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.
This derives from David Ben-Gurion’s diary of 1937; but he, of course, was talking about the “boundaries of Zionist aspirations.”
Seventy percent of the 700,000 Palestinians who are Israelis by citizenship and Arabs by nationality were born after the establishment of the state of Israel. They are the descendants of the 156,000 Palestinians who tried to cling to their homes and lands during the year 1948. I was born two years afterward, in a small village in the Galilee, far away from the village of Emmwas, in the safer north. I left that village twenty-five years ago, not as a refugee but as a disoriented villager, in pursuit of what my father had considered, surprisingly enough, the most effective Palestinian weapon of all—education. Whenever I go back to the village, I go back to something that exists only in my memory, and I keep reciting to myself an aphorism that is excessively used by the modern, identity-seeking writers in Israel. It is the famous opening lines of a poem written in 1923:
Man is nothing but a little plot of land
Man is nothing but the image of his native landscape.
The above lines were written by one Tchernichovsky, a fine Hebrew poet. Incidentally, the word “image” (“Man is nothing but the image of his native landscape”) is translated from the Hebrew “tavneet,” which could also mean “a baking mold, a baking pan.” So whenever I think of these lines I wonder which parts of me have, by any chance, stuck to the baking pan of my “native landscape.” Then I recall that I was only half-baked in that distant landscape, or “half made,” as V.S. Naipaul loftily describes third world societies.
My generation, if you will pardon the broad usage, was helped out of its past, of its landscape. We were lucky, in a way, because we could have been born, if we were born at all, within the landscapes of the refugee camps, among the people who were flung out of their respective landscapes, out of their respective, scorching baking molds. So to some extent, Israel’s Palestinians to this very day are still ashamed of having been privileged, of having been spared the fate of the wanderers. However, also to some extent, they feel that the Palestinian refugees are somehow closer to perfection, so to speak, more at peace with themselves, than they are. Nevertheless, I doubt if there is any Israeli Palestinian who would be willing to trade his affected, imperfect being for that of a Palestinian refugee. I have more than one reason for believing that the latter may not be inclined to exchange places with him either.
Thirty years ago, at the end of my first year of primary school, which happened to be the second anniversary of the founding of the public school in my village, we children were sent to bring laurel branches from the tree shading the village spring, to decorate an enormous Star of David that one of the teachers had built from six planks. Our Arab principal wished to make a good impression on the Jewish inspector of schools who had, apparently, invited himself to have a close look at the achievements of the young school. The huge Star of David, covered in laurel branches, was hung carelessly and loosely above the stage front, where, as it swayed, it frightened the children taking part in the program, and also frightened their proud parents in the first rows who thought it might topple down on them. (It didn’t.)
I sometimes wonder whether we were not seared by that star, whether it wasn’t a branding iron after all. A branding iron to all the Arabs who were left, for some reason or another, inside the borders of Israel, in the year of our Lord Balfour 1948, henceforth to be referred to as the Green Liners. For nineteen years, between 1948 and 1967, the Green Liners were living in a cultural quarantine. In a way, they were illicitly experiencing being Arabs, as they tried to adjust to the new Israeli order. After 1967 they were all of a sudden given the lung that had been amputated from their body twenty years before, and were thus exposed to an overdose of oxygen. Now they were no longer cut off from their fellow Palestinians. Since 1948 they had been exposed to the state, which had defined itself, from the very beginning, politically and culturally, as a Jewish state. This sudden exposure after 1948 knocked the ground—in the literal sense of the word too—from under their cultural confidence. Those were the days of the military administration and land expropriations.
My father in those days needed a special permit, like all the Arab fathers of his generation, to move around in his homeland in the Galilee, which had turned, overnight, into the homeland of the Jewish people. But no such permits were available for moving around among the different cultures. For once branded, you cannot move around freely. My father’s native landscapes were no longer open to him, and new books printed in Arabic did not make their way any longer to our shelves. The state of Israel put us in isolation.
When you brand someone, you are actually telling him two equally painful things. First, that he belongs to you, that he must abide by your laws, wander only in the regions that you had put under his disposal and keep away from the ones that are out of bounds. Second, you’re telling him that this searing of the skin is just a searing of the skin; you are not after his heart. When he, too, realizes that you do not seek his utter loyalty, then you both break even, confining yourselves to a position lacking any mutual anticipation. You both acquiesce in the rules of the game: Don’t call us and we won’t call you.
