Thursday, January 20, 2005


Peter Brooke - One State as a Jewish Liberation Struggle

Peter Brooke's main political experience was in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was a frequent contributor to the journal Workers Weekly, arguing for the 'two nations' view of Irish history and for 'electoral integration' (the right of the people of Northern Ireland, so long as they were part of the United Kingdom, to be able to join and participate fully in the life of the political parties capable of forming the government of the United Kingdom). He is the author of Ulster Presbyterianism - the historical perspective, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1987: Belfast, Athol Books, 1994). His present interests are reflected in his website -

Anti-Zionists argue that the Jews are not, or ought not to be, a nation. Jews, believing or otherwise, are scattered among many nations and should assume the nationality of the country they are living in (as most of them in fact do). Zionists, on the other hand, argue that the Palestinians are not a nation. They are Arabs more or less indistinguishable from their Arab neighbours who happened to live in a particular part of the Ottoman Empire but never defined themselves as a separate people - at least not until Jews began to claim that particular part of the Ottoman Empire as a national territory.

A nation however is, if nothing else, a people that believes itself to be a nation and is prepared to fight in defence of its perceived nationhood. The nation is a historically evolved ideological construction. Though there may be certain objective foundations (ethnicity, culture, territory), those are not of themselves sufficient to create a sense of nationhood. Noel Malcolm's Short History of Bosnia argues that there is an objectively existing Bosnian nation and that Bosnian Serbs and Croats are wrong to think they are not part of it. But the argument is futile. Bosnian nationalism has as yet failed to create a Bosnian national consciousness strong enough to secure the existence of an independent Bosnian state.

National consciousness is estabished through a combination of nationalist ideology and circumstances, often adverse circumstances. A combination of Zionism and the adverse circumstances created by European anti-semitism has created a Jewish nation which has established a nation state. A combination of nationalism and the adverse circumstances created by the Zionist invasion of Palestine has created a Palestinian nation, which refuses to submit to the Jewish nation state. We may lament the existence of two nations on this narrow strip of ground but there is not much that can be done about it. Once a national consciousness has been successfully established it is very difficult to undo it - the break-up of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia are surely convincing proofs.

In these circumstances, the establishment of two nation states looks like the obvious solution and since my own instincts are in general partitionist - opposed to obliging people to live together if they do not wish to - I might have been inclined to support it. In the circumstances of Israel/Palestine however - starting with the smallness of the territory under dispute - it has seemed to me from the start that it would not work. I can have no illusions about the difficulties posed by a 'one state' solution but in what follows, given the proposed theme of 'Jewish liberation', I am going to argue that it is in the best interests of the people who might appear to be the losers - Israeli Jews.

Most Israeli Jews, it seems, would support a two state solution. They would be willing to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and may even support an arrangement that would enable the Palestinians to have a capital in Jerusalem. They would not object in principle to the Palestinians having their own sovereign state. At least so long as they could be assured that this would be a final solution and that Palestinians would be content with it.

But how can they be assured of this? Palestinian leaders can give assurances and sign agreements. But somehow it is difficult to believe them. Not because they are more dishonest than the leaders of other peoples but because the assurances they are giving, the agreements they are being asked to sign, are in themselves inherently unreasonable. No signed agreement can oblige the Palestinian people to accept the forcible displacement they suffered in 1948, any more than any signed agreement could oblige the Jewish people as a whole to accept the forcible spoliation of their property and the ensuing horrors they suffered in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. If Palestinian leaders recognise the right of the Jewish state to exist it is, plainly, because they have been reduced to such a state of powerlessness that they have no choice. But if that is the case then from the Jewish point of view they must be kept in a state of powerlessness. It makes no sense to allow them to construct a real independent state, least of all one which sits right at the heart of the territory of the Israeli state.

The two state solution is based on a pretence that the wrong done to the Palestinians began in 1967 with the seizure of the West Bank. The wrong would then be righted when the West Bank was restored. Unfortunately, however, the decisive wrong was done in 1948 at a time when the Jews, given what they had suffered in Europe, believed that the need to establish their own state, their own place of refuge, was so pressing that it overrode any normal moral considerations. That is a situation that is commonplace in war, when peoples will do anything to survive as a people.

But the 'hot' period of the establishment of Israel is now at an end. Ariel Sharon has, if I remember aright, expressed anxiety that his generation, the generation that knew the circumstances in which the Israeli state was formed, is dying out. He is afraid of the emergence of a weaker generation that will not be ready for the tough measures needed to secure Jewish nationhood. We may read his policies as an effort to create a dynamic that these weaker successors will not be able to reverse. And that is indeed the problem. Short of a successful genocide such as the Anglo Saxons achieved in North America and Australia in the nineteenth century, the exclusively Jewish state can only be maintained by a continued, hard, work of repression. Even if Palestinians are squeezed out of the West Bank (which I assume is the 'solution' Sharon is envisaging) this merely creates a new crime, a new incentive to militant opposition to the state of Israel. Analogies are never precise but we may remember the strength that the Fenian movement in Ireland gained from the emigrants who had been pushed out to America during the mid-nineteenth century famine.

