A Critique of Finkelstein's Two State Fixation

Remarks at a Left Forum Panel on the One State Solutions

Stanley Heller, March 2012

My self-appointed job is to answer objections to support for One Democratic State. I'm not going to try to take on an easy target like a Dershowitz or Netanyahu, but someone with some cred, someone who has spoken out time and again for Palestinian rights at considerable cost to his career, but who firmly even arrogantly demands the solidarity movement support two states. I'm talking of course about Norman Finkelstein. He gave an interview to a British activist which gained enormous attention because he repeatedly said that the BDS movement was a cult. The word "cult" got everyone's attention, but his main critique was that the BDS movement could never be effective until it embraced the two state solution.

I have great respect for Norman Finkelstein as a painstaking researcher and fierce and courageous critic of Israeli human rights abuses. Ironically the last time I spoke at this Left Forum it was on a panel with Norman Finkelstein. However, I differ with him strongly about strategy and goals.

Finkelstein's main argument is that the division of geographic Palestine into Israel and a Palestinian state is "the law". Its international law based on UN resolutions and international court decisions.

Finkelstein's argument is flawed.

For one thing "the law" is not fixed. It is not a revelation from the Almighty. At one time in this country the law obligated everyone finding a runaway slave to detain him until he could be returned to his master. However ten years later the law made it a crime to hold people in slavery. A century ago international law was the system of the colonizers, regulations for the smooth maintenance of empires. As As'ad AbuKhalil has pointed out "the League of Nations endorsed (in its preamble) the Balfour Declaration and the 'trusteeship' over nations"

What about the United Nations and its resolutions? Despite its name, the UN was not created by all the nations of the world. When it was founded almost all of Africa and huge swaths of Asia were colonies and had no voice. Five powers designated themselves the permanent Security Council members with veto powers over questions of war and peace.

The UN's General Assembly came up with a partition plan for geographic Palestine in 1947. Was it the law? Does it have more validity than the hundreds of General Assembly resolutions routinely violated by Israel and the USA? General Assembly resolutions are considered advisory, statements of world sentiment, but not law.

At any rate the famous General Assembly resolution 181 does not call for a Palestine made up of Gaza, the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. It had an entirely different formulation including a city of Jerusalem that would not be under sovereignty of Israel or Palestine. If two states are the law by UN fiat why isn't Finkelstein insisting that all go back to that formulation?

There's also the matter of General Assembly resolution 194 which in December 1948 said that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors" .. should be permitted to do so" This is what's commonly called the Right to Return. It's categorical. It doesn't say that refugees can return only if it doesn't undermine the Jewish demographic majority. In fact in that same month December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created specifically stating that people had a right to leave and return to their homes. If the law must be observed why isn't it paramount to observe this basic principle too?

And what about another law that was never mentioned in Finkelstein's talk, not merely a General Assembly resolution, but one is included in the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court . It describes violations that are inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." These words define the international crime of apartheid and it fits the situation in Greater Israel to a T.

My point is that international law evolves, changes and is debatable. And you can't cherry pick only those parts that support your argument. Furthermore if the law is cruel and unjust like the Fugitive Slave Act people have an obligation to change it or even defy it. The law at any particular time is not a holy writ.

Now I want to make a different argument about the law

I argue there are the words of the law and there is the effective law. I think a US example makes this clear. About 150 years ago whites decided they wanted the land of the Cherokee nation. In one of the legal cases involving the Cherokee the issue went up to the Supreme Court then under leadership of John Marshall. The Court found in favor of Cherokee rights to sovereignty. Indian Killer President Andrew Jackson said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!". Within a few years Cherokee sovereignty was totally ignored and the nation was ethnically cleansed from their lands.

The point I'm making is that the law is more than the words, it is what is effectively enforced, the Real Law. For instance, there was a World Court advisory opinion that said the Israeli Separation Wall was illegal. So what? It wasn't enforced and there's no way for good hearted people or even sympathetic governments to get it enforced. The real law won't allow it.

The real law when it comes to Palestine/Israel is that a Jewish superiority system rules all the land between the Mediteraranean and the Jordan, that the real law enforces a siege of the Gaza Strip and the real law supports constant home demoltions, indefinite detention and a Wall of Segregation across the West Bank.

Rather than quote the words of the law I think we're on firmer grounds talking about human rights, those self-same principles adopted in 1948 in the Universal Declaration.

Close to the argument on law is the notion that the "international community" supports two states. Many international bodies have made statements in favor of two states. Does that mean the battle is virtually won, and that one state fanatics with their futile demands for total justice are holding things up? Not at all. The international community is willing to expend exactly squat on behalf of Palestinians. How else could one explain the endless pitiless siege of the Gaza Strip.

Another argument Finkelstein makes is we have to be practical. We can't go beyond what the public will accept.

Well, first what the public accepts changes over time. Where would the abolitionists be in 1831 when the public supported slavery if they supported Finkelstein's advice? Where would suffragettes be if they meekly accepted the very common 19th century opinion that their minds were inferior to men's and they had no business voting. I've been at this for 30 years and have seen huge changes in US public attitude. At one time the word Palestinian was synonymous in our country with terrorist. In 1982 a million people came to the great lawn in Central Park to protest nuclear weapons. The same week Israel invaded Lebanon and activists asked for a few minutes on the program. That was absolutely turned down. That could not happen today.

There's no reason the US public could not be won over to a common sense solution to ending apartheid in the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, by modeling it after the same principles that are the ideals of the USA.

Second I'd ask who Finkelstein means by the public? Doesn't he really mean the US, and maybe Western Europe. What about the rest of the world, the majority of the public?

Does he think ending apartheid in Israel will be controversial in Africa? in India? in Iraq? in Russia?

What about in Egypt where last May an idea among the revolutionaries sprang up to do something practical, to take a million people on a march to the border with Gaza to break the siege once and for all. What about Egypt this week where the parliament just passed a law demanding its government withdraw its ambassador to Israel, to freeze the peace treaty with the Israel and to come to the aid of Gaza. Do you think that that public can't be won over to the idea of one democratic state? And when Jordan has its revolution do you that that public can't be inspired by ODS?

In closing I'd say yes let's be realistic, let's be practical. Let's not call Palestinians and their supporters to waste another generation working for a worthless solution that will lead only to demoralization.

Let's tell them the truth. The ever more pampered apartheid state of Israel is supported by the world's 1%, whatever their honeyed words. It won't be reformed without titanic struggles. It will need revolutions in Egypt and other Arab countries and support from some of the Israeli Jews who are being pauperized in a country whose social benefits have been stripped away. The road ahead will be excruciatingly difficult, but the struggle can be won if people honesty proclaim their goals: equal rights, democracy and a good life for all and then go out and organize like hell.

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