States of Despair: History, Politics, and the Struggle for Palestine 

Stephen Eric Bronner


Echoes of the Past

Hope is said to have a bitter taste. Nowhere is that more the case than in the Middle East where the possibilities for peace have been squandered and the longings for justice have grown ever more burdensome over the last half-century. Worry over the treatment of Arabs by Jews stretches back to the last century over a host of modern Jewish intellectuals including Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, and Gershom Scholem among others. But their cautionary warnings were ignored, if not derided, by the Jewish mainstream. It is ironic since just these thinkers implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, anticipated that the Palestinians would shoulder the compensatory costs of the European holocaust. This historical trick of fate would serve as the source of an ideological competition concerning who is the real victim that still poisons the possibility of reasoned debate between Jews and Palestinians.

Jews had, understandably, made a moral demand for a national haven of safety following World War II and Europe, guilt-ridden by its recent past, was willing to sanction one so long as it was somewhere else: like in "the holy land." Just as legitimately, however, its Arab inhabitants insisted that they had no part in the holocaust and that they should not be forced to pay such a terrible price for the blood spilled by others. There was one way for Israelis to square the moral circle: understand the creation of the new "Jewish" state as based on the provision of "a land without a people for a people without a land." This slogan coined in 1901 by Israel Zangwill, who ironically never believed it applied to Palestine in the first place, became perhaps the founding myth of Israel. It projected the creation of life in an empty desert by a "chosen people," a cultivated people wronged by history, at last able to build its destiny through intelligence, bravery, and perseverance. Unfortunately, however, the land was not empty or bereft of civilization: it had to be made so.

Herein lies the contribution of the various "revisionist" historians like Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe as well as independent-minded sociologists like Baruch Kimmerling. Their political opinions differ radically but their research illustrates with scholarly objectivity that the "people without a land" had actually created "the land without a people" through what today would be termed "ethnic cleansing." Creating Israel involved forcibly expelling 750,000 Arab inhabitants, eliminating over 400 villages, employing rape and torture, and turning those Arabs living in the new state into second-class citizens to ensure its "Jewish" character. But the old myth refuses to die. The image still exists of a heroic battle waged by a small community of peaceful Jews against a vast army of savage Arabs, the assault on the Israeli David by the anti-Semitic Goliath, which led to the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

War followed war. An attempted seizure of the Suez Canal by Israel with the backing of France and England took place in 1956 until, fearful of increased European influence in the Middle East, the United States demanded that the invaders withdraw. And they did. Then, in 1967, Israel attacked an allied force of Arab armies-from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan- massing on its borders. The "six day" war culminated in a humiliating defeat for the Arab world and the capture of the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai, and the West Bank. It was in response to these events that the Security Council of the United Nations passed the famous resolution #242, which demanded Israeli withdrawal from the conquered territories. Here began the shift in American policy: Israel now appeared as the dominant force in the region and a bulkhead against the Soviet Union with whose interests the Arab world became identified in the eyes of the United States. Also, in 1968, the Palestinian Liberation Organization formed and, a year later, Yasser Arafat was elected its chairman. Incarnating the demand for a Palestinian state, the PLO was born under the long shadow of the "catastrophe" (nakba) of 1948, the expulsion resulting from the creation of Israel, and the disastrous military defeat of 1967.

                                                          Cycles of Violence

Terror and denial expressed the desperate reality of defeat and colonial oppression. There followed the hijacking of airplanes, the assassination of eleven Israeli athletes in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, and the refusal of the PLO to accept the existence of Israel. The opprobrium heaped by the western press upon the Arab world in general, and the PLO in particular, intensified following the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria in 1973 on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. This culminated in yet another defeat of the Arabs by the Israelis. The money began pouring in from the United States and the Jewish diaspora. A nation under siege faced a nest of terrorists with whom negotiation was impossible. It didn't matter that in 1987, following the Israeli military incursion into Lebanon, an intifada -or "resistance" - spontaneously took shape in Palestine that placed primary emphasis upon civil disobedience, a refusal to cooperate with the Israeli authorities, and the emergence of a network of non-governmental organizations to build communal solidarity and resistance. But the imbalance of economic, political, and military power grew in favor of Israel. Settlements were expanded, constrictions on the populace increased, repression intensified. Indeed, by the time the "second intifada" began in September of 2000, Palestinians were facing an Israeli nation that had become the seventh largest military machine in the world, a major arms dealer to previously colonized countries, and the beneficiary of $4 billion per year in foreign aid from the United States.

