Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Part 2: 'Jewish Question' then - 'Palestinian Question' now : Sixty years and counting

"A sombre anniversary" - A Jewish Perspective

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. "
"Sharon will therefore go down in Israel's history not as a peacemaker but as the proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict."
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.
"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.
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."
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:
"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."

Read the full article on The Nation web site:
Similar Articles for Israeli newspapers:
Click below to read part 1 of this posting - the Palestinian Perspective:


  1. Could you kindly comment, whether my details are correct in a dissident essay concerning the recent scaling up of production in the Israeli high Tech companies in:
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Expelled-Jews-statistics.htm ?

    However, if you are only after Jihad against Eretz Israel by the means of media war after the conventional weapons were not succesful, please do not bother. I don't want to have anything to do with any holy war - wars are not holy. No matter if they are won or lost.

    E.g. "...Before the Second Intifada, there were nearly 200 Israeli companies listed in the Nasdaq, at the Intifada the count dropped to 70. (The number is still greater than from all the European countries combined). It is said that the dollars are green since the Americans pull them down from the tree raw and fresh. The start-ups are imported straight from the garage, and scaling up of production in the "conflict hotspot" has been considered impossible. But the new Millennium has brought a change in tide.

    As an example, the supranational Intel transferred the mass production of Centricon-processors to Israel, where ~20% of citizens possess university decrees (ranking 3rd in the world) but where the environment respects patents and are not plagiating every item they produce to others like the rocketting China. Intel was also offered an overall tax rate of 10%, which is about three times lower than that of US.

    Also, the biggest generic drug factory in the world was recently established in Israel. Generating US$7 billion in annual revenues, Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA) is the world's largest generic pharmaceutical company. That is: to cure people with less money. TEVA makes generic versions of brand-name antibiotics, heart drugs, heartburn medications, and more - in all close to 200 global generic products, 700 compounds, and more than 2800 dosage forms and formulations. TEVA's pharmaceuticals are used in some 20% of U.S. generic drug prescriptions. Examples of TEVA's generics include lower-cost equivalents of such blockbusters as anti-depressant Prozac and cholesterol drug Mevacor. Nevertheless, in biotechnology and original drug development, about 400 experimental Israeli drugs have been approved or accepted in clinical phases.

    The population of Arabs under the Israeli government increased ten-fold in only 57 years. Palestinian life expectancy increased from 48 to 72 years in 1967-95. The death rate decreased by over 2/3 in 1970-90 and the Israeli medical campaigns decreased the child death rate from a level of 60 per 1000 in 1968 to 15 per 1000 in 2000 at the Westbank. (An analogous figure was 64 in Iraq, 40 in Egypt, 23 in Jordan, and 22 in Syria in 2000). During 1967-88 the amount of comprehensive schoold and second level polytechnic institutes for the Arabs was increased by 35%. During 1970-86 the proportion of Palestinian women at the West Bank and Gaza not having gone to school decreased from 67 % to 32 %. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in West Bank and Gaza increased in 1968-1991 from 165 US dollars to 1715 dollars (compare with 1630$ in Turkey, 1440$ in Tunis, 1050$ in Jordan, 800$ in Syria, 600$ in Egypt. and 400$ in Yemen)..."

    Recovering from hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of the brain,
    Pauli Ojala, evolutionary critic
    Biochemist, drop-out (MSci-Master of Sciing)
    Helsinki, Finland

  2. Paula:
    I appreciate you comment. I am not interested in any holy wars either. Wars are never Holy.
    I am not sure what your overall point is, so let me summarise what I understood from your comment and from the web reference you provided.
    You highlight the great achievements in Israeli science and technology: I totally agree with you.
    You highlighted the increase in life expectancy and GDP per capita of Israeli Arabs: these are statistical data that are not disputed: The signifcance is however, evading me. Over the last many decades, life expectancy and per capital GDP increased in all countries of the region, so that is not a merit to the occupation. The numbers also tell you that the gap is great in income, employment, life expectancy, education, etc, between Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Jews. Arabs under Israeli occupation may be treated better than Blacks under Slavery rule in the US, but they are second class citizens.
    The population growth of Arabs in Israel is NOT because of natural growth rates, but over the decades Israel has engulfed a lot more land that is inhabited by Palestinians.
    The drop in numbers of Jews in Arab countries has been PRIMARILY because of the establishment of a homeland for Jews. That was the whole point if Israel, wasn't it?
    The presence and success if the state of Israel is not disputed. It is the fairness of the foundation upon which it is built that is in question not by me only, but by many Israelis. I happened also to reject the idea that God grants ANYONE the rights to a peace of land.
    The articles presented (from Israeli and Arab sides) do not call for the termination of the state of Israel, they just highlight the difficulties reconciling some of the initial hopes and aspirations of some Jews early on (especially the moralistic ones) with the facts on the ground with on-going occupation. A fifth of the population has a 'de facto' second class citizenship status, and what appears to many Jews (in Israel and outside it), is that the moral high ground they once claimed, is not materializing or enduring.
    The conflict between a principle of sustainable Jewish Majority and democracy is becoming an issue that got many Jews to start talking about the 'Second stage of Zionism' that is more likely to survive demographics and politics. The current model of dominance and control, in my humble opinion, is not sustainable.
    Thanks again for you comments.