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Seventy years on: Whither Israel and the Palestinians?

Mar 27,2018 - Last updated at Mar 27,2018

As Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary this May, the Palestinians will mark seven decades since Nakba, or the catastrophe, that has come to represent a triad of perpetual occupation, oppression and displacement. No impartial scholar can examine Israel’s modern history without acknowledging the ongoing plight of the Palestinians.

The irony of the parallel historical progression can hardly be missed. Israel’s dual identity, as a democratic and thriving society, on the one hand, and as a racist and oppressive occupier, on the other, has become its genetic fate. It is unable, or unwilling, to rid itself of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde duality that is both a curse and a stigma.

And yet, despite 70 years of often false historical narrative that omits the bloody events that accompanied the birth of Israel in 1948, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, massacres committed to scare off local residents and force them to leave and obliteration of Arab villages, the world chooses to ignore the great injustice that the Palestinians continue to endure. Instead, Israel’s birth is portrayed as a culmination of decades, if not centuries, of struggle to return to a land where the original inhabitants have no rights or claim. This is where myth, religion and distortion of facts are continuously employed to whitewash the crime.

The Palestinian-Israeli struggle, it hardly qualifies as a conflict, has evolved to become one of survival. The demise of the classical two-state solution, which gives the Palestinians less than 20 per cent of historical Palestine, essentially means the loss of the Palestinian identity. On the other hand, a single democratic state for two people would lead to the dilution of the Jewish characteristic due to demographic realities. But a choice has to be made. The key to ending the current impasse lies with Israel and Israel alone. For the majority of Palestinians, the two-state option remains a strategic choice. But even then, there are no guarantees that a new geopolitical setup in historical Palestine will be tenable.

One of the nuances in the decades-old Arab-Israeli confrontation is that the Arabs saw only one side of Israel: the aggressor. The notions of mutual recognition and regional cooperation were never embraced at the popular
level, particularly on the Arab side, because the criminal was allowed to run free. Whatever Israel prided itself on as a democratic and innovative state was eclipsed by its continuous crimes against the Palestinians.

In the Arab media, and by extension the Arab mind, Israel is evil incarnate, that image is corroborated by Israel’s nefarious actions, almost on daily basis, against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But mainstream
media in the West often chooses to ignore reporting on Palestinian hardship. By contrast, Israel’s favourable image in the West is buffered by the media and the state’s own innovative success. Israel’s duality, as both good and evil, is often missed by the general public.

Today Israel is approaching a major crossroad. By insisting on burying the two-state solution and rejecting the concept of an independent Palestinian state, it is choosing to embolden itself as an oppressive and racist state. By testing new, unfeasible, options; a mini-state in the West Bank or a Palestinian state in Gaza only, it is venturing into the unknown. No Palestinian will ever accept a new normal, where most of the occupied territories are annexed by Israel and remaining enclaves are given limited autonomy. Israel’s greed will catapult it towards an almost certain outcome: a single state where Jews no longer constitute a majority.

In the view of Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, at least two things are happening as Israel marks its 70th anniversary. In an op-ed published in The New York Times on 18 March, Lauder says that “the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian”. He goes on: “If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.”

The second challenge, in Lauder’s view, that Israel is facing is its “capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora”. He adds: “By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, it is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people. The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular. An increasing number of Jewish millennials, particularly in the United States, are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values.”

Lauder concludes by saying that “Many non-Orthodox Jews, myself included, feel that the spread of state-enforced religiosity in Israel is turning a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one.”

There are many Jewish and Israeli voices that support Lauder’s views on Israel’s future choices and destiny. Israel must choose to rectify 70 years of injustice that has shackled its ability to change its image as evil and an aggressor among the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs. The phenomenon of a parallel historical progression; branding Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as victims, must be cut like a Gordian knot. It is Israel that has to make that choice and the time for making it is fast approaching.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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