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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

National aspirations

Avery guest-blogging for Rodger

Believe it or not, my world cup post and my two posts on the Israeli-Palestinian situation are connected in an important way.

They give little (actually, no) weight to national identification or aspirations as a legitimate source of motivations. My world cup rooting rules are explicitly anti-patriotic, and reject team loyalty from one game to the next. It all depends on single-game matchups. This seems to me to be the right attitude; whether I could sustain it in the event that Canada were playing, I'm not quite sure, but that's a question about moral motivation, not about moral rightness. (I deny, as should you, that the two are related in a simple way.)

Similarly, my first post on Israel supported the Palestinians' national aspirations on grounds that the Palestinians are living under the Occupation, not because national aspirations are in themselves worthy of respect. This approach, again, meshes with what I take to be the right motivation in each case; I argued for this in an article (pdf behind a paywall) published in the Journal of Political Philosophy last year.

But having just passed Canada Day and US Independence Day, and especially given that throughout those two long posts I said nothing about Israelis' putative right to their own national homeland, I thought I owed some explanation of my views on national aspirations.

I grew up simply assuming the rightness of the Israeli cause, broadly speaking. My mother is Israeli and traces her roots there back to the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Pretty much her whole family is still there; she left in 1966 and I was born in Canada in 1972. We were not hardcore, but I do remember, as a kid, sending my cousin little drawings of maps of Israel with her house in Haifa on the map, and the maps always included the West Bank and Gaza as though they were unproblematically part of Israel. When I went to camp in 1984 it was a camp run by Hashomer Hatzair, the Young Guard, a leftist Zionist youth group. In my high school newspaper, in 1991, I published an article called "Can Israel's position be justified?" in which I tried to justify Israel's response to the First Intifada by going through some Whiggish history of the previous century. In college I was part of the Progressive Zionist Caucus and even co-chaired the Campus Israel Coalition one year. While studying in Cairo in 1994 I got into a heated argument on the subway with one of my peers regarding whether Zionism was dead. (I was arguing the negative.) Another friend of ours got very stern and said, "there are some things you just don't talk about in public here." I was in the process of a long evolution.

I always considered myself a Zionist, though in recent years I endorsed only the weak sense--the idea that the national aspirations of the Jewish people are no less legitimate than those of other nations, and hence the State of Israel has a right to exist. Zionism in this sense does not seem to me to entail chauvinism. To the contrary, I have long thought that any defensible form of Zionism is compatible with--indeed, under the current circumstances, requires--commitment to a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the establishment of two coequal states on the land of the 1947 partition.

Eventually, I ceased to believe in the viability of the two-state solution. Part of this had to do with genuine revulsion at Israeli policy ever since the beginning of the Second Intifada. Former Prime Ministers Barak and Sharon made Israel very hard to love, even for those of us for whom love for Israel is second nature. (Half of us have gone into denial, the other half into guilt. The third half have just stopped identifying.)

But part of it was based on longer-term considerations. On the one hand, the non-contiguity of the two Palestinian territories is a concern, but may not be as serious as some people think. Part of it is water, which is already a major problem and does not seem to have much prospect of getting simpler, although maybe large-scale desalination really would be viable. Part of it is the settlers. I kind of think that they shouldn't be forced to move, that if they want to be a minority in Palestine they should be allowed to stay as a minority. Of course things would change around them; but no state, including Palestine, has a right to be ethnically pure. (Indeed, one often hears a parallel drawn between Israel and apartheid South Africa; without commenting on the analogy, I would just observe that, once free, South Africa did not evict all the white people, and would have been wrong to try.) Nor do the settlers have a right to live under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government if they are residents of another state. Finally, part of it is Jerusalem. If Jerusalem has to be under shared sovereignty, then clearly shared sovereignty is possible; so there's no need to pretend that exclusivity is a necessary condition.

But for the most part it's the demographics that do it for me, and the fact that the demographics threaten to undermine Zionism anyway. The so-called "demographic time bomb" that Israel faces is that given birth rates, Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis within a generation. But it is even possible that within several generations Israel proper will have more Palestinians than Jews--especially if Palestinian refugees return to their ancestral homes after a permanent peace deal. At that time, Israel will face a dilemma. It must either adopt a written constitution that gives special status to Jews--the Fiji option--or accept that the Jews no longer have a state in the sense that Zionism intended--the "liberal utopia". The liberal utopia obviously means the end of Zionism, even in the weak sense. What of the Fiji option? Even though Joseph Carens' book convinced me that this might be justifiable, it is not much better. For under the Fiji option, Israel would be a state where Jews were a specially protected minority. Again, the exact situation from which Jews hoped Zionism would deliver them.

At any rate, the demography is going to force Israelis to start thinking existentially about the nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Given that they're thinking existentially anyway, here's a solution they should consider.(Please take what follows as a thought-in-progress. Note that in its general outlines it's not original with me.)

I think the best bet is a confederation covering all the land partitioned in 1947. Some of the provinces might be explicitly religious or ethnic in orientation, whether Muslim, Palestinian, Jewish, Mizrahi, etc.; some would be undifferentiated. The national government would be constitutionally committed to the principle that the state has two coequal founding peoples, but at the same time would permit special treatment, within bounds, in particular provinces. How to arrange this specifically is not simple. But it could avoid many of the problems raised earlier--water would be a domestic concern rather than an international one; demographic shifts over the generations would not force a choice between democracy and a Jewish national homeland; Jewish settlers would not have to be removed from settlements and the settlements would not have to be destroyed; Jews would not need to fear a Palestinian right of return. On the other side, Palestinians would be equal participants in a state on their own territory. They would give up no more, and perhaps less, than they propose to give up under a two-state solution.

At any rate, if you don't get bogged down in the identity politics--the fact that, under this proposal, there would not be a unitary state of Israel controlled exclusively by Jews, or of Palestine controlled exclusively by Palestinians--this solution seems to me to respect and uphold the national aspirations of the Jewish people and so to be Zionist in that sense.

Does this mean that I really think national aspirations are okay? Would I have rooted for Israel in the World Cup? It should now be clear where the two issues differ. I don't endorse national aspirations, but unlike "liberal utopians," I don't want to pretend that they'll just go away if you wish hard enough. And the fact that a just solution accommodates national aspirations that aren't about to go away--for instance, by giving people someone to cheer for at the World Cup--is not in itself a reason to reject that solution.

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