One or Two States for Israelis and Palestinians?

There seems to be a new (to me) development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The idea of a single state solution has come on stage again, but with very different support than previously. In the past, the idea of a single state was associated with Arab nationalist thinking, of a kind which denied the legitimacy of any Israeli state, demanded the  return of all Palestinian refugees from Arab-Israeli fighting,and their descendants,  and which had limited if any regard for the rights of Israeli Jews who had settled in the country after the 1948 creation of Israel (and may have had limited regard for the residence rights of many other Jews who had entered Ottoman Palestine or British Mandate Palestine, as part of the Zionist movement to created a Jewish homeland in the land of the Biblical Jews).  The slogan single democratic secular state and the like was used, which certainly never got much support from Israeli Jews and was generally regarded as ‘rejectionism’ characteristic of radical Arab nationalists, who had limited interest in the views of Israeli Jews.  

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (centred round the political party Al-Fatah which is now one of the two main political forces amongst Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza) in its time as a movement based outside Palestine, involved in violent struggle (including outright terrorism) edged towards the idea of a two-state solution during the 1970s, and that appeared to have become the basis for an agreement between moderates on both sides in the 1993 Oslo Accord Accord.  There has been no serene progress towards peaceful co-operation between two states since then.  Yasser Arafat, the PLO Chairman, continued to regard terrorism as an option, and showed a distinct lack of capacity for institution building or civic political culture.  The Israeli side regarded the Palestinians with continuing distrust and disregard, continued to build settlements in the West Bank, and showed no interest in the prospect of a unified sovereign Palestine.  The death of Arafat and the emergence of the Mahmoud Abbas as Fatah leader, and ‘President’ of Palestine offered some hope of a better political leadership and appropriate responses from Israel.  This all crumbled, and not only was Abbas not able to advance the national hopes of Palestinians, self-governing Palestine split between a Fatah dominated West Bank and a Hamas dominated Gaza Strip, so a split between two Palestinian states, a three state ‘solution’.  

There has  been continuing Jewish settlement building,  apparent Israeli contempt for Palestinian national hopes, and splits between Palestinian groups who distinctly lack skills in the art of politics, at least with regard to dealing with Israel, and often in internal affairs as well.  Israeli Arabs continue to largely vote for parties which are Arab orientated and are not considered as acceptable governmental partners by the Jewish parties (who do however attract some Arab support).  Israeli politics is tending more and more to the religious and secular nationalist right and the population structure is shifting away secular Jews to those known as Ultra-Orthodox, Hassidim, or Haredim, that is the most religious currents of Jewish society.  Palestinian self-government seems to be working better in the West Bank in purely practical terms, and Hamas has weakened.  So on the face of it Israeli Jewish opinion is more militant and Palestinian political culture is moderating.  Nevertheless with Hams radical religious currents and the militant nationalist-statist heritage of Al-Fatah, we cannot possibly refer to the present situation as Israeli nationalists versus Palestinian liberals.  

Two main possible outcomes are apparent.  Continuing from the apparent achievement of the Oslo Accord, it may be that a re-drawing of borders will take place so that Jewish settlement lands on the West Bank will be swapped for Palestinian Arab populated parts of Israel to create states which are more ethnically distinct than the current situation, in which Israel has an Arab population of about 20% and Palestinians in the self rule areas find theşr lands more and more encroached upon by a mixture of settlement activity and security measures.  This would remove any possibility that Israel would gradually become less of a Jewish state, because of a large Arab minority with a higher birth rate.  

The other possibility that those with very Zionist views seem more and more inclined to talk about is that of an Israeli state covering all of the settlement areas and Palestinian self-rule areas.  In the past this might have been supported by militant Zionists, bıt only accompanied by the ‘transfer’ of Arabs from Palestine.  Only a real fringe could now believe that is a realistic possibility, the possibility that Israeli Jewish society could stand to be part of such a violent process, or that Israel could withstand the resulting international reaction.  So the talk now is of Israeli citizenship for those Arabs incorporated into Israel, who are ready to make the relevant symbolic gestures towards accepting Israeli citizenship, and the legitimacy of the Israeli state.  This would lead to an Israel with an Arab population of 40%.  It seems strange that committed Zionists should think that is a viable proposition for a Jewish state, but on that side there is a spirit of confidence that the most religious Jews will outbreed Arabs; and that Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza will be slow to accept citizenship so restricting Arab influence in elections.  

