Free At Last?
Reading the news day after day, I find myself giddy at the prospect of the Palestinians unilaterally declaring independence. This step will force a decision by Israel, the United States, and the rest of the world on whether or not to recognize it—and how to embrace change after it happens.
First and foremost, the Palestinians deserve independence. They deserve a state—a homeland—of their own, formally, officially, and with the same status and international recognition that the Zionists themselves fought for in 1948. Palestinians also deserve a homeland free of occupying forces, and free from the arbitrary application of laws and civil rights that have characterized the Israeli occupation. Historical arguments aside, Palestinians in the last 40+ years have asserted their identity and taken ownership of it, much the way that Jews themselves created the Zionist movement. Palestinians exist as a people, and they deserve their independence and the right to govern themselves.
As an American (and an American Jew) I find sustenance in the universal principles that served to underpin the creation of the United States. Our Declaration of Independence reads, in part: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.” This aptly describes the situations of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, both under the repressive Egyptian and Jordanian regimes in the period before 1967, and under the Israelis in the years since. Americans have a moral obligation to support Palestinian efforts to achieve freedom the same way we sought such support in our own times of need.
At the same time, I believe that Palestinian independence will bring a kind of normalization—either that, or a real and true international isolation. An independent Palestine must find ways to coexist and trade with Israel; there is little choice, since developing into a military and economic equal will take decades. As part of coexistence, a Palestinian state will need to bring under control the most militant, anti-Israel factions within it: this new state cannot afford the reprisals that will come from Israel (or elsewhere) if Palestine is used as a home base for terrorism. In fact, Palestinians in an independent state will have lost their (already slim) justifications for such attacks, and the world will evolve to view these attacks as war, not as a fight for freedom. Palestine will not want to become a pariah state: the costs are too high, and they have too few internal resources to survive such a move.
Meanwhile, independence will also be good for the Israelis, even if current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the disingenuous ambassador Michael Oren, and others are too narrow-minded to realize it. A free Palestinian state will legitimize Israeli military action in the event that such provocations demand it. A Palestinian state will free tremendous Israeli resources—financial, military, and human—for other projects that will strengthen Israel itself. And just as the Palestinians will need to confront and manage some of the most extremist elements within their midst, so too will the Israelis, and their do-or-let-someone-else-die American Jewish underwriters: Israelis cannot afford to continue being provocateurs and agents of regional instability, and American Jews must stop their fear-mongering.
Yet another “Israel Day” parade is on the horizon in New York, and American Jews should use this event to ask themselves what they think they are celebrating, especially in an environment in which Israel has turned the universalist, post-Holocaust message of “Never again!” into a selfish joke: “Never again to us.” The original Zionist dream was one of hope: a homeland for a people seeking the stability of independence and self-governance. In the face of the “Arab spring” and the potential proliferation of freedom and democracy across the Middle East, now is the time for Israelis to confront their own failures of leadership and imagination, and to embrace change.