I have already discussed the astonishing fact that there are no Israelis in Israel (The New York Review, March 31) for the simple reason that the rubric “nationality” (in Hebrew, Leom) on Israeli identity cards reads either “Jew” or “Arab.” The term “Israeli nationality” does not exist in any Israeli official document, and it is used only by the Israeli Jews because Israel, as defined by its laws, is “the state of the Jewish people” and not the state of its citizens. In other words, the state of Israel, like the state of Palestine, has not been established yet. So “the morning after” has a double effect.
The Israeli Law of Return is still considered by nearly all Jewish Israelis to be the backbone, the raison d’être, of the Jewish state. It means, among other things, that the state of Israel cannot choose its citizens according to a particular immigration law, as is the case in most democratic countries of the Western world, but, rather, the citizen (i.e., the strictly Jewish citizen) is the one who makes the choice. If we exclude its application to those Jews in the Diaspora who are still persecuted because of what they are—an application that should not be excluded—the Israeli Law of Return is in effect a racist law. Twenty-five years, more or less, are enough time for anybody to make up anyone’s mind about where she or he wants to spend her or his life. So I would suggest—if anybody would bother to ask—that a Palestinian Law of Return be applied primarily to those Palestinians who do not hold citizenship of any country. Then it should, after twenty-five years or so, become an ordinary immigration law, allowing the state to choose its citizens, and not vice versa. In other words, the Palestinian state that I dream of is a state that after two or three decades of its establishment will cease to be the Palestinian state and become the state of Palestine, i.e., a state where anybody who wishes to have a Palestinian nationality will have the right to apply for it.
On the morning after the establishment of the Palestinian state I, as an Israeli citizen, will no longer accept the fact that Israel does not belong to its citizens. Likewise, I will not acccept the fact that my fellow Palestinians will regard me—as does Israel—as a potential citizen of their state, as one who is expected to “make aliyah” to Palestine. Since I am against the unlimited, absolute Law of Return in Israel, I decline to accept a possible, unlimited Palestinian law that will, after twenty-five years, grant more rights to, say, an American Palestinian than it will to an American Jewish professor who wishes to teach modern Hebrew literature at Beir Zeit University and make Ramallah his home—not because he wants to strike an old but still raw nerve, but because he simply wants to apply for Palestinian nationality.
Surprisingly, the left-wing intellectuals in Israel, when imagining the morning after, tend to insinuate that my place, as someone who considers himself to belong to the Palestinian people, should be in the Palestinian state and that I, too, “should make aliyah to Palestine. Of course if you want to stay, then you’re most welcome. But please bear in mind that this is and will always be a Jewish state.” Abraham B. Yehoshua for one told me two years ago, bluntly and publicly, that because he strongly supports the establishment of a Palestinian state beside Israel, with the old city of Jerusalem as its capital (and this is, one must admit, a very unusual statement from an Israeli Jew), he expects me, if I want to fulfill my national identity, to move to that state. This view unfortunately overlaps, to a certain extent, with that of the extreme right in Israel, with one substantial difference; when it comes from the right, racist camp, it means that the Palestinian state is already established in the kingdom of his majesty King Hussein of Jordan. Incidentally, when I discussed the question with a Palestinian friend of mine he told me that I would be most welcome in the new state provided I came along with the Galilee. “Otherwise,” he said, “who needs more refugees?”
The hidden premise in Yehoshua’s argument was that no Israeli Zionist would, on the morning after, accept that even after the establishment of the “Arab State” in Eretz-Israel/Palestine there would be Palestinians who would be brazen enough to ask the Jews for their share in a narrow strip of land called the state of Israel.
What should be done, then, on the morning after, with the 700,000 Palestinian Israelis? Who are they, and where should they go? (Seven hundred thousand is also the number of the Palestinian refugees who are euphemistically said to have left their homes during 1948. Chaim Weizmann, we should bear in mind, said of the departure of those refugees in 1948 that it was “a miraculous simplification of the problem.”)
