An Israeli-Palestinian Fairy Tale


It may be impossible to say anything useful about Israeli-Palestinian relations, but there’s so much pseudo-reasonable propaganda around (e.g. here and here) that it’s tempting to try.  It’s a hard problem, but sometimes hard problems do get solved.

First of all, we should address what seems to be in the offing from the confident Mr. Kushner.  By all reports we will hear that Palestinians should just suck up to Israelis, because they will be much better off.   That is at best an assumed-benevolent provision in an Israeli declaration of victory; at worst it is a justification for added repression when it fails.  The subject seems eerily reminiscent of the way the British talked about Ireland a hundred years ago.

There is in fact no alternative to a two-state solution with recognition by both sides of the other state’s right to exist.  Such a solution is a necessary condition for all parties involved.   It’s hard to imagine anything else stopping settlements or dealing effectively with right of return.  The fact that no one wants to talk about it now is a problem, not a fact of life.  There are of course many problems to be solved, but there is at least the potential of a way forward.


Out of sheer frustration it’s worth listing some of the mythology that’s getting in the way:

On the Palestinian side:

– Our land was stolen, so there is nothing more to say.

Both sides are going to have to admit the other has a claim, or there is no alternative to fighting to the death.

– They keep killing our people.  Any deal with them is treason.

Both sides believe that one.

– We’re the victims of ongoing Israeli oppression.  We have no obligation to live up to any deal.

The reason to have a deal is that it is better than not.  Trust is necessary to make any progress beyond the status quo.

– This is a religious war and/or a fight against Western imperialism.

It’s not.   It’s a fight over claims to the same land.

On the Israeli side:

– This is our land.  God gave it to us.

You can believe whatever you want for yourself, but you can’t expect anyone else to go along.

– This is our land, granted to us after the second world war as a continuation of a process that goes all the way back to the Balfour Declaration.  All further territory was rightfully won in battle.

For the other side that’s just a restatement of the Western imperialism story.

– They keep killing our people.  This will go on “until they love their children more than they hate us”.

Are you any less devoted to the cause?

– It’s just historical anti-Semitism

It’s not.   It’s a fight over claims to the same land.

– Things aren’t perfect today, but they’re mostly under control.  We just can’t take the risk.

It’s already a cancer on the state, and that will only get worse.


The first step in any negotiation has got to be an acknowledgement by both sides of the other’s right to exist.  Nothing else can go anywhere, so it might as well be confronted head-on.   Maybe the necessary transition in Palestinian leadership can help the process.   Maybe there will be a transition in Israel also.  Something is certainly out of whack when the Israeli leadership is making deals with terrorists and is most comfortable with Eastern European anti-Semites!

If you can get that far, then Kushner’s financial backing project takes on real meaning.  It is imperative that a Palestinian state be economically viable as a precondition for political stability.  Even given that, though, there are all kinds of detailed issues to be hashed out:  most fundamentally there is the problem of the map, plus other items such as water rights, and rights for Israelis and Palestinians in each other’s states.  The matter of Israeli settlements is of course difficult, but despite the famous Obama-era map shown at the start, I would like to believe this is not impossible.  Israel will have hard decisions, but the never-ending occupation can only be cured by a viable Palestinian state.

That brings up the matter of Israeli security.  Despite the scary ring of it, that seems less serious in practice than in theory.   Any Palestinian state would be risking its continued existence by preparing an attack.

For the economy, a possible solution could be something like a customs union, where the Palestinian state would both benefit from and be useful to the Israeli economy.  That’s not an impossibility; just lots of hard steps to get there.


And it has to be emphasized that the benefits to all parties would be incalculable.  If there is anything that can bring stability and economic growth to the Middle East, this is it.  There’s only so much we can do to make it happen, but blind support of Netanyahu, abandonment of the two-state solution, and uncritical reliance on MBS do not contribute to any recipe for peace.

Questions for Democrats

consumption-by-source-and-sectorI’m concerned about what seems to be a kind of giddiness in the Democratic Party.  Winning control of the house was a major accomplishment, and there does seem to be a shift in national attitudes toward the liberal agenda.  But I’m worried that the feeling that everything is now possible is getting ahead of what it will take to make it so.

I’ll start with Green New Deal and Medicare For All.  In both cases there’s a lot that’s good.  We’ve succeeded in focusing attention on key problem areas that urgently need to be addressed.  But in both cases there is so much room for interpretation that it’s hard to see what will come out.  And I don’t understand what the decision process is going to be.

Climate change and healthcare are both highly technical issues.  We’ve talked here before about what it will take to put together a true national plan to address climate change.  (The chart at the start has to be addressed point-by-point.)  The current GND bill doesn’t claim to do anything like that and adds a number of other issues into the mix.  Part of that is good—for the first time we’ve succeeded in presenting action on climate change as a step forward for everyone, not as distasteful but necessary medicine.   At the same time, though, we now have a number of competing objectives for whatever will come out as plan.

However attractive those objectives may be, there is a lot more in GND than anyone will deliver.  Fighting climate change will create many jobs, but will not—by itself—solve unemployment.  If we start fighting about whose jobs get created, climate will suffer.  It’s okay that part of the planning process is political, but that can’t be the main thing.  Roosevelt had a brain trust of people driving the original New Deal.   We need something like that here, and we also need a broad-based process for contributions to the plan.  It’s not enough to let the Presidential candidates or other players chime in with soundbites.  This is a real test for our ability to govern.

Healthcare makes me nervous for similar reasons.   Medicare for All sounds very specific, but one hopes it’s not.   A literal Medical for All solution would not be a simple change and would force a premature answer to a problem that deserves careful study.   Virtually every developed country other than us has implemented some form of universal healthcare, and there is quite a lot of variety in the solutions.   We have every opportunity to make a careful and successful choice for both the overall plan and the sequence of steps to get there.

I don’t see enough of that happening.  Thus far there seems to be more concern about how to relate to Medicare than about how other countries have achieved universal coverage.  Positions of Presidential candidates seem like shots in the dark.  We should be careful to avoid making the transition harder than it has to be, we should avoid fighting battles we don’t have to, and we should certainly make sure to keep the ACA surtax!

A third and final topic is international affairs.   What’s worrisome about that one is that there is no way of avoiding competing objectives.   One of the biggest mistakes of the current administration is its zero-sum approach to the rest of the world.   We’re trying to “win” international affairs by making sure everyone else loses.  Such belligerence may sound great—defending America—but it’s a wrong model.  The world has learned the hard way that economic nationalism is self-defeating.   We need rules of engagement so that nations can participate in building shared prosperity.  The world has a real chance to succeed at that, but it’s not a given.

In particular it’s not easy for us and not easy now.  The drastic changes in the world economy are calling out for nationalism and trade wars.   “The worst thing about globalization is everything that can be blamed on it.”  Better trade rules will help some of it, as will a better safety net.  But the problems won’t go away.  Not only are we going to have to say no to tariffs (still popular despite a cost of $900,000 a job), but we may also have to spend serious money outside the US to help poorer countries fight climate change.  The only way forward is to recognize how interconnected we all are.  That applies to Trump’s Devil’s bargain with dictators too.

Both the country and the world need us to get this right.