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Can Zionism be Reconciled with Justice for the Palestinians?

By Jerome Slater

Tikkun July, 2000


A growing number of liberal Israelis and American Jews are being drawn toward "postzionism," the view that Zionism has served its historical function and, indeed, is an unbridgeable obstacle to a just settlement with the Palestinians. This view, however, obscures a tragic dilemma. Certainly, no respectable analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can deny that that there is an inherent conflict between Zionism and Palestinian rights, and that the Israeli success story has come at the expense of the Palestinian people. On the other hand, it is far too soon to conclude that the historical conditions that created Zionism -- murderous anti-Semitism -- have permanently disappeared from the world scene.

In this essay I will argue that modern Zionism can be reconciled with reasonable justice for the Palestinians, but only if we discard Zionist mythology, especially the argument that political sovereignty over Palestine belongs, eternally and rightfully, to the Jewish people and only to the Jewish people. The best argument -- and the only one necessary -- for modern Zionism is the existence of the contemporary Israeli state itself.

By definition, dilemmas admit of no definitive solution. Thus, there can be no perfect justice for the Palestinians, certainly in practice but also in principle: perfect justice for the Palestinians would create injustice for the Israelis, perhaps even, in a sense, to world Jewry. But dilemmas do allow for creative compromises, the inevitably painful consequences of which can be mitigated and distributed equitably.

I will argue that most of the compromises today must be made by the Israelis, both because they were the perpetrators of injustice to the Palestinians and because the Palestinians have already made most of the major compromises. By now, almost everyone understands the principles by which an imperfect but reasonable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma can be reached. Whether Barak is the right man for the job is another matter.

I. The Zionist Arguments

The first step toward a solution must be to demythologize Zionism by sorting out bad arguments from good ones. For one thing, an accurate account of Zionism is necessary if we are truly to understand the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, such an accurate account is morally required because some -- though not all -- of the Zionist arguments are based on "principles" that cannot withstand close logical or moral analysis. But most importantly, it is the continuing failure of most Israelis -- evidently including Barak -- to distinguish serious history from Zionist ideology that largely accounts for Israeli rigidity, self-righteousness, moral failures, and blindness to the probable consequences to their own best interests.

A good beginning would be to separate the original Zionist argument for the necessity of a Jewish state from the argument that such a state bad to be in Palestine. When the Jewish nationalist movement we now call Zionism emerged in Europe in the early twentieth century, its core belief was that the Jewish people had both an overwhelming need for, and a moral right to, a nation-state of their own. Although the twentieth century has made it abundantly clear that nationalism often has terrible consequences, nationalism can also serve as a liberating and empowering force. In light of the persecution of the Jewish people throughout history, it is hard to imagine that any other people has had a more powerful case for possession of a state of their own.

Where that state should be located, however, was a different matter. The terrible paradox of Zionism is that while the arguments for a Jewish state were so strong as to be nearly self-evident, most of the arguments for the right to create that state in Palestine were weak. This is not to say that there was no basis at all for the Jewish claim to sovereignty over Palestine. My argument, rather, is that this claim could not be reconciled with Palestinian rights and claims, which were much more persuasive than the Jewish ones.

The founder of the Zionist political movement, Theodore Herzl, initially considered the question of where the Jewish state should be located as open, a practical issue rather than an ideological or religious one. Thus, for awhile the Zionists canvassed a number of possibilities. However, the search for alternatives to Palestine was quickly abandoned. The turning point -- and the origin of the Palestinian-Israeli and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict -- came at the Zionist Congress of 1903, which decisively condemned any effort to create the Jewish state in any place but biblical Palestine.

To be sure, even if Herzl's attitude had prevailed, it was by no means certain that a Jewish state could have been created elsewhere -- and even if it could have been, it might simply have transferred the problem of the conflict between Zionism and the new state's indigenous inhabitants to some other locale (for example, east Africa). Nonetheless, the search for a better solution was abandoned prematurely. Most importantly, even if alternatives to Palestine ultimately had proven to be unfeasible, the search for them would have required Zionists to dissociate Jewish nationalism from biblical theology, and that would have made the need for a lust compromise with the Palestinians evident from the start.

