The Emeritus Professor of Political Science and a member of the Graduate Faculties of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Stephen Eric Bronner, has spoken out on the two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and stressed his support for fostering unity between Palestinian factions. Speaking exclusively to MEMO at the Doha Forum 2019 in Qatar last week, Bronner also looked at the situation in Syria.
“The majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would like to see two states [but] there is simply too much residual hatred and mistrust. Israelis are fearful of Hamas and its illiberal charter and Palestinians respond with condemnations of Israel’s ‘apartheid’ state and its inhumane cordon sanitaire around Gaza.” There, he pointed out, you see the problem, “regardless of who is right.”
Bronner was critical of Israel’s Orthodox religious zealots and settlers who have made their homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories whose ideology, he insisted, mixes “blatant racism with imperialist ambitions”. It is “preposterous” to think that at least two hundred and fifty thousand of them will leave their settlements peacefully. “Money and apartments in Israel proper will only satisfy a minority.”
Will yet another Intifada force a one-state solution on the conflicting parties? According to Prof. Bronner, this thought is “delusional”, while underestimating the bureaucratic difficulties is a mistake. “Ignoring the economic issue in Israel and Palestine, or thinking that foreign money will save the day, is dangerous; and believing that tolerance will conquer all is naïve. What counts now, in my opinion, is negotiating to extend the civil liberties of Palestinians, lift the blockade on Gaza, foster unity between the Palestinian factions, and induce investment.”
During our discussion, he also touched on the global upheaval against refugees and the fear of immigration. “A prominent thinker, Ulrich Beck introduced the idea of a new ‘risk society’. Polish Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman is indeed a particularly prominent thinker. But I think he borrowed ‘this idea of uncertainty’ from my late friend, Beck. The question is, of course, whether uncertainty is peculiar to our time; I have a feeling that those living in the past, constantly enmeshed in wars, fearful of the arbitrary violence of some aristocrat or other, facing diseases whose causes they did not understand, poor beyond our comprehension, were not exactly secure in their lives. To say, we are uncertain and that this makes us afraid is really nothing more than a tautology.”
Bronner stressed that globalisation threatens traditional societies even as its economic pressures make images of the past more appealing. He explained that when Donald Trump talks about “Making America Great Again” he is talking about an America in which women were in the kitchen, gays were in the closet, and people of colour were doing menial jobs.
“Social movements of the oppressed brought about changes, and white men especially, living in provincial circumstances while working in anachronistic jobs, have felt their privileges and ‘way of life’ threatened. In my book The Bigot I maintained that prejudice always occurs in ‘clusters’. Roughly the same groups and strata, agricultural and traditional rather than urban and cosmopolitan, that fear diversity and multiculturalism also fear immigration.”
When I asked about the future of Syria, Bronner noted that there are too many unknown factors. These include the unpredictability of American foreign policy; future Turkish-Kurdish issues; whether a resurgence of Daesh will take place in Iraq; whether Israel or the United States or the Saudis will attack Iran; and what will result from future conflicts of interest between Assad’s regime and those of its current benefactors, Russia and Iran.
“There are some important questions that we should ask. Will Iran or Israel become the dominant power in the region? What of the Sunni-Shia divide and the future of political Islam?”
He stressed that Syria is like other states in the region insofar as it is too weak to prevent external forces from threatening its sovereignty but too strong to lose its sovereignty altogether. “This suggests that proxy conflicts will continue and that the future of Syria will not be determined by Syrians alone. Most likely there will be shifting spheres of influence undertaken by proxies in coordination with their clients.” If there is a resurgence of Daesh, renewed violence will “undoubtedly” occur.
“More important than all of this, however, is whether a concerted humanitarian effort can help the refugees driven from their homes, the disrupted families, the wounded, the unemployed, the children without schools,” Prof. Bonner concluded. “Syria is experiencing the fruits of a useless civil war that has destroyed its economic infrastructure, mutilated its environment, unleashed disease and plunged its people into poverty and misery. This is what we should be thinking about rather than what power controls which zone in a fragmented nation.”