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Peter Beinart’s Great Change

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Buildings in Abu Dis are seen beyond the West Bank separation barrier in January, 2020.
Buildings in Abu Dis are seen beyond the West Bank separation barrier in January, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

A page-one headline in Friday’s international edition of The New York Times (a day after the piece appeared in the paper’s U.S. print edition): “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” No, the significance of this cannot be overstated. Peter Beinart, one of American Jewry’s most prominent liberal intellectuals, an observant Jew who was raised in a Zionist home, who was 28 when he became the editor of The New Republic, and who later became a senior columnist at Haaretz, has said goodbye to the two-state solution and in effect issued a divorce decree to Zionism, at least in its current format.

In an impressive essay that has already made waves in the United States, he writes: “It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.” Beinart is not a lone voice in the United States. American Jews are beginning, if belatedly, to take a clear-eyed look at Israel, its darling. The Democratic Party is also doing so, slowly. Now we can hope that Beinart’s op-ed will motivate more and more intellectuals and others to look honestly and bravely at reality, as he has done, and to say what is still considered heresy, a betrayal of Israel and not politically correct in the United States.

Sovereignty Setback: Who Burst Bibi's Annexation Bubble?Credit: Haaretz

Beinart has seen the light. An end has come to years of a pleasant, intoxicating belief that it was possible to be a liberal Jew and still support Israel, by dint of the illusion of the two-state solution, which Israel and the U.S. never intended to carry out. Now Beinart too realizes that there is an inherent contradiction that cannot be resolved. As long as the occupation continues, no liberal, Jewish or not, can support Israel. Beinart realized that the die has been cast: The two-state solution died because of the irreversible number of settlers, to which the annexation plan was recently added. “The goal of equality is now more realistic than the goal of separation,” Beinart writes, expertly describing reality a moment before being attacked with the claim that the one-state solution isn’t realistic. (Anshel Pfeffer did so in Haaretz on Thursday.)

Yes, the followers of the two-state solution are “realistic” and those who are for the one-state solution are delusional. It’s hard to think of a more delusional mirage. For 53 years there has been a single state here, its apartheid regime is becoming entrenched with sickening speed and to speak of regime changing in this single state is to speak unrealistically. When only two options remain, a single democratic state or an apartheid state, the democratic option doesn’t even come up for discussion in Israel, and barely does in the United States or the rest of the world.

The remnants of the imaginary possibility of a Palestinian state have long since been torn, but we must continue to hope for it, to long for it and to pray for its establishment. A Palestinian state? Where? How? Not here. Not now. Instead of launching the only struggle that offers a just vision - equality; one person, one vote - the liberals continue to sing paeans to a past that will never return, to a train that has left the station and will never return. Instead of taking the necessary conclusions, they continue to shut their eyes and scatter illusions. It’s more comfortable for everyone; for Israelis, for the Palestinian Authority and the world. A Palestinian state will surely come to be, just you wait and see.

The standard weapon of the “realists” for burying the last just solution is the threat of the terrible bloodshed that would occur in the binational state. The 53 years of the apartheid state generated the most terrible bloodshed of all. Things can only get better. Beinart, whose parents emigrated from South Africa, knows from history that when a government of equality is established in a binational state, and all its inhabitants win freedom and can exercise their rights, violence declines and even disappears. It happened in Northern Ireland as well as in South Africa. But the Zionist chorus will continue to paint a terrifying picture of the unknown and cling to the status quo, the steady, institutionalized situation of apartheid, which is the worst of all.

Beinart misses the day when he saw Israel as a source of pride, like many Jews. Myself included. Now Beinart is himself a source of pride: an American Jew who heralds a change that gives hope.

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