The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans — to include many American Jews — Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.
Let me explain how I reached these conclusions.
Given present circumstances there are four possible futures for Palestine.
The outcome that gets the most attention these days is the two-state solution, which was described in broad outline by President Clinton in late December 2000. It would obviously involve creating a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. To be viable, that Palestine state would have to control 95 percent or more of the West Bank and all of Gaza. There would also have to be territorial swaps to compensate the Palestinians for those small pieces of West Bank territory that Israel got to keep in the final agreement. East Jerusalem would be the capital of the new Palestinian state. The Clinton Parameters envisioned certain restrictions on the new state’s military capabilities, but it would control the water beneath it, the air space above it, and its own borders — to include the Jordan River Valley.
There are three possible alternatives to a two-state solution, all of which involve creating a Greater Israel — an Israel that effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza.
In the first scenario, Greater Israel would become a democratic bi-national state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights. This solution has been suggested by a handful of Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. However, it would mean abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, since the Palestinians would eventually outnumber the Jews in Greater Israel.
Second, Israel could expel most of the Palestinians from Greater Israel, thereby preserving its Jewish character through an overt act of ethnic cleansing. This is what happened in 1948 when the Zionists drove roughly 700,000 Palestinians out of the territory that became the new state of Israel, and then prevented them from returning to their homes. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. The scale of the expulsion, however, would have to be even greater this time, because there are about 5.5 million Palestinians living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
The final alternative to a two-state solution is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians to exercise limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.
It seems clear to me that the two-state solution is the best of these alternative futures. This is not to say that it is an ideal solution, because it is not; but it is by far the best outcome for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the United States. That is why the Obama administration is intensely committed to pushing it.
Nevertheless, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state any time soon. They are instead going to end up living in an apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews.
The main reason that a two-state solution is no longer a serious option is that most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state, and there is little reason to expect them to have an epiphany on this issue. For starters, there are now about 480,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories and a huge infrastructure of connector and bypass roads, not to mention settlements. Much of that infrastructure and large numbers of those settlers would have to be removed to create a Palestinian state. Many of those settlers, however, would fiercely resist any attempt to roll back the settlement enterprise. Earlier this month, Ha’aretz reported that a Hebrew University poll found that 21 percent of the settlers believe that “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.” In addition, the study found that 54 percent of those 480,000 settlers “do not recognize the government’s authority to evacuate settlements”; and even if there was a referendum sanctioning a withdrawal, 36 percent of the settlers said they would not accept it.
It makes for a depressingly convincing read. The Palestinians remain too divided to deliver much in the time period necessary (soon); the Israeli government, whatever it says, is obviously committed to controlling all of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem indefinitely; the US Congress does what AIPAC tells it to and will prevent any aid or loan guarantee pressure on Israel; a huge Christianist Zionist population in America wants Greater Israel almost as much as the settlers themselves (see: Palin, S. and Scheuneman, R.); liberal American Jews have finessed the anguished position of being against settlements but against any serious attempt to stop them; and by now, the settlements themselves are so entrenched it might take something close to an Israeli civil war or mutiny in the IDF to remove them.
This is where he loses me. I suspect he is being far too sanguine about the possibilities of a mature, non-violent Palestinian movement that uses its democratic majority for fruitful and non-violent and non-anti-Semitic ends. But I also suspect that his analysis of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel lobby in Washington is accurate: Israel will gladly sleepwalk into international pariahdom (which will only confirm its rectitude for Podhoretz et al.), become a prison for a majority of its population, lose its soul in the brutality such a state would necessitate and see large flights of secular Jews from its population and an increase in religious fanaticism among those who remain.
One wonders if it isn’t already too late to prevent this. But those who want Israel to survive and prosper as a Jewish state must surely hope so. I suspect that the only major political “ism” of the nineteenth century to survive intact in the twenty-first is in grave danger of dying.
Jonathan Chait at TNR:
Mearsheimer helpfully cited his list of “righteous Jews,” including the likes of anti-Zionists like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, and Naomi Klein. The “new Afrikaners,” by contrast, includes the heads of most major Jewish-American organizations. (“It would be easy to add more names to this list,” Mearsheimer adds. No doubt.)
