During the six years when Menachem Begin was prime minister, his world view and style seemed so divergent from those of his Israeli opponents and of the prevailing political culture in the West that he was perceived as an aberration. Begin’s mentality was shaped by Central Europe between two great wars. He was haunted by the nightmare of the Holocaust, was convinced of the power of grand gestures and the boldly spoken word. The mystical lawyer and populist orator was such a departure from the socialist, humanist, and pragmatic leadership of the opposing Israeli political culture that many Israelis and American Jews have wished to dismiss his regime as a mere episode in Israel’s history.
But the liberals who opposed him while he was prime minister may find it even more difficult now to fight his legacy. What his political rivals and outsiders have failed to realize is that Begin’s extremist ideology, his vision of a greater Israel, have turned into a solid structure in which second generation Israelis from both political camps have found shelter.
This vision, permeated with the conviction of the moral superiority of the Jewish national claim and a deep mistrust of the gentile world, has finally gained legitimacy. Begin has triumphed, not because of the acuity of his perceptions or his historic vision but because his political opponents became enmeshed in their own irreconcilable contradictions; their behavior as elites estranged them from the Sephardi masses who became drawn to Begin.
One can only understand the Begin era by viewing it in the setting of Zionist history. In the early part of the century, the vociferous disputes over the goals of Zionism created rivalries and even enmities among the Zionist factions, but these masked an agreement in principle on national objectives: the establishment of an independent national entity based on a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel. All the Zionist groups joined together to create concrete political, military, social, and economic realities that led to the establishment of the state of Israel and the consolidation of its strength. The subjective hopes and ideological proclivities of many Zionists were in contradiction to what actually took place, but their views were submerged. The constraints with which Zionism had to contend, the reaction of its enemies, domestic and external political coalitions, global politics—all of those led to the realization of the maximum aims of Zionism.
This result was not predetermined. At every stage in the progress of Zionism there were clear choices; but they were either passed up or remained “theoretical”—principally because of the enemies of the Zionist enterprise. The position of the Palestinians forced the Zionists to try to achieve their maximum goals—and this position was, from the Palestinians’ point of view, unavoidable. They refused to compromise with Zionism because they saw it as an unjust intrusion. Their uncompromising approach, and their view of the conflict as a game only one side could win, obliged even those Zionist groups that hoped for a compromise to adopt a practical policy of military confrontation.
“Defense activism” existed alongside the sincere aspiration for brotherhood between the nations and a socialist-humanist ideology. The prolongation of the struggle exacerbated the elements of Zionist ideology that emphasized power at the expense of those that emphasized humanitarian concerns. As military force grew, it was increasingly seen as the only solution to the problem. Thus many Israelis became the mirror image of the Palestinians. Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, and Raphael Eitan are the legitimate sons of the pioneers of the Israel Labor movement no less than the members of Peace Now. Many of the disciples of Ben-Gurion’s “activism” find themselves following the same path as the disciples of Menachem Begin, who has always viewed the conflict as one that could not be subject to compromise.
Begin was always immersed in his own inner world of abstract concepts and mystical beliefs. He had no need to keep in touch with ordinary reality, to test his theories or ponder their consequences. His aides and subordinates carried out his grand designs. He allowed them a free hand as long as their actions seemed to him in conformity with his philosophy.
He could allow himself to go along with the Camp David Accords only because the prospect of peace with Egypt agreed with his single-minded struggle for a Greater Israel. During his term in office he went only once to visit his beloved Gush Emunim settlers on the West Bank; he met West Bank Palestinians only once, at their request; he traded the whole of Sinai—including the Yamit settlement—for a free hand on the West Bank, in order to establish the sanctity of the borders of Mandatory Palestine. He never visited the Yamit settlers before their evacuation; he visited the troops in Lebanon only once, briefly, and on the third day of the war. Time and again his detachment from reality was exposed when his lieutenants took his aggressive attitudes literally, dragging him into rash actions.
