A solution that's as elusive as ever

The mere suggestion that Israelis and Arabs have something in common is regarded as an insult.

For all their mutual loathing and animosity, Israeli parties like the Likud and Israel Beiteinu and Palestinian parties like Hamas have one thing in common: Their political vision of the future has no space for the other side except as a vanquished subject people. These parties' rise to power represents a frightening hardening of nationalistic visions that do not bode well for the future. Instead of obsessing over how their identities clash, Israelis and Palestinians need to focus on where they mesh. Under immense pressure from the United States, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went against his own convictions and his Likud party's platform and, for the first time, grudgingly and conditionally accepted the eventual emergence of an independent Palestinian state. Similarly, on the other side of the divide, Hamas's charter also rejects the existence of a Jewish state, but the extremist Islamist party has modified its rejectionist stance since it came to power by offering Israel tacit recognition and a 10-year truce if it withdraws to the pre-1967 borders. Needless to say, both stances are still unacceptable to the other side. Yet again, peace based on two independent states seems to have stalled in the concept phase, with the key difference being that, in the Oslo years, some real progress was made on the ground. So, why is it that the two-state solution, despite having been the only diplomatic show in town for nearly two decades, has never made the leap from the notional to the real? Part of the problem is the enormous power disparity between the two sides. Ideologically-tinged perception is another major hurdle. At their core, many streams within Zionist and Palestinian nationalism are rooted in a claim to the entire territory of Mandate Palestine. In such a climate, concessions are seen not as pragmatic attempts to coexist but as acts of treason of the highest order. In the 1970s, some PLO members, such as the organization's London representative Said Hammami, advocated the two-state option and paid for it with their lives. Meanwhile, their Israeli counterparts, such as the peacenik and journalist Uri Avnery, were ostracized and demonized. During the Oslo years, Yitzhak Rabin, also paid for his "betrayal" with his life. ALBERT EINSTEIN once described nationalism as "the measles of the human race." In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I would hazard to liken it to an immune system which evolved originally to defend against oppression and weakness, but which has grown over the years into a cancer corroding the humanity of all those involved. Like the 19th-century European models upon which they are based, Arab and Jewish nationalism started off as a quest for self-determination. However, the medicine that sought to cure oppression and overcome weakness quickly morphed into a dangerous and highly addictive hallucinogen which has led the most hard-core abusers on such a wild trip that they have become almost entirely detached from reality. . With Likud, Israel Beiteinu and Hamas currently calling the shots, it is hard to imagine that there was once a time when identities were more fluid - when the term "Palestinian" also encompassed Jews, when Middle Eastern Jews freely identified themselves and were seen as "Arabs," while some European Jews, including Britain's only prime minister of Jewish extraction, Benjamin D'israeli, held the romantic notion that they were "Mosaic Arabs." But after a century of conflict, perceptions have hardened and identities have narrowed to the extent that the mere suggestion that Israelis and Arabs have something in common is widely regarded as an insult. If this conflict is ever to be resolved, we need to invade this common ground, occupy it and make it our own. For both sides, the prospect of dividing up the land into two separate states is painful because it would deprive them of access to areas of great symbolic and emotional value. We need a binational confederated state made up of an autonomous, secular Israeli and Palestinian component - each of which can keep the cultural trappings of nationhood, such as their flag and national anthem. Freedom of movement within this federation would ensure that Israelis and Palestinians have access to all the places they hold sacred and dear, such as Jerusalem, Hebron and Jaffa. In addition, the energies currently consumed by conflict can be rediverted to creating prosperity for all. By recognizing that Israelis and Palestinians possess equal stakes in a common homeland, one removes the familiar - and uncompromising - terms of reference of who exactly holds historic title to the land, of occupation and resistance, of terrorism and retaliation, of Cain and Abel, of David and Goliath. The writer, Egyptian by birth, is a Brussels-based journalist. He writes about a wide range of subjects, including the EU, the Middle East, Islam and secularism, multiculturalism and human rights. His Web site is www.chronikler.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) in conjunction with the Jerusalem Post. It is the first of a special series of articles in CGNews on "Nationalism and the Arab-Israeli relationship". Other articles may be accessed at: www.commongroundnews.org.