An important piece by Nathan Thrall in the New York Review of Books is titled “What future for Israel?” Important because it is broaching in the pages of our leading liberal intellectual journal, beloved by motheaten Zionists, the paradigm shift that has been forced by young idealists and activists: a shift from the ideal of partition to the ideal of human rights. From the ideal of preserving a Jewish state (the 67 borders and all the failed negotiations and demographic/racist baggage of that ideal) to the idea of equal rights. In a word: 1948 replaces 1967. The grievances inherent in the establishment of a Jewish state have come to the fore. The Nakba, committed by socialist Zionists, must be acknowledged at last– the Nakba now embodied in colonization of the West Bank. And when those ethnic undertakings/crimes are openly discussed, how many American Jews will not begin to question “What future for Israel?”
Maybe Tony Judt was too abrupt for this same audience 10 years ago when he said that Israel was an “anachronism.” Thrall has a lighter touch, but it amounts to the same news. Though we’ll probably have to wait another ten years for it to sink in.
Israel’s turn away from the Palestinians has brought an overdue shift in focus from the borders of the state to what lies within them. Jewish identity was a central issue of the 2013 election; indirectly, so too was the place of minorities in the Jewish state. Among Israeli citizens, Jews but not Palestinians have collective rights to land, immigration, symbols such as their own flag, and commemorations, particularly of the Nakba, the catastrophe of Palestinian defeat and expulsion in 1948. Jews and non-Jews cannot legally marry. Current residents of Jerusalem homes that were abandoned during the 1948 war have been evicted to make room for former owners and their descendants—but only when the deed holders are Jews.
The inequality of Jews and non-Jews within Israel’s pre-1967 borders—in which Palestinian citizens and residents lived under military rule from 1948 until the end of 1966—prepared the ground for still more unequal arrangements in the West Bank after the 1967 war. Both were created by the Ashkenazi Labor Zionist elite that now criticizes the settlers for dynamics it set in place. On what grounds, [author Yehouda] Shenhav asks, is the idea of Jewish settlement in ruined Palestinian villages within the pre-1967 borders—formerly inhabited, in many cases, by Palestinian citizens internally displaced by war—considered more moral than Jewish settlement on Palestinian agricultural lands of the West Bank? The former, he argues, involved far more human suffering. [Author Asher] Susser, indeed any Zionist, would surely object to comparisons that would cast doubt on Israeli claims to its pre-1967 territory. But he offers strong support for the underlying premise that the root of the conflict is not east of the Green Line but in the more than century-old project of Zionist settlement itself.
The fading importance of the pre-1967 borders means a breaking with illusions and a return to the true nature of the conflict: a struggle between two ethnic groups between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea….
Israel, Susser argues, almost certainly will not achieve an end of conflict, much less recognition of a Jewish state, without meeting Palestinian demands to admit responsibility for the flight and expulsion of refugees of the 1948 war…
Many Israeli leaders believe that any such acknowledgment of responsibility or acceptance of Palestinian claims to return would shake the very foundations of the state, undermining its international legitimacy and upending decades of Zionist teaching by conceding that Israel was responsible for forcibly dispossessing large numbers of Palestinian civilians from their land and homes at its birth. Netanyahu understands the size of this obstacle, or once did, yet is moving with Kerry to renew talks based on the foundering 1967 model.
Kerry, like his predecessors, has concentrated on 1967 issues such as borders and security, showing few signs that he has learned from past failures. One hopes that he is not under the mistaken impression that Olmert and Abbas were inches away from a real agreement. Those talks did not come close to resolving even the 1967 issues. What’s more, compared to Olmert, Netanyahu is less desperate, less willing to compromise on 1948 issues, and is making calculations in a region that has become less stable and forgiving of risk.