Begin’s last grand design, the Lebanon War, followed this pattern. He allowed Ariel Sharon to wage “Operation Peace” in Galilee because he perceived the invasion as a war for the land of Greater Israel. The true objective of the war was not the destruction of the military potential of the PLO in southern Lebanon or the establishment of a Christian regime in Beirut; it was the destruction of the powerful political and intellectual center of Palestinian nationalism that had developed over the years in Beirut. Menachem Begin believed that by destroying the quasi-sovereign Palestinians in Lebanon, he would achieve ultimate victory over Palestinian nationalism, the one force that might prevent the consolidation of Greater Israel.
The disastrous consequences of his last grand design were so obvious and immediate that reality penetrated even Begin’s well-guarded world. Five hundred Israeli soldiers died for the sake of imperial aspirations, while in Lebanon itself, Syria is now more powerful than before. Begin could no longer bear the tenuous role of being at the same time a prophet and a priest, a mystic and a statesman. After long and agonizing months of brooding, exacerbated by a painful personal loss, he finally announced he would withdraw.
The departure of Menachem Begin marks the transfer of power to the second and third generation of Israeli leaders who now face the task of molding their nation’s destiny to their own image. Among those Israelis who considered Menachem Begin an aberration and his era an episode one now finds pervasive hopes that the end of the Begin era also marks the end of Zionist extremism and that Begin’s political culture will be replaced by a more pragmatic and conciliatory approach, in which realistic compromise will be possible.
However, we can doubt that a man imbued with so deep a sense of historic mission would have left office without feeling that his life’s goal, the control of the entire area of Palestine or Greater Israel, had been attained. There are strong indications that this conclusion is indeed correct; that we can now say with some assurance that we have begun a new chapter in the history of Palestine. In the 101st year since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise, in the thirty-sixth year since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Zionist movement has achieved its maximum territorial goal: control over the entire area of Mandatory Palestine.
Less dramatically, we might define the situation in the following fashion: the political, military, socioeconomic, and psychological processes now working toward the total annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip outweigh those that work against it. The gap between the contending forces will ultimately permit the complete integration of the occupied territories. Looked at statistically, those processes do not yet appear to have reached the point of no return. However, when we consider the dynamics of all the forces as well as the time element, we can see that the critical point has passed.
The 1948 war gave birth to the state of Israel; however, the continuing war of liberation, in the sense of establishing borders reflecting national aspirations, has only now been concluded. That perception is not limited to the hyper-nationalist groups advocating “Greater Israel.” It is shared by more moderate elements within the Israeli body politic. For a short period after the end of the war in 1967 Israeli leaders were in doubt about what to do with the territories and even offered to withdraw from them in return for peace. However, very quickly a new conception took over, which interpreted the Six Day War as a direct extension of the war of liberation, taking care of “unfinished business.” The Israeli national consensus, explicitly or implicitly, views the nineteen years during which Palestine was divided as a stage in the realization of national aspirations; what has been called “creeping annexation” can be seen as an extension of pre-state Zionist activity.
The significance of that ultimate achievement of Zionist aspirations is more than territorial. It means that the Palestinian problem has now been internalized. It means that henceforth the major responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians falls upon Israel. One may, of course, cling to the accepted view that the Palestinian problem is an external matter to be dealt with by the “Arab states,” an approach which might have been suitable with regard to the refugees of 1948 and the small Israeli-Arab minority. Now, however, more than 2 million Arabs live under Israeli rule—half of all the people who identify themselves as members of the Palestinian nation—and they cannot be ignored. If in fact the territorial goals of Zionism have been achieved, then the Palestinians have become a permanent minority, 38 percent of the population of the territorial entity ruled by Israel. In other words, what political scientists call a dual society, or in (inappropriate) political jargon, a “binational state,” is no longer a vision of the future, but an actuality.
These far-reaching conclusions are based upon an examination of the three principal circles of influence affecting the process: the Israelis, the Americans, and the Arabs and Palestinians.
For many outsiders the term “settlement” conjures an image of huts strewn on a wind-swept barren hill with a group of bearded religious zealots gathered around an Israeli flag. However, the settlement phase initiated by ideologically motivated groups mobilized by Gush Emunim is now over. The typical settler of the 1980s is a figure well known throughout the Western world: the suburbanite. The man who wants to escape his cramped apartment in the stifling, polluted center city, and to make his dreams of a home of his own with a bit of lawn come true, is not guided by nationalistic ideology. In his social and economic characteristics, he is similar to the average Labor voter. The main demand of these settlers is not to be more than a half-hour’s drive from their places of work and entertainment centers.
