Ian Lustick is professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a Jewish activist who had for years supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, though he has recently abandoned that goal because he no longer sees it as possible. He has therefore accepted the reality of a one-state solution. However, the one-state solution he has in mind is not that of the Israeli leaders whose policies have solidified the country’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and transformed Gaza into an open-air prison. Lustick’s vision for the single state that is now greater Israel goes beyond the iconic “Jewish state” to envision a liberal, equalitarian, truly democratic entity. To explain why he has changed his mind and sees hope in a one-state solution, he has written Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality.
This is a good book: well written, well researched and presenting a necessary and welcome argument. For, indeed, the two-state solution has been rendered next to impossible. There are the relentless colonialist policies of multiple Israeli governments of both left and right; the acquiescence of the world in those policies; and the material and diplomatic support given to expansionist Israel by the United States. Lustick takes up all of these in detail.
As a consequence of these policies, the Israeli peace movement has all but been destroyed and its supporters in the diaspora depressed and alienated. So, when someone of Lustick’s stature steps forth and — while understanding the realties on the ground — offers some hope for the future for both Israelis and Palestinians, it can only be a welcome effort. Yet one can ask, what are the odds of realizing a happy ending?
Professor Lustick begins his explanation of why the two-state solution has become so unlikely by looking at the roots of Israel’s relentless expansion, what he describes as “a flaw in the Iron Wall.” A strategy for the conquest of Palestine, the Iron Wall was proposed in 1923 by Vladimir Jabotinsky, leader of the rightist “revisionist” wing of the Zionist movement:
Start from the assumption that the Palestinians will not simply surrender their land to the Zionists. Instead the Zionists must accept the fact that they face “decades of fierce resistance.” ... Only by maintaining an uncompromising stance (an iron wall) and a policy of persistent movement forward until all of “the land of Israel” is under Zionist control, will the Palestinians come to realize that there is no hope for them. At that point the realists among them will arrange to make the compromises necessary to assure Zionist supremacy.
Basically, this is the strategy that the Zionists successfully followed. So, where is the flaw? According to Lustick, part of Jabotinsky’s strategic vision was an eventual magnanimity on the part of the Zionist leadership — the ability to recognize and respond to moderate Palestinian voices and make those minimum compromises necessary for permanent peace and official Arab recognition of Israel. That did not happen: “Neither Jabotinsky nor adherents to his strategy realized that fighting Arabs so often and defeating them so decisively would push Jewish psychology and politics toward more extreme demands for the satisfaction of Zionist objectives” (p. 23). Thus, to the extent that the Iron Wall worked, Israel became more avaricious. This not only made peace harder to achieve, but eventually peace itself became irrelevant from the Zionist perspective.
This is an insightful point, though even as the author explains it, he tends to confuse categories. We are not dealing here with “Jewish psychology and politics.” There have always been Jews, worldwide, who have recognized the dangers and opposed political Zionism. From their point of view, the creation of a so-called “Jewish state” inevitably threatened their ideal conception of Jewish ethics. The more accurate reference is to “Zionist psychology and politics.”
As Zionist territorial greed grew in the face of Arab defeats, other rationalizations for not negotiating a just peace with the seemingly defeated foe came into play. A principal one was drawn from a self-serving interpretation of the Holocaust. In the early years of the Israeli state, Zionist attitudes toward the Holocaust were ambivalent. The Zionist settlers who came to Palestine sought to create a new Jewish persona, best modeled by the Kibbutz “pioneers” — strong, defiant and determined. They were originally seen as the opposite of the allegedly soft and pliant shtetl Jews who meekly marched off to their deaths. However, as Lustick points out, by the 1960s a changing “collective memory” of the Holocaust “powerfully shaped Israeli politics and policy and limited its diplomacy” (p. 29). He calls this new collective memory “Holocaustia.” This now serves for the Zionists as a “prooftext — direct evidence for the validity of Zionism.” The Holocaust experience is the ultimate reason to reject Jewish life in the diaspora, demonstrating that “Jews living in any country other than Israel will inevitably suffer persecution” (p. 32).
One might point out that this Zionist argument is misleading. Jewish life in Europe, where the Holocaust took place, was not all Jewish life. Large numbers of Jews lived in the Middle East and North Africa and, for that matter, the United States, Canada and other places where widespread anti-Jewish feeling was absent. Even in our own time of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” the rise of anti-minority incidents in the contemporary West is not limited to the Jews. There is a context for such events, having to do with an ongoing culture war between traditional rightwing bigotry and a more recent trend towards tolerance and egalitarianism. The opposition to this growing humane outlook has victimized gays, women and immigrants as well as Jews. Again, Zionist efforts to highlight anti-Semitism, against the background of its own racist and colonialist behavior toward Palestinians, puts on display an obvious hypocrisy and encourages anti-Jewish bigotry.
Nonetheless, the conclusion Zionists draw from the Holocaust and the message they see as inherent in Holocaustia is this: “Only a Jewish state, wielding its own military and political power and acting as a vehicle for the psychological and physical rehabilitation of the Jewish people, could offer a future for the Jewish people” (p. 32). The problematic meaning of this assertion is now apparent. The State of Israel has made none of its Jewish citizens safe and secure, and the process of “psychological rehabilitation” has been a disaster. It has magnified the racism that the Zionist colonizers brought with them from Europe and served to turn those who were once victims into empowered sectarians. There is no picture of a worthwhile future within this message. Zionism has not become a vehicle to liberation; it has instead become a vehicle for corruption.
Nevertheless, this interpretation of the Holocaust’s legacy has served, at least since the 1980s, as a “template [political and moral guide] for Jewish life” (p. 37) within Israel. The Holocaustia message is taught to all Israeli Jewish school children. High school seniors get a “carefully scripted” and subsidized trip to the death camps in Poland. Then, back in Israel, they are taught that their return is a symbolic voyage from “catastrophe to rebirth.” By 2009, 98.1 percent of Israelis reported that “remembering the Holocaust” was “a guiding principle” of their lives.
Under these circumstances, it was not hard for the Zionist leadership in Israel to reconfigure the Palestinians (whom they have consistently defeated) as existential threats, potential harbingers of a new Holocaust. As a result, Lustick tells us, “policies based on appreciating risks but seeing them outweighed by the benefits of cooperation and trust in other peoples and countries will be systematically disadvantaged, often devastatingly so” (p. 49).
While the first two points examined above have served as psychological avenues for the evolution of an imperialistic Israeli state, there are also material reasons why Israel has been able to get away with avoiding peace. Lustick homes in on the major one: the success of the Zionist lobby within the United States. It has achieved a “hammerlock on [U.S.] foreign policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict” (p. 55). The result is enough American tax dollars and weaponry to assure Israeli over-confidence. Why compromise? Should the Israelis see it as, in the long term, the wise thing to do? An interpretation of their Zionist ideology defines “wise,” and there appears to be no need to integrate “peace” into that definition.
The lobby’s dedication to Zionist Israel takes precedence over U.S. national interests, regional Middle East stability, international law and any idea of common-sense morality. It simply does not matter whether what Israel does is legal or illegal, moral or immoral. The Israel lobby induces the United States to protect the Zionist state from international law, from the United Nations and, according to Lustick, from any rational impulse to take advantage of Arab willingness to compromise: “The American-spun cocoon around Israel has vastly distorted Israeli perceptions and greatly reduced the country’s ability to gauge the real effects of its policies. The cocoon ruined the careers of dovish politicians while enhancing the prospects of those catering to Israeli fantasies and fears” (p. 85).
We know the major reasons Professor Lustick believes the two-state solution to have failed. As he suggests, it never had much of a chance. From the beginning, Zionist ideology included a driving desire to possess all of the “Land of Israel.” One might go beyond Lustick’s analysis to fill in some of the details. The Zionists who settled and/or supported the settlement of Palestine were culturally indoctrinated Europeans. Despite having suffered from anti-Semitism, they carried with them the racist view that non-Europeans, in this case Arabs (including Arab Jews), are inferior. This racism has persisted, hampering honest negotiations. The result is only one state from the river to the sea.
A growing number of Palestinians imagine a silver lining in this otherwise dark cloud. According to a poll conducted on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, September 5–8, 2018, by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), a quarter of those surveyed “prefer a one-state solution, one in which Palestinians and Israeli Jews enjoy equality in all issues, over a two-state solution.” States are arenas for political struggle, and these Palestinians hope that evolutionary steps toward a more egalitarian and democratic Israel will take place within this framework. Ian Lustick shares this hope.
