With the demise of the two state solution and with the realization that fulfilling the dream of two states for two peoples is probably no longer a viable political option for our future in this land, it is essential to rethink what is important for me as a Jewish Israeli to include within the development of a new vision.
From the outset, it is important to note that the two state solution, at least for me, was the best way possible to ensure that Israel would remain the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
Within that perspective, I also believed that if a democratic nation-state of the Palestinian people were to be established next to Israel within the territories conquered by Israel in June 1967, then Israel could actually be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens, with genuine full equality for all Israelis – Jewish and Palestinian.
If there was a place where Palestinians, including the Palestinian citizens of Israel, could express their national identity, and Israel and the state of Palestine were at peace, there would no longer be a threat of Palestinian collective national expression within Israel. Furthermore, I believed that if there was a Jewish minority in the Palestinian state, it would be possible to create balances of equality regarding the rights of minorities in both states. But this no longer seems possible, Israel physically dismantled the two states solution with Israeli settlements and deepening military control, and the young generation of Palestinians are against granting peace to Israel in exchange for a mini-Palestinian state, without addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees.
The discussion of what other options are possible is not binary between two states and one single democratic state for both peoples. The issue is much more complex, and we need to expand our minds and think way out of the box. For me as a Jewish Israeli who initially immigrated to Israel 44 years ago as an activist in a Zionist Youth movement, the idea of living in the homeland of the Jewish people was important.
My Jewishness was primarily expressed for me as being part of a people. The concept of peoplehood for Jews is where I found my expressions of solidarity and identification with Jews in Israel and around the world. As I got to know Palestinians on a close, personal level, I discovered how similar we are in terms of our common sense of peoplehood – of belonging to a people with a deep longing for a national home.
For me, my first vivid expression of this sense of belonging for Palestinians was in 1989, where I shared a panel with the PLO ambassador to the Netherlands, Dr. Afif Safieh. Afif comes from Jerusalem. He was outside of Palestine, in 1967, studying abroad and when the first Israeli census took place after the 1967 war, Afif was not at home and he lost his right to live in Palestine. After our public meeting, Afif invited all of the young Palestinians in the hall to come to his home for a light meal and coffee. He also invited me to join in.
There were about 20 young Palestinians there. When the discussion got underway, they began playing the Palestinian version of the Jewish geography game. Each person in the room told their personal story, about their family and where in Palestine they come from.
Very soon it became clear that every person in the room had some kind of connection with many others present. It was such a familiar scene for me, as a Jew, having had so many similar conversations with others in Jewish gatherings.
Facing the complexities of our collective realities
The first thing I propose to challenge our minds is that we need to recognize that all of the land of Israel, from the river to the sea, is the homeland of the Jewish people. At the same time, we need to recognize that all of the land of Palestine, from the river to the sea, is the homeland of the Palestinian people.
This concept of homeland, moledet in Hebrew and watan in Arabic, appeared in the Balfour Declaration of 1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people...” The British did not talk about a Jewish state in Palestine and they did not intend for the Jewish people to have full sovereignty over all of the Land of Palestine/Israel.
In the context of searching for new paradigms to live in peace in this land, it would be great if the British government were to issue a belated correction that would state: Her Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Israel/Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and the Palestinian people.” But we are not dealing with history here, rather the future.
For me as a Jewish Israeli, it is important that Israel continues to be the center for the expression and development of Hebrew culture. It is important for me that there be public expressions of Jewish identity – cultural and religious. It is important for me that Israel continue to provide shelter for Jews around the world who are in danger and are in need of a safe haven when they are persecuted or threatened because they are Jews.
I also know that, for Palestinians, it is very important for them to have a home where they can freely express their identity, language, culture, religions and also serve as a safe haven for Palestinians all around the world. If we can agree on these basic principles, we can find acceptable solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For me, I no longer have a need to define myself as a Zionist. That word has lost its meaning for me as it has become increasingly expressed as Jewish superiority not only within the sovereign of Israel, but also within the West Bank, where Jewish Israelis are a small minority. That cannot be the basis of any kind of solution to this conflict. In searching for solutions, I suggest going back to the two terms repeatedly used by Benjamin Netanyahu over many years: mutuality and reciprocity.
I would add to those terms a third and a fourth term: equality and equity. We all need to think very hard about what is important and essential for us, as individuals and as collectives. These are the key interests that we have to bring to a new negotiating table. We two peoples exist here on this land, we want to preserve and protect our identities, and allow them to flourish. We want to protect our human and collective civil and national rights. We want to guarantee our safety and security, both personally and nationally.
These interests are mutual and they must be reciprocal. Using this paradigm for negotiations and investing a lot of brain power and creativity, there is hope that we two peoples can find solutions and through that process, create a much more positive reality for ourselves and for our future generations.