Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doesn't Solve Anything--But Pain

More than a dozen friends and acquaintances have asked me to respond to the Agha-Malley oped in the New York Times, rather unfortunately titled "The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything"--a follow-up, it seemed to me, to their rather bleak, and not entirely conclusive article in the New York Review last June.

Perhaps I am distracted by the need to finish painting my deck, but I don't really see why the article has raised so many anxieties. I'm not at all sure what it adds. The argument, at bottom, is that the Palestinians and Israelis each have "core" grievances, the former dispossession, the latter, existential terror, and that when seen as ideological expressions of their respective national movements, these explain why the two sides are talking past each other. "The first step will be to recognize that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews."

Really. A struggle between worldviews. Therefore, peace is more or less impossible, or at least the two-state solution is, because one worldview says a "Jewish state" contradicts the pain of the Naqba, and the other worldview says a Palestinian state contradicts Zionism's essential fairness--and also means accepting people who refuse to have the pain of the Naqba contradicted, and so forth. Put Ismail Haniya and Menachem Begin in the room and this is what you get. Obama had better steer clear.

I have learned much from Malley and Agha, but not this time. In fact, the entire framing strikes me as a little childish. Anyone who has--how would Dr. Phil put it?--"moved on" has learned that worldviews go on forever, but people nevertheless look for ways to improve their lives, or prevent their loved one's suffering, or both. If divorcing couples had to agree on the narrative of their marriage's dissolution before agreeing on custody arrangements, what child would survive the fight?

Palestinians hungry to develop their economy (about which, more in the October Harper's)know very well that making peace with Israelis on reciprocal terms, consistent with international law, is a promise they can make to their children. Most Israelis, still, feel similar things. Yes, the two-state solution solves nothing, or nothing finally. That's what makes it the solution for grown-ups.

The authors conclude: "As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel."

I agree, as any reader of my blog or book knows, that we need to refine our definition of a democratic Israel at peace. But then, why is the challenge any less for a democratic Palestine? I suspect this is a sly effort to suggest that, within the 1967 border, we need a bi-national state, not a state like Israel at all. If the authors believe this, they should have the guts to say it. For my part, a Hebrew republic called Israel will do nicely. Anyway, any effort at dismantling Israel will bring, not a one-state solution, but Bosnia.


Basil Hakki said...

You obviously disagree with Agha and Malley on their dim view of the two state solution. But I think the authors have a point. Their major concern is that the proposed Palestinian state is so thoroughly emasculated that it does not even qualify to be called a legitimate state. In fact, the authors quote Netenyahu as saying that much. Furthermore, the proposed two state solution doesn’t even begin to deal with the core problem, i.e. the right of return of the Palestinians and the insistence that Israel is a Jewish state with a majority of Jews.
The last issue is partially dealt with in your "Hebrew Republic" book in an imaginative way. Building on your line of thinking I wrote an essay "The One-State Solution" that was posted a couple of weeks ago on www.middleastforum.com. I proposed a political framework for a one state that encompasses the entire geographic area of present day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The resulting one state is more expansive than the confining present two state solution and provides significant local autonomy to satisfy the cultural and religious needs of its inhabitants. It may be far fetched, but certainly worth contemplating.
Best regards
Basil Hakki

Bernard Avishai said...

Basil, "one state" is also a misnomer. Obviously, federal arrangements of all kinds will be necessary, and desirable, for all kinds of reasons. Think of Hebrew and Palestinian Arab nodes in regional and global networks. At the same time, speaking about a replacement for Israel as such will strike Israelis as a cultural and even physical threat. Why speak of destroying rather than building

Basil Hakki said...

Building, not destroying, is exactly what I am suggesting. You allow for "nodes" to exist, but I call them districts with established local autonomy within the framework of a larger single state. You call your proposal "Hebrew Republic", but I suggest an alternative and more inclusive "Abrahamic Republic". Isn’t it time to rectify the injustice of Sarah throwing out Hagar from Abraham’s house? Isn’t it time to bring back the children of Isaac and Ismael under the same tent?
Drastic changes, yes. But it overcomes the prevailing xenophobia and jingoism that are counterproductive in the long term.

Y. Ben-David said...

Interesting how Dr Avishai knows what the Palestinians supposedly want even more than their own leaders and spokesmen. None of them speak about them living in peace with a "Hebrew Republic", or much less, a "Jewish state". HAMAS refuses to make any peace agreement with Israel. FATAH, in their recent convention rejected any recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state", demanded a return to the pre-67 lines, and, most significantly, an acceptance of the Palestinian "Right of return" which would quickly turn Israel into another version of Lebanon. None of them talk about a "prosperous Palestinian state living side by side with Israel", either as a "Jewish state" or a "Hebrew Republic" or exchanging the "Palestinian Revolution" for economic advancement. Yet, Dr Avishai insists on projecting his own values on the Palestinians. Maybe they don't want what he wants. Maybe they have different values. Maybe they think it is more important to rid the Dar Al-Islam (the Realm of Islami, i.e. the Middle East) of the one dhimmi Jewish state (or "Hebrew Republic", both are equally abhorrent because both seek to undermine Arab/Muslim values and identity) and that they are prepared to sacrifice one generation after another until this is achieved.

I suggest you read Benny Morris' new book "One State, Two States" to understand what the Palestinian's aims REALLY are.

fiddler said...

