The tormented dance of the colonizer: Peter Beinart, liberal Zionism and the battle for Palestine

Peter Beinart speaking at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress on February 3, 2009. (photo: The Center for American Progress / Flickr)
Peter Beinart’s call for equality seeks to reform Israel as a Jewish project instead of repudiating its system of racial supremacy, placing Jewish identity above Palestinian rights.

By Mark Braverman | Mondoweiss | Apr 6, 2021

Today, with the possibility of a Palestinian state foreclosed by successive waves of colonization and annexation, Beinart has turned to unification as the answer.

Earlier this year Jerusalem-based journalist and analyst Nathan Thrall called out the Zionist left for promoting the fiction that as long as Israel refrains from annexing occupied Palestinian land, it does not cross the line into apartheid. The essay, “The Separate Regimes Delusion: Nathan Thrall on Israel’s Apartheid,” was published by the London Review of Books on January 21, 2021. “The premise that Israel is a democracy,” he wrote, “rests on the belief that one can separate the pre-1967 state from the rest of the territory under its control.” The “separate regimes delusion” has been a key component of the almost five-decades long political theater of the peace process to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. As Israel has continued to take land and impose a system of control and fragmentation that has made the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state impossible, liberal Zionists have clung desperately to the fiction of the two-state solution as all that stands in the way of the now undeniable reality that Israel and its occupied territories comprise a single apartheid state. Accordingly, a storm of protest erupted in response to the government’s espoused intent to annex 30% of the West Bank in early summer 2020. It was in the midst of this controversy that Peter Beinart’s “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine” appeared on July 7, 2020 in Jewish Currents. Cutting the Gordian knot of a Jewish and democratic Israel, Beinart endorsed the idea of a single state for Jews and Palestinians.

A fervent Zionist, which he reaffirms in the Jewish Currents article, Beinart has struggled to reconcile his commitment to humanitarianism with Israel’s trampling of Palestinians’ rights and its increasing alignment with the most conservative elements in U.S.society. In the process of threading this needle, Beinart has not hesitated to break ranks with the liberal Zionist establishment. In a 2010 piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” he called out his fellow Jews in the U.S. for their reluctance to publicly oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. A New York Times opinion piece followed in 2012, advocating a boycott of goods produced in the illegal settlements. When, in June 2020, in his own words crossing the “red line” of allegiance to the two-state solution, Beinart embraced the notion of one multinational state or federation, it seemed he was ready to go even farther. “It is time,” he wrote, “for liberal Zionists to abandon the goal of Jewish–Palestinian separation and embrace the goal of Jewish–Palestinian equality. …to envision a Jewish home that is a Palestinian home, too.” Appearing to many to be a radical shift for Beinart, the piece was celebrated by many on the Left as a victory for human rights. Surely, Beinart’s argument for a single shared state was another sign that the liberal defense of the Zionist project was crumbling.

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