Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism at the City University of New York, has caused a stir in the past week with articles and interviews in which he says he has given up on the project of a Jewish state in Israel. He still likes the idea of a Jewish “homeland.” What clearly drives his position is the collapse of the two-state solution around the year 2000. By now it is clear that there cannot be a Palestinian state, what with 650,000 Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank (if you count the parts of it that Israel annexed and made part of its district of Jerusalem). Not only that, but the rise of an Israeli illiberalism inside Israel proper that is determined to make the over 20% of the population that is not Jewish permanent second-class citizens underlines for him that Jewish power as now configured as a zero-sum game. Jews have rights, citizenship, and sovereignty inside Israel; non-Jews have no sovereignty even though they are Israeli citizens, and their rights are fewer.
Beinart points out that a widespread sentiment exists in Israel for simply expelling the Palestinians. He doesn’t put it this way explicitly, but mass expulsions of other ethnicities in search of purity has a very smelly history, and there is a danger of Israel and Zionism going down that road.
Beinart’s brave articles have provoked a storm of controversy among liberal Zionists who still cling, irrationally, to the hope for a two-state solution, and who are remarkably patient with the conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live in the meantime.
But as I read Beinart, his position isn’t really about the Jewish state in and of itself. It is about the lack of a state for Palestinians. That is, if a Jewish state forever forestalls basic human rights for Palestinians, then it cannot possibly be a good thing. He cites Asher Ginzberg, Ahad ha’Amm, who rejected political Zionism in favor of what he saw as a spiritual Zionism and who was a severe critic of Theodore Herzl.
Although Peter and I no doubt would disagree on many things, I’d like to support his central insight by reprinting below some excerpts from my Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture for the Jerusalem Fund, in which I argue that the central problem in Israel-Palestine is Palestinian statelessness, and that it is an intractable problem that cannot be resolved except by some form of one-state solution.
There are many models for a binational state. Belgium is one. Political scientists think that states dominated by a single ethnicity are more stable. But they have a weird idea of stability. Was Milosevic’s Serbia stable? Is today’s Poland stable? Belgium is paradise compared to either one.
I want to make an argument about the character of the Palestine issue. I’m not going to argue that it’s a unique problem but I am going to argue that it’s almost unique in contemporary affairs, and that there are some aspects of it that explain why it is so seemingly intractable. I’m going to start with an increasingly important field of study, citizenship studies. There are journals now devoted to it; it’s become a big thing in academia. My colleague at the University of Michigan, Margaret Somers, wrote an important book on citizenship not so long ago. And as she points out, Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 wrote: “Citizenship is man’s basic right, for it is nothing less than the right to have rights. Remove this priceless possession and there remains a stateless person disgraced and degraded in the eyes of his countrymen.” So Warren is drawing here implicitly on the work of Hannah Arendt but this is the key point that I want to make today. Citizenship is the right to have rights. People who lack citizenship in a state ipso facto have no right to have rights ….
If we came to the Palestinians, their situation of citizenship is obviously deformed. There’s no state. They’re lacking an entire section of the column. And then their market is not very robust and of course in Gaza there is no market to speak of, the Israelis have Gaza under siege. There’s no airport, there’s no harbor, and the Israelis don’t permit the Palestinians in Gaza to export most of what they make, some strawberries, off of which the Israelis take a cut. But mostly the export market doesn’t exist in Gaza. So the market and the separation wall and the politics of the neighboring states are such that the Palestinians don’t have a strong relationship to the market, they don’t have a state at all, there are a lot of NGOS, and so for the Palestinians, the NGO sector is the one place where there’s a little glimmer maybe of some citizenship. But that’s weird. And that’s unexampled in the world. There’s no other group of people that look like that. In the world, right now…
Let me stop at this juncture and consider some possible twists or objections on this theory of citizenship that many people have said to me, well there are lots of people in the world who don’t have proper rights – so for instance undocumented immigrants. Well, undocumented immigrants don’t have rights of citizenship in the country where they are because they’re undocumented, haven’t gotten there legally. But they still do have citizenship. And the United States deports 400,000 of them a year back to their countries of origin, where they are citizens. When Palestinians are deported from the West Bank by the Israelis, where are they deported to? Gaza or Jordan, Cyprus? Not to their country. They’re not really being deported in the technical sense of going back to your country of origin, right? They’re being expelled to other places. They’re still stateless. So the situation of the Palestinians is not like that of undocumented workers because they’re stateless and undocumented workers mostly are not stateless but they just don’t have citizenship in the place where they’re working.
