Moshe Arens is a rare specimen in Israel’s political landscape, and in a remarkable recent op-ed in these pages he launched an unrelenting attack on all forms of hatred against Arabs. A consistent hawk in his assessment of the Middle East’s future, he is one of the staunchest defenders of the basic liberal order and the sanctity of human rights, and he has for many years decried the many forms of anti-Arab sentiment stoked primarily by Israel’s right wingers.
- How many Palestinians actually live in the West Bank?
- When the New York Times went to bat for the one-state solution
For years he has argued that Israel cannot afford the establishment of a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River for reasons of security. But as opposed to many of today’s right wingers, for him there cannot be first and second class citizens in theGreater Land of Israel: all Palestinians will be citizens of the greater land of Israel, with full civic and political rights. Nothing else is even conceivable for Arens.
Arens’ record shows that he puts his money where his mouth is: during his long, distinguished political career, he has done more to move towards equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens than any other major politician in Israel’s history. He is appalled by the current attempt to cancel Arabic as one of Israel’s official language, because he respects the identity of Arabs who have lived here for generations.
And now he has once again not only decried "price tag" attacks, but made clear that he considers Lieberman’s anti-Arab statements to be unworthy, inhuman and destructive. He is profoundly opposed to Lieberman’s plan to add Israeli territories with exclusively Arab population to the future Palestinian state to diminish Israel’s Arab Constituency.
Arens ends his recent op-ed on an interesting note: he claims that the insistence of Israel’s left that only a two-state solution will bring peace is itself partially an expression of anti-Arab sentiment. Why else, he asks should the center-left be so opposed to the inclusion of the West Bank’s Palestinians in the State of Israel?
Arens’ argument requires a serious response, because I have nothing but the highest respect for his moral and political principles. He is a liberal democrat to the depth of his heart. My disagreement with Arens is therefore empirical and pragmatic rather than ideological.
I will argue that Arens is too optimistic about human nature. He believes that rational interests primarily guide human action, and disregards the profound human need to feel part of a culture they share with others, and the desire to be governed by people they identify with.
Let me start with Arens’ insistence that the Greater Land of Israel will continue to be the homeland of the Jewish people. Its dominant narrative and national cohesion will be based on a Jewish-Zionist perspective, to which Arens is profoundly attached, and which, for him, is Israel’s raison d’être.
How can two and a half million Palestinians who have suffered under Israeli occupation for more than 46 years and have been in bitter conflict with the Zionist movement for more than a century identify with such a predominantly Jewish state? To this day I cannot fathom how the first session of the parliament of the Greater Land of Israel would function: would you expect Palestinians from the West Bank to sing Hatikva and identify with the Star of David?
But there are more general reasons to be skeptical of the viability of states that try to unify two or more ethnic groups, even if there is no violent history between them. Not only leading European politicians like Angela Merkel and David Cameron have come to believe that the multicultural ideal does not work.
A growing number of researchers in political science have become very skeptical about the possibility for state to function without a dominant culture truly accepted by the majority of the population. Recent history shows that most binational states run into troubles even if there is no history of bloodshed and violence. Czechoslovakia fell apart soon after the dismantling of the Soviet bloc; Belgium is constantly under pressure of the Flemish population that wants to secede; Scotland reserves the right to secede from Britain, so do the Québécois, the Catalan and the Basques.
There seem to be two blatant exceptions to this rule: one is Switzerland, a country that has four official languages and has been running its affairs very calmly and efficiently for centuries. But Alexander Yakobson has argued that Switzerland is not really multicultural, but rather multilingual, and that it shares a very strong common national ethos. Born and raised in Switzerland until early adulthood, I can fully confirm Yakobson’s view.
The other exception seems to be the United States, often hailed as the one, great successful model of multiculturalism. But the late Samuel Huntington, one of the great political scientists of recent times, has made a strong argument that the U.S. has never been really multicultural, but basically a White Protestant Anglo-Saxon Country. Its success in integrating waves of immigration was based on a simple principle: immigrants were offered the option to accept the Protestant work ethos and the idea of self-reliance. Those who could function in this framework could become part of the American dream.
Israel’s dominant ethos, to this day, is to have revived Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years. How exactly can we expect Palestinians to live with this ethos? Theirs is the exact opposite: their story is that Zionism was their catastrophe, their Nakba. How can these two narratives coexist within the same state? And how can we avoid a protracted struggle for demographic and political dominance in the Greater Land of Israel and endless competition for land and other resources?
As opposed to many younger members of Israel’s political right, who seem to care for Jews only, Arens is a true humanist. But unfortunately I am afraid that his well-meaning blueprint for a single state west of the Jordan will not bring peace, but an unending continuation of ethnic struggle by other means.