Imagine, then, that the long conflict has come to an end, and the long-awaited Palestinian dream has come true, and there is a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And imagine that you are a Palestinian of the Green Line, an Israeli by citizenship, according to your passport, but an Arab national according to your identity card. And imagine that the state of Israel, which considers you an Arab by nationality, gives no sign of being able to carry out the promise made in its Declaration of Independence about equal social and political rights, since it continues to be strictly a Jewish state. As a nonconstitutional Jewish state it can only promise to give you social rights, such as the right to equal employment opportunity, only to find out, after applying for a certain job, that preference is given to those who served in the army. You will also have to make do with some limited quasipolitical rights such as the right to vote for the Knesset and even to be elected to it, while being unable to run for office: there has never been an Arab minister in the Israeli cabinet, nor will there be. But you will find yourself dependent for protection on the enlightened tolerance of Israeli society, which has been drifting recently more and more to the right. Israeli Arabs do not have any access to key positions in government departments, let alone to the sensitive places where their daily life is dealt with and decided upon. Every single detail of their lives, from cradle to grave, is virtually controlled by the Jewish ruling majority. Even Arab departments in every government office are run by Jewish managers. With all this in mind, what is your next step?
Or imagine that you are an American Palestinian with a US passport. You belong to the Palestinian people, but you are actually an American by nationality, and a well-off one for that matter (say, a professor at the University of Michigan)—will you practice the right given to you according to the Palestinian Law of Return and make aliyah to the Palestinian state? And if you don’t, how deep is your involvement in that state to be—if you were asked, some day, by your fellow Palestinians who consider you a potential citizen of their state, to be the Palestinian equivalent of Jonathan Pollard, would you accept?
Or imagine that you are a Palestinian refugee at Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, devastated by Israeli air raids and the ghastly whims of Lebanese politics. Would you be happy to trade places and pick up your shattered life at a “designer refugee camp” in the West Bank? Or would you rather stick to the good old desolate life, to the good old Lebanese civil war, instead of having to adjust to the new, vehement rules of, say, a Palestinian civil war in the West Bank? Because who, in the fickle Middle East, can assure you that the morning after will be a nice one; that the hangover will be mild; that a Palestinian identity card is the best of shelters amid the turmoils of Middle East politics?
Jerome M. Segal, a research scholar at the University of Maryland, who helped found the Jewish Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Peace some six years ago, published an article last April in the Palestinian Arabic daily Al-Quds (the original in English was published in The Washington Post of May 22), and also in the English version of the Palestinian daily Al-Fajr. Surprisingly enough, the article was approved by the otherwise very strict Israeli censorship, despite its proposal of an “alternative strategy” for attaining an independent Palestinian state, a strategy that “will overnight transform the political agenda, and place the two-state solution in center stage as the only peace option.” This “Radical Plan for Mideast Peace,” as the article was titled, apparently was partly responsible for the draft proposal for an independent Palestinian state, later to be known as “The Husseini Document,” which was seized by Israeli authorities at the end of July at the Arab Research Institute in Jerusalem, whose director is Feisal Husseini. The authorities leaked it to the press, hoping that it would be attacked, but they inadvertently made a pivotal event out of it.
The draft Palestinian declaration proclaimed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, according to the UN Partition Resolution of 1947, a state that will “live in peace side by side with the state of Israel” and whose provisional government would negotiate its final borders with the state of Israel. This declaration was to be announced in a press conference that would have been held in Jerusalem by Palestinian intellectuals and political activists, had not Husseini been arrested.
There are two major discrepancies, though, between Segal’s and Husseini’s propositions. Whereas Segal suggests that the PLO issue “a declaration of independence and statehood announcing the existence of the State of Palestine,” Husseini suggests that this declaration should be made by the unified leadership of the intifada, thus slightly pushing the PLO aside. As for the territory of this proposed state, it consists of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip according to Segal, and is indicated by the Partition boundaries according to Husseini; however, the boundaries of the Palestinian state would be the first item on the agenda of peace negotiations between the PLO and Israel.
In a report in The New York Times of August 8, some Palestinians who said they were in contact with the PLO headquarters in Tunis claimed that the Husseini document is actually five years old, and that
the document was prepared by the PLO’s research arm,…when Palestinian academics and economists met at PLO headquarters in Tunis at the invitation of the Palestine Research Center. Among them were a number of university professors of Palestinian origin from the United States.
