“Are we still debating the two-state solution? Or is it time for another conversation, that is: What agreement is best within the framework of a single bi-national state from the Jordan to the sea?” Nahum Barnea received this response from Thomas Friedman after asking: “What do you want to study in Israel on this visit?” Barnea published the interview in his weekly column in Yedioth Ahronoth, entitled “What you see from there.” Most Israelis do not dwell on this question, so Friedman’s thoughts on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are likely to fall on deaf ears.
Friedman is in Israel for the Hebrew publication of his book Thank you for being late. What is the connection between the book and Friedman’s political insight, which shatters the principle of two states—until now the “holy of holies” in the Zionist Left? The new book explains Friedman’s change of heart about resolving the conflict.
Let us look at the book’s full title: Thank you for being late – An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. The work focuses on three major forces – technology, climate change, and globalization – all of which, he argues, are rapidly accelerating. Changes brought about by the technological revolution, aka the Fourth Industrial Revolution, explain the political phenomena of recent years, such as the rise of Trump, Brexit, fascism in Europe, and the fundamentalist Right in Israel.
Already at the beginning, originally written in 2016, Friedman admits that he did not see this new world coming. He mentions 2007 as the year of the Big Change, which began with the Big Four – Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple – tech giants that have altered the face of humanity. The main argument of the book is that since 2007, we have been living in an age of technological acceleration, but our pace of adjustment is much slower. This is expected to result in the undermining of democratic institutions and social anarchy. The shifting of production and jobs from the West to the Far East, and the migration of job seekers from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America to the industrialized West, have caused frustration, anger and fear among the white middle classes in the target countries. They turned to Trump and his ilk, who exploit their plight with great success.
Israel has so far weathered the economic crises that have plagued Europe and the United States, but this has not prevented the “nationalist” virus from attacking Israeli society and its politics. Street posters in which Trump hugs Netanyahu, and the popularity enjoyed by the American president among the Israeli public, are not coincidental. Technological acceleration has created a backlash of racism and xenophobia (expressed here as hatred of Arabs), which have taken over the political discourse. In Friedman’s interview with Nahum Barnea about the political schism in America, he said, “When you are invited to a party [in the US], the first question is whether they are coming. They means those in the Republican camp. Today, Netanyahu undoubtedly belongs there with ‘them.’ If we take a page from Lewis Carroll’s Through the looking-glass, Netanyahu and Trump are our Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
For Friedman, Trump’s rise, followed by the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem, put a lid on the two-state solution. That the peace process is a non-issue in the current Israeli elections only shows that the public is tardy in adapting to changing political conditions. It turns out that significant parts of American Jewry are not only opposed to Trump, and what he represents, but are also distancing themselves from Israel. Despite that fact that many in the US see Israel as an apartheid state that oppresses the Palestinians, the Israeli Left refuses to put the peace issue on the table, either from fear of losing voters or fear of the Palestinians.
Returning to the title of Barnea’s interview with Friedman: what Americans “see from there” is not just Israel’s policy of apartheid toward Palestinians. They are also concerned about the influence of accelerated technology, climate change, and globalization on the human future. Progress is a global topic, not a national one, and the pumping of “national interest” by Trump and Netanyahu will collapse in the face of the new border-crossing reality. The case is even stronger with regard to the ecological crisis and the transition to renewable energies. It is no wonder that Trump denies climate change and has withdrawn from the Paris Agreements, rejecting the global collaboration without which the planet cannot be saved.
Against this background, Israel’s attempt to preserve its nationalism, at the price of forgoing good relations with the developed European nations (and eventually the US), seems strange. Netanyahu lashes out against the Palestinians, just as Trump incites against the Mexicans, the Hungarian Orban against the migrant Syrians, and the Italian Salvini against the migrant Africans. This is a battle between fascists and all those who believe in multiculturalism and diversity—those who think not in terms of “we versus them” but rather in terms of a universal “we.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern demonstrated the latter attitude after the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch. Anyone who wants to separate from the Palestinians, withdraw unilaterally, and leave them to their fate after 52 years of Occupation, belongs to the “we versus them” camp, despite the self-excusing mantra of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Thomas Friedman, an American Jew, an important New York Times columnist, and a supporter of Israel, dares to raise an idea that endangers the nation’s “Jewish and democratic” character. The technological revolution reshapes culture and forces us to rethink conventions that have been rooted here since the establishment of the State. Friedman realizes that during the 50 years of Occupation, Israel has abandoned any pretense of equality and adopted a national religious mysticism, which views democracy as an obstacle to realizing its goals.
Those who deny the changing reality, applying the epithets ‘dreamers’ and ‘utopians’ to the political party, Da’am (the Organization for a Democratic Action), should turn their gaze toward the tortured land of Gaza. It turns out that Hamas is finding it hard to sell Gazans religion and nationalism in place of bread, water, electricity, health, work, education, and housing. Israelis are not afraid of Hamas and the rockets that threaten Tel Aviv, but they have good reason to fear the two million Gazans who have taken to the streets demanding “Let us live!” This banner is waved not only by Gazans but also by Africans at the borders of Europe and Latinos at Mexico’s border with the US.
The one-state solution, with the adoption of a green economy based on the technological revolution, is not utopian. It is a political goal that meets today’s reality. Da’am offers an economic platform that deals not only with social gaps and the crises in transportation, employment, health, education, and housing, but that also favors mutual economic enrichment between Israelis and Palestinians. One state “between the Jordan and the sea,” as Friedman defines it, is the only means for making Israel humane and democratic. Providing the Palestinians with equal civil and economic rights will not deprive the Israelis of theirs. Israel will free itself from the curse of Occupation and from the dangers inherent in the nationalism that presently rules it.
– Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman