The future of Israel-Palestine: French Algeria, South Africa, or something novel?

Juan Cole on the conundrum of Israel’s settler-colonialist logic (i’m not as pessimistic as he is, but his argumentation is cogent…see my musings at the end):

…The difference between Israeli military action in Gaza and most US operations in Iraq is not a matter of national character or some other essentialist attribute. It is the difference between imperial occupation for specific purposes and settler colonialism. The Israelis are both an army and a settler movement. The US never considered flooding Iraq with colonists from Alabama and Mississippi.

When threatened by an indigenous population trying to expel it, settler colonialism is vicious. It is after all facing an existential threat. The US can withdraw from Iraq with no dire consequences to the US. In 1954-1962, the French killed at least half a million, and maybe as much as 800,000 Algerians, out of a population of 11 million. That is between nearly 5 percent and nearly 10 percent! The French military had been enlisted to fight for the interests of the colonists, who were in danger of losing everything. (In the end they did lose almost everything, being forced to return to Europe, or choosing to do so rather than face the prospect of living under independent Algerian rule).

The brutality with which the British put down the Mau-Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s is another example of massive human rights violations on behalf of a settler population.

This latest sanguinary episode is a further manifestation of Israel’s insecure brand of settler colonialism, in which the lives of the indigenous population are viewed as worthless before the interests of the colonists. The Israelis have not killed on the French scale, but I would argue that they kill, and disregard civilian life, for much the same reasons as the French did in Algeria.

Settler colonialism is unstable in the contemporary world because of the facilities subject populations have for mobilization and resistance. Conflict between colonizer and colonized has only ended in one of three ways: 1) The expulsion of the colonists, as in Algeria; 2) the integration of the colonists into a nation that includes the indigenous population, as happened in South Africa; or 3) the expulsion of the indigenous population, as with the Trail of Tears in the nineteenth-century United States.

Bob Simon told Charlie Rose that the ‘two-state solution’ in Israel-Palestine is dead, which is likely correct. He suggested that the most likely outcome is Apartheid. However, I would argue that Apartheid is a phase and its itself an unstable situation, and that only one of the above three outcomes is actually permanent. Given that the Arabs are becoming more technologically sophisticated and wealthier over time, and given their demographic advantage, I do not expect a trasnferist or trail of tears policy to be implemented or succeed. In the long term, over several decades, I think either there will be a gradual outflow of Israeli emigrants that leaves Jews a plurality in Israel. Or there will eventually be a single state. The other possibilities, of either a century-long Apartheid or another expulsion of Palestinians a la 1948 seem to me less likely. The Gaza operation is intended to extend the life of an incipient Apartheid. But that is sort of like giving a heart transplant to a man diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Cole has a point. But i think the uniqueness, and crucial symbolism, of the Israeli-Palestinian case calls for a unique, imaginative long-term vision.

Let’s try this on for size. How about a non-state solution under international jurisdiction, with protection for individual ethno-religious communities a la the Ottoman millet system (traces of which endure in Israeli law, and which actually functioned fairly well prior to the European imposition of the nation-state system).

Stage one: internationalization of Jerusalem, which would still function as the geographic capital of the Israeli and Palestinian administrations. Gaza could be similarly internationalized. (By internationalized, i don’t mean a short-term occupation of UN peacekeeping forces, but an actual takeover of the region’s military and supreme legal institutions with a permanent international entity, probably based on a UN framework)

Stage two: gradual expansion of the international mandate over Israel-Palestine (including, perhaps, a move of the UN from NY to Jerusalem). This would coincide with the development of an internationally funded, UN-loyal police force to back a reinvigorated, modernized millet system. The ‘monopoly’ on violence would be shifted from the IDF/Israeli police/PA/Hamas, to this internationally-employed force, derived from local and/or international recruits.

Stage three: ultimately, the creation of a new paradigm for political organization and identity politics… all cultural issues would be devolved to local ethnoreligious community institutions, while security and issues of mutual survival (e.g. resource use, inter-community infrastructure, inter-community judicial issues, etc.) would be administered by the ‘federal’ International Administration. This provides a way out of the divisive, resource-inefficient nation-state system upon which the global system is currently based. Rather, this new paradigm would lead to much more cultural self-determination, while simultaneously empowering an international-minded administration to act on key issues that are now of global, not national, relevance (e.g. sustainability, collective security, global poverty, etc.)

Crack-pot, i know, but far more equitable, sustainable, and progressive, i think, than any of Cole’s alternatives.



Filed under middle east, note to future generations

2 responses to “The future of Israel-Palestine: French Algeria, South Africa, or something novel?

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