the debate about Israel and Palestine has taken
an odd turn. The idea of a single democratic state
in historic Palestine, once thought dead, has re-emerged
as an option worthy of consideration. For some,
the idea of a single state is a matter of realism.
Tony Judt, for example, argues in The New York Review
of Books that the integration of the West Bank may
already be irreversible, and suggests that a single
binational state may be the only alternative to
ethnic cleansing. More recently, Noah Cohen has
criticized Noam Chomsky's endorsement of a two-state
Cohen's view, we ought to think of Palestine on
the model of South Africa,and follow its solution
of endorsing a democratic state for all who live
in it. Like many, I long favored a two-state solution.
It seemed to me the best of a set of bad solutions
to the problem of two peoples living side by side
on a small parcel of land. I believe now that I
was wrong. The two-state solution is neither moral
nor realistic. The only politically and ethically
viable approach to the problem of Israel and Palestine
is to support a single democratic secular state
that provides equal rights for all of its citizens.
Furthermore, the failure to recognize this has,
I believe, helped underwrite some of the most egregious
of Israel's policies. The most important reason
for this has not, to my knowledge, yet been sufficiently
addressed. I would like to do so here.
Palestinians have argued that the formation of Israel
was a case of solving European problems on Arab
land. Let us look a little more closely at what
that solution has consisted in. A single people
is thought, in the name of its religion, to have
primary dominion over that land.
are others living on the land; they are to be accorded
secondary rights. (Although Israel claims its Palestinian
citizens possess equal rights, such a claim is ludicrous.
It is well known that the Palestinians are unable
to form parliamentary coalitions with the Jewish
parties that universally reject them, they do not
enjoy equal municipal funding in their towns, they
are dispossessed of their land, they are denied
equal access to education, and so on.) This is not
simply a moral matter. Nor is it simply a historical
one. It is both. And that is the problem that we
who have endorsed a two-state solution have neglected.
privilege a single people on a land that supports
others as well is to create two intertwined problems.
First, it implicitly accords a greater moral worth
to that people. We who live in the United States
should be viscerally aware this, given our history
with native Americans and people of African descent.
Second, according this greater moral worth erases
the moral limits that any person or people should
enjoy relative to others. Once those moral limits
are erased, the door is open to abuses of the kind
that are rife in Israel's history.
for example, of the recent issue of terrorism. How
many of us are ready to ascribe terrorism to suicide
bombings but not to the destruction of homes with
people still in them or the enforced starvation
of towns and villages or the indiscriminate firing
on nonviolent protestors? This imbalance is never
far to seek, and even those of us who support the
Palestinians find ourselves on the defensive. However,
we who have supported a two-state solution have
negligently endorsed the framing of the issue that
allows this to happen. We endorse a "right
to exist" that seems to apply to a particular
nation but in fact applies only to a particular
people within that nation: Jewish people. Furthermore,
that right is exercised at the expense of others
whose rights, as the Bush administration does not
cease to remind us, must be earned by renouncing
their struggle against occupation.
core of the problem lies here. To privilege politically
a single people is to lay the foundation for all
subsequent abuses. This is not to say that those
abuses follow logically from this privileging. Nor
is it to say that they were historically inevitable.
Rather, it is that the struggle against such abuses
concedes at the outset what it should not: that
there is a certain privilege legitimately accorded
to Israeli Jews.
should deny this privilege, and anything that follows
from it. One of the things that follow from it is
a two-state solution in which Jews enjoy privilege
in one of those states (and, presumably, non-Jews
in the other one). We should endorse what we should
always have endorsed: a single state that privileges
nobody, a state where the primary address from one
of its members to another is that of "citizen."
