Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cynical vs. Naive Two-Statism

A two state solution to the conflict between Zionism and Palestinians is structurally impossible to reach. A secure Jewish state requires concessions the Palestinians are not able to make. An independent Palestinian state requires concessions the Israelis are not able to make.

A great Palestinian, a Palestinian Mandela could offer Israel a secure existence in one state, but even a Palestinian Mandela could not offer Israel that the Palestinians would accept being consigned to cantons without connection to the outside world except through Israel and demilitarized except for a small Israel-approved police force. A great Israeli, an Israeli DeKlerk could offer Palestinians equality even in greater numbers than Jews, but could not offer an independent sovereign neighboring state full of people who resent their relatively recent dispossession.

A two-state solution cannot happen. Nobody has yet put together a plan that is acceptable to both Palestinians and Israelis because such a plan cannot exist. Israeli security and the independence of the people who were dispossessed by Israel, while continuing that dispossession, are mutually exclusive ideas.

Interestingly, two different currents of two-statism are forming. Naive two-statism, held by Western liberal supporters of Zionism, and cynical two-statism which I learned of recently through Helena Cobban's website and which is implied by Michael Totten through Totten's exposure to, according to Totten, a preponderance of unnamed Israelis.

Naive two-statism is exemplified by the dreams of a two-state solution held by Juan Cole and Helena Cobban. Neither of them can produce, have ever seen or could specifically imagine a plan that they believe would be acceptable to both Palestinians and Israelis. Yet they cling to the idea that a little more negotiation will produce such a plan.

Naive two-statism is a failure of imagination more than a moral failure. Naive two-statists have accepted the idea that there, in some cosmic sense, "should" exist a Jewish state - not for reasons that could withstand close scrutiny, not for reasons they'd attempt to put to words, but because that's what the people they've grown around have accepted without question thus far in their intellectual growth.

That there may not be a Jewish state in Palestine is an uncomfortable idea for them. For one thing, they would not want to oppose views held with great emotional intensity by Jewish colleagues that they both respect and want to get along with. The accusation of anti-Semitism is reflexively and sincerely invoked against any idea that makes a Jewish person feel uncomfortable as a Jew, even if the triggering idea does not involve anti-Jewish sentiment. This idea - that Jews could be outvoted by non-Jews in Israel - automatically, reflexively and sincerely, though wrongly, triggers accusations of anti-Semitism from Jewish supporters of Israel.

It is an idea that many liberal Westerners have taught themselves to avoid. Many have even acquired an ability to avoid the idea of a world without a Jewish state without consciously realizing it.

I guess here I can say that Jew and Zionist are not synonymous, but they are not fully independent concepts either. Many, probably most, Jews feel an attachment to Zionism that transcends the rational. This is not meant as an indictment. Many, probably most, African Americans feel an attachment to Black South Africans that is greater than they "should" feel by some race-neutral measure. Many, probably most Arabs and most Muslims feel an attachment to the Palestinians that is greater than they "should" feel.

And to go a little further off course, I may have raised the question of what happens when everybody is biased. Mandela is biased towards Blacks. Botha, Reagan and Thatcher are biased towards Whites. Maybe nobody is right. But no, somebody is right. The side calling for one-person one-vote is right. And if Blacks deny political representation to Whites in South Africa because of race, then the advocates of White people in that case will be right.

Back to naive two-statism. Cobban and Cole are not Jewish though. Their naive two-statism does not spring directly from their emotional attachment to Zionism but from having grown intellectually in an environment that has been disproportionally Jewish. An environment where anti-Zionism automatically triggers accusations of anti-Semitism. Many Jewish liberals, probably most, also engage this naive two statism for their own emotional reasons.

The practical sense of naive two-statism on the part of Westerners, is that it provides moral cover for the continuation of a morally unacceptable situation. The United States is aiding Hosni Mubarak in keeping 80 million Egyptians under an authoritarian dictatorship. This should be violently contrary to US ideals, but if an agreement is right around the corner, this is a short term sacrifice that will lead to everyone in the region accepting Israel, and so is worth it. It is not defensible if it is what it truly is, a situation that must continue indefinitely if the 6 or so million Jews of Israel are to be securely safe from being outvoted by Palestinians. There are many examples where in the Western liberal mind, the costs of Zionism are mitigated by the untrue but naively held idea that peace is a few negotiations away.

