A Palestinian State? by Joseph Sobran

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June 6, 2002

I recently read that I’m “pro-Palestinian.” Well, I do sympathize with the Palestinian people in their present plight, but feelings are only feelings. Sympathy for one side in a conflict can lead to injustice to the other side. Israel’s sympathizers are often callous toward the Palestinians, and Palestinian sympathizers often slight the legitimate concerns of Jews.

But what good would a Palestinian state really do? We’ve seen many cases of new states that turned out to be more oppressive than the royal, aristocratic, or colonial regimes they replaced. The French Revolution quickly became far bloodier than the ancien régime. The Soviet Union was infinitely crueler than the tsars had been; every Communist regime, from Asia to Cuba, has made its predecessor seem liberal. And look at the new states of Africa. Hundreds of millions of people must bitterly regret having been “liberated.”

The desire for a Palestinian state is really an understandable yearning for relief from tyrannical Israeli rule. But what would such a state be like? Would it really make Palestinians freer? Would it protect the rights of Christians and Jews? Or would it merely permit tyranny to take new forms?

The record of modern states isn’t encouraging. Revolutionaries, filled with high hopes, have repeatedly bought a pig in a poke, only to discover too late that they’ve acquired an aggressive boar with nasty tusks.

A state is nothing more than a monopoly of power over a given territory. Taming this critter, as with constitutional restraints, has proved extremely difficult, maybe impossible over the long haul. Even the U.S. Constitution is pretty much a dead letter, since the state itself gets to decide what it means. The federated “United States” have long since become a single, monolithic, expansive United State.

Being constituted by force, states specialize in one thing: war. They make war on each other, often bringing other states into their wars as allies. Or they make war on their own subjects.

“Conservatives,” a misnomer, usually prefer to apply force to rival states; “liberals,” another misnomer, prefer to use the state’s power against its domestic population. Either way, the state pretends to be protecting the population from monsters, at home or abroad.

Even after the state-organized mass murders and “peaceful” tyrannies of the twentieth century, most people can hardly imagine an alternative to the state and still, in fact, look to the state for salvation. The Palestinians think a state of their own is the antidote to the Jewish state.

But the real solution would be no state at all; an area where anyone would be free to settle, where everyone had the same rights and none had privileges; no top dogs and no underdogs. Not a Palestinian state, but a stateless Palestine.

Jews are afraid of a Palestinian state because, not without reason, they imagine it as an enemy that would hate and threaten Israel. Such a state could also expel or persecute Jews. But a stateless Palestine could do none of these things, because there would be no state to make war, expel, persecute, or assign privileges to any particular category of people.

Is this a utopian dream? Most people now assume that a stateless territory would be a mere vacuum, which would quickly be filled by power in some form or other. When you come right down to it, they would argue, the state can’t be eliminated; there must always be a top dog. As Thomas Hobbes put it, anarchy would mean a perpetual “war of all against all,” until there emerged a supreme power to “keep them all in awe.”

This is a difficult argument to answer, because, having so little experience of statelessness, we find it hard to conceive. Yet America already has what our ancestors would call “anarchy” in religion, but what we would call peace, because we generally agree that nobody may force anyone else to join his church. And this arrangement, once nearly inconceivable, has worked very well.

If we generally agreed that nobody has the right to coerce others in any respect — that state authority has no moral basis and is, in fact, radically immoral — political “anarchy” might work just as well as religious freedom has worked. But few are ready to contemplate the idea, let alone give it a try. In spite of history’s testimony, men still believe that force and violence can achieve peace and freedom.

A single stateless zone, even a tiny one, might teach the world a priceless lesson. A stateless Palestine could become the beacon of freedom America once was.

-- Anonymous, June 21, 2002

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