Be that as it may I tried to read between the lines of the Husseini document, but it seemed that my worries were left unanswered: How does this would-be state relate to me as a Palestinian citizen of Israel? Am I supposed to start tuning up my Jewish guilt feelings about not making aliyah to Palestine?
Then the Segal article put me on the alert:
The state of Palestine will allow dual citizenship. Palestinians who are citizens of other states are encouraged to apply for and travel on Palestinian passports.
This means that the relation between Israel and the Diaspora is applied to the Palestinians. Not only does an American Palestinian with a green card have the same rights as a ragged, devastated refugee from Ein el-Hilweh in Lebanon, but I also am “encouraged” to keep my Israeli citizenship and apply for a Palestinian passport. In other words, the state of Palestine, like the state of Israel, will also maintain a situation in which citizenship does not coincide with nationality. In practical effect, this very likely means that the state of Israel will have every right to deprive me of my political rights inside its jurisdiction, arguing that I am able at any time to pursue my national fulfillment next door, since I am automatically wait-listed as a Palestinian citizen. Some Israeli officials from the Ministry of the Interior might argue, in the years to come, that since I have access to a Palestinian passport and, consequently, to a Palestinian nationality, this would annul my claims for an Israeli nationality, because it was meant solely for Jews in the first place, and now that I have an outlet why should I cling to the old deadlock between Jews and Arabs? Palestinians throughout the world, including the Arab states, will face the same reproach.
King Hussein, sly and shrewd as he is, has already foreseen the problem. In his July 31 announcement that he was severing his ties with the Palestinians on the West Bank, he made the following statement about his Palestinian subjects:
Our steps apply only to the occupied Palestinian territories and their inhabitants, but not to the Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin inside the Hashemite Kingdom. Needless to say that those citizens enjoy full civil rights, and, like any other citizens, they carry all the obligations, regardless of their ethnic affiliation (origin). These citizens form an integral part of the Jordanian state, to which they belong…[since] Jordan is not Palestine and the independent Palestinian state should be established in the occupied Palestinian land after its liberation, in God’s will, [that is] where Palestinian identity should be fulfilled.
On August 14 in Amman, the hot potato in the discussions between the PLO representatives and the senior Jordanian officials was the issue of the political loyalties of Palestinians living in Jordan. A PLO official, according to The Washington Post (August 14), indicated that sharp disagreements had emerged over the national identity of Palestinians who carry Jordanian citizenship. However, at the end of the discussions on August 15, the PLO seemed to accept the King’s view. “The [1.5 million] Palestinians who live in Jordan,” the joint statement said, “are Hashemite citizens with full rights and obligations. The Palestinian State established, they will have the right to live in it.”
Around the same time in Israel, M.K. Abdel Wahab Darawsheh, the founder of the new Democratic Arab Party, which is exclusively Arab, told a reporter of Israeli Radio (on August 18) that with “the Palestinian state established, there will be no problem of national identity for the Arab population in Israel.” Another member added: “My citizenship is Israeli but my nationality is Palestinian; I want to be a loyal Israeli citizen but at the same time I want to celebrate the establishment of the Palestinian state which could be my national home.” It was not clear though whether this Arab party had taken account in its platform, or in its plans, of Israel’s Basic Law (Knesset, Amendment Number 12) that the state of Israel is the state of the Jewish people.
Still, it is worth observing that as far as personal freedoms are concerned, the Palestinians who live in Israel proper, nonconstitutional as it is, are much better off, relatively speaking, than the Jordanian citizens, Palestinians or otherwise. For no matter how unequivocal a Bill of Rights could be the boundaries of freedom for a member of a minority will eventually depend on the enlightenment of the society in which he lives. Nevertheless, the Black experience in the US proves, if proof is needed, that a constitution, even when it is not meticulously observed, is the best of shelters for minorities. That is exactly why Israeli Palestinians are consumed with worries: they live in a nonconstitutional Jewish state whose enlightened Jewish communities are on the wane. At the very least they are in danger because they, as a “national minority,” are perceived by the majority as a perpetual threat to its political and cultural hegemony.
