|The Citadel, Quebec City|
The following was just published on The New Yorker website
During much of 1837, the French Catholic population of Lower Canada—still thickly settled in seignorial landholdings along the St. Lawrence River—was roiled by rebellion. The underlying conflict with British imperial rule had no obvious end. Ever since the conquest of 1759, when Quebec was bombarded with forty thousand cannonballs, the defeat had been remembered reverentially. Almost twelve thousand members of the French population of Acadia—renamed, as if to rub it in, Nova Scotia—had been exiled to Louisiana, where Acadians became “Cajuns.” To this day, Je me souviens (I remember) appears on Quebec license plates.
So New France felt not so much like a bygone place as an occupied territory, wedged uneasily within British Upper Canada. Quebec’s Citadel housed the 22nd Regiment. What was left of French peasant life was aided, and tightly controlled, by ultramontane priests. Educated French élites felt the ambient pressure of British culture, now spreading across the American continent. A succession of English governors gave preference to English settlers, including loyalists after the American Revolution. French hopelessness was mitigated somewhat by a British-mandated, elected legislative assembly. But especially in Montreal, British colonists grew into a plutocracy, the Château Clique. English and Scottish entrepreneurs ran the banks, timber harvesting, and the rest. In the eighteen-twenties, James McGill, the fur trader and land baron, endowed an English-language university.
By 1837, then, even moderate French leaders, feeling the spirit of the age, had had enough. The demand was independence; some took to the streets. Groups of French patriots rose in a pathetically spontaneous insurgency, inspired by the self-rule appeals of Louis-Joseph Papineau, a cultured politician who had earlier engineered full civil rights for Quebec’s Jews. The British governor, ending the sedition, crushed the revolt and began hanging its leaders. Papineau fled for his life to the United States.
All of which brought Lord Durham, John George Lambton, to Canada, in 1838. The Crown appointed him to investigate the violence and propose a solution. The Durham Report, tabled before the end of the year, aimed at confronting the disturbances without illusions. “I expected to find a conflict between the government and the people,” Lord Durham famously wrote. “Instead, I found two warring nations within a single State; I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races. And I realized that it would be pointless to try to improve the laws or institutions without succeeding in extinguishing the mortal hatred which now divides the inhabitants of Lower Canada into two hostile groups: French and English.”
What could be done about this mortal hatred? Durham’s solution was radical. The nations should be united: Upper and Lower Canada should be forced to share a single area, with a single legislature. Because they could not stop hurling extreme nationalist claims at one another, granting each nation (read, the French Canadian nation) genuine autonomy would be unrealistic. One state, Durham implied, would end the illusion of two nations. It would mean that French Canada, a people “without a history and without a literature,” would gradually assimilate into the larger, English-speaking continent.
It is hard for an old Montrealer to read Ian Lustick’s lavishly promoted Op-Ed in the Times this past Sunday, “Two-State Illusion,” without thinking about the Durham Report’s odd legacy.
Lustick gives us a hard-edged analysis about how the two-state solution is finished. Why? Because Islamist trends make Palestinians more likely to choose a jihadist struggle against Israel than a small, secular state. Besides, even moderate Palestinians imagine the return of refugees, the evacuation of almost all settlements, and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, which Israelis are unwilling to deliver. Israelis, for their part, have been in the grip of a destructive, madly captivating settlement movement for forty-five years, which America might have stopped, but never mind. It is a movement that has sprung, tragically, from Zionist forces.
What does this leave us with? In Lustick’s view, “one mixed state emerging from prolonged and violent struggles over democratic rights”:
Secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs. Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists. Untethered to statist Zionism in a rapidly changing Middle East, Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab. Masses of downtrodden and exploited Muslim and Arab refugees, in Gaza, the West Bank and in Israel itself could see democracy, not Islam, as the solution for translating what they have (numbers) into what they want (rights and resources). Israeli Jews committed above all to settling throughout the greater Land of Israel may find arrangements based on a confederation, or a regional formula more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.
I’ll come back to that word “confederation,” which Lustick yanks in without saying much about its implications. But, first, notice what this logic boils down to: the fight has been going on so long, the nations hate each other so much, and past mistakes have piled so high that civilized compromise has become impossible. So, hey, let’s go straight to making one state out of them.
Once “the two-state-fantasy blindfolds are off,” politics “could make strange bedfellows.” Secular Tel Aviv residents will connect with Ramallah types, Israeli Sephardim will remember that they are Arabs, and yeshiva bochers will share wisdom at madrassas. Presumably, all will speak a nicely accented English, like Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque, debating each other in the Toronto studios of the CBC.
This is hardly the first article of this kind. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Durhamism has become positively hip. Nathan Thrall, writing in The New York Review of Books; Ben Birnbaum, in The New Republic; Gideon Levy, in Haaretz—I could add others—have made essentially the same point Lustick did. Given Likud’s annexationist momentum, together with the Palestinian Authority’s feebleness and lingering commitment to the “right of return,” prospects for a negotiated settlement have become pitiable, so let’s imagine one state instead.
