Israel, Politics

Is this the binational future?

One can’t help but admire Yuval Diskin’s political acumen. The immediate past leader of the Shin Bet, despite having no formal role in Israeli public life, is surprisingly adept at the liberal-establishment turn of phrase, and may yet come to represent the “benign” cultural racism of Israel’s secular Jewish majority.
This week, he beat the less clever Ari Shavit to the punch with a single sarcastic tweet:

“Thanks to those who brought us to this moment, and opened a window for us onto the security reality of a binational state. It’s a rare privilege to clearly see a project’s end while we are still in the middle.”

That’s two full days of lead time on Shavit’s most recent pack of insipid half-truths, an impressive head start on what is crystallizing into the Liberal Zionist Hot Take on the latest round of violence. Yes, this would be the same liberal Zionist crowd that’s falling all over itself to make sure no one contextualizes this violence within a political analysis, a double standard they’re sure to resolve any day now.
At any rate, if this is our glimpse of the final phase of the binational state, it’s maybe worth asking what the hell we were looking at before the violence began. A Palestinian “state” with no armed force, no control over its own borders, no airports or seaports, no right to Jerusalem, permanent exile for descendants of refugees living abroad, and regular incursions by the Israeli military–this is exactly what Israel’s centrist politicians describe when they’re pressed to get into the details of their two-state vision. In other words, the status quo immediately preceding this violence, perhaps minus some token settlements and outposts, is the two-state vision on offer.
By Diskin’s logic, that would mean that our “glimpse” of the two-state solution is a glimpse of an unsustainable agreement, one which would inevitably descend into violence–as it has in this case. Taking the Diskin/Shavit standard to its logical conclusion, two-state is something hopelessly unworkable, naively dreamt of by a Western establishment that’s out of touch with reality.
But that would mean being honest about the conflict, rather than choosing one’s preferred outcome and then working backwards to find the proper argument. Don’t hold your breath.
[pullquote] Taking the Diskin/Shavit standard to its logical conclusion, two-state is something hopelessly unworkable.
[/pullquote] The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, and their supporters abroad, don’t have the slightest idea what an egalitarian, binational state might look like, because they absolutely refuse to entertain the notion. Outside of some notable exceptions, like President Rivlin–whose own ideas of binationalism don’t actually admit of full equality–highly racialized assumptions about the viability of a single state are bone-deep in the Tel Aviv-centric, secular establishment. No matter how many times that establishment loses at the ballot box, or how many new settlements spring up, or how many years have gone by since any kind of viable diplomatic plan for separation was under discussion, nothing can shake the iron-clad certainty of Israel’s Diskins and Shavits that binationalism is utopian while two-statism is grounded in reality.
Shavit has become a master of backstopping the casual racism that drives this non-thinking. He can’t even get through the first paragraph of his column without an ominous invocation of the “Arab chaos” that surrounds his Arab-free sanctuary. (Can you imagine the uproar over a major national columnist in the US off-handedly referring to “Black chaos?”)
In Shavit’s world, it’s not that Israel’s ruling coalition is firmly committed to annexing the territories. It’s that “no leader proposed a vision.” John Kerry’s years of shuttle diplomacy were “lofty and baseless,” and Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to accept the “Barak plan or the Olmert plan” was just as big a stumbling block to two states as Netanyahu’s lack of “vision.”
This is the stuff of a dream world, a place where there was some combination of American influence that could bring Likud to the table (there wasn’t) and where assigning equal blame to two polities, when only one of them has any actual political agency, passes for thoughtful commentary instead of transparent stupidity. Even as mere water-carrying for the right wing, this is exceptionally poor.
It is critically important for those who are interested in genuinely workable political frameworks for the land between the river and the sea to wean themselves from two-state dogma. This does not mean buying into just any binational framework, but it does mean granting various binational configurations some real consideration. And it means letting go of the knee-jerk view that there is something inherently more realistic about two states than one. At this late date, with 50 years of occupation around the corner, that’s just not true anymore.
“What happened is that the fondest dream of the extreme right and the extreme left has come true to establish one state here,” opines Shavit, inadvertently demonstrating how little understanding he has of the “extreme” left. (This is the term Shavit uses for anyone to his left.) There can be little doubt that the right accepts murderous ethnic violence so long as Jews hold the upper hand. But the left–the real one, not the fake left of Shavit and Diskin–fights for just the opposite: a shared country without bloodshed. Think of its merits and chances for success whatever you will; it advances no one’s understanding to lie about the goals themselves.
The irony to this latest stupid salvo, in the ongoing proxy war of interpreting the violence of the actual war, is that Israeli Jews–if they could just get over their all-consuming fear of living with Arab people–could actually enjoy a significant victory, one which they have chased for a very long time: the acknowledgement that their country is a well-run democracy, with stable institutions worthy of imitation.
[pullquote align=right] Israeli Jews could actually enjoy a significant victory: acknowledgement that their country is a well-run democracy.
[/pullquote] “Even the right-wing and the lunatics should have seen what is happening in Syria and what is happening in Iraq and understood that in the current Middle East there is no chance for a bi-national or multi-national entity,” Shavit continues. But isn’t Israel’s international value, the one that the very same Shavit can’t ever seem to shut up about, that it is not Syria or Iraq?
Israel is not a democracy, because it oppresses and denies civil recognition to millions of people living within its de facto borders. But it most certainly does have democratic institutions: parliamentary representation for some of its residents, a civilian-controlled military, a functional civil service. An actual binational reality doesn’t mean continuing to privilege and restrict these services to Jews only, and absorbing the chaotic violence that inevitably accompanies such an unequal system. Rather, binationalism means expanding full democratic participation to all of the people who live in Israel’s territory, including the East Jerusalemites who are currently deprived of any meaningful city services or of the ability to take foreign trips.
“You wanted a Jerusalem of all its citizens? You’ve got it,” says Shavit, with smug satisfaction. But we don’t got it. Instead, we have a city where Jews can move freely, including into Arabs’ homes, while Arabs are gunned down by police without hope of trial. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that a man who has lived all his life in a country of at-best scattershot democracy can’t understand this, but if Jewish people ever want to have a real conversation about binationalism, we’re going to have to do a lot better.

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