by Alan Dershowitz
Peter Beinart. Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.
Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed advocating the end of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is a study in historical ignorance, willful deception and arrogant rejection of democracy.
Beinart’s Historical Ignorance
Beinart proposed that a single bi-national, bi-religious state in what is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip replace current Israel, whose Jewish population would then be given a “homeland” within the new nation. But Beinart is woefully ignorant of previous attempts to create or maintain bi-national or bi-religious states. He ignores the lessons of history surrounding the former Yugoslavia—Tito’s failed effort to create a single artificial nation from different ethnicities and religions—which ended in genocide, tragedy and its breakup into several states now living in relative peace. He omits any mention of Lebanon—a failed experiment in sharing power between Muslims and Christians—which ended with the expulsion of most of the Christian population. He writes as if Hindu India still included Muslim Pakistan, instead of having been divided after considerable bloodshed and divisiveness. He focuses instead on two countries, Northern Ireland and South Africa, which bear little relationship to current-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Northern Ireland is a country whose population is ethnically similar, with only religious differences at a time when religion is playing a far less important role in the life of many secular Northern Irish. South Africa was a country in which a tiny minority of whites dominated a large majority of Blacks, and is now a dominantly Black nation.
Israel and the Palestinian territories are totally different. The population of Israel is a mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Muslims and Christians. The West Bank and Gaza are comprised almost exclusively of Muslim Arabs.
There used to be a mixture of Muslims and Christians, but most Christians have been forced out. The combined population of the West Bank and Gaza is close in number to the Jewish population of Israel. If Israel were to end its existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people—as Beinart advocates—and become a Jewish “homeland” in a single bi-national, bi-religious state, a demographic war would become inevitable, in which Jews and Muslims would compete to become a majority. As soon as a Muslim majority materialized, the Jewish “homeland” would become precisely the kind of “Bantustan” that Beinart has railed against in the context of South Africa. The Jewish minority would be ruled by the Muslim majority, even if it were given some degree of autonomy. Their protection would be largely in the hands of the Muslim majority, many of whom believe there is no place for a Jewish entity anywhere in the region.
It was precisely this fear that led to the creation of political Zionism in the 19th century. Theodor Herzl and others experienced the antisemitism of Europe and the inability of the Jewish minority there to protect itself against pogroms and discrimination. Placing the safety of Israel’s Jewish population in the hands of a potentially hostile Muslim majority would be an invitation to possible genocide.
Beinart is insistent that today’s Israelis and Jews must ignore the lessons of the Holocaust. But those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. And Jews cannot afford to see a repetition of their tragic past.
Beinart never discusses the issue of who would control the armed forces and, most particular, Israel’s nuclear arsenal, under a bi-national and bi-religious state. Recall that the current Palestine Liberation Organization constitution demands that a Palestinian state be an Islamic nation bound by Sharia law. Even if the Palestinian majority state would allow the Jewish minority homeland to have its own domestic laws, the state itself, with its Muslim majority, would presumably control the armed forces. This would create yet another Islamic state, among the many that currently exist—but this one would have a nuclear arsenal. A Palestinian majority would also not allow persecuted Jews from around the world to seek asylum, as they can today under the Law of Return. Instead, the Palestinian state would enact its own law of return that would allow millions of exiles to “return” and assure a permanent Muslim supermajority.
Beinart’s Willful Deception
Beinart’s article is maliciously deceptive insofar as it places the blame for the absence of a two-state solution largely on Israel, willfully omitting Israel’s willingness over many decades to accept a Palestinian state. In 1937 to 1938, the Peel Commission recommended the division of British-controlled Mandatory Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The proposed Jewish state was far smaller and less contiguous than the state offered to the Palestinian-Arabs. The Jews reluctantly accepted the two-state offer, while the Palestinians adamantly rejected it—concluding they wanted there not to be a Jewish state more than they wanted their own state.
The same is true in 1947 and 1948, when the United Nations partitioned Mandatory Palestine into two states for two peoples. The Jews once again accepted that proposal, in November 1947, while the Arabs rejected it and went to war against Israel after the latter declared its independence in May 1948.
In 1967, the Israelis accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which would have returned the vast majority of the disputed lands to the Arabs. The Arabs convened in Khartoum, instead, and issued their infamous “three no’s”: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations.
In 2000 and 2001, President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state on more than 95 percent of the disputed territories. Yasser Arafat rejected it and commenced an intifada that killed over 4,000 people.
In 2008, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians even more than did Barak.
You wouldn’t know any of this from reading Beinart’s biased and deceptive “history.” Beinart willfully omits these facts because they don’t serve his biased narrative. He claims to know what is best for both Israelis and Palestinians, without regard to what they want. He ignores the wishes of those who have the most at stake.
Beinart’s Rejection of Democracy
Beinart arrogantly rejects democracy and the polls that show most Israelis and Palestinians are opposed to his proposed one-state solution. He has it exactly backwards when he argues that only “Palestinian and Jewish hardliners” resist his one-state solution. In reality, it is only hardliners who want one state: many Muslim hardliners want one Palestinian state “from the river to the see,” and some Jewish hardliners want a Jewish state in all of biblical Israel.
Beinart rejects these democratic preferences.
Beinart’s attempt to destroy the nation-state of the Jewish people would undo decades of sacrifice and hard work by Zionists since the middle of the 19th century. Despite its imperfections, Israel is a wonder to the world. It has given more to humankind—scientifically, medically, technologically, literarily and in so many other areas—in the 72 years of its existence than have the overwhelming majority of far-older countries throughout their entire histories. No nation faced with the threats comparable to those faced by Israel—including terrorism, rocket and terror tunnels attacks as well as Iranian aggression—has ever had a better record of human rights, compliance with the rule of law and concern for enemy civilians than has Israel.
In a world with so many Islamic, Christian and other religious and national states, why does Beinart believe there is no room for one nation-state of the Jewish people capable of protecting its citizens from aggression, capable of welcoming oppressed Jews from around the world and dedicated to equal rights for all of its citizens?
Beinart’s nasty and ignorant article belongs in the waste basket of history. He has lost all claim to speak for any segment of the pro-Israel and Jewish communities by siding with those who would end the existence of the only nation-state of the Jewish people.
Fortunately, Beinart’s anti-Israel arguments are likely to be accepted only by left-wing Jews who are embarrassed by Israel’s strength and determination to protect the Jewish people against a repeat of history’s tragedies. It was this history that led to the widespread acceptance of Zionism and the formation of the democratic Jewish nation-state.
The citizens of Israel—both Jewish and Muslim—will be the ones to decide on the appropriate solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, and they overwhelmingly reject Beinart’s perilous solution. If the Palestinians want to have input in these decisions, they will have to come to the table and negotiate. Their fate and the fate of their Israeli neighbors will not be decided on the op-ed pages of The New York Times. It will be decided on the ground by direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
A version of this article was originally published by Newsweek.