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Intractability and Contested Identity Issues: The Zionist Perspectives of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Abstract

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been largely viewed and interpreted as having to do with land possession between the Jewish and Arab population. But underlying the land conflict is a search for national identity and self-determination that surpasses the economic and other forms of value attributable to land. This is a yearning that goes beyond the question on whose land it is to that of the meaning of land to a particular community – in this case – the Jewish community. This is a conflict that depicts, on the one hand, a clash between a colonial settler community and an indigenous population prevalent in many parts of the world across generations, and on the other, deeply contested identity issues between Jews and Palestinians.

This chapter revisits the contested history (Caplan, 2011) that has characterized the hundred years of war between Israel and Palestine (Gelvin, 2014). In this contestation both Jews and Palestinians appear to have ‘good reasons’ to claim the land as their own based on long-term textual, archaeological, and hermeneutical pieces of evidence (Thompson, 2007). This chapter is a critical gaze into the underlying causes of the intractability of the Israel-Palestine conflict. A revisiting of historical development of the conflict, at least, from the perspective of Zionism is a contribution, in a unique way, to the understanding of the conflict and its place in the global peace landscape.

This chapter focuses mainly on the entry of Jews into the disputed territory, the notions of political Zionism as a thoroughgoing aspiration for an Israeli polity and its connections to land and underlying – almost irreconcilable – contested identity issues. In revisiting the said history and providing Zionist perspectives of the conflict, this analysis navigates within a marred trajectory of competing claims of territorial autochthony and indigeneity between the Jews and the Palestinians over the disputed land. This is a historical perspective of a seemingly never-ending struggle between two nationalisms over the same space in a manner that is, in many ways, zero-sum. A struggle that has, in a number of occasions and for various reasons, embroiled outside powers and shaped a global narrative on peace; one that is at once historical and quintessential to contemporary discourse on the history of peace.

Introduction

In the 19th century the land of Palestine was inhabited by a multicultural population – approximately 86 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 4 percent Jewish and all were coexisting harmoniously (DellaPergola, 2003). It is in the late 1800s that a group viewed as an ‘extremist minority’ of the Jewish population in Europe (Zionists) decided to colonize this land (Mulhall, 1995). Their goal was to create a Jewish homeland, and they considered locations in Africa and the Americas, before settling on Palestine. The struggle over ownership and control of the said land has been the hallmark of the conflict.

Underlying the land dispute are identity issues characterized by Zionists’ desire to create a Jewish nation-state, not in any other place but on the contested territory. To be more exact, the land conflict is over a “search for national identity and self-determination” as explained by Gerner (1994:44). It also depicts a “clash between a colonial settler community and an indigenous population” (Gerner, 1994:44). The contested territory covers a small area of 12,000 square miles and hosts various groups. However, these various groups have usually been reduced to the “rough dichotomy of Jews and Palestinians” (DellaPergola, 2003:3).

The conclusion that anti-Jewish sentiments were unlikely to disappear, in Europe and Russia, and the belief that Jewish people can never completely assimilate in a non-Jewish society, motivated them to leave (Zeltzer-Zubida & Zubida, 2012; DellaPergola, 2003). Many of them left for the United States while a smaller group decided to move to their biblical homeland, Palestine. Within this period the pact between Zionist leaders and Hitler's Third Reich that was concluded in 1933, led to the transfer of 55,000 Jews and $100 million to Palestine on the condition that Zionist organizations call a halt to their economic boycott of Nazi Germany (Black, 2001). 

At these early stages of migration and take over by Jews of the disputed territory the complexity of the conflict was glaring as various atrocities were witnessed. Benvenisti (2000) argues that Israeli leadership destroyed Palestinian villages, and moved new immigrants into the buildings they left standing, changed Arabic names for places into Hebrew, and Muslim holy sites into Jewish holy sites.

During the first decades of the 20th century the migration to Palestine remained limited. However, both World Wars, especially the Second World War led to a massive influx of Jews from Central Europe. Hitler’s rise to power, combined with Zionist activities to sabotage efforts to place Jewish refugees in western countries led to increased Jewish immigration to Palestine that led to exacerbation of the conflict there (Block et al., 1992).

