Is the Zionist state legitimate? Is the “Palestinian state” legitimate? Most Arabs deny the legitimacy of Israel. The Arab argument grew more passionate earlier this year as it became clear that the PLO’s expressed willingness to negotiate with Israel was not leading to a Palestinian state, and many Palestinians concluded that Israel remained implacably opposed to Palestinian nationalism. When I spent some time this summer on the West Bank, even before Saddam Hussein became the hero of the Palestinians there, the young people with whom I talked were no longer listening to their parents, or even to the supposed leaders of the intifada.
The mood in Israel, too, was changing radically, in the direction of more intense nationalism. Even the left was adopting the language of fervent patriotism. The main reason for this change was the vast new immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. The Zionists in the Labor party and the parties further left refused to join the Palestinians in proposing limits to the new immigration, which the Palestinians feared was tipping the balance against the possibility of the Palestinian state. Most of the Russian Jews would have preferred to come to the United States and few were moving to the West Bank. But they were rapidly occupying scarce housing in Israel, and the cheaper, government-subsidized housing on the West Bank was becoming more attractive to other Israelis.
In the encounter between Israelis and Palestinians the divisive issue was still—as it had been throughout the history of the conflict since the 1870s—the question of Jewish immigration. One of Israel’s best-known left-wing polemicists, the journalist and politician Uri Avnery, who has been advocating a Palestinian state since 1948 when he was a soldier in Israel’s war of independence, wrote this summer that his mother had come to Israel from Russia and he could not now say to his cousins from Pinsk that they should not be allowed to come to Israel, too. If he were to agree to such a policy, Avnery wrote, he would be declaring his mother’s arrival to have been illegitimate and his own presence in Israel to be the result of usurpation. Throughout Israel the “right of return,” which guarantees that unrestricted numbers of Jews can settle in Israel, was again being asserted as a fundamental principle that all Zionists share.
This Zionist principle was not extended to the Palestinians. Even the most outspoken members of the Zionist left, such as Shulamit Aloni, the leader of the Civil Rights party, could not accept the possibility that a large number of Palestinians would return to Israel; and many were not at all sure that they would welcome a totally unrestricted return to the West Bank, though Aloni recently has been bold enough to ask: “Why should the Palestinians not hail Saddam Hussein? What have we, even in the ‘peace camp,’ done for them?” Aloni was responding, in an interview with Ha’aretz (August 27, 1990), to the news that Yossi Sarid, one of her most respected colleagues in the peace movement, had written in Ha’aretz ten days before that while he still favored Palestinian self-determination and the end of the occupation, he was angry and disappointed with the PLO for its support of a leader who “murdered tens of thousands of ‘regime opponents’ without blinking an eye.” “Let them call me,” Sarid had said, implying that they should do so after they get over their infatuation with Saddam Hussein. In her answer, Aloni said that a settlement with the Palestinians was not a reward for good conduct and that, moreover, the continuing war with the Palestinians was debasing Israel.
The deep issues in the conflict between Arabs and Jews are now being stripped of the customary obfuscation of liberal rhetoric on both sides. The Palestinians are asserting their right to an Arab state, and they continue to blame the Western powers, and particularly the United States, for helping to inflict Zionism upon them. The Israelis insist that only anti-Semites would dare question the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. The most liberal members of both camps agree that the Israelis and the Palestinians are facts of life, and that some kind of solution for their co-existence must be worked out. But most people in both camps think it is not morally necessary to accept this view.
The most extreme case for the Palestinians that I have seen recently is Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice by John Quigley, a professor of law at Ohio State University. The closest he comes to finding some validity for Zionism is when he acknowledges that the mandate to govern Palestine, which the League of Nations gave to Great Britain in 1922, contained an endorsement of a “Jewish national home in Palestine.” But that endorsement must be qualified, he argues, because the Zionist leader, Chaim Weizmann, failed at the Versailles Conference in 1919 to get the Allies to use the phrase “historical right” to describe the Jewish claim to settle in Palestine; the Allies had settled for a reference to the “historical connection” between Jews and Palestine.
It is not at all clear how much difference the distinction between these two phrases makes to Quigley, because he finds the Balfour Declaration as a whole, in the words he quotes from Quincy Wright, an international lawyer who visited Palestine in 1925, “a gross violation of the principle of self-determination, proclaimed by the Allies.” It was a gross violation, for Quigley, for Wright, and for most Arab Palestinians, because the people living in the territory designated as a Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration were never effectively consulted; if they had been, most of them could not have wanted a Jewish homeland to be established in Palestine. For Quigley, virtually everything that the Zionists did to establish their presence in Palestine was illegal.
Quigley attacks the validity of the UN Resolution 181, of 1947, which called for the partition of Palestine, and which the Zionists accepted and the Palestinians rejected, on the ground that a resolution by the General Assembly is only a recommendation; it has no enforceable authority. In his discussion of the 1948 Israel-Arab war Quigley seems uneasy. He thinks that the Palestinians, as the existing majority in 1948, had the right to defend themselves against a rebellious minority, the Jews, who were trying to create a state of their own. He suggests that Israel’s claim to any territory at all is open to question, and that the claim certainly does not refer to the territory gained in the war:
The duty to restore the preexisting situation requires Israel to repatriate the Arabs it dispossessed. This means allowing them to return to their original areas. Not only the Arabs who left Palestine but the substantial numbers who took refuge in 1948 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have a right to return.
Israel’s fight with the Arabs in 1948 was “a war of aggression,” for which not only the state, but even individual Israelis are responsible. Quigley writes as if he has no doubt that virtually all the Arabs who were left were expelled and dispossessed. He takes no account of the research and carefully balanced conclusion in Benny Morris’s recent study The Making of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 (1987), which shows that more than half of the Palestinians left their homes of their own accord, or in the hope of coming back with the invading Arab forces in victory.
The main problem with Quigley’s book is his selective use of international law. It is true that the Jews were a minority in Palestine in 1948, but were they, then and earlier, by law and by right, as he suggests, entirely subject to the will of the majority? Had they no ethnic or religious character, no history and no active community life of their own in Palestine, and no ties to other Jews, of which international law could and should take into account? The concept of “minority rights” is hardly mentioned in Quigley’s book, even though the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, have labored long to find ways of protecting minorities against unfriendly majorities.
In criticizing Israel, Quigley invokes the “new law” made at the Nuremburg trials that individuals are responsible for committing illegal acts that were ordered by national authority: individual Israelis, in his view, are personally guilty if they followed orders to expel Arabs. Thus “new law” made by the victors at Nuremburg is valid, but “new law” made by the League of Nations in the 1920s and the United Nations in the 1940s to grant Jews national rights and ultimately a state is invalid. (Nor does it matter that the Jewish settlers agreed in 1947 to live peacefully in a limited part of Palestine in areas where they were the majority, and that they were attacked by the surrounding nations and the Palestinians. I wonder whether Quigley would argue today that the national character of French Canadians can be defined, or even obliterated, by a simple plebiscite based on majority vote of the English Canadians.)
Quigley’s references to the Arab states in the region are also ahistorical. All of the Arab states, without exception, were creations of the arrangements after the First World War when the victors carved up the Ottoman Empire. Their boundaries are artificial. Their very existence as separate states and not as parts of the pan-Arab realm was imposed by the victorious Western powers, an accident of the diplomacy that created the modern Middle East, as David Fromkin points out in his important book, A Peace To End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914–1922. Quigley seems to believe that the West had no business deciding who was to rule in the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That was a matter for Arabs alone, he writes, and never mind the concerns, claims, and rights of all the other peoples—Jews, Kurds, and a variety of Christians—who were in the region. Quigley seems to think that states should be born by immaculate conception, and that outside powers have no right to protect or promote their interests—at least not when it comes to helping the Jews to a stake in Palestine. One problem with this approach to the conflict in Israel and Palestine is that it is far removed from reality, both past and present, and that it offers no basis for making peace.
Geoffrey Aronson’s Israel, Palestinians and the Intifada: Creating Facts on the West Bank, which was praised by both Israeli and Palestinian scholars when it appeared in 1987, has now been published in a revised edition with a concluding section on the intifada. Aronson, a fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, believes that Israel’s continuing policy of “creating facts” with settlements, while refusing to accept any political accommodations on the West Bank, made the intifada inevitable.
The young people in the streets and alleys of the West Bank and Gaza were…creating their own challenge to Israeli power.
Aronson quotes Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, who wrote that “young Palestinians make up their own minds independently of parents and community leaders.”
That the anger of the young was growing was apparent not only to Kuttab but to many other observers even earlier. In the summer of 1983 I wrote in Foreign Affairs that if there were no political solutions soon, the Palestinians on the West Bank would have no other choice but violence:
Precisely because the occupation of the West Bank makes settlement of the Palestinian question quite impossible, it leaves most activist and intransigent elements among Palestinian nationalists with only one option: to find ways of adding to the discomforts of the Israelis. The sight of prolonged disturbances will increasingly make Jewish eyes in the Diaspora smart, as many Israeli eyes are already tearing.
The young were being brought up under Israeli occupation; their political expectations, and their demands for rights, were shaped by the standards that apply to Israelis inside the Green Line and that the Israelis were refusing to apply to them.
