Jerusalem, May 8 2013 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
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This is the title of an op-ed by Ian Lustick in the NYT Sunday Review, the subject of which is—what else?—the Israel-Palestine conflict and the apparent near impossibility that the I-P negotiating process—such as it is—will culminate in the creation of a Palestinian state. The two-state solution is an “illusion,” so it is asserted—dead, for all intents and purposes —, and with
the fantasy that there is a two-state solution keep[ing] everyone from taking action toward something that might work.
The “something that might work” is suggested in passing: “one mixed state,” i.e. the one-state solution. Now this argument, which I consider to be asinine, stupid, and a waste of time to even discuss, has been made countless times over the years by gauchiste activists and other tiersmondistes, engagé academics who teach at places like Columbia University, pundits who don’t know what they’re talking about, and liberal Zionists—ex and/or current—who have thrown up their arms in despair at the right-wing lurch of Israeli politics—and lost their heads in the process (isn’t it striking how the subject of Israel makes people crazy and on all sides of the issue?)—and the impasse in the peace process (as if Israel alone is responsible for this).
I normally wouldn’t bother writing a whole post on such an op-ed were it not for the identity of the author of this particular one. If one doesn’t know it, Ian Lustick is a professor of political science (with endowed chair) at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of Penn’s Middle East Center, one of the leading specialists of Israel in American political science since the 1970s—he’s a founder and past president of the Association for Israel Studies—, and is a first-rate social scientist all around. Professor Lustick is a major scholar and with a record of academic achievements and publications considerably longer than mine will ever be. Which is why I am stunned that he has written such a breathtaking piece of bullshit—and published it in the NYT no less, where it will be read by millions. Professor Lustick is manifestly one of those (ex-)liberal Zionists referred to above, though, given his stature as a top flight political scientist, has no business writing such nonsense and on his subject of specialization to boot. And this political scientist will not let him get away with it.
Allow me to cite and discuss some of the problematic passages in his piece (for the whole thing, go here)
True believers in the two-state solution see absolutely no hope elsewhere. With no alternative in mind,
There is no “alternative in mind” for the simple reason that there is no alternative to the two-state solution. Not one that can be negotiated in any case.
and unwilling or unable to rethink their basic assumptions, they are forced to defend a notion whose success they can no longer sincerely portray as plausible or even possible.
Advocates of the two-state solution admit to a man or woman that getting there will be arduous, and many (myself among them) are not too optimistic, but none—not to my knowledge, at least—are portraying it as implausible or no longer possible. And as the parties to the negotiations—Israel, Palestinian Authority, the US—are formally committed to the two-state objective—however unlikely this may seem in the foreseeable future—, one simply cannot pronounce it dead and buried. An analogous issue is Turkey joining the European Union. No one will bet a kuruş on this happening anytime soon—and certainly not in this decade (and absolutely not if the current Turkish prime minister still holds executive power)—but so long as the accession negotiations continue in Brussels, albeit at a snail’s pace, and neither party is about to put an end to them, one cannot foreclose the prospect of eventual Turkish EU membership.
In re to the “peace process,” so long as this continues, however fitfully, and the two-state solution is the only one on the table, then that solution necessarily remains within the realm of the possible.
It’s like 1975 all over again, when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco fell into a coma. The news media began a long death watch, announcing each night that Generalissimo Franco was still not dead. This desperate allegiance to the departed echoes in every speech, policy brief and op-ed about the two-state solution today.
What a peculiar analogy. Franco was going to die sooner or later. This was a 100% certainty. Franco was a human being. Human beings die. The two-state solution will (or will not) come about as part of a process, and processes only die when the parties to them decide to let that happen. And none of the aforementioned parties to the I-P process is seriously considering allowing that process to die.
True, some comas miraculously end. Great surprises sometimes happen. The problem is that the changes required to achieve the vision of robust Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side are now considerably less likely than other less familiar but more plausible outcomes that demand high-level attention but aren’t receiving it.
What precisely are these “plausible outcomes”? The “one mixed state”? But what on earth makes this outcome—which is, objectively speaking, utterly implausible—more likely than the “changes required” to bring about a two-state solution? Professor Lustick simply asserts this, after which he moves on to this pearl:
Strong Islamist trends make a fundamentalist Palestine more likely than a small state under a secular government.
