Herzl’s plan for the Jewish state

The Jewish StateThe Jewish State by Theodor Herzl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Herzl faced the daunting task of convincing his fellow European Jews that creating a new state was possible and laying out the plan to do it. Pessimistic about ending anti-Semitism, he wanted to create a Jewish Company that would sell of Jewish assets in Europe and buy new land in the Ottoman territory of Palestine (which he viewed as a better option than Argentina). Throughout, Herzl showed great concern with the perception of his project by European governments and citizens, arguing that they could validate the new state and that the whole process of Jewish emigration, if well-managed, could actually benefit Europeans. He also argued that a Jewish community in Palestine would be a boon to the Ottomans and the people living there.

It was really interesting to see Herzl try to tackle the question of how a modern, European-style nation-state could be set up to hit the ground running. He wanted the private Jewish Company to set up the housing and infrastructure and serve as a central place to procure labor, with a seven-hour workday as a policy. Overall, he wanted to promote economic freedom in the new state, though he hoped for the seven-hour day to be legally mandated if it worked in the early stages. Herzl hoped for the Jews to develop as a modern people, escaping the deleterious consequences of their time in Europe that limited their economic and intellectual development. He presented this plan as new and better Exodus, now equipped with the benefits of modern (European) culture.

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Two nations, one land

The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of WarThe Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War by James L. Gelvin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gelvin is a great writer who excels writing about complicated history in a very readable way. I’ve read the second edition of The Modern Middle East: A History as well as The Arab Uprisings, and he has a similar style in each of these books: explaining the events in the context of world-historical developments, with a touch of humor.

This is mostly good, but sometimes the blow-by-blow of the story is sacrificed for the thematic focus. In this book, his major theme is nationalism, and how both Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms developed. Like all nationalisms, he believes that both are invented in the context of the conditions of the modern world rather than natural. He also ties in the rise and fall of the Cold War order.

It’s a good book overall. Gelvin tilts toward the Palestinians, which is good for readers who have a difficult time seeing that perspective but would best supplemented with another point of view for those already tilting that way. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is definitely an issue where it’s good to hear the story from a number of different points of view.

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Postmodern military theory

Last month, Peter Leithart linked to a May 2006 article from Frieze magazine, which showed how the Israeli military used postmodern theories to fight against Palestinian guerrillas in Nablus in 2002. Check out Leithart’s post or the whole article (if you can deal with some postmodern jargon) for more.

Here’s one excerpt:

To understand the IDF’s tactics for moving through Palestinian urban spaces, it is necessary to understand how they interpret the by now familiar principle of ‘swarming’ – a term that has been a buzzword in military theory since the start of the US post cold War doctrine known as the Revolution in Military Affairs. The swarm manoeuvre was in fact adapted, from the Artificial Intelligence principle of swarm intelligence, which assumes that problem-solving capacities are found in the interaction and communication of relatively unsophisticated agents (ants, birds, bees, soldiers) with little or no centralized control. The swarm exemplifies the principle of non-linearity apparent in spatial, organizational and temporal terms. The traditional manoeuvre paradigm, characterized by the simplified geometry of Euclidean order, is transformed, according to the military, into a complex fractal-like geometry. The narrative of the battle plan is replaced by what the military, using a Foucaultian term, calls the ‘toolbox approach’, according to which units receive the tools they need to deal with several given situations and scenarios but cannot predict the order in which these events would actually occur.7 Naveh: ‘Operative and tactical commanders depend on one another and learn the problems through constructing the battle narrative; […] action becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes action. […] Without a decisive result possible, the main benefit of operation is the very improvement of the system as a system.’

This may explain the fascination of the military with the spatial and organizational models and modes of operation advanced by theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed, as far as the military is concerned, urban warfare is the ultimate Postmodern form of conflict. Belief in a logically structured and single-track battle-plan is lost in the face of the complexity and ambiguity of the urban reality. Civilians become combatants, and combatants become civilians. Identity can be changed as quickly as gender can be feigned: the transformation of women into fighting men can occur at the speed that it takes an undercover ‘Arabized’ Israeli soldier or a camouflaged Palestinian fighter to pull a machine-gun out from under a dress. For a Palestinian fighter caught up in this battle, Israelis seem ‘to be everywhere: behind, on the sides, on the right and on the left. How can you fight that way?’

From Ottoman Palestine to Israel

A History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of IsraelA History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of Israel by Gudrun Krämer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I have a lot to learn on this topic, this is one of the most helpful books I have read on the topic. Krämer looks more in-depth at the patterns of the Palestinian economy, Jewish settlement, and Jewish purchases of land than other sources that I have read, and the book seems to be fair to both sides.

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Ben Birnbaum on the two-state solution

This (long) article in The New Republic surveyed attitudes toward the peace process in the Israeli and Palestinian scenes, focusing particularly on contemporary leaders but also with observations about the past few decades and the wider populations. Like others that I have read, Birnbaum believes that the window for a two-state solution is closing, but of course predicting the future is a dicey business.

