Hussein Ibish on the Fantasy World of One-Staters

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Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which is the leading American group advocating for an independent Palestine alongside Israel, has a new book out, "What's Wrong With the One-State Agenda?" which does a comprehensive job of demolishing the arguments made by those who think that Israel should be eliminated and replaced by a single state of Jews and Palestinians. He has performed an important service with this book by noting one overwhelming truth about this debate: Virtually no one in Israel wants a single-state between the river and the sea. It's useful to remember this salient fact when listening to the ostensibly reality-based arguments of the one-staters.

I spoke to Ibish about his arguments last week, shortly after he spoke at the J Street conference. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Jeffrey Goldberg: What were your impressions of the conference?

Hussein Ibish: It was impressive as a first step. My impression is that there's still quite a bit of message-cohesion and message-formulation to be done. It seemed to me to be an insufficiently coherent group of people. The range of people was so large.

JG: You mean on the Zionist spectrum?

HI:  I mean people ranging from the sort of centrist-center left, all the way to post-Zionists, anti-Zionists, who were there, too. It's not ultimately a group that's going to form, I think, a functional coalition. Right now, they're finding their feet. This is normal, it's inevitable -- but at a certain point, I think they have to clarify what they are, who their constituency is, what they stand for, who they are, who they're not. They've been more successful in creating a space for themselves as a new voice that is compelling, but at other moments it's looked like where they were simply positioning themselves as the alternative to AIPAC. And my sense of things is that, initially, that they would look too much to their rivals. But sooner rather than later, they're going to have to just move on and start to define themselves in a much more coherent and pro-active way, not just in contrast to the traditional Jewish organizations but also to distinguish themselves from people in the Jewish community whose criticism of Israel makes them anathema to the mainstream of the community. They can't go there and I think they've tried not to go there.

JG: You can't be Zionist and non-Zionist at the same time, in other words.

HI: Exactly. I think it's essential for them. For us, it's not important.

JG: Well, isn't it important to have a pro-Israel, pro-two-state organization in Washington that's credibly Jewish?

HI: It is. But I believe that all of the mainstream organizations are moving in that direction. I think begrudgingly, without enthusiasm, I think they're all getting there, because I think ultimately the only organization that I can think of that is absolutely opposed to a two-state agreement are on the far right, the Zionist Organization of America, which is in favor of the occupation without reservations and, on the left, Jewish Voices for Peace, which is a one-state group all the way and without reservation. It seems to me everybody else occupies some space in the middle without being one-staters and without being flag-waving pro-settlers.

Now, the question is, from our point of view, what's really important is that the Jewish community have a range of dynamic organizations that are effective in advocating for peace based on two states, number one. And number two, that we can work with everybody who is in favor of a two-state solution without any other preconditions. I mean, we don't want to get involved in intra-Jewish rivalries. We want to work with everyone who wants peace based on two states. It's as simple as that. We don't have a huge stake in where J Street ultimately positions itself, but I will say this: The more mainstream it can become, the more powerful and important it will be. I think they should be as mainstream as possible, they should avoid the impression they sometimes give that they're perhaps not being sensitive to fears about Israel's security. There's a real appetite for a more robust, more aggressively pro-peace organization in the Jewish community. But from our perspective, the only people we don't want to talk to are the one-staters and the pro-occupation groups.
 
JG: But the one-staters are a very marginal group. I think one of the interesting things you do in your book is show very coolly, calmly, the essential ridiculousness of one-state advocacy based on the simple fact that in order to have a successful one-state plan, you need Israeli Jews to want it, and today, not even one percent of Israeli Jews want it.

HI: You could put all of them in a small auditorium.

JG: I don't think you need an auditorium. Talk about these guys, the Tony Judts --

HI: I don't want to be too hard on Judt. Judt put out this argument and then he immediately admitted that it was utopian, that it wasn't serious and he was just doing a thought experiment. And since then, he basically has more or less withdrawn from the conversation Judt has not been a person who suggests that this is a realistic plan and a serious proposal for the future.

There are two fundamental flaws with pro-Palestinian strategic thinking that focuses on the idea of abandoning two states and going for a single state. The first is the question of feasibility, and it's hard to argue with that. Obviously anyone who is familiar with this sees the difficulty, and I would be the first to say that success is not assured by any means. Even a two-state agreement looks, at the moment, like something of a long shot. The difference between the two-state solution and everything else is that yes, it's a long shot, but it would work. And if we could conceivably get it, if we did get it, it would solve the conflict.

The fundamental argument that the one-staters seem to be making, which is that we can't possibly get Israel to end the occupation and relinquish their control of the 22 percent of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) but we will inevitably succeed in getting them to relinquish one hundred percent of the territory under their control. This is a problem of logic. The second thing is that once you've realized this, obviously what you've done is set yourself the task of convincing Jewish Israelis to voluntarily do this.  The idea of coercing the Israelis into this through military force is absurd, and it could only really be done through voluntary persuasion. What the one-staters argue, actually, is that they don't have to do that. What they're going to do, they say, is bring the Israelis to their knees.

JG: South Africa style?

HI: Well, South Africa style, except we don't have a South Africa equation here.

JG: But they believe they do.

HI: They believe that through the application of what they call BDS - Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions - globally that they can crush the will of the Israelis and break the Zionist movement. To me, even if you believe that boycotts were plausible, which I don't, certainly I don't think the American government and institutions and corporations would participate.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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