A Mistake of Prof Neumann
by Israel Shamir

12 October 2003

My good friend Prof Michael Neumann, author of the witty essay on
antisemitism, and a friend of Palestine, wrote a piece[1] calling for
creation of two states in Palestine with a view of their unification in a
somewhat distant future. He embraced the mainstream thinking of the Jewish
Left, for these good people usually call for exactly that. Nobody minds a
declaration in support of One State, if it is well postponed, especially if
it is linked to an implausible event of total Israeli withdrawal from the
occupied territories. Prof Neumann stresses he is led by his compassion to
the Palestinians who suffer under occupation, not by a usual Jewish strategy
of dragging feet when it comes to paying (We Israelis are aware of this
habit of our brethren as in our country a person who pays on time is
considered a sucker).

Neumann writes: 'the Palestinians may well have a right to a single state,
perhaps even to a state in which they are de facto sovereign. But there's a
catch. Lots of people have lots of rights to lots of things. But these
rights do not translate easily into strategies. They must be balanced
against other rights as well as other moral and practical considerations'.
Neumann agrees that justice is on the Palestinians' side, as well as moral
high ground. He comes to his less-than-revolutionary conclusions due to
'practical considerations'. Let us do the same, and leave morals for some
other time.


Our work is to translate Palestinian rights into strategies, in Neumann's
words. But a strategy for what? There is no strategy that would allow us to
win over Israeli elites, bar strategy of surrender. Our friend Haim Baram
wrote recently[2] in Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha-Ir that they won't yield as
long as they have the American support. But the American elites are partly
Jewish, partly convinced that the Jews hold the key to power in the US. Can
we find a strategy to win them over?

The US Jews can't be persuaded to change their mind. View the results of a
recent national Jewish public opinion survey in the US[3]:
-         Eighty-six percent of American Jews feel close to Israel;
eighty-five percent of American Jews supports Israel in the ongoing
conflict, and one percent supports the Palestinians.
The survey proves that our wonderful Jewish friends of Palestine in the US
represent roughly one per cent of the US Jews, or in plain words represent
nothing. Some of them are crypto-Zionists providing alibi for the Jews and
bringing disarray into our lines. Some of them are good and sincere people,
great fighters for the cause of equality, like Jeff Blankfort or Ronald
Bleier and many others. All of them are removed from positions of power and
are rightly disregarded by power-seeking American elites as representing no
one but goodness of their hearts.

The survey indicates we should stop dallying for Jewish support and look for
a strategy to win over the American - and the world - non-Jewish public
opinion. We have a winning strategy in our fight for the world public
opinion, and it is anti-racist paradigm of equality in Palestine, 'one-state
' for short. There is no valid non-racist defence against this strategy.

If it is not sufficiently inspiring for egotistic Americans, we may point
out the unjust nature of the excessive Jewish power in the US. It is not
only universities and media, where the top positions are taken by Jews while
discriminating members of all other US communities. It is general misbalance
of income, as well.

A new national study[4] by Lisa Keister, an associate professor of sociology
at Ohio State University, says that an average Jew has three times more
wealth than the much-maligned WASP, and six times more wealth than a
despised Redneck. Just one percent of the Jews remain poor, says Keister.

Thus, the picture of the US Jew as a wealthy supporter of genocide in
Palestine is not a figment of imagination but a statistically verifiable
sociological phenomenon.
Our struggle for equality of Jew and non-Jew in Palestine meshes perfectly
with the same struggle in the US. An average Jew should not be richer or
more powerful or more influential than an average non-Jew, in Palestine, the
US or Russia. This universal message fits nicely with the concept of one

Tactically speaking, 'two-states' (or even 'let us start from two-states')
approach works against urgency of our case, for it reduces our problem to
independence-seeking, and places Palestinians on the same level as Corsicans
in France and Basques in Spain. Secondly, this approach leads us into
quagmire of border negotiations, autonomy, settlers' rights, rights in
Jerusalem etc. Dear Michael, we've been to this movie already.