Fifteen thousand people were arrested, or sent into exile, or had their houses destroyed, or were hurt or killed during and after the first intifada. Committed activists were replaced by inexperienced youths, armed gangs arose, the lure of fundamentalism grew, Palestinian civil society was virtually destroyed, and conditions in the community degenerated. Such was the basis for the new reliance on suicide bombings and organized violence generated during the second intifada, which a militant Palestinian friend told me "did not deserve the name of an intifada," made it different from the earlier uprising.

This most recent action was provoked by Ariel Sharon who, surrounded by 10,000 troops, walked up the Temple Mount - known to Arabs as the "noble sanctuary" or Hareem al-Shareef - as a publicity stunt. A hero to the right-wing religious settlers of the West Bank, and despised by the Palestinians for his role in the slaughter of refugees in the Lebanese towns of Shabron and Shitilla in 1982, Sharon symbolized by his actions that Israel still exerted sovereignty not merely over one of the holiest Islamic shrines, but over Jerusalem itself. Rioting took place in response to this provocation. The Palestinians attacked with stones, Molotov cocktails, and a few automatic weapons while the Israelis retaliated with live ammunition, anti-tank rockets, helicopters, and missiles. The Israeli military systematically destroyed the houses of terrorist "sympathizers" and family members; thousands were arrested or tortured; citizens of the occupied territories were denied the most elementary medical and social services; and, finally, construction for "security" purposes was begun on more than seven hundred and fifty roadblocks and a huge "wall of separation." Jenin has been reduced to rubble; nearly half of the 35,000 inhabitants of Hebron have left the city, and Qualquilya was literally closed off from the world for 22 days. Since the beginning of the second intifada more than 2600 Palestinians, mostly young people, have lost their lives and more than 24,000 have been wounded as against roughly 800 deaths and 6000 wounded among Israelis.

Israel has used the eruption of the second intifada to again expand the number of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, further curtail civil liberties, seize Palestinian bank accounts, build a wall, and ward off what Binjamin Netanyahu has called "the demographic threat." All this was undertaken by Israel in the name of "security" as elements of the Palestinian resistance, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, seized upon the idea of suicide bombing. This decision has resulted in a moral and a political disaster for the Palestinians. Any possibility of capturing the moral high ground has been squandered. Innocent lives have been destroyed and the dramatic pictures of terrorist attacks-young Israelis torn limb from limb in a bombed out discotheque-have tended to eradicate the real if less dramatic oppression that Palestinians suffer every day. A culture of violence is fostered by the suicide bombings that will undoubtedly leave its marks on the post-independence society. While Hamas has roots in the Palestinian community, since its members provide a host of social services, other paramilitary groups are little more than gangs of armed thugs that also fight amongst each other. Sectarian organizations such as these would suffer from any peace, or the erection of any democratic state, and they are placing their own narrow interests over those of the Palestinian people. Their tactics have brought increased repression by the imperialist enemy and, perhaps even worse, they have provided a plausible justification for the use of such repression. Terror has blocked progress in resolving the crisis and Edward Said was surely correct in stating the need for a "Palestinian Mandela."

Not to speak out against terrorist tactics and suicide bombings because of some misplaced sense of "solidarity" with the Palestinian people is both self-defeating and an abdication of political responsibility. Such criticism is legitimate, however, only if the systematic institutional exercise of violence by Israel on the Palestinians as a whole is taken into account. Simply indulging in moral outrage over suicide bombings, especially when Jewish organizations like the Irgun and the "Stern Gang" also employed terrorist tactics in the struggle for independence, also smacks of hypocrisy. A sense of reciprocity, a mixture of political sobriety and moral sensitivity, is required for dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: apologies need formulation; some form of compensation must be provided for crimes committed; and "truth and reconciliation" commissions must be assembled to begin the process of psychological healing.