I don’t get the bit here about a “small state.” Is Professor Lustick suggesting that a fundamentalist Palestine is more likely than a secular one only if the latter is “small”—presumably limited to the West Bank and maybe Gaza—or that a fundamentalist Palestine is more likely tout court? As for strong Islamist trends, it is odd that Professor Lustick would write this in September 2013, with all that’s happened in Egypt this summer, Bashar al-Assad gaining the upper hand in Syria (for the time being, at least), and the Tunisian Ennahda on the defensive, entre autres. Now it should be said that if an entirely free-and-fair election had taken place on the West Bank these past few years, one would have confidently predicted a Hamas victory over the corrupt, sclerotic Fatah—though it should also be said that there is not the slightest chance of Hamas contesting any election on the West Bank (or of Hamas allowing Fatah to do so in Gaza), now or in the foreseeable future. But in the hypothetical event that such an election were to be organized, say, next week, one would predict a Hamas victory with far less confidence; again, due to the new situation in Egypt, the fiasco of Morsi’s presidency, and the fact that Gaza, thanks to the Egyptian military regime, really is an open air prison now. Hamas is thoroughly isolated and no one is going to come to its rescue—not Tayyip Erdoğan, Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim, or anyone. Khaled Mashal will not be setting foot in Palestine anytime soon. Nor in Syria or Egypt. And if Hamas tries to break out of its isolation by provoking another little war with Israel, the Israelis will kick the shit out them yet again, as in 2008-09 and 2012, and with the total support of the US, tacit support of Europe, acquiescence of the Russians, and benevolence of Arab regimes. There will be the usual demos and incendiary op-eds and blog posts, but Israel will pay no price for it. And when it’s over the world will forget about Gaza as it did after the last flare-ups there, and with Hamas as isolated as ever. Pace Professor Lustick, the predicament of the Gazawis and experience of Islamists in power during the “Arab spring” thus do not augur well for a brilliant Islamist future in Palestine.
The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible as the evacuation of enough of the half-million Israelis living across the 1967 border, or Green Line, to allow a real Palestinian state to exist.
I can hardly believe that a specialist of Israel would commit such rubbish to the written word. The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project? Insofar as the existence of Israel is inseparable from the Zionist project, this signifies the disappearance of Israel tout court. But how does a fully constituted nation and state disappear short of its inhabitants being exterminated? Perhaps Professor Lustick thinks the Jews will simply all depart en masse, emigrate to America and Australia, or just wander the earth, or something. Is there any precedent in modern history of a nation closing up shop, voluntarily winding up its existence, and its inhabitants dispersing to the four winds? Pour mémoire, Israel is a state with a GDP of $250 billion—greater than that of neighboring Egypt, with ten times the population—, per capita GDP at PPP of $31,000—just a shade below the EU 28 mean—, an economic growth rate of 3.5%, the highest percentage of engineers in the world by far, et j’en passe. How does a state with an economy of this order—and which shows few signs of major structural weakness—cease to be?
On the question of war, the only entities with which Israel could possibly wage this are Hamas, Hizbullah, and Iran. On a war with Hamas, see above. Hizbullah: the instant Hizb rockets hit an Israeli city and kill lots of people and/or any Hizbullahis cross the international border, the Israelis will turn large parts of Lebanon into a parking lot. There is no chance—none whatever—that Hizbullah will come out of such a conflagration a winner. And it is unlikely it will end in a draw as in 2006. As for Iran, let’s not talk about that (as, among other things, a war initiated by Iran would possibly bring about the nuclear destruction of that country, which no mentally sane person could possibly wish for). Cultural exhaustion? What on earth is this supposed to mean?! When it comes to the cultural form I know the best—cinema—, Israel is one of the more dynamic countries in the world. And in literature too (as it happens, I am currently reading David Grossman’s To the End of the Land). Demographic momentum? Israel does indeed have it, with all those ultra-Orthodox breeding like rabbits. Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCIs) are also having lots of babies, though that fertility rate is beginning to drop. The widespread notion that Israeli Jews will be demographically overwhelmed by Palestinians within its 1967 borders is without foundation (I do not include the West Bank-Gaza here, as there is no reason to; Israel will never—and I repeat, never—reoccupy Gaza or West Bank area A, assume responsibility for its population, and incorporate it into the state; not even the far-right Naftali Bennett and his party advocate this).
As for evacuating enough West Bank settlers to allow a Palestinian state to exist, it’s pretty much understood on all sides that the great majority of settlers will stay where they are, with the big blocs annexed to Israel, lands swaps, etc. Professor Lustick knows this.