From the nineteenth century to the present, Zionists have made a number of arguments for exclusive Jewish political rights in Palestine including biblical history, ancient territorial rights, the Balfour Declaration, and the Holocaust, among others. Let us examine their validity.

Biblical History

Contrary to Zionist mythology, there has never been a single Jewish homeland in Palestine from which the Jews were expelled by the Romans. Historical scholarship calls this into question in every respect. First, long before the Roman conquest of Palestine there were large Jewish communities in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and other places throughout the Mediterranean basin. Second, it is doubtful that the Romans engaged in a wholesale expulsion of the Jewish people from Palestine after the suppression of the Jewish rebellion of 66-70 CE. Rather, most Palestinian Jews remained in Palestine through the period of the Roman Empire, but over time the majority became Christians -- or later, Muslims -- leaving only a small group which preserved its Jewish identity. Finally, the majority of the Jewish people who have lived throughout the world in the last two thousand years do not think of themselves as a "Diaspora" longing to "return" to Palestine.

In the Zionist canon, the Jewish people have an eternal right to Palestine by virtue both of God's will and Jewish settlement of the land. According to the Torah, God promised the land of Palestine to Abraham and his successors. The promise was then reaffirmed in the covenant between God and Moses, and implemented when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt to the borders of the Promised Land, then known as the land of Canaan. Led by Joshua, the Jews conquered the Canaanites, following which David and his son Solomon established a kingdom in Palestine, establishing Jewish sovereignty over the area that lasted until the Roman conquest in 70 CE.

Modern biblical and archaeological scholarship has challenged the historical accuracy of the Torah account on a number of grounds, concluding that it must be regarded largely as theology and tradition rather than genuine history. Many modern scholars argue that there is no archaeological or other evidence that Abraham and Moses even existed, nor evidence in support of the Book of Exodus story of a Jewish exodus from Egypt into Canaan. A number of recent scholars have even questioned whether David and Solomon were true historical figures rather than glorious mythic ones; more importantly, whether or not they existed, scholars seriously dispute whether they established an extensive Jewish kingdom, ruled from Jerusalem, over most of Palestine. (The most authoritative recent summary of this debate is the special edition on "The Search for History in the Bible," Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2000.)

To be sure, archaeological evidence has definitively established that a Jewish community emerged in Canaan about the twelfth century BCE. However, little else of the biblical account of the founding of this community is supported by archaeological or any other kind of historical evidence. Philip Davies, one of the leading contemporary biblical scholards, summarizes the modern view: "The people we may now identify as historical Israel are generally agreed to have emerged at about 1200 BCE and to have been indigenous to Palestine. Their material culture is generally indistinguishable from that of the surrounding population. These people did not descend from a single ancestor who came from outside the land; they did not escape from Egypt, nor did the enter the land with a religion received during a wilderness trek" (Biblical Archeology Review, March/April 2000).

It is an undeniable fact, of course, that there has been some kind of unbroken Jewish presence in Palestine for some thirty centuries; nor can it be denied that many Jews -- though hardly most -- have genuine religious or emotional ties to Palestine, especially to Jerusalem. However, Christians, Muslims in general, and the Pales tinian Arabs in particular also have strong historical connections, claims, and ties of religion and sentiment. That being the case, the key issue remains: on what basis should the Zionist claim of ancient and eternal tights be given priority over all others?

Ancient Territorial Rights

In principle, the claim of territorial rights is separable from that of religious rights. As Michael Lerner has argued, the argument for Jewish priority in Palestine does not have to rest on biblical history or the belief that God promised Palestine to the Jews, his Chosen People, for one can construct a Zionist case for ancient rights to Palestine on purely secular grounds.