It is one merit of Aronson’s book that it faces several uncomfortable truths. Aronson makes it clear that the intifada has failed. After using brutal methods to suppress many of the stone throwers, Israel now has learned to live with them, changing none of its principal policies in response to the uprising. Aronson also disproves a favorite claim of right-wing Israelis that there are a considerable number of Palestinians to be found on the West Bank who would cooperate with Israeli rule. There is, his book suggests, absolutely no escape from the judgment of Danny Rubenstein, who has for years reported on the West Bank for Davar, the daily paper of the Labor party, and now for Ha’aretz, that
the PLO is predominant in the territories because we rule there over a foreign nation and that nation wants to get rid of us. No contrivances will help.
Aronson is particularly acute on Zionist ideology and on the way the question of Israel’s own legitimacy is seen in Israel. He quotes a speech that Menachem Begin delivered in the Knesset on May 4, 1982, in a debate with Shimon Peres over whether a new Jewish settlement should be established at Elon Moreh on the outskirts of Nablus. Begin said:
Settlement—scores, almost one hundred years ago, in areas of the Land of Israel populated by Arabs and sometimes solely by Arabs—was it moral or immoral? Permitted or forbidden? One of the two. If it was moral, then settlement near Nablus is moral.
If, “God forbid, there is no morality to our settlement today,” he continued, “then we must ask forgiveness for what we did in the last hundred years.” Aronson writes, “Begin struck a chord which still resonates throughout Israel: an ideological and moral challenge to which no effective Israeli political or intellectual response has been made.”
I believe Aronson is right. As the longstanding enemy of Begin, Uri Avnery said this summer, Zionism assumes that Jews have a moral right to settle in Palestine, and that only prudence—which means, from the Palestinian point of view, the amount of counterforce that can be mustered to contain the Jewish state—can ultimately determine the limits to which Jews will go. Therefore, in Aronson’s view, a Palestinian state will become possible only if regional or international political developments alter the balance of power so that Israel will no longer be able to maintain the status quo.
The most optimistic of recent books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an account by two American journalists, Janet and John Wallach, of a number of extended conversations with Yasser Arafat, Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder. (John Wallach is the foreign editor of the Hearst publications.) The book is encouraging not because Arafat emerges from it as particularly likable: the authors do not repay Arafat the favor of the time he spent with them by describing a man of admirable character, the Mahatma Gandhi or the Nelson Mandela of the Palestinian cause. In their account he can be petty and mean to members of his entourage, and sometimes resorts to lies and betrayal—but he emerges as indispensable to holding the Palestinian factions together. He has shown himself to be a survivor, not only in the politics of his own group, but, far more important, as a leader who could rebuild, after successive defeats, the presence and prestige of the PLO on the international scene. Even now, when he has allied himself with Iraq and is thus in particularly bad odor, both in the United States and in Israel, he remains a pragmatist, shifting positions from day to day, and he is still the Palestinian leader with whom peace might be made, if it ever can be made.
In his conversations with the Wallachs, Arafat dissociates himself, from Palestinian terrorist acts such as the seizure of the Achille Lauro in 1985 with its four hundred passengers, and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew in a wheelchair. Arafat contends that he saved the lives of the rest of the passengers through his influence with the terrorists controlled by Abul Abbas. But State Department and Israeli intelligence sources, who were monitoring PLO communications, told the Wallachs that the raid could not have been conceived and conducted without Arafat’s knowledge. (It can, of course, be argued by Arafat’s defenders that these sources have an interest in making Arafat look more like a terrorist.) It is no doubt true, as the Wallachs suggest, that Arafat often tries to have things both ways. From the past record of his statements on terrorism, I would not be surprised if Arafat did nothing to discourage Abul Abbas from seizing the Achille Lauro, while assuring Western diplomats that he deplored the Palestinian hotheads who were endangering innocent lives.
Arafat’s capacity for never quite abandoning some connection with his enemies, or definitively taking sides, helps to explain his decision in December 1988 to recognize the existence of Israel, thus paying the American entrance fee for direct and open dialogue with the United States. The Wallachs correct a widely held assumption that the American decision of December 1988 to deal with the PLO was somehow inspired by George Bush and James Baker, who wanted to prepare the way for a new Middle East policy when they took office. The Wallachs describe a decade of back-room conversations with the PLO, conducted by a succession of American intermediaries sent by several administrations, beginning with Jimmy Carter’s. American officials, they convincingly argue, consistently offered the PLO roughly the same bargain: that it would be recognized in some form by the US if it accepted Israel’s right to exist. During the late 1970s and 1980s, Arafat was willing to say these words, but only if the United States would openly affirm the right of self-determination for the Palestinians. In April 1982 the two sides were actually very close to agreement, but the Americans drew back.