While the vision of thriving Israeli and Palestinian states has slipped from the plausible to the barely possible, one mixed state emerging from prolonged and violent struggles over democratic rights is no longer inconceivable.
This is an amazing statement. Absolutely incredible. How does Professor Lustick envisage these “prolonged and violent struggles”? Violence normally involves people getting killed. Will the Palestinians wage this violent struggle the way they always have, i.e. with asymmetric warfare (e.g. rockets fired into populated areas, shooting up crowded buses, kamikaze bombers blowing themselves up in pizzerias and discotheques, that sort of thing)? But the Palestinians have already tried this strategy at so many points in their modern history and have met with utter defeat, indeed catastrophe. Each time they did it, the Israelis smashed them. When embarking on “violent struggles” the Palestinians have experienced nothing but defeat in the end. So why would such a losing strategy become a winning one in the future? And what Palestinians is Professor Lustick talking about? There is not a snowball’s chance in hell the PCIs will go down the violence road (and which Professor Lustick knows full well; the PCIs were the subject of his doctoral dissertation after all, so he is fully informed on them). As for West Bank Pals, they’re somewhat hemmed in by that “apartheid wall” (which was one outcome of the last Intifada). And it’s dicey for Gazawis to get within even a kilometer of the Israeli border, lest nervous IDF soldiers open fire on them. So one wonders where the legions of Palestinians will come from to participate in these “prolonged and violent struggles.”
As for the “democratic rights” over which they would be struggling, what is Professor Lustick talking about here? I have no idea. And on the “one mixed state”: when confronted with this cockamamie notion I always ask (e.g. here) the person advocating it the same question, which is to provide a credible scenario as to how such a state could come about in the foreseeable future, i.e. before we’re all dead. If the said state were to be born through violent struggle, i.e. war, please explain how Israel will lose this war (see above). If the mythic one-state is the fruit of a political process, then how does one see the Knesset passing it—which political parties will vote aye?—and then it being ratified by the Israeli electorate (and with the inevitable qualified majority)? Needless to say, I have never gotten an answer to any of this from a one-stater, as they don’t have the answers. And I don’t expect them from Professor Lustick.
All sides have reasons to cling to [the two-state] illusion. The Palestinian Authority needs its people to believe that progress is being made toward a two-state solution so it can continue to get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidize the lifestyles of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants, and the authority’s prominence in a Palestinian society that views it as corrupt and incompetent.
True. Does the PA have an alternative?
Israeli governments cling to the two-state notion because it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.
Also true. And as Professor Lustick acknowledges, Israel’s Jewish majority does indeed want that peace process, thus indicating that it favors a two-state solution (provided that it brings real peace and ends the conflict). As for settlement expansion being camouflaged, come off it. This is way out there in the open. Israeli governments couldn’t camouflage it even if they tried (and why would they want to, given that settlement expansion pleases certain domestic constituencies?).
American politicians need the two-state slogan to show they are working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.
Nonsense. American administrations (not “politicians”) want the I-P process to continue because this is a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region, and under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. It has nothing to do with lobbies or disguising humiliations.
Finally, the “peace process” industry — with its legions of consultants, pundits, academics and journalists — needs a steady supply of readers, listeners and funders who are either desperately worried that this latest round of talks will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, or that it will not.
This sentence lacks clarity. I don’t get it. If the latest round of talks leads to the establishment of a Pal state, the legions of consultants et al will still have many services to render, as the state will be sous perfusion internationale for a long time to come.
But many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of “If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!”
“Many Israelis”? How many is many? Certainly some Israelis see their future demise. Collectively speaking, Jews—for reasons having to do with history (and maybe some collective Jewish psyche, I don’t know)—have existential fears, but fear of demise in no way signifies that demise is in the actual realm of the possible. As for the State of Israel’s permanence, see above.
Those who assume that Israel will always exist as a Zionist project should consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled, and how little warning even sharp-eyed observers had that such transformations were imminent.
Professor Lustick: pour mémoire, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were multinational states that broke up into their constituent national components (constituent nations that had always had, on paper at least, the constitutional right of secession). And Pahlavi Iran, Baathist Iraq, and apartheid South Africa were political orders and which gave way to new orders. Israel is not a political order; it is a nation. And nations do not disappear or give way to other nations. Independent nations may lose their national independence for a stretch or entirely vanish from the map (e.g. Poland 1795-1918), but the flame of nationhood remains. Iran, Iraq, and South Africa are still there, as are Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Estonia, etc etc. If the Israeli nation goes, it’s gone forever. Extinguished. And with its people dispersed (or exterminated). Bad analogies, Professor Lustick.