While this argument is correct in principle, in fact few secular Jews claim to he devoted to the ancient land of Palestine. Even so, for analytic purposes let us examine the territorial argument on its merits. For the sake of argument let us assume that those modern scholars who challenge the stories of Abraham, Moses, the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish conquest of Palestine, and the Roman expulsion of the Jews are wrong. Assume, then, that history supports the Zionist argument that the Jewish people lived primarily in the ancient land of Palestine for many centuries, over which they established political sovereignty, losing their homeland only because they were forcibly driven from it. Would that establish a valid modern -- i.e., eternal -- claim to the land of Palestine?

Most contemporary Zionists accept that it would. Moreover, many argue (explicitly or implicitly) that this is not an instance of special pleading for the Jews but rather is based on universally applicable principles: a land conquered by force is rightfully and eternally the land of the "original" inhabitants, no matter how many other peoples have been a majority in that land for no matter how long, so long as the previous inhabitants are still a distinguishable people with a continuous memory of the past, embedded in its texts and stories, who continue to be devoted to their original homeland.

There are a number of problems with this argument. First, most Jews today -- certainly in Israel -- are secular and have no particular devotion to the ancient land of Palestine, whether based on the Bible or territorial rights. Second, the argument that an ancient claim to a land has precedence over very long periods of a different reality -- in Palestine, eight centuries of Christianity followed by thirteen centuries of an overwhelming Islamic majority -- is accepted in no other place in the world.

Palestine has been repeatedly conquered by outside invaders since ancient history: by Assyria, Babylonia, Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Crusaders, the Arabs, the Ottoman Empire -- indeed, if the Bible is to be the historical source, by the Jews themselves! On each occasion, the previous inhabitants of the land were killed, driven into exile, or subjugated by new rulers, who then held sway for centuries. Who, then, are the "rightful" claimants? In the absence of a religious claim ("the Promised Land") accepted by everyone, including those of different nationalities and religions, the stopping of the clock as it marches backward in time to twenty centuries ago, neither earlier nor later, must be arbitrary and self-serving.

Put differently, by what objective criteria are the claims of one set of victims -- the Jews supposedly driven out by the Romans two thousand years ago -- privileged over all other such claims? If ancient victimization is the criterion, then the descendants of the Canaanites -- perhaps the Syrians? -- must have priority over the descendants of the Jews. On the other hand, if recent victimization is the criterion, then all victims of conquest after the Roman expulsion have priority over the Jews.

There is scarcely any place in the world that has not at one time been conquered, subjugated, and populated by previously external forces. Thus, a kind of common sense statute of limitations on land claims by right of previous inhabitance has evolved. That is as it must be, for in the absence of such a tacit understanding there would be no stability and no principled objection to endless wars of restitution. In the end, the only law would be "might makes right."

Of course, ascertaining the point at which the passage of time has nullified the moral or legal validity of previous land claims can not be precise, and certainly there are hard cases. The Zionist claim, however, is not one of them.

A morally plausible range for the metaphorical statute of limitations might he as follows:

The passage of a few months or years is not enough to wipe our past rights. Thus, no unbiased observer challenges the moral, right of the Bosnians, the Croatians, and the Kosovar Albanians to reverse Serbian ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia -- even though such a reversal had to be undertaken by force, and meant the dispossession of Serbs who took over abandoned homes and villages.

Fifty years or so creates a complex problem, both in principle and practice. Thus, the question of whether the Palestinians have the right to return to their homes and villages in what is now Israel is one of the most vexing issues in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A hundred and fifty years is too long. For example, while there is no doubt that European Americans in the nineteenth century illegitimately and forcibly conquered much of what became the United States from Mexico and the Native

Americans, it does not follow that Mexico could legitimately reclaim Texas or that today's Native Americans have even the theoretical moral right to reconquer the West, even though they clearly meet all the criteria suggested by defenders of the Zionist claim to Palestine: that is, they were deprived of their land by force, they still exist as a people, and the historical memories of and devotion to this lost land have been passed on by spoken and written word from generation to generation.