The officials responsible for settlement are well aware of the needs of Homo suburbanus; they are concentrating most of their efforts on the region termed (officially) “the area of high demand”—that is, a ring of settlements encircling Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Their efforts are made at the expense of investment in the development of more distant areas where the settlers are ideologically motivated, whether in the Jordan Valley or in the Gush Emunim settlements (or, for that matter, in the Negev and the Galilee in Israel itself).
The Likud government has implemented a completely different settlement policy from that of Labor. The difference does not lie only in the policy of building settlements in areas heavily populated by Arabs, which is an abomination to Labor; the major innovation has been aimed at creating internal political facts and not at creating geostrategic facts. The Likud estimated correctly that the decision about the future of the territories would result from domestic political struggles within the state of Israel rather than from direct external military or political pressure.
The Likud formed a domestic lobby composed of those who settled in the new cities and suburbs on the West Bank or who have an economic interest in the region. It makes no difference whether they settle near the “Green Line,” as long as they are in the occupied territories. Knowing that the percentage of the floating vote in Israel is small, the Likud estimates that 100,000 people, representing four or five marginal seats in the Knesset, would be an effective barrier to any political alternative espousing the principle of territorial compromise. The suburban settlers need not hold with the Likud ideology; they simply wish to protect their investment and the higher quality of life they will have attained.
Labor continues to represent an anachronistic strategy of settlement, dating back to the “tower and stockade” methods of the Thirties and Forties. A thin chain of kibbutzim and moshavim running through the Jordan Valley, where the total number of settlers is smaller than in a single neighborhood of one of the new cities on the West Bank, is supposed to determine political and military facts and guarantee secure borders for Israel.
That strategy is as relevant to the reality of the Eighties as the “flying columns” mobilized by the Haganah during the Arab revolt. The creation of the new settlement lobby begun by the Begin administration was supposed to take three or four years. The necessary resources are people, land, the technical capacity to implement the plan, and financing. More than 30,000 Israelis now live in ninety-four settlements in the West Bank. According to well-founded estimates, there are 100,000 families potentially willing to move out to the suburbs on the West Bank during the coming decade if they can be housed close to the large cities.* The land grab of West Bank territory, which has been officially called “the declaration of state domain,” and the purchase of private lands already provides enough reserves for the construction of hundreds of thousands of residential units. The technical capacity exists as well—the roads, water systems, and electrical facilities are in place. At the present pace of construction, 10,000 to 15,000 additional people can be housed in the territories each year.
As for financing, the necessary investment has been estimated at $1.5 billion, of which only a part will have to come from the public purse: public funding is being replaced by private investment, both commercial and personal. Investment at the rate of $250 million per year is feasible, as long as American aid remains at its present level.
We see, therefore, that this project can be carried out, provided there is enough time to do so.
The chances that an internal political force will halt the process of annexation, in the post-Begin era, seem as slim as they were before his resignation. The Likud government is committed to his legacy; in the event that a Labor-led coalition is formed, or a Labor-Center coalition wins national elections, one can expect a change in style—an avoidance of extreme religious and historical claims—but not in substance. In fact, a Labor victory would probably set off a new wave of settlers who would insist on going to the West Bank for ideological reasons. In view of the momentum for establishing the settlements and the pressure that would arise if a new government tried to stop them, I doubt that the magic formula of “a freeze on settlements and territorial compromise,” which many think is the key to renewed peace efforts, would produce practical results, even if it is finally uttered by a more moderate government.
