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Judith Butler: More Palestinian than the Palestinians

In 2006 the rock star left-wing academic Judith Butler said that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.” (See 16:24 in this video.)

Butler’s remark expressed all that’s wrong with the new style of “Palestinian solidarity work.”

Viewing the two-state solution as a sell-out, Butler attacks the PA application to the United Nations for recognition. The bid’s only value, she argues, is that it allows the left to jump up and down on grave of the “sham of the peace negotiations” and celebrate the “break with the Oslo framework.”

She wags her finger at Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas. By seeking a deal with Israel they are “abandon[ing] the right of return for diasporic Palestinians” and “potentially abandon[ing] Gaza.” If they succeed, “half of all Palestinians may well be disenfranchised.”

The Guardian newspaper sounded the same note when it published the leaked “Palestine Papers” from the Olmert-Abbas Annapolis talks, with distorted editorial gloss, and called Palestinian negotiators “craven” for engage seriously in final status talks.

The London Review of Books routinely denounces Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, as a collaborator. “Fayyad’s critics,” wrote Adam Shatz, “call him a ‘good manager of the occupation,’ a ‘builder of apartheid roads,’ ‘the sugar daddy who got us hooked on aid,’ and it’s all true.”

The Palestinian national movement is being policed from the “left,” and from the coffee shops and seminar rooms of London and New York by people who consider themselves more Palestinian than the Palestinians.

Butler gives an outraged “No!” to Abbas. She will not “sacrifice of the right of return for millions of Palestinians outside the region.” But think about that “No!” It is a program for the dismantling of the Jewish state. “The loss of demographic advantage for the Jewish population in Israel would surely improve prospects for democracy in that region,” she writes (optimistically, shall we say) in her new book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. As Leon Wieseltier wrote in the New Republic back in 2003, “the one state solution is not the alternative for Israel. It is the alternative to Israel.”

The new style treats negotiations as useless. Butler claims the Oslo years have seen only “the indefinite deferral of all ‘permanent status issues’—effectively establishing the occupation as a regime without foreseeable end.” Quite as if there never was Camp David at which Ehud Barak offered the shop, ’67 borders more or less, settlements uprooted; nor the Clinton-era proposals which Barak accepted and Arafat rejected; nor Annapolis at which Olmert offered all of that and more, including a shared capital in Jerusalem.

Another part of the new style is to pose an entirely literary “alternative” to the two-state solution. Butler talks of “Palestinian self-determination … without external interference,” “the right of return for diasporic Palestinians,” “the one-state solution.” Refusing to travel to Israel, so with no feel for Israeli society, and with a prose style that secured her first prize in the “Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest” Butler’s answers are, literally, literary. More importantly, Butler gets wrong what the conflict is actually about. Two highly developed and distinct societies, Israeli and Palestinian, each based on a powerful sense of national identity, must divide the land. When there are strong desires for national self-determination, the one-state idea collapses. Brit Shalom, the bi-national Zionist movement of the 1920s, could not know this. We can’t not know it.

To divide the land, each people needs to feel confident and secure if it is to make excruciating compromises. For that, each people must feel itself to be understood as a permanent feature of the Middle East. Butler’s one-statism does the opposite. It proposes to resolve a national question by denying the right to national self-determination of both peoples.

 

Photo Credit: Andrew Rusk

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