The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, April 11, 2003

Naomi and I will be away for our anniversary until Sunday night. There will, of course, be no Head Heeb posts during that time, but you're all welcome to visit anyway and improve my stats.

Thursday, April 10, 2003
The Two-State Solution: The problems of binationalism

The idea of binationalism - a single state comprising the entire territory of the Mandate of Palestine - is not a new one, but it has been favored by different people at different times. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was popular within certain factions of the Zionist movement; now, it seems to be advocated mainly by pro- Palestinian groups. One of its most avid modern exponents is Moammar Qaddafi, who has advocated combining the Israeli and Palestinian territories into a new country called IsraTeen.

A number of Palestinian intellectuals have lately taken up the call for IsraTeen as a means of slicing through the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A binational state would indeed resolve some of the stickiest issues very neatly - sovereignty can be parceled out according to local majorities, Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza can stay where they are, and the holy sites of each religion will be accessible to all. In many ways, binationalism is an attractive option - but, at the present time, I don't think it's a realistic one.

A Dual Dilemma

Binationalist proposals often begin with the argument that a viable Palestinian state is impossible, so the best solution is to combine the two. I discussed that argument in the first article in this series. The prospects of a binational state, however, run up against two other hard facts. First, both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have developed very distinct and very strong national identities - and both have done so the hard way. Second, each believes, with some justification, that it needs protection from the other.

The "mutual protection" objection to binationalism is framed most often in terms of Jews' fear of being overwhelmed by a faster- growing Arab population, but it applies to Palestinians as well. In fact, it may be the Palestinians who would be most vulnerable during the formative period of a binational state. At present, Jews still hold a slim advantage in numbers and a much greater advantage in economic power, and a key minority, the Druze, is allied with the Jews rather than the Palestinians. The disparity in economic power will be especially telling during the early years, and if the examples of Germany and South Africa are any guide, they will last at least through the medium term. If IsraTeen were formed today, most major companies and media outlets in 2010 would probably be Jewish-owned, and this would translate into considerable political power.

Assuming that the disparity between Jewish and Arab fertility rates continues, however, the Palestinians will solidify their demographic advantage in the medium to long term - and this is where the fears of the Jewish side kick in. Jews have been a minority in nearly every place they have lived for the past two millennia; there have at times been cities or districts with local Jewish majorities, but never an entire country. The condition of being an available, easily scapegoated minority has, to say the least, often led to uncomfortable situations, and even the periods during which Jews lived congenially with their neighbors often proved temporary. It is thus natural that many Jews equate safety with being a majority in a country of their own. Call it a Jewish pathology if you will, but it will be psychologically very difficult for Israeli Jews to accept the idea of a binational state in which they will, once again, be a minority of the population.

A Unitary State?

Most binationalist proposals recognize and attempt to compensate for these factors. There are exceptions; binationalism is a continuum rather than a monolith, and one end of the continuum is represented by a unitary secular state that essentially transposes the Louisiana constitution to the Middle East. This approach may be appropriate and even optimal in a new society such as the United States, but it is highly questionable in a region where established group identities are much more central and where there is a long history of inter-group conflict.

It is not surprising that many advocates of a unitary binational state are Marxists who believe that ethnic and national identities are artificial constructs that can be reconstructed at will. Ethnic identities are certainly constructs, but they are not artificial; indeed, the fact that they are constructed in large part by the group members themselves makes them very real. This is especially so where the identities in question developed through struggle. Israelis and Palestinians will not so easily discard their identities and embrace a joint IsraTeenian destiny.

Nor would constitutional protections - even strong ones - be sufficient to paper over ethnic conflict in a binational unitary state. Many binationalists argue from the vantage point of the United States, Canada or Western Europe, where constitutionalism is an unquestioned part of civic life and where constitutional guarantees are generally respected. A constitution, however, is only a bulwark against oppression if the means and will exist to enforce it. Without those things - and especially without the will - it is only a piece of paper.

