Well it looks like we’re going to be talking about Palestine/Israel for a while yet irrespective of today’s ceasefire.
The struggle involves 14 million people, the population of three Chinese cities you’ve never heard of, and the numbers of those suffering and oppressed in Xinjiang, yet we are going to go round and round again on what looks like an endless dilemma.
Yesterday’s pronouncement in these pages from on high in the US foreign policy establishment showed why. Despite its ever closer direct relations with the Saudis and other Arab states, Israel remains the US base in the region — and too important to let any sort of daylight come between them.
Even the sudden flare-up of the Sheikh Jarrah issue had a suspicious timing, beyond its domestic political uses. Was the hard policing of Arab protesters, the encouragement of settlers and radicals, designed to create a situation which would test not Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas but US President Joe Biden?
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There are few more loyal Zionists in the US establishment than Biden, for several decades now. And Donald Trump gave pretty clear indication that he has a conventional Noo York anti-Semitism, telling the Israeli American Council: “You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all.” But it’s the sort of thuggish anti-Semitism Bibi Netanyahu and others would much prefer to deal with: the strongman who admires Israeli ruthlessness.
That keeping Israel in business is vital to US interests goes without saying. Essential to that is the persistent spruiking of a two-state solution, as Jonathan Tepperman demonstrated in his article yesterday. This has become a cause similar to that of Hapsburg restoration in Europe: the ground conditions that created the possibility of such a solution have disappeared, but the great cause marches on.
There was the possibility of a two-state solution once — certainly in, say, 1980, and maybe into the late 1990s. But it began disappearing with the “settlement” programs of the 1980s, which destroyed the possibility of contiguous territory on the West Bank. This dictated that every deal offered throughout the ’80s and ’90s, though “better” on paper, was worse on the ground. Thus was created the myth that former PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians were rejecting anything, no matter how good; that Arafat never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
But every deal offered the Palestinians had conditions that no actual independent state would accept. Israel would maintain military roads across the West Bank, control of upstream natural water sources would not be shared, the border with Jordan wouldn’t be wholly Palestine’s and so on. Liberal Zionists in the West have a blind spot with regard to how “good” this deal was. Sure it was better than the Bantustan system currently running, but it was still a sort of dominion statelet, a sort of Palestinian Mandate II. Even if Arafat had accepted it, Fatah would have split in two over it, and the struggle would have continued.
What followed was the completion of the plan that Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and others had put in place in the early ’80s — the completion of part of the plan of Jabotinsky’s “Revisionist” Zionism of the 1920s, in which Israel would take both sides of the Jordan, and either expel the Arabs or leave them as a permanent minority. Begin and Shamir were both former terrorists, and Shamir had been a Zionist fascist in the ’40s, running the Lehi (aka the Stern Gang), who had attempted to make a deal with Nazi Germany to obtain weapons to fight the British during World War II. These were the seeds of the strongman policy today.
The flood of “settlers” in the 2000s came from three sources: American fundamentalist Jews fleeing not pogroms in Cleveland, but the anomie of American life; East Europeans, some of whom who managed to find a Jewish great-grandmother they had previously hidden and were let in on a nod and a wink; Israeli Jews made poor by the country’s neoliberalisation, and eager for affordable housing (anything stolen is very affordable).
The fusion of the older policy with the newer conditions have made the number and spread of settlements so large so as to destroy the West Bank as a unit. There is no chance of removing them as there was in Gaza. Centre-right-wing parties would never do it, and if whatever Left coalition is current today tried it would be out of power. Sections of the military would mutiny against any order, and Israel would inch closer to some form of post-democratic political form (it has already inched someway towards that).
So it’s not the one-state solution that is the undergraduate fantasy; it’s the two-state solution that has become the dream.
It has to be undergirded by sheer propaganda like the notion that Israel’s creation can be equated with the struggle for “national self-determination” of the colonised such as India and Ireland. No, Israel is the coloniser. The fact that this was done by private means doesn’t mean anything. It is in good (East India) company on that.
That said, I can see how Zionists get the shits with the rest of the world for advancing a one-state secular solution as a necessary ethical move. A lot of this is from followers of Trotsky and is a prime example of “Quaker-pacifist babble about human rights” to quote, er, Trotsky. If a two-state solution were geographically viable, the issue would be one for the peoples of the region. But it is now largely fictional, has its uses, and they have to be pointed out.
Thus the situation is one of multiple tragic and ironic moments. The revisionist Zionist notion that the Arabs would melt away had always depended on a European chauvinist view of colonised peoples, but the oppression created a unity in the oppressed, and the emergence of a distinct people. The “settlement” of a hazardous and hostile West Bank had relied on a nascent Jewish identity politics, which helped reshape an opponent in ways that made the settlers’ mission impossible to succeed.
That then fed back into “green line” Israel, so that a state that had once tried to become secular and “low key” has become officially nationalist, chauvinist, in a way that can only feed the possibility of a post-democratic order, as its parties fracture further.
Diaspora Zionists have to make some hard choices. There is now no way to have a thing called Israel that is not militarised, iron-walled, and built on the 1930s Zionist cult of the “New Jew”, the oppressed and ghettoised European who, throwing off their shackles, would become the barrel-chested nation builder, as assertive and ruthless as the enemies they had suffered under.
The one-state solution has already occurred. It’s just a particularly terrible specific one at the moment. But barring miracles or abject surrender, the two-state solution is dead. It is kept alive only by the distorted logic of presenting Arabs and Jews as competing indigenous, the fundamental, wilful error on which the US establishment’s official position depends.
Looks like we’re going to talk about Palestine/Israel for a while yet.