The Emerging One-State Consensus

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February 17, 2010

During the twilight years of France’s empire, French liberals opposed colonial conquest as a matter of principle. However, they also opposed withdrawal from the colonies due to pragmatic considerations about the likely aftermath of decolonization. Among centrist Israeli and American Jewish politicians and commentators today, a curious reversal of this position has emerged. Vigorous reaffirmations of the legality of the occupation, the settlements, and most of the security measures taken to ensure their continuation are offered instead, accompanied by support for a two-state solution on the basis of the pragmatic consideration that such a solution is the only imaginable way to preserve even utopian hopes for a “Jewish and democratic state.” Curiously, though, these seemingly opposite Zionist and French positions may both be viewed as means to maintain an unjust status quo.

For long-time advocates of two states, the recent adoption of this position by a majority of mainstream Jewry has a certain irony. For decades, Jewish two-state advocates had been vilified as anti-Israel at best, anti-Semitic and “self-hating,” at worst. There is more than irony at work here, however. The conversion of the mainstream to the “two-state solution” has come in a form that ensures that it will never happen, even assuming that the Palestinians would agree to it. The born-again two-staters have come to their new faith even while maintaining the key elements of their old faith. They now approve not only of the legality of the continued occupation, the settlements, and security measures, but hold the highest respect for the settlers’ desires and sensitivities, including their claim for “natural growth” and the absolute right, granted to no other Israeli citizens, of having their grown children, grandchildren, and other relatives live in their neighborhoods in heavily subsidized housing secured by huge government infrastructure expenditures and a massive Israeli military presence. No Israeli leader, with the exception of the altogether (and, for other reasons, fortunately) unique Ariel Sharon, has ever had the stomach for significant, forcible uprooting of established settlements (Yamit was too artificial a confrontation to serve as a precedent). And, given the consensus I have just described, none will do so for the foreseeable future. The settlements, including those built near Palestinian population centers for the precise purpose of preventing a Palestinian state, will remain, supported materially by the Israeli state, and, ideologically, by claims about their legality.

Indeed, the “two-state solution” has now come to function as an apologetic myth for the Jewish mainstream.Today, it is an alibi for its refusal to confront the concrete situation. That concrete situation is one in which, since 1967, i.e., approximately two-thirds of Israel’s existence, there has been “one state” between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Since the basic positions of both Palestinian and mainstream Israeli leaders mean that two states will never be set up, the “one-state” status quo, which is what we have and will have for the foreseeable future, is what we have to face up to.

“One-state” is neither a “solution” nor a “dream” nor a “nightmare”: it is what we have now, have had for almost 43 years, and likely will have for the next several decades. What kind of state is this “one-state”? It’s a state in which some live under military occupation (Arabs in the West Bank and Golan), some live under blockade by the army of the “one-state” (Gazans), some are routinely discriminated against and told that their identity is not that of the state (Israeli Arabs), some have full democratic rights (Israeli Jews), and some have de facto extralegal power (Jewish settlers). Everyone who lives in, or is passionate about, Israel, must face that reality and consider its ethical implications. For example, should full civil and political rights be given to all inhabitants of the “one-state,” including all Palestinians? Or, on the contrary, should the granting of such rights be limited by the Green Line, whose erasure was the explicit goal not only of the settler movements but also of all previous Likud governments beginning in 1977? How can such a limitation on rights be morally justified given that the erasure of the Green Line has been at least partly achieved,and has been maintained in law in a manner designed precisely to limit such rights?

Reasonable people may disagree about the answers to these questions. In this case as in others, ethical ideals compete with rival ethical ideals, as well as with pragmatic considerations. Not only a century of hatred and violence, but also the two peoples’ fierce and perhaps incompatible passions for self-determination may make a truly democratic single state impossible. Nonetheless, the “two-state solution” should not serve as a covert means for justifying the oppressive “one-state reality.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what is coming to pass. An ethical dream is becoming a dishonest pretext for an unethical status quo. At least the French liberals who supported the colonial status quo had the decency not to pervert the principles they announced could not be implemented. Centrist Zionists have the duty to do no less. And they will ignore at their peril the historical lesson their Gallic counterparts ultimately learned about the tenability of maintaining domination over unwilling peoples.

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