Jewish Journal


So Now We Have to Talk about Ian Lustick’s One State Delusion…

by Shmuel Rosner

September 16, 2013 | 8:14 am

Jordanian demonstrators burn Israeli flags with
Palestinian refugees to mark Nakba Day outside
the UN office in Amman, May 15, 2013.
Photo by Reuters/Muhammad Hamed.

My editors tell me that a lot of people are talking about the Ian Lustick article in the New York Times, and that a response is due. So I am responding, reluctantly – feeling that, yet again, I’m dragged into writing about something that carries little weight. Yes, it is making headlines, and it is making people talk, based solely on the fact that a widely read and respectable publication has decided to print it. And yes, taking part in such conversations is my duty. Still, it is somewhat annoying to have to write about articles such as the famous 'Pink Wash' article from not so long ago, or the one by Lustick – articles that gain traction by making a controversial proposition.

Lustick says a few things:

  1. That the two state solution is dead. He doesn’t quite explain why – but this is hardly a preposterous claim, nor a novel one. Besides, it being dead isn’t the issue: the alternative – or lack thereof – is the issue. Lustick pretends to have an alternative, but is proposing something much worse than the allegedly deceased two state solution.
  2. That “the changes required to achieve the vision of robust Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side are now considerably less likely than other less familiar but more plausible outcomes”. That’s debatable. As a very wise friend suggested to me this morning, Lustick compares different possible outcomes for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without taking into account the fact that some of of the outcomes are desirable for the parties involved and some aren’t. He doesn’t differentiate between the solutions people might try to reach and the solutions they will reject.
  3. The more likely scenario that would end the conflict is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state and having one state for Israelis and Palestinians. Lustick doesn’t only assume that this is a “more likely” scenario, he also seems to desire it. The idea of two states – but by extension also the idea of a Jewish state in the land of Israel – is “outdated”, so he believes. Again, this is conflating analysis with polemics. Buying Lustick’s reasoning is contingent on one's thinking that Jewish Zionism is “outdated”. If most Israelis don’t believe it’s outdated, they’d prefer solutions different from the one Lustick prescribes for them. They’d prefer them and would try to make them viable – which makes Lustick’s calculations invalid.

As he goes on this journey of making the case for one state, Lustick says some things that are obvious (there is a problem with the peace process), and some that are ridiculous (we will get to them later, because they are truly amazingly absurd). He also says things that hurt his own case, such as: “The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of “If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!”

That Israel was never guaranteed permanence is not some hidden truth that we were waiting for Lustick to unearth. It is really the core call for action with which many Israelis wake up every morning. Whenever we think about Israel, about the future of our children in this region, about political debates, about wars, about enemies – the fear of ultimate elimination is in the back of our minds. It is a scary thought, and at times a thought that can be almost paralyzing. It is also the greatest motivator for us to be better, to be smarter, to be stronger, to excel. It is a sensation that undermines Lustick’s analysis since this great – and very Jewish – fear of abolition would make us go to great length in trying to resist such a fate. Lustick wants a one state solution in his quest to 'avoid truly catastrophic change'. Alas, for most of us, ending Israel as a Jewish state is catastrophic. And if Israelis have to fight against such proposition they will fight the way people do when they battle catastrophic propositions.

That’s the basic problem with Lustick’s idea: he makes it seem like no more than painful yet manageable adjustments to new realities. And I’m sure for him it is. Not for us though. His recipe is one that won't lead to peace and stability but rather to war, bloodshed, and constant instability. Israelis and Palestinians have given us enough proof that they can fight with one another. Separating them isn’t easy, but it makes sense. Asking them to suddenly become partners sharing one state that both did not desire, one in which they will battle for political supremacy, is prescribing inevitable violence and terror for both sides.

I’m not sure why Lustick can’t see that, but his article suspiciously uses more than one manipulation in his attempt to make his unconvincing case seem inevitable. “Consider how quickly the Soviet, Pahlavi Iranian, apartheid South African, Baathist Iraqi and Yugoslavian states unraveled”, he writes. So let's consider his examples.

The Soviet empire was not one state, and the fact that it unraveled proves the opposite of what Lustick wants to prove: that people are better off living within coherent national communities.

Pahlavi Iran has no relevance to Israel’s case. A totalitarian regime was toppled by the people and replaced by another regime. Israel is democratic, and Palestinians can’t topple the Israeli government and replace it with something else because they don’t have the power to do that.

Baathist Iraq (I’ll soon get to South Africa, the most common example used by Israel bashers) is also a bad example. It was destroyed by an American invasion that I don’t think is likely in Israel’s case, and its successor is yet another piece of proof that incoherent societies with troubling histories find it hard to coexist.

Yugoslavia? Again, the ultimate proof that people like to live with their brethren, and not as part of a conglomerate of many nationalities.

So all those examples with which he demonstrates how Israel could go the way other countries did are not well thought through (or, worse, intellectually dishonest). As for South Africa: the attempt to isolate Israel is somewhat similar to the campaign to isolate South Africa. The situation on the ground is completely different for too many reasons to count. One notable difference: In South Africa the whites were a minority, in Israel, even with the Palestinian territories counted, Jews are still a majority. So the situation of a minority ruling a majority – and the moral claim associated with it – just doesn’t exist here (surely, there are other moral claims to be made against the occupation, but these are different and the conclusions derived from them must also be different).

That Lustick might not see all these differences might not be surprising, considering the fact that he seems to know very little about Israel. In fact, the parts of his article which are the easiest to dismiss are those in which he demonstrates his total lack of familiarity with Israeli society. Take a look at these sentences, in which Lustick’s vision of the new Israel unfolds: “[S]ecular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists”. Now read it again. Does it make any sense?

Lustick builds his dream on “Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists" allying with "secular Palestinians”. But do such post-Zionists truly exist? According to the Guttman report on the beliefs and values of Israeli Jews, 84% of Jewish Israelis define themselves as “Zionist”. According to another study “92.6% agreed in 2011 that it is justified that Israel maintains a Jewish majority”. So the dream would have to be built on the mere few percent of Tel Avivians, Haredis, or whatever, who don’t subscribe to Zionism and don’t want Israel to be a Jewish state. Lustick thinks that the “anti-Nationalist ultra-Orthodox” group could be of assistance to this project – but that’s another non-existent (well, barely existent) sector. Haredis are becoming more Zionist (62% of Heredis are “Zionist” according to an IDI study), and they are the Israelis that hold the most “critical and negative attitudes” toward Arab Palestinians (see Sammy Smooha’s studies). Russian-speaking immigrants, Jewish or not, have similar attitudes. So there goes the imagined alliance down the drain.  

“It remains possible that someday two real states may arise”, Lustick writes, quite strangely, towards the end of his piece. He also writes that “such outcomes develop organically; they are not implemented by diplomats overnight and they do not arise without the painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side”. I’m not sure why such a truism – a dismissal of diplomatic intervention – is valid in the case of the “two state solution” but invalid when discussing other scenarios. We know they’re invalid since Lustick doesn’t merely suggest leaving the parties to their own fates. No, he wants intervention, but only after things deteriorate, Israel is condemned, the world is outraged, and isolation makes the Jewish state disappear. He wants inorganic intervention at a later stage, when it’s time for the world to get rid of the Zionist project.

Should we be worried about Lustick wanting us to disappear? We are indeed worried about all those who want us to disappear. Worried, and battle scarred. Paraphrasing his opening sentence though, one can find consolation in the fact that “the last three decades are littered not just with the carcasses” of failed negotiation projects, but are also littered with the carcasses of articles pretending to have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on Israel ceasing to be a Jewish state.

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