In its May/June issue, the journal Foreign Affairs published a nearly 6,000-word piece that asserts that there is already a “one-state reality” in Israel, and calling for a change in US policy, to “advocate for equality, citizenship, and human rights for all Jews and Palestinians living within the single state dominated by Israel.”
In truth, there’s very little in the piece by Professors Michael Barnett, Nathan J. Brown, Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami that’s original. (“Israel’s One-State Reality,” published online April 14, 2023.) But the depth of its dishonesty, even for an opinion piece, is rare. The beginning of the piece is dedicated to attempting to prove a falsehood, that a “one-state reality,” resembling an apartheid state, exists in Israel, and the end is dedicated to advocating fanciful US policy prescriptions to address this supposed situation – including sanctions on Israel and allowing Palestinian attempts to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court. But the entire piece obscures the actual reasons for the very real problems in the region. A glaring omission lies at the heart of the piece: Palestinian leaders’ repeated rejections of independence and a state of their own in the West Bank. The article’s very thesis depends upon ignoring this clear historical fact, and once it is acknowledged, the piece falls apart.
The Reality of Israel
The authors’ assertion that there is today a “reality of a single state” in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, a state that “may not technically be apartheid, but it rhymes” with the charge, is simply a regurgitation of the EU-funded NGO B’tselem’s January 2021 report, which was debunked on CAMERA’s website shortly after its publication:
If you look closely at the report … it becomes clear that most of it focuses on the mundane reality that non-citizens don’t have the same rights as citizens, just as non-citizens of any other country don’t have the same rights as citizens. Citizenship, by definition, discriminates.
In Israel, Jewish and Arab citizens can vote in national elections. Non-citizens can’t. Jewish and Arab citizens can freely enter their country. Non-citizens are regulated. Jewish and Arab citizens have Israeli passports. Non-citizens don’t. Not exactly foundations of apartheid, although B’tselem holds them up as such.
But the authors in Foreign Affairs ask that observers put on “new glasses,” which “would disaggregate the concepts of state, sovereignty, nation, and citizenship.” Indeed, as CAMERA pointed out in its rebuttal to B’tselem’s report, the only way one can pretend that Israel is an apartheid state is by disregarding everything we know about nations and citizenship. (Neither American Samoans nor Puerto Ricans are able to vote in US federal elections, but no one claims the US resembles an apartheid nation.)
The authors’ claim that “controlling territory and consolidating institutional domination without formalizing sovereignty enables Israel to maintain a one-state reality on its terms,” is not merely wrong, it’s delusional. Israel offered the Palestinians their independence in 2000, in 2008, and in 2014. Each time it was Palestinian leaders who rejected independence and, in doing so, implicitly insisted on the status quo. (Palestinian leaders also rejected the UN Partition Plan and the Trump Plan.) To claim that the existing situation is somehow a reflection of Israel’s preferences is fraudulent.
But, Edward Said-style, the authors appear to be following the postmodern edict that claims ought to be only strategically useful, and that it matters not if they are factually true. Blaming Israel for Palestinians’ failure to achieve that which Palestinians themselves rejected on multiple occasions is strategically useful to the goal of delegitimizing Israel and ultimately dismantling the Jewish state. But it bears no resemblance to reality. The authors’ claim, essentially, is that those who rejected independence repeatedly now, by virtue of those rejections, are entitled to citizenship in someone else’s state. This calls to mind the cliché about the man who kills his own parents and then begs the court for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.
Nor does the claim that Israel “maintain[s] a one-state reality on its terms” take into account how Israel came to be in the West Bank to begin with: After Israel’s war for independence, Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria, renamed it the West Bank, and expelled any Jews that lived there. Then on June 5, 1967, the same day as Israel’s preemptive attack on Egyptian forces amassed at its border, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent a message to Jordan’s King Hussein asking Jordan to stay out of the war. Nevertheless, Jordan attacked Israel that same day, and in the course of its defense, Israel came to control the territory.
None of this seems to matter to Professors Barnett, Brown, Lynch and Telhami.
The authors claim there is a “consensus” around the use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel, even as they admit there is no racial discrimination in the country. But the only place such a “consensus” exists is in an echo-chambers of partisan NGOs. Even the Israeli Arab Knesset Member and head of the United Arab List party Mansour Abbas has rejected the term – as indeed he must, as his own existence proves its falsity.
When Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International came out with their reports parroting B’tselem’s libelous “apartheid” allegation, Eugene Kontorovich, professor at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, predicted the claims would be used to call for the destruction of the Jewish state. Foreign Affairs now proves him right.