How may this be accomplished? According to Lustick, it will become clear that Israeli law is functioning to prevent “Jews in the center and on the Left from allying with enough Arabs to win elections” (p. 128). He predicts that these barriers will eventually be overcome. Indeed, it is on such alliances that the author pins his hopes: “Potentiating these efforts among left-liberal and moderate Jews, non-Jewish non-Arabs, and Arabs will be what Marxists used to call an ‘objective alliance,’ meaning one based on shared interests. … For Jews, this will require abandoning shrill warnings of Arab threats to Jewish demographic superiority” (p. 132).
It is those liberal and moderate Israeli Jews, what is left of them, who will see personal political advantage in cross-religious/ethnic alliances and thus seek them out. This, in turn, will help transform today’s seemingly intractable problems into those that are more solvable — where “better futures can be imagined” (p. 138). Lustick admits that “expanding citizenship and suffrage for all will take decades of struggle” (p. 148).
Getting to “somewhere better than here” — there’s the rub! A list of some of the obstacles that clutter the road include the following three.
1. Why would the maximalist Zionists who currently control not only Israel, but the pro-Israel apparatus worldwide, allow a one-state Israel to practice egalitarian politics? They adamantly opposed a two-state formula, at least, in part, because they were determined never to allow Palestinians to control their own politics except on the most local scale.
2. How many liberal and moderate Jews are left in Israel? And how many of them are willing to take steps that might be seen as seditious by their fellows? For over 100 years, the Zionists have been telling each other that the Land of Israel is exclusively for Jews. They have spent at least 70 of those years trying to purge the place of Palestinians, which their evolved Holocaustia outlook tells them are pseudo-Nazis. Those remaining within the 1948 borders are economically and socially discriminated against and largely segregated. Those in the Occupied Territories have almost no rights whatsoever. Many Israelis consider international laws and human rights, originally designed to protect Jews and other minorities, to be no more than vehicles for defaming the Israeli nation — simply because such laws and regulations now speak to the needs of the Palestinians. As far as the Israeli High Court is concerned, the Fourth Geneva Convention is not worth the paper it’s written on. Jews who openly opposed such discriminatory views have always been a distinct minority, and some have emigrated abroad. Nonetheless, there have been times when Israeli Jews (mostly members of the Communist Party, Hadash) did politically ally with Palestinians. The alliance did not set a successful precedent — none of the other Israeli parties on the left (all of them shrinking in numbers and influence) followed suit. Most recently, the prime ministerial candidate, Benny Gantz, rejected any alliance with Palestinian parties, though they endorsed him as a supposed lesser evil to Benjamin Netanyahu.
3. It is possible that someday some of the Zionists will have a change of heart, particularly if confronted with harsh incentives like those that faced Apartheid South Africa in the years leading up to 1994. One can imagine a resurrection of “cultural Zionism,” which, in the 1920s and 1930s, envisioned Palestine as a “spiritual center” of the Jewish people — somehow constitutionally guaranteed within a secular democratic state.
While this sort of outcome is certainly desirable, it represents such a dramatic conceptional change — turning present-day Zionism on its head — that it is hard to imagine how to get from here to a new there without something approaching civil upheaval. Consider a report in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz (October 31, 2019) that many Israeli Jewish public schools have for years been teaching a pro-settler, pro-Orthodox version of the country’s history and culture. This means that Professor Lustick’s more or less spontaneous evolution of Israeli Jewish-Palestinian political cooperation, leading to an egalitarian future, is even now being countered by a purposeful and determined propaganda effort to keep Israel in the racist place the Zionist right prefers.
Professor Lustick lays out the best of all cases for the one-state reality that now confronts us. In doing so he stands in a rather short line of other Jewish intellectuals, such as Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, who had earlier warned that “Israel would be judged on how it treats the Arabs.” Unfortunately, for the last 100 years the Zionists have opted for a narrow and persistently discriminatory nationalism. They have treated the “Arabs” under their jurisdiction quite poorly.
The alliances that Professor Lustick hopes to see grow up between Israeli Jews and Palestinians were, in truth, coming into existence in Palestine in the earlier part of 20th century. It was the Zionist movement that consciously destroyed such projects of coexistence. They were seen as a threat to Jewish nationalism. They still are, and this speaks to the likelihood of the author’s predictions. Is the evolution toward equalitarianism possible in Israel? Yes, it is — and this reviewer hopes it comes to fruition. Is it probable? Looked at from an historical perspective, the answer is, sadly, no.