There is, however, no substitute for a "political" resolution of the conflict. A negotiated settlement-rather than any unilateral withdrawal by Israel-is necessary if only because the actual territorial claims of both Jews and Palestinians still retain a certain arbitrary character. Israel is the product of exiles from a host of other countries that found themselves together in what can only be considered an arbitrary homeland while Palestine, first institutionally organized by British colonizers who brought the European state model to the Middle East, can justify its borders with recourse to little more than historical exigency and a set of resolutions voted upon by the United Nations. The arbitrary character of any particular territorial solution to the problem has only intensified the appeal of blind nationalism and the ability to manipulate it by elites-especially those who benefit from the existing imbalance of power. Thus, today, it is less a matter of proposing one fixed solution or another than crystallizing the concrete demands around which resistance can be mobilized.

The Path from Geneva

Only one serious proposal for peace is on the table, the Geneva Accord: it was ultimately signed by twenty Israelis and twenty Palestinians, representing a broad spectrum of civil society in the two camps, after more than a year of negotiation. The document lacks any official status and it is formally recognized neither by the Israeli State nor the Palestinian Authority. But this "treaty," or initiative for peace has created an enormous controversy among those committed to justice for the Palestinians. It can be seen as the heir of the Oslo talks of 1993 between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, or the Camp David talks of 2000 sponsored by President Bill Clinton, or even the "road map" proposed by President George W. Bush and the "quartet" of great powers: France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia. Nevertheless, viewing the new initiative as a dull imitation of the past would be a mistake.

The Geneva Accord provides a detailed model of a two-state solution to the current conflict, a precise map for the permanent agreement, and the framers explicitly chose to move from the large issues to the smaller ones in contrast to the logic of the "road map." There is also a sense in which each party to the conflict acknowledges the rights of the other: meaning neither state should infringe on the rights of any of its citizens and, in contrast to previous agreements, each should exist as a contiguous state. Security will be predicated on turning Palestine into a de-militarized state and subjecting the Israeli military presence to a multinational force. Israel would withdraw to the 1967 border, surrender parts of the Negev adjacent to its border with the Gaza Strip, and keep control of the "Wailing Wall." Palestine, for its part, would take control of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The Holy City would be divided in two while the Old City will become an "open" city.

A two state solution amenable to Palestinians and Jews has roots in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that promised Jews a homeland without disrupting any existing Arab communities and the British "White Paper" of 1922 that divided Palestine into two administrative districts. The two-state solution was explicitly proposed in November of 1947 when the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to partition the existing state of Palestine. Jews accepted while the Arab leadership, which lacked both foresight and unity, rejected any deal. The offer of 1947 was probably the best offer the Palestinians ever received precisely because Israel was still a dream rather than a superpower. In the following years, however, Israel grew more powerful and, as that occurred, its offers grew more meager while the concessions it demanded from the Palestinian side grew more stark. At the talks in Camp David of 2000, in fact, what remained on the table was a truncated non-contiguous state in which control over roads, water, and electricity-and always "security"-would remain in the hands of the Israelis. Some felt the deal was a starting point and that it should be accepted: others that it didn't go far enough and that, essentially, it was a sell-out. The arguments are not very different from those surrounding the Geneva Accords.

But history is a harsh teacher: it becomes apparent simply from the maps of the two-state solution, or what should count as two states, that the longed for state of Palestine has diminished in both its size and its potential for the exercise of sovereignty. Should the "unilateral withdrawal" recently threatened by Ariel Sharon actually take place, the result will be a Palestinian "state" essentially composed of part of the West Bank plus Gaza with the another part of the West Bank and Israel in the middle. That is not a product of circumstance but of geo-political developments whereby Israel has become the seventh largest military power on the planet and the favored recipient of foreign aid form the United States, which amounts to over $4 billion per year, while Palestine has grown irrevocably weaker with an economy near collapse and unemployment reaching over 90% in some of the occupied territories. What held in the past holds will also, undoubtedly, hold for the present and the immediate future: the terms of any deal will reflect the imbalance of power existing between the two adversaries and that imbalance is increasingly tilting in favor of Israel.

