Let’s face it – we are now beginning the 51st year of a one-state binational reality. There is only one state between the River and the Sea, and it is Israel.
So what is Israel? Can Israel really, honestly be called the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People? I travel the length and the width of this country, north and south, crossing all kinds of borders. I was not born here, but have lived here for almost 39 years – my entire adult life has been here. I live in Jewish Jerusalem, or what is referred to as west Jerusalem. I have spent all of the past 39 years in a binational reality.
I lived for two years in a Palestinian village in Israel.
I directed for almost 10 years a joint Jewish-Arab organization working for what we use to call “Jewish-Arab coexistence.” I founded and co-directed a joint Israeli- Palestinian “think and do tank” (as we called it) for 24 years. For the past five years I have been working on major economic development projects to help to bring about a stronger and more independent Palestinian economy, so that there would be a stronger, sounder basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In all of these years I have never lost track of my Jewish-Israeli-Zionist identity and the reasons why I chose Israel to be my home and the place where my children, and soon my first grandchild, would be born. I have never lost sight of my ultimate goal to live in peace both within “the house” between the Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel and between the State of Israel and the future state of Palestine.
I have spent the last days of this week (as I do almost every week) visiting Palestinian villages, towns and cities in the south of the West Bank – in Judea. I met with the newly elected mayors and town and city council members from Si’ir, al-Shuyukh, Beit Ula, Tarkumiya, Bani Naim, Kharas and Halhoul. Next week I will be in the center and the north of the West Bank, in Samaria, doing the same.
This land of ours is remarkably beautiful and I feel connected, a part of every part of it. But it is not exclusively ours. Our land is scarred with pain and trauma and continued conflict. We do not live a normal existence – not us, and not our Palestinian neighbors. How many other Israelis or Palestinians feel free to wander around this land – visiting each other’s communities and feeling welcome wherever they go?
I recognize every day that what I am doing, or trying to do, is not normal. In reality the continued conflict has built not only the physical walls and blockades that divide and separate us but so many walls of fear and hatred that prevent us from meeting, and prevent us from seeing the humanity and the good that exists on the other side of the conflict.
I drive in my own car and travel with Palestinian partners as well as on my own. I have built partnerships and trusting relationships over decades. I do not want to occupy the Palestinians. I am not afraid of Palestinian independence and of making peace with them. Peace has a price and the main price for Israel is the recognition that all of the Land of Israel cannot be controlled and owned by Israel. Peace will require Israel to recognize a Palestinian state that will be established on 22% of the land and whose borders will be based on those in which Israel was sovereign until June 4, 1967. Palestinians have given up their dream of Palestine from River to Sea, and if they haven’t, they will have to. Their state will be on 22% the land, and they will have to recognize that the Jewish People are not only a religion, but also a nation, one that is deeply connected to this land.
Both sides claim that they have already made significant concessions to the other and that there is nothing left to give. This is a false statement from both sides. Both sides will make additional concessions, because that is the only way they will be able to make peace. Palestinians will have to recognize Jewish connections to Jerusalem, as Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub did this past week in his reference to the Western Wall being a Jewish holy site the Jews will always have control over. Israel will have to recognize that Palestinians have deep connections to the land and to Jerusalem and that al-Aksa – the entire Temple Mount – is a Muslim holy site and will always be under Muslim control (until God decides to change that).
Neither Judaism and Islam have no prohibitions regarding Jerusalem or any of its sites being open to people of other faiths – even for prayer – and both sides will have to formally recognize that as well.
Palestinians could take a huge step forward toward Israel by seriously teaching peace in their schools. That is not a concession to Israel, but rather a service to their own society and their young citizens. Israel should also teach peace formally and start by recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination in state of their own, in Palestine, next to Israel. That would not be a concession to the Palestinians but rather a service to their own people and especially their young citizens. Those steps would send the more serious message of the true willingness to live in peace.
Palestinian independence is essential for Israeli independence.
Inter-dependence would be the end result in a healthy relationship between neighbors who have a lot of good reasons to wish for the security, stability and prosperity of each other. Fifty years of occupation is by far too long, and it will take many years to overcome the damage that has been done. Both sides have suffered and even though the occupied have suffered far more than the occupiers we have all suffered too much and too long. It will help neither side to continue the war of victimhood – we are all far too good at it.
The blame game has no victor. If both people want to be a free people in their land, it can only happen when both sides are free in their land – if only one side has freedom, it is never really free.
The author is founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives www.ipcri.org.