The Mars Seminar
In the ongoing discussion on the future of Israel/Palestine, our esteemed friend Noam Chomsky asserted (in his response to Cohen) that the mainstream drive towards re-partition of Palestine, Israeli withdrawal and creation of a Palestinian state remains in his view the only feasible way. In his view, the question of right and wrong belongs to an abstract discussion, while we need a practical plan to save the much suffering Palestinians.
"I have been assuming so far that the discussion is among people who care about the people involved and their fate, in particular the Palestinians, the most miserable victims. There is, of course, another possibility. We might shift to the academic seminar among disengaged intellectuals on Mars. We can then join them in deriding "realism" and feasibility - that is, attention to the real world and consideration of the consequences of our actions for the victims.
And we can engage in abstract discussion of what might be "right" and "just" in some non-existent universe. But if participants in these exercises decide to come down to earth, and to have some concern and compassion for the victims, they have the duty of explaining to us how we proceed from here to there. If they have a suggestion, let's hear it so we can evaluate it, and if it is reasonable, act on it. Those who are convinced by the proposals if they are ever presented should by all means pursue them, but for the moment the matters is entirely
academic, since there are no meaningful proposals for action other than the step-by-step ones already outlined; at least none that I have ever seen. For the reasons I explained, I think that those who take these stands without reaching the level of serious advocacy are serving the cause of the extreme hawks in Israel and the US, and bringing even more harm to suffering Palestinians. Since the comments have not been addressed, I have to leave it at that."
In the Spider Web,
Israel Shamir asserted that the 'Two States dream' based on Israeli withdrawal is unrealistic and has a long record of failure:
The discussion of Israeli withdrawal is premature, to say the least -- as out of place as the discussion of German withdrawal from Prague in 1941. The "limited option" of rolling back the Jewish state does not exist, unless one considers creation of enclaves in Gaza and elsewhere as the way to the Two- State Solution. The international support for Israeli withdrawal asserted by Chomsky has very little
value, for none of the international bodies and/or states dares to say "boo" to Jews. In the US, Bush and Kerry compete over who loves Jews the most. In Europe, the most recent act of political will expressed by Germany was providing Israel with nuclear-capable submarines, by France - reciting mea culpa for Israel-organized anti-Jewish actions, and by IAEA - turning a blind eye to Dimona and demanding the disarmament of Iran. The PNA has very little authority and its popularity among Palestinians is in rapid decline. Arab states have no will to
challenge Israeli dominance.
The following is an email exchange elaborating some points:
Thanks for the article. Interesting, but for what I called "an academic seminar among disengaged intellectuals on Mars." Your article tacitly concedes that. Thus you say that we should transform the "Jewish state into a state for all its citizens. Jewishness or otherwise of citizens should not have any bearing on their status in Palestine as elsewhere; and the
"bi-national idea" does not conform to this rule." That will reach the level of actual advocacy, rather than academic seminars, when it is accompanied by a program of action. You mention none, which implies that you are, in fact, supporting the Sharon drive to destroy the Palestinians. The logic is quite clear. I spelled it out in the interview and the response. Noam
Dear Noam: Mindful as I am of Andre Gide's
observation in his Journal, "when a person tries to assert his judgment and prove he is right he becomes a bore; one can never prove anything" I am still ready to try two short points.
1. There is a simple way to achieve what I seek by legally incorporating 'territories' in Israel and giving citizenship rights to non-Jews. No negotiations, no nothing - just the right to vote and a blue Israeli ID. By the way it was almost done by Menachem Begin in 1977 and blocked by Labour. It is very
difficult for Israeli MKs to vote against 'annexation' and it will set the trap for them. It is so simple that there is no need to meet in Geneva and write agreements: just incorporate and give rights, like the US did to Mexicans of the annexed territories.
There's also a way to achieve world peace: follow Isaiah's advice. But advocacy requires more than pious hopes. It requires a means to get from here to there: in this
case, to convince Israelis that they should be pleased to become citizens of a Palestinian-dominated state. As noted in the interview and response, unless those who propose this position undertake the responsibility to rise to the level of advocacy in this way, we are back to academic debates among disengaged intellectuals. Begin would surely never have considered anything of the sort.
2. Your words that I
"support the Sharon drive' do not sting as they should, for Israel has changed since your days and Sharon today is not the right-wing monster you remember - he is a left-of-centre monster. He did not change, but Israel moved to the far, far right. But surely I do not support Sharon any more than you support Bush when you advocate voting for Nader.
