Defining Israel

On Monday an article appeared in the New York Times by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley entitled “The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything“.

The article expresses some highly tendentious ideas, especially that Hamas in some sense might ‘accept’ a Palestinian state which did not stretch from the river to the sea as anything other than a temporary expedient, and the (unspoken, because it is demonstrably false) suggestion that this implies that Hamas’ goals do not include genocide. It also appears to take for granted that the Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’ were “dispossessed” and have “rights” [to live in Israel] which ought to be “respected”.

But — and maybe this is a case of extremist positions wrapping around and meeting — much of what they say makes sense, with some minor modifications. For example,

Few Israelis quarrel with the insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. It encapsulates their profound aspiration, rooted in the history of the Jewish people, for a fully accepted presence in the land of their forebears — for an end to Arab questioning of Israel’s legitimacy, the specter of the Palestinian refugees’ return and any irredentist sentiment among Israel’s Arab citizens.

Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of that demand, as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal. [my emphasis]

Indeed. I lean toward ‘criminal’ when I consider the multiple rejections of any sharing of the land which took place over the last hundred years or so, a land which easily could have supported Jews and Arabs had the Arabs not always turned toward murder and violence in their racist obsession to have it free of Jews.

It’s also instructive to note how the Palestinians — and assuredly Agha and Malley — are so certain that it was the Zionist enterprise that “brought about their tragedy”, and not a combination of stupid decisions, really bad leadership, and reliance on Arab nations who don’t care about Palestinians any more than they do for Jews.

They continue,

[Palestinian] firmness on the principle of their right of return flows from the belief that the 1948 war led to unjust displacement and that, whether or not refugees choose or are allowed to return to their homes, they can never be deprived of that natural right.

I’m grateful to the authors for such a clear presentation. They are of course only reporting the Palestinian position, not necessarily endorsing it. But just in case anyone is thinking “that sounds reasonable enough”, let me point out that

  • The Palestinian Arabs started the war in 1947 and they were joined by their Arab allies in 1948.
  • Displacement of populations is normal in war, and much of it was not due to the actions of the Zionists.
  • There is no ‘natural right’ for repatriation of refugees, and certainly not for their descendants.

I also can’t disagree when they write,

To be sustainable, [a solution] will need to grapple with matters left over since 1948. The first step will be to recognize that in the hearts and minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamental question is not about the details of an apparently practical solution. It is an existential struggle between two worldviews.

Two worldviews:

One is based in historical fact and supported by any rational reading of international law under which Israel is a sovereign state, a member of the UN which ought not to be required to choose between constant military and terrorist pressure from Arabs — ‘Palestinians’ and others — until it agrees to be colonized by some 4.5 million hostiles who claim an imaginary right;

and the other is based in myth and fantasy, maintained by cynical Arab leaders, nurtured by big-power conflict and oil politics, evolving into a philosophy in which death is more important than life; a worldview that has been directly responsible — as the Zionists are not — for a huge amount of misery among Palestinian Arabs since 1948.

Agha and Malley conclude thus:

For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.

The Arabs have indeed never gotten past this. For a hundred years they have violently rejected the idea that there might be a Jewish state of any size anywhere in Palestine, far more even than they were bothered by the rule of the Ottoman Turks.

Malley and Agha, too, seem to find it problematic, although they do not ask whether the ‘Palestinian people’ — a tenuous concept — have a right to a ‘Palestinian State’, in which Jews may not live, nor do they question the ‘rights’ of the ‘refugees’ — two more tenuous concepts.

There is only the question of whether the Jewish people may have a state, and if they live in one, can it be defined as belonging to them. Of course I believe that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, the place where this people — recognized as such for thousands of years –  can exercise their right of self-determination.

We know what Agha and Malley’s answer is.

Rob Malley is a member of the Advisory Council of ‘J Street’, an organization which declares itself “pro-Israel”.

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One Response to “Defining Israel”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Agha and Malley were a bit more sympathetic to the Israeli case than they have been in the past. But what is the real implication of their piece, besides the idea that there will be no two- state solution?
    Is it the famed one – state solution advocated by so many who want Israel to disappear as Arabs demographically swamp it?
    The interesting element of their piece was precisely that it came to a dead- end.
    No answer. No peace.
    So perhaps the best which can be hoped for is something like which we seem to have for the moment. No agreement, no end to the conflict but no major violence either.
    Most would maintain that this is not viable in the long term. But perhaps it is the best that can be hoped for. And perhaps the peace- makers should aim at some ‘formalization’ of this rather than an agreed upon settlement of the conflict.