Wednesday, May 16, 2007

One State is Not Snake Oil: A Reply to Michael Neumann

One State is Not Snake Oil: A Reply to Michael Neumann

by John Spritzler

In his article, Two States, One State and Snake Oil, Michael Neumann asserts that the One Democratic State (ODS) solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict is "snake oil." He makes an argument that exploits a weakness in the way many of us advocate ODS: we talk about ODS being democratic in a legal/governmental sense, but we don't talk about ODS being based on equality and solidarity in the sense of a social revolution against capitalist inequality. Neumann thus argues that we are selling the ODS idea without informing people of its true "price tag." The "price tag" he's referring to is the need for Israeli Jews who presently occupy land that was stolen from Palestinians to return that land to its rightful owners or pay a fair price to them for it. "Presumably," Neumann says, "this compensation would be pretty enormous, into the millions of dollars per incident." His conclusion? "I don't feel there's the slightest chance that Israelis would accept a one-state solution as described, or that anyone could dictate it to them." Is Neumann right?

Let's start by looking at some numbers. ODS proponent Mazin Qumsiyeh, in his Sharing the Land of Canaan (pg. 49), writes:

"It is a myth that Israelis would have to be displaced to allow for the return of the refugees. A study on the demography of Israel shows that 78 percent of Israelis are living in 14 percent of Israel and that the remaining 86 percent of the land mostly belongs to the refugees on which 22 percent of the Israelis live. However, 20 percent live in city centers, which are mostly Palestinian, such as Beer Al Saba', Ashdod, Majdal, Asqalan, Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, and Safad. Only 2 percent live in kibbutzim. Thus, 154,000 rural Jews control 17,325 square kilometers, which are the home and heritage of five million Palestinian refugees."

Let us say that every one of those 154,000 rural Jews is a member of a four-person family and each family lives in a house on land for which some Palestinian family is owed a million dollars. That comes to 38,500 families (154,000 divided by 4), times a million dollars each, which comes to 38.5 billion dollars. Now let's assume that of the approximately 6 million Israeli Jews, one million of them live as four-person families in places like Tel Aviv and Haifa in houses that rightfully belong to Palestinians. This means there are about 250,000 (1,000,000 divided by 4) such families, and at a cost of one million dollars each they would owe Palestinians 250 billion dollars. Add these two sums and we get a total debt to Palestinians (for Jewish occupied homes and land) of about 289 billion dollars. That's about 1,136 billion Israeli New Shekels (NIS) (289 billion times 3.93, the current exchange rate.)

Wow! That sounds like a lot. But wait a minute. According to a Haaretz article by Ora Coren and Lilach Weissman, Haaretz Correspondents (13/02/2006), "The income of the 18 wealthiest families in Israel is equivalent to 77 percent of Israel's national budget, which is NIS 256 billion a year." Hmmmm. This means that in less than 4.4 years (1,136 divided by 256), the 18 wealthiest families in Israel could pay the entire debt owed by Israeli Jews living in homes and land stolen from Palestinians. It means that in 4.5 years (I added a tenth of a year so the 18 wealthiest families would still have enough income to live a normal lifestyle) a fund set up by these 18 wealthiest families could offer every Jewish Israeli who lives on stolen land a million U.S. dollars which they would use either to buy their home from the rightful Palestinian owner or buy another home (probably it would have to be newly constructed) so they could return the stolen one but not end up homeless.

The income thus going to all of the millions of people employed to build all of the new homes would represent an enormous shift of wealth from extremely wealthy to average people. (Money previously going to purchase and build weapons to kill Arabs would end up going to pay people to build houses for a change.) The solidarity that could develop between ordinary Jews and Palestinians in the social environment that this solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict would produce would be worth its weight in gold. It would be invaluable, obviously, to the Palestinians regaining their rightful property and social status as equals in their homeland. It would also, however, be extremely welcomed by the working class Israeli Jews who have been driven down into poverty by the social policies of people like the 18 wealthiest families. Life has been rough for these working class Israeli Jews lately.

