Thursday 31 December 2009

Israel: A Federation of Ghettos or a Unitary State

About the website

1. This website is a collection of essays that I have written over many years commenting on the development in Israel vis-à-vis its conflict with its Arab neighbours. My view today is that we have reached an impasse in our relations especially with the Palestinians and that only through complete separation can we rebuild cooperation and trust. The mutual hatred between them and us is so great and the wounds are so deep that it will need a long time to heal. The theme of these essays is that years of missed opportunities on both sides made it gradually impossible for us to co-exist in peace. Moreover, outside mediators, individuals and countries, far from assisting reconciliation and healing added to the divide through supporting one side or the other. Based on my intimate knowledge and experiences of Israelis and Arabs alike only a Three State, not a Two State solution, with separate states on the West Bank and Gaza, can pave the way to an enduring peace in the Holy Land and the region.

2. My feeling is that we, on the Israeli side, out of frustration have stopped thinking realistically and have withdrawn into ourselves mentally. Our preoccupation with the ups and downs of our internal political quarrels and our obsessive touchiness about what the world thinks of us and needs us to do have been dividing our people and thus making it more difficult for us to be consensual in finding new solutions to the conflict. We have to stop fighting the last war and correct the last failure to reach accommodation with our neighbours. Time and time again we have been missing opportunities because of the inability of successive governments to gather domestic support only to have to face a more difficult next round. Moreover this internal division is causing confusion amongst friends and foes of Israel worldwide. They don’t know anymore who speaks for Israel in Israel.

3. Israel
started as the outward looking embodiment of the Zionist Movement of emancipation and slowly drifted back into an inward looking country reviving in its soul the very Ghetto concept that it sacrificed so much to shake off. And even worse than that. The shettetel village mentality so much derided by the early Zionists seems to have been revived in the psyche of the ruling elite in Israel today. Our people are divided politically and socially into ghetto-groups not only in ideology and political orientation but even in the way they think, in the way they reflect on events. The premises on which these processes are built are so divergent that the more they probe the more they find themselves torn apart. In my continuous dialogue over the years as a committed Zionist with my fellow Israelis, I stressed our need to face realities and not hide behind slogans and wishful thinking. Ideas and proposals that looked outlandish at the time turned out subsequently to be right leaving Israel always behind the Curve of Peace that we all yearned to achieve. I believe that so will it be with my idea for a three-state instead of two-state solution that I have been advocating for so long.

4. As a keen observer I attempt to see events with the finality they lead up to. When one freely and dispassionately projects events against the objective realities on the ground it is not difficult to foresee their eventual consequences. And when circumstances change it is important to modify and adapt these proposals rather than to wring the hand and bury the head in the sand. My views and forebodings although voiced since the day of my discharge from active military service after the 6-Day War were recorded on a Website at least from 2001 onwards. Unfortunately when my Israeli friends read my pleading they respond politely to what to them looks, coming from an Israeli now living abroad, as the views of someone they perceive to be out of touch. But it is because I live abroad and detached that I can see things clearer.

5. While tracing our own mistakes over the years it is as important to emphasise that the responsibility for these missed opportunities is shared and is as much caused by the actions and lack of initiative by our Arab neighbours. While their boycotts and hostilities served to strengthen us, their disengagement from us served to weaken them and almost to lull them into a state of inertia and slumber activated only by outbursts of violence against Israel and just as often against each other. They also have closed their minds to positive compromises that are as much in their interest to contribute towards a peaceful co-existence. And yet when Jews and Arabs meet away from the glare of cameras and public media both sides quickly realise that what unites them in common interest in the region outweighs what keeps them apart through slogans and public rhetoric. Today the acute and violent divisions and fraternal in-fighting amongst the Arabs stand in their way to help themselves let alone help our common objectives. There are many Palestinians as well as Israelis who could see the truth of the arguments in this book but they are over-ruled and overwhelmed by their politicians and their hostile public and media. When I have the occasion to talk to Arab friends inside Israel or abroad they often tend to react positively and certainly more rationally to my analysis than my Jewish friends whose emotions get the better of their cool judgement.

