One-state Debate Explodes Myth about the Zionist Left

Is the Israeli Right a More Credible Peacemaker?

A fascinating debate is entering Israel’s political mainstream on a once-taboo subject: the establishment of a single state as a resolution of the conflict, one in which Jews and Palestinians might potentially live as equal citizens. Surprisingly, those advocating such a solution are to be found chiefly on Israel’s political right.

The debate, which challenges the current orthodoxy of a two-state future, is rapidly exploding traditional conceptions about the Zionist right and left.

Most observers — including a series of US administrations — have supposed that Israel’s peace-makers are to be found exclusively on the Zionist left, with the right dismissed as incorrigible opponents of Palestinian rights.

In keeping with this assumption, the US president Barack Obama tried until recently to sideline the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyhau, Israel’s right-wing prime minister, and bolster instead Ehud Barak, his defence minister from the left-wing Labour party, and the opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party.

But, as the Israeli right often points out, the supposedly “pro-peace” left and centre parties have a long and ignominious record in power of failing to advance Palestinian statehood, including during the Oslo process. The settler population, for example, grew the fastest during the short premiership of Mr Barak a decade ago.

What the new one-state debate reveals is that, while some on the right — and even among the settlers — are showing that they are now open to the idea of sharing a state with the Palestinians, the left continues to adamantly oppose such an outcome.

In a supplement of Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper last weekend largely dedicated to the issue, Yossi Beilin, a former leader of the ultra-dovish Meretz party and an architect of Oslo, spoke for the Zionist left in calling a one-state solution “nonsense”. He added dismissively: “I’m not interested in living in a state that isn’t Jewish.”

The Israeli left still hangs on resolutely to the goal it has espoused since Mr Barak attended the failed Camp David talks in 2000: the annexation to Israel of most of the settlements in the West Bank and all of those in East Jerusalem. The consensus on the left is that the separation wall, Mr Barak’s brainchild, will ensure that almost all the half million settlers stay put while an embittered Palestinian population is corralled into a series of ghettoes misleadingly called a Palestinian state. The purpose of this separation, says the left, is to protect Israel’s Jewishness from the encroaching Palestinian majority if the territory is not partitioned.

The problem with the left’s solution has been summed up by Tzipi Hotoveley, a senior Likud legislator who recently declared her support for a single state. “There is a moral failure here [by the left]. … The result is a solution that perpetuates the conflict and turns us from occupiers into perpetrators of massacres, to put it bluntly. It’s the left that made us a crueler nation and also put our security at risk.”

The right is beginning to understand that separation requires not just abandoning dreams of Greater Israel but making Gaza the template for the West Bank. Excluded and besieged, the Palestinians will have to be “pacified” through regular military assaults like the one on Gaza in winter 2008 that brought international opprobrium on Israel’s head. Some on the right believe Israel will not survive long causing such outrages.

But if the right is rethinking its historic positions, the left is still wedded to its traditional advocacy of ethnic separation and wall-building.

It was the pre-state ideologues of Labour Zionism who first argued for segregation under the slogans “Hebrew labour” and “redemption of the land” and then adopted the policy of transfer. It was the Labour founders of the Jewish state who carried out the almost wholesale expulsion of the Palestinians under cover of the 1948 war.

For the right, on the other hand, the creation of a “pure” Jewish territory has never been a holy grail. Early on, it resigned itself to sharing the land. The much-misunderstood “iron wall” doctrine of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Likud’s intellectual father, was actually presented as an alternative to Labour Zionism’s policies of segregation and expulsion. He expected to live with the Palestinians, but preferred that they be cowed into submission with an iron wall of force.

Jabotinsky’s successors are grappling with the same dilemmas. Most, like Mr Netanyahu, still believe Israel has time to expand Israeli control by buying the Palestinians off with such scraps as fewer checkpoints and minor economic incentives. But a growing number of Likud leaders are admitting that the Palestinians will not accept this model of apartheid forever.

Foremost among them is Moshe Arens, a former defence minister and Likud guru, who wrote recently that the idea of giving citizenship to many Palestinians under occupation “merits serious consideration”. Reuven Rivlin, the parliament’s speaker, has conceded that “the lesser evil is a single state in which there are equal rights for all citizens”.

We should not romanticise these Likud converts. They are not speaking of the “state of all its citizens” demanded by Israel’s tiny group of Jewish non-Zionists. Most would require that Palestinians accept life in a state dominated by Jews. Arens, for example, wants to exclude the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza from citizenship to gerrymander his Jewish-majority state for a few more decades. None seems to be considering including a right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees. And almost all of them would expect citizenship to be conditional on loyalty, recreating for new Palestinian citizens the same problematic relationship to a Jewish state endured by the current Palestinian minority inside Israel.

