I thought that I had said what needed to be said in my new book about the problems that one-state rhetoric has in dealing coherently with the occupation, but on further reflection I do think there is a point that requires a little further illumination than it has already received. In the book, I point out the serious problems with maintaining that there is an occupation in place in the Palestinian territories, but in the same breath saying that this occupation is taking place within what is, or as soon as possible should be, a single, unified state, and that the appropriate corrective to this occupation is the political unification of the occupier and the occupied in one fell swoop without any intervening period of independence. I described this position correctly as both novel and incoherent. However, there is a deeper problem that I think should be spelled out even more clearly than I did in the book itself.
The problem has to do with the legal status of occupation, which pro-Palestinian rhetoric naturally takes for granted. Following the 1967 war, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip found themselves under what was almost universally recognized as a hostile foreign military occupation by Israel that was illegitimate and had to be ended. The only exception to this point of view is Israel itself, which does not view itself as the occupying power and refers instead to ?disputed territories.? This is, of course, in order to keep Israel?s territorial claims on the table and to avoid being bound by the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, among other things.
However, the dispute (if you can call it that) is between Israel and everybody else. It?s like a slightly deranged individual insisting there is a dispute over whether or not the sky appears blue: ?everyone else says it does, I say it doesn?t.? In fact, in legal and diplomatic terms, there is no dispute. The international community has a legal, political and diplomatic body that is charged with determining these matters: the UN Security Council. And it is under the terms of a series of Security Council resolutions, beginning with Resolution 242, that the Palestinian and Arab position that the occupied territories are indeed occupied shifts from a political stance and a claim to being in legal terms an unassailable fact.
The legal condition of occupation, the status of Israel as the occupying power, the legal obligation for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, the invalidity of any Israeli territorial claims other than adjustments voluntarily agreed to by the Palestinians, all of this is predicated legally, politically and diplomatically on Resolution 242 and its progeny. The problem for one-state rhetoric, which invariably continues to speak and think in terms of the occupation (I notice one of its proponents has taken to referring to Israel now as simply ?the enemy occupier?), is that 242 and the other Security Council resolutions are a package deal. They clearly establish the legal, political and diplomatic reality of the occupation as a fact as opposed to a claim (the only other ongoing occupations that fall into this category might be Western Sahara and Cyprus, but neither case is as clear cut as the occupied Palestinian territories). Palestinian and Arab diplomacy since 1967 has been based on this fact.
However 242 also explicitly recognizes the state of Israel and its ?right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.? All opposition to the occupation that is grounded in international legality flows from 242, but this document also provides legitimacy and international legality for the continued existence of the Israeli state. It appears to me that most pro-Palestinian one-state rhetoric continues to base much of its rhetoric and analysis on 242?s designation of Israel?s presence in the occupied territories as an occupation, while rejecting the second plank altogether.
It strikes me that from a legal and diplomatic perspective, this is extremely problematic. Security Council resolutions are not à la carte menus from which one may pick and choose according to taste and convenience. 242 and subsequent resolutions built on it are based on a fairly coherent diplomatic logic reflecting what is necessary and possible. In the same way that the position of the Israeli right wishes to focus on Israel?s right to live in peace without accepting the reality of the occupation and the obligation to bring it to an end, much one-state rhetoric as it currently stands relies on the legal designation of Israel as an occupying power in 242 while dispensing with its explicit recognition of Israel and its right to continue to exist.
I suppose it?s possible for one state advocates to decouple their characterization of Israel as the occupying power in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from the terms of Resolution 242, but in that case they are reducing the terms of reference regarding the occupation from a legal, political and diplomatic fact to that of an assertion and a claim (to which Israel has counter-assertions and counter-claims). It would mean that the Palestinian case is effectively no different than that of scores of other ethnic-minority areas in various UN member states that crave independence and consider themselves ?occupied? by the ethnic majority. Of course, one-state advocates could go further and point out that if you include the people living under occupation and the Palestinian citizens of Israel then Palestinians are not a minority as such at all, but rather a plurality in the entire area under Israeli control. And, since they aren?t interested in ending the occupation and securing independence and freedom for a Palestinian state, but rather wish to join with Israelis in some kind of unified state, dispensing with the legal status of the occupation and Israel?s obligations as a result might not be displeasing.
In other words, I find it easy to imagine a one-state advocate reading the above and saying, ?yes, the legal status of occupation is really beside the point, what?s important is to have equal rights in the entire country for all people and to avoid partition at all costs.? If that is the point of view one state rhetoric has adopted, at least it?s intelligible, although I continue to maintain that the occupation is unacceptable and wicked and has to end as soon as possible. But it?s definitely not consistent with continuing to talk in terms of “occupiers” or “occupation.” It might be coherent to talk about “oppressors,” “racist regimes,” or “apartheid,” but once you have made this political leap into the abyss beyond the legal framework of occupation versus independence, continuing to talk about Israel?s presence in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an ?occupation? is not only intellectually and legally jarring and inconsistent, it undermines the thrust of the rest of the argument.
I see this incoherence as further evidence, as if any were needed, that one state rhetoric generally speaking has not thought through the problem with which it is dealing. It is continuing to use terms of reference that are wholly inappropriate to its stated goals, and evinces few signs of serious, sustained analysis. Again, we confront the fact that what we?re dealing with here is not a systematic body of thought, but a bunch of slogans which often contradict themselves and which, when they reach any degree of specificity at all, tend to become quickly incoherent.
One-state advocates may not like to read what I?m writing. They certainly have avoided any sort of engagement or response, undoubtedly because they do not know what to say and were not expecting this kind of challenge and because, as their rhetoric suggests, they have not thought through the problem with any degree of clarity or in any systematic manner. But in fact, I?m doing them a big favor. If there is no one to point out the flaws in your thinking, and everyone simply tells you that you are either completely right and what you are advocating is nothing less than ?inevitable,? or conversely dismisses you out of hand without engaging your arguments at all, it will be difficult to refine the arguments and understand the weaknesses and strengths they may have. In this case, the weaknesses appear to be so overwhelming that healthy engagement, which is essential to any robust and functioning political agenda or point of view, is completely unwelcome and, it would appear, terrifying. But, really, there is no evidence that any of the one-state advocates have given any thought whatsoever to the conundrum about occupation that is deeply built into their rhetoric, as illustrated above.
A Jewish American one-state advocate claimed on his blog that the questions I am posing to his Palestinian and Arab colleagues are not new and have been answered many times in the past. I?m sure he knows that?s not the case at all. These questions, for the most part, are indeed new, because one-state rhetoric has not been challenged in a sustained way from a pro-Palestinian perspective until now. The problem I have illustrated regarding Resolution 242 and the status of occupation in the context of one-state rhetoric, to my knowledge (and I?m pretty sure about this), hasn?t been pointed out by anyone before this blog posting. I?m also pretty sure the one-state advocates haven?t considered it. And no one can seriously claim that it?s not relevant. The more the Palestinian and Arab American one-state advocates refuse to address any of the issues I have been putting on the table, the more they will be tacitly admitting they don?t have any answers that can possibly be persuasive. Perhaps they?re working on it. At the very least, my critiques offer them a golden opportunity to identify the weaknesses, failings and internal contradictions in their arguments and activities, and improve them.