If and when the Jordanians and Palestinians reverse their refusal to participate in negotiation, the talks may well lead nowhere. The most recent moderate Labor formula for a territorial compromise proposes to annex 40 percent of the territories along with almost 40 percent of their inhabitants. More generous offers were made to King Hussein by Labor governments in the past, and Hussein refused those offers categorically. Even if both the Labor government and the Jordanians tried to be more flexible, as is certainly to be hoped, they would encounter grave obstacles. For the dispute over the future of the West Bank among politicians and in the Israeli press has obscured a broad national consensus accepting the day-to-day transformation of the territories. Among those who are ideologically motivated, the old Zionist ethos is still powerful. Others, who lack ideological motivation, have strong materialistic motives. The morally troubling questions that have arisen since the Israeli occupation, the reports of violence, of arbitrary administrative actions, and of the dual system of law and personal status are, for the most part, swallowed up in a sea of indifference.
The continuing entanglement in Lebanon exhausts national energies and over-shadows the West Bank issue. Dovish circles have pinned their hopes on the outside world, primarily the United States, to exert pressure and halt the annexation. Their sense of dependence on the US has shown that they do not believe they can consolidate enough power domestically to reverse the process. Few seem to believe wholeheartedly that their prospects are greatly changed by Begin’s resignation.
Under the Likud government during the last six years, physical, juridical, and administrative facts have been created at a dizzying pace. However, the turning point that led directly to annexation did not take place in 1977, but rather ten years earlier. On the seventh day of the Six Day War the Labor government perceived its rule over the West Bank as temporary and proclaimed its willingness for territorial compromise. But Labor also went on to establish the legal basis and physical facilities for the settlements that were indispensable to Ariel Sharon in 1979 when he inaugurated the extensive suburbanization of the West Bank. The Cross Samaria and Allon highways, Kiryat Arba, Ariel, Maale Adumim, Kadum, and Ofra were planned and largely built under the Labor government (not to mention the Jordan Valley settlements). The definition of Israeli administration as “temporary” and the official willingness to “return” populated lands were little more than an attempt by Labor to paper over deep ideological contradictions.
Those attuned to the thinking of the American foreign policy establishment and the communications industry on its periphery realize that substantial change concerning the Palestinian problem and the fate of the territories has been taking place. Since 1967 the degree of urgency attributed by American foreign policy makers to the Palestinian problem has shifted up and down. For sixteen years it has consumed a disproportionate share of intellectual and financial resources and especially time, because it was of importance to each of the rival schools of American foreign policy: roughly speaking, the Realpolitik school and the ethical school.
The former school saw failure to find a solution to the problem as a major cause of the endemic instability of the Middle East, and held that the instability, in turn, enabled the USSR to gain a foothold there. They also believed that America’s energy supply was linked to the Palestinian problem, and that failure to solve it jeopardized vital American relations with the great petroleum suppliers. The ethical school, on the other hand, saw the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an injustice that had to be corrected by obtaining the right of self-determination for a people deprived of sovereignty. No matter which school it subscribed to, every new American administration awarded the highest priority to the problem of the territories.
But American freedom of action in dealing with the Palestinian problem has been limited because of Israel’s solid position in public opinion and, consequently, in both houses of Congress. Public opinion favorable to Israel has depended to a great extent upon the Jewish lobby and the Jewish vote; however, Israel also possesses strong support among non-Jewish groups that view Israel as a bastion of democracy and an island of Western civilization in a sea of savagery. Masked pro-Arab and anti-Semitic tendencies are counter-balanced by contempt for the backward Orientals. The special relations between the United States and Israel are so intimate that some people claim that the state of Israel and its problems are more important to Washington than the state of Iowa and its problems. Because of those special relations, as well as unforeseen changes in the Middle East, lack of leadership, sloppy thinking, and, especially, the inability to exert effective pressure on the ruling powers within Israel and with its Arab rivals, the enormous diplomatic resources invested by the Americans in the Palestinian problem have borne no fruit.
