‘Right to refuse’ By Harry Feldman

During talks with US President Obama last week, the Jerusalem Post reports, Israeli PM Netanyahu

spoke of the possibility of a “two peoples to live side by side in security and peace” if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state and agreed to an end of conflict.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Patrick Martin, ‘Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a War That May Never End, and senior vice-president of the Shalem Centre, an influential right-wing think tank in Jerusalem’ justified the demand for recognising Israel as a Jewish state, averring, ‘The concept has always been part of our history’

Ever solicitous of the Palestinians’ best interests,

…It wouldn’t be exclusive…Minorities would be free to practise their own religion and culture…But if there was to be a successful Palestinian state right next door, I believe Arab Israelis would be more comfortable moving to a state of their own kind.

Above all,

If the Jewish state is not central to our status, then we have no real right to refuse the return of [Palestinian] refugees.

So there you have it. Without recognition of Israel as a racist state, the ‘right to refuse’ would be wholly artificial.



‘Saving Israel’


University of Chicago political science professor, John J. Mearsheimer, co-author of the infamous dog wagging hypothesis, has an article in the latest American Conservative [subscription only, apparently; hat tip to the person who sent it, and shall therefore remain unnamed], ‘Saving Israel From Itself: The two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the Jewish state’s long-term security—and our own’.

According to Mearsheimer,

President Obama would like to change the situation because he understands that a two-state solution would be good for America, good for Israel, and good for the Palestinians. But Netanyahu seems determined to thwart his efforts.

Citing the July 2008 J Street poll, he cannily remarks that even though 78% of American Jews say they support the two state ‘solution’, there was also ‘substantial opposition to dismantling Israeli settlements and making East Jerusalem part of Palestine’ (41% and 56% opposed, respectively). For Mearsheimer, like most who profess support for partition of Palestine, this seems like a contradiction.

Furthermore, ‘a February 2009 poll found that 59 percent of Israelis opposed a Palestinian state; only 32 percent supported it’. If he is referring to the OneVoice poll, it actually found that 32% said a two state ‘solution’ was ‘Essential’; 13% ‘Desirable’; 16% ‘Acceptable’; 17% ‘Tolerable’; and 21% ‘Unacceptable’. [I’m analysing this survey in more depth – watch this space!]

In any case, assuming he is right about what Obama would like, the Israeli PM, Israeli Jews, American Jews, and of course The Lobby, will exert themselves to thwart him.

Obama’s only hope—and it is a slim one—is that a substantial part of the American Jewish community will come to understand Olmert’s warning that Israel will become like white-ruled South Africa if there is no two-state solution

Apparently for a doyen of the curiously named Realist School of international relations, that constitutes a strategy. Throughout the article, he displays a similar level of political nous and intellectual rigour.

Clinging to the same old Israel Lobby trope – that the US government uncritically supports everything Israel does even when it contradicts American interests,

…it makes little sense for Washington to back Israel no matter what it does because sometimes there will be circumstances in which the two countries’ interests clash. For example, it probably made good sense for Israel to acquire nuclear weapons in the 1960s, since it lives in a dangerous neighborhood and a nuclear arsenal is the ultimate deterrent. But a nuclear-armed Israel was not in the American national interest. Both countries would be much better off if the Obama administration treated Israel the way it treats other democracies…

It should go without saying, but apparently doesn’t, that it makes no sense to speak of ‘countries’ interests’. The commonsensical notion of ‘national interest’ camouflages the radical contradiction between the interests of the ordinary people who make everything and do everything and our rulers, who own everything and control everything. Higher wages, shorter hours, longer holidays, stricter occupational health and safety regulation and enforcement, and so forth, for instance, are transparently in the interests of the vast majority of people, but they are not in the national interest because they may impact profits. Hurling trillions at insolvent banks, on the other hand, benefits few, but to all appearances is in the national interest, or at least the democratically elected representatives of all stripes in one country after another seem to think so. ‘Examples’, as Nikolai Trubetzkoy always used to say, ‘can easily be multiplied’. I’d like to give Mearsheimer the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s articulated a viable definition in his academic writings, but if truth be told, I suspect that he writes of ‘countries’ interests’ in precisely this sense without considering what it means terribly deeply.

As for the example he chooses, the loose thinking remains in evidence. It may or may not have made good sense for Israel to develop nuclear weapons, but if it did, it’s not because it was a deterrent against her near neighbours. Israel could never nuke Lebanon or any populous area of Syria, Jordan, or Egypt without irradiating its own territory. Nor is it obvious that a nuclear armed client state perched on the edge of ‘one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ is not in the US’s national interest, as defined. Now he doesn’t explicitly say that ‘both countries would be much better off if’ the US had prevented Israel from developing nukes, but he does suggest it, which makes you wonder why Israel would be better off if it had eschewed them if it ‘made good sense’.

The United States is in deep trouble in the Middle East and has a serious terrorism problem in good part because of its unconditional support for Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories. Backing Israel at almost every turn also makes it harder for Washington to get open support from moderate Arab states, even when dealing with common threats like Iran.

The US has a serious terrorism problem in much the same sense as it has a serious bee sting problem or a serious lightning strike problem, at least in terms of threats to American lives. It has much more serious problems with smoking, obesity, traffic accidents, and of course work related injury and disease. From the perspective of the national interest, on the other hand, terrorism is not a problem at all. It’s an opportunity. Anyway, it’s not just US support for Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza that inspires people to want to kill Americans. It’s at least as much to do with the support for a colonial Jewish ethnocratic Sparta in their midst, for the continuing dispossession of the refugees, and for the occupation of Syrian and Lebanese territory. Lest we forget, terrorism – the terrorism that Mearsheimer is almost certainly talking about – arises from exactly the same nationalist assumptions that underlie his whole analysis. That is, the belief that ordinary Americans are responsible for and can effect change in US foreign policy. As for the moderate Arab states, it’s precisely because of their support for the US that they have earned the epithet ‘moderate’, unless, that is, he’s aware of some political or economic moderation in the Saudi monarchy or the Mubarrak dictatorship that he’s not telling us about. Iran does seem to be a threat to US hegemony in the region, due largely to the American adventure in delivering democracy to Iraq, but it’s not obvious that the oppressed living there, or even their oppressors, would be worse off if Iran really did manage to make things more difficult for the US in its crusade to control energy supplies to its economic rivals.