Even in countries where the rule of law is strong, a constitution is not always a guarantee of individual or group rights. My choice of Louisiana as an example above was deliberate; Louisiana is a unitary state whose constitutional history tells the story of political competition between Anglophones and Francophones. For much of the nineteenth century, Louisiana was fully bilingual, but that changed in the twentieth as the anglophone community solidified its majority. In 1915, the state government banned the use of French in public schools, followed the next year by a law making public school attendance mandatory. In 1921, both these provisions were enshrined in the state constitution. It was not until 1974 that the Louisiana constitution again recognized Francophone language rights, and bilingualism in public life remained largely a figleaf until the 1990s.

Louisiana is far from an exact analogy to Israel and Palestine; I'm sure many of you can come up with closer ones. If anything, however, ethnic identities in Louisiana are softer, and the history of group conflict less intense, than in the Middle East. If the Louisiana constitutional system could be manipulated to marginalize an ethnic group, then so could the constitution of IsraTeen.

To be sure, many of the worst fears of what might happen to a Jewish minority in IsraTeen are overblown. It is not possible to vote an ethnic group out of existence. There are many measures short of that, however, that even a democratic society can take to marginalize and ghettoize a disfavored group - and if the constitution gets in the way, it can always be amended or ignored. It may be that Jews and Arabs would live in IsraTeen in a state of mutual respect, but there are no guarantees of that, and there isn't nearly enough mutual trust for either Israelis or Palestinians to enter into a unitary relationship without such guarantees.

A Federal State?

The remainder of the binationalist spectrum attempts, in various ways, to recognize and manage intergroup competition. Further along the continuum, for instance, are proposals for a unitary state with ethnic power-sharing of the type that worked so well in Lebanon. Most modern binationalist proposals, however, involve some form of federalism, with the Mandate of Palestine divided into Jewish and Arab cantons.

Federalist proposals represent a far more serious attempt to combine Israelis and Palestinians into a single state while protecting the interests and aspirations of each national group. There would, after all, still be an Israel and a Palestine in a federal IsraTeen; the two would simply be cantons of a federal state rather than independent countries. Both cantons would be internally autonomous, and the cantonal and federal governments would have rights and powers defined by the constitution.

I'd like to be convinced that a federal state can work. I live in a federal republic myself and I'm convinced that, when properly done, federalism is the best way to combine the economy of scale and freedom of movement advantages of a single nation with autonomy and respect for minorities. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a realistic federalist plan that would be acceptable to Israelis and Palestinians without requiring an unrealistic level of trust.

A federalist state, too, requires trust to work. Federalism within a single nation is at bottom a constitutional system that, like other systems, can be manipulated and abused. To take an extreme example, one of the most progressive federal constitutions of the twentieth century was the constitution of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, the Russian federal republic even included a Jewish autonomous area in Birobidzhan, Siberia, which was the only explicitly Jewish political entity other than Israel in modern times. Federalism, however, didn't make the Jews of Birobidzhan notably safer from the depredations of the central government than those of Moscow.

Would a federal IsraTeen be the Soviet Union? Almost certainly not. Even the most benign federal system, however, can succumb to creeping centralism. During the discussion on Aziz' blog, for instance, Aziz cited the early United States as an example of a confederation of sovereign nations. That hasn't been the case, though, since at least the New Deal and probably since the Civil War. Open-ended powers such as the commerce clause lead naturally to a gradual accretion of power toward the center, and - given the many costly tasks that would be necessary to integrate Israel and Palestine, as well as the need to resolve disputes and protect minorities on each side - the federal government of IsraTeen would need to have such powers.

A sufficiently detailed constitution that clearly delimits the powers of all federal units might be enough to defeat creeping centralism. One thing I've noticed, however, is that the more bells and whistles that Israeli-Palestinian federalist plans include to ensure the autonomy of the cantons, the more the cantons resemble two independent states. If binationalist proposals approach the two-state solution more closely as they increase in fairness, then it should follow that the fairest possible realistic solution is one in which Israel and Palestine actually are independent.

