Daniel Steiman’s response to my article on the One State Solution is rife with arguments and fallacies that pay lip serve to “a just and fair solution” while excusing occupation, colonialism, continued ethnic cleansing, and the inequalities of power that benefit Israel.
Steiman writes, “[a]nyone with even a basic understanding of the conflict will recognize that the one-state solution is a sheer impossibility and could never be implemented. Should it be put into effect, it would be an unmitigated political and humanitarian disaster for both sides, though likely more for the Jews than for the Palestinians.”
To support his claim, Steiman resorts to the routine generalizations and distortions that tend to dominate the pro-Israeli narrative. His arguments can be broken down into two parts:
1) “the one-state solution is entirely unworkable, and will only lead to further violence and bloodshed in the region”; and
2) “from a standpoint of morality and justice, implementation of the one-state solution will lead to the end of Israel, a legitimate nation-state that has existed for over sixty years, and lead to an outcome where only one side, the Palestinians, achieve ‘justice’”.
In making his first argument, Steiman points to the examples of Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria to claim that the one-state solution is unworkable because multi-national states are inherently unstable and breed sectarian violence. Even if a ‘bi-national’ state was feasible, Steiman argues, the right of return for Palestinian refugees would undoubtedly create “a Muslim-majority Arab state with a small Jewish minority.” “How can this be considered the fair and just solution?” he asks in rhetorical fashion.
While it is true that multi-national states are far from trouble-free, Steiman outlines a very crude and grossly inaccurate narrative of why sectarian violence and political instability happen within multi-national states, and then makes a dramatic logical leap to conclude that such horrible suffering will be inevitable if applied to Israel/Palestine.
Putting aside the numerous well-functioning and peaceful multi-national states, Steiman pointedly ignores the unequal suffering that has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He seems to believe that both sides have equally legitimate claims to the territory and disregards the uncomfortable historical fact that Zionism is a colonial movement born out of a Euro-centric experience which established a colonial-state, Israel, in the Levant through a process of ethnic cleansing that expelled most of mandate Palestine’s native inhabitants.
This reality is supported by a wealth of documentary evidence, spanning 60 years or more, organized and compiled by historians, journalists, researchers, archeologists, human rights organizations, and others. The writings of early Zionist settlers and thinkers, such as Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, are very clear and frank about Zionism’s colonial project and its aims.
Against this backdrop, the Israel/Palestine conflict has few parallels with the situations in Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, or Syria, and more closely resembles the experiences of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Algeria, and apartheid South Africa. In fact, many, including those with direct experience struggling against South Africa’s apartheid regime, have argued that the Palestinian case is much worse.
The two-state solution that arose from Zionism’s European colonialist project is an outdated Western-centric approach to statehood and political-national affiliation, which fundamentally ignores the sentiments of the “natives”. While Steiman incorrectly believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents a national struggle pitting “Jews” against “Arab,” neither group is homogenous or monolithic nor has a concrete unified ‘national’ identity.
It is particularly interesting that Steiman notes “that the population of Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries) in Palestine was negligible in the pre-state period.” One must ask why there were so few Arab Jews in Palestine prior to 1948 despite their large numbers in the rest of the Arab world. Iranian, Kurdish, Turkish, African and Arab Jews were not prevented from living and residing in Palestine during or before the Ottoman Empire, yet they did not rush to settle in this part of the region prior to the mid-20th century. Why?
As Israeli historian Shlomo Sand noted, and as Steiman touches upon, Zionism was not driven by a “universal” Jewish desire to “return home,” but rather was a response to a horrible experience of anti-Semitism, discrimination, and marginalization in Europe and Russia, unmatched anywhere else in the world. In Steiman’s words “a safe haven for world Jewry” was necessary. It was, however, a necessity for European Jews alone, as non-European Jews did not have similar experiences in terms of discrimination and violence against them. There are plenty of Jewish voices world-wide that dispute Israel’s monopolistic claims over Jewish security and criticize the emphasis on the specter of widespread anti-Semitism as a mirage to justify Israel’s continued existence and its abhorrent actions. Moreover, while Steiman’s fear of widespread anti-Semitism drives his call for a two state solution, he does not provide any basis for concluding that a shared state could not be a safe haven for both Jews and Palestinian refugees expelled from mandate Palestine by Zionist forces.