Nonetheless, the right is showing that it may be more willing to redefine its paradigms than the Zionist left. And in the end it may confound Washington by proving more capable of peace-making than the architects of Oslo.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. lichen said on July 20th, 2010 at 3:07pm #

    Yes, a one-state solution, where jews remain as the elite, and Palestinians are a discriminated, poor minority living in ghettos is a very right wing idea.

  2. Deadbeat said on July 20th, 2010 at 3:19pm #

    Good for Jonathan Cook to scrutinize what passes for the “Left” in Israel. I’ve heard a number of “analysis” (particularly Ray McGovern) where the rhetoric says that he/she is not “against” Israel but is against “Lukidism”. It is this kinds of rhetoric that clarifies nothing.

    lichen writes …

    Yes, a one-state solution, where jews remain as the elite, and Palestinians are a discriminated, poor minority living in ghettos is a very right wing idea.

    That may well be the outcome but it’s only temporary. Overcoming Zionism (worldwide) is a major hurdle in order to overcoming Capitalism. The one state solution will eventually permit an alignment poor Jews and Palestinians to focus on class.

    There is an excellent discussion on Real News about the political economy of Israel. I’d suggest taking a look.

    The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation

  3. Max Shields said on July 20th, 2010 at 4:17pm #

    Well, if only for a moment, I agree with Deadbeat’s, let me mark it:
    Deadbeat said on July 20th, 2010 at 3:19pm post!

  4. Sie.Kathieravealu said on July 20th, 2010 at 6:39pm #

    The Israelis should not make the same mistake like the Tamils in Sri anka. One-state solution will make them a minority and they will be at the mercy of the majority Palestinians.

    As such a two state solution would be better

  5. lichen said on July 20th, 2010 at 7:39pm #

    “Well, Israel is the most unequal country in the developed world, second only to the United States. In the year 2009, Israel bypassed Mexico for the first time as more unequal than Mexico, making Israel indeed one of the most unequal countries in the world.”

    That is an interesting interview. Hopefully they could avoid being exploited as cheap labor if the one state were to come about.

  6. David Silver said on July 21st, 2010 at 1:47pm #

    The answer is NO

  7. teafoe2 said on July 22nd, 2010 at 1:55pm #

    Joe Anderson also found Cook’s article interesting, and sent me a copy of this “open letter”. I myself find Ali Abunimah’s article on the same subject in EI maybe a little MORE interesting, so let me post at the bottom of this a link to it. I’ll add a few observations of my own in a separate post. First, here’s Joe:

    Dear Jonathan:

    I heard your interview today on Russia Today last night. I thought that your comments were generally very good. Certainly they were remarks that I have never heard said on a national TV news network in the US — let alone an international TV news network. [Although, otherwise, please excuse me, I’m not sure one way or the other if you are an “[so-called] anti-Occupation” Zionist, which, frankly, to me, is just a “liberal” Jewish/white racist. And I, especially as an African American, see a lllott of white liberal racism in the pro-Israel so-called “peace” and “Palestinian rights” movement — even from people like Yuri Avnery, Jeff Halper, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Zunes, and many others of these liberal white racist Great White/Jewish Hopes that nonetheless get the round applause of largely liberal white racist audiences — racism generally invisible to those audiences. As an African American friend of mine very knowledgeable about Israel and Zionism has remarked, “There’s a reason they call it/themselves “Peace Now”, but not “Justice Now!”]

    I know that in such a relatively brief interview there is not time to say everything that you might like to say, and I don’t know what was left on ‘the cutting room floor’, if your interview was pre-taped, so you might have said what I am about to say, except that it might have been left/cut out by the editors: but one thing that you could have mentioned is that, of course, “A Jewish State” inherently can NOT be “a democratic state” for ALL of its citizens/residents/people. That would be like the majority-white U.S. Congress declaring the United States to be “A White Christian State”: now with African Americans alone being 12-13% of the U.S. population [vs. Palestinians still being *20%* of Israel itself, and at least still around *50%* of Greater Isael] that wouldn’t make the US “a democracy” — even if it called itself one. Israel is thus NOT “the only democracy in the Middle East”: in fact, it should be pointed out that Israel is an ethno-semitheocratic [even if you want to hedge on saying that it’s actually a Jewish-supremacist] state.

    Also, I’ve pointed out that countries are not democracy merely because they say they are (but, I liked your example that merely having the ostensible right to vote does not make a country a democracy): The US declared itself to be “a democracy” when it was busily commiting blatant ethnic cleansing and genocide against millions of Native Peoples (Native Americans — the original Americans) in scores of Native American nations; when millions of Blacks for generations and generations were held as chattel slaves, with children and spouses torn from families; when, after slavery, apartheid was still the law of the land; when Black people couldn’t testify in court against white people; when, for the majority of the history of the US, the majority of the people couldn’t even vote!! Apartheid South Africa nonetheless declared itself to be “a democracy”. The formal name of former East Germany was “The German Democratic Republic”, but we wouldn’t have considered that to be a democracy at all — and there are other country name examples. And even “a democracy of Jews” in Israel / Greater Israel makes about as much moral sense as “a democracy of white Christians” would make in the US.