Source: The Palestine Monitor

Urgency seemingly speaks in favor of those committed to the Geneva Accords. Israel is becoming more not less recalcitrant, which alone explains the unofficial endorsement-if not the official lack of endorsement-of this peace initiative by Yasser Arafat. As things stand, moreover, the existing paralysis in negotiations is producing a pent-up frustration that will inevitably explode into new violence among the Palestinians. Many critics of the Geneva Accord, however, feel that they have been burned once too often. They maintain that the negotiators actually represent nothing other than themselves, that the Accord favors Israel, and that the only way to deal with a new situation is by posing the need for a bi-national state. Palestinians and Israelis are seen as inextricably bound together by the infrastructure that has been created. To deny this is to deny reality. That is why, in their view, every past initiative for peace has produced what Tocqueville termed "a crisis of rising expectations" resulting only in increased frustration, mistrust, and a new cycle of violence. Neither the sense of urgency created by the crisis in the Middle East nor the fact that the Geneva Accord is the only game in town should, in their view, blind citizens to the huge obstacles facing its implementation.

Obstacles and Alternatives

What would be the contours of Palestine? The ideal situation would be for Israel to withdraw to the "green line" or the borders of 1967. It would surrender 22% of what was left for the Palestinians in 1948 and then annexed in 1967. But there is first the question of negotiating land that, from the standpoint of the Palestinians, was already theirs to begin with. The "occupied territories" have also already been repopulated with over 200,000 settlers and 160 settlements of which, according to the Geneva Accord, 110,000 settlers and 140 settlements will be relocated. But these figures don't include another 200,000 settlers living in parts of the West Bank that were annexed as Jerusalem. Population transfers of this sort are also difficult under the best of circumstances and, in this instance, the possibility of violence-and perhaps even civil war-must be taken seriously given that many of the inhabitants are Zionist and religious fanatics. These settlements are, moreover, growing at a rapid pace. It is not simply that new ones are being built, a matter on which the Israeli government constantly equivocates in public, but that existing settlements are expanding over more and more territory.

Then, too, there is the infrastructure. Land has been seized, water placed under control, segregated roads connecting Jewish settlements and disconnecting Palestinian towns have been constructed, and a system of permits and checkpoints have been introduced to immobilize Palestinian citizens. Above all, however, there is the "wall of separation." Still unfinished, 150 kilometers of the wall have already been built at a cost of $2.5 million per kilometer. Cutting through the West Bank, rigidly dividing towns like Abu Dis, and completely encircling others like Qualquilya, the wall is protecting Jewish settlements by creating isolated cantons, ghettos, or "Bantustans" within the occupied territories that should comprise the sovereign state of Palestine. Constructing the wall has enabled Israel to annex fertile Arab lands, destroy arable soil in what remains of the occupied territories, and uproot more than two hundred thousand trees once and olive groves owned by Palestinians. The wall is ruining Arab farmers, hindering Arab workers, and systematically strangling the economy of Arab towns: it has, according to the International Red Cross, enabled Israel to go "far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power under international humanitarian law."

But the Geneva Accord says nothing about any of this. It remains content with noting the need for an unspecified "physical barrier" to preserve the security of Israel even though the wall undermines the prospect of a contiguous and sovereign Palestine. Critics of the Geneva Accord suggest that only an over-riding effort from within a bi-national state has the possibility of bringing down the wall. It is the same when dealing with the "right of return." Atrocities committed throughout history is seen by Israel as legitimating a "right of return" for all Jews. But the Geneva Accord expects a waiver of this right by descendents of the dispossessed inhabitants of Palestine who, now numbering roughly 3.5 million people, are living in refugee camps under unspeakable conditions. The return of Palestinians to Israel would, after all, change the demographic composition of the "Jewish" state and, even while fighting goes on in the present, compromise the "right of return" for those Jews confronted with anti-Semitism in the future.