There is, moreover, another reason to prefer independence to federalism in the Middle Eastern context. In the modern world, the basic political unit is the nation-state, and nations have certain internationally guaranteed rights - integrity and control of borders, self-defense, control over natural resources - that subnational units don't have. Moreover, given the hold that Westphalian sovereignty still has over international relations, the relationship between a federal republic and its constituent units is considered a purely internal one, and the subnational units have no internationally guaranteed rights as against their own national government. India, a federal democratic republic, can dissolve state legislatures and impose direct central rule without violating any tenet of international law, whereas an attempt to do the same thing to another sovereign state would be a grave breach of the international political order. The rights of national sovereignty are, to be sure, sometimes breached, but their existence acts as a deterrent under many - even most- circumstances. The national sovereignty package will, quite simply, make it easier for Israelis and Palestinians to protect their rights, which in turn will make long-term stability more likely.

The federal plan is not without its advantages. In response to the previous article in this series, Ikram Saeed commented:

So Israel's future is either one where a self-destructing Palestine forces it to reoccupy GZ/WB to preserve its own security, or one where a successful Palestine sends over large numbers of migrant labourers.

Either way, real separation won't happen. Better to try to come up with creative solutions now that allow the people currently living in the region to have physical and economic security (aka 'human security'). One way to do that is provide a common, Israteeny identity, laughable though that may seem.

But there are other ways (including confederation, migrant labour policies, joint-security guarantees, a common military, freedom of movement), which may accomplish the same thing without impinging on closely-held national/religious identity.

All these things are easier to accomplish within the context of a federal nation. With the possible exception of confederation, however, they are also possible between two independent nations. Indeed, Israel and Palestine might be more willing to allow joint security guarantees or freedom of movement if they know that such agreements are revocable in the event of their not working out.

Even a confederation of sorts could exist, along the model of the European Union, between independent and sovereign nations - and an EU-style common market could extend far beyond Israel and Palestine. It's possible to envision a Middle Eastern economic union involving Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and other neighboring nations; Israel and Egypt would be the natural leaders of this union as France and Germany are in the EU, but each member would have the security that comes with sovereignty and independence. The bottom line is that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the one that provides the most protection to each party while requiring the smallest realistic amount of mutual trust and goodwill - which means that it is both the easiest to put in place and the most stable once enacted.

What about the long term?

The only sure thing I can say about any long-term predictions is that they will be wrong. Sixty years ago, who would have predicted that the Mandate of Palestine would be in the mess it is in today? In the short term, I feel safe in ruling out binationalism as a realistic solution; in the long term, I can neither rule it out nor in.

Any of a number of things could happen to make binationalism a more attractive option. One possibility is the evolution of a new international order in which Westphalian sovereignty is abandoned and in which an international legal system to which subnational units can appeal is superimposed over the nation- state structure. In this case, it would be possible to construct a federal IsraTeen in which each canton would have guarantees of independence similar to those now available to independent states.

Another possibility is that mutual trust between Israelis and Palestinians, which is now virtually nonexistent, might develop to the level where a federal or even a unitary binational state might be sustainable. Such trust, however, cannot develop under the current circumstances, where one side is occupied and the other lives in fear of terror attacks. The trust and goodwill that are necessary to establish a binational state can only develop during a period of interaction as separate and equal entities.

If the Israeli and Palestinian people one day reach the point where they desire a binational state, then there will be one. This may happen at some time in the future, or it may not. The path to one state lies through two, however, and in the short term, the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only viable resolution to the conflict.