The Reagan administration, which is both conservative and drawn to Realpolitik, has replaced the well-meaning Carter administration. Reagan pays far more attention to global and strategic than to ethical considerations such as human rights. Israel’s importance as a strategic asset has increased in direct proportion to the weakening of the Arabs and the collapse of OPEC. Alexander Haig gave tacit approval to Israel on the eve of the war in Lebanon because he believed this would strengthen America’s position at the expense of the Soviet Union and its Syrian satellite. When the true aim of the war became clear and the new Palestinian tragedy was revealed in its full horror, the United States attempted to clear itself of all blame by publishing the Reagan initiative. The initiative was ill timed, and it was clear from the start that its chances of success were very slight, at least as long as the crisis in Lebanon lasted. Hussein’s refusal to accept the initiative officially, after months of floating optimistic rumors, relieved the administration of the necessity of persisting in its plans. Meeting with failure everywhere, the US desperately needed success. That was supplied by Israel in the form of the agreement with Lebanon worked out by the secretary of state, George Shultz.
Suddenly the political skies cleared and relations between the two states became friendly again. Speaking to a Jewish audience in Washington, the American ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis, said that the settlements do not promote peace, but he added that greater obstacles are placed in the way by others, i.e., the Arabs. Officials in Washington have begun to distinguish between the “global interests” of the United States in the region and “the problem of the West Bank and Gaza,” which does not, they believe, pose an immediate threat to American interests. Annexation, they say, is a fait accompli in any case; while it damages Israel’s image as a liberal democracy and thus embarrasses the Americans, Israel is a pariah anyway. Reports on incidents in the territories do not further Israel’s international isolation, they claim, because it could hardly be more isolated. There is also the growing feeling that the West Bank is an internal Israeli problem.
Fatigue underlies all these arguments. The Americans are sick and tired of the conflict. They are behaving just as one does in private life: after one has tried to solve a problem without success, one persuades oneself that it actually isn’t important.
The United States will doubtless continue to show concern for the territories, as in President Reagan’s recent statements, but increasingly the issue of the settlements will become the province of do-gooders and bleeding hearts; that constituency which has been helpless to prevent mass murder in Central America will probably be even less effective with regard to a conflict where it is much harder to tell the good guys from the villains.
Anyone who looks forward to an imposed settlement, or who fears one, is waiting in vain. Given the present atmosphere in Washington, the odds that the Americans will act more firmly now than they have during the past sixteen years are extremely slim.
The Arab-Palestinian Factor
Whoever wishes to reckon the true power of what is called the “Arab world” and its willingness to act in behalf of the Palestinian cause should take a good look at the events of recent months: the reaction of the Arab states, including Syria and Libya, to the Palestinians’ appeals for help last summer when they were besieged in Beirut; the Arab states’ reluctance to accept the evacuees; their indifference to the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; their inability to agree upon any statement on any substantive issue, from the Reagan initiative to the Israeli-Lebanese agreement, or even on the war between Iran and Iraq. The weakness of the Arab world, the dimensions of which were revealed by Fouad Ajami years ago, reached an unprecedented low in 1983. Hidden behind the impressive facaAade of OPEC and its petro-dollars was a rather wretched reality, which was manifest to all when the petroleum cartel collapsed. Nonetheless there are those who stubbornly maintain the myth of Arab power, in order to use it for their own ends. Not least among them is the government of Israel.
Even in the glorious days of Nasser’s pan-Arabism, devotion to the Palestinian cause was a limited devotion. Everyone paid lip service but acted only when it suited the interests of the Arab regimes. Now, in addition to the weakness of the Arab world, we see only fatigue and a feeling of impotence in their reaction to the Palestinian problem. The Arab states took on responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians forty-five years ago when the Palestinian leadership collapsed after the failure of the Arab revolt of 1936-1939. Many Arabs now have the feeling, especially in the so-called “moderate” states, that they have done what they could, and that they can no longer afford to make sacrifices on the altar of the “Palestinian problem.” They continue to pay lip service, but they find justification for their indifference and fatigue in the extremist and ill-considered actions of the Palestinian leaders.
The acts of the PLO, with all its various factions, both before and after the war in Lebanon, can only be called self-destructive. That collective character trait is far from new, and it has frequently been manifest in the history of the Palestinian national movement. Trapped in the rejection of any short-term settlement if it contradicts their ultimate goal, convinced that one must not compromise on matters of principle in a just cause, the Palestinians have waged a hopeless life-or-death struggle with the Zionist movement. They were contemptuous of Zionism until it was too late. But even then they did not cease to believe that they would succeed in exterminating it by force, and thus they brought disaster down upon themselves.