    As for ethnic cleansing, you gave some what-should-be obvious examples of ethnic cleansing (obvious, except that when it comes to Zionist Jews, almost no racism is obvious to most whites in the West and especially in the US, as well as in Canada and Australia — nation-states built on colonization and genocide). But, ethnic cleansing is not only the mass displacement of an unwanted, oppressed (and, especially, native) population, but also the governmental/systematic artificial intervention, by whatever means (by armed, legal or administrative force), in the natural growth &/or existance of an unwanted, oppressed (and, especially, native) population and/or seeking to remove or cause their removal (and this is especially what’s been happening lately in the ever-expanding borders of Israeli “Jerusalem”): this is what Serb officials were condemned, dragged and convicted for (offhand, I can’t remember the exact phrase) before the International Court. But, ‘of course’, when Zionist Jews do the very same thing, then ‘it’s okay’, as far as the West is concerned. And, of course, Israel, even before the state was declared, has constantly intervened in the existence &/or natural growth of the Palestinian/non-Jewish population of historic Palestine.

    I’m glad that someone of your stature verbally pointed out “the powerful Zionist lobby in the US” — to the contrary of all these white Israel lobby deniers (on the aformentioned list in my first paragraph of iconic names) in the US.

    Finally, as I’ve been telling people, RT interviews alternative progressive voices that not even Amy Goodman (who never interviews anti-Zionists &/or Israel lobby critics) of “Democracy Now” will host. And, oh the irony(!!), this is *Russia* Today… — not CBS/ABC/NBC News — not the vaunted BBC –not any of those news institutions in the so-called “world’s greatest/leading democracies”, and so-called “bastions of free speech” and “bastions of free inquiry” and “marketplace of ideas” — but *Russia* Today…
    Joseph Anderson
    Berkeley, CA

  8. teafoe2 said on July 22nd, 2010 at 1:58pm #

    By Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 21 July 2010

    There has been a strong revival in recent years of support
    among Palestinians for a one-state solution in historic
    Palestine. One might expect that any support for a single
    state among Israeli Jews would come from the far left.
    Recently, proposals to grant Israeli citizenship to
    Palestinians in the West Bank have emerged from a
    surprising direction: right-wing stalwarts. Ali Abunimah

  9. teafoe2 said on July 22nd, 2010 at 2:29pm #

    While Cook’s and Abunimah’s articles, Joe’s letter, and above comments by DV readers all have much merit,
    my own take is a little different.

    I don’t think leopards often change spots. I don’t think the Isrealy rightwing is really offering shit. I think they are engaging a manuever which is a bit slicker than the current Official Line.

    First, the talk of a “one-state solution” is guaranteed to gain time, to gain a measurable amount of rhetorical advantage, now that it has become unavoidably clear to most people that the Two State Illusion has never been anything but a snowjob.

    So by putting the notion of a “onestate solution” on the “table”, they instantly succeed in enabling another long round of “discussions” and “negotiations”, in enabling the PLA/Fatah/PLO poseurs to posture and babble for a few more years, while the Zionists proceed with creating facts on the ground.

    Second, by declaring all of Mandate Palestine to be included within the boundaries of the Jewish State, and all residents to be “citizens” of said State, with the stroke of a pen all Palestinians will be rendered subject to the Zionist version of “legality”, i.e, their status as not-quite-human Second Class Citizens will acquire a “legal” cover.

    There is no guarantee that any of this “one-state” talk will ever amount to more than empty talk, but if future circumstances make it necessary, the Zionists can adopt an alternate strategy for controlling the colonized population without ever giving up anything of importance.

    I notice that a lot of pro-Palestine voices seem to have a lot of illusions about what was gained by the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Yes, a Black Middle Class stratum was empowered to play a role in the settler-colonialist state structure and many members of same have been accepted into the still overwhelmingly white civil society, but the reality is that the overall society has changed very little.
    Nelson Mandela has become an international icon, but Steve Biko had to be killed, along with Lumumba, Malcolm X and MLKjr; Winnie Mandela has been slandered and marginalized. These people couldn’t be absorbed so the system got rid of them.
    So forget all this crap about negotiated “solutions”. You can’t do business with Zionists.
    The only good Isrealy is one that has emigrated, refusing to be a part of the criminal Zionist Project.

  10. Deadbeat said on July 23rd, 2010 at 12:04am #

    Thanks tf2 for those comments. Today we need reality checks especially with the decades of Liberal indoctrination. I’m glad that Joesph named the names.