Birnbaum thinks that the two-state solution is the best option:

If the two-state solution dies, Israel will only be left with ugly options. It could ride out the status quo as the world continues to turn against it. It could unilaterally create a Palestinian state by withdrawing to the line of the barrier, incurring most of the costs of a two-state solution with few of the benefits. It could annex the West Bank and give all Palestinians citizenship, making Israel a binational state. Or it could annex the entire West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship, embracing apartheid.

Netanyahu is putting the finishing touches on a wide governing coalition, likely to include Bennett on the right and Livni on the left, and what he will do remains a mystery. Based on his historical aversion to the peace process, many believe he’ll opt for the status quo. Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, predicted that Netanyahu would embark on unilateral withdrawal before the end of his term. (“He’s not stupid,” Erekat said.) Others think he may do more. “I’m convinced that, if the circumstances are right, he will go much farther than people think,” Dennis Ross told me. “Abu Mazen told me he thought there was no way Bibi could do a deal. I said, ‘How do you know? You haven’t tested him.’”

But one thing is clear: No Israeli would be better positioned to sell and implement a deal than Bibi. Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Shin Bet and a leading peace activist, told me Netanyahu needs to envision his grandson 40 years from now reading a newspaper about the three great Zionist leaders: Theodor Herzl, who dreamt the state; David Ben Gurion, who built it; and Benjamin Netanyahu, who secured its future as a Jewish democracy.

Which do you think is most likely and/or best?

American support for Israel’s Gaza operation

Walter Russell Mead has a thought-provoking interpretation of American support for Israel in its military response in Gaza: Americans don’t really believe in just war theory or proportionality in the conduct of war because of the circumstances of our national development. He links this to the prevalent “Jacksonian” attitude toward foreign policy in the US:

The European just war tradition springs in part from the reality that historically in Europe war was an affair of kings and rulers that hurt the little people without doing anything for them. Peasants really didn’t care whether the Duke of Burgundy or the Count of Anjou was recognized as the rightful overlord of their village, and moralists and theologians worked to limit the violence that the dukes and the counts and their henchmen wreaked on the poor peasants caught up in a quarrel that wasn’t theirs.

With no feudal past in this country, Americans have tended to see wars as wars of peoples rather than wars of elites and in a war of peoples the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate targets tends to collapse. The German civilian (male or female) making weapons for Hitler’s Wehrmacht was as much a part of the enemy’s warmaking potential as the soldier at the front. Furthermore, in a war of peoples in which civilians are implicated in the conflict, the health and morale of the civilian population is a legitimate target of war. This justified the blockades against the Confederacy and against Germany and German occupied Europe during the world wars, and it also justified the mass terror bombing raids of World War Two in which the destruction of enemy morale was one of the stated aims.

This is the same logic by which someone like Osama bin Laden could justify his attacks on civilians at the World Trade Center, and it is the fundamental logic behind Hamas’ indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilian targets. Americans don’t like it when their enemies use this kind of logic, but it is a type of warfare they understand and they have fought and won enough of these wars in the past to be ready if necessary to do it again.

From this perspective, in which war is an elemental struggle between peoples rather than a kind of knightly duel between courtly elites, the concept of proportionality seems much less compelling. Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.

In his review of Mead’s Special Providence, Peter Leithart summarizes Mead’s category of “Jacksonian” attitudes: “that government exists for the protection of the governed. Both domestically and in foreign policy, American should use its power to provide physical security and ensure prosperity for American citizens. Honor is a central value for Jacksonian cowboys, and when American honor is assaulted, Jacksonians make war with the fullest fury they can muster.”

Some time ago, Mead also wrote about why Americans support Israel in general, which I blogged about here.

The possibility of a binational Israel

Jeff Goldberg posted today about an Israeli study that encouraged treating the West Bank like the rest of Israel and opening it all up to Israeli settlement. Goldberg assumes that this will lead to the extension of citizenship to the Palestinians and the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy. He believes, as I have noted before, that the West Bank and Gaza should form a Palestinian state in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. He likes to say that the settlers are the vanguard of a binational Israel. He concludes:

This would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy, but the right-wing in Israel seems more enamored of land-ownership than it does of such antiquated notions as, you know, Zionism.

Of course, you don’t hear too many voices on the right in Israel clamoring to extend full Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. The right-wing wants the land, but not the people. What the right doesn’t understand is that this arrangement would be a non-starter, for political and moral reasons. Then again, the right doesn’t understand very much, so why would it understand this?

In his next post, in response to a reminder from another journalist, he linked to this two-year -old interview with the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Reuven Rivlin, who said that a Jewish-Palestinian state could work with real Palestinian participation. Perhaps The article quotes Rivlin’s striking words: “‘I would prefer for the Palestinians to be citizens of this country,’ he said, ‘rather than divide the land.’” He goes on to talk about how it might work.

The contrast between Goldberg’s pessimism and Rivlin’s optimism about this kind of arrangement is remarkable. In part, it’s about what’s more important: a nationalist (and mainly secular) concept of Zionism or access to the land. Goldberg is observant himself, in the tradition of Reform Judaism I believe, but I think it is fair to characterize his Zionism as more nationalist (connecting the Jewish people with their historic home) rather than religious.