Et Tu, Beinart? TTN Members Respond

Peter Beinart’s recent NY Times op-ed and his longer essay in Jewish Currents argue in principle for a one-state binational solution for Israelis and Palestinians.  His article in Jewish Currents attempts to draw a parallel for his proposal with the story of Yochanon Ben Zakkai, a first century C.E. religious scholar who is said to have smuggled himself out of Jerusalem hopelessly besieged by the Romans, to successfully plead to establish a rabbinical academy at Yavne, creating a template for Jewish survival based upon religious study and observance rather than national independence.  This post (a follow-up to this July 16th piece) selects, with permission, comments made in The Third Narrative’s email discussion, with some editing to economize on space: 

Michael Walzer: 

“Beinart’s argument comes apart at the end when he says that the homeland he is advocating (instead of a state) would be ‘a thriving Jewish society that can provide refuge and rejuvenation for Jews across the world.’ But it can only provide ‘refuge’ if it controls its own immigration policy, and if it does that, it is effectively a sovereign state. And the Palestinians would presumably also want to provide a ‘refuge’ for their scattered people, which would also require control of immigration and effective sovereignty. Hence two states.

“It was the issue of immigration that scuttled bi-nationalism in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.  Some of the Jewish bi-nationalists were actually willing to give up on the idea of a ‘refuge’. I am glad to see that Beinart isn’t.”

Yael Aronoff: 

“Beinart ignores Israeli public opinion. For many years public opinion polls have consistently shown that Israelis and Palestinians still prefer the two state solution over any single alternative.”  Prof. Aronoff then linked to Anshel Pfeffer’s Haaretz piece, “Peter Beinart’s One State Solution Sounds So Perfect It’s Practically Utopian,” arguing that most Israelis and Palestinians actually living in Israel and the occupied territories do not support a joint state.  

Alan Jay Weisbard:

“I think a single state or a federation/confederation would require a carefully worked out set of constitutional arrangements, requiring a large supermajority to cancel or modify. Immigration policies meeting the requirements of both communities could be negotiated ahead of time and embedded in the constitution, or negotiated between the parties and enacted as a statute given a special status under the constitution. I am not sure why separate sovereignties would be required.  Negotiations between the communities could be very difficult given that both communities want a right of return for members of their respective diasporas. The Jews already have this, and the Palestinians do not, which has apparently been an unsolvable barrier to successful negotiations to date. 

“The Israelis are largely content with the existing status quo and the disproportion in power that goes with it. Some outside force or influence is probably necessary to shake that up.”

Zachary J. Braiterman: 

“I think it’s facetious to argue, ala Peter Beinart, that support for a two-state solution only works to sustain the occupation. The place to be right now is to stay at a point of indecision between a two-state solution (which seems far away and impossible) and a one-state solution (which seems even more so). It’s not up to the likes of us to determine the future one way or the other and maybe the better side of wisdom is to remain humble about it. Beinart is anything but humble, and that’s the problem.”

Prof. Braiterman has written a lengthy critique, “Imagining One State in Israel” at the “Jewish Philosophy Place” blog.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin:  

“His main point — and my contention after 30 years of fervent support for the Two State Solution — is that the status quo is politically unsustainable and morally indefensible and it’s time to entertain alternatives.  He has given a launching pad to several possibilities, and thanks to his credibility as an observant Jew and notable public intellectual, his op-ed and JC essay have quickly gained purchase in current discourse and elicited responses across the political spectrum.

“Those who dismiss him as an antiZionist self-hating Jew and enemy of Israel, had already kicked him out of the tent long before this but other people of conscience, Jews and nonJews, are engaging his ideas with a seriousness we haven’t seen in a while. In all honesty, I’m still struggling to formulate an opinion. As a past chair and current board member of APN, I continue to endorse its position: Two states, end the occupation, boycott settlement products but not Green Line Israel.

“However, I can’t deny the failures of Oslo, the steady erosion of Israeli democracy, Israelis’ quantifiable slide toward racism and theocracy, its government’s disdain for Palestinian political and human rights, the corrupt leadership on both sides, not to mention Trump’s cynical, self-aggrandizing intercession, to name just a few complicating issues. At this point, I’m trying to reason my way to a new basis for reopening bilateral negotiations. Peter offered some first steps, but he doesn’t think it possible to chart a future course in detail.

“No one in South Africa in 1985 could have predicted how they’d get to free elections in 1994, or in Northern Ireland how they’d get to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. There were too many historical contingencies. Re: Israel-Palestine, he prefers neither to impose an agenda of specifics nor to anticipate the stumbling blocks, what the parties will ultimately feel able to concede, or how compromise might take shape. He thinks that when their hopes are revived, a Palestinian movement for equality will emerge, and part of our job as Jews is to help outline a vision so it can be our movement too.”

Marcia Kupfer:  

“The striking element in PB’s two recent essays is not the argumentation for one-state or some kind of confederation. Nothing original there. It’s the conceit of Yavne as a metaphor for a paradigm shift. This is not a superfluous detail but a foundational figure of thought. Personally I find it not only presumptuous and inapt but also distasteful. It parlays a discussion best conducted on the plane of relevant pragmatic questions into a mythic ‘theological’ realm, exactly the wrong direction, as the whole I-P matter is overly encumbered by metaphysics. 

“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘memory malpractice’ as Yehuda Kurtzer does, but it qualifies to my mind as rhetorical malpractice.” 

Ralph Seliger: 

“In using Yavne as a metaphor, Beinart is curiously drawing upon a massive historic defeat for the Jewish people.” 

