Now that Ariel Sharon has been returned to power and his regime endorsed in its brutal occupation of Palestine, it seems to me that the time has come to ask whether the 50-year-old experiment known as the state of Israel has proven to be a failure and should be abandoned.
Two things seem abundantly clear from the long months of multi-ethnic carnage in the Middle East. The first is that Israel cannot live in peace with the Palestinians unless it finally establishes a dictatorial apartheid rule and confines them in Arab bantustans.
The second is that the Palestinians will not live in peace with Israel, not even if they achieve their promised statehood, for they share the deep, decades-old hostility to the Jewish state that has not abated but increased throughout the Arab world in recent years. We may disregard as hollow the rhetoric claiming that Israel would be accepted if it was confined to its pre-1967 borders, which is something that it will not do, anyway.
With the Likud electoral victory, we can expect, even if eventually some American-brokered peace plan is nominally agreed upon, that Israel will fortify its borders, continue occupying Palestinian territory at will, bolster its support for West Bank settlements, and keep on using military retaliation for any Palestinian acts of sabotage or terror. And that Palestine, though most of its armed organizations will have been decimated, will be unable or unwilling to stop such acts, including suicide bombing, newly fueled by the hatred stemming from the present Israeli occupation.
Israel will win this little war against the intifada, and Palestine will be effectively disembowled, but there will not be peace. In fact, there is guaranteed to be more violence.
And there will continue to be violence as long as Israel exists amidst a population that for the most part abhors, and in only a few quarters tolerates, its presence.
We all understand the reason for Israel’s existence in the first place. Guilt, and reparation. But was it not a certain recipe for unrest and disorder to forcibly establsih a Jewish homeland in the Middle East and, in effect, put down 2 million Jews in the middle of 200 million Arabs?
What would have happened if it was decided in 1948 that 2 million African-Americans should be returned to, say, a partitioned Ghana, supported by an annual $6 billion in aid from the American government? Or, perhaps more to the point, if those African-Americans, who arguably deserve reparation of some kind, were established in that part of the Middle East, approximating the present borders of Israel, that their African ancestors settled from about 100,000 years ago on? Their claims of priority would vastly outrank any Biblical ones for the Jews, but it is hard to think that they would have been welcomed by the Arabs there, and tolerated only if they had superior military power and the support of the U.S.
Yes, I am arguing that the original idea of a Jewish state, from the Balfour Declaration on down, was a mistake, and to establish it in an Islamic Middle East essentially by force and with the emiseration of millions of natives was a tragic mistake. We are reaping the awful results of that error today.
It is of course not so easy to know what to do to undo that mistake, but I would argue that a world that can make a state can unmake it. In its place one might establish a non-religious Palestine covering all of the original British Mandate in which Jews, Moslems, Christians, and others would have equal rights and equal votes, as a few Israelis have suggested in recent years; or a “bi-ethnic/bi-national” state with equal powers toJews and Moslems something along the lines of Switzerland, Belgium, or a future Ireland; or an Islamic state that would be forced by international vigilence to give, and maintain, full religious and political rights to the Jews, who would then be free to settle in the West Bank and elsewhere.
The process need not be unduly rapid-and just the prospect of it might well be enough to put an end to the present intifada-and it should include an extensive international effort to resettle those Israelis who would not want to remain in the Middle East. Given the skill and intelligence of the Israeli workforce one can imagine that a great many countries would welcome such settlers, even in large aggregates. The diaspora, after all, has existed since 70 A.D., far longer than the state has, and might even be thought of as the natural or historic role of Jewry.
I know full well that such ideas are an anathema to most Israelis, who after all have made the land their home in the last 50 years. But I would suggest that the way things are going their options in maintaining a Jewish state are limited: an apartheid state with Palestinians forcibly removed from Israael and no end to the violence; a Stalinist police state with an end to both violence and democracy; and a democratic one-person-one-vote state encompassing all Jews and Arabs, in which Palestinians will soon outnumber Jews.
Among those choices, abandoning the experiment of the Israeli state does not seem so far-fetched or undesirable.
KIRKPATRICK SALE is the author of nine books, including Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age and The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org