Tony Judt knew the two-state plan was dead. In 2003.

As I caught up on the news reports and pundit pronouncements on Israel’s election this week, I realized there was one voice I was missing. True, there was very little coverage of the views of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They have a lot at stake in this election, but we don’t really hear a lot from them. But it was Tony Judt I was missing. So I went back and read some of his older articles. They are so perceptive and spot on, that they deserve to be shared here.

From The NY Review of Books (October 2003) Israel: The Alternative

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in “Greater Israel,” and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, “After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.” Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.

Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the “road map” says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen

For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go; without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel’s identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force—though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.5 A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

The Jerusalem Post while reporting his death took the opportunity to respond to the essay: So Farewell Then Tony Judt. Since Tablet seems to be the “new media” go to site for apologists of the occupation, here’s their take: Tony Judt is Aging Poorly. Both make the point that the Middle East is littered with ethno-centric states, so Israel shouldn’t be singled out for fitting into the neighborhood. That really isn’t a critique of Tony Judt (because he said the same thing. Rather it confirms his critics do not place the same value on universal human rights that he did (i.e. their view is unshakably tribal). *From a July 2010 interview in The Atlantic Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel

But what happens in small West Bank towns, in the Israeli Parliament, in Gazan schools or in Lebanese farms is invisible to the world. And Israel was always very good at presenting the argument from “self-defense” even when it was absurd. I think that Israel’s successful defiance of international law for so long has made Jerusalem blind and deaf to the seriousness with which the rest of the world takes the matter.

There is a partner. It may not be very nice and it may not be very easy. It’s called Hamas. In the same way the provisional [Irish Republican Army] was the only realistic “partner for peace” with whom London could negotiate; Nelson Mandela (a “terrorist” for the Afrikaaners until his release) was the only realistic “partner for peace”; the same was true of “that terrorist” ([according to Winston] Churchill) Gandhi; the well-known “murderous terrorist” Jomo Kenyatta with whom London fought a murderous war for five years before he became “a great statesman”; not to mention Algeria. The irony is that Washington knows this perfectly well and expects negotiations with Hamas within five years. After all, Israel virtually invented Hamas in the hope of undermining the PLO; well, they succeeded. But they are the only ones who can’t see what has to happen.

In such a state, Jews would soon be a minority. Doesn’t that frighten you?Not as much as it seems to frighten others. Why is it ok for a Jewish minority to dominate an Arab majority, its leaders to call for expulsions of majority members, etc., but not ok for a democracy to have a majority and minority both protected under law? At least Israel could then call itself a democracy with a clear conscience.

What you are really asking is whether I think the Palestinians would immediately set out to rape, pillage and murder the Jews? I don’t see why they would want to — there is no historical record suggesting that this is what Palestinians do for fun, whereas we have all too much evidence that Israelis persecute Palestinians for no good reason. If I were an Arab, I would be more afraid of living in a state with Jews just now.

Can you see or understand why Israelis are afraid?

Yes, but only in the sense that someone who has been brought up to fear and hate his neighbors will have good reason to be frightened at the thought of living in the same house with them. Israelis have created a generation of young Palestinians who hate them and will never forgive them and that does make a real problem for any future agreement, single- or two-state.

But Israel should be much, much more afraid of the Israel it’s creating for itself: a semi-democratic, demagogic, far-right warrior state dominated by racist Russians and crazed rabbis. In this perspective, an internationally policed and guaranteed federal state of Israel, with the same rights and resources for Jews and Arabs, looks a lot less frightening to me.

From the NY Times Op-Ed (June 2010) Israel Without Cliches

“Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries. And we should not forget that Gaza is another “democracy” in the Middle East: it was precisely because Hamas won free elections there in 2005 that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel reacted with such vehemence.

But there is. As American officials privately acknowledge, sooner or later Israel (or someone) will have to talk to Hamas. From French Algeria through South Africa to the Provisional I.R.A., the story repeats itself: the dominant power denies the legitimacy of the “terrorists,” thereby strengthening their hand; then it secretly negotiates with them; finally, it concedes power, independence or a place at the table. Israel will negotiate with Hamas: the only question is why not now.

But since 1967 it has been Israel that has missed most opportunities: a 40-year occupation (against the advice of its own elder statesmen); three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon; an invasion and blockade of Gaza in the teeth of world opinion; and now a botched attack on civilians in international waters. Palestinians would be hard put to match such cumulative blunders.

