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Annexation and the political rights objection: a heretical proposal for Israel/Palestine


I’m off tomorrow for a week in western Canada, to give a paper at the University of Victoria on the Israel/Palestine dispute. The conference is “Congress 2013,” apparently the largest annual academic conference in Canada. The paper is an extension of the introduction I wrote this past October for Reason Papers’s symposium on Sari Nusseibeh’s book, What Is a Palestinian State Worth?  (scroll down a click or so). I won’t be blogging while I’m away, but Carrie-Ann will be moderating the comments.

Here’s a long abstract for the paper, somewhat revised from the version I originally submitted (and have on my site) to better reflect the content of the paper as currently written:

Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher and political activist, is the President of al-Quds University in Arab East Jerusalem, and the author most recently of the controversial book, What Is a Palestinian State Worth? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). The book begins with Nusseibeh’s now-notorious proposal to have Israel annex the West Bank and Gaza, granting the Palestinians living there the status of “second-class citizens” of Israel, and requiring them to relinquish their “political rights” in return for protection of their “civil rights.” Civil rights include basic negative rights (life, liberty, property, contract) and some positive rights (health care, social security). Political rights include the rights to vote and hold political office at the national level, whether electoral or otherwise. Call this the heretical proposal.

Most of the English-language commentary on Nusseibeh’s book has been negative. Left-leaning critics have accused Nusseibeh of acquiescence in a form of colonial subjection for the Palestinians; right-leaning critics have accused him of covert designs against the integrity and security of the Israeli state. To my mind, however, most of Nusseibeh’s critics have misrepresented or misunderstood his proposal, and none of them has put it in its most defensible form. My aim in this paper is to clarify the logic and structure of the heretical proposal, and to defend it against one common criticism made of it—what I’ll call the political rights objection. I argue in the paper that the objection fails.

The political rights objection asserts that there is something radically defective, on moral and/or political grounds, with any policy proposal that involves the trade of political rights for civil rights. In one version, the objection asserts that such trades are necessarily self-defeating: since civil rights cannot effectively be protected unless their bearers enjoy full political rights—in other words, since civil rights are asymmetrically dependent for protection on political rights—to grant civil without political rights is to guarantee the eventual subversion and loss of whatever civil rights are granted. A somewhat different version of the objection asserts that political equality and enfranchisement are simply “non-negotiable.” Hence, Palestinians should either demand that they be granted both political and civil rights, or resign themselves to getting neither. They should not dirty their hands by acquiescing in their own disenfranchisement and inequality. Doing so is morally speaking “off the table, though the heavens may fall.”

I argue that the political rights objection fails on two grounds, one broadly logical, the other broadly normative. As a logical matter, I think the objection as currently stated involves a series of instructive fallacies, among them ignoratio elenchi and ad hominem. On normative grounds, I think the objection greatly oversimplifies the supposed asymmetrical dependence of civil on political rights. Though some such dependence doubtless obtains, Nusseibeh’s critics have not shown that the dependence involved in the case under consideration undermines his proposal.  I end by challenging those who would, on supposedly moral grounds, reject disenfranchisement and political inequality as “off the table, though the heavens may fall.” In the case of Israel/Palestine, I suggest, the price of rejection might well be civil war. It is not obvious that political equality in a Jewish or Islamicized Palestinian state is worth the price of civil war. If not, Nusseibeh’s proposal survives the political rights objection.

More on this when I get back….



1 Comment

  1. salubrius says:

    Arabs already have individual political rights. The Arab People’s request for group or collective political rights to the territory of Palestine was rejected at San Remo when they decided to recognize the rights of the Jewish People who had continuinously inhabited the area for some 3,700 years. The matter is now res judicata.

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