Related Links:

The Alternative Palestinian Agenda proposal

Aziz Poonawalla's pro-binational post

My initial answer, and resulting comments

Part I: Why two states can work

Next: Making the two-state solution work

Before reconciliation, truth

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is seeking the release of investigative reports concerning the Matabeleland massacres in the 1980s. The reports were issued by government investigative commissions in 1982 and 1984, but have been kept under wraps since. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace compiled its own report in 1997, but did not have access to many government sources.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Some healing for the soul

Via Kesher Talk: An Israeli Jew and an Israeli Arab saved the lives of each other's loved ones in a double kidney transplant:

On Monday the 'cross transplant' kidney operations were performed at the same time in Rambam Hospital in Haifa and Schneider Hospital in Petach Tikva. Ilia Halon, 45, an Arab truck driver from Acco, received a kidney donated by Yigal Ozri, 38, a Jewish resident of Kibbutz Naot Mordechai. At the same time Ron, Ozri's ten-year-old son, underwent a procedure which gave him a kidney donated by Halon's wife Lena.

Both donors and recipients now consider themselves members of a single family.

Mitzvah missionaries

Howard Kaplan travels with some Hasidic missionaries. I've met the type myself - Lubavitch teenagers who come around every Friday and ask me to put on tefillin. My office - one of my offices, at any rate - is in a large midtown building where many Jews work, so the Chabadniks regard it as fertile ground.

They only evangelize their fellow Jews. There is a long-standing rabbinic prohibition against attempting to persuade non-Jews to convert to Judaism, dating from early medieval times when doing so was an easy way to get one's entire community killed or expelled. Other Jews, however, are fair game, and some haredi organizations - Lubavitch in particular - are quite aggressive in their outreach to their more assimilated counterparts.

I'm always polite to them when they come around, and I tell them shabbat shalom, but I don't care much for being evangelized. It's my right as a Jew to choose what kind of Jew I want to be, and I find Conservative Judaism both theologically complete and personally satisfying. The fact that the people who are asking me to change my religious practices are also Jewish only makes things worse; if anyone should understand the right to practice one's own religion in peace, Jews should.

I own a pair of tefillin that my father gave me, and I've put them on. But I won't do it for the Chabadniks.

An atrocity

I hope that the people who did this to a schoolyard full of Palestinian teenagers are caught and treated exactly the way Palestinian terrorists would be.

UPDATE: Police are now saying that the injuries in the schoolyard may have been accidental, caused by the explosion of a bomb brought into the yard by one of the students themselves. The latest version of the link above should reflect the police opinion. Nevertheless, the far-right underground organization that claimed responsibility for the explosion - "Revenge of the Infants" - has been implicated in a similar attack last March, and a small group of other right-wing militants was arrested last year for plotting to bomb an Arab girls' school.

It may be that "Revenge of the Infants" does not exist, or that both this claim of responsibility and the prior one were opportunistic. I hope Israelis did not do this; bombing schoolchildren goes against everything that Judaism and Israel represent, and the thought that Jews could even imagine doing such a thing makes me want to cry out. If Israelis did do it, however, it is important that they be caught and severely punished. This attack demands an investigation. It cannot be written off.

More Teheran Metro art

From the Shahid Beheshti, Haft-e-Tir, Taleghani and Darvazeh Dolat stations.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003
The milestones keep coming

Congratulations to Conrad for posting the 1500th comment.

Rural violence

The gloves are off in Matabeleland, but it isn't entirely clear who's doing the dirty work. The Zimbabwe Daily News describes the attackers as "former dissidents of the 1980s insurgency in Matabeleland," but they appear to be ZANU paramilitaries who fought on the side of the government. Their targets have been MDC supporters - although, in at least one case, they attacked a ZANU member who cried foul:

Fanuel Munkuli, one of the victims recovering at Binga District Hospital, was allegedly waylaid by the group last Friday as he returned from a night out.

Villagers said Munkuli was attacked with sticks, stones and small axes by the former dissidents, some of them armed with AK 47 assault rifles.


One victim, Jameson Muleya, a local Zanu PF member, was allegedly attacked by the group after he pleaded with them not to assault people.

