There is an American academic trend, in which one-state advocates are trying to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. One of the main promoters of this trend is professor and commentator Peter Beinart. Last July 7, in an essay in Jewish Currents, he argued in favor of a binational state in Israel-Palestine. In a New York Times op-ed the next day, he wrote: “It’s time to abandon the traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.” Beinart now doubles down on that argument in a January 27 essay in Jewish Currents titled “There Is No Right to a State.” Again, he argues for a one-state solution. But he now adds that Jews were never entitled to a state in first place. That’s because, he explains, “national self-determination cannot mean the right to your own state.” Who knew?
Beinart asserts that the land between the Jordan River and the sea amounts to a single state, and division into two states is now impossible. From that questionable premise, he argues: “Create a state that privileges one people in a territory that contains multiple peoples, and you’ll likely deny members of those other peoples both the individual right to be treated equally under the law and the collective right to run their own affairs.” Thus, Beinart concludes, a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires that Israelis give up on Zionism, agree to form a binational state, and hope it all works out.
According to Beinart, “For more than a hundred years, politicians and academics have debated whether or not nations have the right to self-determination.” Actually, that debate ended in 1966 with the UN adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which now has 173 parties, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which now has 171 parties. Each provides in its first article: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Beinart fails to even mention these instruments.
The real question, then, is how can nations realize this established right of self-determination? Beinart maintains that “most political theorists insist that national self-determination cannot mean the right to your own state.” He then immediately undercuts his argument by citing two theorists, Yuli Tamir and David Miller, who allow that statehood is appropriate under some circumstances.
Those circumstances are clearly present in the case of Israel. A right of self-determination without a means of self-determination is meaningless. And statehood is the only means by which Jews can “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” To suggest that they can realize their right of self-determination without a Jewish state is to ignore 2,000 years of history. As Roger Cohen has said, Jews “have learned how dangerous it is to live without a certain refuge, as minorities, and will not again place their faith in the goodwill of others, nor trust in touchy-feely hope over bitter experience.” But touchy-feely hope is exactly what Beinart is selling. Indeed, he blithely asserts that “contrary to the claims of establishment American Jewish groups, a democratic bi-national Israel/Palestine would be no more bigoted against Jews than binational Belgium is bigoted against Walloons or binational Canada is bigoted against Quebecers.” Um, nice try. A truer comparison would have cited the persistent conflicts within multiethnic states in the region, such as Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. A binational Israel-Palestine would be no different. As Cohen put it, “the two principal communities would be in constant, paralyzing battle, causing the best and the brightest to go elsewhere in search of opportunity and sanity.”
In any event, Beinart’s idea probably won’t get much traction outside of leftist publications like Jewish Currents. As Anshel Pfeffer recently wrote in Haaretz: “American academics of Jewish and Palestinian ancestry wax lyrical on binational ‘one-state’ solutions, as if 7,000 miles away from their faculty lounges, anyone actually gives a toss about their thought-exercises.”
Perhaps the strangest thing about Beinart’s argument is that he all but ignores the fact that Israel is already a Jewish state. Does he really think the Knesset might vote that state out of existence? Does he imagine a collective acknowledgment that Jews have no right to the state they now inhabit — that they can’t determine their own fate by the only means available? Does he hope world powers, having recognized Israel, will now agree that Jews must accept something less than their own state? It sure looks that way. Beinart would have us believe it was all a big mistake, unsupported by international law. And therefore, seventy years of Jewish statehood must now end.
Good luck with that.