Flashback May 8 08 – Israel is 60, Zionism is Dead, What Now?
I. The Fact of Israel
Israel at 60 is an intractable historical fact. It has one of the world's strongest armies, without peer in the Middle East, and its 200 or so nuclear warheads give it the last word in any military showdown with any of its neighbors. Don't believe the hype about an Iranian threat Israel certainly fears Iran attaining strategic nuclear capability, but not because it expects Iran to launch a suicidal nuclear exchange. That's the sort of scare-story that gets trotted out for public consumption in Israel and the U.S. Behind closed doors, Israeli leaders admit that even a nuclear-armed Iran does not threaten Israel's existence. (Israel's security doctrine, however, is based on maintaining an overwhelming strategic advantage over all challengers, so the notion of parity along the lines of Cold War Mutually Assured Destruction with Iran is a major challenge, because without a nuclear monopoly, Israel loses a trump card in the regional power battle.)
Palestinian militants may be able to make life in certain parts of Israel exceedingly unpleasant at times, but they are unable to reverse the Nakbah of 1948 through military means. (Hamas knows this as well as Fatah does, which is why it is ready to talk about a long-term hudna and coexistence although it won't roll over and accept Israel's terms as relayed by Washington in the way that the current Fatah leadership might.)
Israel, in other words, is here to stay and its citizens know this, which may be why they appear to be more indifferent to the search for peace with the Palestinians than at any time in the past three decades. So confident are the Israelis in being able to withstand whatever the Palestinians throw at them that they are able to turn away from the hellish life they have created for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Sure, let Olmert a weak and skittish leader whose domestic political standing is comparable to that of President Bush, except that the Israeli prime minister can't seem to shake off the whiff of corruption engage in the charade of negotiating a hypothetical peace (let s be very clear about this: the current talks between Abbas and Olmert are aimed only at designing a shelf agreement, the elaboration of an horizon not unlike the Geneva exercise by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed-Rabbo a couple of years ago not a series of steps or deadlines that anyone plans to implement this is its most optimistic outcome; even that seems doomed to fail, though ) with a hypothetical Palestinian leader. (To paraphrase Stalin on the pope, how many divisions does Mahmoud Abbas command?) Who cares? It's not as if Olmert is going to confront the settlers or even dismantle most of the 600 or so roadblocks that choke life in the West Bank. So let him and Abbas perform their endless duet of the Beach Boys 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'.
V. Israel Without Zionism
On Yom Kippur in 1979, instead of going to shul a pointless exercise for an atheist who no longer felt the need to pretend for the sake of communal bonds, now that I was forging my own community I stayed home and read Uri Avnery s seminal book, Israel Without Zionism. His work was a revelation that had a major part in my deprogramming as a Zionist. Here was a soldier of the Haganah speaking bluntly about the crimes committed against the Palestinians in 1948, laying bare the brutal truth beneath the national mythology I'd been spoonfed. Avnery recognized that for Israelis to be able to live in peace in their neighborhood, their starting point had to be relinquishing the ideology that rationalized their conquest and displacement of others, and instead to forge a common commitment to justice.
Zionism rationalizes conquest and colonization as redemption of Jewish territory on behalf of the world's Jews. It treats the Palestinians only as an obstacle and threat to its own purposes, not as people with the same rights as Jews and with legitimate claim to the land on which they were born. And yet, there's a guilty conscience that sometimes emerges in flashes a rare moment of Jewish ethical recognition, that is quite at odds with Zionism. My favorite came from Ehud Barak, world class chump though he may be in the annals of statesmanship, when he was on the campaign trail in 1999, and was asked by a TV talkshow host what he d have done if he d been born Palestinian. Join a fighting organization, he said in a flash of honesty he'd later regretted.