When Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Palestinians would never accept Israel as a Jewish state
, it was clear that we had reached the core issue, the issue that should have been negotiated before all others, and before any Israeli concessions had been made.
The issue was underlined when Erekat repeated the refusal
, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad
A state of the Jewish people, which is clearly what Ehud Olmert
meant, a national home for the Jewish people secured in international law, has been the goal of the Zionist movement for 110 years, since the first congress of the Zionist Movement
in Basle. It has been the goal of the Jew
ish people since the catastrophic failure of the Bar Kochba revolt. One would think that everyone would treat Erekat's declaration as absurd.
But Erekat did well for himself. He threw a few hand grenades into our Jewish tent, with the pins pulled. The first grenade started an implicit debate on the subject of "What do you mean by a Jewish state?" Half a dozen "analysts" showed that they are as totally clueless about the meaning of Zionism as Erekat pretended to be. They took his argument, that there cannot be a state of a religion, at face value, and proceeded to point out carefully that the Muslims have religious states, Britain has an established church and so on.
But really, who cares what others do? What matters is what we do, and whether it is right or not. The Muslims can have as many Islamic states as they want, where wife beating is legal and you can get tips on how to do it, and where adulteresses are stoned to death and homosexuals are hanged. I do not want such a state and that was never the goal of Zionism. It was shocking to read these apologies for theocracy from otherwise enlightened people. Why would we want a Jewish Republic of Israel, run by Jewish Khomeinis?
This totally needless fiasco could have been avoided if Ehud Olmert had originally spoken clearly about a state of the Jewish people, instead of an ambiguous Jewish State. Later, too late, Olmert used the phrase "state of the Jewish people."
Then, embarrassingly, the Zionist left and center dropped the ball. Ha'aretz newspaper editorialized against the demand. Yoel Marcus wrote that it is "Stupid"
. If a Jewish state is a stupid demand, what am I doing here? What are any of us doing here? Did anyone come here in order to live in just another state that belongs to a different people?
Count on Yossi Beilin to never miss an opportunity to show he is unworthy of leadership, and others to follow. For a part of the Israeli left, the political problem with the Jewish State requirement is NIH - Not Invented Here. Avigdor Lieberman suggested it, so it must be wrong. If Lieberman suggested that you should brush your teeth every day, presumably Beilin and Peace Now and Marcus would reject it as a reactionary impediment to peace. But the problem is really deeper than that.
A second red herring that was injected into the controversy was, "It is not the right time, why now?" In 2000 years of Jewish history, it was never the right time to bring up the issue of a Jewish state, until Theodor Herzl
did it. And in a hundred years of Arab-Israeli conflict, and 14 years of negotiations with the Arabs of Palestine, it was not the right time either. It was never the right time for self-determination of the Jewish people, was it? But again, the problem is deeper than that.
The logic of Beilin and others is that if we bring up recognition of the Jewish State then we can't have "peace." Beilin forgot that the whole goal of the peace negotiations from our point of view, is the goal of Zionism - to have a recognized national home for the Jewish people. He forgot why we are here.
was not created to be the state of the Jewish people, then for what reason did we fight all those wars? If Shulamit Aloni wants just another democratic state, then why doesn't she join her friend Marcia Freedman in the United States? The weather is better there, the taxes are lower and there is a lower proportion of troublesome Jews and troublesome Arabs as well. I didn't leave the United States in order to live in an Arab state. If we wanted an Arab state, we had only to sit on our hands in 1948 and 1967 and 1973. There would be "peace" without a state of the Jewish people. That is what it means.
If we give up on that issue, if Israel is not recognized as the state of the Jewish people, and our right to self-determination is not recognized, then we have given up on all the issues. The is not just a theoretical point of pride. It has the most profound implications. If we surrender the right of the Jews to self-determination, we have no basis for refusing the right of return to Palestinian Arab refugees. We have no reason to maintain the Law of Return either. The borders of the Arab Democratic Republic of Israel with the neighboring Palestinian state would not matter. PM Achmad Tibi of Israel could negotiate them with PM Hanniyeh or PM Fayyad. Or he could send Beilin to negotiate another Beilin Abu-Mazen agreement.
