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New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

The No-State Solution

June 25, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Politics, Randall Amster

Can the Israel-Palestine Conflict Provide a Path to Peace?

by Randall Amster

(Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in our thematic series on Israel and Palestine. By presenting varied perspectives — including Michael Walzer on Israeli politics, Kathy Kelly on conditions in Gaza, Ahmed Afzaal on political discourse, Julia Chaitin on historical narrative, and Michelle Chen on Palestinian youth — our aim has been to stimulate dialogue and suggest ways forward.)

Despite the obvious and intractable nature of the problem, it appears that something of a consensus has been reached on what to do about the Israel-Palestine conflict. From President Obama to Professor Chomsky, there is broad agreement that any potential path to peace in the region ought to devolve upon a “two-state” scenario in which Palestine is afforded national sovereignty and Israel engenders international (and perhaps more importantly, regional) recognition. Details about precise boundaries and territorial contiguity will of course need to be settled, not to mention issues of economy and culture, but overall this plan is widely embraced by nearly everyone except the rabid hardliners on either side.

Chomsky, to be precise, sees the two-state model as an interim step toward his preferred outcome, a bi-national single state. What isn’t entirely clear in this formulation is how two states will “wither away” and become one, or how a single state will politically accommodate warring cadres. Still, Chomsky asks us to deconstruct the widely-held view that separation into two distinct nations is the only realistic solution, even as he winds up pragmatically validating the concept at the same time. At the end of the day, it seems clear by now that the two-state solution — as invoked by President Obama in Cairo in June 2009 (“the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security”), and most recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress in May 2011 (“I [have] publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples: a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state”) — is generally seen as the only viable answer to the ongoing crisis.

Tempting as it may be to join this apparent consensus, I do not believe that it will resolve the matters at hand. On the contrary, a two-state framework could deepen the conflict by further solidifying it, institutionalizing it, and rendering it susceptible to even greater outside influence. There is a popular myth about how nation-states, particularly ones that are ostensibly democratic in nature, do not generally wage war upon one another. There is also the view that most global conflicts are actually internecine and that cross-border wars are the exception. Despite the appeal of these notions, they are limited by interpretation and the intrusion of reality, as even a cursory glance at U.S. foreign policy over the past century alone might reveal. The creation of nation-states hasn’t served to forestall conflict, and in fact it has mainly exacerbated it; simply put, the state didn’t save us from the scourge of violence, it merely normalized it.

In the case of Israel and Palestine there are a number of conundrums that a two-state model would not readily address, including the potential territorial discontinuity of Palestine and the matter of settlements that continue to push beyond borders no matter where they are to be fixed. If somehow a Palestinian state were to coherently appear, would this lead to calls for mandatory relocation of Arabs presently living in Israel, similar to what has transpired on reservations in the U.S. with the treatment of the Navajo and the Hopi, for example? Might the wall (both literally and culturally) between these two emergent nations grow even higher and the distance between them even greater when separateness becomes nationally reified? Don’t hostilities often escalate when a vast power imbalance exists between two conflictual bordering countries, such as with England and Ireland or China and Tibet? And what happens when elections are held and hardliners on both sides continue to win, putting the reins of the state in the hands of pro-war factions?

These are some of the well-known realities that we see around the world. A two-state framework in the Middle East could turn Israeli “occupation” into something that looks more like Russian attempts to deal with “breakaway republics” such as Chechnya, or U.S. claims to national sovereignty as in places like Panama. Palestinian “resistance” could become “nonlinear warfare” and be used as an excuse to justify further development of Israeli military capabilities. On both sides, being separated by an even greater divide, nationalism will run rampant and the temptation for outside powers to exploit these inherent tensions for proxy-war purposes might be too great to resist. In addition to the use of military force, the legitimation of economic colonization could come about through the adoption of “free trade” agreements that pull labor and resources (e.g., water) from one side while prohibiting the free movements of people in the process. All of this sounds more than familiar, and indeed looks merely like an extension of where we are today.