6. Israel’s conflict with the Arabs started long before the birth of the State. It persisted as such till the Yom Kippur War of 1973. From that time onwards and specifically after the Peace Treaty with Egypt and Jordan the conflict was re-focussed and was converted into a narrower Israel-Palestinian Conflict. The Arab countries conveniently washed their hands of their responsibilities to their Palestinian brothers for their joined debacles of the 1948 War and 6-Day War and left them to their own devices. Instead, the Israel Issue became a tool in their leaders’ hands used to suppress and divert attention from their internal dissents and protests. Israel is portrayed as the Satan, the danger, the threat. The fact though, and the Arabs know it very well, is that the tiny strip of land that is Israel and even the total number of Jews worldwide can never constitute a threat to the Arabs when matched in comparison with their huge lands, populations and resources. Far from the Arabs in Israel who are portrayed as being a minority, it is Israel’s Jewish population which is in fact a tiny minority within the Arab World surrounding them. And this situation cannot change in the future owing to the fact that Jews were never proselytising both as a nation and as a religion. The real crisis today is that the leaders of the outdated regimes of the Arab Sunni countries suddenly woke up to dangers from within to their class, wealth and privileges. These come not from Israel but from new movements of militant nationalism and a bigger danger of radicalised religion inside and the threat of Shiite Iran from outside. The Nasserite secular elite in Egypt, the ruling Bedouin Royalty of Jordan and the sectarian Alawyte dictatorship of Syria could see that the disgruntled Palestinians are becoming the new real threat to their regimes and their stability. That is why they have been distancing themselves from them. However they found it convenient to fan the flame, to perpetuate the Bogey, in order to blame everything on Israel away from these internal problems. Instead of keeping the responsibility for Gaza in Egypt’s hands and that of the West Bank in Jordan’s, we foolishly swallowed this new narrow positioning of the Conflict and acquiesced without questioning its consequences. It is Israel’s fault that it did not take its opportunity to insist on keeping Egypt and Jordan involved with the disastrous results which are unfolding today.

7. Along the borders of Egypt and Jordan Israel became unwittingly the policeman preventing safe passage and infiltration of Palestinians slowly into other Arab countries and beyond creating a huge pressure cooker waiting to explode. Thus Israel has been protecting the Arab regimes from “contaminating” their local restive population by the enlightened Palestinians who learnt the benefits of democracy from their Israeli occupiers. This new vested interest in keeping the Conflict on the boil is becoming dominant not only in Egypt and Jordan but also in other Arab countries and recently in the hands of Ahmedi-Nejad in Iran who carried it to the ridiculous denial not just of medieval or biblical myths but of the undisputed recent history of the Holocaust. It is tragic that these same countries forget that they have themselves aggravated the plight of the Palestinians through their policies of Judenrein and their clinical ethnic-cleansing of their own Jewish communities. Instead of looking into their dire need to modernise their economies and repair their fractured societies they seem to vent their frustration on tiny Israel which they themselves strengthened with the swelling numbers of Arab Jews driven by them into Israel.

8. Israel, without being aware of it, is responding on queue and plunging itself in the even bigger conflicts of the region by aligning itself absolutely on the side of the West instead of displaying neutral and moderating influence. The Arabs of Israel, 20 per cent of its population, could have been instrumental in this respect. Jewish Israelis are free to be in touch and even use Jews abroad to comment and even exert pressure in the internal affairs of Israel. Not so are Israeli Arabs. They are prevented and even accused of treason when they try similar ways in their relationship with Arabs or Muslims outside the country. Israelis look at them as the fifth column and lately they themselves started behaving as such. But relationships of Israeli Arabs across the Border could have been to the advantage of Israel in all fields, political, social and international. Imagine the reactions of Western Public and Media to our Arab Knesset Members forming part of our official delegations and our own Arabs from Israel occupying key positions in our embassies abroad.