As the Jewish Daily Forward wrote (April 7, 2006) “a deliberate move by Jerusalem policy-makers to modernize Israel's economy” has resulted in “a new class of millionaires, and an explosion of poverty and hunger. In just one generation, Israel has gone from the most egalitarian nation in the industrialized world to one of the least egalitarian.” Israeli workers have been forced to defend themselves with general strikes (December, 1997 and September, 2004) or threats of major strikes (November, 2006 and March, 2007.) Israeli Jewish working people have not been successful in reversing the policies of the 18 wealthiest families, in large part because instead of having solidarity with Palestinians they have been so pre-occupied by fear of Palestinians that they have felt obliged to obey the 18 wealthiest families and their politicians and generals who say the most important thing is fighting Palestinians.

It is clear that the problem in attaining ODS, with real justice for the Palestinians, is really the 18 wealthiest families in Israel, and not the supposed permanent anti-Arab racism of ordinary Jews, nor their supposed selfishness nor their supposed lack of noble altruism. In fact, the permanence of anti-Arab racism among Jews is as much a myth as the Zionist myth about gentiles being permanently anti-Semitic. Both myths are used to obscure the reality of class conflict--not only in terms of material interests but, more importantly, in terms of values. For example, it takes a lot of coercion and lies by the 18 wealthiest Israeli families and their politicians and generals to maintain fear of Arabs and paranoia among working class Israeli Jews, because left to themselves working class people value solidarity, not racism, and equality, not rule by the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians. On the other hand, for the 18 wealthiest families, anti-Arab racism is money in their pockets. This is a stark conflict of values: working class values versus elite values. So where is it written in stone that the 18 wealthiest families will get away forever with their social control strategy of pitting ordinary Jews and Palestinians against each other and whipping up anti-Arab racism?

The answer to this question depends on what ordinary people in Palestine/Israel do, what kind of political movement they build, how they frame the conflict. Specifically, it depends on whether people identify the refusal of the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians to pay for their Zionist crimes as the problem, or whether they lump every single Israeli Jew with the 18 wealthiest families in the category of "enemy" and wage a futile struggle--essentially pitting all Palestinians against all Israeli Jews--doomed to be isolated from the world wide support that a pro-working class movement would enjoy. It depends, in other words, on whether the advocates of ODS also talk about the need to make a social revolution against capitalist inequality.

If done right, a revolutionary movement for ODS that aims to create a society based on the working class values of equality and solidarity and democracy can win. This is not "snake oil"; it is both realistic and inspiring.

Other articles about Palestine/Israel by John Spritzler

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Other articles by this author

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At 1:23 PM, May 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! And doen'st every magician know this tactic? No, it's not "snake oil" -- it's how to make people believe you've actually pulled a rabbit out of your hat. ( shift their attention to the smudge on their nose-- works every time!). KS

At 8:53 AM, May 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a brief response to John Spritzler's careful and very fair critique of my views.

In the first place, my view - not estimate - of the costs of compensation involved not only the price of the land but compensation for damages, that is, for wrongful actions leading to 40 years of exile, deprivation and violence. When I said the price would be pretty enormous, I was thinking of liability settlements for far less grievous injuries.

Second, the idea that Israel is going to pay anyone 289 billion dollars is comical. The author provides evidence that the sums exist; does it follow they will be paid? Think of what Japan can afford and what it pays comfort women, or what the US can afford and it pays native Americans. Has Israel more love for the Palestinians than Americans or Japanese for their victims, whom, at least, they no longer starve and kill? If people could find it in their hard to make such unselfish and massive transfers of wealth, the world's problems would simply not exist. Yet this is not all, because it assumes Israel would agree that the Palestinians had such right to compensation on such a scale. This presupposes an account of the settlement of past land claims that is at variance with every precedent available, throughout the historical record.

