In May 1947 the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was formed to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the flagging British Mandate. What models the committee members had in mind for the resolution cannot, of course, be determined with certainty, but among them may well have been the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, in which all Greeks (Christians actually) in Turkey were relocated to the Greek state, and all Turks (Muslims) in Greece to the Turkish state. It is a truism today that that population exchange has done nothing to heal the enmity between the Greeks and the Turks; less mentioned, though more important, is the fact that the exchange has prevented that enmity from being manifested in genocide.
In the more realistic and less pipe-dreaming world of 1947, it was clear to everybody that forcing nations that hated each other to live within a single state could only lead to disaster. The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was, in fact, no so much about population exchange as it was about translating the contemporary reality of Jewish-populated and Arab-populated lands into a political one of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian-Arab state. It was an eminently pragmatic solution, and the majority of the Jews, not that hard to satisfy after 2000 years of statelessness, accepted it. As we all know, the same cannot be said of the Arab side. While Progressive-Left anti-Zionists are well versed in a slew of U.N. resolutions that stack the deck against Israel, they have surprisingly little to say about the Arab attacks on the Jewish population from November 1947 to May 1948 and the invasion of the Arab armies (of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq) in May 1948, both in flagrant violation of the U.N. resolution to create a Jewish state in Palestine.
The passage of time has not changed the situation much. In the years 1993–2005 there was a window of opportunity when the majority of the Israeli Jewish public was receptive to a second try at a two-state solution, but the results were disappointing again. Anti-Zionists will tell you that the Oslo Accords were foiled because of “relentless settlement construction,” but somehow they never give credit to the destruction of all the Jewish population centers in the Gaza region in August 2005. This was a painful event where thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes—the stuff the anti-Zionists keep tugging at the heartstrings of anyone willing to listen in the Arab case, but you will encounter none of the sympathy here from the anti-Zionists. In fact, they will tell you Sharon’s plan of August 2005 was deviously crafted for the purpose of turning Gaza into a free-fire zone and strengthening Israel’s “settlement project” in Judea and Samaria. This callous attitude, coupled with the use of the ethnically cleansed territories by Hamas as bases for firing rockets upon pre-1967 Israel Jewish towns like Sderot, does much to explain the closing of the window of opportunity after August 2005.
Beyond the dry facts, we need to understand the reason behind the collapse of pragmatic solutions both in 1947 and today.
A Semi-Imaginary Dialog
The following dialog between a Progressive and me never actually took place as-is, but ones very similar have been seen—perhaps still can be seen—on forums where the Jewish–Arab Conflict is discussed. This is a dialog with me starting out as a pragmatic seeker of a peaceful resolution, with a Progressive Leftist who is not among the wild-eyed “Zionism is a crime” binationalists who think the Jews can do without a state once more.
Where does such a dialog start? The answer to this is obvious: With the “settlements,” what else? For any such dialog to take off the ground at all, the Israeli Jewish side must agree that all the territories acquired by Israel in 1967 are to be emptied of their Jewish inhabitants if there is to be a peace agreement. Do not think of disputing that proposition, for if you do the dialog will be over before it has started.
I approach my interlocutor from the same point of view held by the members of the UNSCOP that nations that hate each other should not be forced to live in the same nation-state. So, in principle, as a pragmatist I express agreement with him that the Jews living in the post-1967 territories are to be relocated to pre-1967 Israel. What he is not ready for, however, is my application of that pragmatic principle to other side: I say to him, “OK, all the Jews living in the post-1967 territories go to the pre-1967 Jewish state, while all the Arabs living in pre-1967 Israel go to the newly created Palestinian-Arab state in the post-1967 territories, sounds fair enough.”
My dialog partner widens his eyes in disbelief. One of two possibilities takes place: He goes off the rails screaming about Racism and Ethnic Cleansing (which, of course, relocating the Jews of the post-1967 territories is not…) and slams the door on me, having decided that I am one of those extreme right-wing fanatics with which no dialog is possible. The second, luckier possibility is that, after his disbelief subsides somewhat and he recomposes himself, he asks me, “Why relocate the Arabs of Israel proper? What danger do they pose to peace in Palestine?”
I hesitate. I should tell him about the Arab Knesset members who glorify the suicide-murder of their brothers across the 1967 line as well as support (or even participate in, like Hanin Zoabi) the Turkish Terrorism Flotilla; about Bedouins setting up illegal habitats without applying for the permits that Jews are required to apply for by law; and about that great rupture point in October 2000, when Arabs in pre-1967 Israel joined the Intifada with the Arabs in the post-1967 territories, shattering the Israeli Jews’ trust like nothing before. But I am absolutely certain that, if so far I got lucky with the Progressivist merely shocked rather than abruptly closing the discussion, that would now be the end of my luck. So I respond to his question with a counter-question: “What danger do the Jews in the post-1967 territories pose to peace that you want them relocated?”
Again there are two possibilities as to his response that I know of from reading such exchanges on the forums, and this time those possibilities are not mutually exclusive. One is that he will regale me with horror stories of what the Jews of the post-1967 territories have constantly done to make the life of the Arabs in their vicinity miserable, such as the uprooting of olive trees (which in most cases has been found to be by the Arabs themselves), to be accompanied by a long rant describing the “Israeli settlers” in such uniform, sweeping evil (“They are all thieves, vandals, supremacists” et cetera) that one is intrigued by this interesting exception to the Progressive moral dictum that no group is to be stereotyped or demonized. The other possibility, whether accompanied by the first or not, is that he will say, with indignant frustration, “Oh, please! Isn’t it obvious? The Israeli settlers are stealing land that isn’t theirs, their settlements are against international law! How could you ever compare them to the Arabs within Israel proper?”