YBD, in terms of what Palestinians are up against, a "Jewish state" is not "much less" than a "Hebrew republic", on the contrary. The latter is designed to include them, the former, to exclude them.

It has probably been pointed out ad nauseam that Israel's self-designation as a "Jewish state" is no more than an internal Israeli affair. No one, including any Palestinian faction, is legally or diplomatically required to recognise this label. Not even Harry Truman did in 1948.

It's funny, isn't it, that you accuse Bernie of pretending to "know what the Palestinians supposedly want even more than their own leaders", and than go and laud Benny Morris for doing just that.

Y. Ben-David said...

Benny Morris bases his research on what the people involved say themselves.
A Hebrew Republic is just as abhorrent to the Arab/Muslim Middle East, as a "Jewish State". In fact, more so. Judaism is not a missionary religion, but Dr Avishai's Hebrew Republic, in effect, is a "missionary religion", because, as he says, it will be "secular, globalist, materialist". These values directly challenge the conservative values of the Arab/Muslim religion and culture of the area.
The natural culture of Israel's Arabs is Arabic/Muslim, whereas Dr Avishai's "inclusive" Hebrew Republic is explicitly designed to entice them away from that culture. What is this if not a soft form of imperialism? The Arab world does not object to Israel because Israeli Arabs are not fully integrated, but because they believe the Jews had no busininess immigrating into their turf, and have not right to set up a dhimmi state which is explicitly prohibited by Islam. A newly elected "secular" woman Knesset Member (I forgot her name) gave a speech in Australia a few months ago explicitly stating this. And this is from a "moderate"!

Potter said...

I have not read Dr. Avishai's book but I would be surprised if was not about forming a "wall of separation" between religion ( how and what one practices which is an individual choice) and state/government. This was in support of freedom of religion. That means also the freedom to partake, to whatever degree, or not to partake in secular activities.

The religious, notice, partake in "secular, globalist, materialist" realm along with everyone else. These latter are not religions. You cannot seriously use this argument. The religious do not and cannot, should not, impose their religion or religious practices on others in a stable society, or one that proposes to be stable.

Thomas Jefferson wrote brilliantly in an 1802 letter:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,"

Y. Ben-David said...

The Arab/Muslim states in the Middle East are not interested in Thomas Jefferson and his ideas on separation of religion and state. No such distinction in recognized in Islam. That is why almost all Arab/Muslim states, which had been exposed to Western/Secular ideas during the colonialist period in the first part of the 20th century, are now reimplementing Sharia law and are making non-Muslims subordinate it to it (e.g. making it illegal to convert from Islam to another religion while the opposite is encouraged). Dr Avishai's secular, materialist, globalist values for a state are absolutely abhorrent to the Arab/Muslims of the Middle East and if Israel were to become the "Hebrew Republic" he advocates, Muslim opposition to it would INCREASE, because they would view it as a plot to subvert their cultures and religion.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David:

This is your negative projection based on a negative monolithic view of Arabs/Muslims which I do not share.

Arab/Muslim states move forward according to their own timetables and various cultural values. We all have our lessons to learn. Iran is not Saudi Arabia is not Somalia.

Thomas Jefferson may very well prevail eventually as societies come around to this. Or not. Some better idea may arise. So far not.

What bearing does your negative view have on whether or not the Hebrew Republic is a good idea even if what you say would be so in some measure and/or at first ? Am I supposed to believe that nothing positive would come ?

Y. Ben-David said...

Interesting you mention that "Somalia is not like Saudi Arabia". Somalia is a totally anarchic, failed state terrorized by Muslim militants. Is that supposed to mean they are more 'progressive' than 'theocratic' Saudi Arabia?

Please give me examples of Arab/Muslim states that are "moving forward" to this secular utopia you are positing.
I do see Turkey (Muslim, albeit not Arab, but Middle Eastern), which was a secular state along the lines that Dr Avishai admires and it is going the opposite direction. They all are, to different degrees.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David-

I think we are all moving forward it fits and starts. Arabs/Muslims lag but may arrive in due time at something similar to a more secular liberal democracy necessarily as they are in a more open globalized world.

Anarchy is a stage. Theocracy is a stage. Secular produces a more stable situation and is therefore appealing in it's example where there are various differences, religious or cultural.

Iraq which after internal wars might, in order to hold together, come up with a more secular or liberal government. Iranians are splitting about the nature of their theocracy; Iranians want more secular freedoms. The Afghani's having suffered under the Taliban and want more liberalism (as they have had in the past). Lebanon has to have secular government to hold together. Syria is already secular but authoritarian. Egypt is somewhat secular. The Arab nationalist movement itself is/was secular as it had to be to unify all Arabs.

Shoded Yam said...

As usual, Ben David is looking to have his cake and eat it too. On one hand he would like Israel to be accorded the respect and benefit of the doubt accorded to all western democracies, while simultaneously demanding that Israel's behavior be measured against the behavior of terrorists, despots and cleptocrats. If one takes into account the considerable discrepancy between Israels actions and its platitudes about democracy and the rule of law, Ben David's need for such a dichotomy becomes apparent. Unfortunately for Ben David and the rest of Chelm, Israels behaviour(like all "free societies")is not conditional upon the actions of those that it purports to be morally superior to. Either walk the walk or talk the talk, but you're not gonna be allowed to have both.

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