favoring Palestinian statehood as anti-Semites, Netanyahu wins.
If you are reading carefully, you’ll notice that the previous paragraph began with the words “in terms of its own citizens.” When people accuse the Israelis of apartheid, that’s not typically who they’re talking about; they’re talking about the territory Palestinians, but those Palestinians are not the victims of apartheid, they’re the victims of what is essentially a long-term military occupation. Israel isn’t really interested in occupying this population but Israel doesn’t have an easy way of stopping.
Now here we have a pair of problems, both of which we’re going to have to address in order to reach Palestinian statehood. On one side is Hamas, whose charter still includes the destruction of Israel as a goal and who continues to fire missiles. (Be careful of putting the cart before the horse here. The blockade is because of terrorism and missiles, not the other way around.) The Israeli government views granting statehood to an entity dedicated to Israel’s destruction as suicidal. On the other side is an Israeli coalition government in which some ultra-Orthodox politicians hold critical swing votes, and some of them want to hold onto as much of Judea and Samaria (the ancient names for the West Bank) as possible. From a religion standpoint, this is made more complicated by the fact that the original Jewish settlement, the one Abraham settled, actually is the West Bank. So, both sides have to figure out what to do with their fringes.
In order to do that, the centrists on each side need help from the centrists of the other. Fatah needs concessions from Israel to become more attractive to the Gazans than Hamas is. Israeli centrists need help from Fatah keeping the Hamas charter out of the eventual Palestinian entity. The extremists of each side need to be kept from using the extremists of the other as an excuse.
Both to attract Jews to support any effort at statehood and to make any such effort succeed, we need to support the centrists.
On Both Sides.
We have to say:
The settlements as is are not acceptable.
More Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem while ostensibly trying to make peace is not acceptable.
Missiles from Gaza are not acceptable.
A charter dedicated to the elimination of Israel is not acceptable.
And also, I’m afraid:
A nation that constantly says that Israel’s government should be eliminated while working on nuclear technology is not behaving acceptably. To view this behavior as reasonable while viewing fear of this behavior as unreasonable is in and of itself not reasonable. None of us want Israel to attack Iran, but to crucify Netanyahu over this while leaving Ahmedinejad alone is to persuade Jews that no one has our back, and the result of that conclusion will be that supporting a Palestinian state is too big a military risk. This isn’t the most obvious concept, but this happens to be true:
Demonizing Israel across the board will not bring about a Palestinian state, it will prevent one.
I’m NOT saying “don’t criticize Israel.” I am saying exactly what I mean: Don’t criticize Israel for everything you can think of whether or not it has merit, don’t criticize Israel reflexively, and don’t demonize Israel in general because that’s what you’re used to doing.
I want that state. I want allies.
However, if you go around accusing the Israelis of genocide and apartheid, this is the kind of ally you’ll be:
Like Donald Trump to a Republican Presidential candidate
Only without the money.