Steiman argues that, “[n]o state would voluntarily agree not only to self-dissolution, but also to accept the possibility that its people would become a minority who may be stripped of their political rights by the majority ethnic group.” This is, however, precisely what Zionism has done and what the current two-state solution would finalize for the Palestinian population, a majority group that was forcibly made into a minority, had its political and legal rights stripped away, and is now being asked to live in less than a quarter of mandate Palestine.
Steiman’s second argument pays awkward lip serve towards morality and justice. He claims, “[w]hat cannot be disputed is that the State of Israel (that is, the State of Israel within the Green Line) has become a prosperous, multi-ethnic democracy with a clear national identity.”
In reality, Israel is only prosperous and democratic for the few and still struggles with its manufactured national identity. Israel’s prosperity is enjoyed by a few – mainly those linked to the political, military, and economic power centers who profit directly from the occupation at the expense of both non-Jews and Jews. As for the brilliance of Israeli democracy, the prominent Israeli academic and history Ilan Pappe commented in an interview:
No, Israel is definitely not a democracy. A country that occupies another people for more than 40 years and disallows them the most elementary civic and human rights cannot be a democracy. A country that pursues a discriminatory policy against a fifth of its Palestinian citizens inside the 67 borders cannot be a democracy. In fact Israel is, what we use to call in political science a herrenvolk democracy, its democracy only for the masters. The fact that you allow people to participate in the formal side of democracy, namely to vote or to be elected, is useless and meaningless if you don’t give them any share in the common good or in the common resources of the State, or if you discriminate against them despite the fact that you allow them to participate in the elections. On almost every level from official legislation through governmental practices, and social and cultural attitudes, Israel is only a democracy for one group, one ethnic group, that given the space that Israel now controls, is not even a majority group anymore, so I think that you’ll find it very hard to use any known definition of democracy which will be applicable for the Israeli case.
As another basis for rejecting the one-state solution, Steiman speaks of the “cultural and scientific accomplishments Israel has given to the world” as “tremendous considering its small size.” Indeed, Israel has achieved a number of cultural and scientific accomplishments thanks to the financial and material support from North America and Western Europe. A number of the country’s technological breakthroughs have been made possible by the Israeli military’s ability to test prototypes against the virtually defenseless Palestinians.
Steiman disregards the significant cultural and scientific accomplishments made by the Palestinians, both in the refugee camps and elsewhere, which are that much more impressive as they have been achieved in an environment of occupation with a state divided into small islands surrounded by walls, checkpoints, and Israeli settlements.
While Steiman fears the loss of Israeli culture and scientific progress in a state with a majority of Muslims/Arabs, he has no qualms about the continued degradation of Palestinian culture within Israel’s borders. Steiman’s concerns about a “Muslim Arab state” are similar to concerns voiced by Afrikaners during the last decade of Apartheid South Africa regarding the prospects of a “Black African state” choking a ‘superior’ white culture. Steiman does not explain why Palestinian Christians, who are a minority, are some of the biggest supporters of the one state solution – would they not be alleged victims of this “Muslim Arab state” too? These realities aside, “cultural and scientific accomplishments” do not make a nation moral or superior or white wash its crimes.
Throughout his article, Steinman perverts the ideals of morality and justice to argue for a continuation of Jewish sovereignty at the expense of equal rights for all who reside under Israeli control.
As noted above, Zionism is part of the problem. For the one-state solution to work Zionism and other ideologies that do not embrace total equality have no place. The one state solution is not a solution aimed at creating another unequal power system; rather it seeks to establish a state defined by rights and justice for all. It is an undeniable fact that the majority of mandate Palestine’s indigenous population is not Jewish. However, calling for a one state does not mean calling for an Arab Muslim state, an important difference Steiman ignores.
Steiman’s solution not only denies the Palestinians their inalienable right to return, as enshrined by international law and human rights conventions, but also makes non-Jews within Israel second-class citizens whose rights are trumped by their Jewish peers. What will happen in the coming decades when the non-Jewish population, which is increasing at a faster rate and is the majority in mandate Palestine, over takes the Israeli-Jewish population within Israel itself? It will be practically impossible to sustain a Jewish majority in mandate Palestine without resorting to the tactics of ethnic cleansing and discrimination. If Israel and its supporters truly want to embrace democracy, they must do so by embracing the ideals of a democratic state, not one defined by Zionism.
It is worth repeating again and again: the one-state solution calls for a shared state in which the rights of all are protected and ensured. It is the only practical and viable solution that offers justice and fairness for all parties, whoever they may be.