Advocates of the Geneva Accord essentially claim that allowing for the "right of return" would torpedo any peace agreement. Abandonment of a "Jewish" state is something Israelis will not accept and most Palestinians, it is argued, prefer their own state rather than the unrealizable dream of a bi-national state. It is unlikely that 3.5 million Palestinians will exercise the right of return and, with an eye on what German Jews received from the postwar German government, monetary compensation might be offered as an alternative." Without some explicit policy, however, the "right of return" will weigh upon every attempt at reconciliation. Marketing the Geneva Accord becomes difficult when it appears that peace is being exchanged for justice.

But there are other problems with the two-state solution that deserve consideration. The assumption made by those who framed the Geneva Accord is that two democracies will emerge from an officially signed treaty. That assumption, however, is highly questionable. Within Israel, even without considering the occupied territories, Arabs already comprise over 20% of the population and the "demographic threat" is growing. Excluded from the political mainstream in a variety of ways, victims of discrimination and a radically unequal distribution of services, integrating these Israeli Arabs and providing them with equality will increasingly threaten the "Jewish" character of the state: it is not difficult to see a growing tension between preserving the traditional identity of Israel and maintaining its "democratic" commitments.

As for Palestine, it lacks liberal political traditions, a bureaucratic infrastructure, an indigenous bourgeoisie, and a sovereign authority capable of securing what Max Weber considered decisive: a monopoly over the means of coercion. Palestine, too, will face the conflict between satisfying its orthodox religious groups and building a secular republic. Even with the creation of two democracies, moreover, there is no guarantee that Israel will find peace either with its fanatical enemies or its other neighbors. Not simply a Palestinian state but a democratic state with a centralized bureaucracy and a security force will be required to crack down on the various organized groups of religious fanatics and secular thugs and render them anachronistic. Ensuring peace will also depend upon Israel culturally fitting into the Middle East rather than looking back with longing to Europe. The Geneva Accord does not deal with the question of a democratic Palestine and as a narrowly political treaty, by definition, cannot deal with the cultural relation between Israel and its neighbors.

The vision of a bi-national state seemingly solves many of the deficiencies associated with the two-state solution proposed by the Geneva Accords. Border problems and security arrangements would obviously be settled. The "wall of separation," the privileges currently accorded Jewish citizens and settlers would be abolished along with attempts to identify the state with either Islam or Judaism. The bi-national state would also offer an elegant solution to the problem of return by guaranteeing it to both Palestinians and Jews. The new bi-national state could also make use of the bureaucracy and institutional political arrangements that are already in place. It would be in the interest of Palestinians to embrace liberal democracy, since they would constitute the majority, while it would be in the interest of Israelis to embrace liberal democracy in order to protect their civil liberties as a minority. With a bi-national state, moreover, it might finally be possible to speak about a lasting peace and a state that would come to terms with its neighbors and fit into the over-riding culture of the Middle East.

A bi-national solution, however, presupposes a great deal. It calls for a suspension of mistrust inherited from the past and forms of solidarity based on religion and ethnicity. Ignoring the emotional power of "identity," and how a deficit of rationality has helped bring about the current crisis, the bi-national solution depends upon both Israelis and Palestinians extending their loyalty to a secular state whose appeal is precisely its rationality. Integrating an advanced bureaucratic state with a still occupied territory, wherein warring paramilitary organizations factions and socio-economic degeneration express the lack of a single recognized institutional authority, should not be underestimated. There is also not much of a fit between the political traditions of Israel and Palestine: whether they can be made to fit remains an open question. Proponents of the Geneva Accord are surely correct in noting that the vision of a bi-national state is unacceptable to the majority in both countries and, more important, that there is no mechanism for translating it into reality. They claim that the two-state solution is the only realistic alternative. Nevertheless, even if it offers an important framework for the future, its acceptance in the present is only marginally less unrealistic and utopian than belief in the possibility of erecting a bi-national state.