The same group is believed to be responsible for pre-election violence last year that left several people dead. If the Gukurahundi veterans are being activated for another round, then the outlook in Matabeleland isn't good.

High court appointment

Justice Minister Tommy Lapid has appointed Haifa District Court judge Salim Joubran as an Acting Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. Joubran will sit for eight months pending action on a permanent appointment by the Judicial Selection Committee.

When Joubran takes his seat, he will be the second Arab to sit on the Supreme Court of Israel. The first Arab judge, Abd-er-Rahman Zoabi, was appointed to the court in 1999.

Monday, April 07, 2003
The Two-State Solution: Why two states can work

This is the first part of my response to Aziz Poonawalla's argument that "the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is a catch-22." Aziz, like an increasing number of other theorists - most of them on the pro-Palestinian side - believes that a binational state including both Israel and the Palestinian territories would be preferable, and supports a proposal for a federal state put forward by the Alternative Palestinian Agenda.

I confess to a certain wistful sympathy with the ideal of Israelis and Palestinians living together as neighbors in a single country. Such an outcome would be an almost poetic resolution to a century of conflict. In the short to medium term, however, I don't think it's viable or desirable, and I believe that the two-state plan, for all its flaws, is the only realistic way forward. In this post, I will address some of the most commonly raised objections to the two-state plan; future articles will discuss my reasons for thinking that the binational-state ideal is unviable and my proposals for maximizing the fairness and viability of a two-state solution.

Would a Palestinian state be too small to be viable?

In a world where Luxembourg and Andorra exist, I defy anyone to answer "yes" to that question. I've frequently seen the argument that a Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank and Gaza would be economically unviable, but very rarely with any detailed explanation; most often, the unviability of Palestine is simply assumed. I’m far from sure this assumption is warranted. It may have been a generation ago, but territorial requirements for statehood have declined due to the increasing prominence of non-land-intensive economic activities and the ability to support denser populations through advanced agriculture. Moreover, independence does not mean autarky; a Palestinian state could trade with Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Europe and the rest of the world.

The West Bank and Gaza encompass about 2400 square miles, or approximately 6100 square kilometers, with a total Arab population of about three million. This represents a density of approximately 500 people per square kilometer - dense, but little more so than the Netherlands, and considerably less so than Bangladesh or Malta. The Gaza Strip, where more than a third of the Palestinians in the occupied territories live, is among the most densely populated areas in the world at more than 3000 per square kilometer, but much of this is due to the fact that IDF security measures have effectively cantonized the Palestinian territories. In an independent Palestinian state without the settlements or the IDF to impede movement, population would flow naturally from Gaza to the relatively underpopulated West Bank.

What about returning refugees? The total population of the Palestinian diaspora is about 4.5 million, and if all of them returned, the resources of the new state would no doubt be strained to the breaking point. But not all of them will return, any more than the entire Jewish diaspora will emigrate to Israel. More than two million Palestinians are Jordanian citizens, and another 700,000 live in the United States or Europe, and it is likely that most of these will choose to remain where they are. Those most likely to return are the 750,000 residents of refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, and, to a lesser extent, the 500,000 living in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. If a two-state solution follows the proposals made at Taba, about 40,000 of these will be absorbed by Israel under the rubric of “family reunification.” Assuming that a million return to the West Bank and Gaza, this would represent a total population density of about 700 per square kilometer.

Independent Palestine could support that many people. The West Bank and Gaza aren’t barren wastelands; the former especially contains good agricultural land, and the arable land available to the Palestinians will increase with the removal of the settlements. With international aid, Palestine could obtain its water needs by building desalination plants on the Mediterranean as Israel is doing, and its rights to the Jordan aquifer would be protected by treaty. A 1.5 trillion cubic foot natural gas reserve in Palestinian waters off the Gaza Strip could further stimulate its economy. It is probably not realistic for Palestine to become a Singapore-style entrepot, but economic development on the Philippine or Indian model with a concentration in low-cost manufacturing and outsourcing of information technology is quite possible. Biblical tourism could flourish in the West Bank, and the Gaza beaches could be developed into a Riviera for Egyptian, Israeli and European tourists. Add to this an educated, successful diaspora which will likely provide financial support the homeland to at least the same extent that American Jews contribute to Israel, and the makings of a viable state are there.

