Inside Out: Of bondage and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

History teaches us that political acceptance of Israel is possible.

By
April 4, 2012 22:05
4 minute read.
Palestinian man spits gasoline on Israeli flag

Palestinian man spits gasoline on Israeli flag 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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After 130 years of Zionist activism, 64 years of statehood, 45 years of occupation, more than 20 years of failed negotiations with the PLO and seven years of disengagement; after seven wars, two intifadas, the rise of Hamas and the specter of anti-Semitic Islamist sentiment sweeping the region, many Israelis have come to the conclusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply intractable.

Two main obstacles are cited as barring the way to Palestinian and Arab acceptance of the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. The first obstacle is nationalist in nature, and refers to the mindset in which Israeli Jews are perceived as foreign interlopers who unjustly colonized Palestine and displaced the bulk of its indigenous Arab population. Following this line of argument, no Arab can accept the legitimacy of Jewish claims to national rights over any territory that is perceived as belonging naturally to Arabs in any part of historic Palestine.

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The second obstacle is religious in nature, in which a teleological Islam cannot abide the resurgence of sovereign Jewish independence on what is viewed as Waqf, a holy Islamic trust. The eleventh article of Hamas’s charter specifically cites this claim, noting that “the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it.”

The creation of Israel is perceived in this context as a violation of the natural march of divinely-ordained history towards its eschatological completion.

Both arguments are compelling, and ample evidence is at hand to demonstrate those mindsets as being pervasive, even if one concedes that they are not monolithically accepted by all of Israel’s Arab and Muslim neighbors.

However, even on the assumption that this is fundamentally true, and that no withdrawal and no concession will ever be sufficient to produce among many Arabs and Muslims a nationalist or religious acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy on any territory, history teaches us that political acceptance of Israel is possible.

Israel forged peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, and received at the very least implicit recognition from the PLO when the latter agreed to negotiate with it.



Israelis naturally fear that the powerful underlying national and religious precepts held by their neighbors render those political agreements tenuous at best, and that those policies are doomed to crumble under the weight of popular demand either with or without a change of regime.

What choice, then, does Israel have? Should it, as the Netanyahu government has demanded, make future territorial compromise contingent upon Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state? On the face of things, this seems to be an entirely legitimate demand.

However, if one assumes that the nationalist and religious beliefs held by the average Palestinian preclude any real and final popular acceptance of Israel, a declaration of that sort by any Palestinian leader would be, by definition, mere lip service that fails to reflect his populace’s true sentiments. In short, it yields no substantive benefit to Israel.

A demand for nominal recognition, moreover, places Israel in the precarious situation of being beholden to Palestinian goodwill. By so doing, Israel has put itself in a position in which it can do nothing significant to solve the problems it suffers from as a result of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the Palestinian leadership makes a statement that in any event is not going to be valued as credible.

That policy goes against the very grain of Zionism, which espouses sovereign Jewish self-reliance and selfdetermination.

Israel needs to decide for itself what kind of country it wants to be, irrespective of Arab and Palestinian cooperation. If it wants to be a Jewish and democratic state, as all Israeli governments have said repeatedly, it needs to take action that serve that end.

If it believes that to achieve that goal it is imperative that Israel terminate the state of limbo that has reigned in the West Bank for the past 45 years, a situation that undermines its democratic nature, imperils its Jewish majority and which is rapidly eroding its international legitimacy, the Israeli government must act to do so despite the lack of Palestinian cooperation.

If the cost of punishing Palestinian intransigence by withholding from them statehood taxes is more than Israel can bear, the Israeli leadership needs to act in its own self-interest, even if the Palestinians perceive this as a victory, as an Israeli concession that has cost them nothing.

Placing Israel at the mercy of Palestinian benevolence not only goes against the grain of Zionism, it also defies one of one of the national lessons of Passover. “Let my people go,” Moses ordered Pharaoh, but Pharaoh refused, despite the dire ramifications that decision had on his country, people, economy and family. The Israelites defied Pharaoh and set out on a course towards national independence and self-determination. They did so despite the costs, despite the risks, despite the fear of the unknown and despite the terrible wrath of Pharaoh, who wanted to continue to exploit the Israelites for his own ends.

The Palestinians are not Pharaoh but, like him, they are exploiting the ongoing conflict for their own ends and are refusing to let it go. They do so notwithstanding the enormous national, economic and personal cost incurred, which almost seems to defy reason. The time has come for Israel to end its bondage to Palestinian acquiescence.

Israel should act on the Zionist imperative and the lesson of Passover, and wrest control over its national fate into its own hands.

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