Nigel Paneth:  

“The recommendation for a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine flies in the face of virtually all we know about human activity around states, and the investment in national enterprises.  How much pressure is there now in the world to unite, as compared to separate?  Belgium holds its French-speaking and Dutch-speaking citizens together with difficulty; Spain has contended with Basque separatists and now with Catalan separatists.  In our lifetime we have seen the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia all break up to form new states.  How much unification of formerly separate entities have we seen in the world?

“Many friendly states exist with infinitely fewer obstacles to unity than Israel-Palestine, yet their unifications are unthinkable to one side or another or both: consider Lebanon/Syria; Serbia/Bosnia; Ireland/Northern Ireland; Uruguay/Paraguay; the USA/Canada, to just list countries with strong similarities in religion, culture and language.  How likely is their unification?  And so now we should expect two people with different cultures, languages, religions, aspirations and just about everything else to join up together? 

“Two states are very difficult but one state is impossible.”

Joan S. Friedman:

“Partition/two states has always been the pragmatic alternative, and a binational state the unworkable utopian one.  Yet seen from a long term perspective, the two-state solution has not proven to be stable or durable.  As the saying goes, insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. 

“Right now all I know is what I do not know.  I do not know when, or if, sane political leadership will reappear in Israel, Palestine, or the US.  I do not know whether some yet-unforeseen event will galvanize a critical mass of Israelis and Palestinians to rally around a common goal, be it one state or two or something else, or whether some yet-unforeseen event will lead to a massive outbreak of violence.  I do not know whether it is even possible, as climate change catches up with us, for approximately 14.5 million human beings to live peacefully in an area whose population was a mere 300,000 in 1800. 

“Like the rebbe who no longer knows how to find the place in the forest, or how to light the fire, or what the correct prayer is in order to effect the miracle, I am reduced to telling the story, i.e., teaching my students the history of two peoples struggling to possess the same small territory, and why both people’s aspirations need to be taken seriously.  And I can only hope that that will be enough to effect a miracle of peaceful and just resolution.”  

Jeff Weintraub:

He begins by identifying what is new in Beinart’s position:

“(1) the Yavne analogy and (2) the way that Beinart is trying to preserve a certain Zionist element in his position by favoring a Jewish ‘national home’ in the former Palestine Mandate without Jewish political self-determination in a nation-state of their own (an aspiration that at one point appealed to some Jews, though to almost no Arabs, but was largely abandoned for quite compelling reasons a long time ago).  His latest proposal lands in a context where so many long-time supporters of a democratic Israel and of a two-nation-state solution feel so hopeless and demoralized.

“I recognize and appreciate his good intentions, intelligence, and moral seriousness.  I agree with him that the current situation is unjust and unsustainable.  But I find much of his analysis questionable or misleading.  The notion that eliminating Israel and deliberately creating another Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Iraq, or Syria in the area of the former Palestine Mandate would lead to the kinds of utopian outcomes expected by Beinart . . . is unrealistic.  Beinart’s arguments in support of that proposal seem to be based essentially on wishful thinking.

“Well, if groundless and implausible wishful thinking is an adequate basis for proposing a ‘one-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why not apply the same criterion of wishful thinking to the continuing possibility of a two-nation-state solution?”

Dr. Weintraub continued with a video link to a 2015 talk by Amos Oz, the late Israeli writer and Zionist peace advocate, whose “arguments about these issues [are] both more realistic and more constructive than the kind of proposal now endorsed by Beinart.”

He concluded with a link to a 2012 article, “What a one-state solution really means” by Alan Johnson, a British political theorist who edits the online journal, Fathom.  “Today, in 2020, a few small details might have to be revised, but Johnson’s overall argument [constitutes] a serious response to Beinart’s current position.”

From a TTN member who prefers to be anonymous:

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for One-Statism, as an idea. But it’s one thing if the people of Israel and Palestine decided between themselves that they love each other so much that they want to unite. I’d advise against it, and I think that diaspora Jews would have concerns of betrayal, but ultimately that could be a legitimate choice of the people who live in Israel. Such a one state solution, in order to be viable, would probably have to follow a two state solution and years of peace and brotherhood. Palestinians would learn Bialik and Israeli Jews would read Darwish, and they’d all feel like kin. That’s a process, one that involves love and reconciliation. It is precisely the opposite of the ethos of the sort of people leading the Palestinian cause in America (boycott, defamation, vilification, etc.), and the people Beinart has taken inspiration from here. For them, one-statism is instrumentally valuable to end Israel. That is all.” 

Chaim Seidler-Feller:

“Peter proposes that we abandon the state of Israel in favor of a ‘Jewish home’. The problem is that most Palestinians don’t recognize that Israel is a Jewish home. Hence the embrace of this proposal would, ironically, be equivalent to Jews voluntarily putting themselves in the same position as Palestinians whose national identity was/is denied by Jews. And we all know the result of that position.”

Postscript: As a late addition to TTN’s discussion, Paul Scham informs us of his post for Partners for Progressive Israel, agreeing with Beinart’s “diagnosis” but not his “prognosis.”  Scham argues for the right of Jews to self-determination by maintaining Israel’s existence as a safe haven for Jews while also establishing a Palestinian state, with both sovereign entities negotiating some form of “confederation” to reasonably accommodate freedom of movement and important safeguards for both peoples coexisting in their shared geographic space.  He claims no magic formula but cites the efforts of “Roots/Shorashim/Judur, composed mainly of settlers in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank and of Palestinians who work with them, and One Land for All/Eretz l’Kulam …, until recently known as ‘Two States, One Homeland’.”