Parroting Nazi Language
But the authors’ most malevolently dishonest claim is that of “Jewish supremacy,” a phrase that appears five times in this essay – though, notably, never in quotes attributable to any Israeli government official. A sixth reference is to “relations of superiority and inferiority between Jews and non-Jews.” Is it possible that these four professors, all in political fields, are unaware that they are parroting Nazi language? As historian Gil Troy has explained, “Nazis justified their mass murder of Jews by escalating the canard about Jews controlling the world into a struggle against ‘Jewish supremacy.’” In a similar vein, Professors Barnett, Brown, Lynch and Telhami justify their attempt to eliminate the only guaranteed safe haven Jews have from persecution, by turning it “into a struggle against ‘Jewish supremacy.’”
As evidence for their claims, the authors rely in part on the nation-state law as well as on an out-of-context quote about that law. The authors claim that Israel’s “2018 ‘nation-state’ law defines Israel as ‘the nation-state of the Jewish People’ and holds that ‘the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People’; it makes no mention of democracy or equality for non-Jewish citizens.” This is because the nation-state law did not abrogate other parts of Israel’s Basic Law, which already provided for equality for non-Jewish citizens. In fact, just two paragraphs later, the authors even admit that without the benefit of their imaginary “new glasses,” one can easily see that Israeli Arabs have “de jure equality.”
They further write, “Netanyahu has written that ‘Israel is not a state of all its citizens’ but rather ‘of the Jewish people—and only it.’” The quote is dishonestly taken out of context to alter its meaning. As CAMERA has explained before, Netanyahu was responding on Instagram to a comment by an Israeli actress. The full quote was about Israel’s nation state law, but emphasized that Israel’s Arab citizens have full and equal rights:
Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone. As you wrote, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel – they have the same rights as us all and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.
In other words, as CAMERA explained in response to an Amnesty International report that used the same line, “that is, to indict Israel as apartheid, Amnesty omits the next line of Netanyahu’s post, in which he makes it clear Israel is not apartheid, and that Arab citizens can and do have equal rights.” Notably, though, Professors Barnett, Brown, Lynch and Telhami are even more manipulative in their editing of the quote than Amnesty, even removing the reference to the nation-state law.
Nor are the authors completely honest about National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir – problematic as the truth about him may be. The quote they cite from him was made prior to his joining the governing coalition, and there is no basis for the authors’ claim that the sentiment (“the Palestinians can go to . . . Saudi Arabia or other places, like Iraq or Iran”) can now “plausibly claim a majority of Israeli society.” In our increasingly polarized world, no political faction – including here in the US – is immune from extremists. The prior Israeli governing coalition’s inclusion of Islamist Mansour Abbas doesn’t mean that Islamism can plausibly claim a majority of Israeli society. The same applies here.
The Policy Recommendations
The professors proclaim, “it is past time to grapple with what a one-state reality means for policy, politics, and analysis.” But they themselves fail to honestly do so. This question can’t be answered without a historical discussion of the second class, or “dhimmi,” status to which Jews were subjected for 1300 years. For most of the time that Jews lived as minorities in Arab lands, they were subjected to a kind of Middle Eastern Jim Crow. As dhimmis, Jews, among other restrictions, “were excluded from public office and armed service … were forbidden to bear arms. … not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or to drink wine in public. … not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices-as that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi had to show public deference toward Muslims-always yielding them the center of the road.” Jews living as dhimmis in Arab lands were periodically subjected to violence with no recourse. Indeed, when Jordan captured eastern Jerusalem in 1948, it expelled all of the area’s Jewish residents.
The professors also whitewash what they termed “the brief Palestinian civil war of 2007.” In fact, during this “brief” civil war, after the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, “militants started killing their rivals by throwing them off 15-storey buildings and mutilating their bodies.” Since then, the authors write, “the territory has been administered internally by the Islamist organization Hamas, which brooks little dissent.” That’s quite an understatement.
And if either of these fates befell all of Israel after an attempt to implement what the authors call “equality,” then what? Perhaps the result would be an egalitarian utopia, or perhaps the result would be one of these dystopias. Or perhaps it would be something else entirely that no one today can imagine. From their comfortable perches in their American ivory towers, it’s easy for Professors Barnett, Brown, Lynch and Telhami to gamble on the outcome. After all, it won’t affect them.
A Litany of Misrepresentations
The nearly 6,000-word piece is, Gish-Gallup style, filled with numerous other manipulations and misrepresentations. For example, the authors claim that in 2000 at Camp David, “U.S.-led negotiations failed to achieve a two-state agreement….” Of course, they did not simply or spontaneously “fail.” Former US President Bill Clinton was clear in his autobiography: “Right before I left office, Arafat, in one of our last conversations, thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. ‘Mr. Chairman,’ I replied, ‘I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.’ … Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions.” Nor did the Second Intifada simply “erupt,” as the authors claim in the next sentence – as Yasir Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat explained, he started it intentionally.