For all these reasons, then, it might be useful to consider a third option that combines the best of both the two-state solution and the bi-national state. The historical precedent is, interestingly enough, the English proposals of 1947 that essentially envisioned a confederation based on two relatively autonomous political states connected by an economic union. Under such a scenario, ethnic and religious identifications would remain in place. Conflict between two distinct political bureaucracies with differing political traditions might have a chance of diminishing through the incentives attendant upon an economic union. Prospects of investment in Palestine, along with wages and benefits equal with those existing in Israel, can be seen as providing a material foundation for "security" and the elimination of old territorial ambitions. But there is also little doubt that proponents of such a confederation would have to deal with many of the obstacles facing supporters of the two-state solution and a bi-national state. These include, in the first instance, the intransigence of the current regime ruling Israel. Indeed, especially under present circumstances, it might be best to begin thinking in terms other than those of an over-riding institutional solution.

Concluding Remarks

There is no possibility of an enduring peace so long as Israel is ruled by a coalition unified by imperialist ambitions and military suppression of the Palestinians. The situation is growing grim within Israel. According to recent polls 65% believe that Israel is crumbling economically and 73% believe that it is crumbling socially. A sense of despair is taking hold that is only intensified by the ever-present danger of terrorist attacks and the growing belief that Israel is turning into a pariah nation. Instead of thinking about the impact of Israeli policy, however, secular Zionists and religious zealots are content instead to view these developments as products of a "new anti-Semitism."

"New" about the "new anti-Semitism" is only that Jews are no longer fragmented among themselves or powerless victims of a Christian world. Jews now have a powerful homeland, powerful lobbying organizations in all the western democratic states, and powerful allies like the United States. No longer are there fascist organizations fueled by anti-Semitic ideology, no longer is anti-Semitism taught in the universities and acceptable in polite society, and no longer is there an anti-Semitic movement in any of the democracies with any serious possibility at attaining power. New is only the way in which old-fashioned prejudices are interwoven with the barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, the attempts of Ariel Sharon and his supporters to create a "greater Israel," and the policies of the United States in the Middle East. These policies are seen as vindicating the old beliefs in Jewish power and the Jewish world conspiracy associated with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jewish advocacy organizations are meanwhile busy identifying every criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and thus fanning their own version of "blowback." A synagogue is defaced; a cemetery is desecrated; a Jewish individual is molested in the street. These are terrible acts and inexcusable. Highlighting them without taking into account the impact of Israeli policy on the Palestinians, however, is simply obscene. The starting point is clear enough for any serious engagement with the politics of the Middle East. It involves insisting that the holocaust should not be used to justify current Israeli policies and that criticism of such policies should not be identified with anti-Semitism.

Enough Jews are tired of a gang of radical Zionists and religious zealots whose politics associates what is best about their tradition with militarism, imperialism, religious obscurantism, and the most blatant racism. Above 60% of the Israeli citizenry favor some kind of two-state solution to the current crisis. Various non-governmental organizations like "Peace Now," groups like "Women in Black," and the "refuseniks"-soldiers unwilling to serve in the occupied territories-are building blocks of a very different civil society than what currently exists. Such groups deserve support along with, especially, those engaged in organizing Israeli Arabs into a political force. Still, it would be a mistake simply to ignore institutional politics in favor of building opposition in civil society.

Politicians of imperialism and discrimination exist not merely in the Likud party of Ariel Sharon. The Labor Party has shown itself almost as untrustworthy as its rival": the idea for erecting a "wall of separation," in fact, originally came from the Labor party. But when confronted by one enemy carrying a stick and by another wielding a gun, using an old quip employed by Leon Trotsky during the rise of Nazism, it is better to first disarm the one with the gun. The same applies here: any possibility for peace initially rests on ending the regime of Sharon.

Indictment on bribery charges may loom in the future, but Sharon's proposal for a "unilateral withdrawal" from the Gaza and part of the West Bank is evidencing a measure of political success in the present. It has received the backing of the United States and it has undercut any incentive for Israel to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians. As orthodox rabbis associated with the settlers compare the proposed evacuation of Gaza with the "appeasement" of Hitler in 1938 Jibril Rajub, the Security adviser to Yasser Arafat, has vowed that the Palestinian Authority will "fight" Hamas should its leaders attempt to "take over" the Gaza Strip. Sharon thus winds up in the best of all possible worlds. His proposal to withdraw from "some" of the occupied lands evokes an aura of moderation even while Israeli dominance is strengthened by the looming prospect of civil war in Palestine.