Imagine a conservative were to divide the African-American community into the enlightened blacks (Clarence Thomas, Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele, Walter Williams, etc.) who reject paternalistic liberalism, and also happen to represent a tiny fringe within the community, and the bad blacks, who represent the mainstream African-American perspective. Most conservative elites would find this sort of thing embarrassing. Since Mearsheimer, along with Stephen Walt, published “The Israel Lobby,” many liberals made a concerted effort to inject their ideas into the mainstream. The more sensible response is to have a sane debate about the role of the Israel lobby, while acknowledging that Walt and Mearsheimer’s beliefs about Jews and the Middle East are simply kooky.
In the middle of an otherwise forgettable death-to-Israel speech in Washington last week, the more talented half of the Mearsheimer-Walt Judeophobic combine placed on display, once again, his compulsive need to make lists of Jews. This time, Mr. Mearsheimer (a suspiciously Jewish-sounding name, though I’m told he’s German-American) lists those Jews he considers “righteous,” meaning that they seek the destruction of the Jewish state:
To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
A couple of quibbles, first: I don’t think Roger Cohen, of The New York Times, belongs on this list. He is not a death-to Israel sort. I wish he were as sympathetic to his own people as he is to the Poles, but his lack of sympathy for Jews doesn’t make him an obliterationist. Also, I don’t think Judge Goldstone falls into this category, and nor do the good people at J Street. The others, though, are part of a tiny minority of Jews who believe that the destruction of Israel will bring them the approval of non-Jews, which they crave. Mearsheimer, in this speech, goes on to label the country’s American Jewish leadership “new Afrikaners.”
In my view Mearsheimer misses at least two of the most obvious and plausible scenarios for the medium-term, in a manner that suggests he doesn’t really understand the conflict in a very complex way (actually, that’s kind of obvious). The first is the prospect of continued occupation or, as he would put it, the emergence of a fully-fledged apartheid state, resulting in an ever-escalating series of violent conflicts increasingly characterized by religious fanaticism. Indeed, he discusses the rise of religious fanaticism among Israelis as part of his evidence for why Jewish Americans will abandon Israel in the future, but leaves out the rise of Muslim extremism among Palestinians. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand and have created the most potent and dangerous alternative scenario to peace, but he doesn’t seem to be aware of this powerful dynamic, although he vaguely cautions against violence. At present, the Palestinian debate really is between secularists who want a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Israel, and Islamists who want an Islamic state in either all or part of Palestine. There is a similar debate in Israel, which he acknowledges, but he doesn’t seem to understand the synergy between the two and the outcome it could very well produce if the peaceful alternative is not realized.
It’s possible, I suppose, that for whatever reason Hamas will simply go away or become irrelevant, but it seems most likely to me that if the effort led by the PLO to achieve a negotiated agreement with Israel should fail in the manner he describes, then Islamists led by Hamas will in fact be the primary beneficiaries, along with, of course, the extreme right wing Israeli settlers. The two will then be poised to lead their societies in a mutually suicidal religious war over God’s will and holy places. It may be true that such a scenario leaves liberal and secular Palestinians nowhere else to turn except to a one-state civil rights movement, but it seems to me this ignores the possibility of the mainstream of the Palestinian cause becoming an Islamist movement or becoming dominated by Islamists or being subsumed in a broader regional Islamist discourse and agenda. Anyone who doesn’t see this possibility is not seriously looking at the existing set of social and political forces at play at the present time, and is not presenting an analysis that should be taken particularly seriously. It pains me to say that on so many levels, but it has to be said.