For anyone interested in Europe, Judt’s book Postwar is at once thrilling, enlightening and beautiful. Essential reading, if you have anything to do with Europe. If you’re on the left, he was one of the most articulate voices for measured social democracy and a very nuanced view of the welfare state. There is a nice remembrance in the Times’ review of his essay collection (published posthumously): When the Facts ChangeGrab bag of links:

– NY Times Obituary (2010): http://www.nytimes.com/…
– FT Op-Ed – Israel must unpick its ethnic myth (2009): http://www.ft.com/…
– Lunch with the FT (2007): http://www.ft.com/…
– FT’s Review of When the Facts Change (2015): http://www.ft.com/…
– Dialog with his son about Obama’s election (2010): http://www.nytimes.com/…
– Andrew Sullivan remembers Tony Judt (2014): http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/…

I regret not having taken one of his classes while I had a chance.

* In any case, the Kurds and Azeris are in a similar sort of position as the Palestinians in certain countries.

Though he would be loathe to say it, in a very real sense Tony Judt belonged to the trans-national tribe of professionals he once called clerks who inhabit international airports. Their paper of choice is the Financial Times.

The FT’s take on the Israeli election is captured in Bibi’s triumph and the challenge for Obama

Mr Netanyahu now appears to have rejected negotiations. In those circumstances, and without a halt to Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank, the US cannot credibly maintain its veto on Palestinian statehood. Washington should reconsider its position if and when the Palestinians resume their bid at the UN.

Israel’s tribal impasse behind Netanyahu’s dramatic victory

So the first piece of clarity to emerge from this result is for Palestinian citizens living in Israel proper: the message is one of continued marginalisation. It was brought home powerfully by Mr Netanyahu himself, warning in an election-day video that droves of Arabs were descending on the polls and had to be counterbalanced. Remember, this is a prime minister talking about his own citizens exercising their most basic democratic right. Just imagine if such a comment were made by a European leader about Jewish or black voters.

And finally, their perceptive analysis of the maneuvering that has commenced to form a coalition: Kahlon holds key to Netanyahu coalition

What we’ve learned about the Israeli electorate from the election.

I’m going to focus only on the question of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and the Occupied Territories. I’m going to ignore economic issues since frankly they have limited interest to most who don’t live in Israel. This is myopic and I’m the first to admit it.

First off, things really didn’t change much. Israel is split pretty much down the center between Left-ish parties and Right-ish parties.

Likud won 25% of the vote which was more than they did last time, the broader right won around 50% which was about the same. For the most part, the broader right shares Netanyahu/Likud’s vision of a greater Israel and settlement expansion in the West Bank. In general these parties believe the two-state peace process is a useful distraction, to be indulged when there’s something to be gained, or a loss to be prevented. The news (if you can call it that) is that Bibi said it out loud into a microphone.

The fact is that Israelis look across their borders and see a terrifying civil war in Syria, and a vicious guerrilla war in Iraq. Netanyahu stoked fears that any devolution of powers to a Palestinian state would bring this state of affairs to the West Bank. I would argue Palestinian society is not really fertile ground for ISIS and their ilk, in the same way Lebanon and Turkey are not (essentially they’re all Mediterranean cultures). Nevertheless, this is a reasonable concern that reasonable people may have. [* See Below]

Whether or not such concerns can retro-actively legitimize a permanent occupation and arrogation of the rights of Palestinians was not a subject of discussion in this election. There was no event that made the Israeli electorate at large sit up and notice the banal injustice of the occupation and how the country has arrived at this juncture. With the exception of the usual suspects on the far left, Arab Jews/Christians and subscribers to Haaretz (who really are suspects or worse in the eyes of many).

Here’s the silver lining. Despite the concern of wider Middle-East unrest arriving to the West Bank of the Jordan, roughly 50% of the population voted for parties that continued to tacitly support a devolution of power to Palestinians and a negotiated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. This half of the country (including the fifth of citizens who are of Palestinian Muslim and Christian descent) voted for engagement, despite the risks. They did not rush into Bibi’s arms despite his fear-mongering about barbarians at the gates (Hamastan in the West Bank) and enemies within (Arabs voting in droves).

