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Common Sense and the Middle East

Although the title of this piece appears to be an oxymoron, or a lame attempt at post-apocalyptic irony, please read on. It is just a compelling idea whose time has come.

What is the primary source of the instability and violence, including terrorism, in that region, and now around the world? It is the existence of the state of Israel as currently constituted. Optimists and well-wishers have thought that some sort of deal, encompassing the co-existence of Israel and a Palestinian state, would lead to a cooling of passions and a viable peace. Some still feel that a more enlightened Israeli policy could still make the difference. But sober observers no longer see a way out of interminable conflict, as long as the state of Israel contains within its borders the Palestinian bantustans, with or without nominal “statehood.” A mere glance at a good map confirms this.

So what to do? Isn’t it obvious? The establishment of a new state comprising the entire area, perhaps named “Palestine,” could replace the current configuration. The idea should appeal to both sides – Palestinians could once again inhabit their land and live like normal people, and the settlers could plunk themselves down wherever they liked.

Only those Jews whose vision is total control and banishment of the “other,” and their mirror image on the other side, would fiercely oppose such a solution, but together these people comprise only a small minority of Israelis and Arabs. For the majority, Jews and Arabs alike, the prospect of being free and equal citizens of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious modern, democratic state, free of the constant fear of violence, would have an irresistible appeal.

What of the dream of a Jewish state, eternally open to all Jews everywhere, a bastion of security from anti-semitism? The great majority of Israelis, mostly secular, could probably care less. In any case, it is a 19th century vision that no longer has any traction in the 21st century. Most importantly, the Jewish state has proved counter-productive in terms of this goal. Instead of becoming a bulwark against violence and hatred towards Jews, it has become their primary cause.

Many will immediately object, as a knee-jerk reflex, that a democracy that includes the Palestinians will cease to be majority Jewish within a generation. The obvious answer is, so what? Is it necessary, in terms of the Zionism of Hertzl and his successors, whose essential principle was the establishment of a state that would guarantee the safety of the Jewish people, that such a state be majority Jewish? The USA, for one example, has a small minority of Jews, but their ability to live in peace and security in America has become well established through institutions, vigilance and cultural norms engraved in law and tradition.

Even if we look far down the road to a future pluralistic, democratic Israel/Palestine, perhaps only one-third Jewish, but whose constitution and institutions would have been established and enshrined during an initial period in which Jews were in the majority, there are no rational grounds for fear.

What effect would the implementation of this idea have on what are considered to be the major issues confronting the peacemakers: Jerusalem, the settlements, the right of return, territory, security, let alone the less talked about issues of water rights, mobility, labor and so on? These problems largely disappear, to be replaced by the normal give and take of modern democracies.

The right of return becomes an immigration issue to be resolved on a fundamental level during the writing of the new constitution, and then an ongoing political issue as it is in other countries. There is no reason to suppose that it would become any less difficult for Jews to immigrate than now, nor any reason to suppose that the future status of Palestinian refugees would be an insurmountable problem.

In closing, I contend that this proposal is not merely one of many options. I believe it to be more in the nature of a prediction of what must come about. The alternative, as we speak, is too frightful to contemplate, a conflict that has already spread far beyond the borders of Palestine, fuels terrorism, and seriously threatens the stability of the world at large, even leading, inexorably, to nuclear war.

Roger Tucker
March 18, 2003