This is all rather startling.  First it was radical Arab nationalists who favoured a single state (it’s not very long ago that the late Muammar Gaddafi was suggesting a singe state), now it’s radical Zionists (though this may be the new mainstream way of thinking).  How can Zionists rest a solution on assumptions about relative future population growth?  How can they be sure that a state close to parity in numbers between Jews and Arabs, even with Jews having the larger number, will be viable as a distinctly Jewish state, which will never have to compromise on Jewish identity or Zionist principles?

Will the single state on Zionist terms happen?  Should it happen?  I don’t know, and I’m certainly not making any predictions, but given all that has gone wrong with the Oslo Accord, and every previous attempt at a political settlement, I do not see this possible future as obviously worse than the present.  Of course it could all go very wrong and be the source of a horrendous round of violence.  It seems very risky from a Zionist point of view, but maybe it is no more risky than the present situation.  It has the paradoxical character that it seems to be a real gamble from a Zionist point of view, a sign of underlying anxiety about the viability of Israel within it’s current internationally recognised frontiers, and the desirability of a state dominated by the Ultra Orthodox aspect of Judaism, but in the first instance it would seem like a Zionist triumph over humiliated Arab nationalism.  We will not know any time soon.  The current situation could carry on for a long time, but the longer it carries on the more likely it is we will see Israeli statehood asserted over all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.  

Law, Super-Law and Political Judgement

Thoughts largely inspired by work I did on law and political form in Carl Schmitt and Friedrich Hayek a while back and I was going over today.  There are other points of reference (Foucault, Derrida, Nietzsche, etc.) but I won’t deal with all that today, I’ll sketch out a position.  

The issue is that politics operates within law, or at least that is what is understood by political philosophy.  Some political philosophy refers to some condition beyond existing legality, but in a distinctly vague manner, which takes its point of departure from existing and past forms of legality.  There is a form of political theory tied up with law, broadly speaking, contract theory in which the central issue is justification of the state, in terms which refer to the reasons for law, and respect for law, though maybe embedded in broader considerations of rationality and ethics.  The other forms of political theory still bring law into a basic place, often with reference to ‘natural law’, that is law as known to human reason independently of state law.  

This is all inevitable, no one denies the necessity for law (with the possible exception of some purist utopian moments), even anarchists are arguing that law does not require the state.  The point is the tendency to see political judgement as something that can be fixed by law, or should at least always refer to law.  There is some good reason for this, it would not be a good idea to demand politics without legal restraints.  However, politics cannot be the same as determining legality.  No one is going to deny that politicians are doing something different from judges and juries, but there is an enormous pull towards seeing political action as ideally a form of legal judgement.  We can see this in political theory; and we can see it in the role that constitutionalism, demands for  judicial review and quasi-judicial public committees play in more everyday aspects of politics.  

However, consideration of the role of law tends to lead into a desire for something more than the aggregate of laws currently on the statute books. We can see this in the theoretical interest in the super law of the contract, natural law, or some other even more sparse basic principle of judgement.  Returning to the starting point of this post, both Hayek and Schmitt were concerned with a distinction between: law which arises in a relatively spontaneous way from the undesigned orders of society; legislation which is the changeable product of political sovereignty and is formed by a political will.  More everyday forms of this search for super law include political interests in a return to an old constitution, the creation of a new constitution, the implementation of God’s law, subjection of the state to judicial authority etc.  

The trouble with all these enthusiasms for the role of (super-)law is that political sovereignty is always a matter of power, power exercised by a particular will to serve particular interests.  If law could provide the answer to everything that government deals with then evidently there would be no need for politics.  Is there some ideal moment in politics in which government would act like a judge, group of judges or judges plus jury?  No, because there is no legal answer to all the sources of politics.  The sources include conflicts over economic resources, political power, and conflicts of interest which are restrained by law, not finally resolved.  

There has never been some perfect state of law, to which politics could add nothing.  There have been many ways of trying to present law in this way, to present law as the immaculate product of a great political leader, a religious prophet or the sacred venerable traditions of a community.  The difference between that idealisation of law and the reality of struggle over the creation, validity and meaning of laws in all their forms, often disguised in sacralised forms, is where politics has its place.  The ideal law is abstracted from historical processes; the narrow self-interested struggle is itself below the political threshold of action that affects a whole community, and claims to act on behalf of that community.  Both aspects of legality  are present in political action, but neither can be separated out from each other, or from political action.  In some ways politics encompasses it all, but it is an unavoidable necessity that politics cannot be defined or understood as either.  The attempt at a paradoxical union might get us some of the way to politics, but not the whole way.  

