RES: Said on American Zionism

Nathan Newman nathan at
Tue Oct 17 14:05:52 PDT 2000

----- Original Message ----- From: "Alexandre Fenelon" <afenelon at> To: <lbo-talk at>

>To say democracy is an either/or situation like pregnancy is ridiculous.
>course there are levels and extents of democracy. Syria's cult of
>personality and consent by mass murder (ie. Hama) is at the worst end of
-Israel commits large scale murder too (something like 1,000 civilian deaths -during Intifanda)

And 1000 deaths during a number of years during a revolutionary uprising, however brutal and it was brutal, is on a different order of magnitude from 10,000 killed in one city like Hama in a single repressive operation to obliterate the Islamic Brotherhood opposition in Syria, since that mass murder was merely part of a continual operation of complete and total repression of all opposition in Syria. It was interesting when I travelled in Syria that the one person who felt willing to speak somewhat freely to me was a relatively depressed Palestinian (the hopelessness one reason he probably was loose-lipped) who could only lament the even worse repression of Palestinians within Syria compared to the general repression of the rest of the population. While it was impossible to talk to any opposition to the Syrian government, there are multiple well-funded opponents of Israel's government, both in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza. Even though West Bank and Gaza Palestinians lack a formal vote, the ability to speak and organize by Palestinians is a critical democratic right that is completely lacking in less democratic countries than Israel.

To repeat, it does not excuse the systematic violation of human rights that Israel engages in, but democratic rights are a separable category from the range of other human rights by which we judge governmental actions. The need to deny that Israel has some admirable characteristics in order to condemn its other terrible acts is an analytic blindness.

> Israel's combines a freewheeling internal democracy with
>elected Arab politicians combined with dramatic repression of West Bank and
>Gaza Palestinians. That Israelis consider Arabs traitors, yet their
>leaders remain in government is exactly the point of what makes Israel more
>democratic within the pre-1967 borders.
-So Israeli democracy could be compared with apartheid´s South Africa, right?

Again, the need to reach for the Apartheid comparison is rhetorical and analytically weak, when there are far better analogies. Apartheid was rule by a minority against a majority population. If the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians were given full voting rights, Arab parties would still be a minority. Even if all Palestinians were given the right of return and all exercised that right, Jews would still be a marginal majority in an integrated Palestine-Israel.

And however admirable many would find such a non-ethnic democratic state, it is a result that neither Jews nor Palestinians generally desire. So for this reason, the real conflict is not over the extension of democratic rights to Gaza and the West Bank but over the borders between two states where each contesting population wants a strong majoritarian dominance.

In fact, the best analogy is to Ireland where the British always had a majority over the United Kingdom, but the Irish wanted not the extension of democratic rights but of sovereignty over territory. And the dispute is over where that border would extend (i.e. the ongoing conflict over Northern Ireland). Note that Ireland also has a comparable problem of Irish diaspora, mostly to America, with a similar reality that large chunks of that diaspora will never return to the home country despite their international political support for Irish Catholic rights.

-I doubt if a negotiated settlement is possible, since Israel doesn´t want -to make real concessions. (Water reserves in one of them, the -Jews use 80% of water in West Bank, despite the fact they are 10% of -the population). Even if Israel was willing to make significant concessions -(retreat from West Bank and Gaza, more fair division of Water, permission -to Palestinians have their own Army) I doubt if a Palestinian state would -be possible, due to abyssal economic conditions. A bantustan like arrangement -is inherently unstable, as the Israelis are already learning. I think the -only possible solution would include the unification of Israel and Palestinian -territories with granting of full Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. There -still remains the question of refugees return, but I can´t see any definite -solution different from this. But neither of the factions involved in the -conflict seems to be thinking seriously in such an arrangement.

The details of water and security are real issues in the negotiations, as well as Jerusalem of course, but the economic issue is actually the win-win result of successful negotiations. There is little question and both sides clearly sought negotiations on the basis that both Israel and a potential Palestine are operating economically far below what they could if a secure peace could be achieved.

In some ways, it is unbelievable that so much blood is being spilled over what is truly wretched land by any arable or resource measurements. But the "bantustan" analogy (again the weak misplaced South Africa analogy) would only make sense if Israel proper was some great prize on that basis. Despite all the making-the-desert-bloom rhetoric, Israel is mostly desert with only a bit of decent land in the North (a chunk of which they are negotiating to hand back to Syria). But the wealth of the region, among both Israelis and Palestinians, are the educated dynamic people who could economically bloom under a secure peace. And of course tourism in the region is a massively undeveloped resource that could be a quite large economic boost for any new Palestinian state.

What was most striking to me from discussions with Palestinian folks I met with last summer, particularly the labor advocates (both pro- and anti-Fatah), was how many saw the possibilities of economic development in the West Bank and Gaza. Part of this was political nationalism but many saw incredible opportunities for rapid economic expansion as just the basics of infrastructure expand and are combined with the educated talent that is unemployed in the area. Of course there will be intense economic integration between Israel and Palestine, but there are good reasons why the Palestinians would rather have democratic control over their economic development at this point in history. Down the line, maybe we could see the evolution of a Middle East Economic Community, including a range of states with shared economic interests over water and economic development. But a two-state solution is probably the best approach now for both political and economic development in the region.

-- Nathan Newman

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