Encountering Peace: The moral high ground and Zionism

The two-state solution is not dead, although many would like to bury it.

Israeli flag and Temple Mount  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli flag and Temple Mount
There is no doubt that after the Holocaust the establishment of the State of Israel was an international moral imperative. The State of Israel was not born because of the Holocaust, but following the failure of the world to prevent the wholesale murder of Jews by the Nazis and their allies, the right of the Jewish people to a territorial expression of their identity was no longer possible to deny. Even though there was international recognition that another people also lived in the Land of Israel prior to Israel’s establishment, that did not prevent the world from recognizing the Jewish people’s right to a part of their ancient homeland. But the international community also decided that the other people living on that land should be granted the same right to a territorial expression of their identity – thus the partition plan (UN Resolution 181) came into being to create two states for two peoples on the land between the River and the Sea. The rejection of that decision by the Palestinians did not remove the legitimacy and moral imperative of that decision – for the Jews and for the Arabs of Palestine.
Sixty-nine years later the validity of that decision remains, and so does the reality that two peoples inhabit that same strip of narrow land.
Israel’s international support from its birth forward was based largely on its ability to capture the high moral ground in its conflict with its neighbors. Israel continued to gain international support because of its achievements during its first decades in creating one of the more egalitarian societies in the democratic world, despite the significant challenges it faced. Israel’s success in agriculture and water use, in its military capabilities and of course in hi-tech have made Israel a magnet for trade and relations with many countries around the world. Israel was lucky also because its primary enemy, the Palestinians, failed for many years to capture the high moral ground in the conflict. When the Palestinians rose to the challenge of holding onto the moral ground, international public opinion in support of the Palestinians swelled and that recognition by Israel’s leaders and people pushed Israel into peace processes.
The failure of the peace processes and the return to violence by Palestinians brought about a downturn in international public support for the Palestinians – this should not be confused with a swell in international public support for Israel.
Israel is now marching into the sharpest downward spin in loss of international public support since its birth. The Palestinians have not yet capitalized on this trend internationally because they have not captured the high moral ground mainly due to their own failings.
Israel is not only losing support inside of Europe and in the third world where there are still some governments seeking relations with Israel, but is losing the support of the streets throughout the world, including in the US and including among Jews around the world. Denial of this reality will only help to comfort those who continue to deny the existence of the occupation or the existence of the Palestinian people.
The bi-national, one-state reality with two separate legal and political regimes – one with rights and one with much fewer rights (both controlled by Israel) puts into question, in the eyes of increasing numbers of people, Israel’s very moral legitimacy to exist. This is not anti-Semitism (although some of it might be motivated by such). This is the result of Israel’s failure to understand that the control and domination of the Palestinian people and the land that they live on without granting them either full democracy or sovereignty is a literal dead end for Israel. This is an existential moment for Israel and the time for decision making to save Israel’s right to exist is upon us.
These are not the words of a radical leftist or anti-Zionist, or post-Zionist self-hating Jew. I am a proud Jew, a loyal Israeli citizen and a passionate Zionist who believes in Israel’s moral right to exist as the territorial expression of the identity of the Jewish people. While the one-democratic-state solution might be a noble and utopian idea, it remains, in my mind, anti-Zionist as well as not being a solution to our conflict with the Palestinian people. They, the Palestinians, are also fighting and dying for a territorial expression of their identity.
They have succeeded in convincing the world that they have the moral right to exist as a people within a state of their own. The world has forced the Palestinian people to understand that they cannot have all of the territory that they see as their right – all of the land between the river and the sea. The world has forced the Palestinians to accept their state on a small piece of the land – 22 percent of it and this remains their demand until now, with further evidence of this in the draft UN Security Council resolution they have been floating (again) recently.
The two-state solution is not dead, although many would like to bury it – simply because there is no other solution to this conflict that enables the outcome to be a territorial expression of the identity of both peoples living on this land. This is the only solution which enable Israel to continue to be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people and therefore it is a Zionist solution.
The only way to arrive at this solution is to put a border on the map between Israel and Palestine. There are many ways and possibilities to get to this solution – much better than ever done before. There is no law that says we have to make the same mistakes we made before. There is no commandment which predetermines that we will fail in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.
There is a logical conclusion to draw that if we approach this without full sincerity and commitment and without the goodwill necessary to make peace, we will fail. But there is a possibility to arrive at a fair, genuine and secure outcome as the result of a fair and genuine peace process. What we need are leaders to enter the path and the wisdom of those leaders to learn from the past failures and use the experience and knowledge of those who can assist – both locally and internationally.
For Israel and for the Palestinians – there is no other logical choice.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book, Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.