The second scenario that Mearsheimer ignores or has failed to consider is the real Israeli “nuclear” option in this conundrum, which is not, as he mistakenly thinks, widespread ethnic cleansing. I suppose that’s a possibility, but he’s right to be skeptical that it can be resorted to as a practical matter except in conditions of extreme violence. However there is something much less dramatic than that which Israel can do as a game changer in the medium- to long-term that would completely alter the strategic realities he describes, especially the tension between Palestinian demographic pressure on the one hand and Jewish attachment to some key parts of the occupied territories on the other hand. This is, of course, the imposition of unilateral borders, more or less along the lines of the West Bank separation barrier, with or without some other parts of the occupied territories. Israel is, in fact, militarily capable of creating and enforcing such a fait accompli and annexing key parts of the West Bank, not including most population centers, in addition to municipal Jerusalem (by its own definition of the term) which has already been subject to de facto annexation, and presenting the Palestinians, the Arab states and the world with a situation in which a sizable majority of the occupied territories are no longer under direct Israeli occupation and which Israel formally renounces any claims over and in which it has no troops or settlers.
The reason this is a kind of “nuclear option” that Israel would only resort to as a last-ditch effort is that it will be very difficult to enforce, would place Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt, and especially Jordan, in serious question, and consign Israel to many further decades, if not centuries, of warfare and enmity with the region and the broader Islamic world. It also begs the question of how the Israelis would deal with the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the territories it unilaterally annexes, but historically minorities of that size are, in fact, generally manageable, and the Israelis already experienced a similar problem in the aftermath of the 1948 war. Obviously such a “nuclear option” scenario carries, in the long run, similar risks to permanent occupation resulting in religious warfare, but it’s more attenuated and much more amenable to Western support and international understanding than ethnic cleansing and maybe even formalized apartheid and far more imaginable than ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians. In the long run, it might also prove a foolhardy, suicidal and self-defeating gesture, but there is certainly a space between the absolute minimum right-wing Israelis can accept as an outcome and the kind of ethnic cleansing of the entire occupied territories Mearsheimer envisages. I don’t know how he missed it, but obviously it’s a measure that falls right in between continued occupation turning into apartheid and massive ethnic cleansing.
I am very sorry to say that the social, economic, political and military forces at play are much more likely to produce the two scenarios suggested above than Mearsheimer’s somewhat fanciful and irrationally dogmatic prognostication that Israel will never accept a Palestinian state, and has no option other than apartheid which will inevitably lead to a Palestinian-dominated unified state. This scenario is not implausible, but it’s certainly more improbable than the two I mention above, which don’t factor into his analysis at all. They don’t seem to have occurred to him.
Noah Pollak at Commentary:
John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers.
I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.
Goldblog and others equate this to Father Coughlin’s rants in the 1930s. The only problem with this analogy is that Mearsheimer’s point is that the hardline neocons are misguided because they are hastening the moral and demographic collapse of Israel, rather than stopping it. So he is not criticizing American Jews for being Jewish or for supporting Israel over America (the “dual loyalty” red herring) but for being, in his view, mistaken in how they believe Israel should be saved. He is criticizing them for blind support, rather than intelligent support, and believes this blind support is actually consigning Israel to a bloody endless war that it cannot fully ever win. And he notes, for good measure, how many leading American Jews dissent from this AIPAC “Israel Is Always Right” line, and how the bulk of American Jews feel ambivalent and conflicted about all of it.
If this is the analysis of an anti-Semite, then which critic of Israel’s current trajectory isn’t one? David Bernstein, in the middle of another emotional harrumph, even concedes, to his credit, that “Mearsheimer describes the obvious solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in terms I (more or less) agree with.”
I suspect the virulence and extreme rhetoric of those criticizing Mearsheimer’s challenging and provocative address is directly related to the brutal truth of the analysis he presents. If Israel does not get out of the West Bank soon, if it does not remove every single settlement, if it does not act decisively to escape the death trap of Greater Israel, no Israel will survive as a morally defensible or democratic or Jewish state.
Far from being, as Goldblog asserts, an abandonment of foreign policy realism, Mearsheimer’s speech is a pellucid, if flawed, example of it. I suspect that’s why it wounds. The truth usually does.
Mearsheimer also neglects to note that Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert both offered this solution to the Palestinians.
