This is a guest note by Dan Kervick, a regular reader and commenter at The Washington Note.
Reaction to Aaron David Miller’s recent pessimistic piece on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raised calls for outside-the-box thinking as the only alternative to despair and endless conflict in the Middle East.
So I thought it might be a good time to resurrect a proposal I have made tentatively a few times in the past: US statehood for Israel. I heard minimal sympathy for this proposal when I voiced it a few times over the past several years.
My hope is that with changed circumstances and evaporating prospects for a two-state solution, this is a proposal whose time might have come.
There are a number of considerations that argue in favor of US statehood for Israel:
First, statehood for Israel would only be a culminating, formal acknowledgment of an already-existing special relationship. The relationship between Israel and the United States is very unique, and admission of Israel into the union would be a natural evolution of that special relationship.
Israel is filled with bright, industrious and well-educated people. It’s incorporation into the union would be an economic boon to Americans.
Americans on the whole would eagerly embrace the inclusion of Israel in the union. Particularly those Americans whose religious traditions tie them to the Holy Land would view Israeli membership in the union as a source of pride and inspiration. But many others would see the admittance of Israel as a win, a good catch for the US, even if they are not moved by the religious considerations.
Admittance of Israel makes sense culturally: Israel is already closer culturally to the United States than was Hawaii, and Hawaiian incorporation into the union has been a great success. Many Israelis already have relatives in the United States. There are many prominent Jewish cultural centers in the United States, and Jews have a strong and secure cultural foothold in the country. And large numbers of Israelis already speak English.
Under statehood, Israelis could also move to any location on the US mainland, if that were their choice, just like any other US citizens. This would decrease the demographic pressure for the expansion of Israel. Those who feel the need to remain close to the ancestral Jewish homeland could remain in Israel; those who are more comfortable with Diaspora culture could move. And this freedom of movement would require no special political arrangements, or complex decisions about citizenship and permanent political commitments.
Under statehood, the US security guarantee toward Israel would be iron-clad, no longer based on highly debatable US strategic calculations and fluctuating considerations of national interest, as Israeli security would become a straightforward matter of US territorial defense.
The promise of lasting, durable security should give Israelis the confidence to wrap up their territorial dispute with the Palestinian Arabs quickly, on terms both acceptable and irresistible to most Palestinians. Seen no longer as merely a sliver of independent land between the West Bank and the Mediterranean, but the eastern-most edge of a very large territorial republic, Israeli confidence would be boosted, its paranoia would dissipate and much of the resulting Israeli hunger for more space and land would be abated. Existential fear would subside; the sense of besiegement would be gone.
As a result of the move to statehood, we should finally see ultimate acceptance in Israel for a genuine, real, viable Palestinian state with responsibility for its own security. Such a state would no longer be seen by security-obsessed and paranoid Israelis as a regional vanguard of an existential threat to Israel. The realistic security threat posed by remaining Palestinian rejectionists would be minimal, and easily deterred. Acceptance of a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creating a Palestinian state and closing down the West Bank colonies, and admission of Israel into the American union, could be acted on as a concurrent package, with progress on each part generating momentum on the others.
As a means of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we might call this proposal the “two states plus fifty” solution.
Several of the factors which make the standard, Green Line based two state solution unattractive to rejectionist Israelis – predominantly, the small and narrow dimensions of the Israeli state that would result – would be neutralized by Israel’s acquisition of the expansive North American “back yard”, governed by the world’s strongest military power. And once the conflict is resolved and a final Israeli border – now to become the US’s easternmost border – is established and fixed, the global claims to legitimacy of armed, irregular resistance by Israel’s neighbors would be immediately undermined in the minds of all but the hardest of hard-liners around the world.
Such armed struggle could no longer be seen as defensible resistance to invasion, conquest, occupation and colonialism, but as a dead-end and reactionary attempt to recover territory that the vast majority of the world’s people would have already recognized as belonging to Israel.