In all these cases, presumptions about what was “impossible” helped protect brittle institutions by limiting political imagination. And when objective realities began to diverge dramatically from official common sense, immense pressures accumulated.
JUST as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics. When those thresholds are crossed, the impossible suddenly becomes probable, with revolutionary implications for governments and nations. As we see vividly across the Middle East, when forces for change and new ideas are stifled as completely and for as long as they have been in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, sudden and jagged change becomes increasingly likely.
The bursting balloon here is the hot air from this passage. Don’t they have editors at the NYT Opinion page?
History offers many such lessons. Britain ruled Ireland for centuries, annexing it in 1801. By the mid-19th century the entire British political class treated Ireland’s permanent incorporation as a fact of life. But bottled-up Irish fury produced repeated revolts. By the 1880s, the Irish question was the greatest issue facing the country; it led to mutiny in the army and near civil war before World War I. Once the war ended, it took only a few years until the establishment of an independent Ireland. What was inconceivable became a fact.
Yes, the Irish Question: Britain occupied Ireland, incorporated it into the UK, and oppressed the Irish people; the Irish people struggled for their independence and, in the end, won it. The Irish Question was resolved with the two-state solution.
The prospect of a Palestinian state on the West Bank-Gaza was inconceivable in Israel 25 years ago. Outside the Israeli hard right, it is universally admitted today.
France ruled Algeria for 130 years and never questioned the future of Algeria as an integral part of France. But enormous pressures accumulated, exploding into a revolution that left hundreds of thousands dead. Despite France’s military victory over the rebels in 1959 [sic], Algeria soon became independent, and Europeans were evacuated from the country.
Ditto. For the French, Algeria was an integral part of France. But Algerians were not Frenchmen and did not want to be. They struggled for their independence and won it. The two-state solution.
Algeria’s Europeans were not evacuated, BTW. They fled or departed voluntarily. And though the great majority of them (over 80%) were born in Algeria, were deeply attached to the country—it was their home—, and had never set foot anywhere else, there was no right of return for those who fled in 1962. Some tried to go back in the months following Algerian independence but it was impossible. Independent Algeria said no. And they lost all their property and assets, and with no compensation. It was a terrible tragedy for them but that’s the way the historical cookie crumbled. Just sayin’.
One another thing. The Irish Sinn Fein never laid claim to any part of England, Scotland, or Wales. And the Algerian FLN never had irredentist claims on metropolitan France. The borders of the Irish and Algerian nations were clearly, explicitly fixed by those two movements and accepted by the colonial powers (Ulster was a stickler but that was dealt with), rendering independence and their two-state solutions relatively unproblematic. For the Palestinians and the state of the Israel, it’s another matter altogether.
THE assumptions necessary to preserve the two-state slogan have blinded us to more likely scenarios. With a status but no role, what remains of the Palestinian Authority will disappear. Israel will face the stark challenge of controlling economic and political activity and all land and water resources from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The stage will be set for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.
Professor Lustick is speaking in the future tense here, looking into the crystal ball and assuring us of what it is nigh certain to happen years from now, of the calamities that will befall Israel, the Palestinians, etc. Professor Lustick, who is a smart political scientist, knows better than to do this.
Fresh thinking could then begin about Israel’s place in a rapidly changing region. There could be generous compensation for lost property. Negotiating with Arabs and Palestinians based on satisfying their key political requirements, rather than on maximizing Israeli prerogatives, might yield more security and legitimacy. Perhaps publicly acknowledging Israeli mistakes and responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians would enable the Arab side to accept less than what it imagines as full justice. And perhaps Israel’s potent but essentially unusable nuclear weapons arsenal could be sacrificed for a verified and strictly enforced W.M.D.-free zone in the Middle East.