To get to the point, thinking strictly inside the box, Mearsheimer reckons,

Given present circumstances, there are three possible alternatives if the Palestinians do not get their own state, all of which involve creating a “greater Israel”—an Israel that effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza, or all of what was once called Mandatory Palestine.

In the first scenario, greater Israel would become a democratic binational state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights. This solution has been suggested by a handful of Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. It means abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, however, since the Palestinians would eventually outnumber the Jews in greater Israel…

Like the sainted Jimmy Carter, godfather of the Mujahideen, ‘the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers’, the only objection to the first, binational state, scenario is that it would be democratic and undermine the racist ‘original Zionist vision of a Jewish state’. As he writes later in the piece, ‘bringing democracy to greater Israel would also mean the end of the Jewish state because the more numerous Palestinians would dominate its politics’. He goes on to explain that the vast majority of Israeli Jews and their American supporters have no interest in such an outcome, but not why it is not in their interests. There is some dispute about when the Palestinians in the area of Mandatory Palestine will outnumber the Jews, if they haven’t already, but it is imminent, not something that will happen eventually. And that’s on the assumption that none of the millions of refugees would return to such a state, when one of the principal justifications for a one state solution is to allow just such an outcome. But the refugees obviously don’t count for squat in anybody’s calculation of the national interest.

Second, Israel could expel most of the Palestinians from greater Israel, thereby preserving its Jewish character through an overt act of ethnic cleansing…

Nor does he elucidate how this second, transfer, scenario disadvantages the Israeli or US national interest, except that it ‘would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the diaspora, and its international standing’. To speak of a county’s ‘moral fabric’ makes, if possible, even less sense than its national interest. But even if it were intelligible, it’s hard to fathom how the moral fabric of a country founded on the basis of racism, colonialism, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing, not to mention all the atrocities committed since 1948, could do much further damage to its threadbare moral fabric.

Nor indeed to its international standing. Mearsheimer himself actually mentions that ‘only 47 percent of Americans think that Israel’s influence in the world is “mainly positive”’. If, as seems probable, he is referring to the 2005-06 BBC World Service poll on this issue, it was actually only 41% of Americans, and the average among the 27 countries surveyed was 17%, the lowest of any country they asked about, which I might just mention, included Iran, North Korea, and even the US. Overall 56% said that Israel’s influence was mainly negative.

I’ve given up thinking of non Israeli Jews as ‘the diaspora’, as it buys into the myth that we all originated from Palestine and were dispersed by Roman imperialism. Anyway, the American Jewish community was not scandalised by the mass ethnic cleansing of 1948 and was delighted with that of 1967. Mearsheimer is characteristically silent on what leads him to believe that it would be any different this time.

The final and most likely alternative is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

I agree that this is the most likely scenario. But I don’t agree that ‘some form of apartheid’ is a departure from the status quo. I surmise that he shares the common assumption that apartheid is not apartheid unless the minority is oppressing the majority. But if the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid is any guide, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as within the Green Line, comfortably meets the definition in Article 2 of the Convention,

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:
(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person:
(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups;
(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;
(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour;
(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid.

Mearsheimer asks, ‘would it not be in Israel’s best interests for President Obama to put significant pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution?’ As Ali Abunimah wrote on Thursday,

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Obama applies unprecedented pressure to force Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. What would such a deal look like? The outlines were suggested in the recent report sent to Obama by a group of US elder statesmen headed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. The document, warning that there was only a “six to twelve month window” before all chances for peace evaporated, called on the US to forcefully advocate the creation of a Palestinian state. But this would be a demilitarized truncated state “based on” the 1967 borders. Israel would annex large West Bank settlements and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees. This “state” would be occupied indefinitely by a NATO-led “multinational force,” which the Scowcroft group suggests could also include Israeli soldiers (see “A last chance for a two-state Israel-Palestine agreement“, 2009).

Of course the Scowcroft proposal does not necessarily represent Obama administration thinking, but it expresses the pervasive peace process industry consensus that views such an outcome as “reasonable,” “pragmatic” and all but inevitable, and it accords with Obama’s own statements opposing the right of return and supporting Israel’s demand to to be recognized as a “Jewish state.”

In other words, what the vast majority of Palestinians would view as a horrifying plan to legitimize their dispossession, grant Israel a perpetual license to be racist, and turn the apartheid regime set up by the Oslo accords into a permanent prison, is now viewed as bold and far-reaching thinking that threatens to rupture American-Israeli bonds.

Over the last few days the press have reported that Obama has cobbled together his own peace plan, in collaboration with Jordan’s King Abdullah, that he will propose in a speech in Cairo next month.

The hugely ambitious plan aims for an “independent, democratic and contiguous Palestinian state,” which would not have a military of its own and would be forbidden from entering into military pacts with other nations “for Israel’s security.”

The Palestinan state would have East Jerusalem as its capital, and the US would arrange for Israel and the Palestinians to swap territory to settle on the borders. Jerusalem’s old city would be an international zone. Palestinians would also be required to give up any claim to a right of return…

The real problem with this third alternative to the two state ‘solution’ is that it is not an alternative. It is the two state ‘solution’.

In solidarity,
Harry

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