Saree Makdisi's One - State Solution:A Delusive 'Just Peace' / Gideon Spitzer

June 1, 2011
Recently, UCLA professor of English and advocate of a single state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict Saree Makdisi spoke in the student union at the University of Pennsylvania. The lecture, sponsored by the Penn Middle East Center (MEC), the English Department, the Greenfield Intercultural Center, and the Penn Arab Student Society, represented another in a series of events sponsored by the university-funded Middle East Center that brought known anti-Israel speakers to Penn, including UCLA's James Gelvin, Stanford's Joel Beinin, artists Reza Kanazi and Radio Rahim, and numerous film screenings. To get a better sense of the level of bias at MEC, consider the following: in the first four months of 2011, the MEC underwrote eight events co-sponsored by Penn for Palestine and associated groups, but none by the Penn Israel Coalition or other pro-Israel campus groups. Moreover, by inviting an English professor like Makdisi, whose academic specialty is eighteenth and nineteenth-century British poetry, MEC privileges his anti-Israel politics over his lack of specialized knowledge of the Middle East.

Makdisi began his commentary with an attempt "to reset and remember, first of all, that the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem together comprise a very small fraction of all of historic Palestine and only a minority of the Palestinian people actually lives in the occupied territories." While four million Palestinians live in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, Makdisi asserted, six to seven million Palestinians live either in "forced exile or as citizens of the State of Israel," and "routinely they are left out of the equation of the status of how to resolve the conflict."

The point of this demographic discussion, as Makdisi would soon establish, was to lay the foundation of his version of a "just peace" between Palestinians and Israelis:

What I'm interested in…is a just peace, a peace that by definition has to take into account the rights of everybody involved in the conflict; that is to say, all Israelis and all Palestinians, the Palestinians living under occupation, the Palestinians living as second class citizens in Israel, and the Palestinians living in exile…everybody's rights have to be addressed.

The above quote reveals Mr. Makdisi's deep desire to erase the Jewish character of Israel. By making Palestinians outside of the West Bank and Gaza required participants any "just" resolution to the conflict, Makdisi proves his belief in the Palestinian right of return, and thus the assured destruction of the Jewish state. He reveals his acceptance of the classic Palestinian mythology of 1948 – which ignores Arab treatment of Jews (and each other) and focuses on what Jews did to Arabs. In a mendacious demonstration of his anti-Israel bias, Makdisi fails to mention the UN agency, UNRWA, which perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem in cahoots with Arab governments who provide Palestinians with pitiable treatment.

Speaking on the two-state solution's feasibility, Makdisi stated that, "the West Bank, the biggest single chunk of the occupied territories, has been so broken up by Israeli colonization and development, that the idea of trying to create a Palestinian state in this territory under the circumstances seems completely unrealistic and totally unworkable." Yet he revealed a seemingly different point when he said:

Even if…the Israelis were to withdraw tomorrow…from all of the West Bank… Even if it [said] Palestinians could have a real state with a real army, and real air force, real police, and real all the rest…would that address the rights of all Palestinians? And the answer of course is no it wouldn't because only a minority of Palestinians lives in the West Bank…. I think we have to think…beyond the occupied territories for a just resolution to this conflict.

The latter point reveals the subterfuge of Makdisi's earlier argument regarding the one-state solution's practical "unworkability." The ill-defined "just peace" of which he spoke that looks "beyond the occupied territories" into Israel proper, would of course destroy its character as a Jewish State.

Next, Makdisi turned his attention to so-called Israeli "apartheid":

If you look at the all of the laws that constituted South African apartheid, all the major laws, they have [the] exact equivalent in Israeli law inside pre-'67 Israel with respect to the Palestinian [Israeli-Arab] population.

As evidence, Makdisi cited the South African Population Registration Act, which assigned every citizen of the Republic of South Africa a racial identity that determined which neighborhoods they could live in and which schools they could attend, among many other restrictions. Makdisi claimed that, because Israel also notes on state-issued identification the religious background of its citizens, it practices apartheid. Yet Makdisi noted, "the main feature of South African apartheid was to exploit black labor…. Israel has never been interested… in Palestinian labor." Makdisi failed to mention the numerous other states who require citizens to register their religion with the government, including Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and until 2000, Greece. His attempt to undercut the legitimacy of Israel within its pre-1967 borders adds Makdisi's voice to the insidious Arab propaganda whose notion of a Palestinian state includes not just the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, but the entire area of Israel.

In his final defense of the one-state solution, Makdisi argued that the "democratic and secular" nature of such a potential new state would, "treat all its citizens equally; that would safeguard the rights of everybody." No suggestions were offered on overcoming the barriers to a single-state solution: economic integration, issues on immigration, and the control of the defense forces, to name a few. Furthermore, Makdisi disregarded a century of poor relations between Jews and Arabs in the region, offering no explanation of how such historical legacies would be overcome in a new bi-national state. As for self-determination, Makdisi said that it, "can take many, many, many forms" and asked, "why can't we invent our own forms? Why do we have to import the ones that work [from Europe]?"

As to what these new "forms" of self-determination might be, he offered only vague references to "cultural and aesthetic autonomy." Asked by an audience member how Jews and Israelis should react to the fact that a single-state solution would leave Jews without their own state and Arabs with twenty-two states in which they are the majority of the population, Makdisi responded with the uncaring and prejudiced suggestion that Jews have to, "just get on with their lives." So much for Makdisi's "just" peace.

Despite his criticism of the two-state solution and its impracticability, Makdisi suggested few realistic strategies to implement a single state. His lecture rested upon pipe dreams of Israeli-Palestinian unity, all undergirded by the implicit desire to undercut and destroy the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. Like other anti-Israel academics before him, Makdisi has an uncanny ability to propagate double standards and fallacy as fact. Penn and its Middle East Center would do well to invite specialists in Middle East studies capable of offering straightforward, unbiased analyses of the region's problems rather than those from unrelated disciplines whose principal qualification, so to speak, is their hostility to Israel.

Gideon Spitzer is a political science and history major at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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