Calling for a negotiated settlement is the alternative to unilateral withdrawal from sparsely populated areas in the occupied territories that would leave Israel in control of land separating the Gaza from Egypt. Such an effort for peace, however, requires a political point of departure. The Geneva Accord should not be billed as a cure for the ills that plague the region: it ignores too many points of substance and new "facts on the ground" may ultimately render it anachronistic. Still, it makes no sense simply to dismiss this peace initiative in the name of a bi-national state whose structure remains to be defined, but whose creation will also require negotiations. Creating institutions capable of providing for the democratic self-determination should be the principle aim of those interested in the future of Palestine. Debate over the future state is, indeed, probably less important than clarity over the preconditions for any solution.

This makes confronting the existence of "the wall" a matter of crucial importance. Palestine has already sought its condemnation by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, whose jurisdiction on this matter is denied by both Israel and the United States, while Israeli civil rights groups have brought the legality of the "wall of separation" before the Israeli Supreme Court. Security may call for a physical barrier but it does not demand a combination of ditches, barricades, barbed wire, and an indefinite number of checkpoints created to humiliate the populace, devastate the environment, strangle the economy in the occupied territories, and fragment the community. Even while claims are being made that a few kilometers will be destroyed in the encircled town of Baka al Sharkyeh, which complements the strategy of unilateral withdrawal, construction of the wall in Beit Seira, Beit Surik, the north-western region of Jerusalem, and elsewhere is continuing at a rapid pace. That "the wall must fall," as the new slogan demands, is a precondition both for creating a functional Palestinian state, a confederation, or a bi-national arrangement.

It is the same with ending the occupation. This can only mean calling for Israel's withdrawal to the "green line" or the 1967 borders, and either abandoning the Jewish settlements tout court with an eye toward creating a functional Palestinian state or integrating them into a bi-national solution to the crisis. Leaving settlements within Palestine, especially those that "canton-ize" the nation, will obviously undercut the substantive exercise of sovereignty and also create an irredentist minority within the new state. It is hard to imagine withdrawal to the "green line," however, without pressure being placed on Israel. In spite of his promises, President Bush did not "ride herd" on the most powerful party to the conflict in the Middle East. His "road map," which sought to begin with small points of agreement and then work up to a Palestinian state, lacked any enforcement mechanism or serious incentives for Israel to restrain its imperialist appetite. Only the threat of disinvestments and curbing the $4 billion per year in aid it receives from the United States can help bring about an end to the occupation.

Any other more piecemeal approach to securing peace will be predicated on what Palestine-not Israel-will concede. That is because all the land being discussed was taken from the Palestinians in the first place. Recognizing this reality, if for no other reason, makes it necessary to end the silence over the right of return. The issue can conceivably be resolved in terms of Palestinians being allowed to exercise this right, being provided monetary compensation for relinquishing it, or being given a choice between the two. In any event, however, a secure peace-a peace with legitimacy-cannot be achieved by sacrificing justice.

Treaties are unnecessary between friends and compromises are irrelevant when opponents share the same interest. The compromises required for any settlement of the conflict between Israel and Palestine can always be understood as a betrayal of ethnic, national, or religious ambitions. No treaty can compensate for past injustices or sacrifices undertaken in the name of the "cause." Any genuine possibility for dealing with the deeper problems and the more acute feelings of injury requires a new public attitude that will show less concern for the passions than for the interests. The Bible and the Koran won't help in solving the conflict: the language of national security no less than national self-determination has been corrupted. Public intellectuals have a role to play in mitigating the sense of hopeless frustration no less than squashing hopes of a utopian solution. They can indeed help foster the requisite combination of liberalism and realism necessary both for suspending the prospect of protracted violence and perhaps, ultimately, developing a culture of reconciliation.


Stephen Eric Bronner is Professor (II) of Political Science at Rutgers University and the Senior Editor of Logos. The paperback edition of his A Rumor about the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion was just released by Oxford University Press.