In the end, we know politics is different from law, because in the end law can only be enforced because of political will, and that effective political will can and will suspend some if not all aspects of law, in times of war and other forms of crisis.  Those who follow the ideal of politics as based on super-law tend to find this shocking, but that has never stopped politics from working like that, even a little like that in the most stable states in the most peaceful conditions.  Or are we supposed to believe that political arguments and political forces have no effect on judicial institutions?  Some people do try very hard to believe this, but they are mistaking an ideal for a concrete possibility.  Of course no one doubts that there is a distinction, some people are evidently still pulling very hard in that direction.  People who also expect political and legal institutions to suit their own interests, and their own point of view about what is good.  




Friedrich III: A Vital Aspect of Judging Nietzsche Politically

There is stream of Nietzsche commentary which sees at the core of Nietzsche’s politics a devotion to Napoleon Bonaparte, and even more a devotion to Bonapartism as a  political principle, itself a modernised version of Caesarism.  Bonapartism as a political principle distinct from the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte who proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III in the 1850s, refers to a form of autocratic government based on the methods of the coup, and resting on military power but not a pure military government and lacking in the totalitarian ideology of fascism.  It amounts to a personalised rule legitimated by plebiscites and charisma without the constraints of a real separation of powers and balance of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial functions of the state.  The original Caesarism become a hereditary system of Emperor rule.  Both Napoleon I and Napoleon III failed to establish a dynastic system lasting beyond their own falls from power.  

The enthusiasts for Bonapartist Nietzsche don’t so much take him as a deep Caesarist/Bonapartist, as someone whose thoroughgoing extreme elitism leads him to see Caesar/Bonaparte as the expression of a generalised belief that political and social arrangements should only be designed to suit some elite of exceptional humans.  So the Caesarist/Bonapartist interpretation of Nietzsche quickly runs into the problem that it cannot be Nietzsche’s ground belief.  Further problems arise around the Ceaserist/Bonapartist tendency to appeal to democratic will, through the mood of the Roman crowd in Caesar’s case; through plebiscites in the Bonapartist case.  While these can be regarded as manipulative and staged, they at least slightly undermine the supposed Nietzschean enthusiasm for unlimited autocracy.   Other problems arise with what this might have to do with Platonism, which is something the autocratic reading of Nietzsche lies to bring in, but then finds that a belief in semi-pacifism (war as strictly last resort and purely defensive) and the self-sacrificing nature of the philosopher-legislator elite.

The ramifications and ambiguities are endless.  I will concentrate of something more simple though, a quotation from part 1 of the Zarathustra section in Ecce Homo (Walter Kaufmann translation).


Mornings I would walk in a southerly direction of splendid road to Zoagli, going up past pines with a magnificent view of the sea; in the afternoon, whenever my health permitted it, I walked around the whole bay from Santa Margherita all the way to Portofino.  This place and this scenery came even closer to my heart because of the great love that Emperor Friedrich III felt for them; by chance, I was  in this coastal region again in the autumn of 1886, when he visited this small forgotten world of bliss for the last time.


Friedrich III reigned as King of Prussia and German Emperor for 99 days in 1888, until his life was cut short by illness. That 99 days makes his reign one day short of Napoleon I’s return as Emperor.  This is more a sign of difference than similarity.  Friedrich certainly did not plan to emulate Napoleon’s domination of Europe  or his energetic application of autocratic rule.  Friedrich was not happy with the weighting of the Prussian-German system to the power of the Emperor (often exercised in his name by the Chief Minister), the aristocracy (particularly in eastern Prussia), and the officer class (which heavily overlapped with the aristocracy).  He wished to move the alliance of National Liberals (rather conservative liberals), the Conservative Party and free conservatives (who were even more conservative), which was the basis of Imperial government in the Imperial parliament, to a situation in which the more radical liberals (who changed their name over time) who rather like the Liberal Party in Britain started as a small government free market kind of liberal party, and came under the influence of more interventionist regulatory welfare state liberals over time.  Friedrich was distinctly impressed by the British example, presumably helped by his wife Victoria who was the daughter of the British Queen of that name.  

Friedrich was also no Bonapartist in personality, displaying very little courage and self-confidence in opposing conservative institutional forces, while he was Crown Prince or King-Emperor.  As a self-conscious man of poor health, he does maybe have some resemblance to Nietzsche though.  It is not easy to see how Nietzsche’s enthusiasm for Friedrich can be reconciled with the autocratic extreme elitist Bonapartist.  Perhaps Nietzsche’s enthusiasm for Napoleon was an interest in seeing the ruthless power seeking state dominating side of politics made explicit.  Tt does not by any means exhaust his political models, or his philosophical views of politics.