A natural end to the two-state illusion
The passing by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) of a law defining Israel as a Jewish state, thus turning the Arab minority into second-class citizens, was expected. All signs — whether local, regional or global — were pointing in that direction. Even the well-chosen diplomatic jargon that appeared in the Balfour Declaration today appears like nothing but a bad joke.
In polite but worthless words, the declaration said the British government viewed “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The period of the British Mandate, which witnessed the acceleration of Jewish immigration and the crushing of the 1936 Palestinian uprising, prepared the ground for the powerful and arrogant Israel we know today.
The grand plan was clear then, but the Arabs — including the Palestinians — were unwilling to comprehend its nature or the capabilities of those behind it. Thus due to misunderstandings, absurd gambles, suicidal divisions and relying on the unworthy, vast lands were lost, the number of Jewish settlers increased, and so did the element of extremism in their ranks.
The early settlers, who included many farmers, trades unionists and romantics, had left homelands where they were persecuted and maltreated. They settled in agricultural communes and collective farms, many of which were bought by the Jewish Agency and other Zionist organizations and personalities that benefitted from the Mandate’s Land Laws.
There was Palestinian bitterness behind the 1936 uprising, partly fueled by accelerated immigration and land purchases, many of which were made possible by legislation that restricted the ability of absentee landlords to exploit their lands.
But these restrictions, which drove absentee landlords (many of whom lived in Damascus and Beirut) to sell, were quite modest compared to what happened later, particularly after Israel’s establishment and its development into a strong nuclear power.
The passing by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) of a law defining Israel as a Jewish state, thus turning the Arab minority into second-class citizens, was expected.
Eyad Abu Shakra
Many notables from Damascus, Beirut and other Levantine cities who had owned valuable lands across Palestine during Ottoman rule felt obliged to sell their properties and estates. Naturally, the Jewish Agency, the Rothschild family and other Zionist entities were ready to buy.
As time passed, the generation of Israeli-Arab wars became hateful toward a sea of frustrated Arabs that threatened it nationalistically and demographically. This hatred increased after the emergence of Palestinian armed resistance groups following the June 1967 Arab defeat. The generation of Israeli-Arab wars became less trustful of coexistence and leftist idealism.
With the retreat of leftist discourse in both the Israeli and Arab camps, the exclusionist religious alternative established itself. Israeli voters ran in droves to their generals, and settler groups became ever more extremist, greedy and militant.
On the Palestinian side, after the demise of the idea of a people’s war of liberation, the collapse of leftist organizations with enough clout to talk to their Israeli peers, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the disintegration of Soviet communism, a new resistance movement appeared that raised Islamist banners and benefitted from regional Islamist powers, beginning with Iran and ending up with Turkey.
The rules of the game were no longer Arab. Even the Syrian regime, falsely espousing Arabist mottos it never believed, embarked on widening Palestinian rifts, once under the slogans of steadfastness and confrontation against Israel, then as an incubator for Islamist groups that it has exploited in order to weaken the Palestinian leadership, outbid it, and deprive it of the ever-decreasing chance of an acceptable peace deal.
Meanwhile, the international climate has been moving closer to the position of Israeli hawks. Likud, backed by its extreme right-wing allies, has become the natural party of government at the expense of the old parties and organizations that pioneered the building of the state.
America’s victory in the Cold War relieved it of its fake neutrality in sponsoring the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. After claiming for a long time that it was committed to a balance of power in the Middle East, the US now openly talks of insuring the continuation of Israeli superiority.
Thus officially declaring the Jewishness of the state is a natural result of the victories scored by right-wing, racist and neo-fascist forces everywhere. How could a state that was founded under religious pretexts and aspirations not become a fully religious state if greater and older states in Europe, as well as the US, are no longer ashamed of espousing religious or racist policies?
Why should we find it strange if a small country, whose psyche and social culture have been shaped by historical fear, a fight for survival and exclusive identification, seeks to adopt discriminatory measures against others when major powers are doing the same?
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.