A one-state reality won’t likely affect the top tiers of Israeli society. Yet those near bottom of the ladder will inevitably face an economic nightmare. The only solution is for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own functioning nation states.
By Omri Eilat
Since the 2015 elections, there has been a growing number of campaigns in Israel whose goal is to warn or frighten against the loss of a Jewish demographic majority in a situation in which the two-state solution is no longer feasible. Beyond influencing the Israeli public, these campaigns exposed the deep chasm among Israelis who vote for centrist and left-wing parties (the remains of the 90s peace camp).
It is clear that the problematic rhetoric employed by these campaigns was dictated by aggressive marketing experts, not by members of the initiatives — some of them peace activists with proven track records. But this is, at the very least, ephemeral; it will disappear soon, just like the last campaign by Commanders for Israeli Security, whose success (according to the number of views) far from justifies the amount of resources invested in it. The argument over the two-state solution, which reflects the deep divide in the Zionist Left, is first and foremost over the question of the legitimacy and effectiveness of a nation-state.
While different segments in the Left, and especially the intellectual elites, have been moving toward post-national solutions, the majority of the Jewish public to the left of the ruling Likud party will continue to support two states. The reasons for doing so were pragmatic, although they were often met with scorn and accusations of racism by the radical left, which initiated post-national initiatives that prided themselves on their ability to make connections between settlers, left-wing peace activists, and Palestinians. However, the two-state solution remains the most coherent and practical solution. No other plan, whether from the left or from the right, can compete.
The possibility of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the current conditions are almost nonexistent, yet the aspirations to create a single, bi-national state for Israelis and Palestinians are no less unfounded. Even those who promote the idea of two confederated states ignore the fact that functioning confederations are based on clear-cut common denominators between populations. These do not exist in our case.
The preoccupation with identity politics and the disregard for class-related issues over the past there decades have caused us to forget the fact that the only platform that has been able to reduce economic gaps has been the nation state. In other words, no social contract aside from the national one, has caused the rich to pay higher taxes of their own volition in order to improve the condition of the poor. The only precedent for reducing economic gaps is the lessons learned following the Second World War and the birth of the welfare state, along with the establishment of a world order based on nation states as a moral consensus.
The privatization revolution, which parts of the Western Left adopted in the 80s, gradually dismantled the foundations of the nation state’s economic system, including: protecting local goods, preference for local labor, state involvement in the economy, oversight, etc. The Right explained these developments as economically worthwhile, while the left offered explanations based in global concerns and morality, which were accidentally labeled “multiculturalism.”
The Israeli Left that is searching for alternatives to the two-state solution is the same Left that once took part in the privatization revolution. Its utopian solutions, which are based on intertwining the Israeli and Palestinian economies, will lead to enormous economic gaps that will inevitably lead to perpetual exploitation of the weaker population while deepening the gaps between the two. The economic decline of the Palestinian Authority and its inability to export cheap labor to Israel will only be the beginning of the reality in Israetine.
In this reality, those who believe in a post-national Left (which generally belong to the top 20 percent) will lose very little. Yet the lives of those near the bottom of the ladder will become a nightmare. In a sea of violence and social polarization we will need to find inspiring joint initiatives, just as in South America we can find innovation and wealth.
A law-enforcing nation state with restrictions is neither a romantic nor innovative idea, and the explanations provided by its supporters are usually expressed vulgarly. Yet, nation states are also a necessity — even if they do not do enough — for ensuring fair conditions for the entire population. Both Israelis and Palestinians are in need of functioning nation states.
The real argument in the Left is not about the damage caused by bad campaigns — damage that is marginal in comparison to what right-wing governments do on a daily basis — but rather on the fundamental social contract upon which our reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be based.
Weak or nonexistent social contracts lead to the takeover of markets by the strong in order to dismantle and exploit them at the expense of the majority. This situation will be inevitable in a single state.
Omri Eilat is a research fellow at The Forum for Regional Thinking, where ths article was first published in Hebrew.