The 2014 war in Gaza and its impact on Palestinians was largely ignored. There was no real discussion of the propriety of Israeli action (including home bombings, indiscriminate shelling and the targeting of designated safe zones) except obliquely from the Joint List and the far, far left. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the narrative focus on Hamas rockets and “terror tunnels” last summer. Netanyahu’s framing of the war as “Israel’s right to defend itself” is largely unassailable in the public sphere.

* To provide some context. We (as in the USA) are still waging a War by Drone all across the world with many civilian casualties and mum’s the word state-side. If there were rockets (however ineffectual) launched from New Jersey landing on the Upper West Side, I suspect many of my neighbors would be all for pummeling the Garden State into dust. If New Jersey were a Native American reservation (or had the racial makeup of Ferguson), I shudder to think what options might be on the table. All that said, we’ve overcome most of our worst injustices from the past. It took a Civil War and many faltering steps, but the US no longer has that kind of relationship with its indigenous population or minorities. Then again, if FARC were in Pennsylvania (our hemisphere’s rough equivalent), with a risk it might spill over to NYC, I think my liberal bastion of a city might even bring Giuliani back.

A round-up of the punditry I found interesting below:

In Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees, Ari Shavit writes:

But the tribe known as the “white tribe” is the most primitive political tribe that exists in Israel. Time after time it blindly follows false messiahs and makes incomprehensible mistakes. This happened yet again on Tuesday. The decision of hundreds of thousands of people to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid split the moderate bloc and gave the government yet again to Likud, to the right, and to Gush Emunim. Just as in 2013 Yair Lapid brought Naftali Bennett to power, this time, Lapid gave the power back to Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him, Gideon Levy writes:

On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we’re on our own. Please don’t interfere, we’re asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.

In The Guardian: Netanyahu’s victory is clear break with US-led peace process

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, some Palestinian officials close to Abbas had intimated that a Netanyahu victory – not least in terms of his outright rejection of a two-state solution and his vow to continue settlement construction – would mark a clear break in a US-led peace process that has been on ice since it collapsed almost a year ago.Indeed a common sentiment among Palestinians in recent days is that the election campaign forced Netanyahu to reveal his opposition to a two-state solution.

“The Israeli elections forced Netanyahu to reveal his real position,” said prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, reflecting the views of many.

In The Jerusalem Post: White House knocks ‘divisive rhetoric’ against Israeli Arabs in election:

The White House said on Wednesday that it was deeply concerned by the use of “divisive rhetoric” in the Israeli election that sought to undermine Arab Israeli citizens.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on election day that Left-wingers were trying to get Arab Israeli voters out “in droves” to sway the election against him.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the United States would communicate its concern about the issue directly to the Israelis.

Earnest also told reporters on Air Force One that the administration will evaluate its approach on the Middle East peace process following Netanyahu’s recent statement that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.

And the Jerusalem Post has noted the American press’s reaction to Netanyahu’s pre-election comments.Or if you prefer, the Guardian is carrying the same story: Obama snubs Netanyahu and criticises Israeli PM’s ‘divisive rhetoric’

Not sure whether it’s just the first stage of grief, but Peter Beinart seems to have changed his stance and writes With Netanyahu’s reelection, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin

My entire adult life, American Jewish leaders have been telling Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait until Israel gains a respite from terror, they said; then its silent, two-state majority will roar. Give Israelis constant reassurance; never pressure them. If they know “the United States is right next to them,” Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations promised Barack Obama in 2009, Israeli leaders will “take risks” for peace.Israel has been disproving that theory throughout the Netanyahu era. Now, with this election, Israel has killed it.

This campaign, in other words, offered an excellent test of the theory that the American Jewish establishment has peddled for decades. And look what happened. In the absence of Palestinian violence and American pressure, Jewish Israelis at first pretended the Palestinians did not exist. “As Israeli election nears, peace earns barely a mention,” noted Reuters. During a 90-minute debate in late February, eight candidates, together, mentioned the word “peace” only five times. And three of those mentions came from the Arab candidate.

“Power,” said the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “concedes nothing without a demand.” For almost half a century, Israel has wielded brutal, undemocratic, unjust power over millions of human beings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And as this election makes clear, Israel will concede nothing on its own. This isn’t because Jewish Israelis are different than anyone else. It’s because they are the same.

Ehud Barak says Israel’s leaders will soon face the choices De Klerk did in South Africa.

