Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Paradigm Shift from “Dividing the Land” to “Political Rights Within the Land:” Changing the Frame of Discussion on Israel

In the wake of my summary of the “debate” in the New York Times last week ("Should nations recognize a Palestinian state?") it occurred to me that there is something revealing and interesting about the range of opinion represented there. It is not what we’ve been accustomed to since 1993 (the beginning of Oslo). For more than 20 years, the frame of discussion has centered on the two-state solution. But as illustrated by that Times "debate," today the two-state solution is but a faint echo of its former self in discussions about peace in Israel/Palestine. The frame of the discussion has changed from a division of the land to a focus on what are the rights of citizens within the land.

The 20-plus year hegemony of the two-state-solution was helped in no small part by the fact that it allowed advocates to avoid a hard discussion about the exact nature of the rights of minorities within the two-state paradigm. What are the rights of the Palestinian minority within the Green Line (the pre-’67 borders)? What are the rights of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in a prospective Palestinian state? What is the exact nature of the sovereignty to be exercised by a putative Palestinian state? During endless discussions of the two-state solution these issues did not have to be resolved; they could be deferred until after the two states were formed. Netanyahu could wink to his supporters and say: "Yeah, if ever!" The collapse of the Oslo peace process, and the likely demise of a two-state-solution makes it harder for Netanyahu to get away with the wink to his supporters: since it is becoming increasingly likely that there won’t be two states, it is forcing a discussion of what the one state will look like.

This is what explains the novel range of views reflected in the panel assembled by the Times. What we find there are (1) a hard-Zionist one state solution--a Jewish Greater Israel (Caroline Glick, Avital Leibovich), (2) a solution (one state or two states) that is based on universal equal rights for all citizens (Omar Bargouti and Nadia Hijab), and (3) mere echoes of a much weakened and unconvincing two state solution (found in Nathan Thrall, Efraim Halevy, and Richard Ottoway). All of a sudden, the two-state solution is no longer center stage.

Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss refers to the hard-Zionist position articulated by Caroline Glick as a “wing-nut” position. But it strikes me this misses the point. Caroline Glick’s presence on this panel is not due to the Times giving a prominent platform to a “wing-nut” position; her presence on the panel is evidence of the fact that the hard-Zionist position (the nationalist settler position) has taken center stage in the discussion.

This reframing of the issue caused by the collapse of Oslo and the loss of credibility of a two-state-solution suddenly brings into very clear focus of what’s at stake. As long as the hard-Zionist position was allowed to remain mostly hidden and unarticulated under cover of the two-state solution, the policy choice was less stark. But the collapse of the two-state solution is forcing this position into the open. When clearly articulated like this, and offered as a mainstream position, the nationalist settler position gives one pause because it is not very attractive nor defensible in the court of world opinion. Suddenly it’s crystal clear what’s at stake. Once the hard-Zionist position takes center stage in the framing of the issue, the argument for universal equal rights for all citizens suddenly takes on importance and stature; a vaguely articulated two-state-solution suddenly seems like an unsatisfactory non-solution.

What’s missing from the panel in the Times “debate” is a clearly articulated intermediate position between Glick and Bargouti that has a hope of preserving some form of the Jewish state. Such positions exist. One possibility is the Hebrew Republic advocated by Bernard Avishai. What’s clear, however, is that the re-framing of the discussion in a post-Oslo Caroline Glick world means Liberal Zionists will no longer be able to hide behind a vague concept of an inarticulate two-state solution that allows Netanyahu to play along and wink to his settler supporters. Liberal Zionists will have to articulate and defend their concept of a Jewish state, and what rights and protections it will afford to non-Jews with a population that is 75% Jewish (at present within the green line), 60% Jewish if we include the West Bank, and less than 50% Jewish if we include all of greater Israel. And they will have to defend that vision against an invigorated narrative based on equal rights for all citizens regardless of ethnicity.

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