Questioning a Jewish state

The July 1 deadline, when the Israeli government had planned to annex unilaterally up to 30 percent of the occupied West Bank, has passed and been forgotten. It was nothing more than an attempt by Prime-Minister Netanyahu to sow confusion in Israel and to deflect attention from his legal problems, the fight against the pandemic and the management of the economic crisis in the country.

For journalism professor Peter Beinart, however, it was an opportunity to declare that he has lost faith in a Jewish state and to announce his support for a binational state (INYT, 10 July). It came as an unpleasant surprise to those who have followed his previous articles in Israeli media about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a liberal American, he looks now at the conflict from a narrow American angle, claiming that “one equal state” is the preference of both young Americans and Palestinians. What about the preferences of the Jewish population in Israel? He does not explain why Israel, of all countries in the world, should be the first one to abolish itself and experiment with binational state-building.

That said, I share his concerns about Israel’s future and agree with him about the need for a sustainable peace solution to the conflict. The two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is supported by a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians and is considered as the only solution consistent with international law by the international community.

The increasing number of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and a creeping annexation has made the two-state solution difficult to implement, to the point where both Israelis and Palestinians start to despair and believe in a one-state solution for both peoples. Trump’s peace plan, which Netanyahu intended to implement, runs against all parameters of a viable two-state solution.

However, unilateral annexation by Israel is not a confirmation of the current situation. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank (besides East Jerusalem) and still keeps it as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations. Annexation of large parts of the West Bank would make the situation much worse and spell the death knell for a mutually agreeable two-state solution.

That’s why I, contrary to Beinart, oppose the Trump plan without denying Israel’s right to exist and losing faith in the two- state solution. It’s not dead but needs intensive care. Beinart’s arguments for a binational state replacing the state of Israel are disingenuous and misleading at best.

He knows very well that Israel has been and still is a “source of comfort and pride” for most Jews around the world whatever criticism they may have against the Israeli government. Contrary to what he claims, proper Israel within the “green line” isn’t already a binational state but a state with a large Jewish majority.

In a one-state scenario, the Palestinians would soon become a majority, at which point they might abolish the democratic institutions. In the end, it’s a recipe for civil war, notwithstanding Beinart’s vision of a state based on equality.

An equal society is certainly a virtuous goal and a condition for stability but there is hardly a country in the world where this goal has been achieved, especially not in Beinart’s own homeland. It’s unlikely that it could be achieved in one state for Jews and Palestinians that don’t share the same narrative and have endured years of wars and conflict.

Beinart is also wrong about the lessons learned from Europe. Northern Ireland, which he sees as a model, is still unequal and the Good Friday Agreement risks unravelling after Brexit.

If there is any lesson learned from Ireland, it’s Ireland’s long struggle for independence. Following the Easter uprising in 1916, an Irish Free State was established 1921 as a dominion in the British Commonwealth. It paved the way for the gradual transition to full independence during the course of one generation via the constitution of 1937 and the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

The Irish lesson to the Palestinians is obvious. Ireland gained independence because it had responsible leaders who chose a compromise solution at the crucial moment, conducted democratic votes in its national assembly, and did not hesitate to fight off those groups who wanted to continue the armed struggle for unrealistic objectives.

Beinart, who still pretends to be a “liberal Zionist”, even claims that a Jewish state was never the goal or essence of Zionism. He forgets that political Zionism was born with Theodor Herzl’s book “The Jewish State” in 1896. In the Balfour declaration, the British supported the establishment in Palestine of a “national home” for the Jewish people but the goal remained an independent state.

A one-state or binational state would require both Jews and Palestinians to give up their respective dreams of a national homeland and self-determination. An alternative solution that is gaining support is a kind of confederation built on the European model, with two independent states, free movement between them and power sharing on common issues such as water and environment management.

About the Author
Mose Apelblat is a journalist and former official at the European Commission with a professional background in public auditing in Sweden and Israel. He writes about current EU and Israeli affairs from a European perspective. Born in Sweden to Holocaust survivors, he co-authored in 2019 a book on the second generation in Sweden and the memory of the Holocaust. He made aliya in 2015 and is engaged in a project to replace Israel's dependence on fossil fuels in the transport sector by an electric road system charging e-vehicles when driving.
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