Indeed, the Native American claim to their lost land must be regarded as stronger than the Zionist one because the passage of time is so much less. Yet how many American supporters of the Zionist claim to Palestine would be willing to give up their homes and cities to descendants of the original Native Americans who were driven out a mere century and a half ago?

In the absence of such a voluntary exodus of the present inhabitants, then, full remediation of the Native American claims could be done only by the use of force; even supposing that to be practicable, after one hundred and fifty years it would not be morally justifiable. Thus, while there can be little doubt that Native Americans are morally owed some kind of restitution, it must be well short of the restoration of the status quo ante.

If all this is persuasive, then a territorial claim based on previous inhabitance two thousand years ago -- especially one that was resisted by the contemporary indigenous people and thus could be realized only by armed force -- would appear on its face to be especially unconvincing.

Yet, it may fairly be asked, if the "ancient territory" argument is so unpersuasive, why has so much of the non-Jewish world, especially in the West, accepted it? In part the explanation is that Christians typically have accepted much of the Bible's "historical" accounts, even when they reject the theology. More generally, Westerners have tended to dismiss the rights, claims, and even the history of non-Westerners in general, and of Muslim Arabs in particular, as inferior to those of Westerners, including the Jews.

Thus, despite its unthinking acceptance by much of the West, the argument for eternal Jewish rights in Palestine, based either on biblical history or ancient inhabitance, is weak, and its rejection by the Palestinians and the Arab world is not only understandable, it is justified.

Twentieth-Century History

Not all the Zionist arguments, of course, are based on biblical or ancient history. There are also several arguments deriving from the twentieth century, some more convincing than others.

THE BALFOUR DECLARATION. The first such argument holds that the Jews gained a modern right to establish a state in Palestine by virtue of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the Declaration's subsequent incorporation into the League of Nations' Mandate to Britain. But there are two major problems with this argument. The first is that the Balfour Declaration was deliberately vague and ambiguous: it did not in fact call for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine, but only a "national home for the Jewish people." The British commitment to work toward this end was further qualified, for the Declaration also said that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."

More importantly, the Arabs had been promised political independence in Palestine and other areas captured from the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and the Balfour Declaration was inconsistent with this promise. Indeed, the Declaration denied them the basic democratic right of the majority to exercise political sovereignty in their country. To be sure, the British were not motivated simply by their colonialist interest in placing a Western outpost in the Middle East, for they and other Westerners were also genuinely sympathetic to the plight of European Jewry. Whatever their motives, however, neither the British nor the League of Nations -- basically a club of the leading colonial powers of the day -- had the right to dispose of Palestine against the wishes of the indigenous majority (about 650,000 Arabs compared to 50,000 Jews).

THE HOLOCAUST. Unlike the previous arguments examined here, the fact of the Holocaust cannot be dismissed as irrelevant in legitimizing the creation of Israel. To be sure, the matter is complex: the conflict between the Jews and Palestinians long preceded Nazi Germany, and in any case the Palestinians were in no way responsible for the Holocaust or, for that matter, for the earlier history of murderous European anti-Semitism that produced Zionism. As the Palestinians always ask: Why should we be made to pay for evils we did not commit?

On the other hand, the Holocaust made the case for the creation of a Jewish state and a haven for the victims of anti-Semitism not only irrefutable but urgent. By the late 1930s the die was cast; it was far too late to consider alternatives to Palestine. In that context, the Palestinian plea of innocence lost much -- though not all -- of its moral force. The answer to the "why should we pay" question was this: it had become a tragic necessity, for the alternative, in terms of the human consequences, was worse.

THE UNITED NATIONS PARTITION. By the late 1930s, then, the only morally or practically acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was compromise, or partition. The UN partition plan of 1947 had a true moral legitimacy that the League of Nations Mandate to Britain lacked, both because it was based on the recognition that by 1947 a new human reality in Palestine had emerged -- however problematic its origins -- and because it was overwhelmingly supported by the world community and thus could not be regarded simply as a colonialist imposition. In effect, as Michael Lerner has argued, the world community, acting through the United Nations, justifiably had designated part of Palestine to the Jews in order to rectify the long history of global anti-Semitism, including Arab as well as Western anti-Semitism. While some injustice to the Palestinian Arabs was unavoidable, the moral benefits of a compromise -- provided both sides were genuinely willing to compromise -- substantially outweighed the costs.

