Zionism, the Palestinians, & Peace

Do the various ideologies of Zionism allow for the practical coexistence of Jews and Palestinians?

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But not all Zionists accepted that compromise was the way out of the conflict. Vladimir Jabotinsky, charismatic leader of the right-wing Revisionist movement, constantly chided the Labor leadership for underestimating the power of Arab nationalism. What self-respecting people, he asked, would sell off their inviolable rights in return for economic gain?

Trying to bribe the Arabs--who, in Jabotinsky's view, were a proud nation worthy of more respect--could only result in failure. And if Arab nationalism could not be appeased, it must be uncompromisingly resisted.

Seeing the conflict as a zero-sum game out of which only one winner could emerge, Jabotinksy promoted the creation of an unbreachable "iron wall" of military might. The realization that Zionism couldn't be defeated by force, he believed, would put an end to Arab hostility, paving the way for the integration of Arab citizens into the Jewish state on the basis of individual--but not national--rights. Premature attempts at compromise would project weakness, and could only serve to encourage Arab rejectionism.

Jabotinsky's philosophy led the Zionist right wing to reject the partition plans and--since the Six Day War--to press for the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and the extension of Jewish rule over the "undivided land of Israel."

Joining forces with the religious Zionist settler movement, the Right has opposed attempts at territorial compromise, asserting the Jewish people's exclusive right to the land and arguing that any future peace agreement must be on the basis of the Arabs' unconditional recognition of Israel.

Into the Present

The fact that all the major Zionist thinkers professed a belief in peace may be unsurprising. But beyond this commitment to an abstract value, do the various ideological formulations allow for the practical coexistence of Jews and Palestinians?

With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that both left- and right-wing Zionists had important insights into the conflict between Jews and Arabs. Events--particularly the intifadas or Palestinian uprisings of 1987 and 2000--have borne out Jabotinsky's appreciation of Palestinian nationalism's power. But they have also confirmed the Left's understanding that peace cannot be achieved without compromising Zionist aims.

In this light, traditional right-wing Zionism, marked by its refusal to make concessions and by its reliance on force, seems incompatible with Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Moreover, the desire to preserve Israel's Jewish majority without sacrificing any of the heavily populated Palestinian territories has boosted the popularity of transfer--the policy of resettling Palestinians outside of Israel.

Clearly, no compromise can be based on an ideology which denies the Palestinians' basic rights to statehood and even to remaining in their homes.

The current peace process, from the Oslo agreements through the Road Map, has been shaped by the Zionist Left's commitment to territorial compromise and the two state solution. The post-Zionist claim that Israel's Zionist identity is the root of the conflict has been undermined by the PLO's recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. And if the conflict stems not from Israel's existence but from her control of the Palestinian territories, then it can be resolved not by tampering with the state's Jewish character but by addressing the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.