Ireland is worth thinking about in this context. In the eighteenth century it might have appeared from a British point of view that the Irish problem was solved - Catholic Ireland was so heavily subdued that there was no prospect of it reasserting itself. Or so it seemed. It may be mentioned that the British could argue - one of the leading theorists of British Imperialism, J.A.Froude, did argue - that the Irish, hopelessly divided among many different clans prior to the conquest, were not a nation.
Unlike the British in Ireland, however, Israeli Jews will not have the luxury of nearly a century's respite from their 'Palestinian question'. To preserve the status quo, they must maintain constant pressure for the foreseeable future. It is just possible to imagine that a generous two state strategy might have done the trick but realistically speaking the territory is too small to maintain two genuinely independent states. A generous settlement would enable the Palestinians to develop an independent military capacity; and it is very doubtful if it would have resolved the vexed question of the Palestinian refugees.

I would suggest that this continual repression exercised against the Palestinians is a burden on Israeli Jews - and indeed on Jews worldwide. Most will cope with it by ignoring it; some are able to maintain the required 'hot' feeling through moral indignation at Palestinian 'terrorism'. But a permanent condition of hatred and contempt for one's neighbours (all one's neighbours given the general Arab sympathy for the Palestinian cause) poses a terrible strain; and the great moral asset of the Jews - the sympathy generated throughout the world by their sufferings in the mid-twentieth century - is gradually wasting away. There is also something illusory about Israeli independence. The immense expenditure that has been felt to be necessary on security has left Israel in reality wholly dependent on the charity of the United States, at a time when the policies of the United States are exciting hatred throughout the world. The pro-Israeli political commentator Jared Israel argues on his 'Emperor's New Clothes' website, that the United States is in fact deliberately provoking Muslim militancy to create a ring of Islamic states round Russia. Whether he is right or not this end result - the strengthening of political Islam - is the predictable outcome of current US policies and creates a very dangerous environment for Israel.

Furthermore, the epicentre for the Israeli/Palestinian confrontation is the West Bank - precisely the area that Jews serious about a return to the biblical heartland most desire. For religious Jews living so close to Hebron or Shechem/Nablus but being unable to visit them freely must be very frustrating. For those who have a real love for the land, the scars imposed physically by the Israeli infrastructure designed to separate the two peoples must be deeply painful.

The one state solution creates a coherent, defensible national territory and gives Jews free access to all parts of the West Bank. A unified Israeli/Palestinian military force would give each side control over the other's military capacity. By opening the main territory of Israel to Palestinians it would end the most substantial of Palestinian grievances. It would also provide Israeli Jews once again with an abundant supply of Palestinian labour (we may assume that Jews would continue to dominate the managerial, employing class for the foreseeable future). These are advantages on the Jewish side. The question remains if they are sufficient to outweigh the great apparent disadvantage - loss of exclusive control and perhaps of the 'Jewish state'.

I say 'perhaps' because I would argue that Israel/Palestine could still be described as a 'Jewish state', meaning at once a favourable environment for the integral practise of the Jewish religion but also a country whose policies would be determined by Jews, albeit in agreement with non-Jews. The difference is it would not be an exclusively Jewish state. It could also on the same terms be described as a 'Muslim state' and, who knows? a 'Christian state'. I disagree with the 'secularist' ideology of the mainstream one-state movement and believe it is important that the state should allow for the religious identity of its citizens. I follow what I would see as the 'British' model here rather than the French. In Britain, religious tolerance developed through compromises that had to be made between rival powerful religious movements (most obviously the Established Church and the dissenters) which were not themselves committed to an ideal of tolerance or compromise; there was no substantial secularist movement as such. In France there was a conflict between a single very powerful church and the forces of secularist republicanism. State recognition of religion has the advantage of giving the state some leverage in religious affairs. In the United States it could be argued that the eccentric variant of Christianity which has come to the fore with President Bush evolved precisely because the state was secularist and had abdicated its responsibilities in matters of religion.

But a one state solution, especially if it is combined, as it must be, with recognition of a right of return for Palestinian refugees, means rule by a government in which, sooner rather than later, the Palestinians will be a majority. And though the great grievance of exclusion from their own national territory will have been addressed, a multitude of grievances stemming from the Jewish takeover of Palestinian land will remain. In the atmosphere of mutual hatred generated by the present Israeli policies it is difficult to envisage. For the moment let us say that before we reach this stage the atmosphere will have to be changed utterly. Unlike other one state advocates I think it will require a period of transition in which a Jewish government continues to exercise control at the expense of Palestinian political rights, but increasingly assumes responsibility for the social welfare of all the people living in the territory of a greater Israel that includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In other words the Zionists do what they want to do - take the whole area - but they take it with the people living there and with the responsibilities that implies. That this would be a natural development is rather implied by the lengths Ariel Sharon is going to to try to avoid it and to keep the two peoples separate.

Of course from the Jewish point of view this perspective is risky. But the alternative is a literally endless brutal suppression of the Palestinians and I do not believe - and I don't believe Sharon believes (this is his dilemma) - the Israelis as a people have it in them. We might make more headway however if One-State advocates stopped presenting their case as the most militantly anti-Zionist option - the destruction of the Jewish national identity - and instead argued for it as a fulfilment of what is best in the Zionist idea: the establishment of a just nation living in security in the land of its fathers.


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