Early Zionists were convinced of the right of the Jewish people to return to Eretz Yisrael from all over the world in order to create a Jewish state. While there is very little early Zionist writing questioning the Jewish people’s right to their own state in what was then called Palestine, the question of what to do about the people who inhabited the land at the time is still the subject of much debate.
There were those who advocated for exiling the Arabs who lived there, but most had different ideas about how to share the land. Today, over a hundred years later, we’re still grappling with the same dilemma.
“Yiheieh b’seder,” (it’ll all be OK) is a well-worn Israeli phrase that covers every conceivable problem that Israelis face. From a broken pipe to losing your job, an Israeli is bound to say or hear from a close relative or even a stranger, that everything will be fine. Having faced over ten wars, a pandemic, and sky-high inflation all within their first 75 years, Israelis know they can handle anything that comes their way; “yiheieh b’seder,” it’ll be okay.
Coupled with “yiheieh b’seder,” Israelis also live by a saying of King Solomon, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Israelis have seen it all, so whatever challenges come their way, they’ll be able to manage. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Israeli attitude toward the conflicts with Arabs, Palestinians, and Iranians.
Both Israelis and their conflict counterparts don’t seem to be in any rush to resolve these problems. When pressed about whether they’re worried about the effects of continued unrest which could, one day, reach boiling point, Israelis answer, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and “Yiheieh b’seder,” it’ll be OK.
Why haven’t the two sides resolved the conflict? With people dying on both sides, you’d think there’d be an impetus to find a resolution as soon as possible. Yet both sides don’t seem to be in any rush to resolve their differences. Although it makes no sense, the answer goes to the heart of Zionism.
I call it “Middle East Manifest Destiny.”
Middle East Manifest Destiny
The Israeli-Arab, Israeli-Palestinian, and Israeli-Iranian conflict has been analyzed, studied and written about by thousands of scholars and laypeople alike. At the same time, I humbly suggest I’ve discovered an angle previously unexplored. At least I’ve never heard it suggested before.
I discovered this angle after years of talking to Israelis and Arabs; especially to Israeli and Palestinian neighbors. These two populations are unique. As each side plays an active role in the conflict, I would argue that not only are they the chief perpetrators, but also the people who are able to resolve the conflict.
Israelis and Palestinians both believe that the land is destined for their own people. Neither side knows exactly how or when this destiny will unfold, but they are confident that a day will come when they will be the sole inheritors of the land. This belief keeps both sides from becoming despondent over the current situation and optimistic about a brighter future.
THIS BELIEF also has a darker side, however. It allows each nation to suspend pragmatic thinking and look past the conflict-ridden reality of today. Both sides are patient because they fully believe the day will come when their opponents will acquiesce and give up their claim to the land.
Most importantly, the belief in this manifest destiny keeps the status quo going and discourages each side from taking steps to reach an agreement to end the conflict. Any agreement requires both sides to compromise. Currently, neither side has demonstrated a willingness to consider the demands of the other.
When each side believes that they will – eventually – be in sole possession of the land, the mere suggestion of compromise seems traitorous.
For many, the belief in a manifest destiny is religious. This belief extends to the Divine, and may even be irrational. Even when all factors indicate compromise is the responsible path to take, they believe that God has promised them a “manifest destiny,” and betraying that Divine destiny by compromising is disobeying God.
It was this strong belief in the Jewish people’s destiny to return and inherit Eretz Yisrael that caused many early Zionists to object to the British suggestion that the Jews establish their state in Africa. Many early Zionists entertained “The Uganda Scheme,” but when it was time to vote, the strenuous objections of the Russian participants – some of whom tore their shirts and sat “shiva” – caused the majority in that year’s Zionist Congress to reject the motion and set their sights solely on Israel. It is this same belief that motivates many Jews to reject suggestions of giving land to the Palestinians in exchange for peace.
Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs, and Iranians aren’t the first to believe in a manifest destiny by which their policies are guided. From American settlers to Soviet patriots, the belief in a special destiny has guided people for 1000s of years.
Outside observers to these conflicts, who aren’t aware of each side’s belief in a unique destiny, are dumbfounded by the lack of reasonable thought and urgency.
Efforts to end the conflict will continue to be plagued by failure, as long as all factors contributing to the disquiet aren’t addressed. When mediators, analysts and government officials continue to encourage those unwilling to compromise, they’re setting themselves up to fail. Those trying to find a solution to these ongoing problems would be better served by keeping both side’s wishes in mind and working within that framework.
The writer is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israeli studies worldwide.