WE WERE WILLING TO COMPROMISE, THEY WEREN'T. In the Zionist mythology -- still widely accepted by the rest of the world -- the Jews were prepared to accept this UN compromise, but the adamant refusal of the Palestinians to do so led to war. Moreover, the standard argument holds, the war forced by Palestinian intransigence also legitimized the post-1948 Israeli territorial expansion that went considerably beyond the original UN partition plan.

There are several problems, however, with this argument. To begin with, even if it were the case that the Zionists were ready for compromise but the Palestinians weren't, the issue would he morally complicated; whatever the larger justification, it is not irrelevant that it was the Palestinians who lost land they had occupied for centuries. To be sure, the Palestinian unwillingness to accept the UN-required compromise in practice turned our to be a terrible mistake in terms of their own interests, but that is a different issue.

Furthermore, it is not the case that there was a monolithic Palestinian refusal to compromise. As several of the Israeli new historians have demonstrated, the failure of the Palestinian revolt of the 193 Os and the determination of the British and later the United Nations to enforce a compromise in Palestine resulted in greater moderation and realism among many Palestinians. By the mid-1940s, many had come to the realization that partition and the creation of a Jewish state in part of Palestine was unavoidable. As a result, there were many Palestinian proposals for a compromise settlement; they came to naught because of the Zionist determination, as Simha Flapan puts it in Zionism and the Palestinians, "to achieve full sovereignty [in all Palestine] at whatever cost." Flapan, the National Secretary of Israel's MAPAM Party from 1954 to 1981, and a noted scholar, writer, and peace activist, later writes in The Birth of Israel: "The Israeli myth that the Palestinian leaders were uniformly uncompromising is acco mpanied by the claim, equally erroneous, that ... the masses of Palestinians eagerly embraced war with the Jewish state.... The evidence [against this] is so overwhelming that the question arises how the myth of a Palestinian jihad against the Jews could survive so long." Other Israeli new historians have confirmed Flapan's historical account.

Most importantly of all, the Palestinians did not believe, and were right not to believe, that Ben-Gurion and the other leading Zionists would be satisfied with, or abide by, a compromise. They feared, in other words, that the Zionist "acceptance" of the UN plan was disingenuous, that the Zionist leaders were adamantly bent on expanding a Jewish state to include all of biblical Palestine, and that they would simply use a partition compromise as the base from which to expand later.

That was indeed the case. The evidence is clear that Ben-Gurion agreed to the UN plan as a necessary tactical step that would later be reversed. In 1937, with some kind of partition on the horizon, Ben-Gurion wrote his son: "A partial Jewish state is not the end, hut only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish state will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety.... We shall organize a modern defense force ... and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means.... We will expel the Arabs and take their places ... with the force at our disposal" (cited by Michael Bar-Zohar in Facing a Cruel Mirror). A year later, Ben-Gurion told a Zionist meeting: "I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine" (cited by Benny Morris in The Birth Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem).

After 1947 Ben-Gurion acted on this philosophy. Indeed, he would have gone much further if he could have gotten away with it, for the documentation makes it abundantly clear that for him, for Chaim Weizman, for Ben-Gurion's protege Moshe Dayan, and for many other Zionist leaders, "Palestine" included all of Jerusalem, all of the West Bank, a substantial part of the East Bank or western Jordan at least to Amman, southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights and other parts of southern Syria, the Gaza strip, and part of the Sinai peninsula.

It was with this in mind, then, that the Zionist leaders agreed to the UN partition plan. Moreover, they ignored other parts of the plan that they disliked, notably the internationalization of Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state on the West Bank, tacitly acquiescing in the takeover of the area by King Abdullah of Transjordan. Temporary Hashemite control of the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem was regarded by Ben-Gurion as better than either internationalization or the creation of a Palestinian state; later, when Israel became stronger, an opportunity might present itself for an Israeli takeover of "Judea and Samaria."

