As a mode of thinking, separation has dominated all discourse
on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the exclusion of
all other possibilities. Ten years after the now-dead and
buried Oslo Peace Process, yet another peace initiative,
the "Road Map," is in the works. My belief is
that it will find its place among the numerous other failed
attempts at peace through separation. Establishing a Palestinian
state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not a central issue,
nor is it a prerequisite for peace. The roots of the conflict
The overriding approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
has been "two peoples, two states." This thinking
stems from the irreconcilable differences between Zionist
and Palestinian claims and narratives. On one hand, political
Zionists start with the premise that Jews constitute a separate
and distinct people, and given their long history of being
the subject of hatred and persecution, they are entitled
to live in peace and freedom in their own country between
the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand
Palestinian Arabs see this same and as their home. Their
ancestors have lived there for centuries. Accepting the
Zionist claim meant they had to give up their land, which
has shaped their identity and culture.
From the very beginning, then, the idea of saving the Jews
of Europe from persecution and maintaining the Palestinian
Arab identity were on a collision course. Achieving one
meant the exclusion of the other. Separation and exclusion
of the other were central to the fulfillment of each of
the party's dreams, national identities and aspirations.
Separation would have been easy if there was a clear way
to divide the land. But the fact is, there isn't. Dividing
the land means injustice and unfairness.
The 1947 Partition Plan gave the Jewish state 52 percent
of Palestine, which at the time was a British protectorate
won from the Ottoman Empire in World War I. At the time,
Jewish ownership did not exceed six or seven percent. Palestinians
asked: Why should we concede the majority of our land to
a minority of the population? The post-war partition plan
reinforced among the Palestinian Arabs the notion that they
were viewed as a people possessing no political rights.
The notion was reinforced by the Balfour Declaration in
1917, in which the British government endorsed the creation
of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The declaration referred
only to the Palestinians' "civil and religious rights,"
failing to address their legal and political rights. A deep
sense of betrayal, of injustice and of victimhood took root
among the Palestinians.
Despite the myth that Palestine was "a land with no
people, "the leaders knew well that Palestine was not
a vacant land. The realization of the Zionist dream meant
confronting the fact that Palestine was already inhabited.
The idea of a Jewish state rests on the principle of separation
and exclusion: Jews cannot be free from persecution unless
they form a homeland for the benefit of all Jews. Consequently,
the indigenous Palestinian population is relegated to an
inferior status. This view spells disaster not only for
Jews, but also for Palestinians. It is a path leading to
certain confrontation and conflict.
This was predicted by Jewish thinkers such as Martin Buber,
Judah Magness and Hannah Arendt. They were right. The military
conflict in 1948 led to the defeat of the Arabs, the dispossession
of Palestinians and the creation of the state of Israel
on 78 percent of Palestine.
During the war, about 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled
or fled their homes. Those Palestinian refugees and their
descendents have ever since been denied the right to return
to their homes, while Jews worldwide were granted unrestricted
immigration and citizenship rights.
Palestinians cannot comprehend why a Jew born in Russia,
Poland or Germany has the right to settle in Palestine while
they, who have lived there for centuries, are denied that
right. After the second Arab-Israeli war in 1967, the situation
was exacerbated by years of military occupation and humiliation
of Palestinians, which bred more anger and hostility.
In 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met quietly in
Oslo, Norway, to craft a long-term peace plan. The Oslo
agreement was "based on the principle of separation
between Jews and others", the raison d'etre of Israel.
An important requirement of Israel and Oslo was for the
Palestinians to renounce the historic loss: to forget the
past and to be content with 20 percent of their homeland.
Israel went into Oslo with the intent of transforming the
Palestinians into guarantors of Israel's security while
offering only a semblance of sovereignty over a disjointed
and dismembered territory.
Those same principles are now being emphasized by the "road
map" proposed by the Bush Administration. Oslo and
the road map do not address the central question, which
is how to reconcile the claims of both Israelis and Palestinians
to the same piece of land. The question is, can we accept
in today's world of supra-national globalization the notion
of a state for the exclusive benefit of a particular ethnic
or religious group? The reality of the situation is that
the lives of Israelis and Palestinians have become so intertwined,
despite their inequality and asymmetry of power, that a
clean separation is not a feasible or a viable long-term
It is time for both Israelis and Palestinians to start speaking
about sharing the land and of living together in a truly
democratic and secular society with equal rights of citizenship.
This idea does not mean diminishing Jewish life or surrendering
Palestinian aspirations and
identity. It does mean, though, that neither party can
claim exclusivity to the land and both must give up ideas
of special status based on ethnic or religious criteria.
Many Israelis and Palestinians, frustrated with the realities
of the present, call for the emergence of a new kind of
thinking that is both innovative and daring to go beyond
stalemate, exclusion and rejection. The starting point of
such thinking is the assertion and the acknowledgement of
the other as an equal. Once this first step is taken, the
rest becomes possible. The vision of a new reality becomes
attractive and a real alternative to the reality of the
However, this first step is not easy to take. The feelings
of persecution, suffering and victimhood are so deeply rooted
that it is very hard, almost impossible, to accept any ideas
that hold Israelis and Palestinians to the same principles
of equality. Nonetheless, we need to start. Both peoples
need to acknowledge the extent to which our suffering is
intertwined. We cannot allow the suffering and the tragedies
of one to justify the infliction of suffering on the other.
Neither of the two peoples have the monopoly of suffering
- we both are victims and we both have suffered. It is time
to say enough.
It is incumbent upon us, ordinary people, Palestinians and
Israelis, to start talking to each other beyond the simple,
recriminating, us-versus-them rhetoric. We have to engage
in a public debate and dialogue to challenge the ideas of
blind nationalism which is the real obstacle to true reconciliation.
We must take this first step, because the alternative is
the sad continuation of war and bloodshed.
Both Palestinians and Israelis are there to stay and ,consequently,
in the words of respected Columbia University professor
Edward Said, the only possible conclusion must be to find
ways for "coexistence and genuine reconciliation."
This is, I believe, the only possible way to redress injustice.