Arafat told the Wallachs that the State Department was double-dealing in 1982, for while it sent John Mroz (the vice-president of a private group, the International Peace Academy) to offer “me [Arafat] a deal, Haig was making plans with Sharon to invade Beirut.” Alexander Haig has repeatedly denied that he ever encouraged the Israelis to go ahead with the invasion of Lebanon. I was then living in Israel, and was in touch with American and Israeli officials in Jerusalem, and I was told that the Americans prevented Begin and Sharon from moving on Lebanon at least twice that spring. But in early June 1982 the Israelis used the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov, as an excuse to invade Lebanon. (Argov himself later deplored the political use that was made of the attack on his life.)
What is known so far suggests that in the spring of 1982 the Reagan government was not conspiring to start a war in Lebanon. It did not, however, want a public confrontation with Begin and Sharon over an American peace initiative that would have given the PLO diplomatic status, entitling it to negotiate with Israel. And so the Americans backed away from the deal they had been offering Arafat.
The most revealing pages in the Wallachs’ book are their account of the negotiations that led to Arafat’s finally pronouncing the “magic words.” The Swedish foreign minister, Sten Anderson, who had longstanding relations with the PLO, began acting as an intermediary in April 1988, after a lunch with George Shultz at which Shultz, Andersson believed, tacitly consented to taking part in a negotiation. Andersson then got in touch with ranking officials of the PLO, drafting and redrafting statements of possible PLO positions, which he then sent to the State Department. Through an old friend in Los Angeles, Stanley Sheinbaum, he was put in touch with Rita Hauser and Drora Kass of the American branch of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, an organization based in Tel-Aviv. After months of secret talks, an ad hoc group of five American Jews, including Sheinbaum and Rita Hauser, met with a PLO delegation, headed by Arafat himself, in early December in Stockholm. This was to be the occasion when Arafat would publicly announce that he accepted the State Department’s conditions, which included unconditional recognition of the existence of Israel, the acceptance of UN resolutions 242 and 338, and the renunciation of terrorism.
The Wallachs report that Shultz had sent an unsigned letter to Stockholm containing the American terms, which was given to the PLO by Swedish intermediaries without the knowledge of the delegation of American Jews. It took Arafat an extra week to persuade his own executive council to accept Shultz’s conditions, and then to say the precise words specified by Shultz in a press conference in Geneva on December 14, 1988. Shultz immediately responded in Washington that a dialogue could be opened. Arafat had achieved a major goal, to be accepted as a legitimate negotiator by the Americans, but he told the Wallachs he felt that he had achieved even more; he interprets the secret exchanges with the Americans as evidence that they recognized the right of the Palestinians to a Palestinian state.
Arafat was challenged repeatedly by journalists and others with the words of the Palestinian national covenant, which says that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinian Arabs and that the PLO’s purpose is to regain all the land. Those words, he said, were obsolete, superseded by events. But he made it equally clear that he could not get a formal change in the covenant passed in the deliberative bodies of the PLO. According to the more sophisticated of his aides, even the most liberal Jews believed that once all the land had belonged to their ancestors: the Palestinians were essentially making the same claim. Therefore, if the Jews were willing to divide the land with the Palestinians for pragmatic reasons, without changing their national ideology, why should the Palestinians be expected to do more? Arafat might deliver a political settlement, but he could not make the Palestinians cease longing for the days before 1948, when so many of them lived in Jaffa and Haifa.
How long will Arafat remain out of favor with the United States and its current allies in the Middle East? If their support of the American position helps to resolve the current crisis, the Arab nations opposing Saddam Hussein may demand that Washington improve their standing in the Arab world by bringing about Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians. Bush promised Gorbachev, at their meeting in Helsinki on September 9, a major role in arranging a regional settlement, which clearly includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If an international conference does indeed come to pass under such auspices, who but the PLO, with Arafat at its head, will represent the Palestinians? It is not at all clear that David Levy, Israel’s new foreign minister, who is described as more “flexible” than Shamir, could get the Likud government to attend such an international conference. But Arafat is supple enough to be siding with Iraq while also saying that he wants to be a “mediator.” PLO spokesmen who are close to him, such as Bassam Abu Sharif, insist that the PLO does not support the invasion. Arafat is, as usual, keeping a door open through which he can walk when the time comes.
The Wallachs, in a last-minute postscript to their book reflecting conversations that they held with Arafat in Baghdad and on his plane, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, are more pessimistic. They now seem to believe that Arafat has shown himself to be untrustworthy to too many parties in the conflict and that he will be a casualty of it. Perhaps he will, but the Wallachs do not suggest who can replace him. Whoever might arise to lead the Palestinians will still have to find a way of achieving a state with the assent of the major powers, and especially of the United States, and with the acquiescence of many of the contending forces in the Arab world. The only man who might bring about such an outcome remains Arafat.
