(July 28, 2020 / JNS) Last December, in an article on CAMERA’s website, I asked whether Peter Beinart was advocating for a one-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If so, I argued, he should state this clearly, rather than obfuscating, and he should also be honest about what such a state has the potential to look like.
Earlier this month, he did one of those two things; that is, he came out against the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state in widely discussed essays in The New York Times and in the recently relaunched Jewish Currents, as well as in a segment on CNN. Instead, he argued, Israel should become a bi-national state, “Israel-Palestine.”
Despite an extremely negative response from the Jewish community, The New York Times again gave him its considerable platform to allow him to continue to promote his plan for dissolution of the Jewish State in a podcast last Thursday.
As my CAMERA colleague, Gilead Ini, has explained at length, Beinart’s long essay fails spectacularly in the honesty department, and treats Arab violence against Jews–not just since the State of Israel was reborn in 1948, but beforehand, as well–with extreme callousness. Shalem College Fellow Daniel Gordis, too, writes that Beinart is “so manipulative of his own readership.”
Beyond those points and others made in the many commentaries on Beinart’s proposal, however, is an overlooked yet massive logical flaw in his argument: Beinart’s underlying premise negates his own conclusion.
Beinart quickly mentions settlements in his New York Times piece, and discusses them with some more specificity in his Jewish Currents piece. But it’s in his July 12 CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria that he makes his assumption about the settlements explicit:
Zakaria: Peter, let me start by asking you, the premise of your argument is that the two-state solution is dead, and while people might feel like this administration has put forward a bad plan or there are other problems, I think there are a lot of people who are still going to say, no the goal is still two states, Israel and Palestine, living separately side by side in peace and security. Why did you come to the conclusion that that basic idea that you had believed in your whole life, is now essentially dead?
Beinart: Fareed, I’ve been hearing people say the two-state solution is on the verge of death my entire adult life. In 1982, the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who knew the situation on the ground better than almost all Israelis, said if there were 100,000 settlers in the West Bank, it would be impossible to create a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. There are now 650,000 settlers. Two of Israel’s Supreme Court Justices live in the West Bank; its second most powerful politician, arguably, Avigdor Lieberman, lives there; Israel built its newest medical school last year in the West Bank … The egg cannot be unscrambled …
He made the same points, in nearly identical language, in the Times’s podcast last week.
In Beinart’s view, Jews living in the West Bank have made a two-state solution impossible. It’s a sentiment that’s unfortunately become so taken for granted in so much of the discourse surrounding Israel, that it’s rarely questioned. But why? Setting aside the three government officials who could easily move, and the Trump plan that is still nothing more than an idea, what is it about settlements that makes the two-state solution impossible?
Jewish settlements in the West Bank can only be said to make a Palestinian state in the same area impossible if one believes that ultimately Jews cannot live safely and peacefully as a minority in a Palestinian-majority state. For if Jews can live in a Palestinian state, there is no reason that some of the more remote settlements can’t simply become part of Palestine. In that case, there is no ground on which to claim that the two-state solution is no longer feasible.
In a late 2016 speech after the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that settlers would not be willing to live in such a state. But this is beside the point. Those who don’t want to would simply have the onus to move themselves back into Israeli territory.
When Beinart claims that settlements have made a two-state solution impossible, therefore, he is, implicitly but definitively, asserting that Jews cannot live as a minority in a Palestinian state.
Yet, Jews living as a minority in a Palestinian state is exactly the remedy that he proposes.
To put it another way, either you think that Jews can live safely and peacefully as a minority in a Palestinian-majority state, or you think they can’t. If they can, then settlements have not precluded a two-state solution with a contiguous Palestinian state in most of the West Bank. If they can’t, then creating a Palestinian-majority state in all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea won’t fix that.
While Beinart’s conclusion is that Jews can live safely and peacefully as a minority in a Palestinian-majority state, his underlying assumption is that they can’t. He can’t have it both ways. Either his premise is false, or his proposed solution is impossible.
Beinart proposes that peace will come when Palestinians have political rights in “Israel-Palestine.” On CNN he said, “What we know from political science research is that deeply divided societies are more stable and more peaceful when everyone has a voice in government.”
Yet, a Palestinian state in the West Bank in which Jewish settlers lived as a minority would presumably also include political rights for Palestinians, so this argument does not address the inherent contradiction in his claims.
It’s also noteworthy that Beinart focuses on the memory of the Holocaust, asserting that is the emotional cause of Israeli Jews’ inability to make the leap to the Utopian fantasy that he envisions, that Ashkenazi Jews project their fear of Nazis onto Palestinians. In doing so, Beinart erases the experience of Mizrahi Jews–about half of Israel’s Jewish population–and their memory of the institutionalized second-class status to which they were subjected for centuries under Muslim rule.
He never examines whether Mizrahi Jews fear not another Holocaust, but a return to the daily humiliation of dhimmi life, and whether that fear is well-founded. Perhaps it is the American privilege that Benjamin Kerstein described that blinds Beinart to this issue.
There is one other point that bears mention. In Mosaic magazine, Yeshiva University’s Neil Rogachevsky argues persuasively that “Beinart’s bi-national solution is less about Israel than it is about changing the Middle East debate in the United States.”
Indeed, Beinart himself speaks of the “emotional force” that his argument will have “in the U.S. and across the world.”
Rogachevsky’s thesis is further supported by the fact that Beinart has published his proposal in two American publications, and no Israeli ones, and continues to promote it throughout the U.S. Perhaps that is because he knows that no Israeli government will ever gamble with the future of the country’s children to find out whether it’s his premise or his conclusion that’s wrong.
Seen in this way, Beinart’s recent political conversion is not a serious policy proposal at all, but just a further step in the international demonization of the Jewish State.
Karen Bekker is the assistant director of the Media Response Team at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a media-monitoring, research and membership organization devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
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