But cynical two-statism. This is a concept that is newer for me. In a comment at Cobban's blog, Michael Totten left:
The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left, the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings. “What is the solution to this problem?” He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one. “You Americans are always asking us that,” he said and laughed darkly.

Americans aren't the only ones who have a hard time grasping the idea of an intractable problem. “Unfortunately we Westerners are impatient,” said an Israeli politician who preferred not to be named. “We want fast food and peace now. But it won't happen. We need a long strategy.” “Most of Israel's serious problems don't have a solution,” said Dr. Dan Schueftan, Director of National Security Studies at the University of Haifa. “Israelis have only recently understood this, and most foreign analysts still don't understand it.”
From Totten's point of view, moral deficiencies of the Palestinians are the reason a two-state solution is impossible for the forseeable future. Totten has a right to interpret things that way if he chooses. No group of people on Earth in the Palestinian's situation would accept what Israel offers but if it comforts Totten to believe the Palestinians are morally subhuman in some way, who can stop him from believing that?

But regardless of the reasons - I consider them reasonable, Totten considers them immoral - if no two state solution is available, then the remaining alternatives are the status quo or a one-state solution. In this case, opponents of a one-state solution, which Zionists who do not call for mass expulsions or apartheid must be by definition, must either present that the status quo is the best possible arrangement, or cynically allow naive two-statists to continue believing a solution is available while understanding that one is not.

How widely have Israelis come to understand that there are no prospects for a two-state solution - regardless of where they assign the blame?

If Peres has reached the conclusion that two states cannot be reached, or Livni or Olmert, then they are now cynical two-statists. They understand the importance of the ability of naive two-statists to pretend the status quo is temporary and go along with the idea to manipulate those who would not deliberately support the indefinite continuation of the status quo.

I don't know for sure if Peres is a naive or cynical two-statist. Totten is neither a naive or cynical two-statist, he is an advocate of the indefinite continuation of the status quo. Lieberman is an advocate of expulsion. Both are unacceptable to Western sensibilities. I expect that some two-statists, aware that there is no alternative to two-states that is both acceptable to Zionism and to Western sensibilities, have decided to cynically pretend that two states are possible while aware that they are not.


Ziad said...


Do you see a situation where Israel may accept a full two state solution, meaning total withdrawal and total independence for Palestine as the least bad option?

In other words, can the push for a one man one vote solution become so loud that a generous two state solution becomes much more palatable to Israel?

N. Friedman said...


I think that what the Israelis think - and not without some considerable justification - is that ceding land to Arabs or, as you seem to prefer, extending citizenship to all Arabs in the captured territories - would spell the doom of the Jewish population of Israel (and not merely the Jewish state of Israel), either in their right to live in their homes or their right to live at all.

You have it that the Arabs are reasonable in their position. I think that is nonsense. I think that Jews, back in 1948, accepted a territorially divided and discontinuous territory. The Arab side rejected that, which led to where we are today.

There is no reason why Arabs could not have accepted a divided state and build a decent life, either alone or as part of a confederation with Jordan. Had President Clinton's December 2000 offer been accepted, that might have been possible even now. Arafat did not - and, as President Clinton and Prince Bandar noted, lied about its contents - and, perhaps, could not have accepted any offer and survive.

The current thinking among most of Israel's Jews is that Arafat could not have accepted Israel and survive and that, at present, Israelis are in a long term struggle to survive, much as many in the West thought the West was in a long term struggle with the USSR.

By the way, there are states which have succeeded nicely on small tracts of land. Singapore comes to mind.

What drives the Arab side's rejectionist position is not reason but their own internal religious interpretation of the dispute. Unless that is bridged, there is no resolution.

And, do not expect Israeli Jews to end their state in order for Jews to return not only to being a despised minority - in both Muslim and Christian lands - but a minority unable to protect its people. That, I can assure you, is something to which Jews will simply not agree.

Arnold Evans said...

Israel is not viable if there is a sovereign state that is connected to the Palestinians.

Under Nasser, Israel solved that by seizing the Suez to separate Egypt from Gaza. Jordan has, fortunately for Israel, been all along willing to play non-sovereign state.