The Israeli left has long maintained uneasy ties to the PLO. General Yehoshafat Harkabi, an expert on Arab affairs, is one of the most respected Israeli partisans of a two-state solution. In an essay entitled “Reflections on Recent Changes in the Conflict,” in The Palestinians: New Directions, a collection edited by Michael C. Hudson, he draws on his record as a strong advocate of a Palestinian state to demand that the Palestinians stop insisting that Israel “was born in sin, and therefore its existence has been congenitally flawed.”1 Harkabi complains that the “recent acceptance by Palestinians of Israel’s right to exist…only implies recognition that Israel is…an accomplished fact, and that they have to resign themselves to its existence.” A close student of the Arabic press, Harkabi complains that Arab moderates tell their constituencies that they accepted Israel’s existence only because of its “international legitimacy,” that is, because of Western backing. Harkabi recognizes that he cannot “expect Arabs and Palestinians to become Zionist but only to show some empathy toward Jews advocating Zionism.” He is equally firm with the Jews, who “should manifest empathy toward Palestinian suffering in the conflict,” knowing that expressions of understanding by Israeli leaders for the situation of the Palestinians are extremely rare. Harkabi is left only with the hope that “the solution to this problem will be achieved pragmatically, with the passage of time, as bad memories and grievances are consigned to oblivion.” He, too, longs for “legitimacy,” for Arab agreement that Israel has a moral right to exist.
David McDowall, an Oxford-trained specialist on the Middle East, says in his introduction to Palestine and Israel: The Uprising and Beyond, “I should declare my own position, which is more sympathetic to the Palestinian view than to the Zionist one.” Nevertheless, he gives an accurate and fair account of the conflict. The most challenging pages of his book discuss the possibility of a substantial return of Palestinian refugees to Palestine. Without at least some partial solution for the future of the three million stateless Palestinians who are the PLO’s primary constituency, McDowall writes, there can be little chance of peace. But he also argues, contrary to the claims of some Palestinians, that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will have neither the room nor the economic capacity to absorb hundreds of thousands of returning Palestinians.
He does not, however, draw the conclusion that, as most Israelis fear, a Palestinian state is likely to be forced by its own constituencies—not only in the occupied territories but in Lebanon, Jordan, and the Gulf states—to be irredentist, and to want to destroy Israel. McDowall implies that a Palestinian state, once established, would receive both Arab and international support, and could work out a modus vivendi with the Palestinian diaspora. He says little of its future relations with Israel, while suggesting that the Israelis must allow a Palestinian state to be established and that they might even turn over to it part of the territory between Beersheba and the Jordanian border.
But he despairs that such a state will come into existence. He foresees unending darkness and tragedy, in which the two sides live in a continual state of tension, interrupted from time to time by eruptions of violence, and with no peaceful solution emerging. He can only express the hope that there will be “understanding and forgiveness” on both sides in the Middle East, that the United States will be more evenhanded in pressing both sides to make compromises, and that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will have the courage to lead their communities toward accommodation. For McDowall, too, as for most other knowledgeable analysts of the Middle East, ideology, whether Zionist or Palestinian, stands in the way of peace; and only pragmatic accommodation on both sides can bring it about. But he quotes Meir Kahane to show how slender such hope is: “This country was created as a Jewish State and a Jewish State means Jewish sovereignty…. That’s why when we speak of giving the Arabs equal rights, that’s a lie, a fraud.”
Kahane is the subject of a biography by the journalist Robert I. Friedman, The False Prophet: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member. Friedman’s account of Kahane’s personal life and his political record is devastating. In Palestine, Kahane’s father had been a member of the right-wing nationalist group, the Revisionist party. Kahane himself was trained in a Talmudic academy in Brooklyn and was ordained an Orthodox rabbi there, but soon left his congregation for a strange career as a demogogue and an underground man.
We learn from Friedman’s impressive research that Kahane led a double or triple life. He wrote polemics for the Jewish press, often attacking blacks as enemies of the Jews, as well as sports articles for a Brooklyn daily paper, and he appeared to be the pious father of four children. He was also a secret FBI informant on leftist groups, and a philanderer who posed as the Presbyterian “Michael King”; one of his lovers committed suicide when he rejected her. Friedman also shows that after Kahane organized the Jewish Defense League in 1968, both the Mossad and Shamir, who had recently left the Mossad, knew about the JDL’s campaign of harassment against Soviet consulates and other Soviet targets.