I do not minimize the difficulties that will face the Palestinian nation. The costs of refugee absorption and rebuilding the war-torn infrastructure will be enormous. These costs, however, are not insuperable, especially since a nascent Palestinian state will have the goodwill of the entire world. It is becoming increasingly clear that any peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be an internationally brokered affair, and it is likely that a final agreement will include a substantial international aid package plus compensation from Israel in lieu of return. If the deal is sweetened by admitting both Israel and Palestine as associate members of the EU, then a Palestinian state suddenly looks not only viable but destined for prosperity. The Palestinians are a resourceful, educated and enterprising people, and it's far too soon to write them off.

Would a two-state solution be just?

I’ll answer this question in classic Jewish fashion, with another question. Would it matter?

Justice is, essentially, a backward-looking concept - the just deserts of a person, or nation, are earned from past conduct. This is why one of the most tragic phrases ever uttered is “no justice, no peace.” In fact, there can be no peace without a sacrifice of justice by all parties. The essence of peace is compromise, and compromise requires each side to forgive past enmity and give up part of what it believes it is justly entitled.

One of the most common pro-Israeli arguments against a two-state solution is that it would “reward” Palestinian terrorism, and one of the most common pro-Palestinian arguments is that it would ratify the ethnic cleansing of 1948. Whether or not these are true, peace requires that the parties move beyond justice and toward a mutually acceptable accommodation.

The key question to ask about a two-state solution is not “is it just” but “is it fair and workable” - in other words, is it consistent with freedom and dignity for all parties, does it provide all sides with a basis to move forward, and does it leave all parties more or less equally unsatisfied? The reaction of both Israeli and Palestinian maximalists when a two-state solution is suggested provides the answer.

Would a two-state solution be fair to Israeli Arabs?

A common objection to a two-state arrangement is that it would leave the Israeli Arabs out - or, more accurately, leave them in Israel. This objection usually rests on an underlying assumption that is either spoken or unspoken - that Arabs can never be fully Israeli, and that Israel cannot simultaneously be a Jewish state and a democracy. I've discussed this issue before, so I won't rehearse it in detail here. Suffice it to say that there are two basic models of constitutional democracy - the American pluralist model and the European ethnically-based model. The American model is most common in "new societies" created substantially through immigration, while the European model is more suited to countries where a dominant ethno-cultural group and indigenous minorities are well-established. Israel is a hybrid, and the future of Israeli democracy will likely be one as well, with the indigenous minority - the Israeli Arabs - obtaining national minority protection and possibly territorial autonomy in certain parts of Israel. Within this framework, it is possible for the rights of Israeli Arabs to be fully realized.

It's also fallacious to simplistically equate Israeli Arabs with Palestinians. The Alternative Palestinian Agenda proposal, like many binational-state plans, assumes that Israeli Arabs will want to be part of the Palestinian canton. The truth is more complicated than that. Many Israeli Arabs self-identify as Palestinians and, quite naturally, sympathize with the Palestinian cause. However, when certain Israeli politicians floated the proposal of ceding the Triangle area to Palestine as part of a land swap for the Green Line development towns, an overwhelming majority of Triangle residents were opposed. If the proposal were to cede the Triangle to a Palestinian canton in a federal state instead of to an independent Palestinian nation, support might be greater - but in the course of half a century as Israelis, the culture and national interests of Israeli Arabs have diverged from those of their brethren across the Green Line. A two-state solution might result in some or all of the land inhabited by Israeli Arabs being ceded to Palestinian control - something that would be quite possible with respect to the Triangle and to the Bedouin-inhabited areas of the Be'er Sheva Region - but the choice should belong to the Israeli Arabs, and either cession to Palestine or equality within Israel can potentially be fair to them.