Finally, even if it had been true that in 1948 the Palestinians, and only the Palestinians, refused all compromise, it is hard to see why that would be a good argument for subsequent Israeli intransigence. Today -- indeed, probably since the late 1970s -- a majority of the Palestinians and their leaders accept partition or a two-state solution, which retains the same compelling moral and practical logic that has led nearly every outsider of good will to recommend it for over seventy-five years.

II. Modern Zionism and the Palestinians

I have argued that, with the partial exception of the Holocaust argument, the pre-partition Zionist arguments for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine are unpersuasive. Once Israel came into being, however, matters changed -- decisively, irrefutably, and irrevocably. Since 1948 the only argument necessary to the Zionist case is the existential one: new human realities have been created, Israel exists, and it has a right to live. It would be far better, and far more conducive to the creation of a genuine peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world, if Israel simply rested its case there.

In short, the Israelis can pave the way for a settlement by jettisoning Zionist mythology, a mythology that has had devastating consequences for Israel as well as for the Palestinians.

Many fear that an abandonment of the weak parts of the Zionist argument would be dangerous because it would "delegitimize" the state of Israel today. The contrary is the case: the existential argument is so obviously compelling and unanswerable that an Israeli acknowledgment of past injustices and its acceptance, at long last, of a genuine and fair compromise would have the consequence of legitimizing the Israeli state, even among all but the most fanatical Palestinians and Arab leaders. And an Israeli willingness to face their history, free of the distortions and myths that have blinded them, is a psychological prerequisite -- perhaps for both sides -- for the establishment of peace.

As I have earlier argued (TIKKUN November/December 1999), a just and stable settlement must be based upon the creation of a largely demilitarized hut viable Palestinian state in almost all of Gaza and the West Bank, a fair sharing of scarce water and joint efforts to develop new sources, some form of divided or shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, and a practical solution to the refugee problem.

The official Palestinian position is that the Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967 must be allowed to return to their former homes and villages in what now comprises Israel. Their position is understandable, for there no longer is any reasonable doubt that many, probably most, of the Palestinian refugees did not voluntarily "flee" the country but rather were deliberately driven out by Israeli psychological warfare, economic pressures, outright terrorism, or direct expulsion by the victorious Israeli armies.

Nonetheless, it is necessary to distinguish between the abstract right of return and the practical possibilities of implementing that right, between an unattainable perfect justice and an attainable imperfect justice. Too much time has passed, too many new realities have been created, for this tragedy to be reversed. There is not the slightest chance that any but a tiny minority of Israelis would accept the literal return of the refugees and the de facto creation of a binational state. Moreover, the return of three and a half million Palestinians would likely worsen rather than solve the problem of Jewish-Arab violence, for it is hard to imagine that two peoples who have been at war with each other for so long could suddenly live in peace and harmony within the confines of the same small state. Indeed, there seem to be no contemporary precedents or models for such peaceful coexistence, and plenty of counterexamples: Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and more.

Practicalities aside, even the moral case is not straightforward, for the return of so many refugees would inevitably mean the displacement of many Jews, itself an injustice in light of the time that has passed and the fact that most contemporary Israelis had nothing to do with the Palestinian expulsions in 1948 or even with those of 1967. As I have argued, the passage of time not only creates new practical realities, it also creates new or at least more complex moral realities. This is not a matter of "might makes right;" rather, what began as might may evolve into right, or at least rights.

Finally, even if a binational Israel could somehow be made to work, it would undermine the very raison d'[hat{e}]tre for Zionism and the creation of a Jewish stare: the need for the Jewish people to control their own destiny and to provide a refuge for persecuted Jews anywhere in the world. It is remarkably ahistorical to argue that Zionism is no longer necessary, or that the true haven for Jews today is in America and elsewhere in the enlightened West. In light of 2,000 years of devastating anti-Semitism, often breaking out in countries in which the Jews had lived in peace and prosperity for centuries, it is -- to say the least -- premature to declare we have reached the era of postzionism.