The trouble is, Durham’s plan was less a plan than an expression of exasperation. It proved utterly unworkable, and was quickly forgotten. The “warring nations,” which continued to be at odds, and might always be, did not forge modern Canada that way. Instead, by 1867, a new generation of leaders, John A. Macdonald in English-speaking Canada and George-Étienne Cartier representing the French population, found the formula for the only possible civilized solution: a Canadian confederation, which was careful to leave to the provinces all the powers that Quebec, in particular, needed to preserve French-language education, religious liberty, and civil law. In effect, Canada, at its inception, was two states for two nations, with French Quebec flanked by a combination of English-speaking Ontario and Maritime provinces, sharing what might be shared and exercising sovereignty where necessary. If it looks like one peaceful country now, it got there because of leaders negotiating as if there were two.
Much like Durham, Lustick confuses exasperation with remedy. He is so impatient with the “peace process industry”—“legions of consultants, pundits, academics and journalists”—that he seems oblivious to how the very reasons he advances for the end of a two-state solution make one state not just unlikely but absurd. Imagine a single legislature trying to come up with funding for the Hebrew University, or for resettling Palestinian refugees before compensating Jews expelled from Baghdad.
What’s unspoken, I suspect, is what Durham at least had the courage to say. For post-two-staters, it would be no tragedy if one of these nations essentially disappeared. Jews aren’t really a nation, are they? Just listen to the national-religious settlers, who see themselves as messianic messengers. Jews may be driven to solidarity by the pathos of historical persecution, but this doesn’t mean they need to remain separate—not when Jon Stewart enjoys America the way he does and Benjamin Netanyahu steals West Bank land the way he does. Maybe Israelis, once they realize that their “Zionist project” is producing “isolation, emigration and hopelessness,” will go down the same path in the Middle East that Durham imagined for the French in North America.
Lustick does not actually say this. But more and more of the “secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank”—whom he obviously admires—do. They speak, often sincerely, about Judaism as a religion that could continue to be practiced in a secular state that looks like some idealized Palestine before Zionism spoiled things, with no Hebrew, no history, no literature, no Yehuda Amichai poetry, no Yehudit Ravitz songs—none of that national culture that Quebecers learned long ago requires a state apparatus to protect, and which the provinces shrewdly kept within their jurisdictions. As Peter Beinart says eloquently in the current New York Review of Books, one can also find any number of Jews who deny that Palestinians constitute a nation, and who expect them graciously to disappear from the Land of Israel and assimilate into Jordan, Syria, and the Arab world in general.
In fact, advocates of a two-state solution are not a bunch of naïfs unwilling to see how badly the peace process is doing. They are terrified citizens, trying, against hope, to avoid Bosnia—that is, a terrible, engulfing violence in which memories of the fighting of 1948 will be eclipsed by much greater atrocities, which will leave us with exactly the same problem we had at the start: namely, Canada’s problem. How do you reconcile the fierce desire for national distinction—and the fear of national extinction—with civil rights for all?
Lustick is surely right that many supporters of the two-state solution ignore what seems too painful to acknowledge: that the Palestinian desire to return cannot simply be finessed; that hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, many of them armed, could make the O.A.S. of Algeria’s pieds noirs look tame. I have argued myself (in The New Yorker, back in 1995) that two states cannot be separated the way those who call for a “divorce” suppose. The two states would need to be developed, almost from the start, along confederal lines. Together, these projected states are about the size of greater Los Angeles, and share a single urban infrastructure and business ecosystem, with a need to coöperate to a very high degree on security—in the face of terror undergrounds armed with sophisticated weapons—on roads and bridges, water and sewage systems, telecommunications, public health and epidemiology, banking and currency policy, tourism, and so on.
None of this means, however, that the step of negotiating two states can be skipped, or that negotiators can sidestep confederal principles if and when serious talks progress. We’ve already seen this in practice: when Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas negotiated over Jerusalem, they quickly realized that their respective desires to have a capital in the city, with access to the Old City, required confederal solutions—two sovereignties, but a single municipal government for the greater city, with an international committee of states to act as custodian for the Holy Basin.
Lustick might have advanced the idea of a confederation, not as an afterthought but as the culmination of the two-state approach. Confederal ideas have emerged, as in Canada, as the product of—not as a substitute for—prolonged, serious negotiations over preserving two distinct cultures, two sovereign peoples. Sadly, arguments for a two-state solution bore most of us to death. And they may be losing as badly as arguments for gun control in America, although advocates for what I and others have called “global Israel” are at least as numerous as advocates for greater Israel—each can claim about forty per cent of Israeli voters—and the more that Israel finds itself diplomatically isolated, the more trenchant globalist voices sound.
But one argues for a two-state solution even if success seems unlikely at the moment, even if it seems unlikely within our lifetimes. One argues for it not because such arguments pay but because they are just. A just cause can lose. But, eventually, as in Canada, it can also win.