That self-destructive trait was particularly conspicuous both before the Lebanese war and during it. The attempt by the PLO to develop an independent military force that it could use against Israel in southern Lebanon was hopeless from the start. The very attempt to create such a force endangered the active and powerful national center which had been developed in Beirut and which could exist only in Lebanon because of the particular conditions prevailing in that country. The provocation in southern Lebanon offered Begin and Sharon an excuse to attack the national center in Beirut, to scatter its activists to the four winds, and then to destroy their centers of research and thought. All the efforts that were invested in maintaining a people’s militia among the inhabitants of the refugee camps went down the drain. The PLO leaders had failed to inspire a popular uprising in the occupied territories during the Sixties and Seventies, and in similar fashion they also failed among the Palestinians in southern Lebanon. The loss of their headquarters in Beirut set the Palestinian people back twenty years and once again turned them into a flock of refugees, subject to the mastery of the states that give them asylum; serving as pawns in their hands.
After the tragedy in Beirut was over, the PLO could still have rescued the remnant of its political strength. The sympathy that the Palestinians won after the Israeli bombardments, and the United States’s remorse for its silent support of the war in Lebanon, produced the Reagan initiative, which was an opportunity to convert the military debacle into a political victory. However, the life ring offered to the PLO was rejected with the excuse that acceptance was impossible because of internal disagreement.
The somnambulant policies of the leaders of the PLO are expressed brutally in practically everything that happens in the occupied territories. The PLO refuses to realize that the annexation of the territories is approaching the point of no return. If it does not adopt realistic policies, it will lose not only the Palestinians’ land but also its inhabitants. Understanding the significance of the physical facts that have been created in the territories was the principal reason for King Hussein’s willingness to pursue the Reagan initiative. Those facts have not made the PLO budge from its position. When some moderates had the courage to warn against the impending disaster, they were either silenced or assassinated. The Palestinian population of the territories has been neutralized because both Israel and the PLO have joined forces to destroy any chance for the growth of local political leadership. The radicals managed to torpedo every attempt to adopt realistic positions. The violent clashes that have recently taken place between the nationalist students and the Muslim Brotherhood offer yet another sign of the feelings of frustration and lack of direction that reign in the territories, and the bloody skirmishes last summer between the Fatah factions in the Bekaa Valley complete the picture.
In mid-1983 the PLO’s relevance steadily decreased. Its leaders will continue to fly from country to country in their executive jets. The Arab states will continue to give the PLO heavy financial support. The PLO will also continue to be the darling of some radicals in Israel and many in the rest of the world; the Palestinian issue will not cease to be a shibboleth identifying individuals and groups with either the “reactionary” or the “radical” camps, and the debate whether the PLO has become more moderate and whether it should be recognized will continue; perhaps a new wave of international terror will begin, or perhaps, alternatively, the PLO will decide to change course and join the search for a political solution. However, none of these choices will exert much influence on events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on international politics, on relations between the superpowers, or on political developments within the region.
With all its factional quarrels, cut off from reality in its homeland, manipulated by the Arab regimes for their own ends, and trapped in its unrealistic conceptions, the PLO will have little influence on the course of events. Twice in their history the Palestinians made a heroic effort to wage war alone against their Zionist enemies: between 1936 and 1939 against both the British and the Jewish Yishuv and, in 1947, against the embryonic state. Both of those efforts ended in tragedy, after which they were forced to consign their fate to their “sister Arab states.” The third attempt, the Lebanese war, is apparently also the last.
The Palestinian national entity was defeated and has become a phantom. But that phantom will continue to pursue its victors and the whole world. Followers of the Jabotinsky-Begin ideology and those who admire Sharon and Eitan will discover, to their surprise, that phantoms can be more dangerous than physical beings. Shadows cannot be beaten with sticks. The phantoms will rise from their graves, and Palestinian nationalism, which some have tried to destroy physically and others have tried to destroy conceptually, will give no rest. Absolute victories of that magnitude were possible in other eras. Many ethnic and national groups have been repressed, scattered, and made to disappear, but during their prolonged struggle with Zionism the Palestinians have formed themselves into a solid mass which will not disintegrate. Close to the turn of the twenty-first century one cannot expect the enlightened world, as cynical as it may be, to reconcile itself to the disappearance of the Palestinian nation. Moreover, after they acquire more perspective on recent history, many Israelis will come to understand that notwithstanding the intransigence of the PLO the Palestinians were not scattered to the winds because they were wicked murderers, but for the simple and cruel reason that they stood in the way. The feeling among Israelis that this reason is simply not sufficient and that their victory was too great will increasingly come to haunt them.