With regard to Barak, Mearsheimer describes him as having “seriously flirted with the idea of creating a Palestinian state at Camp David in July 2000.” There was no flirting. He offered a Palestinian state to Arafat within the approximate parameters Mearsheimer describes above, first at Camp David and then at Taba, backed by billions of dollars in U.S. and European aid. Arafat rejected the offer, preferring the terrorist war of the Second Intifada.
As for Olmert, Mearsheimer writes that it is by “no means clear that” he “would be willing or able to make the concessions that would be necessary to create a legitimate Palestinian state. Certainly Olmert did not do so when he was prime minister.” Yet, it’s well known that Olmert was “willing.” He made Abbas an offer within, or at least very close to, Mearsheimer’s parameters. Abbas, according to Olmert never even responded. When the offer became public, Abbas’s spokesmen replied that there was not point even using Olmert’s offer as a starting point for negotiations: “The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.” Mearsheimer is either ignorant of Olmert’s offer, in which he knows even less about the Arab-Israel conflict than an amateur like me, or he is intentionally distorting the truth.
In short, Mearsheimer, ironically, has become the mirror image of the stereotypical pro-lsrael “lobbyist” he decries. One-sided, obsessed with Israel-bashing, willing to sacrifice scholarly standards and honesty to promote his political agenda, and willfully blind to the faults of the side he supports.
Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media:
As for Mearsheimer’s analysis, I second the point made by David Bernstein, who writes that “the scholarly content of the piece is a joke.” Mearsheimer writes as if it is only Israel that stands in the way of the Palestinians having their own state. There is not one word about the Palestinians’ continual rejection of every opportunity given it to have such a state, from the UN Partition resolution in November of 1947 to the last offer by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the Palestinian negotiators turned down the most magnanimous offer by Israel ever presented to them.
In fact, as David Bernstein points out, recent Israeli polls show that Palestinians — not Israelis — reject a two-state solution — 66.7 percent of Palestinians said they are against it. And the contrary is also true. Israelis overwhelmingly back a two-state solution, something never acknowledged by Mearsheimer.
So Mearsheimer argues that there will be no two-state solution because of Israel’s intransigence, leaving only one result: “an apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews.” American pressure could force it, but as we know he already believes, it cannot — because of the great power of the Israel lobby! Any American president, he writes, finds it “impossible” to “play hardball with Israel.” I guess Mearsheimer has not stopped to explain the current turn in policy against Israel by President Barack Obama, whom so many have criticized for just this misguided approach. He is correct though when he says that during the campaign, Obama responded to those who feared he might be soft on Israel by “pandering” and praising the “special relationship” between the two countries. Indeed, Obama continues to do that today — while moving ahead with a policy that gives the lie to his words.
So in effect, what John Mearsheimer predicts (or possibly hopes for) is that there will be an apartheid state, at which point the liberalism of American Jews will prevail and they will turn against Israel, putting their liberalism and values first and their concern for Israel second. Then, the great and all powerful Israel lobby will find it is ineffective, and its membership will quickly fall away. (Of course Jimmy Carter argues it already is an apartheid state; Mearsheimer differs only in that he says it soon will become one.) The so-called “Afrikaners” will then lose their influence, since American Jews will no longer listen to them.
Mearsheimer ends with what he hopes will be the outcome: “a democratic bi-national state,” the kind of solution already advocated by Tony Judt, the editors of The Nation and The New York Review of Books, and other left-liberal intellectuals. That “solution,” of course, might sound good to them, but won’t work. In effect it means a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, that will quickly move — as its leaders promise time and again — to rid the state of Jews and to treat them as the Arab states have in the past and the present — as a minority with few rights, bound to accept either subjugation or Islamic law if Hamas gains the upper hand.
At any rate, John Mearsheimer has taken off the gloves. For a while, he and Walt tried to pretend they were friends of Israel and trying to save the country from itself. Now Mearsheimer, as one writer has pointed out, sounds much like the Charles Lindbergh of America First. No wonder his writing now appears in publications like the Buchananite American Conservative and the Marxist Monthly Review. That is the appropriate venue for thinkers far outside the American mainstream.