Then people say, well what about the Basques and the Kurds and the Catalans? They have the citizenship they have. Well I agree that that’s a little bit unfortunate not to have the citizenship that you want, but it’s different from not having any at all. So the Turkish Kurds may suffer some disabilities from being Kurdish in Turkey but they still are Turkish citizens. They vote. In fact, they’re influential in the elections and they have the ability to work and so forth. So that’s different, an aspiration for separatism is a different situation than statelessness. It’s not the same thing…
Statelessness means the complete lack of citizenship in a recognized state. It means you don’t have a passport; you have a laissez-passé. That means a lot of countries won’t accept the laissez-passé. It means you can’t travel freely, you don’t have constitutional protections, you often can’t get a work permit, your property is not secure because people can take it away from you and you don’t have access to national courts that could adjudicate those disputes. It’s different…
The problem of stateless-ness in the early twentieth century was severe. Nations as a matter of course used statelessness as a ruthless political tool. And so when the White Russians lost the Rebellion against the new Soviet regime, the Soviets took away their citizenship in the millions. The Armenians were deprived of citizenship. The Hungarians were deprived of citizenship. The Spaniards on the Left who fought Franco, when they lost, they often were denaturalized. They were half a million Spanish without citizenship, I think Picasso was one of them and the French gave him citizenship. So of course it was a policy of the Nazis when they came to power to start depriving people of citizenship. We tend to forget this now that millions of Europeans in the 1930s were deprived of their citizenship, they were denaturalized, they were left without the right to have rights.
Hannah Arendt points out that with regard to the Nazis this policy of denaturalizing people, or leaving them without citizenship rights, was a demonstration project. That is to say the Nazis began by thinking that Gypsies and Jews and other groups are flotsam and the scum of the earth and a kind of infection in the body politic, and by taking away their citizenship, they demonstrated that they’re scum. So Goebbels said that depriving the Jews of citizenship made the Jews the scum of the earth and he said, you know, let’s see – everybody’s criticizing us how we treat our Jews, but will they take them? Does America want them? Does Britain want them? And of course they didn’t once they were stateless. So by marking them as non-German as taking away German Jews’ citizenship, the Nazis were then demonstrating the wothlessness of their Jews….
So after World War II, this problem of the inter-war period of millions of stateless was resolved. And the bias in international law was against people being denaturalized against statelessness. And so statelessness became rare. Out of seven billion human beings today, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights estimates perhaps twelve million are stateless…
So when you’re stateless, you don’t have the right to have rights. So everything is unstable. It’s a little bit like being a child of an alcoholic abusive family. They suffer from everything always being interrupted. You never know what’s going to happen, you can’t make plans, let’s go for a picnic today but then the picnic doesn’t happen because the parent got drunk. Well, if you’re stateless you don’t really know what’s going to happen to you. Your property is unstable, your rights are unstable. Even if you were stateless and you get citizenship, your citizenship is unstable. So Jordan gave citizenship to the West Bank Palestinians at one point and then because of the Rabat Accords after Israel conquered it, they took the Jordanian citizenship back away. They just denaturalized about 30 or 40 thousand Palestinians from Gaza in Jordan.
So if you were stateless, the stigma of statelessness seems to attach to you even if you get citizenship and then that is unstable and can be taken back away. Then you never know when you’ll be refugees again. Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, were not granted Egyptian citizenship, were ruled by Egypt 1949 to 1967. And then directly ruled by Israel from 1967 to 2005, during which the Israelis thought it would be a good idea to try to put Israeli settlers into this densely populated resource-poor area. Since 2005, the Israelis felt like they couldn’t really protect those settlers and so took them back out, but they didn’t make any agreement with the Palestinians in Gaza about the post-withdrawal situation, leaving the Palestinians in limbo. They have no harbor, they have no airport, they had an airport, the Israelis bombed it. It’s hard to take off if there are holes in the tarmac.
To punish the Palestinians for voting for Hamas (and of course, not all the Palestinians in Gaza voted for Hamas, 50 percent of the Palestinians in Gaza are children), but to punish all of the Palestinians in Gaza for voting for Hamas, Israeli subjected them to a blockade from 2007. The Israeli Ministry of Defense actually sat down and figured out each adult person needs 2200 calories and how many trucks of food would you let in everyday to keep them svelte? Not starving to death but not with any baby fat, either. No chocolate for the children. This is creepy! This is weird. I mean, it’s repulsive! Actually one of my victories in life was that I called it “creepy” at my blog and the National Review at one point published an article trying to refute me and it quoted me as saying that the blockade is “creepy”. So I inserted that meme into the National Review, even though they were trying to wriggle out of it.