Sharon remains a right-wing monster. And if you look at the interview,
response, and my letter to you, you'll understand what I mean when I say that you are supporting Sharon, and driving a dagger into the hearts of the Palestinians. Those who call for voting for Nader in swing states (not me) do in fact support Bush, whether that's their intention or not. The logic is quite clear in both cases.
Dear Noam: Thank you for accepting the challenge. You compare my idea with "a way to
achieve world peace by following Isaiah's advice". However, lambs and lions have difficulty cohabiting, while universal suffrage is the rule rather than exception. When the Patricians gave the right of vote to Plebs, when the Roman citizenship was granted to all Italics, when American Negroes got their right of vote and when the Boers agreed to live in the Black-dominated South Africa - it was not exactly the apocalyptic vision you make it out to be. There is nothing more normal in today's universe than universal suffrage. The vote is easier to arrange
for than the way you propose to take. Your way (i.e., the way of partition) has profoundly failed since 1967. A lot of efforts, a lot of money, a lot of words - and zero result. I think you should be able to admit this. There has been no change, no shift, no nothing. If we would spend half as much effort working towards it, we would have One State by now. As for practicalities: just give the right of vote to every non-Jew, like non-Jews gave the right of vote to Jews. And Begin actually considered it -- I was told so by his advisers and by his son.
As for Bush and Kerry - for me they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. For some reason you see a profound difference between the two - I do not. Both are ready to bomb Iran and remain in Iraq. Nor do I see difference between our Labour and Likud. You write: "you are supporting Sharon, and driving a dagger into the hearts of the Palestinians". It is a Shakespearean line, to be sure. But in real life, last week, Labour demonstrated for Sharon. We can still go forward, and your help will be precious,
but the direction is to One State.
I'm afraid you are still not accepting the basic responsibility of advocacy: to present a substantive proposal so that we move from academic discussions among disengaged intellectuals on Mars down here to Earth. Your comment about universal suffrage being the rule is irrelevant. An advocate of a two-state solution could counter that nation-states are a far more prevalent rule. And an
advocate of driving out the Palestinians could say that expulsion and massacre are also rules -- for example, right where I am sitting. Begin would never have considered it for a moment. I'm sure his advisers and son know that very well. Besides, it remains irrelevant.
If you want to move to the level of advocacy, I'll be glad to hear your plan for convincing Israelis to agree to live in the state you envision. Until then, I just don't have time for academic discussions dissociated from
the problems of suffering people. I'm sorry you don't see how you are supporting Sharon -- or would be, if there were any response to this proposal. I spelled out the reasons. No point in repeating. It has nothing -- repeat, NOTHING -- to do with differences between Labor and Likud, or Bush and Kerry.
Post Script by Shamir:
Apparently, the sides remained in their positions. I conclude with not a little disappointment: it would be great to have the big guns of Noam Chomsky on our side. Still I hope to convince you. Extending citizenship and/or voting rights to a previously excluded majority or plurality was the most usual and frequent solution to a problem; much more common than massacres. Electoral reforms in England in 1832, South Africa in 1990s, decolonization of African
states, - there are many precedents; and this way will work now. It is immensely practical, simple and can be implemented in a short time.
It calls for no negotiations, no details, no small print: just demand "one person - one vote" today! If the institutional supporters of this peaceful solution would be willing to invest a fraction of the costs spent for the "Geneva accords" in this direction, we would be able to start tomorrow with an aggressive PR campaign in Israel -- put our slogans on every wall, introduce the thought
into every thinking head in Israel, participate in the forthcoming elections under the banner of One Democratic State, and solve this most difficult problem in a very short time. Our program is most practical and executable; it is not just search for what is right, it is also extremely feasible; actually the only feasible program. If you will be convinced and convince others, we shall win.
In 1917, during a discussion in the Russian Parliament, a liberal speaker said: we have to struggle forward for there is no party in Russia
that knows how to get out of this mess. A man rose up to his feet and proclaimed: there was such a party. This was Vladimir Lenin. In a few months, his party took the country out of war and misery into the great project of communist Utopia. Following his advice, I tell you: we have the idea, we know how to do it, and together with you we shall be able to do it, for there is no limit to what people can do when they know what to do.