Cloaking any of these issues in the language and logic of the nation-state isn’t likely to solve the problem, and it could actually serve to institutionalize and further aggravate the issues at hand. A famous aphorism from Randolph Bourne counsels that “war is the health of the state,” and we would thus be more likely to see two permanent war economies emerge under a two-state solution. As Thorstein Veblen once noted, “the spirit of nationalism has never ceased to bend human institutions to the service of dissension and distress,” and hence the creation of more nation-states almost certainly will merely heighten this unfortunate reality. Ultimately, the rise of “the state” as the unit of analysis for promoting conflict resolution in the Westphalian world order simply hasn’t brought much of it.

In a recent  article on ZNet, esteemed international law professor Richard Falk poses the question, “Is the State a Monster?” Citing Nietzsche, Falk observes that “for many the state becomes an idol to be unconditionally obeyed as if an infallible god, a forfeiture of freedom, a renunciation of citizenship in a humane political community, and a voluntary acceptance of subjugation of the spirit. Such a ‘patriotic’ process has drastically diminished the quality of democratic life almost everywhere, and has given the state a green light to wage wars of choice, regardless of their bloody consequences.” Falk further cites chilling historical examples, including “the Nazi death camps, the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities, the genocidal dispossession of indigenous peoples throughout the world, the cruelties of colonial rule, the long siege imposed on the people of Gaza,” and reminds us that a superpower like the U.S. “remains ready to incinerate tens of millions of innocent civilians for the sake of regime survival for itself and allied governments. What could be colder? What could be more anti-human?”

In addition to the inherent intertwining of states with militarism and the ways that nationalism so easily perverts pride into prejudice, there are other features of nation-states that recommend against viewing their existence as part of a path to peace. States claim the mantle as legitimate users of violence — indeed, as the only legitimate users — and unsurprisingly that violence winds up being regularly used both abroad and domestically. As Falk notes, “current events also manifest this icy coldness of the state: shooting unarmed demonstrators in the towns and cities of Syria and Libya, or along the borders of Israel.” Moreover, the economic fortunes and territorial ambitions of nation-states are accentuated by the creation of a zero-sum world in which the entire planet is carved up into competing units. Internally, battles for governmental control can be especially brutal, since those who command the ship of state find themselves in a ready-made power position that is difficult to resist in the full dimensions of its potential profitability.

At this juncture, I believe that whatever historical utility the nation-state model may have represented has run its course. Perhaps it was a necessary step away from absolutism and parochialism toward democracy and liberty, but the model by now appears to be working at cross-purposes to these aims. States are relentlessly repressive, perversely militaristic, and inherently authoritarian. They are expansionist, opportunistic, and intolerant. Even in the best case scenario, they can breed dependency, obedience, and centralization of power. In the end, the rise of nation-states has, over the centuries, yielded precisely what it was intended (in theory, if not practice) to forestall. As Israeli writer Yuval Ben-Ami inquires: “What to do then? Since ethnocentric states are an archaic folly, and a non-ethnocentric state seems unmaintainable, perhaps what we should do is just stop thinking ‘state.'”

So let’s resist the temptation to apply another band-aid and create yet another leviathan (even a small one) in the process. Abolishing nation-states would encourage people to live and work together regardless of territorial boundaries, and without them would allow for freer movement of both bodies and cultures. Localities would become the locus of peoples’ lives, and in that sense would promote more sustainable lifestyles. The tendency to simplify conflict into “us versus them” would be severely undermined, and the ability of hardliners to hijack the “will of the people” for destructive purposes greatly diminished. Permanent war economies would be rendered impracticable if not impossible, and the pervasive leveraging of corporate power over democratic governance would become a virtual nullity. While some believe that the waning influence of nation-states would yield greater corporate power, it appears instead that the two are in fact mutually reinforcing and that the obsolescence of one could bring about an end to the other. Beyond both governments and corporations lie peoples and communities — seemingly forgotten entities that may well reemerge if given sufficient room and encouragement to do so.

Even so, I’m not suggesting here that the abolition of nation-states would be a panacea, or that it wouldn’t bring about its own set of difficulties. I understand entirely the utopian nature of such a no-state vision — as Chomsky observes, “I think a better solution is a no-state solution. But this is pie in the sky,” even as groups working toward this might disagree — although it bears mentioning that it may be even more quixotic to expect a peaceful result through inherently militaristic means. For instance, despite his cogent meditations on “the coldness of the state,” Falk himself falls into this pattern by asserting that “even most of those among us who try to be citizens in the proper sense would still not opt for the chaos of an ungoverned social order if given a free choice. Our task is to build a just and ethically accountable state, not to abandon the enterprise as futile…. We also need to resist the temptation to fall into a deeper sleep by adopting a posture of unrealizable and unacceptable negation of this strange political creature called the state. In the end, the state is not a monster, but a work in progress.”