Just now there is a spate of articles in the mainstream press calling for
dismantling of the Jewish state. Let us mention recent article in the LA
Times and in the New York Review of Books (October 10, 2003) by Tony Judt,
'Jewish State' Has Become an Anachronism. When I made this call two years
ago, it shocked everybody, including the friends of Palestine. But now the
idea entered the mainstream discourse, and it has to be promoted. In this
situation, Michael Neumann's call for 'two states at first' has become an
anachronism as well.

[1] http://www.counterpunch.org/neumann10082003.html
[2] Kol Ha-Ir 10.10.03  or see
  http://meionline.com/newsanalysis/148.shtml - his piece in English
presenting a similar approach.
[3] 08-06-2002; US Newswire. The survey carried out July 11-21 by Stanley B.
Greenberg, Ph.D. of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research Inc. for the
American Jewish Committee, one of the largest public opinion research
projects ever carried out in the U.S. to gauge attitudes towards Israel. It
was done in conjunction with a new strategic team, focusing on how Americans
view Israel, which includes Greenberg, Democratic strategist Jennifer Laszlo
Mizrahi, and Republican pollsters Frank Luntz, Ph.D. and Neil Newhouse. The
American Jewish Committee is taking a leading role in this effort.
[4] http://www.osu.edu/researchnews/archive/relgwlth.htm


October 8, 2003

One State or Two?
A False Dilemma

Do you favor a one-state solution or a two-state solution to the
Israel/Palestine conflict? Personally, I favor both.

The one-state solution calls for a single state made up of Israel plus the
occupied territories. Since the state is conceived as democratic, it would
very likely involve a Palestinian majority. Sometimes there is talk of
giving Jews in this state certain protections; always there is talk of
acknowledging a Palestinian right of return. The proposal is said to be the
only just solution, and the only one which can eventually produce a happy,
prosperous, beautiful Palestine.

The two-state solution has several variants, some of them justly infamous.
Mine is very simple: Israel gets out of every square inch of the occupied
territories, and the Palestinians acquire complete, unqualified sovereignty
over every square inch of the West Bank and Gaza. In return, the Israelis
get the one thing they need--defensible borders. Anything else can be
negotiated later.

No doubt Israel would also want Palestinian guarantees to end terrorism, but
why? Guarantees are mere words. If Israel wants real security, it must end
the oppression of the Palestinians and permit the formation of a genuinely
independent Palestinian state--a state its rulers and virtually its entire
population would want to preserve. Since cross-border attacks would
certainly provoke an Israeli invasion, a truly sovereign Palestine and its
supporters would not allow such attacks. Palestinians would not want their
newly independent country to be destroyed.

When it comes to comparing the proposals, as always, the devil is in the
details. The most important division among proposed solutions is not between
one-state and two-state arrangements, but between those arrangements which
do and which do not take the settlements as accomplished fact. Sleazy
one-state and two-state proposals accept the settlements with a patently
insincere throwing up of hands: "gosh, there are so many settlers, so well
established--why can't we just all get along?" -- Because the settlers are
taking all the good land, dummy, not to mention the water! Anyone who thinks
the Jewish presence in the occupied territories is an accomplished fact
should look back to the expulsion of the French 'colons'--settlers--from
Algeria. Even for many Israelis, the abolition of the settlements is neither
unwelcome nor impossible. Presumably, if Israel cares for its settlers, it
would force them to depart with its armies, who after all are very practiced
in expelling people from their homes.

The solutions debate is further confused by a failure to distinguish two
considerations: (i) what is morally right given that everyone, including
Israel, behaves morally; (ii) what is morally right given how the Israelis
can reasonably be predicted to behave. The first consideration gives
priority to a single-state solution; the second to a two-state solution. I
agree that the single-state solution is ideally preferable, but I get
annoyed when it is used to play a game of moralizing one-upmanship whose
object is to see who can give the greatest lip-service to Palestinian

No doubt these rights are extensive, and derive from the illegitimacy of the
project that displaced the Palestinians. The Zionists did not come simply as
refugees or immigrants or settlers. They didn't simply seek, as immigrants
often do, some land. They wanted more than a 'homeland' in the sense that,
say, Bavaria is the homeland of the Bavarians. They intended to create a
Jewish state, a state in which Jews retained sovereignty. This implies that
Jews alone have the final say on everything, including who lives and dies,
within a certain geographical area. That the Zionist state was conceived to
be 'democratic' ignores its essential requirement--a perpetual Jewish
majority to preserve, in the facts on the ground if not in law, Jewish
political supremacy throughout its territory. This means that the other
inhabitants of the area must either submit or leave. Since no one contends
that the Palestinians had done any harm to the Jews before the Zionist
influx, it can only be regarded as an exercise in

