This is part 2 of the posting presenting a Jewish/Israeli perspective of Israel's 60th birthday. It is not totally aligned with Rashid Khalidi's perspective, but shares many of the concerns Khalidi has. It also expresses the sense that it is not 'all joyous' as some of those drunk with Israeli successes would like the world to believe.
Avi Shlaim starts by expressing how divided the Israeli society is about the festive nature of the occasion which he calls "A sombre anniversary".
"Zionism has been a brilliant success" he states, citing Israeli achievements in science, technology, industrialization, commerce, finances as well as politically (Jewish democracy, multi-party polity, independent judiciary), and socially (reviving a dead language, instilling sense of statehood in very diverse Jewish communities, providing a homeland to a people that were near extermination just few years before that homeland was established). Undeniably, these are major successes. But the birth of the success was the beginning of a tragedy:
"Israel's War of Independence was the Palestinians' catastrophe, al-Nakba in Arabic."He even makes a very strong statement that
"... there is no denying that the establishment of the State of Israel involved a massive injustice to the Palestinians. Sixty years on, Israel still has not arrived at a reckoning of its sins against the Palestinians, a recognition that it owes the Palestinians a debt that must at some point be repaid."The extent of Israeli denial of those sins could be illustrated by Golda Meir in 1969 "... denying that a Palestinian people existed at all." Avi Shlaim reminds the reader of the early right-wing Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of the Likud Party, who in 1923 recognized that:
"... the Palestinians were a nation and that they could not be expected to renounce voluntarily their right to hold on to their patrimony. It was, he argued in two seminal articles in 1923, therefore pointless at that early stage in the Zionist enterprise to hold a dialogue with the Palestinians; the Zionist program could only be executed unilaterally and by force."Zabotinski, however, accepted eventual negotiations with Palestinians, but only after convincingly conquering them militarily so that they "recognize that they were in a position of permanent weakness; that would be the time to enter into negotiations with them about their status and national rights in Palestine". Until they are conquered, Israel should be behind an "iron wall" that local Arabs cannot break.
Shlaim admits that history vindicated Jabotinski's strategy, but that the 'less sophisticate' right wing leadership after Jabotinski enjoyed the 'iron wall' status, backed by invincible military machinery, so that they forgot phase 2 or the plan: negotiation for a final status with the Palestinians at some point. That is, until Isaac Rabin came to power, and the Oslo accords were signed.
"By signing the agreement, the Palestinians conceded the legitimacy of the Jewish state over 78 percent of what had been the British Mandate of Palestine. What they expected to get in return--though this was not written down in the agreement--was independence over the remaining 22 percent: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem."While many, he argued, blame the Oslo accord's failure on its inherent weaknesses and contradictions, and that it "fell a long way short of the Palestinian aspiration to full independence and statehood", he on the other hand blames the peace process failure on Israel, that "under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the original deal". He states that Netanyahu "spent his three years in power, from 1996 to 1999, in a largely successful attempt to arrest and subvert the peace process. By subverting it, he inflicted serious damage not only on the Palestinians but on his own country and on the Middle East as a whole".
He is clear in his mind that the Palestinians are not to blame for the failure.
"As far back as 1988, the Palestinians had made their choice. They offered Israel recognition and peace in return for a minimal restitution of what had been taken away from them by force. Since then the ball has been in Israel's court. Israel had to choose."Following Netanyahu, Barak, and Sharon did not seem, in Shlaim's opinion, genuinely interested in any peace. The measures they took were largely a cover: to avoid fulfilling Israel's peace obligations, to keep expanding the settlements, and to move toward expropriating more and more Arab land, and as he says "Land-grabbing and peacemaking do not go well together".
"Sharon" he also argues, "personified the most xenophobic, aggressive, expansionist and racist brand of Zionism".
"[Sharon's] objective was to set aside the Oslo Accords, to fragment and mutilate the Palestinian territories, to reassert total Israeli control over the West Bank and to deny the Palestinians any independent political existence in Palestine. His long-term aim was to redraw the borders of Greater Israel. "As he get to the conclusion of the article, Avi Shlaim declares that there is no way to end the conflict by force. Justice it the only hope for a lasting peace.
"Sharon will therefore go down in Israel's history not as a peacemaker but as the proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict."
"During the past forty-one years Israel has tried every conceivable method of ending the conflict with the Palestinians except the obvious one: ending the occupation. The occupation has to end, not simply because the Palestinians deserve no less but in order to preserve the values for which the State of Israel was created. In any case, whether Israelis like it or not, an independent Palestinian state is inevitable in the long run--when the game is no longer worth the candle.And despite a predominantly non-festive tone of the article, his final sentence carries some hope that Israel will at some point shoulder the burden of moving towards a solution:
The moral, political and psychological cost of the occupation cannot be sustained indefinitely. Just as Israel withdrew under duress from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, so, eventually, will it be compelled to relinquish all but a tiny fraction of the West Bank."
"It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Israelis will one day learn from their mistakes and elect leaders who recognize the need for a genuine two-state solution. Nations, like individuals, are capable of acting rationally--after they have exhausted all the alternatives."Khaled
Read the full article on The Nation web site:
- Moving on to 'stage-two Zionism - Jerusalem Post
- Sixty years of Nakba, 60 years of nothing - Haaretz
- British Jews: Don't celebrate Israel's 60th birthday - YNet