The one-state solution and the brutal honesty of Edward Said

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

In August 2014, I wrote a post, "Two reasons the 'I can't be a Zionist because I'm a liberal' meme is false," that received a fair amount of attention. I got some pushback for making the following assertion:

But the only feasible alternatives to Zionism [defined as supporting Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state of the Jews] are themselves illiberal-have a majority Arab state in which Jews are, at best, a suppressed minority, or force all six million Jews living in Israel to flee to whatever countries (if any) will accept them, or some combination of the two. The idea that giving up on "Zionism" makes you a "liberal" is false, unless creating yet another Arab dictatorship in what is now Israel at the cost of six million Jews' lives and liberty, and of by far the most liberal state in their region, is somehow a "liberal" option.

Critics complained that I simply assumed that an Arab-majority state in Israel-Palestine would be illiberal and would not protect the rights of the Jewish minority, and that this assumption was unfair, even racist. One commenter, for example, wrote, "The author is horrified at the possibility of 'a majority Arab state in which Jews are a minority'. As an experiment, change the word Arab to Black and the word Jew to White in that sentence: 'a majority Black state in which Whites are a minority'. Sounds exactly like what a supporter of Apartheid would have said before that grotesque racist system was replaced."

I responded, "Jews were a minority in Arab states, and they were almost all driven out. You're not going to persuade them to try that again, especially given that there aren't a lot of minorities that have exactly thrived in the Arab Muslim world-unless they are running the government, as in Alawite-controlled Syria or Saddam Hussein's Sunni-controlled Iraq, and oppressing the majority."

Interestingly enough, I've discovered that the late Edward Said, perhaps the leading American propagandist for the Palestinian cause, shared my concerns about the fate of the Jews in an Arab-majority state. Here's an excerpt from a 2010 interview:

Q. Knowing the region and given the history of the conflict, do you think such a Jewish minority [in an Arab-majority state in what is now Israel/the Palestinian territories] would be treated fairly?

"A worry about that. The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been as bad as in Europe, but I wonder what would happen. It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don't know. It worries me."

Give Said points for honesty at least. He does go on to say that a "Jewish minority can survive the way other minorities in the Arab world survived." He was writing before the Islamic State starting butchering Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, but the fate of other minorities in the modern Arab world has hardly been a happy one. While Said suggests that "it worked rather well under the Ottoman Empire," that empire, of course, was run by Turks, with the Arabs themselves a "minority" that needed to be pacified.

Anyway, for the record, let's note that Said hoped that the Jews would be treated fairly under his proposed solution, but seemed to accept the very real possibility of the oppression/ethnic cleansing of the Jews of Israel as a price worth paying for his cause to triumph. And while he suggests the possibility that Jews would "survive" and "live peacefully" in "Palestine," he doesn't seem to deny that Jews would most likely "be at best, a suppressed minority."