Shaul Arieli
Haaretz (Opinion)
July 27, 2010 - 12:00am

Most of the Jewish public perceives the refusal by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accede to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state prior to negotiations and a final agreement as evidence of a hidden agenda. For them, this agenda is based on a "strategy of phases" and the aspiration to destroy Israel as a Zionist state.

But many who believe so are blind to a process in which, under cover of the demand to recognize Israel as the "Jewish state," another state is developing here - one which is alien to the Zionist vision of the "founding fathers" and is leading to that vision's demise. Therefore, before seeking such recognition from the Palestinians, the Israeli public ought to first clarify with itself what kind of Jewish state it wants. It should demand that the prime minister work to shape the state according to this perception, and it should be prepared to pay a "painful price" for it.

We must decide whether the Zionist impetus for establishing Israel and its reason for existence relate to the need for a safe haven for the Jewish people (which Theodor Herzl was prepared to realize through sovereignty in any territory ), or perhaps "we settled ... because we were commanded to inherit the land," according to the doctrine of the disciples of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.

Historical Zionism viewed the state as a modern tool that would ensure the existence of the Jewish people through the ingathering of exiles and building a society that enjoys sovereignty, a Jewish majority, national security, and economic and social strength. As these elements are more important than historical territory, the borders of a state established according to this vision have no religious sanctity.

In order to achieve the goals of Zionism, its elected institutions have legitimacy and authority to concede parts of the homeland, just as David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon did.

In contrast, leaders of the Gush Emunim settlement movement through the years have believed that the ingathering of exiles, establishment of the state and maintaining its security are merely initial layers in the process of the Jewish people's redemption, the completion of which requires conquering the whole country. In their view, the Knesset and government have no legitimate authority to relinquish what was divinely promised to the Jewish people. Lately we've even been told that the land is "the wife" which must be clung to in its entirety - even at the price of conceding the Jewish state, which is no more than the temporary "handmaiden."

Israelis must decide if they want a state that is part of the family of nations, that recognizes international law and the decisions of the international community, or a state in which "the historic right" of the Jewish people overrides every other right - including human rights, civil rights and community rights - and legitimizes ruling over the Palestinian people, dispossessing them and discriminating against them.

In other words, do we want a state based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace that maintains social and political equality, or a state in which, in the words of the late Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, no law - national or international - can infringe on the Jews' ownership and proprietary rights, according to Torah law, over the entire Land of Israel? The practical meaning of such a question is whether Israel should seek peace and pursue it, or adopt the position that says seeking peace harms security and we must therefore "empty the land of its inhabitants."

Zionism means a democratic state of the Jewish people, in which a Jewish majority lives alongside an Arab minority with equal rights. It means a state that is part of the family of nations. In order to realize the goals of Zionism, we must relinquish 22 percent of the Land of Israel.

By contrast, the vision of the right is none other than a "strategy of phases" to eliminate the Zionist vision - by sanctifying land more than life, by casting a pall over Zionism and by turning Israel into a pariah state.


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