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Can Zionism Be Reconciled With Justice For The Palestinians?

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2000

"Modern Zionism can be reconciled with reasonable justice for the Palestinians," writes Professor Jerome Slater of the State University of New York at Buffalo in Tikkun (July_August 2000), "but only if we discard Zionist mythology, especially the argument that political sovereignty over Palestine belongs, eternally and rightfully, to the Jewish people and only to the Jewish people. The best argument—and the only one necessary—for modern Zionism is the existence of the contemporary Israeli state itself."  

While "there can be no perfect justice for the Palestinians," Slater argues, there can be "creative compromises" most of which "must be made by the Israelis, both because they were the perpetrators of injustice to the Palestinians and because the Palestinians have already made most of the major compromises. By now, almost everyone understands the principles by which an imperfect but reasonable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma can be reached."  

The first step toward a solution, in Slater's view, "must be to demythologize Zionism by sorting out bad arguments from good ones....The terrible paradox of Zionism is that while the arguments for a Jewish state were so strong as to be nearly self-evident, most of the arguments for the right to create that state in Palestine were weak...this claim could not be reconciled with Palestinian rights and claims."  

While Theodor Herzl, Zionism's founder, considered the location of a Jewish state an open question, Slater notes that, "The turning point—and the origin of the Palestinian-Israeli and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict—came at the Zionist Congress of 1903, which decisively condemned any effort to create the Jewish state in any place but biblical Palestine...even if alternatives to Palestine had ultimately proven to be unfeasible, the search for them would have required Zionists to dissociate Jewish nationalism from biblical theology, and that would have made the need for a just compromise with the Palestinians evident from the start,"  

Slater rejects "the Zionist canon" which holds that "the Jewish people have an eternal right to Palestine by virtue both of God's will and Jewish settlement of the land." He points out that, "Palestine has been repeatedly conquered by outside invaders since ancient history: by Assyria, Babylonia, Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Crusaders, the Arabs, the Ottoman Empire—indeed, if the Bible is to be the historical source, by the Jews themselves! On each occasion, the previous inhabitants of the land were killed, driven into exile, or subjugated....Who, then, are the `rightful' claimants?"  

What would a compromise peace agreement include? Slater writes that, "...the solution to the Palestinian problem must be the return of some small numbers of refugees to Israel...but the resettlement of all the others who wish to exercise their `right of return' to the new state of Palestine, with generous economic compensation from Israel and development assistance from the wealthy states of the international community."  

Slater concludes by urging Israelis to abandon the rhetoric of the past, such as the declaration that "we live in a bad neighborhood" and declares, "Israel's policies are part of the neighborhood's problems, not a solution to them...Just what do they (the Israeli right wing) think will be the outcome of Israeli intransigence and provocations in a neighborhood including growing Palestinian desperation, rising Arab Islamic fundamentalist fanaticism, and the inexorable, irreversible spread of weapons of mass destruction?"  

In response, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner calls for a new intellectual foundation for the Israeli state in order to facilitate reconciliation with the Palestinians: "...the central aspect of that discourse must be a recognition that we are presented with two peoples who are equally entitled and equally in error. If both sides can acknowledge that...we have the foundation for peace. With that foundation in place, we will be able to move to the next stage, requiring the Jewish people to recognize that it is our responsibility to take the most decisive steps to rectify the current situation, not because we are more wrong, but we are more powerful...After 33 years of military occupation, it's time for Israel to end its occupation, dismantle its settlements or tell the settlers they must live as law-abiding citizens in a Palestinian state, and simply withdraw from the West Bank."  

Lerner calls for both sides "to recognize the legitimacy of the others' claims" and concludes that "a return to prophetic Judaism and a renewal of the deepest truths of Jewish history would lead us to treat the PalestinIan people as our brothers and sisters...It is this reconciliation of the heart that is impeded when people insist on telling the story in such a way that one side must be right and the other wrong. >From my reading of Torah and Jewish tradition, it is only when both sides transcend the need to make the other wrong, and instead approach each other with compassion and forgiveness, that we can overcome the destructive nationalism of the past and begin to build a world based on a deep recognition of the unity of all humans..."

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