Kahane left for Israel in 1971 after being indicted for manufacturing weapons, perhaps for use against Soviet consulates. When some years later, on October 11, 1985, Alex Odeh, an official of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was murdered by a bomb, and a string of other bombings occurred, it was suspected that they had been carried out by the JDL, of which Kahane was still the leader. Friedman reports that
the FBI is said to have one informant whose testimony can link Kahane to planning sessions that took place before two of the 1985 bombings, including the murder of Alex Odeh. The informant, however, refuses to testify publicly.
The accuracy of Friedman’s account, which describes Kahane’s lack of personal honor and his sponsorship of thuggery, has not been challenged. The larger question, however, is how to assess Kahane’s political significance, as a leader of a highly visible faction of the Jews both in the United States and in Israel. In America to this day, as Friedman shows, Kahane supporters have included some respectable figures in the Jewish community. An uncle of Kahane’s, Isaac Trainin, who was a high official of the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in the 1970s, told Friedman, that “at least twelve of the twenty or thirty people sitting on the dais [at a dinner of the Federation]…had given Kahane $10,000 or more. They would curse him in public, but give him money under the table.”
Dov Hikind, now an assemblyman from New York’s 48th district and a former leader of the JDL, told Friedman that the JDL had received much help from establishment leaders, who would vehemently deny it today. Hikind himself remains a supporter of Kahane. He told Friedman in May 1989 that “Kahane has a much greater following than anyone in the United States will admit.” Hikind’s claim needs to be qualified. The true believers are a small minority. The more respectable among the right wing think that having a few bullies around is useful to their own objectives, and would help the campaign for “the undivided land of Israel.”
Is Kahane a major figure in Israel? Is he, as Friedman says at the end of his book, the direct heir “of the broad stream of the Orthodox Zionist Right”? Friedman himself supplies the evidence and the arguments to balance this conclusion. Kahane moved to Israel in 1971, in part to escape being tried for several offenses in the United States. On arrival, he refused to join the leadership of any of the right-wing parties, preferring to stay “in business for himself.” He organized an Israeli JDL, which began its public career by threatening Arabs with death if they did not leave Israel. This has been his obsessive theme. In an interview with Friedman in 1979 he said that he would be willing to deport Arabs in cattle cars in the middle of the night.
In 1977 Kahane ran for the Knesset and was badly beaten. He lost again, but in July 1984 he finally won a seat in the Knesset. His support, Friedman tells us, came not from Gush Emunim, the principal representative of the West Bank settlers (he got only 5 percent of their votes), but, as Friedman puts it, from “Israeli’s poor, undereducated, and underemployed Sephardim.”
There is truth in both of Friedman’s seemingly contradictory assessments of Kahane’s importance. The Jewish right wing, religious and secular, both in the United States and in Israel, is more divided than Friedman suggests.2 A current best-selling book in Israel, Rabbi Shach, is an account by the journalist Moshe Horowitz of the ninety-three-year-old leader of a major wing of the ultra Orthodox movement in Israel. Shach believes that the occupied territories are not worth the lives of the Jews who are endangered in the West Bank and Gaza; for the sake of peace with the Palestinians, Shach would accept return of the territories to Palestinian control. He is vehemently opposed to the notion of Kahane and other ultra-Orthodox, both in Israel and abroad—including the followers of the Brooklyn rebbe of Lubavitch—that the apocalypse is near, and that the settlements must be protected and the Arabs expelled in order to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. Even among those who expect the Messiah to come soon, no one imagines that Kahane will be found in his immediate entourage. Friedman acknowledges that Kach, Kahane’s political party, “is a one-man show and it will die with Kahane.”
Kahane is just as unlikely to take over the secular parties of the right to any significant degree. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founding father of the Likud, was a thoroughly secular figure who would have nothing whatever to do with religion. For that matter, there was not a single religious believer among the most ultranationalist group of all, the “Stern Gang” of the late 1930s and the 1940s, which was founded by Abraham Stern, and to which the young Yitzhak Shamir belonged. Joseph Heller, professor at the Hebrew University, in the first detailed analytical history of this group, Lehi: Ideology and Politics, 1940–1949 (it is in Hebrew), describes how the Stern Gang took as its model Jozef Pilsudski of Poland, a populist Catholic authoritarian with a socialist past, who was willing to ally himself with Japan and Germany in order to advance the Polish cause. The Stern Gang thought of itself, as Kahane does now, as the cutting edge of ultranationalism; but nobody in the group respected the political authority of rabbis.
