Last week, in the midst of the political battle crossfire in the Knesset, something extraordinary happened and it slid under the radar: Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana acknowledged the Palestinian Nakba.
Yes, a National-Religious politician, who comes from the hard-core Right and a party that is the engine driving settlement expansion, wrote on Facebook: “I don’t believe that there will be peace here, and I’m certain that there won’t be ‘Peace Now’,” a play on words aimed at the left-wing organization.
“Why? Because Beit Gamilel, the moshav I live in, is built on land that before the establishment of the state was inhabited by Arabs,” he wrote. “Just like the land of a place that used to be called Sheikh Munis. The fact that you and I believe that this is our land, which was promised to our ancestors and us... does not impress our cousins, the children of Ishmael, whose narrative sees us as having imposed our presence on them. We came out of nowhere and expelled them from their land (and whoever ignores the fact that they have a narrative isn’t a right-winger, he’s just stupid).
“We dreamed and prayed for 2,000 years to return to our land. For them, only 74 years have passed. Let’s not underestimate them.”
It was a fascinating post by someone who is seen by some as a Zionist poster boy.
Kahana served in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal and after three and a half years joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He finished his IDF service with the rank of colonel after serving as commander of the 116th Squadron.
So why is all of this important? Because it reflects where Israeli society stands right now when it comes to thinking about and discussing the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
Now, even parts of the Israeli Right are starting to acknowledge the existence of the people around us and among us as well as their history.
Acknowledging the Nakba, just like Kahana explained later in his post, is not saying that Israel is guilty of what happened, or that it should change its identity and characteristics. It is simply recognition that the Arab inhabitants of this land are not going anywhere, and it is better to work with them instead of against them.
At the same time, there are the messianic ultra-right-wingers who believe in Jewish superiority and defy democracy. They, too, are getting stronger. They have a representative in the Knesset, and there are even members in the Likud who are adopting the rhetoric of their more radical right-wing colleagues.
Why is this happening? Partly because of the absence of the two-state idea.
Due to the loss of hope that there is a viable solution, some people on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides are starting to believe that their side should be in control, while the other should be deported or eliminated.
It is true that it is not possible to make peace with the aging and intransigent Mahmoud Abbas, who barely controls the West Bank, and without Israel’s help would be toppled by Hamas that wishes to wipe out the State of Israel.
But one day, Abbas will depart from this world, and what then?
Does Israel want to maintain a situation in which millions of people live under the control of its military while being refused citizenship? Or does it want to make those people citizens and lose the Jewish majority?
For over a decade, Israel made great efforts to weaken the Palestinian Authority and to strengthen Hamas. At the same time, it allowed Hamas to develop military capabilities that could terrorize the country.
It is time for Israel to strengthen its ties with moderate Palestinians and keep cooperating with pragmatic Israeli-Arabs.
Having Ra’am in the coalition is a huge and historic step in that direction.
Its leader, Mansour Abbas, has said multiple times that he recognizes Israel as a Jewish State, and that “it will stay like this.”
It is time to start talking again about solutions to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Ignoring it does not serve Israel’s interests of remaining a Jewish and democratic state.