It is said of Albert Einstein that he gave a particular exam to a class that had already been given that exam. Alarmed at what he saw and thinking it to be the result of the professor’s absent-mindedness, an assistant warned Einstein of what he was about to do. The Professor just smiled and said: It’s alright the answers have changed. The same thing goes for the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the questions remain the same but now sixty years after the establishment of the Jewish State, the answers have changed.
Until about ten years ago the answer to the question of how to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East was clear: Allowing the Palestinians to establish a free, independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel. But this answer known as the “Two State Solution” belongs to a reality that no longer exists. Today, after 40 years of occupation the West Bank is riddled with settlements and highways designated for Jews only; Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza are imprisoned within a wall, impoverished and starved and there is no political will within Israel to partition the land of Israel and allow Palestinian independence — all of which indicate that clearly the answers have changed.
So what is the answer to this very difficult question? Ten million people reside between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Approximately 5.5 million Jewish Israelis and 4.5 million Palestinians, all ruled by the state of Israel, the Jewish State. The conditions under which Palestinians live range between being third class citizens within Israel, and living under a military occupation with no representation, no human rights and no civil rights. Clearly this cannot go on forever and at some point Israel will be forced to grant the Palestinians equal rights. What remains to be seen is whether this will come as a result of intense violence and bloodshed or a negotiated agreement.
Two books that have come out in recent months are relevant to this conflict and both of them demonstrate that there is a tremendous amount of change in the air. The first book that has received a great deal of attention is Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid by former US President and staunch Israel supporter, Jimmy Carter. This book has opened the door for the first time for a serious debate in the US regarding the Palestinian tragedy. In a development that is almost unparalleled, a former US President characterizes Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid. Since the book came out the debate has indeed been intense and there are no signs that this will change any time soon.
The second book is The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Israeli historian Illan Pappe. Categorizing the destruction of Palestine in the years 1947-1949 as ethnic cleansing is not new perhaps but it is worthy of mention because it is becoming more widely accepted. Pappe’s book, difficult though it is due to its detailed accounts, provides an opportunity for an in-depth study of the destruction of the Palestinian people and their homeland at the hands of the Jewish forces during the Israeli War of Independence. What might come as news to many Jewish people around the world and to many non Jewish Israel supporters is that it was in the aftermath of this campaign of ethnic cleansing that the State of Israel was established upon the ruins of Palestine.
What becomes apparent from reading the two books is that what Carter describes is congruent with what is described in Pappe’s book. In other words, current Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is an extension of the ethnic cleansing policies of the early years of the conflict.
One may argue over details in both Carter’s book and Pappe’s book, but one cannot argue with the facts that the books describe: Between the end of 1947 and the beginning of 1949, a time that Israel calls the War of Independence, close to 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile and Palestinian identity in Palestine was almost entirely wiped out. Today, Israel continues to deny Palestinian identity, not to mention Palestinian independence both within the boundaries of the State of Israel and within the occupied territories.
One possible answer to the difficult question of the Israeli Palestinian conflict could be drawn from the fact that Israel, by ruling over two nations is already a bi-national state. The solution could be to replace the current system whereby only Israeli Jews enjoy the freedoms and rights of full citizenry, with one that will allow Palestinians to enjoy those rights as well. This will create a fully democratic state in which both Israelis and Palestinians live as equals, protected by a constitution that allows both people to express their national, religious and cultural identities.
This option of a constitutional democracy that includes both Israeli Jews and Palestinians under one state is without a doubt one of the more difficult answers. After 2,000 years in exile and having survived the Nazi holocaust, the Jewish people rose from the ashes like the phoenix to create a state they can call their own. Now it seems that securing the future of the people of Israel in the land of Israel will require not only vision but also genuine political compromise.
Bringing an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict demands a serious look into the events that took place between the years 1947 and 2007: The State of Israel was created at the expense of another nation. The choice today is to fight until the last drop of blood has been shed, or to recognize the need to establish a political framework that will allow both people to live together in peace.