This concludes my IsraLeft Salvage project, with my first ever post that was based on my academic work – work that was presented at the Association for Israel Studies conference in 2010, and is now going through the arduous process of publication (hopefully). This is me mulling over some ideas by taking what is essentially a footnote in that paper, and turning it into a full fledged argument. Originally published January 23, 2010.
In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.
- Winston Churchill
Bi-nationalism has never had much support in the Zionist movement. Only tiny, fringe groups such as Brit Shalom and the Ihud movement, as well as a few notable personalities such as Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, have supported this idea in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.
Oh, and also leader of the right-wing liberal Revisionist movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Many are aware that Jabotinsky has proclaimed that in the Jewish state, when the Prime Minister is Jewish, his deputy should be an Arab, and when the Prime Minister is Arab (in the Jewish state!), his deputy should be Jewish. Few know that this was not merely an oratory proclamation, but part of Jabotinsky’s suggestion for Israel’s constitution. Fewer still really give much thought to Jabotinsky’s vision of Israel – those on the left prefer to view him through the prism of contemporary right wing Israeli politics, while those on the right invoke his name but prefer not to invoke his ideals. And they know why: Jabotinsky’s plans for Israel were wildly different from what his supposed followers now preach. If anything, however, today’s right-wing carried on the disingenuous disposition of Mapai, the socialist movement that has lead Zionism during the years directly preceding and the decades following independence.
But Jabotinsky’s teachings are worthwhile to study1, because he had a keen perception of reality which at the same time did not dampen a no less keen moral sense. More than anyone else in Zionism’s history (seconded by Menachem Begin, Jabotinsky’s only true follower to amount to anything in Israeli politics), Ze’ev Jabotinsky adhered to the principles set out by Winston Churchill in full: not just resolution in war and defiance in defeat – anyone can do that, but goodwill in peace, and most important of all, that most elusive of virtues: magnanimity in victory – these are the marks of a truly moral human.
Jabotinsky’s writings as a whole are a peculiar tangle of liberal thought and romantic nationalism. But when he wrote on the topic of the Arabs in Palestine, his analysis was insightful and incisive. He warned those who spoke of bi-nationalism that the Arabs will never agree to the formation of a bi-national state in the Land of Israel so long as they are given choice. More importantly, they are completely justified in this refusal. Jabotinsky, unlike his socialist contemporaries or his alleged successors in the Israeli right, did not think that Jewish claims to the Land of Israel lessened in any way the claims of Palestine’s Arabs to the land of their own forefathers. He knew that no solution will be fully moral, and that as a result, force will have to prevail if the Jews are to have any place of their own in the world. The natives of a land, he noted – speaking of the Arabs, of course – never cede their power over it, nor should they willingly do so morally.
The bi-nationalists, then, could never really hope to get the agreement of the indigenous inhabitants of the land to be colonized2. But if the bi-nationalists were overly idealistic, the socialists were downright disingenuous. In their own internal communications the leaders of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine supported the Partition Plan with the clear intention that the initial space allotted to the Jews would merely be a stepping stone towards expanding the Jewish state. When four decades later people accused Yasser Arafat of harboring intentions for a “phases plan” of slowly taking over larger and larger portions of Israel’s territory until nothing is left, little did they know that such a plan would merely mirror the plans of the Jewish leadership on the eve of the declaration of independence.
Even when giving half-hearted lip-service to the notion of a bi-national state, those leaders admitted internally that the purpose was to establish “facts on the ground” until a Jewish majority can be achieved between the Jordan river and the sea, which would then allow for a “democratic take-over” of the state. Again, a strategy mirrored by the “Palestinian womb as a weapon” strategy propagated by Arafat. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the demographic issue as a constant threat, dictating policy in Israel since its creation.
But while the socialists strove to achieve a majority so they may abrogate Arab rights altogether, Jabotinsky believed that once a majority is achieved, it can then be leveraged to convince the Arab inhabitants of the Jewish state to take a full partnership in the state, including, as noted above, sharing the government equally, as well as equitable duties such as military service, alongside equal rights. He believed that from a position of power, we may – as was eventually written in the declaration of independence but never really done in reality – extend a peaceful hand to our new neighbours, and build a state that can serve as a real home for both peoples.
Jabotinsky never lived to see the Jewish state rise from the ashes of murderous war. For a long time his followers in the Knesset were too weak to influence policy in any significant manner, and by the time they have achieved power they have already been corrupted by repeated wars and occupation (not to mention Begin’s own quirks, which exceed the scope of this post), and little remained of the hadar (“glory”) of their leader of yore, replaced instead with more base ideas of honour (in the sense more akin to “honour killings” than any other conception of honour).
And yet, it is still not to late too show magnanimity. We are still the victors in this prolonged battle. To change our tune once Jews are again a minority in the Land of Israel will be not only pathetic, but also useless – we cannot hope to get from the Palestinians what we never gave to them. We are at a critical place in the history of our two peoples: strong enough to still be able to extend our hand from a position of power, but weak enough to be able to see the unappealing alternative. As more and more people on both sides grow disillusioned with the false hope of a two-state solution, it is now the time to push for a just, sustainable solution that will see this land shared – not divided – between the two peoples who call it a home.Notes: