Stephen Walt’s prediction of the end of Israel is overly optimistic by mattsteinglass
February 12, 2009, 9:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ezra Klein asks “what’s the flaw?” in Stephen Walt’s  argument that if Israel doesn’t immediately come up with a 2-state solution and allow the creation of a Palestinian state, Palestinians will begin pressing for the vote in a unified State of Israel; then the US will be faced with the choice of supporting apartheid, or supporting the end of Israel as a Jewish state. I think there is a flaw here: Walt is too optimistic. He believes that as continued settlements in the West Bank gradually render the 2-state solution impossible, there will come a point at which Israel will be forced to choose between three options: ethnic cleansing (a crime against humanity); apartheid, with Israeli control over the entire territory of Israel/Palestine and Palestinians living in Bantustans without political rights; or a one-state solution in which Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are the majority of the citizens.

The problem in my view is that I think we already are in situation 2 — apartheid — and I don’t see why Israel will ever actually be forced to make a choice among Walt’s three options. I don’t see that Israel will ever be forced to physically expel the Palestinians from the West Bank; they seem to be able to crush them through a military/police regime without expelling them. And I am not convinced that a significant number of Palestinians will ever begin openly calling for the vote in the Israeli system of government. I don’t think this is a platform that Hamas, for instance, can embrace. There is a huge ideological barrier which Palestinians would need to cross in order to shift their demand from a Palestinian state as such — even, as Hamas demands, a Palestinian state embracing all of Israel, achieved through revolutionary violence — to a demand for the vote within the Israeli political system. Yes, a campaign of nonviolent protest demanding citizenship and the vote in Israel would win Palestinians immense worldwide sympathy and might prove impossible for the US to oppose or Israel to resist. But  if the Palestinian political system were capable of embracing a strategy of nonviolent resistance it would have won the struggle for an independent state a long time ago.

It seems rather more likely to me that the violent actors within the Palestinian system will continue to see their internal political advantage in continuing a violent struggle against Israel; that the fascist-rightist actors within the Israeli system will continue to see their internal political advantage in publicly advocating a two-state solution “as soon as the Palestinians abandon violence” (which, conveniently, they know to be impossible) while continuing to expand and entrench the actual system of apartheid; and that, in short, we remain stuck forever in Walt’s “option 2”, i.e. apartheid, while refusing to acknowledge that this is in fact what has happened. At some point the demoralization and emigration of rational secular Israeli youth could turn the country into a second-rate economy with an explicitly fascist political character, and that could force a reevaluation of American policies as Israel becomes the Serbia of the Middle East (and the US its Russia). But that lies decades down the road, and so many things can happen in the interim that it’s impossible to make any forecast.


2 Comments so far
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I really don’t see where Walt said, “…Palestinians will begin pressing for the vote in a unified State of Israel…”.

Otherwise your post is mostly correct. I disagree with you and Walt about the US reevaluating its policy towards Israel in the long run if “option 2” came about. Unlike South Africa, Israel is not claiming all of the West Bank – just the right to control it. It is a small, but important distinction that will allow them to get strong US support indefinitely.

Comment by Frank

But Stephen Walt isn’t making an argument, he’s asking a question, and the question is what does the U.S. do when the two state becomes impossible because of certain trends developing in the region, such as the apartheid being discussed? And it may be that those supporting a two state solution are too optimistic given the current trends in the region. It is certainly true that groups that have an invested interest in violence are prevailing over moderate actors. But the logic of what Walt is asking is, okay, lets say that these trends develop, what then? Are there better solutions than the two state solution? It seems to me that Walt is essentially asking about a question of priority for those that are advocating alternatives rather than making arguments about what sort of outcomes we’re looking at.

Comment by Paul J.

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