Middle East peace impossible unless Zionism is reformed

Middle East peace impossible unless Zionism is reformed

At the UN General Assembly, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who was filling in for Benjamin Netanyahu, said that his country has a clear policy to advance ties with Arab countries. He said: “We have no conflict with the Gulf states, and we have common interests.” However, there is one big stumbling block between the Arab countries and Israel: Zionism.

Zionism is perhaps the most loathed word in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The worst insult is to call someone a Zionist. Arabs see it as the source of all evil in the region. From an Arab perspective, it is the ideology that holds on to a false biblical claim that God gave the land of Palestine to the Jews and only the Jews. On the basis of this supremacist and racial ideology, Palestinians have been displaced from their homes and made refugees for the last 70 years. Adhering to this ideology, Israel gives itself the right to keep on pushing Palestinians out of their homes to make way for settlements.

The different radical movements the region has witnessed often came as a reaction to Zionism. One of the pillars of the Iranian revolution is to uproot what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called a “cancer” at the heart of the Islamic world and to liberate Palestine. The most important legion of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the Quds Force (Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem). Osama bin Laden, following the Sept. 11 attacks, also referred to Israel as a source of his grudge against the US. The list of dictators and terrorists who built their narrative on an anti-Zionist premise to gain popular legitimacy goes on and on.

However, it is important to examine Zionism closely and with objectivity. To start with, Zionism was a movement that was created as a reaction to the persecution of the Jews in Europe. Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, thought that Jews needed a country of their own where they would be safe. Hence, Israel is a Zionist state and every Israeli is a self-proclaimed Zionist. However, Zionism is not a static ideology; it has many dimensions and interpretations. The common element is that it gives Jews the right to have a state in historical Palestine. Some say Zionism is the right of self-determination, others say it is the right to have a Jewish state, and yet more say it is the right to have a state for the Jews.

Today, with Israel’s recent Nation-State Law, Zionism is manifested in its most racial and supremacist form. According to Netanyahu, Israel is a “state” for the Jews only. Equality is valid only among members of the Jewish community. With this form of Zionism, not only is peace not possible, but advancing ties with Arab countries in a sustainable manner is also not feasible. Arab people will never accept an ideology that considers them inferior or an ideology that denies the right of their Palestinian brothers for a state on their ancestral homelands. This is why, despite what Katz calls “common interests,” we don’t see any Arab country publicly siding with Israel.

Today, with Israel’s recent Nation-State Law, Zionism is manifested in its most racial and supremacist form

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Additionally, Zionism as it currently exists is an outdated concept. The idea of a nation state confined to a single ethnicity is fading away in favor of the advantages of the modern citizenship-based state. Hence, Germany is not a state only for Germanic people and France is not solely for the Franks. Those are modern citizenship-based states; states for their citizens, who are treated equally based on a set of values, and have rights as well as obligations toward their state, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural background. The nationalist movements we see today in Europe are nothing but a desperate attempt to reverse this established fact.

Israelis who define Zionism in its most exclusive form — a form that gives justice only to the Jews — should remember that Jews never existed by themselves in historical Palestine. The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” states that, during the golden age of Jewish history, the Kingdom of Solomon was only one of a dozen that coexisted in the land extending from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

Though different Zionists agree that Zionism is the right of self-determination of the Jewish people, they need to define how this right compares to the rights of other people — the Palestinians — for self-determination. As long as Zionism claims supremacy and exclusivity over the land of historic Palestine, there will never be true peace with the Arabs. Unless the Israelis are convinced that Palestinians have an equal right to the land of historical Palestine, the two-state solution and a true, lasting peace will never materialize.

In this respect, the pro-peace camps inside and outside Israel should get their act together to redefine and reform Zionism to give it a new, inclusive, tolerant and outward-looking form. The Arab Joint List, the Israeli left, J Street in the US and a lot of anti-occupation organizations should join hands on this project, which will create the basis for the Israelis to accept the two-state solution. It will also forge the basis for coexistence, mutual acceptance and peace between the Arab world and Israel.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She holds a Ph.D. in politics from the University of Exeter and is an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut
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