Even today, the alliance between the ultra-Orthodox and the Likud is a matter of political convenience: neither Shamir nor Sharon is ever in a synagogue unless he has to make a speech. They have succeeded in persuading at least half of Israeli voters, and perhaps more, that Jews must have all the land up to the Jordan River, and they use the very arguments that Begin used in his speech defending the new settlement in Elon Moreh. Like Begin, they say that Zionism requires the Israelis to create an impregnable, fortified position for themselves in the sea of Arabs, and that it is no less virtuous to create a Jewish majority on the West Bank during the coming decades than it was to do exactly that in Haifa and Jaffa–Tel-Aviv during the 1920s and 1930s.
Among such Israelis, the “transfer” of the Arabs is now supported in polls by some 40 percent. And yet I do not believe that these people subscribe to Kahane’s idea of midnight expulsions of Palestinians. The numbers favoring “transfer” have risen dramatically during the intifada, but few believe that such action is possible. The changing opinion is largely an expression of frustration. In any event, were Israel to embark on a policy of “transfer,” the leader in charge would be someone who is regarded by its society as indigenous—former generals such as Ariel Sharon, Rechavam Ze’evi, or Rafael Eitan—and not someone like Kahane. The right-wing parties took the lead in excluding Kahane as a “racist” from the last Knesset election. In their mind, he is from the gutter, or at best an obnoxious import from America, and a competitor from the fringe whom they want to silence.
Nonetheless, Friedman is right to emphasize that Kahane poses a threat to Israel’s democracy. His appeal to circles beyond his immediate supporters in Israel, and in America, is a warning of what might happen if the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land continues and becomes even more embittered. This is Friedman’s important theme. It is not that much of Israel is already following Kahane, but that to describe Kahane as Friedman has is to ring “the alarm bell in the night.” If turmoil increases in the Holy Land, it is not entirely absurd to suggest that Kahane could become the Goebbels, or at least the man who prepares the way for the Goebbels, of an even angrier and more frustrated Israel. Friedman’s book is an impassioned warning that Jews, who like to think of themselves as heirs of the prophets, must take heed not to be debased by zealots.
One of the saddest aspects of the conflict is that only the maximalists, on both sides, have clear-cut positions. The Palestinians believe that the Jews should not be in Palestine at all and they are willing, at best, to acknowledge the unfortunate fact of their being there. The Likud believes that it has already conceded the land east of the Jordan to the Arabs and that western Palestine is the least amount of territory to which the Jewish nation is entitled.
The Zionist moderates in the Labor party have not been able to define how much less than all of the undivided land of Israel is enough—and on what basis. The critics of the moderate Zionists, both within and outside the Jewish camp, remember very well that while Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion accepted the principle of partition, each, when he was at the height of his powers, believed that the Jews should obtain land by stages until, or so they undoubtedly if privately hoped, Israel would possess all of Palestine. In The Arab Question and the Jewish Problem, published in Hebrew in 1985, Joseph Gorni reached the somber conclusion that the Labor party, which was the main actor in creating the Jewish settlement in Palestine, became “more than any of the other parties…the primary incarnation of the Zionist danger,” in the mind and experience of the Arabs.
What principles define the policy toward Arabs of “moderate Israelis”—and the policy toward Jews of “moderate Arabs”? Almost all the writers whose work I have discussed here agree that neither side has worked out a satisfactory theory to reconcile the two nationalisms with the imperatives of peaceful coexistence. The only theoretical approach that I can suggest to help resolve the conflict is that of affirmative action on behalf of minorities. Zionism began by asking for, and getting, what amounts to affirmative action to help a landless and long-persecuted people return to its ancient homeland. The Palestinians are now demanding special consideration for, and redress of, their own grievances; they are saying that they refuse to accept the fate that a cruel world usually accords to losers in territorial wars. In any case of affirmative action, there is no clear limit that defines how much is enough. The degree and kind of reparations that the oppressed receive is determined by a combination of the power they can bring to bear and the moral discomfort they cause.
Affirmative action was a policy born in American domestic politics, and I do not want to appear to suggest that it can be applied mechanically to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians maintain that they owe the Jews of the world no reparation for the injuries done to them by Western anti-Semites, or even for those that Jews suffered in Muslim countries. In reply it can, of course, be argued that those who pay the price for affirmative action are usually not those who inflicted the injuries. In the second place, affirmative action usually implies that an existing majority provides redress for a minority. In the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, each group is, in its own mind, an aggrieved minority. But the essence of affirmative action is that hard cases require complicated answers, which can be devised more easily in untidy practice than in neat theories.