I am sure that this approach must ring false to
the ears of many. There are a number of objections
that one might raise to it. Let me put a few forward,
and then answer them in the hope of giving some
plausibility to an idea that cuts against the grain
of much of received wisdom.
first objection might appeal to the motivation for
recognizing (although, historically, not for forming)
a Jewish state in the first place. The Holocaust
seemed to many to prove that Jews were unsafe anywhere,
and that they needed a place where they could erect
a barricade against the history of genocide they
faced. A Jewish state would be a natural way to
objection is misplaced. Jews were indeed often unsafe
in Europe. They were not nearly as unsafe in the
United States, nor were they in Palestine before
the advent of Zionism. That the Holocaust proves
that European Jews deserve protection against the
history of hatred against them is undeniable. It
does not follow from this that they deserved a state
where they would be privileged vis-?- vis another
people. That idea has more to do with nineteenth-century
nationalism than with the internationalism more
characteristic of the contemporary world.
history has shown the effects of this privileging.
I should note in passing that in replying to this
objection I do not mean to rule out the possibility
of a single binational state, one that, like South
Africa or Canada, recognizes the collective rights
of all of its groups and seeks to protect them.
However, I do not, with Professor Chomsky, see a
two-state solution as a potential path toward binationalism.
For the reasons I have given, I have come to see
the former as resting on assumptions that undermine
the possibility both of binationalism and even of
the two-state solution itself.
second objection is that it is unrealistic to expect
Palestinians and Jews to live side by side without
acrimony. Things have gone too far; hatred has become
too deep to expect anything but a cycle of violence
and counterviolence. While hatred is certainly palpable
between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, its inevitable
longevity can be reasonably doubted. During the
Oslo period, although Israel continued systematically
to dispossess Palestinians of their land and settle
Jews on it, there were numerous acts particularly
of economic cooperation between Palestinians and
Israeli Jews. Much of this cooperation occurred
out of the glare of the media, so it was not noticed.
But occur it did. Indeed, one should not be surprised.
The opportunity for enhancing one's livelihood has
proven a powerful motivator over the course of human
is no reason to expect economic cooperation, particularly
if it is fostered, to drown in a sea of hatred.
In fact, there is reason to expect the opposite.
The final objection is perhaps the most powerful
one, because it is the most entrenched. All of this
talk of a single state, one might say, is idle dreaming.
Israel will not allow it to happen, because it will
mean the end of Israel as a state and Zionism as
an idea. In short, the proposal is a non-starter.
addressing this objection, we should first recognize
that what is and is not realistic to endorse depends
on what the options are. Presumably, the more realistic
alternative is a two-state solution. But is this
really more realistic? The entire sweep of Israeli
history argues against it.
is not a single moment in the history of Israel,
and in particular of the Israeli occupation of the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem,
in which Israel was prepared to recognize a viable,
independent Palestinian state existing along its
borders. (The Barak proposal at Camp David is often
offered as a counterexample. However, I fail to
see how a demilitarized state that does not have
control of its borders, its airspace, its aquifers,
or many of its central roads is considered a viable
state. If there is a non-starter, that was certainly
it.) There is no reason to believe that Israel is
to be enticed into a two-state solution, so the
question then becomes one of the terms in which
it is to be confronted.
might say, however, that Israel will more easily
succumb to confrontation if it involves something
less than the end of Zionism. I used to believe
this. I no longer do. It is precisely the privileging
of Jews to which Zionism is committed that fosters
the idea that Israelis are justified in their horrific
treatment of Palestinians.
is the tenet that needs to be attacked. We should
not seek to welcome Israel into the community of
nations, but rather seek to welcome Jews into the
community of people. The first endorses a sense
of Jewish exceptionalism, the second an integration
that is all anyone is entitled to and something
everyone (including Palestinians) should be protected
in. The struggle for a single state will certainly
be a long one. But the struggle for two states has
been a long one as well, and its results so far
have not been promising.
suggestion here is that the reason for such meager
results has more than a little to do with the framework
within which many of us have thought about the issue.
I do not want to deny that there are, in politics,
times in which moral compromise is necessary for
the sake of preventing a far worse fate. It has
become increasingly evident that this is not one
of those times. The politics of Palestine require
that we remove our moral blinders, not in order
to attain a greater moral purity in approaching
a just solution to the "problem of Palestine,"
but in order to see our way to a solution at all.
May is a Professor of Philosophy at Clemson University