Now he’s wistfully speaking in the conditional (could, might). Allez…
In such a radically new environment, secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern,” but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
This passage almost leaves me speechless. I can hardly believe that a political science I-P specialist could write it. It reads like a 1970s Trotskyist tract from my college days (of the revolutionary potential of an alliance of class forces that objectively shares the same class interests through its relationship to the means of production blah blah). So Israeli IT entrepreneurs—who work all the time and party in Tel Aviv’s bars when they’re not—are going to reach out to their entrepreneurial counterparts in Ramallah… And Sri Lankan and Nepali domestic workers will link up with their Palestinian sisters on the other side of the “apartheid wall” (and ally with their entrepreneurial Tel Aviv employers while they’re at it, with whom they naturally share objective interests)… And Haredi settlers in Beitar Illit will break bread with Salafists in Hebron…. And the grandsons and granddaughters of 1950s Iraqi and Moroccan immigrants will discover their Arab roots during their military service, while manning checkpoints or participating in night raids in West Bank villages… And then there are Tel Aviv’s gays—whom Professor Lustick forgot to mention—, who will propose organizing joint Israeli-Palestinian LGBT parades in Nablus and Gaza…
Professor Lustick, what mind-altering substances did you consume before writing your op-ed?
Professor Lustick mentions “Israel’s place in a rapidly changing region” and “a radically new environment,” which presumably means the “Arab spring.” One thing I have been struck by is the lack of reflection by those in the pro-Palestinian camp of the consequences of what has happened across the Arab world since January 2011 on the whole Israel-Palestine question. In addition to the electoral victories of forces particularly hostile to Israel, i.e. Islamists, one has witnessed the region descending into total chaos: the future of Egypt, which is in a downward spiral, is bleak; the catastrophic situation in Syria will no doubt get worse (and with any outcome, no matter what, bad news for Israel: a reinforcement of Iranian influence or Islamists in power in Damascus); Lebanon—which is not a nation, never has been and never will be—could descend into internecine bloodletting (Shia vs. Sunni) in turn; Jordan is looking increasingly unstable; Iraq is in an open-ended civil war; who knows what’s going to happen in Saudi Arabia…
In other words, the Arab world is going to hell in a handbasket. And if the Palestinians had their own fully sovereign WB-Gaza state, there is no reason to think that it would not follow in the path of its neighbors (with Fatah and Hamas tearing each other apart). The two-state solution remains in the ultimate interest of all parties to the conflict but, with the “Arab spring,” there is no way that even a Labor-led Israeli government will allow for the creation of a Palestinian state that doesn’t carry ironclad security guarantees for Israel (and which will likely involve an IDF presence on the West Bank over a long transitional period). A Palestinian state is almost certain to see considerable limitations on its sovereignty. Not great for the Pals but if they really want a state—which is an open question—, that is sure to be the price.
One may get the impression from all this that I’m pro-Israel. Not at all. I just call it the way I see it.
UPDATE: I just read the commentary on Ian Lustick’s op-ed by Philip Weiss (here), on his sort of eponymous blog Mondoweiss. Weiss does the same thing as I, quoting Lustick and then commenting. I will leave it up to others to decide if Weiss is a stupid idiot or not. (September 17)
2nd UPDATE: Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar succinctly skewer Lustick’s piece (here) in TDB’s Open Zion blog. (September 17)
3rd UPDATE: Journalist and blogger Shmuel Rosner dismantles Lustick (here) in The Jewish Journal. (September 18)
4th UPDATE: University of Houston prof David Mikics takes Lustick apart (here) in Tablet. Among other things, he cites a 2010 piece by Lustick in Forbes, on Israel and Hamas, that is prompting me to question the praise I heaped on him as social scientist. I need to think about this one. (September 18)
5th UPDATE: Journalist and editor Noam Sheizaf, addressing Lustick’s op-ed, has an excellent commentary in +972 magazine (here) arguing that the “Two state vs. one state debate is a waste of time [and] political energy.” Sheizaf is a sharp analyst. I linked to and discussed a similar article he wrote in +972 in March 2012 (here). (September 20)
6th UPDATE: Martin Kramer, writing in Commentary, takes Lustick to the woodshed (here). (September 24)
7th UPDATE: Yitzhak Laor of Haaretz has a column on “The left’s one-state colonialism,” in which Lustick’s op-ed is mentioned. The lede: “If there is a place where the left – its ranks who support the one-state solution – converges with the right, it is not in the image of a single state, but in the colonialist disregard of the Palestinian right to self-determination.” (September 30)
8th UPDATE: Engagé academics Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon—who are co-founders of the progressive Israeli think tank Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy—methodically rubbish Lustick’s piece on TDB’s Open Zion blog (here). Lustick responds to it and other Open Zion critiques here. Among other things, Lustick demonstrates once again that he does not understand the Franco-Algerian case. (October 2)
9th UPDATE: Emeritus professor Jerome Slater, writing on his ‘On the US and Israel’ blog, politely deconstructs Lustick’s piece (here). (October 8)
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