Third, and most important, the chief issue is not land but sovereignty, the power of life and death which all states hold over the inhabitants within their borders. Israel is dedicated to ethnic Jewish sovereignty; it exists for the purpose of establishing that sovereignty. This is not a matter of 'racism against Arabs', it is something even worse, a pure espousal of ethnic nationalism, which reserves sovereignty for a particular race whether or not members of other races are regarded as inferior.

To suppose that Israel would honor a genuine right of return is to suppose that Israel would abandon its founding principle; it is like supposing that the US, to settle with native Americans or former slaves, would tear up its constitution and abandon the principle of democratic institutions. (To avoid misunderstanding, I am not saying there is any similarity between ethnic sovereignty and democratic institutions, only that the commitment of Israel to the ethnic sovereignty is as strong as the US commitment to a phony democratic ideology.) There is not the slightest, tiniest trace of evidence that Israelis are prepared to do this; indeed its very advocacy would, in Israel, be illegal.

At 3:58 PM, May 20, 2007, Blogger John Spritzler said...

I am glad Michael Neumann has replied to my critique of his assertion that the One State solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict is snake oil. I am glad because his reply clarifies the basis of our disagreement. We clearly disagree over whether Zionism in Israel can be overthrown or not. Neumann apparently believes it cannot be overthrown. This is the unstated premise from which his conclusions quite logically follow. He concludes, in particular, that "the idea that Israel is going to pay anyone 289 billion dollars is comical." And, he argues, it is equally comical "to suppose that Israel would honor a genuine right of return."

It is true, of course, that as long as Zionist leaders continue to rule they will never pay Palestinians 289 billion dollars and they will never honor a genuine right of return for Palestinian refugees. If I were suggesting that Zionist leaders would ever do these things, then Neumann would be right and I would be wrong. But I am saying something very different. I am saying that when one looks at the reality of class conflict inside Israel (which Neumann does not do) one can see that there is a very real basis for a pro-working class and anti-Zionist movement to develop among Jewish (as well as non-Jewish) Israeli working class people with the revolutionary aim of overthrowing Zionism and shaping society by the working class values of equality and solidarity and democracy--the opposite of the Zionist values of inequality, ethnic war and elite rule (by the likes of the 18 wealthiest families and their politicians and generals.)

Neumann doesn't explicitly address the question of whether his premise (Zionism is permanent) or my premise (Zionism can be abolished by a revolutionary pro-working class movement) is the most plausible one. The closest he comes to dealing with this question is to make assertions about what "Israel" will or will not do, as if "Israel" were a homogeneous society that was not torn by class conflict. But Israel IS torn by class conflict, which is why there are general strikes and frequent threats of large strikes. Furthermore, the ideology of Zionism functions as a means by which the Israeli upper class controls the Israeli working class. It is the main reason that the Israeli upper class has been able to drive working class Israeli Jews down and increase social and economic inequality inside Israel to an alarming degree. The fact that Israel's upper class has used this method of social control effectively up to now does not constitute evidence that it will always be able to do so in the future. As all reputable financial investment advisers so famously warn, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

For example, Ku Klux Klan racism, like Israeli Zionism, was similarly used by the American upper class in the U.S. South to control working people in that region with much success. But in the 1930s the Southern Tenant Farmers Union formed, in which black and white sharecroppers joined together throughout the deep South and organized huge numbers in strikes against the plantation owners. Black and white sharecroppers joined with each other to fight the Southern elite, including the Klan. What made this possible is the fact that racism undermines genuine working class struggles and it contradicts the basic values of working class culture--solidarity and equality. It is not written in stone that working class people will never appreciate this fact. Indeed it takes enormous coercion and lying and manipulation to maintain a society based on racism. The Israeli ruling class has, obviously, used tremendous coercion and lying and manipulation with notable success. But, they have had no clear, organized pro-working class, anti-racist opposition to my knowledge (certainly not from the Israeli Left), so it remains to be seen how the Zionist leaders of Israel would fare in the face of something equivalent to the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. There is reason to be optimistic. because Zionism is, in fact, not in the interests of Israeli working class Jews. For many of them, their material standard of living is worse because of Zionism. But even for the ones at the higher income levels, the non-material downsides of Zionism, like having to wonder if one's child is going to be sent as an IDF soldier to oppress Palestinians and get killed for doing it, or having to live with all of the racism that Zionism requires, are important reasons why there is the potential for Israeli Jews to reject Zionism.

