The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The One-State Solution

Daniel Lazare contemplates the one-state solution to the Palestine conflict (via American Samizdat, which provides a link to an even more challenging critique of Zionism as a failed project).

Rather than struggling to find just the right compromise between two nations claiming the same piece of territory--all but impossible under the best of circumstances--[Marc H. Ellis, in his book Israel and Palestine: Out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century]believes in rendering such claims irrelevant. The goal is not some delicate, Lebanese-style power-sharing arrangement between competing warlords but a modern democracy structured in such a way that citizens do not see themselves primarily as Jews, Christians or Muslims but as workers, farmers, shopkeepers and so on. In their religious capacities, individuals might still look upon Israel/Palestine as sacred. But as citizens of a secular democracy, they would expect their state to serve the entire population irrespective of religion or ethnicity--and would complain bitterly if it did not.

The problem, of course, is how to get there from here, which is where Ellis stumbles. By basing his argument on Judaism's longstanding ethical tradition, he fails to recognize how ambiguous that tradition really is. While the Old Testament says some humane things about protecting widows and orphans, it contains enough tales of massacre and vengeance to fuel the fantasies of the most homicidal West Bank settler. To quote the historian Christopher Hill, the Bible is "a huge bran-tub from which anything might be drawn"--hatred no less than tolerance, war no less than peace, theocracy no less than democracy. If democratic secularism is Ellis's goal, then secular politics are the only way to achieve it. Instead of immersing themselves in separate religious traditions, Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians must join in a common tradition based on internationalism, secularism and democracy. Instead of burying themselves in ancient texts, they must understand the irrelevance of those texts to modern politics.

More religion, no matter how progressively construed, is the last thing this God-soaked piece of terrain needs.


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