I daresay that Falk may be right that the state is a work in progress, but with all due respect I would pose the question: “Toward what?” If genocide, slavery, colonization, exploitation, and subjugation are seen as mere stages in a progression, then we really must wonder what else lies in store on this particular path. When measured against the perpetual warfare and expanding authoritarianism we’ve seen take hold around the globe during the reign of nation-states, a new array of challenges arising from the abolition of states could in fact yield vital opportunities for positive growth and real change — and would at least provide a brief respite from an incessantly brutal present. Starting with the planet’s most intractable conflict as a linchpin for creating a nation-free world would be a powerful statement of historical import. Indeed, the “road map to peace” in the Middle East (and elsewhere) shouldn’t look merely like an atlas of states.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., is the Graduate Chair of Humanities at Prescott College. He serves as Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association and as Contributing Editor for New Clear Vision. Among his recent books are Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly, 2008), and the co-edited volume Building Cultures of Peace: Transdisciplinary Voices of Hope and Action (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009).

5 Comments to “The No-State Solution”

  1. Really interesting, especially in an era when nation-states have already ceded much of their power. We need to start imagining what might come next as I fear some are already imagining the world divided into corporate profit centers and administrative mandates of the IMF.

    • Randall Amster says:

      Indeed, Diane, that seems to be the catch-22 here, namely that the demise of the nation-state (i.e, what is being called the “post-Westphalian order”) is likely to turn us all over into the waiting hands of corporate entities. I actually see these two enterprises as intimately connected, and that the apparent waning of the nation-state paradigm in favor of footloose capital is mainly an elaborate illusion — summed up in Arundhati Roy’s insight that the world is simultaneously being enveloped by both/either McDonald’s and/or McDonnell-Douglas (or is it Burger King and Boeing?).

      Corporations do enjoy unprecedented power, but a good portion of it is thoroughly enabled by the state; and of course, the rise of the state in the first instance was tied closely to the advent of capitalism. It would certainly be interesting to see if one could live on without the other…

      Thanks for calling upon us all to exercise our imaginations in moving ahead!

  2. The trouble is that we will not be able to move ahead until we are able to talk to each other, to compromise, to negotiate, together; and to forget the past. For example……
    The conflict situations in Ireland are multi-layered and rooted in time past. The continuing conflicts in Northern Ireland are being carried out by groups of protestants in opposition to groups of Catholics, despite the fact that the main political parties such as Sinn Fein, the DUP, the UDL, have agreed to work together in Stormont, in cooperation with Parliament in London: power sharing.
    But shootings, riots, bombings continue. Why? because there are factions in Northern Ireland who will not be satisfied until they get what they want in entirety. If as a Catholic dissident you want union with Eire, you will not agree with power-sharing with the enemy. If as a Protestant dissident you want the Catholics out, and political and economic and religious union with the UK, you will not want power sharing with the enemy.
    One could argue that the only way to solve this impasse is to capture and imprison all dissidents, all of whom are attacking law and order in the new state of Northern Ireland. But to do this would be to ask dissidents of the past to suppress the dissidents of today.
    Another way, would be to continue the negotiations with the present dissidents with a view to permanent settlement.
    The irony about this is that if conversations and dialogue, and negotiations had been carried out from the start, conflict would not have started and many would not have died in vain.
    The case of Northern Ireland has shown the possibility of a one state solution whereby all parties agree to share power. It also reveals that negotiations have to continue with people in your own party. Conflict resolution and conflict prevention require long term policies and strategies.

    go to http://www.kelvynrichards.com ………chapter on Conflict.

  3. This recent NCV article is appearing today on Infoshop News as well…

  4. A recent observation by Richard Falk (in arguing for a secular single-state solution): “And indeed, more and more people, I think, have come to the conclusion that the ‘two-states consensus’ is no longer a credible conception of a sustainable and just peace.” http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/189-israel-palestine/50404-israelpalestine-conflict-interview-with-richard-falk.html


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