I heave a sigh expressing both frustration and recognition. Frustration because my pragmatic approach has been rebuffed by ideological argumentation all along, and the recognition that if I carry on with this dialog it will no longer be on my original pragmatic lines but on my Progressivist interlocutor’s ideological ones. On the forums, most Zionists are sucked into that new mode of discussion, hence the frequent deterioration of what had started as a pragmatic attempt at forging a two-state solution to the usual vitriol-laced slugfest (“Israel is a racist, colonialist apartheid state! Israel is the oppressor, the Palestinians are resisting their oppressors!”) seen in the discussions of the conflict.
In my semi-imaginary dialog I have brought the most moderate case among Progressive Leftists. A peek at Progressive sites, even ones with a mainstream image in mind, shows this case is no longer representative. As things currently stand, the shift of the Left’s extremes to the center means the mainstream is now contested between pseudo two-staters (those who call for a two-state solution but do not exclude the Right of Return) and outright binationalists; currently the only ones condemned as extremists are those who hold to Helen Thomas’s position that all the Jews in Palestine should be shipped away to their “original” lands outside Palestine. That view is too blatant to be allowed in the mainstream yet, but the other two views and even the moderate, true two-state position in the semi-imaginary dialog are rooted in the same ideological assumption behind Helen Thomas’s vicious calls.
I believe the Jews, of any extraction, are the only true Palestinians, but in the name of pragmatism I would be perfectly willing to settle for a view that this regional conflict is comparable to that of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, a conflict on equal terms. That would be the same spirit as that of the UNSCOP in 1947, and had the Arabs, Muslims and Progressive Leftists not rejected this (by, among other things, devising a fictitious “non-Jewish Palestinian nation from time immemorial” narrative as a categorical denial of the Jewish connection to Palestine), a viable peace agreement would have been signed long ago and held on to this day.
But they do not conceive of this conflict on equal terms, and they would also chide me for writing “a viable peace agreement” instead of “a just and viable peace agreement.” Pragmatism is as far from their minds as can possibly be. Their thinking about this conflict is rigged against Jewish national rights with two tenets:
- The Jews are the interlopers here, therefore they do no one a favor giving up lands, population centers and demographic safeguards.
- Justice is a prerequisite to peace; pragmatic concerns such as security guarantees come afterward.
Here is the root of the double standard present in a dialog even with the most moderate Progressivist. Pragmatic sense never comes into it, it is all about an idea of “justice” that is rigged against Israel and Jewish national rights, because it assumes, maybe even unconsciously, that the Jews have no rightful claim to Palestine. It is of no import that a 1923-style population exchange would be the best prospect of preventing genocide—as far as even the most moderate Progressive is concerned, only Jews should be moved around, not Arabs. So too, when “moderate Palestinian researcher” Dr. Sari Nusseibeh said the following in 2007:
No Jew in the world, now or in the future, as a result of this document, will have the right to return, to live, or to demand to live in Hebron, in East Jerusalem, or anywhere in the Palestinian state.
the Progressive blogosphere was curiously silent on what must be one of the clearest echoes of Jim Crow and South African Apartheid in our day and age. The same people who pride themselves on making “No Dogs, Blacks or Jews” signs history are all OK with that statement that an Arab state in Palestine is to be Jew-free in perpetuity.
From an outright Helen Thomas clone to the moderate Progressive who would have nothing of a pragmatic proposal for population exchange, all are agreed in the ideological assumption that the Jews are not in Palestine by right; they differ only in the extent they think steps should be taken to minimize that “wrongful” project of the return of the Jews to political sovereignty on the Land of Israel. Calls for pragmatism have been made by Israeli Jews in their dialogs with Progressives and Arabs for years and years, but the response has always been the same: “You are thieves and oppressors, and you do not get to escape the consequences of your stealing and oppression by appealing to pragmatism.” It is all about ideology as far as they are concerned.
A Necessary Response
To Jewish pragmatists everywhere:
I know, this is sad. I agree, this is depressing. I concur, I wish it were otherwise. But it is so. Reality is what it is. We can try to shape it, but until we succeed in doing so, it is better for our safety not to go headlong against it.
Once you have recognized that pragmatism no longer holds sway, there is no choice but fight on ideological terms. Simply no choice. To continue framing the discussion in pragmatic terms while the other side puts all its efforts in ideological argumentation, to great success, is like keeping on with lance-bearing cavalry when confronted with tanks. No contest.
Many of us dislike appeals to ideology, but that is exactly what the other side has been doing. Most of us dread the prospect of this conflict as a zero-sum game, but the other side sees it as just that. It is to be hoped that the other side—Progressives, Arabs, Muslims—get off their ideological high horse one day and go back to pragmatism, but that is a false hope as long as they can see their ideological appeals carry the day and leave the Zionist PR effort floundering. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we must fight on the same terms; we must counter the unequal terms of the other side, where we are viewed as the interlopers who owe the Arabs everything and the Arabs owe us nothing at all, with the inverse view:
- The Jews are the only true Palestinians, the Jewish nation the one and only true Palestinian nation. The Arab nation is indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula and in possession of many states over a huge mass of land beyond that mandate; therefore, Arabs in Palestine have absolutely no grounds for any talk of dispossession, and the indigenous Palestinians meaning the Jews owe them nothing at all.
- Justice is a prerequisite to peace; justice requires that the rights of the Jewish nation as the indigenes of Palestine be recognized and not be infringed upon.
And if anyone has the temerity to decry this stance as extremism, let them be reminded how anti-Zionist extremism moved to the mainstream of the Progressive Left long ago. They have the least right to complain about bringing ideology into it.