March 14, 2007
Lawrence of Cyberia clears up a concept that was always a little baffling - Israel's "right" to exist:
There are various ways you can [create a Jewish state in majority Muslim Palestine]. You can do it by killing off or expelling the majority population, till it is reduced to a manageable size, as in 1948. (And then you can even afford to give the vote to the remnant left behind, and proclaim yourself a democracy, because you have made sure that the natives are so reduced in number they can never democratically bring about any change in their status). Or you can do it by simply disenfranchising large numbers of the "undesirable" population in the land you claim for your Jewish state, as is the current situation for millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. These ugly means are not an unfortunate by-product of an Arab propensity for "terrorism" or "anti-semitism", forced upon unfortunate Zionists who would otherwise have preferred to peacefully coexist; they are absolutely intrinsic to creating a Jewish-majority state in Palestine. They are simply what you have to do in order to create a regime that favours one kind of people over another, in a land where the "other" people are the majority. Presumably, for Zionism, the end goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine is of such import that its benefits outweigh the "collateral damage" that this inevitably involves for the Palestinian population.
When you demand that Palestinians acknowledge the "right" of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, you are asking them to say that they too think Zionism is worth all this "collateral damage". You are asking them to acknowledge that it was and is morally right to do all the things that were and are necessary for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, even though these necessary things include their own displacement, dispossession and disenfranchisement. You are asking them to internalize the fact that they have less right to live freely on their own ancestral lands where they have lived in unbroken continuity for millenia, than an immigrant to the Middle East who, by an accident of birth, happens to have been born into a "preferred" religion.
While every nation's tragedies are unique, the fact is that the Palestinians are not the only people who have had their modern national consciousness shaped by catastrophe. African-Americans have been shaped by slavery, Jewish Israelis by the Holocaust, and present-day South Africans by apartheid. But Palestinians are the only people that are told they must recognize the "rightness" of the catastrophe that befell them. And we demand this because, in the U.S., Zionism is the prism through which we look at the Arab-Israeli conflict. For us, Zionism is worthy and normative, and it is very difficult for us to acknowledge that for the people who have been – and inevitably had to be – on the receiving end of it, Zionism is cruel, and violent, and racist. But try to imagine what you would think if you heard someone demand that – in the interests of reconciliation with their former oppressors – African-Americans must acknowledge not only that the slave trade existed, but that it had a "right" to exist. Or that black south Africans must recognize the "right" of apartheid to exist. Or Jews, the Holocaust. Just by describing the scenario, we can see that we would be demanding something grotesque. But we take it for granted that the Palestinians must do it; and condemn them for anti-semitism when they refuse.
Usually when you hear the Israeli government say, "Of course we want to talk, but first….", you are simply hearing excuses from a government that has no intention of ever entering meaningful talks with the Palestinians, and can always come up with one more precondition to ensure that they don't have to. But the demand, "first they must recognize Israel's right to exist", is a precondition of a different kind altogether. It goes much deeper than a desire to avoid negotiating, and arises instead from a need to avoid recognizing the original sin at the heart of Zionism, which is that it could be realised only by destroying the people already in Palestine.
If Israelis feel such a crisis of national legitimacy that they need someone to hug them and tell them that what Zionism has done to the Palestinians doesn't really matter, they'd better find a therapist to do it, because the Palestinians won't. No Palestinian is ever going to tell them, "You're right, I am a lesser breed of human being, of course your rights are superior to mine" which, from a Palestinian perspective, is essentially what recognizing the "right" of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in Palestine entails.