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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Force, Violence and the “One-State” Formula
Published by Ben on March 20, 2008 in Z word blog. Aggregated from

Counterpunch, the online journal which recently coined the term “Neo-Jew” - arguably the most significant development in the etymology of Jew-hating since Wilhelm Marr popularized the term “anti-Semite” - is at it again. This time, the debate is over which solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be more effective in wiping out Zionism.

In the two-state corner, please find Michael Neumann, a Canadian who teaches philosophy. In the one-state corner, meet Jonathan Cook, a British writer based in Nazareth, Israel. It seems odd that Neumann, who in the past has happily exhorted us to “have some fun with antisemitism”, should be advocating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which would permit the loathed Zionist entity to continue breathing. He has not, of course, joined Peace Now. He just thinks that the one-state formula is an airheaded ideal which would actually end up rewarding the Zionists, “because it leaves ‘Jewish property’, including the settlements, in place.”
So what is Neumann’s theory of justice, as it applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? “It would require,” he says, “that the Jews who came as Zionists to Palestine leave, and with them their descendants.” (By the way, he adds, that’s not ethnic cleansing. Glad he cleared that one up.)

Since this absolute justice can’t be achieved, Neumann continues, and since recent experiments with the multinational or multiconfessional state model have gone awry (think of Lebanon or the former Yugoslavia), the best option for the Palestinians is to consolidate their fight for a smaller state alongside Israel. Neumann does recognize a critical factor which most western advocates of the one-state formula are in denial over; that one-state would amount to a bloodbath. Palestinians and Israelis would kill each other in large numbers - and one suspects, given Neumann’s overall emphasis on power relations, that he thinks the Israelis would have the edge on the killing - so anyone interested in justice for the Palestinians would have to acknowledge the blind alley ahead there.

Nothing in Neumann’s piece should suggest that he regards two states as a permanent solution. The foundation of his argument, essentially a realist one, is that material power counts for much more than moral principles and noble declarations: the Israelis will thus never be persuaded of the need for a one-state solution. It can only be imposed on them: as Neumann says, the “right of return” is an empty demand until the Palestinians become “powerful enough to enforce it.”

The arrival of that day is, no doubt, one of Neumann’s favorite fantasies, but that’s not good enough for Jonathan Cook. Neumann, he complains, has taken his eye off the doctrinal imperative of discrediting Zionism. Two-states, Cook argues, is just as impractical as one-state; just as the Israelis won’t surrender their sovereignty, neither will they surrender their occupation. Cook offers a number of reasons for why this is so, ranging from the unimaginative (they don’t want to give up the West Bank’s water resources) to the outlandish (they would, apparently, lose their “usefulness” to the US in terms of managing the occupation of Iraq).

So who wins, in this particular battle of anti-Zionist wits? I say Neumann, hands down. Cook is woefully short on detail. He ends by insisting that attacking Zionist ideology will, eventually, lead the “respectable facade” of Zionism to crumble. As I’ve argued elsewhere on this blog, it’s fundamentally dishonest to make this particular case and not deal with the contention that one-state could only come about through the imposition of enormous violence against Israelis.

Neumann, on the other hand, does, perversely, get it. That’s why he asks the difficult questions (”Will the settlers be kicked out of their settlements?…Will Zionists be expelled from the armed forces?”) which the commanders of Hamas and Hezbollah would be delighted to answer. If you support a one-state formula, you have to accept that it won’t be possible without coercion. And every Qassam rocket which slams into Sderot is deadly proof of that.