In short, while the creation of a binational democratic state is an ideal worth preserving, its realization could only come after many decades of real peace, mutual IsraeliPalestinian cooperation and goodwill, and compelling evidence that a Jewish state is no longer needed. In the meantime, it would be helpful if Palestinian intellectuals would stop insisting that Zionism is a form of racism. "Racism" carries the connotation of superiority; no doubt many Zionists believed the Palestinians to be inferior, but at its core Zionism is not based on the notion that the Jews are superior to the Arabs or to anyone else, but rather on the fact that history has only too clearly demonstrated the need for a state in which Jews control their own destiny.

For all of these reasons, the solution to the Palestinian problem must be the return of some small numbers of refugees to Israel (for example, those with remaining strong family ties in what is now Israel), but the resettlement of all the others who wish to exercise their "right of return" to the new state of Palestine, with generous economic compensation from Israel and development assistance from the wealthy states of the international community. Fortunately, there is no doubt that the Palestinian leadership fully understands that if the maximal Palestinian demands were non-negotiable, there would be a zero percent chance of a settlement. It is clear, therefore, that most of the Palestinian political and intellectual elites will accept a fair compromise, especially if Israel acknowledges its role in creating the refugee problem -- something that Barak is still flatly refusing to consider.

III. The Prognosis

Despite Barak's election as the peace candidate, there is a substantial chance that his policies will result in yet another in a long line of lost opportunities for peace. Although some attribute Barak's disappointing performance to his excessive caution and style of leadership, the more fundamental problem is his hard line views, which at the deepest level are a consequence of ideology. "Security" issues alone do not drive Barak's policies; he is still under the grip of Zionist mythology. Take these examples: his insistence on the myth of a unified Jerusalem under exclusively Jewish sovereignty, his support of Jewish settlements in the heart of Palestinian areas that clearly are security liabilities rather than assets (in April of this year, Barak stunned many of his former supporters when he sent his "warm personal congratulations" to the most violent and fanatical of the Jewish settlers in Hebron), his continuing references to the West Bank as "Judea and Samaria," and his adamant insistence that Israel "ca nnot accept moral, legal, or other responsibility for the Palestinian refugees."

As of this writing, it is not yet dear how far Barak is prepared to go to reach a settlement with the Palestinians. Until quite recently it appeared that his position was not very different from that of Benjamin Netanyahu, for his proposals and actions seemed designed to ensure that a Palestinian state would amount to little more than a series of fragmented population centers in Gaza and the West Bank -- in effect, hantustans that would be substantially surrounded and cut off from each other by Jewish settlements, Israeli military bases, and a rapidly expanding network of Israeli-controlled roads.

Even more importantly, Barak is determined to deny the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem, and is seeking to force them to settle for Ahu Dis, a tiny Palestinian village outside even of "Greater Jerusalem." (Haim Ramon, Barak's dosest Cabinet advisor on Jerusalem, has recently said that if Abu Dis and other nearby Palestinian villages were part of Jerusalem, they wouldn't be offered to Arafat. As he tellingly told an interviewer in Ha'aretz on May 2, 2000, "We annexed in 1967 everything we thought was Jerusalem, even a little more than that.") Finally, the underground freshwater aquifers in the West Bank will remain in Israel's hands. In short, the Palestinian "state" will he neither politically nor economically viable -- Netanyabu, Sharon, and the Likud could have asked for little more.

Barak's initial diplomatic strategy was to convince the Palestinians to agree to the principle of peace and the creation of a Palestinian state, while postponing for later "negotiations" the most difficult issues of water, Jerusalem, and final boundaries. However, the Palestinian Authority has rejected this approach, for it is disingenuous on its face: Barak, like nearly all of his predecessors, has been busily "creating facts on the ground" -- expanded Jewish control over "Greater Jerusalem," expanded settlements and Israeli-controlled roads and military outposts throughout the West Bank, and more -- in order to preempt the future and maintain the status quo. (According to Ha'aretz, in the last five months Barak has authorized the expansion of the settlements at a pace exceeding both the Shamir and Netanyahu Likud governments.)

