Readers may recall how I tangled with Prof. Tony Judt on his scathing view of Israel and his quixotic preference for a binational state to replace Israel and the Palestinian territories. At a public appearance, I had reminded him of how nationalism was derailing European ambitions for a transfer of sovereignty from individual nations to the European Union (with the defeat of the EU’s proposed constitution), let alone the utopian nature of similarly high-minded dreams for a binational solution in the Middle East.
The news from Tony Judt’s native Britain is delicious. The 300 year-old “binational” experiment known as the United Kingdom is now in jeopardy, with the Scottish National Party having won a plurality of the vote for the Scottish parliament.
It is instructive in this regard to read Uri Avnery’s “Bed of Sodom.” This non-Zionist left-wing Israeli punctures the binational balloon, but the following by Alexander Jacobson in Haaretz, April 28, anticipated the Scottish election and also wrote effectively on the bi-nationalist illusion as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
Who really wants binationalism? By Alexander Jacobson
Have the English and the Scots gone out of their minds? Here in the Middle East, it is clear that there is something to fight about. But what reason is there for the national tension between Englishmen and Scots, who live together happily and prosperously in the United Kingdom?
With great seriousness, senior British statesman have recently been discussing the danger of the dismantling of the unification of England and Scotland. According to recent public opinion polls, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which upholds Scotland’s resignation from the union, could win the coming elections for the local parliament. Surveys in Scotland show that more than 40 percent of the country’s inhabitants support independence (according to another poll, that proportion reaches 59 percent). Also, 52 percent of the English replied that they are interested in Scotland leaving the union, in the sense of “we are here and they are there.” The English press reports with concern on “anglophobic” tendencies in Scotland.
How has this happened? After all, in Israel, we have heard that Europe has almost entirely rid itself of nationalism and the national state, and that in the near future the victory parade of multi-nationalism and post-nationalism will come to the Middle East, where the masses, as everyone knows, are waiting for it with bated breath. However, it appears that the news of the death of nationalism has not yet reached the distant provinces where the English and the Scots live.
There we have two nations facing each other, Protestant Christians both, who have undergone profound secularization and are very close to each other in their modern culture. The two peoples have been living in the same state for 300 years; their representatives sit in the same parliament and in the same governments (and also serve as prime minister); they are partners to the same economic system; they intermarry with no difficulty; they live in the same neighborhoods; they fight in the same wars; they agree on the same values of a modern, democratic and liberal society and they speak the same language.
Not only has all of this not created a common national identity for the two peoples, it is even possible that this is not enough to keep them in the framework of a shared state. This, even though it is one of the most liberal and least nationalistic states in history, and even though the Scots have received an autonomous parliament and government of their own. It is not easy to explain this, but the reality is that most nationalities, even in Europe, aspire to national independence even when they are offered a reasonable and fair alternative to it.
The idea of one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is known to the public as a binational state, has in fact been promoted by the Israeli right, which supports the establishment of Jewish settlements in the territories. Parts of the radical left also believe in the binational idea, but they cannot bring it about.
Beyond every other argument, of principle or practice, there is one question that must be answered by everyone who supports this idea: If the vision is realized, will it indeed be a binational state? If today, hundreds of years after the establishment of the United Kingdom, the Scots are still finding it hard to accept it as a true binational framework and about half of them see it as an expression of the hegemony of the English majority, is it reasonable that a state with an Arab-Muslim majority, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, will really be “binational,” even if it is officially defined as such? It is clear this will be an Arab-Muslim state in every respect. Or is it the case that someone believes that from the moment he has adopted a fashionable slogan that is detached from the reality even in Western Europe he is exempt from responsibility for the practical significance of what he is proposing to the Israeli public?