One of the famous diplomatic incidents in the Israel-Arab conflict occurred in 1948 when Warren Austin, the American ambassador to the United Nations, exasperated by all the intransigents, cried out: “Why can’t you Jews and Arabs practice Christian charity?” Most of the writers whose books I have discussed advocate a charitable pragmatism that reflects, I believe, the dominant faith of Western intellectuals—but the two camps are prevented from such accommodation by the strength and passion of their ideologues. Nevertheless, hope will not die, even these days when nationalisms and intransigence are in the ascendant in both camps. The moderate pragmatists have not all run for cover. A few months ago, at the very height of the intifada, Bishop Michel Sabbah, the first Arab to be appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, published a pastoral letter in which he asked for a two-state solution: he took a stand against Palestinians who would deny the Jews a homeland. In mid-August, soon after the crisis in the Gulf began, a group of Israeli and Palestinian moderates met together in Jerusalem and restated their view that Israelis and Palestinians should accept each other’s national existence and national equality.
It would perhaps help if everybody would stop thinking about a definitive settlement. The partition of Palestine, when it was first proposed as a solution in 1937 by Great Britain’s Peel Commission, was not conceived as permanent. The commission imagined that Jews and Arabs needed a period of separation leading, or so it was hoped, toward a subsequent stage when they had learned to accept each other and might then actually live together. This hope was very much in the minds of many who took part in the United Nations decision of November 1947 to create two states. It is now largely forgotten that the two states were expected, from their very beginning, to function as one economic entity. The principle of partition would be easier to carry out now if the arrangements were made subject to regular review by Israel and Palestine after periods of five or ten years.
This suggestion is not identical with the “confidence building” delay of three to five years, which was built into the Camp David Accords in 1979. That proviso was designated as the period between preliminary agreements on West Bank autonomy and negotiations for a permanent solution. What is being suggested here is a two-state solution, subject to periodic rethinking and renegotiation. Such an untidy and even unprecedented arrangement might encourage a situation in which the ideologies on both sides would gradually become obsolete. More than ever before, one must remember the hope of the radical Zionist movement Hashomer Hatzair, in its beginnings, and of Martin Buber and Judah Leon Magnes, that some form of binationalism will emerge in the region.
I have little hope that progress will be made through any of the existing processes. Jews and Arabs are not likely to be soon negotiating across the same table. The Americans, under pressure from the Israeli lobby in the US, were always reluctant to force them to do so, and especially now, because the PLO has sided with Saddam Hussein. I do not believe that counterpressure from America’s allies will be sufficiently intense to move Washington to do more than to try to cajole Israel’s Likud government. Bush and Gorbachev, in agreeing in Helsinki on September 9, 1990, that they would cooperate to push their clients toward a solution of the Israel-Arab conflict, seemed to be reviving the idea of an international conference of all interested parties. But both Yitzhak Shamir and any of his likely successors will probably resist attending such a meeting. They would have to be very much more frightened than they are at present. The threat that is usually invoked in Israel is of a serious and punitive reduction in American aid, but this threat is less credible now than ever before. Would the Americans really weaken the military power of their most stable ally in the region? On the contrary, Washington is now adding to Israel’s arsenal to balance the arms the US is lavishing on its Arab allies.
Nonetheless, the tide of another, much more serious fear is rising in Israel. Saddam Hussein will not prevail, and the Arab world will remain divided between the powers who want to maintain the status quo and insurgents with very different goals, including Iraq, Libya, and the PLO. Israeli society, however, is increasingly troubled by the knowledge that the deepest tide running in the region is the anger of the have-nots. Even after Saddam Hussein is gone, America, Israel, and the Arab national leaders will have to reckon with tens of millions of Arabs who will be increasingly hungry, and increasingly angry. The Palestinians are a special case, as are the Jews, but both are part of a larger problem. Resources will have to be redistributed in the Middle East, or more and more of the hungry and resentful will try to arm themselves with the terrible weapons that Saddam Hussein is now brandishing. No matter how the crisis ends, Israel will be in ever greater danger in a region of growing hate. It can afford to be made the scape-goat of the discontent of the Arab poor even less than it can survive forever with the anger of the Palestinians. The real threat to Israel is no longer the PLO; it is the pan-Arabism of the poor. Israel’s very life depends on making peace with the Palestinians, and thus opening the door to the Arab world as a whole. For its own sake, and for the sake of the world, Israel must soon join in helping the people in the entire region to achieve more decent lives.
October 25, 1990
The Palestinians: New Directions (Center for Contemporary Arab Studies/Georgetown University Press, 1990), pp. 127–137. ↩
A new and important book, published in Hebrew, by Yosef Salmon, Religion and Zionism: First Encounters, makes it clear that the founders of religious Zionism were not apocalyptic believers who wanted the “end of days.” In Salmon’s account “they put off a personal messiah to later history which no longer depends on human effort.” Even today, when many of their heirs have become hard liners, these moderate views still have adherents among religious Zionists. ↩