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Submitted by martin on Mon, 29/07/2019 - 09:25

Yes, Israel has been in a sort of cold war with its Arab (or, as apparently it now mostly prefers to call itself, Palestinian) minority since 1948.

Fundamentally, that is because Israel's majority (Jewish) community has been at warm or hot war, on and off, for 90 or 100 years with the nation of which that Arab/ Palestinian minority is part.

We want to win peace in that "external" war by a democratic "two states" settlement. That peace will not, however, undo the effects of the decades of war.

It may even in the short term worsen them. A democratic "two states" settlement will bring hundreds of thousands of West Bank settlers back into Israel, resentful, angry, maybe revenge-seeking.

On the Palestinian side, too, there are likely to be large numbers dissatisfied. No border between the two states can be anchored in history ancient enough to seem "natural", or in big natural dividing lines (mountain ranges, big rivers, or such).

Groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad - which may have lost some of their current clout by then, but are unlikely to have disappeared - are likely to redouble symbolic attacks on Israeli civilians designed to register a claim to more territory.

And the new independent Palestinian state, even with a "good" "two states" settlement, even with external aid, will be weak and, for many, disappointing.

None of that can be conjured away. All of that mandates urgency about measures to minimise the "cold war" within Israel now, to minimise a possible revival of it after an "external" settlement, and to help it die down quickly after that.

I think Barry and I have agreement on that. My query is that I don't think the term "binationalism" helps as a description of the solution.

"Two states" means recognising that the two nations, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab, both have the right to self-determination. Each has the right to a nation-state.

In the first place, "binationalism", without definition, suggests not a "two states", but a "one-and-a-half states/ half-a-state" settlement. Even if that were desirable, it is not going to happen. If the nationalist feelings on all sides had abated enough to make it possible, they would already have abated enough to make some much broader federal solution possible.

But surely each nation-state - there as elsewhere - should also do as Barry indicates (quoting Trotsky) and safeguard the rights of minorities in it.

Ever since the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into multiple states, all with large minorities, and the rise of nationalism all across Europe, there has been a large industry in Europe of codifying the rights of minorities. It is a bourgeois-democratic industry, but national minority rights, like national rights to self-determination, are bourgeois-democratic rights: socialists aim to consolidate the best of bourgeois democracy in that field, and the socialist supersession is not some new set of national rights, but a going-over into broader, multinational, units, and an eventual melding of national identities into a diverse whole.

The industry went somewhat into recession after 1945, when Stalin brutally "tidied up" the national questions in Eastern Europe by mass deportations - not only of German minorities from many countries, but also, for example, of 1.5 million Poles then still living in what is now Ukraine - but it continues.

Socialists should surely advocate that those codified national minority rights are implemented fully in Israel. None of their more-or-less successful implementations have been called "binational".

Logically, and in the complicated history of "binationalist" proposals in Palestine, there are two distinct "modes" of binational state. Neither seems to me helpful now.

One is a state constituted as a territorial federation of two nations, each with its own territory. Belgium is a rough approximation, if you take the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking populations to be "nations", and if you ignore a myriad of other complications.

Even in prosperous Belgium, with a common Belgian identity forged over nearly 200 years, that does not work well. And in Israel? As far as I know, no-one has ever proposed it, and I can't imagine how it could work even passably.

The Palestinian-Arab territory would be a tiny patch north and east of Nazareth, too tiny to give much real substance to its autonomy beyond what can be got from strengthened autonomy for local government in cities, villages, etc. Many of the people living in that territory would work in the "other", much stronger, federal unit, and many (maybe most) Palestinians in Israel would live in the "other" unit.

The other "mode" of a binational state is the one known to Marxists as the "Austro-Marxist" scheme, which is non-territorial.

Instead, every citizen (wherever in the state they live) is tagged with a "national" sub-identity in addition to their citizenship, and there are institutions, parliaments, voting procedures, etc. for each separate nationality within the state structure.

Lenin - and indeed the majority in the Second International - criticised that as a scheme likely to consolidate and congeal national divisions, rather than contribute to workers' unity.

Israel, as it happens, does tag each citizen with a "national" sub-identity. But, I'm glad to say, since 2005 that tag no longer appears on citizens' identity cards. There are no voting procedures "by nationality".

My argument is that to boost the official "national" sub-identity stamp, let alone construct a series of institutions on the basis of it, would be a step backwards, for the reasons cited by Lenin.

And well-intentioned measures tending that way - like for example the creation of an "Arab University" alongside Israel's other universities - would be a step back. Better to get the existing universities to offer teaching in Arabic (as the University of Barcelona teaches many courses in duplicate, in Catalan and in Spanish) and to get more universities up to the level of Haifa University, where over 40% of the students are Arab.

Better to remove the tagging by "national" sub-identity altogether. Better a strong drive to equalise Arab employment in public services. Better to create more than the current pioneering few dual-language Hebrew-Arabic schools. And so on.

And better, of course, to abolish Israel's archaic marriage laws, inherited from the British Mandate, which make it impossible to marry across defined religious-community boundaries without going abroad and getting a foreign marriage which will then be recognised in Israel.

An approach by way of equality and integration would also have the advantage of helping the considerable minority of Israel's population who are currently classified as neither "Jewish" nor "Arab" - about 5%, or more than the Muslim minority in Britain, or the total of the Asian-minority populations in the USA.

Yes, you could call that "a more rational and intelligent [attempt] to knit two communities in a common homeland", but to call it binationalism is at best confusing.

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