If Palestine is a sovereign state, it can and will make Israel non-viable. Israel knows this, so cannot accept any Palestinian sovereign state.

That makes a sovereign Jewish Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state inherently incompatible concepts.

Concessions either render Israel non-viable or Palestine non-sovereign. No amount of pressure can change that. No amount of pressure or anything anyone can do or agree to can make two states possible.

What Jews think about losing their rights is what White South Africans thought. Conveniently, the only way they could survive was at the expense of the rights of the others, even though they really, really really didn't want to do it.

The Arabs had the right in 1948 to deny the partition, which was disproportionately favorable to Jews.

The Arabs had the right to deny what was offered in 2000. Which from the details that have been released, sounds like a plan to turn Palestine into non-sovereign bantustan reservations.

The idea that Palestinians and Arabs have a right to say no if they do not like the terms offered seems to be beyond supporters of Israel. Something you just cannot fathom.

Oh well. It is not beyond other Arabs and Muslims.

N. Friedman said...


Arabs had the right to deny whatever they will. It was, of course, a decision that led to their catastrophe. So, it was a stupid decision.

And, frankly, it was not the only decision that might have been made. As shown clearly in Hillel Cohen's book, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, not all Arabs, and not all Muslim Arabs, favored the extremist views of the Grand Mufti. Many thought that there was a future with Jews. They, not those who sided with the Mufti, were right. Which is why those associated with the Mufti killed and maimed so many of those who argued for reconciliation.

So, you are right that Arabs could side as they chose to. But, that such was the only possibility is nonsense.

At present, the sides hold irreconcilably different positions. But, that was not always the case.

The 1948 solution was drawn to allow for a state for all involved. The Arab side's position that won out was that Jewish rule was an offense to God.

I offer this, by way of explanation, from an interesting book, No God But God, Egypt and the Triumph of Islam, by Geneive Abdo (Oxford University Press 2000). She, by the way, is no fan of Israel. She writes on pages 64 - 65:

The Grand Sheikh's battle with his conservative critics boiled over in December 1997, when Tantawi hosted an unprecedented meeting at al-Azhar with chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, leader of Israel's Ashkenazi Jews. Held just before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and amid growing outrage in the Arab world toward Israeli intransigence in the stalled Oslo peace process, Tantawi's meeting was nothing short of explosive. Ordinary Egyptians had never accepted the Camp David peace accords, or for that matter any attempt to normalize relations with Israel. Must Muslims saw the invitation of the chief rabbi into the very citadel of Sunni Islam as a complete betrayal of the fifty-year effort against the Jewish state.

Egypt's most respected Islamic thinker, Seleeem al-Awa, spoke for many when he bitterly denounced the visit on the front page of the Islamist daily al-Shaab and wrote a letter of protest to the Research Academy. "I did not believe my eyes when I read that the Grand Sheikh met the Zionist rabbi in Cairo.... It is as if the Zionists want to declare before the whole world that they have achieved normalization with the symbol of Sunni Islam and the entire Islamic world, and with the Sheikh of al-Azhar himself."

"Why did you headquarters become the site of normalization with the Zionists? How are we going to welcome Ramadan with the biggest spiritual defeat of the modern age?" al-Awa asked.

Tantawi was filled with consternation. He had never expected that such a meeting would outrage the Muslim world. Shaken and tense, he defended himself in a long interview with a Qatari satellite television channel that was broadcast in Egypt and across the Middle East. The interviewer asked Tantawi why he had decided to meet the rabbi, when his predecessor, Gad al-Haq, had refused.

"I followed in the footsteps of our Prophet, peace be upon him. He met Jews and had a dialogue with them.... Was I supposed to refuse to meet him, so he'll go to his country and say the Sheikh of al-Azhar was unable to meet me?"

"What is you answer to Dr. Seleem al-Awa who said this meeting is more dangerous than any form of normalization?" the interviewer asked.

"This is the logic of cowards and pacifists," Tantawi replied. "Can Dr. al-Awa deny that the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr met with the Jews? And after that, they say 'normalization.' What normalization?"

