Carlo Strenger
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 10, 2010 - 1:00am

It was only a matter of time, the writing has been on the wall. The Palestinians have warned repeatedly that if negotiations did not move forward, they would resort to one of two strategies: to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and hand Israel responsibility for administering the West Bank; or, to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner has now joined her Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in recognizing the Palestinian state. They have probably set a precedent that will draw in more South American countries, along with many developing nations. The Palestinians will certainly have a majority in the UN General Assembly soon and will ask for recognition - taking a page from the Zionist movement, which achieved the same on November 29, 1947.

Is this bad for the Jews? I don't think so, even though it would be vastly preferable for Israel to strive actively toward the implementation of the two-state solution, rather than being dragged into it kicking, screaming and haggling for more gifts from Uncle Sam in return for a 90-day settlement freeze.

"But," the self-appointed defenders of Israel's interest from the right will argue, "this is naive! Benjamin Netanyahu has been vindicated by the last installment of WikiLeaks; we all now know that the Palestinian problem is not the real issue in the Middle East! The real problem is Iran! Now we can finally convince the world that they should stop pressuring us on Palestine!"

Well, it's time to clarify something. Those of us who have, for years, argued that Israel needs to stop ruling the Palestinians, have in more recent years reverted to arguing that this is also in Israel's interest and have warned that Israel is maneuvering itself into unprecedented international isolation. But this was basically a rhetorical ploy. The real reason Israel needs the two-state solution is not because we want to please the gentiles; we just thought that, at this point, Israel's right wing would only listen to narrowly pragmatic arguments.

The real reason for insisting on the two-state solution is that we want this state to have a Jewish character. And by Jewish we don't mean that it should be a theocracy, or that it should give Jews more rights than Arabs. We mean that the State of Israel must finally learn the lesson of the history of persecution Jews have endured for two millennia.

This persecution was due to one, unpalatable characteristic of human nature: to think and feel in tribal terms. Jews were persecuted because they had a different religion; because they behaved differently, and because they insisted on their right to determine their own identity. First we were persecuted on religious grounds, then on spurious racial conceptions of purity.

It has taken humanity most of history, including the Holocaust, to come to realize that we need an understanding of human rights that transcends the boundaries of all nation states. The overwhelming majority of Jews around the world have enthusiastically embraced this idea. If only the world had reacted to the Nazis the way they, belatedly, reacted in Bosnia and, just in time, in Kosovo! If only it had been clear then that all human beings, regardless of their color or creed, have the same rights!

"But," the standard right-wing interlocutor will say, "this whole conception of human rights is a sham! Look at Iran; look at Saudi Arabia; look at Egypt; look at Hamas; they keep using the argument of human rights, while trampling these rights in their own countries. Why should we be the ones to take the idea of universal human rights seriously?" The answer is simple: because it is based on universal justice. We Jews pride ourselves on upholding notions of justice as non-negotiable; on our unswerving belief that ethics is not a matter of power, but of objective goodness. That is why Jews played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States; that is why Jews fight against racism and other forms of discrimination all over the world. The argument "but others don't behave as they should" has never been part of the Jewish way of thinking.

It is therefore a pity if Israel will have to be dragged into the two-state solution by international pressure, rather than on its own initiative. The Jewish people has survived because it has never believed that might is right; because it has insisted that there is no compromise on issues of principle. I firmly believe that the current wave of nationalism sweeping Israel is but a brief historical episode, that the majority of Israelis have been swept into it by panic, manipulated by professional fearmongers.

Once we return to the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, of sticking to principle rather than being guided by fear, we will reconnect to our historical source of strength.


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