“I place the chances for the birth of a Palestinian state this fall at fifty-fifty,” says Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab for CNN. Citing “favor” toward the idea from the “world community,” Kuttab notes that satisfying the U.S. may require more than just “a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood accompanied by a United Nations birth certificate.”
The assumption seems to be that, while there are marginal differences over which territories are “earmarked for Palestine,” fairly everyone now agrees that the U.N. will soon greet a new member into the world family of states. The Quartet (the U.S., the U.N., the E.U. and Russia) are always on the ready to sing odes to “self-rule” so long as the “self” in that phrase never, ever means real people as against the elite interests of states.
The longstanding consensus among most of the “reasonable” voices on the world stage is that peoples are entitled to political self-determination, that they ought to enjoy the ability to craft their own institutions fit to their unique needs and wants. And while that assumption has informed discussion as to the futures of Israel and Palestine, it has very seldom been suggested that the principle of self-determination could extend even further than a mere “two-state solution.”
Likewise, it has been little inquired as to wherefrom this vague notion of self-determination derives. We seldom call into question the theoretical basis for thinking that a people are a nation, and a nation deserves a state; it is simply regarded as true today that particular cultural, ethnic or language groups merit political arrangements that correspond to the lines that sociologists, linguists and their scholarly ilk have attempted — however roughly — to draw. That those lines are often arbitrary, or intersecting, or impossible to find as a practical matter, is to a great extent ignored.
Even more thoroughly ignored is that, as a historical matter, the nation-state — a unified Germany for Germans and Italy for Italians, etc. — is a relatively novel idea. Perhaps the subjects of history’s many empires, larger and smaller, had a more acute understanding of the artificiality of the state, safe, as they were, from the odd idea that states should square with nations.
Seeing that statism itself was and remains in the nature of conquest and annexation, their ideas about the fundamental characteristics of the state were likely more cynical — and hence more accurate. Today, the state can hide behind democracy, behind the notion of “popular sovereignty” and the perverse Hegelian idea that the state embodies the will of a people. We can guess that it would have been difficult to convince the slaves of Rome that the state was anything other than an agency of the ruling class for plunder and exploitation. It’s possible that we denizens of modernity are more credulous, more unsuspicious of authority than our ancestors.
The mythology of the state as the protector of our liberties, of the weak, and of social justice is so fully fixed in our psychology that we reflexively think, if there’s a problem in the Middle East, just create another state. But if dividing power between two sovereigns — in this case, one old and one newly-created — is thought sensible, thought to serve the principle of self-determination, then what of true self-determination? What of putting an end to the state instead of birthing a new one?
As the only true sovereign body, the individual ought to be made the decision-making entity, replacing the state’s distorted incentive system wherein the many are forced to live with the decisions of a few. A system where each person is left free to act peacefully within his own sphere of autonomy and discretion harmonizes with what Kevin Carson has described as “the need to internalize effort and reward in the same actor.”
Were each Israeli and each Palestinian to conduct his own foreign policy, to allocate his own resources, and to pay his own way, what use would there be for missiles or IEDs? If the problems in the region are, in one way or another, created by the coercion of the state, then the emergence of a new state is hardly to be regarded as a solution.
Market anarchists propose an end to all states, one to come through the expansion and maturation of nonviolent counter-institutions. The state is only a system of force. When it is finally replaced with voluntary dealings and coordination, Isrealis, Palestinians and everyone else will have their solution.