Tantawi's response did little to pacify his critics with al-Azhar. In fact, the controversy handed the traditionalists the evidence they needed to challenge his suitability to hold Sunni Islam's highest position. "What we read about the meeting between the Sheikh of al-Azhar and the Israeli rabbi shocked us all," commented Yahya Ismail, the general-secretary of the Azhar's Scholars' Front. "We must abide by fatwas issued by senior scholars since 1936, which are official fatwas that forbid dealing with the occupying Jews with any weapon other than jihad (holy struggle) until they evacuate from our lands."

[Emphasis added in bold print.]

It was then and it is now about religion. That is the main reason there is no settlement.

Arnold Evans said...

No more long pasted segments in comments. I'll leave that one there and delete any further.

A Nazi sympathizer might say Jews had a chance to leave Germany but stayed, so they made a stupid decision. (While admitting they had a right to stay.) Nobody else would look at that situation that way though.

You strike me as spectacularly unable to empathize with the Palestinians. That's fine. You and I are different on that account.

I'm assuming you're Jewish and Israel has a special position in your emotional world. I don't believe there is an argument that will convince you that there should be no Jewish state, but Israel depends for its survival on people who do not necessarily share the priority you place on there being a Jewish state.

N. Friedman said...

Mr. Evans,

You are correct that I am Jewish. My interest in Israel, however, is as an outsider and one who has studied Islamic history, Islamic theology and Islamic law. It is on the latter basis, not on my ethnic and religious origins, that I hold a very different view than you.

Moreover, I know quite about Jewish history in the Muslim regions. It was, I think clearly, a mixed bag - sometimes Jews were merely second class citizens (and, in that regard, often better than what Medieval Europe offered, which is not saying all that much) and sometimes, it was even worse than in Medieval Europe, all depending on the time and place. Which is to say, I reject the essentialist argument that Islamic rule was generally good. Rather, it was comparatively good here and there and, to be precise, nearly only when and where Jews were perceived by a particular ruler as offering a benefit that compensated for the badgering against Jews, which was the normal cry from clerics and the masses.

The above, not any interest in Israel - a country I have not only not visited but I have no remote interest in visiting and decidedly no interest in moving to -, is the source for my bias against one state.

As for my view: I think that the alternative to a two state solution is a Lebanon solution. That, in my mind, is a cruel solution, as any remote examination of Lebanon's history shows. Compared to Lebanon, Israel's problems have been rather few, although Israel's problems do manage to make the papers more than those in Lebanon.

Lebanon, you will recall, began as a carve-out of the Ottoman Empire in order to protect the Maronite population (and, also, an excuse for France to gain influence in the region) following the massacres in the middle of the 19th Century and, most particularly, after the massacres of 1860 (in which, depending on what source, as many as 20,000 Maronites were killed). So, France intervened, as you may know, and Lebanon was born. Today, the state set up to protect the Maronites has a small fraction of Maronites - the vast majority of whom now live in the US and France. And, the reason why Maronites have moved out is that Muslims in Lebanon want Lebanon to fold into a more unified Muslim political alignment, something which would result in second class life, or worse, for the Maronites.

Frankly, what you are offering to Jews is to follow the disastrous path of the Maronites. That, to me, is pretty cruel, most especially after all the violence that occurred in the 1970's and early 1980's - most of which is hidden by blaming Israel with regard to the massacres in the refugee camps, of which Israel does likely bear some responsibility although the massacres were clearly the brainchild of Maronites getting even with Palestinian Arabs over an assassination and for massacres by the PLO on Maronites. The point, of course, is that about 150,000 people died in that civil war, the Israelis ended the war (overstayed their welcome as well) and the Arabs made propaganda out of the massacre, which pushed public memory, especially in the West, of all the dead of that civil war into ether.

What exists in Israel is, by Lebanese standards, a true miracle. But, placing all involved together - where the land will revert to the type of rule that exists in the Arab regions, is to say you hate both Arabs and Jews.

Now, returning to my original argument, which involved noting the religious forces that push the Arab side to oppose Israel, you note your hostility to my quoting from an interesting book at length. That is fair. But, you might consider the point raised by the book, which is a strong argument why Israel needs to exist as a Jewish state, namely, the Arab side's position makes it impossible for Jews to live as equals in Arab society - which was clearly always the case.

Jews are not willing to return to second class status. That was the whole point of the Zionist movement. It liberated Jews who, for the most part, want to direct their own futures, not be second class citizens of Arab or European ethnic states.