Another example is what happened in South Africa. When President deKlerk, for the first time, gave white South Africans a green light to express their feelings about apartheid instead of attacking anyone who criticized it as "anti-Christian" as had been the case until then, and when whites were allowed to vote on it in a referendum in 1992, 68.6% of white South Africans voted to end apartheid and create a power-sharing and multi-racial government. Who, in the 1980s, would have ever predicted this happening? As they say, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

If Michael Neumann wants to give his reasons for believing that a pro-working class revolutionary movement against Israel's upper class and its Zionist ideology cannot ever have any appeal to Israeli Jewish working class people, then he should do so. But simply asserting that "Israel" will never do this or that (on the unstated and undefended assumption that its upper class Zionist rulers will always remain in power) is an evasion of the central question. I welcome a continuation of this very important discussion.

At 5:20 AM, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to try and dump cold water on the idea of a revolutionary working class movement in Israel. Revolution seems so far off now, but I've always thought that societies are unpredictable and huge changes can happen very quickly. Never say never, and perhaps in hindsight the signs of change will appear obvious. Such a movement would have to see more benefit in a just one-state solution than in an unjust two-state solution, which in return would require a remarkable degree of solidarity with the Palestinians.

The only concern I have that seems worth voicing has to do with time factors. The Palestinians cannot endure very much longer. If the possibilities you invoke are for the long term, you might ask yourself whether the path to a single state, via revolution or any other means, doesn't have to go through two states. This first stage would at least ensure Palestinian survival while other developments unfold.

At 7:26 AM, May 22, 2007, Blogger John Spritzler said...

Michael Neumann raises a very important question: Even though One State is a more just solution than Two States, if the road to One State must first pass through Two States, don't the extremely pressing short-term needs of the Palestinians require us to support a Two State solution?

I believe that advocating One State is better than advocating Two States even when ONLY the short term is considered. The reason is this. People who live in North America or the UK or Australia or Europe--in countries that presently give support to the Israeli government that enables it to get away with its current oppression of Palestinians--can help the Palestinians in their struggle by building public opposition in our countries to our governments' support of Israel. This opposition can make it more difficult for governments to support Israel, the way worldwide opposition to apartheid in South Africa made it more difficult for governments to support South Africa.

I think we would agree that a worldwide boycott/divestment movement against Zionism would help the Palestinians in the relatively short term. So, the question is, what kind of framework is best for persuading our fellow citizens to oppose our governments' support for Israel?

The One State framework for discourse makes the moral issue--Israel is a state based on ethnic cleansing and racism and inequality--crystal clear to people. The Two State framework, in contrast, obscures the moral issue and replaces it with a discourse about where to draw a border between Israel (which, in the Two State discourse, is not criticized for its racism and ethnic cleansing but only for its expansion beyond 1967 borders) and the rest of Palestine. This "border" discourse is one that the elites can easily portray as a technical issue best left to the "experts."

The Two State framework thus DE-mobilizes our fellow citizens on this issue. In contrast, the One State solution resonates with ordinary people; it helps them to understand the true nature of the conflict and feel confident to take the side they view as morally right, and to act on that confidence to demand that their government stop supporting the side that is morally wrong. This is a strictly short term advantage for One State. It is an advantage regardless of whether, as you ask, a Two State solution is a necessary step on the road to One State, or not.