All the questions I have raised have never been faced, except by such people as Akiba Ernst Simon, who died last month in Jerusalem. He was one of the less prominent members of Brit Shalom, a group of wise Zionists that included, among others, Martin Buber and Judah L. Magnes. As early as the Twenties they believed that the only solution west of the Jordan was a binational state, in a federation that would include Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. “If and when this Federation comes into being,” Magnes wrote in September 1942, “the whole question of numbers in Palestine loses its present primary significance for the Arabs.” Magnes, who was called a “starry-eyed idealist” by the Jewish press at the time, tried in the early Forties to involve the American consulate in Jerusalem in his crusade, hoping that “America’s moral and political authority [would] be thrown into the balance.” Starry-eyed as he was, Magnes was one of the first to understand that
Palestine as a Jewish State means Jewish rule over the Arabs; Palestine as an Arab State means Arab rule over the Jews. Palestine as a binational state must therefore provide constitutionally for equal political rights and duties for both the Jewish and the Arab nations, regardless of majority and minority.
According to one of Simon’s obituaries, after backing the plan for a binational state in Palestine he supported the Palestinian demand for separate statehood while “in his pursuit of reconciliation, he worked for friendship between the youth of both nations” (The Independent, London, August 26). Whether his approach acquires any serious following in Israel will determine the country’s future.
Moshe Arad, the Israeli ambassador to the US, was on Evans & Novak (CNN) some seven months ago (Saturday, February 20). He was asked by Mr. Novak to comment on an article by an American Jew, Robert Zelnick, which had been published in The Washington Post three days earlier. “The heart of the problem,” Mr. Zelnick contended at the end of his rather fierce article, “is the greed, the extremism, the opportunism that have increasingly driven Israeli policy in the occupied territories.” The ambassador, managing to muffle his diplomatic anger, gave the familiar Israeli response: Who are these people, sitting in Washington in their air-conditioned offices, telling us what to do at the front line?
Both interviewers failed to remind the ambassador that Mr. Zelnick’s article was written in response to a previous publicly released letter that the president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, had sent to Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, inviting American Jews who are critical of Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “to offer a different approach.” The letter, apparently, didn’t make it clear that only proposals congenial to the government should be made—otherwise American Jews should confine themselves to their airconditioned offices.
This might explain, in the future, the conduct of the Palestinian ambassador to the United States, lashing out at a Palestinian Zelnick who has been living in Washington for all his life but has enough chutzpah to criticize the measures taken by the Palestinian government against, say, the remaining Jewish settlers who, according to the peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian state, preferred to become Palestinians by nationality and Jews by ethnic affiliation but now are demonstrating because they feel they are being treated as second-rate citizens. Or, better still, against a group of Palestinian dissidents who have incurred the authorities’ wrath by advocating the now long-forgotten political ideas of Judah L. Magnes, by calling for a federation with the state of Israel, and by denouncing the narrow ethnic system.
Despite what Ambassador Arad believes, the state of Israel is by law “the state of the Jewish people,” so Robert Zelnick was certainly entitled to criticize the Israeli government. Arthur Hertzberg (in the January–February 1988 issue of Present Tense) defined, rather brilliantly, this special relationship between the Jewish state and its long-distance sponsors:
The diaspora has long ago agreed that whether Israel is socialist or capitalist remains its own business. It has not agreed that reversing [the commitment to] partition is a matter for Israel alone to decide, at the very least because it was not Israel alone that accepted partition. That decision was made in 1947 by world Jewry.
If the Palestinian national movement follows the steps of Zionism, and there is more than one indication that it will, then in a generation’s time the situation of the Palestinian state will completely conform to that of the Jewish state, even in the minutest details of its magnificent failure. Except that Palestinian Zionism, in the spirit of “history repeating itself,” could be more tragic. An ethnic, nonpluralistic Palestinian state would not appeal to most of the Palestinians living in the western Diaspora. Having been exposed to many different national cultures and societies, they would not be attracted to yet another Middle Eastern state in which individual freedoms are stifled, political dissidence is suppressed, and cultural minorities are confined to narrow, isolated quarters. They will probably wait for better times. But then again, we Palestinians were always notorious for our bad timing.
After helping the old tongueless Arab set fire to woods, the Jewish student in Yehoshua’s story rescues the little Arab girl from the burning watchtower. That is something to reflect on.
September 29, 1988