Statehood would also help address the Israeli nuclear issue, about which the odd, officially prescribed US silence is certain to become an increasingly irksome diplomatic conundrum threatening the global non-proliferation agenda. Israeli nuclear weapons would be incorporated into the US nuclear arsenal. Their existence could then be declared immediately, and decisions about the future disposition of these weapons would then become part of ongoing US decision-making about its nuclear forces and nuclear posture.
Israel would be an excellent location for US military bases, military hospitals, and transportation and other logistics depots. The acquisition of this new territorial military asset would give the US much more latitude in the region, and allow the US the option of being more choosey and diplomatically reserved in its military relationships with other states in the region.
With Israel incorporated into the union, the US could end its aid program to the country. With Israeli taxes flowing into the US treasury, and with the economies of scale achieved by rolling Israeli security forces into the US armed forces and Pentagon planning – which already make financial provision for defense of Israel but which require complex state-to-state negotiations, inefficiencies and redundancy of effort – admission of Israel should be a net plus for the US treasury.
Issues of dual loyalty, dual citizenship, etc. would become moot. Jewish-American advocacy for and love of Israel would be no different than any other special interest taken by a US citizen in some particular part of the United States, and would no longer put Jewish-Americans in the compromised position of having an unusually intense commitment to, and devoted affection for, a foreign country. And those American Jews who are drawn to reside in Israel, and pursue public service in its government, would no longer have to renounce their US citizenship to do so.
Some Israelis and advocates of Israel have proposed NATO membership for Israel. But in the present environment of endless Israeli conflict and tension with the states and peoples in their neighboring region, along with the politically unacceptable situation of a non-existent eastern Israeli border, and persistent walks on the wrong side of international law, Israeli remains a somewhat pathological and unsettled state, and extending NATO membership to Israel seems out of the question as things stand currently. By joining the union of US states, Israel would acquire the protection of the NATO security umbrella more-or-less automatically.
Israel’s hard-line rejectionist enemies in the region could no longer entertain long shot dreams of ending Israel’s existence. The US guarantee of security would be unshakeable and beyond doubt. The assurance of swift US retaliation for attacks on Israel would be certain. And no rogue nuclear power, should one ever arise, could dream of defeating tiny Israel with a nuclear first strike, since overwhelming nuclear retaliation would be the certain result.
On the other hand, rogue Israeli behavior would also be checked. The defense of Israel’s security would be undertaken in the context of ordinary Pentagon business, and Israel’s armed forces would be recommissioned as members of the US armed forces. The dangerous recent tendencies in the IDF toward ultra-nationalism and religious and ethnic chauvinism and zealotry would be dampened significantly. With statehood, a range of extreme psychological reactions and destabilizing behaviors by Israel, flowing from Israel’s self-perception as a small, friendless and insecure outpost, would likely come to an end.
Much traditional support for political Zionism’s dream of an independent Israeli state is based on the idea that an independent state is necessary to protect and safeguard Jews – to serve as a sort of territorial lifeboat providing insurance against future renewals of militant anti-Semitism. But it is hard to make the case that the state of Israel as it exists today actually protects Jews on the whole. Rather it seems to isolate them, radicalize them, make them both more militant and more vulnerable, create more political enemies for them, and concentrate them as a potential target in a very small, difficult-to-defend state.
Security for people in the modern world doesn’t come from aspiring to the medieval ideal of the isolated and impermeable citadel on the mountaintop, but from economic integration into a cosmopolitan global system. I would contend that it is an incontestable fact that Jews in America are significantly more secure – both in the short term and the long term – than Jews in Israel.
So Israelis have little to lose, and much to gain, from seeking to incorporate themselves as citizens into the same powerful nation in which so many other Jews have thrived.
Permanent revolutionary anxiety, militancy and lawlessness, the condition to which the inherently revolutionary and isolating Zionist project has fated Israeli Jews, is no prescription for lasting Jewish security.
— Dan Kervick