Given the illegitimacy of the Zionist project, there is certainly a case for
a full right of return for all displaced Palestinians and all their
descendants, which might in turn require the displacement of Jews now
occupying Palestinian land. One might go beyond this to advocate the payment
of extensive compensation, not only to those Palestinians dispossessed, and
also to those not themselves dispossessed, but injured by the dispossession
of others. If these measures mean a fundamental change in the nature of the
Israeli state--if they mean an end to guaranteed Jewish sovereignty--so much
the better. So the Palestinians may well have a right to a single state,
perhaps even to a state in which they are de facto sovereign. But there's a
catch. Lots of people have lots of rights to lots of things. But these
rights do not translate easily into strategies. They must be balanced
against other rights as well as other moral and practical considerations.

The problem here does not issue from the rights of innocent Israelis. Their
rights are protected no matter what proposal is adopted: the two-state
solution greatly improves their security, and no one-state solution is
politically feasible unless it satisfies the concerns of at least Israeli
moderates. What matters instead is that the Palestinians' own right to
survival takes precedence over any right to Israeli land. At this point, the
threat to their survival is imminent. The sooner a Palestinian state is
created, the more Palestinian lives will be saved. This affects, not which
sort of state to work for, but which state to work for first.

When the survival of the Palestinians is given priority over their
territorial claims, certain facts loom large in the one-state-two-states
controversy. A one-state solution does not just mean 'abandoning apartheid',
as some claim. It means abandoning the core of Zionism, abolishing the
sovereignty of Jews over Israel. Israel, the country, might still exist, but
the Zionist project would vanish off the face of the earth. Given that
Israeli governments won't agree even to stop settlement activity--an attempt
to extend the boundaries of Jewish sovereignty--how and when, exactly, are
they expected to abandon that sovereignty altogether? How and when, exactly,
is someone going to force them to do so?

The idea of a single, secular, inclusive state may be attractive, but so is
the idea of a world in which everyone is good, all the time. The one-state
ideal is politically and even morally irrelevant because it isn't feasible
at this point. The fact that it isn't feasible because the Israelis won't
honor their moral obligations is no more alterable, and has no more bearing
on practical politics, than the fact that the Palestinians don't have a warp
drive. One is reminded of David Hume's remark that "A prisoner who has
neither money nor interest, discovers the impossibility of his escape, as
well when he considers the obstinacy of the gaoler, as the walls and bars
with which he is surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses
rather to work upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible
nature of the other." So it is for the Palestinian prisoner with his Israeli
jailers, whose inflexible nature rules out a single state.

Does this mean the single-state solution should be dismissed out of hand?
No; it simply means that solution is a very long-term project, depending on
basic shifts in the Middle East balance of power as well as, one hopes, an
eventual softening of Israeli attitudes. Meanwhile, the Palestinians face
destruction. Even if the project of a single state were imminently
practicable, it would properly take second place to securing their survival
which is, after all, one of its prerequisites.

But in fact there is no long-term conflict between the survival of the
Palestinians and the project of a single state: both require, without a
doubt, a prior two-state solution. (Norman Finkelstein prefers to speak of a
two-state 'settlement', which nicely distinguishes between a imperfect,
perhaps temporary arrangement and a final just outcome.) If the Palestinians
are to live, if they are to have a platform from which to demand a single
state, if they are to acquire the power to make their demands heard, it can
only be from the relative sanctuary of their own country. They haven't the
slightest chance of obtaining this sanctuary except in the West Bank and
Gaza. So the one-state solution absolutely requires a two-state solution. If
ever there was a false dilemma, it is any claim that the two alternatives
are mutually exclusive.

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario,
Canada. Professor Neumann's views are not to be taken as those of his
university. His book What's Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche
has just been republished by Broadview Press. He can be reached at:

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