So this is a population that has been without citizenship for 61 years and apparently if you’re without citizenship, you not only don’t have a right to have rights, you don’t have a right to have chocolate, or more than 2200 calories a day. Your body becomes an experimental field for planners on the part of your enemies …
So the implications of this are that they lack control because what does a state do? It controls land, water, air. If a North Korean MiG flew over San Diego, all hell would break loose. Why? It would have penetrated the airspace of the United States of America, the federal government. The airspace is owned by the government. If an Israeli plane flies over the West Bank, eh? Not a state. If substantial water resources, river or something, were expropriated by Canada, there would be trouble because that’s America’s water, it’s owned by the federal government. But if 85 percent of the water on the West Bank is diverted to Israeli settlers, that’s alright because there is no Palestinian state. The water doesn’t belong to anybody. It’s a no-man’s land.
States control immigration. I said the United States nowadays deports 400,000 people a year for coming here without proper procedures or documentation. It was a million a year not so long ago. It’s really a vast bureaucracy. But the Palestinians would deport somebody, how? There are lots of undocumented people [settlers] on the West Bank, but their state is behind them.
Aquifer rights are interfered with. The Israeli settlers can dig their tube wells deeper than the Palestinians and cause the aquifer to fall and so the old wells of the Palestinian villages dry up. The Israelis have set up a vast network of checkpoints, of special highways in which Palestinians can’t drive. They’ve made it difficult to get from one part of Palestine to the other. There must be a whole class of post-modern novelists [who] should write about the class of Palestinians born at checkpoints because their mom couldn’t get through in time to the hospital. So there’s difficulty of travel, lack of speedy hospital access, of course there aren’t proper medical facilities for many diseases in Gaza and Palestinians in Gaza have to apply to the Israeli government to get permission to get out of the Gaza strip for treatment. And in a few cases the permission hasn’t quite come in time. They’re stateless, they have no right to have rights; they have no right to have medical care.
So Palestinians rate low on citizenship state. One of the ripostes to my argument sometimes, well there’s the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians have a state, it’s just not a very good one. Well the Palestine Authority doesn’t look like a proper state in most regards; it doesn’t have control of the things that a state controls. So Palestinians rate low on citizenship in a state, they rate low on access to or incorporation into a market. There is some civil society although that’s circumscribed by the Palestine Authority and by the Israelis.
Well what is the end game here? What is the solution? I’m arguing that it’s unacceptable in international law, in international diplomacy to have four and a half million people permanently kept in a status of statelessness, which is to say kept in a status where they have no right to have rights, taken off the human rights table, altogether. It’s unacceptable for that to continue. So when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel comes out and says, it’s not the time yet to establish a Palestinian state, that needs to be translated. What does it say? It’s saying Palestinians must remain stateless for the time being. They must remain without rights for the time being. Well that’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable for any group of people to be deprived of basic human rights. I think, not so much in the United States, but in the world at large this problem is coming to the fore and people are beginning to mobilize. So you begin to see entire governments like the government of Ireland, the government of Norway, beginning to highlight this issue. There are moves among some European countries to raise the status of the Palestinian representation in the country to that of full embassy status. What does that do? It recognizes a Palestinian state, it’s one more step towards recognizing the Palestinians as having citizenship.
There are increasingly boycotts of, especially of West Bank Israeli enterprises that are making money off the exploitation of the statelessness of the Palestinians and I expect those boycotts to grow. Israel does 50 percent of its foreign trade with Europe and the Israeli economy is actually quite fragile and very dependent on international trade, and international technology transferring. If the European countries have a meeting on technology, they invite the Israelis. That gradually could end if the Israelis go on like this as people become more and more aware; the Israelis are actively depriving so many people of citizenship rights.
I know some of you may feel strongly about the need for a two-state solution, the need for a Palestinian state of the West Bank and Gaza. But frankly, I think the time has probably already passed when that’s plausible. There are so many settlers in the West Bank, it looks like Swiss cheese and it’s not gonna happen. And then what’s left is probably long-term Apartheid, which, however, is not stable. I don’t think that the world will put up with Apartheid forever. So there will be increasing boycotts, increasing pressure, increasing economic problems. Ultimately it seems to me very likely that you end up with a single state. I’m not arguing for it, I’m not saying it’s desirable, I’m not saying it’s the best outcome but I think somebody has to give citizenship to the Palestinians. Increasingly, the only one that could plausibly do that is the Israelis and the Israelis increasingly own all of Palestinian territory so they’re responsible for the people that live on that territory even though they don’t think they are. I don’t really care how this problem is solved, from my point of view, it’s all the same to me. The important thing, as you can tell is that I insist, the Palestinians must end up with the right to have rights. Thank you.
The Jerusalem Fund: “Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture with Dr. Juan Cole”