I would also assert, however, that the Two State solution is not a step towards One State. World elite leaders like President Bush promote the Two State framework precisely because that framework reinforces the idea that the conflict is one between Jews and non-Jews. This is the ideology that ruling elites in the Middle East (non-Jewish as well as Jewish)use to destroy working class solidarity in the region and strengthen their control over their own people. As I discuss in the article we are commenting on, it will take a revolutionary working class movement based on working class solidarity to defeat the Zionist ruling elite in Israel and create a just One State solution. Therefore, if we go along with or promote the Two State framework, we are only undermining the solidarity between Jewish and non-Jewish working class people in Palestine that is required to achieve a just One State solution.

The conclusion is that there is no advantage, neither short-term nor long-term, in advocating the Two State solution. We need to advocate for a One State solution as the goal of a revolutionary movement against capitalist inequality, of which Zionism is one particularly brutal example.

At 4:36 AM, May 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An added argument to yours is that by ADVOCATING the One State solution, the focus is brought on the lack of human rights and citizenship rights of the Palestinian people, which is something everyone can understand. If people then choose to advocate the Two State solution, they would do so in the light of human rights. Thus the very advocacy of One State is both correct per se and constitutes indirect pressure for the two-state solution. So even from an consequentialist approach, such advocacy is useful. Finally, by focussing on the One State approach, Israelis are forced to expose their racist attitudes, namely the fact that they will not cohabit with Arabs (because they are Arabs). Advocating the One State solution is thus, as I see it, a win-win strategy.

At 7:00 PM, May 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I, the Editor of, am more in sympathy with Mr. Spritzler’s argument than that of Prof. Neumann. However, I’d like to propose another way of looking at things entirely.

But first a critique of Prof. Neumann’s essay is unavoidable. He begins by setting up a couple of straw dogs; first off, all the Jewish immigrants and their descendents have to leave. Then he labels that proposition “unattainable.” This, of course, is the bogeyman that the Zionists use to terrify the Israeli people and engender their hatred of the dreaded “other.” He then hypothesizes the possibility that somehow the Israelis would be forced into the “more moderate” situation of having to relinquish any land “previously occupied by Palestinians.” One must assume that he is speaking only of recent history, perhaps since the first wave of Jews started arriving in the late 19th century. After all, one must assume that all of the land was occupied at one time or another by the Philistines, whose history extends into the distant past. Then he adds the casual assumption that “there would have to be compensation for past illegitimate occupancy.” I would like to know who is making up these rules. God? (More likely under his pseudonym Allah than the Hebrew Jehovah, who, from all accounts, wouldn’t be likely to surrender a single hectare.

Having set forth a couple of bizarre and unlikely futures, Prof. Neumann states that his “principal reason for favoring a two-state solution is that, like many, I don't feel there's the slightest chance that Israelis would accept a one-state solution as described, or that anyone could dictate it to them.” Well, one could hardly argue that the Israelis would, reluctantly or otherwise, agree to such notions as he has described them. It could, of course, “be dictated to them” in the event of some unforeseeable total war in which the current power relationships have been somehow totally reversed. I doubt that such thoughts even enter into anyone’s minds, except possibly some particularly ignorant and bellicose mullahs busily indoctrinating their peasant charges in the madrassas of Pakistan’s mountains.

Then comes Prof. Neumann’s real target, the rather simple and obvious solution that conforms to the generally accepted 21st century notion of a modern nation state – democratic, secular, pluralistic and multi-ethnic, with separation of church and state and all the rest of the standard paradigm. I won’t say anything about his objection based on cost, other than to mention that the U.S. alone has already forked over more than $1 trillion dollars to prop up the existence of the State of Israel, including its extraordinarily expensive war machine. And let’s not get bogged down in such unmentioned issues as the immeasurable cost in human suffering entailed by maintaining the dominance of the Jewish Israelis over both non-Jewish Israelis and those Palestinians who find themselves in the open air prisons called the Occupied Territories, not to mention their cousins languishing in refugee camps all over the place in the Palestinian diaspora. After all, “life is cheap in that part of the world,” no?

He then, of necessity, has to attempt to demolish the glaringly obvious South African analogy, but I’ll leave the reader to decide whether or not he is convincing in his assertion that the two cases are like comparing apples to oranges.

