Is there one single decent argument against the one single state?
By Alex Pushkin
I was in the middle of reading Menachem Klein’s new book The Shift when I happened to see a TV programme in which a historian took us on a conducted tour of a Victorian workhouse. Her description of the notoriously grim regime of separation (men, women and children from a family would be split up and prevented even from catching sight of each other), fragmentation and control matched in almost every detail Klein’s analysis of Israel’s West Bank occupation.
I was enthralled by Klein’s book and read it quickly to the end, as one would read a thriller to see who-dunnit. The reason I turned those pages was that, in the very act of exposing the folly and falsity of the two state myth, he had promised to reveal why he himself opposed the Single Democratic State.
At last, I thought, there was going to be a decent, well argued rebuttal of One State that I could get my teeth into, instead of the Hasbara-troll vision of the “single Arab state” that would be bound to overwhelm and obliterate Israel and any remaining virtues it might have.
But I was to be sadly disappointed. Having demolished Israel as it stands (as an “ethno-security regime” in which all its previous identity has been reduced to security, and in which the army, bureaucracy and rabbinate have a close-meshed fabric of control); and having admitted that it is, de facto, a single state, he then dismisses a democratic single state in a few lines, saying “as long as the majority on each side rejects the joint state in favour of its own nation state, there is a hope of revitalising the two-state solution.”
By saying he “hopes” for such a thing, having demonstrated its physical, political and ideological impossibility, he announces his departure from objectivity and places himself in the cohorts of the believers whose only refuge is now a dogged faith.
His argument against one state comes down to this: “a state of individuals whose national, historical, cultural, linguistic roots and identifications take second place to the abstractions of Western-style liberal democracy will never be achieved.”
With democracy dismissed as an “abstraction” and a single state just an “intellectual exercise” he asserts that “it is unrealistic to expect that the two rival communities can live together in a liberal democratic state”. And this man is a political scientist!
The whole point of democracy is not that it reduces all other identities to “second place”, or competes with them for prominence, but that it is a device that creates the framework for all the different characteristics and aspirations of individuals and groups to interact and be mediated in a peaceful, stable and legal fashion.
Democracy doesn’t, unfortunately, eliminate racial, political, regional or class hatred but when it works as it should, no ethnic group can be structurally advantaged over another, and all should be equal under the law. And that law has itself to be in accord with the basic rights and safeguards that benefit everyone.
Of course it’s rarely perfect, but it’s the best system we’ve got. And it’s improvable, because built into it is the mechanism for change: freedom of speech and assembly, the right to organise for an idea, freedom of information, regular elections, and an acknowledged role for opposition or minorities as an essential component of checks, balances and safeguards.
Democracy has the elasticity to absorb change and renewal without being threatened. In its early period it was the means for welding different regions, religions, dialects and local fiefdoms and principalities into nation states. In many cases these elements had centuries of mutual war and conflict and atrocities behind them.
Israel once prided itself as a melting-pot, devised the ulpan as a fast track into Hebrew for newcomers, and, as a country of immigrants it created a range of methods and experiences to bond people together quickly.
Of course the cement in this process was the zionist ideology. But a different ideology and sense of purpose, of building something new together, would be just as effective. And with that, all these techniques and more could be employed to give New Palestine (or whatever it gets to be called) a good send-off.
This all presupposes goodwill, and a committed leadership, and that will need a sea-change in public attitudes, which BDS and the global resistance movement are addressing.
But it’s also something that can happen, and is happening, along the way. Wherever people come together with a common purpose (whether it be to play music together, to protest together against oppression, to educate children in multi-racislism, or just to have a day out together in defiance of Israel’s apartheid rules) it doesn’t take much to establish common bonds.
These exemplary events, however small, act as an inspirational beacon, because each and every one gives the lie to the dispiriting pessimism that denies human commonality and. belittles the democracy it claims to believe in.
What’s tough and disappointing is when people of the stature of Klein, Amos Oz, Uri Avneri, and their ilk can still peddle separation using such superficial and ignorant argument as this.
If there’s a serious objective reason that anyone can make as to why Jews and Palestinians cannot together construct a fair system, let’s hear it. Otherwise, we ask all the intelligent people who continue to rely on this sort of nonsense to apply some more rigrous standards and see if their position still holds up.
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