It has been a scorching summer in Israel: both sides have been playing with fire. Fire was set to forests all around the country, allegedly by Palestinian arsonists; then it was set to three Gazan workers sleeping in Or Yehudah near Tel Aviv, by Jewish youngsters. “Facing the Woods,” a story written by Abraham B. Yehoshua twenty-five years ago, suddenly took on a fresh meaning. It is about a Jewish student who is staying in a watchtower overlooking the woods, writing a paper about the Crusaders, and watching out for fire. A tongueless old Arab, who lives downstairs with a little girl, is assisting him in his job, yet secretly accumulating kerosene cans in order to set the forest ablaze. Eventually the Jewish student helps the old Arab set fire to the woods, and they find the ruins of the Arab village, which has been long covered up by the trees.
One interpretation of that story observes that the only language tongueless Arabs can speak is the language of fire. Why, then, should the tongueless, oppressed, battered, and dispossessed Palestinian speak in a language other than that of fire? Then the name Emmwas this summer began more and more to be heard. The inhabitants of Emmwas (supposedly the biblical Emmaus) and of two other adjacent villages were expelled from their homes in the wake of the battles of the Six Day War, four years after Yehoshua’s story was published. The villages were located in what the Israelis regarded at the time as a very sensitive spot, a cigarette away, as the Arabs say, from the Green Line, and the scene of heavy fighting in 1948. The villages were bulldozed, and, later, trees were planted on top of the ruins. The once populated hills of Emmwas became “Canada Park,” and Yehoshua’s student, who exists somewhere in every Israeli Jewish mind, wondered if one day this park, and similar forests, would be set on fire.
However, the Palestinian issue, in recent months, has not been on the front burner, so to speak, of the lame-duck policy makers in Israel or in the United States. The uncertain time preceding the November elections in both countries has somehow obscured the issue, which must wait for clearer days. But the Palestinians have always been notorious for bad timing. The intifada, long overdue as it is, erupted at a bad time. The PLO procrastinated far too long in taking a definite position on Israel. Finally, at June’s Arab summit in Algiers, Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat’s adviser and spokesman, came out with an explicit political extension to the intifada, a statement that called upon the PLO to hold direct talks with Israel, and implicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist. “All nations,” Abu Sharif wrote, “Jews and Palestinians among them, have the right to expect not only nonaggression from their neighbors, but also a political and economical cooperation of sorts.” Some Palestinian leaders criticized this statement, but Abu Sharif repeated the gist of it on August 13, and told the Reuters news agency that the PLO is ready to trade peace with Israel for an independent state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal of August 24 reported that
while the document drew condemnation from extreme PLO factions outside the occupied territories, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza did not repudiate it. Indeed, interviews with scores of Palestinians, from refugee youths to university professors, reveal an overwhelming majority in favor of recognition.
Then the second-highest PLO official, Abu Iyad, in an interview on August 14 in the Paris Journal du Dimanche issued the most unequivocal PLO announcement in years. He called for a provisional state in the occupied territories, whose political program would be “completely different” from that of the current Palestinian Charter. “My solution for peace,” he said, “is a Palestinian state, a discussion to establish the frontiers of that state and the mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine.” He also said the Palestinian state would be set up with reference to UN Resolution 181 of 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine. “I did not say it was necessary to accept the frontiers mentioned in article 181,” he told the interviewer. “I said it was necessary to refer to it since it is the only one that asserts the agreement of the United Nations on the creation of two states.” A day before, on August 13 in Amman, a member of the Palestinian National Council told The Washington Post that the PLO’s acceptance of the 1947 UN resolution
could be the basis for negotiations and would give the PLO international legitimacy, which also means you accept the state of Israel without the need to say it. The [council] may come out and say it. This is the bottom line.
Three days later, on August 17, in an interview with Radio Luxembourg, Ibraheem Sous, the PLO representative in Paris, conceded that the PLO is ready to accept the UN Partition Resolution of 1947,
as a judicial ground, or as a starting point for negotiations with Israel…. What is meant is the principle that lies behind the resolution and not necessarily the boundaries between the Jewish state and the Arab state as drawn some forty years ago.