It is when Prof. Neumann states that “Israel thinks of itself as the sole barrier to the physical extermination of the Jewish race” that his argument begins to get interesting. It is permissible in general parlance to anthropomorphize nation states, but particularly when discussing the “Israeli/Palestinian conflict” it is of the utmost importance to pay close attention to the use of language. I have found that in this particular arena people have a tendency to be very loose with their words. Most particularly, people have a habit of conflating such terms as “Jews,: “Israelis” and “Zionists.” In the case that I just cited, one might say with some degree of accuracy that “Zionists think of Israel as the sole barrier” etc., etc., because that is the core concern of Zionism (a horribly outdated, archaic, 19th century fascist ideology based on conditions that have long since passed). “Israelis,” on the other hand, is a term that refers to the authorized residents of the State of Israel (one can’t say “citizens,” as the authorities have been careful never to define who they might be, just as they decline to draw the country’s borders) of whom only 80% are Jewish (less the rather large minority of those who are Jewish in name only (mostly opportunistic Russians who have as little use for Jews as they do for rattlesnakes). Moreover, how many of those remaining “Jews” are “Zionists” in any meaningful sense of the term? It is my considered opinion that they are basically people like any other people, caught up in a web of historical circumstances as we all are, who just want to live a decent life, as we all do.

The point that I am making is that Prof. Neumann appears to accept the standard, conventional narrative as it is constantly being expressed by the power elites and the mainstream media, while making the argument that it’s a damned shame what’s happened, and is happening, to those poor Palestinians caught in the middle, and the “Israelis” really ought to be ashamed of themselves. He has a great deal of company in that respect – it is the shared perception of the “progressive left.” But it is, when all is said and done, merely a point of view, a particular narrative among many possible narratives. It is as much a testament to the effectiveness of Zionist hasbara as it is to the feckless thinking of the postmodernists and the hard-nosed, cynical strategies of the neocons and neolibs and the other power elites.

So here’s the meat of the matter, as I see it: change the story and you change the reality. That is how revolutions and other major changes in history come about, driven of course by all sorts of causes and conditions, but molded by minds into a wholly new way of ordering things. As the poet Muriel Rukeyser put it, "The universe is made of stories, not atoms." We don’t, and cannot, know the future, but we are willy-nilly creating it as we speak.

I think that Mr. Spritzler is on the right track when he speaks of the potential of “the working class” to upset the Zionist applecart. On the other hand, such 19th century socialist/Marxist language is a bit archaic in the Information Age. It would be simpler, and I think more accurate, to speak of the power of ordinary people to slowly, imperceptibly, mostly unconsciously, but in the end inexorably, to topple existing structures of thought and power and bring about radical change.

In the end, as both Prof. Neumann and Mr. Spritzler acknowledge, a benign, non-violent swing towards the one state solution must emerge within Israeli society itself, helped along by a general shift in sentiment among people and opinion makers and governments everywhere. Just as in So. Africa, the handwriting on the wall will sooner or later be clearly seen; the Zionists will find themselves more and more isolated and powerless; and the obvious, as always eventually happens, will become obvious to just about everyone, just as Americans have ever so slowly come to the realization that the Emperor has no clothes.

All of this can happen only if observers like Prof. Neumann – intelligent, compassionate people genuinely concerned with such notions as peace, justice and human rights – bite the bullet and realize that it is no longer a choice between one state or two states, but a choice between two very different unitary states – the Zionist wet dream of an ethnically cleansed Eretz Yisroel, which is only a slightly extended version of the current situation, or such a simple and obvious thing as the single democratic, secular state of which we have been speaking. Those are the real choices (with lots of gray area in between).

As advocates of this eventuality, no matter how few or powerless we may be at present, all we can do is beat the drum as loudly, as often and as articulately as we can until a significant number of people begin to listen. Eventually they will, hopefully without too much more spilling of rivers of blood, wasting of immense resources and unnecessary suffering on the part of millions of people (including the Israelis themselves).

- Roger Tucker


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