It is dear that Barak would simply prefer to rely on Israeli power, offering what he wishes to offer on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and counting on the Palestinian leadership to conclude that the more time passes, the harder it will become for the Palestinians to gain justice and a viable state. Even setting aside the moral issue, this approach will not work. Arafat is unlikely to accept such power plays, and if he did there would probably be a Palestinian explosion of rage and despair, directed against the Palestinian leadership as well as against Israel.

There are some indications that because of Palestinian and external pressures, Barak may be forced to accept at least some compromises going beyond his current stance -- for example, he may agree to eventually turn over about 80 percent rather than just 50-60 percent of the West Bank to the forthcoming Palestinian state. Even so, the question then will be not only whether the compromises will be sufficient to meet legitimate Palestinian demands, but whether Barak will be either willing or capable of providing the kind of leadership that can convince the Israeli public to accept the necessary ideological, psychological, and political changes.

A good beginning would be for Barak to stop repeating all the tired cliches of the past: "this is not Benelux," "Israel is a villa in the middle of a jungle," "we live in a bad neighborhood," etc. First of all, Israel's policies are part of the neighborhood's problems, not a solution to them. Even worse, Barak and the Israeli right wing do not seem to understand the true implications of their slogans. Just what do they think will be the outcome of Israeli intransigence and provocations in a neighborhood including growing Palestinian desperation, rising Arab Islamic fundamentalist fanaticism, and the inexorable, irreversible spread of weapons of mass destruction?

Jerome Slater is a University Research Professor at SUNY Buffalo.

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Jews and Crime  - The archive!

When Jews rule...
The best book on Jewish Power

Sayanim - Israel's and Mossad's Jewish helpers abroad

Listen to Louis Farrakhan's Speech - A must hear!

The Israeli Nuclear Threat

The "Six Million" Myth

Jewish "Religion" - What is it?

Medias in the hands of racists

Strauss-Kahn - IMF chief and member of Israel lobby group

Down with Zio-Apartheid
StopJewish Apartheid!

The Jews behind Islamophobia

Israel controls U.S. Presidents
Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton...

The Victories of Revisionism
By Professor Robert Faurisson

The Jewish hand behind Internet The Jews behind Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, MySpace, eBay...

"Jews, who want to be decent human beings, have to renounce being Jewish"

Jewish War Against Iran

Al Jazeera English under Jewish infiltration

The Founding Myths of Modern Israel
Garaudy's "Founding myths"

Jewish hate against Christians
By Prof. Israel Shahak

Introduction to Revisionist
- By Ernst Zündel

Karl Marx: The Jewish Question

Reel Bad Arabs - Revealing the racist Jewish Hollywood propaganda

"Anti-Semitism" - What is it?

Videos - Important collection 

The Jews Banished 47 Times in 1000 Years - Why?

Nation of Islam and The Synagogue of Satan - Videos

The International Jew - By Henry Ford

Pravda interviews Ahmed Rami

The Founding Myths of Modern Israel
Shahak's "Jewish History"

The Jewish plan to destroy the Arab countries - From the World
Zionist Organization

Judaism and Zionism inseparable

"Jewish History" - a bookreview

Revealing photos of the Jews 

Racist Jewish Fundamentalism

"Jews" from Khazaria stealing the land of Palestine

The U.S. cost of supporting Israel

Turkey, Ataturk and the Jews

Talmud unmasked
The truth about the Talmud

Israel and the Ongoing Holocaust in Congo

Jews DO control the media - a Jew brags! - Revealing Jewish article

Abbas - The Traitor

Protocols of Zion - The whole book!

Quotes - On Jewish Power / Zionism

Caricatures / Cartoons 

Activism! - Join the Fight!