For all practical purposes the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip now seems only a matter of time with or without Menachem Begin. Theoretically the process might be “reversible,” but a realistic estimate of the forces at work for annexation as against those that oppose it leads to the conclusion that for the foreseeable future all of Palestine will be ruled by an Israeli government; that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has therefore become an internal, ethnic conflict, and that Israel is now a dual society.
One difficulty in realizing that the present situation is virtually permanent is that there is no fixed definition of “annexation”. Indeed, no one is interested in finding one. Many believe that only the formal application of Israeli law to the territories—which has not yet taken place—would be a sure sign of annexation. But the prevailing laws that have been worked out by the Israelis show every sign of being permanent. Refraining from formally applying Israeli law is merely a smoke screen that serves the interests of both the advocates of annexation and their opponents. The advocates know that formal annexation would oblige them to deal with the question of the permanent status of the Palestinians; the opponents are interested in retaining the illusion of nonannexation since it allows them to cling to another illusion—that the options remain open. The indifferent majority couldn’t care less.
Defining the system in force in the territories is not, however, a theoretical matter. Misunderstanding the true significance of the situation could allow the development of a regime ominously similar to that of South Africa. The political realities of Palestine in the 1980s are reminiscent of what was called “Herrenvolk democracy.” In such a system the minority (sometimes even the majority) is disfranchised and deprived of basic civil rights; in contrast, the ruling group enjoys all the attributes of democracy. Such a system should not be confused with a dictatorship. On the contrary, the dominant ethnic group plays by all the rules of democratic freedom, but only that group can benefit from them. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, for example, without automatically granting voting rights to their residents. Up to now it has been possible to justify this situation as part of a “military occupation” that temporarily deprives the occupied citizens of their political rights until the signing of a peace treaty. Now the “temporary” occupation merely camouflages the consolidation of a hierarchy of superiors and inferiors.
In just two years a generation of Israelis and Palestinians will come of age who were born after 1967. Those young people have only known the present reality. This new reality makes the traditional division between hawks and doves over the issue of the partition or integrity of Palestine an anachronism. Now, faced with the prospect of ruling over more than a million Arabs who will not have full democratic rights, both sides must offer realistic answers to a different question: is Israel to be a Jewish state or a democratic one?
That question, which was hypothetical until now, has become an immediate dilemma. The doves must contend with the situation against which they warned, but which they were powerless to prevent. The hawks must contend with the reality for which they worked while ignoring its unbearably heavy cost. In grappling with the new situation, hawks and doves might discover, to their surprise, that they are in the same camp. Some doves support territorial compromise not because of their liberal views but because they are afraid of the Arabs and are xenophobic. And more than a few hawks are seriously worried that the Zionist dream will become a nightmare which will destroy the character of the state.
The dilemmas that Israel faces in the post-Begin era are not limited to the political question of who is going to replace him or to debates about new policies, but are far more fundamental. They pose the deep question whether the entire Zionist conception, which became fossilized somewhere between 1936 and 1948, can be made to fit the reality that has now emerged. It seems to me that the institutional, party, educational, and symbolic systems of Israel must all be reevaluated. A new equilibrium between nationalistic objectives and humanistic values must be found. Zionism cannot escape the fate of other great liberating philosophies. Its failure to adjust to changing realities may turn it into a dark force.
This essay can be read a eulogy for the humanistic tradition in Israel. It can also be read as a plea for a new beginning.
October 13, 1983
These estimates appear, for example, in the “Master Plan for Settlement of Samaria and Judea” prepared by the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, April 1983. Not published. ↩