9. The UN following the 1948 War of Israel Independence helped initially through its Aid Agencies to ameliorate the conditions of the Arab Refugees then but not the Jewish Refugees from Arab countries. However while alleviating day to day sufferings they indirectly served to perpetuate the problem of those refugees. Indeed the UN created a whole bureaucracy with a life and a vested interest of its own. One is forgiven to speculate when these UN Agencies intervene (always against Israel) whether they do that out of carrying out UN policies, which anyway they themselves initiate, or simply for institutionalised self preservation to protect jobs for life to which they became too accustomed to let go. UNRWA developed into a self-perpetuating self-renewing fixture. Who remembers today the Indian Refugees from both sides of a similar conflict which occurred at the same time in 1948 when the British Colonial Power left both India and Palestine with the legacy of years of Divide and Rule. This comparison struck me suddenly when I saw on television President Musharraf of Pakistan on a state visit to India taking tea amicably and without recrimination with the Indian occupants of his abandoned family house where he was born in New Delhi.

10. Europe cannot escape its responsibility either. Its ambivalence towards the Jews may be explained by 2000 years of religious indoctrination but can never be morally justified in the 21st century. Immediately after the Holocaust, the one country in Europe, Britain, which led the war against Nazism, actually led the way to deny the Jews the very fruit of the seed that their own Balfour Declaration had sown to provide a haven to the Holocaust survivors. Apart from Denmark, I cannot think of any other country in Europe which can honestly absolve itself of guilt. After few generations some countries, notably Germany, are bravely wrestling with their past to exorcise the ghosts which continue to cry out from the rafters of their Cathedrals. The most inexplicable attitude today however is displayed by Sweden and Norway. Apart from the personal example of King Haakon’s behaviour during World War II, neither country can claim complete innocence. Why their governments are leading the condemnation of Israel with so much ferocity is beyond comprehension. Instead of this idle holier than thou attitude towards Israel, Europe could solve the conflict overnight at a stroke by offering to take some Arab Refugees openly instead of granting refuge status invoking Human Rights to a stream of Islamists and economic migrants. After all they got rid of six million Jews that by now would have swelled into tens of millions. Europe is short of manpower. The Palestinians are mostly educated, intelligent and hard-working. And so that nobody might be tempted to pop up the question why not solve the Conflict by Europe taking back the descendants of its own Jews from Israel instead, the stark answer is that the Israelis have lost faith in Europe and are determined to die for the only country they can claim to be theirs historically and by UN sanction.

11. What is the solution then? Is Israel doomed? Of course not. Israel is there to stay, not because of its army, not because of its history, not because of the Holocaust, but because the 6 million Jews in Israel (more than half of whom are descendents anyway of ethnically-cleansed Arab Jewish Refugees) have nowhere else to go. They have no choice but to stand up and fight even if it is in a war of mutual destruction with their enemies. Only this realization will convince the Arabs to seek mutually acceptable solutions. So to sum up on our Israeli side I have been trying to illustrate in these essays the three unresolved-problems facing us today: defining stable borders, strengthening our participatory democracy and repairing our damaged image abroad. These are three intertwined themes of my writing over many years. I put my early life on the line for Israel. Now I am devoting what is left of it to advocate my tentative solutions to these three problems in order to help secure the future of my people and the future of the Alien that has chosen to continue to live amongst us.

12. The legacy politics of Israel’s founding fathers was gradually replaced with career politics. This is a sickness at the heart of our politics that needs to be cured. And the cure is simple. I have devoted the last 5 years advocating a change from our pure Proportional Electoral System to Total Representation, a new electoral system that fuses the two major electoral systems of first-past-the-Post and proportional representation. I have argued the case for this change in the President of Israel’s Commission, in many books and articles and recently in an English edition in cooperation with Prof. Ivo Skrabalo of Zagreb. (Total Representation: A New Electoral System for Modern Times).

I hope these essays are read by Arabs as well as by Jews. By getting to the core of the problems, their aim is to help create a realistic climate of co-existence that may help to propel forward the peace and reconciliation process.

Aharon Nathan, Wimbledon, 31st December 2009