Are Israelis and Palestinians too intertwined to separate?

Another argument against the two-state solution is that, in light of a quarter-century of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza, the two peoples are now too intertwined to separate. With respect to those who make it, I find that this argument barely qualifies as serious. Jews and Arabs remain relatively segregated in the West Bank; a border adjustment involving annexation of 6 percent of the West Bank by Israel with a corresponding land swap to Palestine will take in about 120,000 of the 200,000 settlers. The remaining 80,000 will have to move, but a population movement of this size is well within Israel's capability to absorb, especially with international aid. I find it telling that the same people who believe it too difficult to untangle 80,000 settlers from the West Bank also envision an influx of a million or more returning Palestinian refugees. Any difficulties that may arise in evacuating the West Bank and Gaza settlements would be almost trivial compared to those of resettling the residents of the refugee camps. Even a full-scale retreat to the Green Line, which would require the relocation of more than 200,000 people, would be far from impossible in the context of an internationally brokered peace agreement.

I am aware of the flaws of a two-state solution, but, to paraphrase Churchill, it is the worst except for all the others. It is both possible and equitable, and "retains the same compelling moral and practical logic that has led nearly every outsider of good will to recommend it for over seventy-five years."

Next: Why one state won’t work, at least in the short term.

Jazz Age, Cairo style

This week's Al-Ahram includes an interesting profile of former Egyptian Minister of Education Mohammed Helmi Eissa and the debate over mixed dancing and women's education in 1930s Egypt.

Sunday, April 06, 2003
Beginning of a debate

Aziz Poonawalla has seized on my comment about the Palestinians' admiration for Israeli democracy as proof of his argument for a binational state. Specifically, he argues for the federal Israeli-Palestinian state proposed in the Alternative Palestinian Agenda plan, which is described in brief here and in detail here. My responses to him are here; the APA proposal has some interesting features, but in the end I'm not convinced either of the unviability of a two-state solution or that a binational state would fully protect Israeli or Palestinian national aspirations. Some of my reasons for supporting a two-state solution are set out in my comments to Aziz' post; I'll discuss my opposition to a binational state in greater detail later.

Administrative matters

I've updated the sidebar and made some changes to correct a Blogger-induced display problem. The new arrangement sacrifices some user-friendliness by making the text smaller and eliminating double-spacing, but it also means you don't have to scroll down as far to find links.

On a related topic, I've noticed that nearly all the archived posts that are more than a month old show zero comments, even though many of them sparked substantial threads. The threads can still be reached by clicking on the comment link, but anyone who reads the archives would never know they're there. Is this a problem with Haloscan, Blogger or both, and is there any way to restore the correct count?

UPDATE: Does anyone have any suggestions on how to add an RSS feed, or can anyone point me to a good web site that will give me the tools to get started? A number of people have suggested that I add one, but thus far I haven't found any "RSS for dummies" instructions.

Walled off

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled against Women of the Wall, a women's prayer group that sought to hold group prayers in the Western Wall plaza "while wearing prayer shawls (tallit) and reading from the Torah." In a 5-4 decision, the court gave the government one year to prepare the nearby Robinson's Arch for their use; if Robinson's Arch is not ready within a year, then the women must be allowed to pray at the wall.

The court's ruling is a reversal of an earlier decision on May 22, 2000, in which a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the right of women to pray together at the Wall. Since then, however, attempts by women to hold prayer sessions have been met with violence by members of the haredi community, and on a rehearing requested by the government, a larger panel of judges accepted its argument that group prayer was a "danger to public safety." The court's decision seems like the path of least resistance, and should help dispel the myth that Israeli judges are implacably hostile to haredim - but it also seems a lot like blaming the victims.

Brothers in arms

Uri Benziman comments on how Arab Israelis and the far right are feeding each other's attitudes.