Visions of Solidarity: Strategy and Morality
By: Devan M. Hawkins
The recent “Zero, One, Two State Debate” at the Left Forum and the commentary that followed from Norman Finkelstein and As’ad AbuKhalil (the Angry Arab) cast a pretty stark spotlight on an area of the Palestinian movement in the West that, to be honest, I would prefer stayed in the dark. When I say this I don’t mean that we should not be having debates about the goals of the movement or over what tactics are legitimate and effective. These debates are necessary and it would not be possible to have a movement in the West to support Palestinians without them. However, I feel that these debates can distract from the important points of agreement within the movement that should be its public face.
The debate was even more troubling for me because I have probably learned more from both Finkelstein and AbuKhalil about the Middle East in general and the Israel-Palestine conflict in particular than almost anyone else alive today. The basis of their debate has been clear for some time. Finkelstein has been increasingly vocal in his advocacy for a Two-State solution based on the ’67 borders and international law, which runs contrary to AbuKhalil’s belief in a binational secular state as the only just resolution to the conflict.
Ultimately the debate comes down to two ways of approaching solving the conflict: strategy and morality. Finkelstein openly acknowledges that his support for a two-state solution is not based on the fact that such a solution is inherently moral, but rather due to the fact it is the most realistic solution that will end Palestinian suffering. Conversely, AbuKhalil’s position is very much based on morality. A binational state for AbuKhalil is the most moral solution and therefore the one that activist should pursue. He views arguing based on international law as a copout. After Finkelstein presented his case for a solution based on international law in a debate with Anna Baltzer, AbuKhalil wrote on his blog:
Yes, strugglers around the world should check with Alan Dershowitz about what international law has to say on every matter before they proceed. International law is flexible: it accommodates changes on the ground. International law gave its blessing to colonization and gave apartheid South Africa the right to exist. But most importantly: if revolutions and social justice movements were to defer to international law, none would have proceeded ever. This argument in defense of Israel is one of the silliest that I have seen. Oh, and international law gave the the right to occupy Afghanistan. You want to support Israel’s right to exist, it is your business but don’t hide under the skirt of international law. Say you believe in Israel’s right to exist because you believe it is the right thing, Norman.
I completely agree with AbuKhalil’s position that there is nothing inherently moral or just about international law and, indeed, as he argues it is often the exact opposite. But when the opportunity presents itself to use international law to better a particular situation, even if the result is far from ideal, I think it should be done. The Good Friday agreement that largely ended the Northern Ireland conflict was far from perfect, especially for those like me who support a united Ireland, but at the very least it improved the situation.
Unfortunately, an absolutely moral solution and a strategic solution are mutually exclusive. The easiest and therefore most strategically successful strategy possible would be for the Palestinian movement to just give up and accept whatever Israel is willing to offer it. Obviously this is absolutely morally unacceptable. In a similar way, an absolutely moral solution to the conflict whether a binational state or, as Finkelstein imagines, a borderless world are not within reach anytime soon. Ultimately, harboring illusions about such solutions is not morally satisfying either. In my opinion our job in crafting this movement in Western countries is to find the right balance between the two approaches, meaning we aim to achieve the most morally satisfying solution that is strategically possible at the present time. It seems that for the time being, a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders is just that.
The operative phrase here is “at the present time.” Working for a just two-state solution now does not preclude a binational state in the future. If anything it makes the possibility more viable, because the Palestinians within the new state would have, hopefully, effective and democratic apparatuses to use to achieve this goal. Although the issues under negotiations tend to be labeled “final status,” a cursory glance at the history of the region is enough to convince me that no status is ever final and that with time a more just resolution can be achieved.
One point that I fully acknowledge is that it is not the job of Palestinian solidarity activists to dictate the terms that the Palestinian themselves should seek. I feel a constant state of angst and trepidation whenever advocating for any solution to this conflict, not only because of my privileged position in the West, but because I know that anything that I do to help the Palestinians will be far too little. If there is a clear, consistent, and overwhelming sense from the Palestinians that a two-state settlement, even one that achieves a viable state, is unacceptable then I have absolutely no interest in standing in the way.
Although the prospects for a viable Palestinian state do seem to be fading with every new settlement, I think there is still a brief possibility for it to be achieved. Israel’s actions and the ideology of essentially all parties involved have made it clear that if this possibility does disappear, the alternative will not be a binational state, but something even worse than the apartheid that exists now. My immediate goal is to ensure that this does not happen.