Today is the anniversary of Anwar Sadat's historic visit
that officially inaugurated the peace process with Egypt. Some will be quick to point out that Egypt never recognized Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Indeed, this was a failure, and the peace with Egypt is less than satisfactory in many ways, but it is better than war. However, Egypt never claimed our land as its own. Egypt never claimed to be the rightful dispossessed owners of the land. Officially, Egypt had negated existence of Israel, not of the Jewish people. They were supporting actors in the drama of our century- old quarrel with the Arabs of Palestine.
The Palestinian Arabs negated our rights as a people, our right to self-determination, as Ruth Gavison points out
. That is what the whole fight is all about. Erekat did more than say he doesn't recognize that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. In fact, he implied that there is no Jewish people, only a Jewish religion. As I am not religious, and Shulamit Aloni is not religious, Erekat is determining for us that we are not Jews.
If anyone was to say "there are no Palestinian people and they do not deserve a state," Shulamit Aloni, Ha'aretz newspaper, Yossi Beilin and Peace Now would be incensed. How could anyone say such a thing? Yet they are perfectly willing to brush off Erekat's implied pronouncement that there is no Jewish people, only a Jewish religion. If we sign an agreement with the Arabs of Palestine that does not assert the Jewish right of self determination, we would be signing away all our rights. From their point of view. we woud be admitting that they, and not we, have the right to sovereignty over the entire land between the river and the sea.
To Zionists, peace means acceptance of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and acceptance of the right of the Jewish people to self determination. Therefore it is not an "unreasonable" demand to insist on this point. It is tautological. Without that recognition, "peace" is worse than meaningless, it is an admission that we lost the war, and it is the end of Zionism.
Israel has already recognized the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people as it accepted the roadmap. The reciprocal announcement would be recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. It is not a negotiating point for the future, but one that should have been cleared up in the past. I am very anxious for the Annapolis meeting to succeed, despite all indications to the contrary. But we cannot give up our birthright, give up Zionism, just for the convenience of the Bush administration in extricating itself from Iraq, just to give Dr. Rice a photo-opportunity. "Smile while we execute you."
Peace Now, Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Beilin have illustrated the reason for the tragic failure of the "Zionist" left under its current leadership. Until 1967 or 1977, the Israel Labor party and its allies saw themselves as wearing the mantle of leaders of the Zionist revolution - leading the Jewish people in creating a national home for the Jewish people. The Zionist community in Palestine was led to statehood by the Israel Labor movement. Every policy that was followed, whether it was accepting the loss of transjordan in 1922, smuggling illegal immigrants, cooperating with the British in World War II, fighting the war of Independence, absorption of millions of immigrants - all were policies that stemmed from this leadership role. The victory of the Six Day war
was the last great gift of the Labor Zionist movement and the society it had created, the society that made the miracle of Israel possible.
The tragedy of the Zionist right is that they sold the Zionist revolution for some real estate in the West Bank, and allowed Zionism to be subverted by the ever-present danger of religious fanaticism -- a problem recognized by the earliest Zionists. In so doing, they opened the way for the descent of the Jewish national liberation movement into religion and barbarism.
The reaction of the Israeli left, who saw this danger, was no less tragic. They threw out the baby with the bathwater. Some time after 1967, our leaders shed the mantle of national leadership. "Zionism" became a dirty word. They allowed Ariel Sharon to adopt for the right, the slogan of "National Camp." In English it sounds bad - it is clearly the "nationalistic camp." In Hebrew it sounds good, "Mahane Leumi" as in "Bayit Leumi" - national home.
A large part of the Israel left became ashamed of that word, "Leumi." They became obsessed with eliminating the occupation - at all costs. That was more important than peace, more important than Zionism, more important than the rights of our people. Those who abrogated the leadership of the Zionist national revival, lost the right to lead the state of Israel
In making peace, we are told we will have to make agonizing choices. We may need to choose between Hebron and peace, between Jerusalem and peace. Those choices are at least meaningful, however painful they may be. Mr Erekat and Mr. Fayyad, and apparently Mr. Beilin and others as well, are suffering from a terrible delusion. They want us to choose between Zionism and "peace." In reality there is no such peace. There can be no peace if we, the Jewish people, do not get the right to self-determination. We have been given the "choice" between "peace" and Zionism before. We always went to war to save Zionism, because in reality there was no choice - national extinction is not peace. Ami Isseroff
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