Despair is taking hold of great parts of the Israeli public.
Its main cause is not just the coming to power of Ariel Sharon, the man of blood, but the absence of any ray of hope.
The Labor party has become a collaborator of Sharon’s; its leaders, Simon Peres and the others, have become his most efficient propagandists. The opponents of Peres in his party, people like Avraham Burg and Haim Ramon, are not different from him in their language.
Meretz has remained in opposition, but it turned long ago into a one-man’s-party, and this man is far from being a consistent and courageous peace leader. While the occupation is turning the Palestinian territories into hell, Meretz does not cry out nor take part in any action. There are some wonderful people in this party, but the party has become their prison.
There are courageous peace movements that have not lowered their flag and are conducting actions nearly every day. But the enlisted Israeli media are working together to silence our voice. Our actions are not reported, our people are not interviewed, our statements are not published, except in small, paid advertisements (and there is no money). A large part of the Israeli and Palestinian public, not to mention the international one, does not even know that these movements exist or what they do.
And so, for the first time in many years, it seems to decent Israeli citizens that there is no chance for change, that the chances of peace have disappeared forever and nothing remains but a sea of blood and tears. In this situation, it is natural to look for an escape hatch.
The easiest way is to clear out. Many do this quietly and without fanfares. Those who can, buy an apartment abroad “as an investment”. They move “temporarily” or “partly”, leave an address in Israel and return for frequent visits.
Another way is “inner emigration” (a term born in Nazi Germany). They freak out. They do not want to hear about politics, do not watch the news on TV, do not read the newspapers at all, turn the radio only onto the music channel.
There is a third way for intellectuals, people with ideals and ideas. They look for an escape into the world of thought. Some, especially among the sharp-minded and good-hearted, are again airing an idea that had, so it seemed, passed away forever: the idea of the bi-national state.
History shows that in times of despair, messianic ideas flourish. I believe that the resurrection of the bi-national idea is an example of this. It’s a beautiful idea, high-minded and humane, but it belongs to the “days of the Messiah” é if it has a chance at all, it can be realized only in a hundred years’ time. In the meantime, it is a form of escapism.
According to the bi-national idea, the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river é Palestine / Eretz Israel é will once again become one state, as it was under the British mandate, and Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, will live there together as equal citizens. The technical arrangements é a “bi-national” or a “civil” society é are secondary.
It seems rather strange that this idealistic vision is appearing just now, after it has failed the world over. The multi-national Soviet Union has disappeared, and now even the multi-national Russian federation is in danger of falling apart (see Chechnya). Not only Yugoslavia has fallen apart, Bosnia and Serbia (Kosovo) have to. Now the integrity of Macedonia is in doubt. For a long time, already, the integrity of Canada has been under threat. United Cyprus, with its model bi-national constitution, is barely a memory. And the list is long: Indonesia, the Philippines, Spain and many others, not to mention our neighbor, Lebanon.
But there is no need to travel far. Our own reality is enough. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, basically, a clash between the Zionist movement and the Arab-Palestinian national movement. After a hundred and some years, the force of Zionism is far from exhausted. Its main thrust é expansion, occupation and settlement é is in full, offensive swing. On the Palestinian side, nationalism (including the Islamic version) is deepening and growing from martyr to martyr. One has to be of a religious mind to believe that these two nationalistic peoples will turn overnight from total enmity to total peace, giving up their national narratives and being ready to live together as supra-national citizens.
One must pose three decisive questions:
Will both sides accept this solution?
Can a bi-national state function?
3. Will it put an end to the conflict?
My answers to all these questions is a clear ‘no’.
There is no chance at all that this Israeli generation or the next will accept this solution, which absolutely negates the myth and the ethos of Israel. The objective of the founders of the State of Israel was that the Jews é or a part of them é could at long last take their destiny into their own hands. A bi-national state means the abolition of this aim, and in practice the abolition of Israel itself. And not as a result of a crushing military defeat, but by free will. Not very likely.
And the Palestinian side? Some Palestinians do indeed talk longingly of a bi-national state, but I believe that for at least some of them this is just a code word for the dismantling of the State of Israel. They dream of a return to the days of the British mandate, when the Arab majority in united Palestine hoped to dominate the Jewish minority. But I am convinced that the great majority of the Palestinian people want to live, at last, in a national state of their own, under their flag and their government, like any other people.
There is hardly any multi-national state in the world that really functions properly. (Have I mentioned Switzerland?) Because in order to function properly, one of two conditions must be fulfilled: either both sides cede their national identity or they must have equal economical and political power.
The very opposite is true in this country. There is a gaping inequality between Israelis and Palestinians in nearly all respects. The disproportion is immense. In a joint state, if it were to be set up, the Jews would dominate the economy and most other aspects of the state almost completely. At this point in time, a bi-national state would be an occupation regime in a new guise that would hide, with difficulty, a reality of exploitation and economic, cultural and probably political repression.
Therefore, I do not believe that such a solution, if it were possible at all, would put an end to the conflict. It would only put it on a different track, perhaps more severe and more violent.
Regretfully or not, one has to accept the conclusion that the realistic solution is, as it has been since 1948, the solution of “two states for two peoples”. A solution that will channel the national feelings of the two peoples in a reasonable, practical framework, one that will make co-existence, cooperation and, finally, a genuine conciliation (in this order) possible.
The recent past has shown that even this modest goal is extremely is extremely difficult to achieve. We still have to overcome much mutual fear, hate, myths and prejudices to make even this solution possible. But if one despairs because of this and adopts instead the bi-national gospel, one resembles an athlete who despairs of a 100 yard sprint and therefore enrolls for the marathon.
When my friends and I raised the two-state idea in the early 50s, we did not speak of “separation”. Today, too, we reject this term absolutely. We speak of two states with an open border between them, with free movement of people and goods (subject, of course, to mutual agreements). I am convinced that, in the light of the geographical and political facts, a natural process will lead to an organic connection, perhaps by federation, and later to a regional union like the European Union.
In the end, we shall achieve the objective: to live together in peace, side by side. Some believe that utopia can play a positive role as a vision lighting the distant future. But it is not a practical option. Indeed, it may divert attention from the practical, immediate objective. If we fail to achieve it, everything will be destroyed, because in the meantime facts are being created on the ground that will make any solution impossible.
Utopia, promising us a light at the end of a tunnel, may get us into the wrong tunnel.
I hope that the 21st century will bring vast changes in the structure of the world and the life-patterns of nations. We shall whole-heartedly take part in the march of humanity. We shall not be tardy. But neither, I am afraid, shall we be one or two generations ahead of it.