One State is Not Snake Oil: A Reply to Michael Neumann

by John Spritzler

May 16, 2007



In his article, Two States, One State and Snake Oil, Michael Neumann asserts that the One Democratic State (ODS) solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict is "snake oil." He makes an argument that exploits a weakness in the way many of us advocate ODS: we talk about ODS being democratic in a legal/governmental sense, but we don't talk about ODS being based on equality and solidarity in the sense of a social revolution against capitalist inequality. Neumann thus argues that we are selling the ODS idea without informing people of its true "price tag." The "price tag" he's referring to is the need for Israeli Jews who presently occupy land that was stolen from Palestinians to return that land to its rightful owners or pay a fair price to them for it. "Presumably," Neumann says, "this compensation would be pretty enormous, into the millions of dollars per incident." His conclusion? "I don't feel there's the slightest chance that Israelis would accept a one-state solution as described, or that anyone could dictate it to them." Is Neumann right?

Let's start by looking at some numbers. ODS proponent Mazin Qumsiyeh, in his Sharing the Land of Canaan (pg. 49), writes:

"It is a myth that Israelis would have to be displaced to allow for the return of the refugees. A study on the demography of Israel shows that 78 percent of Israelis are living in 14 percent of Israel and that the remaining 86 percent of the land mostly belongs to the refugees on which 22 percent of the Israelis live. However, 20 percent live in city centers, which are mostly Palestinian, such as Beer Al Saba', Ashdod, Majdal, Asqalan, Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias, and Safad. Only 2 percent live in kibbutzim. Thus, 154,000 rural Jews control 17,325 square kilometers, which are the home and heritage of five million Palestinian refugees."

Let us say that every one of those 154,000 rural Jews is a member of a four-person family and each family lives in a house on land for which some Palestinian family is owed a million dollars. That comes to 38,500 families (154,000 divided by 4), times a million dollars each, which comes to 38.5 billion dollars. Now let's assume that of the approximately 6 million Israeli Jews, one million of them live as four-person families in places like Tel Aviv and Haifa in houses that rightfully belong to Palestinians.  This means there are about 250,000 (1,000,000 divided by 4) such families, and at a cost of one million dollars each they would owe Palestinians 250 billion dollars. Add these two sums and we get a total debt to Palestinians (for Jewish occupied homes and land) of about 289 billion dollars. That's about  1,136 billion Israeli New Shekels (NIS) (289 billion times 3.93, the current exchange rate.)

Wow! That sounds like a lot. But wait a minute. According to a Haaretz article by Ora Coren and Lilach Weissman, Haaretz Correspondents (13/02/2006), "The income of the 18 wealthiest families in Israel is equivalent to 77 percent of Israel's national budget, which is NIS 256 billion a year." Hmmmm. This means that in less than 4.4 years (1,136 divided by 256), the 18 wealthiest families in Israel could pay the entire debt owed by Israeli Jews living in homes and land stolen from Palestinians. It means that in 4.5 years (I added a tenth of a year so the 18 wealthiest families would still have enough income to live a normal lifestyle) a fund set up by these 18 wealthiest families could offer every Jewish Israeli who lives on stolen land a million U.S. dollars which they would use either to buy their home from the rightful Palestinian owner or buy another home (probably it would have to be newly constructed) so they could return the stolen one but not end up homeless.

The income thus going to all of the millions of people employed to build all of the new homes would represent an enormous shift of wealth from extremely wealthy to average people. (Money previously going to purchase and build weapons to kill Arabs would end up going to pay people to build houses for a change.) The solidarity that could develop between ordinary Jews and Palestinians in the social environment that this solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict would produce would be worth its weight in gold. It would be invaluable, obviously, to the Palestinians regaining their rightful property and social status as equals in their homeland. It would also, however, be extremely welcomed by the working class Israeli Jews who have been driven down into poverty by the social policies of people like the 18 wealthiest families. Life has been rough for these working class Israeli Jews lately.

As the Jewish Daily Forward wrote (April 7, 2006) “a deliberate move by Jerusalem policy-makers to modernize Israel's economy” has resulted in “a new class of millionaires, and an explosion of poverty and hunger. In just one generation, Israel has gone from the most egalitarian nation in the industrialized world to one of the least egalitarian.” Israeli workers have been forced to defend themselves with general strikes (December, 1997 and September, 2004) or threats of major strikes (November, 2006 and March, 2007.) Israeli Jewish working people have not been successful in reversing the policies of the 18 wealthiest families, in large part because instead of having solidarity with Palestinians they have  been so pre-occupied by fear of Palestinians that they have felt obliged to obey the 18 wealthiest families and their politicians and generals who say the most important thing is fighting Palestinians.

It is clear that the problem in attaining ODS, with real justice for the Palestinians, is really the 18 wealthiest families in Israel, and not the supposed permanent anti-Arab racism of ordinary Jews, nor their supposed selfishness nor their supposed lack of noble altruism. In fact, the permanence of anti-Arab racism among Jews is as much a myth as the Zionist myth about gentiles being permanently anti-Semitic. Both myths are used to obscure the reality of class conflict--not only in terms of material interests but, more importantly, in terms of values. For example, it takes a lot of coercion and lies by the 18 wealthiest Israeli families and their politicians and generals to maintain fear of Arabs and paranoia among working class Israeli Jews, because left to themselves working class people value solidarity, not racism, and equality, not rule by the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians. On the other hand, for the 18 wealthiest families, anti-Arab racism is money in their pockets. This is a stark conflict of values: working class values versus elite values. So where is it written in stone that the 18 wealthiest families will get away forever with their social control strategy of pitting ordinary Jews and Palestinians against each other and whipping up anti-Arab racism?

The answer to this question depends on what ordinary people in Palestine/Israel do, what kind of political movement they build, how they frame the conflict. Specifically, it depends on whether people identify the refusal of the 18 wealthiest families and their generals and politicians to pay for their Zionist crimes as the problem, or whether they lump every single Israeli Jew with the 18 wealthiest families in the category of "enemy" and wage a futile struggle--essentially pitting all Palestinians against all Israeli Jews--doomed to be isolated from the world wide support that a pro-working class movement would enjoy. It depends, in other words, on whether the advocates of ODS also talk about the need to make a social revolution against capitalist inequality.

If done right, a revolutionary movement for ODS that aims to create a society based on the working class values of equality and solidarity and democracy can win. This is not "snake oil"; it is both realistic and inspiring.


John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.


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