President Trump says he’s okay with a one- or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – whatever the two parties want – but without forceful U.S. intervention, neither option is feasible, says John Chuckman.
By John Chuckman
With its steady encroachment on Palestinian lands, Israel has created a problem that it can’t solve. That is why it has always been the case that the United States must pretty much dictate a solution, but it is unable to do so because it is paralyzed by the heavy influence of Israel on the U.S. political process and the power of America’s own apologists for Israel.
Trump’s suggestion of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is welcomed by some because Israel’s settler policy is said to have made two states impossible, as it was most certainly intended to do. However, a little reflection on hard facts makes it clear that a one-state solution is just as near impossible as a two-state solution.
A single-state solution would be acceptable to all reasonable minds, but you only have to follow the news to know that Israel contains a good many unreasonable minds. Its early advocates and founders were, quite simply, fanatics, and its policies and attitudes were shaped by that fanaticism.
The Israeli establishment could simply not accept a Palestinian population with equal rights and the franchise as part of Israel. They could not do so because they have embraced an almost mystical concept of Israel as “the Jewish state.” Of course, the de facto reality of today’s combined population of Israel and its occupied territories is that Palestinians, who importantly include not just Muslims but many Christians, are already about half of the total.
And there are physical realities forming huge barriers against a single state, factors that many people don’t know. Very importantly, fertility rates in Arab populations are considerably higher than in the European Ashkenazi population, which forms Israel’s elite. That has nothing to do with ethnic characteristics. It is a result of much lower levels of affluence influencing the behavior of people having children. It is a universal reality we see.
That’s why Arabic populations are such relatively young populations with a high proportion of children. When Israel bombs a place like Gaza or Lebanon, as it does periodically (in “mowing the grass operations”), it always kills many hundreds of children because they make a big share of the population. An advanced country like Japan has low fertility and traditionally is averse to much migration. It faces a future with an aging and declining population.
All older European and North American countries have fertility rates too low to replace their otherwise declining populations. America, France, Israel or similar states simply do not have enough babies to replace their populations. That’s a fundamental reality of advanced, affluent society. People in such societies know that their children have a much better chance to survive than children in poor countries.
That’s the real reason behind most countries’ immigration policies, not generosity or kindness. They need young workers to maintain strong levels of productivity. But, of course, Israel has a serious problem with immigration, too. As the “Jewish state” it is open to only one category of migrant, and that category of people makes a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Further, most Jews live in comfortable, affluent places and enjoy easier lives than people in Israel do – places like America, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, etc.
So, a single-state Israel would combine low fertility Europeans with higher fertility Arabic people, thus creating a long-term trajectory for a minority-Jewish state, a reality which would be repellent to right-wing Jews and many others in light of the founding notion of Israel as a refuge from anti-Semitism, plus the vaguely-defined but emotionally-loaded notion of a “Jewish state” and the biblical myths of God’s having given the land exclusively to Jews.
You simply cannot make rational sense out of that bundle of attitudes and prejudices, yet you cannot get a rational solution to a massive problem otherwise. It is also a problem of Israel’s own deliberate making in the Six Day War. Likely, when Israel’s leadership started that war, they calculated that Palestinians would come to feel so miserable under occupation that they’d just pick up and leave over time.
Moshe Dayan, one of the architects of the war, actually spoke along those very lines of keeping the Palestinians miserable so they would leave. But their calculations were wrong. Most people, anywhere, do not pick-up and leave their native place. Otherwise the world would a constant whirlwind of migrations.
Although Israel does not discuss the issue of the relative population growth rates in public, authorities and experts there are keenly aware of the reality. It is difficult to imagine them ever embracing a single state for this reason. When you found a state on ideology and myths, as Israel was founded, you very soon bump up against some unhappy realities.
So, if there is not to be a Palestinian state, what are Israel’s other options? There seem to be only two.
One is to deport all or most Palestinians, an ugly idea which is probably also unworkable, although it has been seriously discussed among educated Israelis periodically. Apart from the Nazi-like connotations around such an act, there is the dilemma of who is going to take literally millions of people from Israel? In the past, Israeli ideologues have suggested the country of Jordan and parts of Egypt contiguous with Israel as possibilities.
But can any realistic person believe those states stand ready to take millions of people in? No, of course not, but that hasn’t stopped the ideologues of Israel from going back to the idea again and again. Of course, there is the pure ethical problem of moving millions of people against their wills and seizing all their property, but ethics have never featured large in Israel’s policies from the beginning.
The other solution is to re-create apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans, little enclaves of land with often undesirable characteristics into which you crowd all the people that you don’t want and declare that these are their new countries. We see this already in Israel, notably in Gaza, which really is a giant refugee camp resembling a concentration camp with high fences and automated machine-gun towers surrounding it. The residents are permitted almost no freedom of movement or even economic activity, as for example Gaza’s fishermen being fired on by Israeli gunboats if they stray even slightly beyond tight boundaries in the sea.
The world would not long tolerate that approach no matter how much heavy-handed influence the United States might exert. After all, for a long time, the United States protected and cooperated with apartheid South Africa, always regarding it as an important bulwark against communism. At the time, anti-communism was the fervent secular religion of the day in America. This was so much the case that the U.S. even overlooked what it absolutely had to know about apartheid South Africa’s acquisition of a small arsenal of nuclear weapons with the assistance of Israel. Israel always was keen to keep good access to South Africa’s mineral wealth.
Clearly, those two options – ethnic cleansing and full-scale apartheid – are not solutions. Realities demand either a legitimate two-state solution, which Israel’s leaders have never truly accepted while giving it time-buying lip-service, or a one-state solution that is probably even more unacceptable to Israel’s leaders and much of its population, guaranteeing, as it does, the eventual minority status of Jews.
Israel has created this terrible problem and is incapable of solving it. That is why the United States would have to basically dictate a solution, but Israel and its American supporters have invested so heavily in lobbying and pressuring the U.S. political process that American leaders shy away from asserting such a role. So, in effect, the world just goes around and around never doing anything decisively.
The macabre dance of Israel and the United States that we’ve had for decades yields today’s de facto reality of Israel existing as a protected American colony in the Middle East, one in which all kinds of international norms and laws are ignored or suspended, one where millions live with no rights and no citizenship.
John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company.