Maybe this is pre-election politicking, but Ehud Barak said some things in an interview with Haaretz this week that are remarkable to American ears, but probably not to anyone in I/P, I’ve excerpted some of them below [italics are the interviewer’s comments/questions]. The whole interview is worth reading.

“We have been ruling another nation for 47 years. We are ignoring the fact that the situation has changed in the international arena. The leaders and the people themselves don’t remember the circumstances and the struggle under which the State of Israel emerged. There are no leaders or publics in the world who remember the Holocaust as a personal experience. What they’ve seen for decades is the reversal of the image that accompanied Israel. It’s not David and his slingshot being threatened by Goliath.“What registers in the consciousness is the Palestinian youth who is symbolically using David’s weapon against Israelis who are armed to the teeth inside tanks, and with missiles and so forth. That image is becoming embedded in the public consciousness abroad. In the 21st century, there is no chance of maintaining over time a situation that will be accepted by the international community in which Israel continues to rule those millions of people and does not allow them to vote for the Knesset.”

When will the day come when the world will treat us as it treated F.W. de Klerk in South Africa?

“It will come. It will come. It’s a slippery slope, and on that slippery slope we are marching in the direction of one state for two nations. The feeling that’s taking shape internationally is that Israel doesn’t really have the intention – that the critical mass of the Israeli leadership has reached the conclusion that there is no reasonable two-nation solution that can guarantee Israel security, and that it has no alternative but to continue holding on to the entire territory and grant them autonomous rights. And [we think that] because we have no alternative, the world will be compelled to accept that.

….

“In the case of de Klerk, that moment arrived via economic pressure – he simply could not withstand the pressure and the sanctions. That’s what brought about their awakening. I saw them close-up – we had deep relations of friendship with the South African leadership. They were people of a very high level, intellectually and otherwise, and they had wonderful explanations. They said, ‘The Americans are preaching morality to us? Well, they committed genocide, all they have left are pangs of conscience.’ Or they said, ‘We gave the blacks everything, the possibility to work, and comparatively they are living better than in their deserts, we gave them opportunities and they developed.’”Those are the same stories we are telling ourselves about the Arabs.

and ….

During the Netanyahu years, we’ve seen not only stagnation but tough threshold conditions. What do you think, for example, about Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as the Jewish state?“Since when do you make the whole root of legitimacy conditional on the dialogue with the Palestinian partner, on the question of whether he is ready to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people? Zionism was founded so that we would decide, not look elsewhere for recognition. Did we ask for recognition from the Egyptians? From the Jordanians? From the Syrians? In the end it looks like trickery trying to tug on some sort of emotional heartstring in us.”

I would hasten to add that Barak has an agenda (aw shucks, who doesn’t), much of the interview focuses on the controversy surrounding his sudden acquisition of substantial wealth.Some other tidbits below the fold:

 All in all, some interesting things being said in the region. Hassan Nasrallah told his Hezbollah militia that Islamic extremists damage Islam more than “even those who have attacked the messenger of God through books depicting the Prophet or making films depicting the Prophet or drawing cartoons of the Prophet.”  Of course, Hezbollah’s patron, the Iranian regime kicked off the modern tradition of pronouncing death sentences on people they deem to have offended Islam. Then again, Hezbollah is actively battling the ISIS militants Nasrallah is denouncing here. Oh yeah, blasphemy laws are alive and well in many other jurisdictions..

Or maybe Nasrallah is upset with ISIS since they are alleged to have published guidelines for sexual relations with slaves including (among other barf-worthy nonsense):

Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?”If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn’t, her uterus must be purified [first]…”

Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood

The House of Commons debate on recognizing Palestinian statehood is striking in both quality and content. I would recommend reading it in full. Perhaps we should send some members of our House of representatives across the pond to see how it’s done.

Most of the US coverage centered on Sir Richard Ottaway’s speech, he’s the one who said:

Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the west bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent….

I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.

But there were so many other excellent comments that I wanted to collect them here. Some excerpts follow (all emphasis is mine).The question before the house was whether the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

There was a lot of discussion about the impact such a resolution would have, and whether it would further a just peace.  Most of the contributions were from Labor MPs and their supporters (including the Welsh/Scottish Independence parties). Almost all Conservative MPs abstained from the vote and few of their back-benchers spoke.

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