- The authors write, “liberal Israeli Jews have organized massive protests against the Netanyahu government’s assault on democracy and the judiciary, but they have mobilized around the Palestinian issue far less, showing how internal disagreements have edged aside questions about a peace process that no longer exists.” But the authors fail to acknowledge that the reason for the current lack of interest in the peace process is wave after wave of terror attacks.
- To bolster the argument for US intervention on behalf of a one-state solution, the authors write that the US “bears considerable responsibility for entrenching the one-state reality.” But in fact, multiple successive US administrations have attempted to broker a two-state solution, including those of Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
- The authors even claim that Gaza is part of this “one-state reality.” They claim, “Hamas does not control the territory’s coastline, airspace, or boundaries. In other words, by any reasonable definition, the Israeli state encompasses all lands from its border with Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.” They further claim that “between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, one state controls the entry and exit of people and goods, oversees security, and has the capacity to impose its decisions, laws, and policies on millions of people without their consent.” And that, “even after it withdrew forces from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli government retained control over the territory’s entry and exit points.” But Gaza has a border with Egypt over which Israel exercises no control. Is it possible these four eminent professors have neglected to consult a map?
- The authors claim, “the second Intifada, which erupted soon after the disappointment at Camp David, and Israel’s subsequent intrusions into the West Bank transformed the Palestinian Authority into little more than a security subcontractor for Israel.” While on the one hand purporting to cooperate with Israel on security issues, on the other, the Palestinian Authority incites terror by providing financial rewards to those who commit terror attacks. That’s not what a “security subcontractor” does.
- The authors claim that there was a “2021 crisis over the appropriation of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem,” and that, “it is all too easy to imagine a scenario in which Israel moves to confiscate more property in Jerusalem, provokes widespread Palestinian protests, and then responds to this unrest with even greater violence and faster dispossession—eventually triggering the final collapse of the Palestinian Authority.” An eviction action over failure to pay rent is hardly an “appropriation.” Nor would any other country’s enforcement of civil property law ever be considered a “provocation.”
- The authors claim that within the “territory that stretches from the river to the sea,” Israel “has a near monopoly on the use of force.” The Israelis who regularly must seek cover from Hamas rockets in bomb shelters would most probably disagree.
Kernels of Truth
Buried though, deep in the article, you can see kernels of truth if you know what to look for, like an optical illusion poster that has a hidden image that you can see if you focus your eyes in just the right way. “For half a century, the peace process allowed Western democracies to overlook Israel’s occupation in favor of an aspirational future in which the occupation would come to a mutually negotiated end.” This claim by the authors is half-true: As Michael Mandelbaum explained in a 2016 article in Commentary, the US-led peace process itself was more of an obstacle to than a road to peace. Not, however, for the reasons the Foreign Affairs authors provide, but because the US-led peace process failed to acknowledge the true reasons for the conflict: “At the core of the conflict, standing out like a skyscraper in a desert to anyone who cared to notice, is the Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.”
The professors additionally claim, “under these conditions, any diplomacy undertaken in the name of resolving the conflict in a just manner will likely fail because it misreads both the possible alternatives to the current impasse and the will among all parties to achieve them.” Although they refuse to say so explicitly, the authors seem to know that Palestinian leaders simply lack the will to achieve a two-state solution. As Dennis Ross told Brit Hume in response to the question of why Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters: “Because fundamentally I do not believe he can end the conflict. …. He was being asked here, you’ve got to close the door. For him to end the conflict is to end himself.” But instead of openly acknowledging it, the professors pretend it is a both-sides problem.
Moreover, the authors are well-aware that granting Israeli citizenship to Palestinians would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, as they write, “U.S. support for the peace process has been couched both in terms of Israel’s security and in terms of the idea that only a two-state solution could preserve Israel as both Jewish and democratic. These two goals have always been in tension, but a one-state reality makes them irreconcilable.” Yet, with the existence of 56 Muslim-majority countries, the authors don’t shed a tear over advocating for the demise of the world’s only Jewish one.
If Palestinians are today lacking in basic rights, it is a result of the intransigence of their own leaders. It cannot be the responsibility of those whom Palestinians and their Arab allies have attacked repeatedly, through war, terror, and diplomacy, over the course of decades to provide those rights, possibly at their own expense. The Palestinian people must look to their own leaders to create a better future for them, and demand that next time independence is offered to them, the offer is accepted.
In his 2016 Commentary article, Michael Mandelbaum wrote that to advance peace in the region, a future US administration “should tell the truth about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: namely, that the responsibility for creating and perpetuating it rests with the Palestinian side.” Though much of the landscape of the region has changed since then, this simple policy prescription remains true today. Professors Barnett, Brown, Lynch and Telhami should try it as well.