Briefly, on the Pro-Israel Point...

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I agree with Ackerman and Yglesias that defining "pro-Israel" on the basis of belief in a particular narrative of national foundation is ridiculous and absurd. In addition to being practically nonsensical, such a metric would serve to throw a blanket on genuine historical scholarship of Zionism, the development of the Jewish population within mandate Palestine, and the early Arab-Israeli wars. Although I count myself as a patriotic American, I have few illusions about the validity or accuracy of the mythical narrative of the founding of the United States.

At the same time, I find myself pretty comfortably within the "pro-two state, pro-Israel" faction. The case against the two state solution rests, as far as I can tell, on two arguments. The first is that the creation of Israel represents a historic crime against the Palestinian people, and that this crime should be rectified. The second is that a cosmopolitan, democratic single state covering the territory of Israel/Palestine is possible, and is both ideologically and practically preferable to the division of the area into two states.

Regarding the first argument, I can only say: Meh. The founding of Israel involved brutality, theft, appropriation of land, ethnic cleansing, and murder. It also involved heroism, selflessness, generosity, hard work, and sense of historic destiny. Furthermore, the narrative that developed within Israel regarding the founding emphasizes the second set of traits at the expense of the first. These two facts distinguish Israel from approximately zero nation-states in the international system. Statebuilding and consolidation is brutal, murderous work; every major modern nation-state has bloody hands, and every modern nation-state has developed a narrative that de-emphasizes the brutality of its founding. The historic crime of Israel's founding, such that it was, is different only in that it was more recent than the crimes associated with the development of Russia, Japan, France, the United States, and so forth. The crimes serve to "delegitimate" Israel only in the sense that such crimes delegitimate the project of the modern nation-state. There's some value to that, but there's little reason to make Israel the focus of such an effort.

Regarding the second, every democracy includes groups of people who are likely to disagree with each other about how the state should be constituted. I think it's fair to say, however, that some groups of people may, as a practical matter, have views regarding the nature of the body politic that are so divergent that there is little point in including them under the same state. I think that Israelis and Palestinians represent, collectively, an example of this; the institutions of a prospective Israeli-Palestinian state seem unlikely to me to function in a very democratic or effective manner. Another way to put this is that I trust neither Israelis nor Palestinians to live in a state with the other; I trust neither to sufficiently respect the rights of the other to make democratic life enjoyable, or even possible.

And so, in this sense, I'm strongly pro-Israel. I think that the achievement of a two-state solution is both possible (although perhaps not forever) and desireable, and that both the Israelis and the Palestinians will benefit from such a separation. Moreover, within this context, I strongly support policies that increase the security and prosperity of both states. I also strongly oppose policies that make the development of two states more difficult; Israeli settlement activity is among the most important of these policies, as is the quasi-eliminationist rhetorical stance adopted by Hamas. Such a settlement would, in some sense, validate the historic crime of Israel's founding, but for me that objection carries very little weight.


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