As for the Palestinian charter calling for an end to Israel, which long stood in the way of negotiations, Sous said that it
lacks validity because of all the decisions taken by the Palestine National Council ever since, decisions that reflect the changes in the PLO standpoints. There is no reason why the Charter should be an obstacle for negotiations.
Abu Iyad’s announcement was pushed aside in the Israeli media, and hardly mentioned in the US. Five days had elapsed before John Kifner of The New York Times referred to it briefly in a report published on August 19; and an editorial on the Israeli occupation published on the same day made no mention of it. Shamir’s office called the announcement a “conjuring trick” and Peres referred to it as a “crossword puzzle.” Decoded, this arcane language means that now that the Palestinians have got their tongues back and seem to be giving up on the language of fire (and terror for that matter), the Israelis turn a deaf ear.
Talking about the morning after in the Middle East these days sounds like worrying about a hangover while the Molotov cocktails are still being smashed. Still, since a would-be Palestinian state will probably have to deal with many similar problems and challenges that the Jewish state of Israel has been facing since the day it was established, it might be enlightening to try to outline the readymade Israeli pitfalls that the Palestinian state should try to evade. Now that a Palestinian state, provisional or otherwise, is within a stone’s throw, one might indulge in examining what the morning after the establishment of the state would be like.
One is drawn to these analogies if only by sheer rhetoric. There is a stunning similarity between the language used by Jewish organizations during the Forties and the language that could be used these days by, say, the leaders of the uprising, in their clandestine pamphlets:
Terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier.
This is taken from an article published in the summer of 1943, in the Stern Gang’s publication Hehazeet (“The Front”), written by the current prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir. “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition,” Shamir wrote, “can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.”
And between the counter-rhetoric of violence used by the authorities of the British Mandate for suppressing the Jewish “terrorists” and that used by the Israeli authorities today against the Palestinian “terrorists” in the occupied territories, there is more than a similarity—the violence is carried out according to the same regulations. However, I am afraid the similarity between Palestinian and Jewish experience is more than rhetoric-deep: if the Palestinians do not try to learn from the errors of the Jews, they will end up establishing a duplicate of the Jewish state on the other side of the Green Line, another ethnic state that will self-righteously call itself, as Israel does, “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The UN Partition Resolution of 1947, which after more than forty years is beginning to appeal to the Palestinians, talked about two states in Palestine/Eretz Israel, a Jewish state and an Arab state. World Jewry at the time accepted the resolution. The late Simha Flapan (in his recent The Birth of Israel) argues that it was meant to be a tactical step on the part of Ben-Gurion. However, the resolution forms the backdrop of the “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.” “On the 29th of November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel,” Ben-Gurion writes in the “Declaration,” failing to mention that the resolution also called for the establishment of an Arab state. He then proceeds:
Accordingly we,…by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.
Thus the state of Israel was not established in 1948; rather, a Jewish state was. And that is, apparently, what the Palestinians are going to do. Instead of a “secular democratic Palestine,” as the PLO has been declaring for years, what will be eventually established is a purely ethnic Palestinian state, not the state of Palestine.
When talking about their conflict, Zionists and Palestinians (there is no Israeli-Arab conflict) tend to begin with the Book of Genesis. There are people on both sides who seem to believe that the Book of Genesis quotes God as saying, “Let there be a Palestinian problem,” and that the only solution for this conflict, in the spirit of that Book, would be to throw the other side into the sea, or the desert, respectively. People from both sides have made a Gordian knot out of the emotions, arguments, and counterarguments that have accumulated for nearly a century. However, the solution is rather simple. It lies in drawing the line between the Homeland and the State—between the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel) and the State of Israel, between the Land of Falastin and the State of Palestine—which simply means a two-state solution. So the Palestinian prime minister will probably write the following entry one day in his diary:
One does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today—but the boundaries of Palestinian aspirations are the concern of the Palestinian people and no external factor will be able to limit them.