From a series of interviews with Europeans who hid Jews during WWII, Block et al (1992) paint a picture of the actual events during the Holocaust with no spin on feelings of bitterness or personal politics. Some of the views contain strong pro-Zionist sentiments and others touch on the incomprehensibility of why the Israelis persecuted the Palestinians, given the history of anti-Semitism. Underlying this is the rise of Zionism both as a genuine attempt at preservation of a nation facing the threat of annihilation and as a nationalistic ideology aimed at journeying back to Palestine to create the Jewish nation. The latter, being driven by the politics of identity that seeks to entirely Judaize Israel/Palestine (Yiftachel, 2006), is not devoid of political propaganda, however, the emotional appeal of the former overshadows the Zionist politics. In the following section this paper presents a synopsis of the conflict that brings with it a historical contextualization of the Israel-Palestine conflict which plays a crucial role in understanding the current situation and prospects for peace.

A Synopsis of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

The historical anti-Semitism – which must be denounced in all its forms – somehow offered a platform for Zionists to craft a deliberate narrative that the plight of the wretched survivors of Hitlerism should be a ‘moral argument’ which the world had to accept (Hadawi, 1991:37). Zionists fiercely propagated narrative and the urgency with which it was necessary to save a race under threat meant that the world, especially the West, had to accept and unconditionally offer support to Israel, for instance, through America’s passionate attachment (Ball & Douglas, 1992). This happened without a careful scrutiny of any object of Zionism that went beyond the struggle against anti-Semitism and the survival of the Jews (Dean, 2004). It is only much later that the discovery of a complex political agenda that has always permeated the extreme nationalistic ideology of radical Zionism (Avishai,1985) was discovered.  Perhaps a case of too little too late as the conflict had already escalated to alarming levels. Perhaps the interested parties could have called for repealing of certain negative actions and intents by Zionists, including and not limited to resisting forceful dispossession of Palestinians of their land (Halper, 2008), which remains the major conflict underlying factor to date (Benvenisti, 2000), only if the extreme nationalistic agenda of Zionism was detected at an early stage.

Another very disturbing factor during the time of Jewish immigration to Palestine is the collaboration of prominent Zionists with Fascist leaders in Europe and the callousness of some of these same leaders toward the European Jews during the Holocaust (Brenner, 1983:405).  This goes to tell that indeed like any form of nationalism, Zionism has always been victim to the tendency to make people cruel or indifferent to the suffering of others not of their nationality (Brenner,1983:405). On these grounds the pain and suffering inflicted on Palestinians never mattered to a Zionist in as far as such remained a means towards establishment of a Jewish nation in the contested land. 

From the conflict resolution perspective, there is a general agreement that it is easier to terminate conflict at its formative stages than it is after it takes root (Bercovitch, Diehl & Goertz, 1997:753).  Against the backdrop of collaborative antiracist struggle (Patil, 2014) coupled with the urgency to protect the Jewish identity at a time when anti-Semitism existentially threatened to annihilate a nation, many actors did not seem to be bothered about conflict analysis. But, today through the lens of self-history and purpose produced by ethnic studies, it is possible to look back and critically analyze the processes of racialization (Patil, 2014: 361) in the context of Zionism and how it successfully elided being identified as a conflict causing factor during conflict formation. The resultant is the intractability that has left many conflict experts perturbed.

Departing from Patil’s (2014) submissions on the hyper-visibility of racialization at the level of distinct groups and the invisibility of cross-group processes emerges a ‘group effect’ which has significant implications for alliance-building and solidarity. On this entreaty there was founded and nurtured a worldwide movement of Zionism whose object cannot be said to be entirely pure. Hence the conflict formation had complex enthnopolitical tinges that have complicated it over time. The multi-dimensional task to terminate conflicts such as these, as suggested by Miall (2004) required that proper analysis be conducted from the start, something that never happened. The best that would have been is to nip it at the bud. This should have been done in or about 1939, the year that saw a huge influx of Jews to Palestine.

By 1938, Gerner (1994:27) reports, “the region was in complete turmoil, with Zionist, Palestinian, and British forces fighting for control.” Towards the end of 1939, Jews had almost doubled their population share in Palestine (from 17 percent in 1931 to 31 percent in 1939). The mass influx of Jews and the subsequent increased competition for land contributed to the Arab revolt of 1936-1939 (Rubin, 1956). The fighting has been viewed, by some pundits, as a revolt against judaization of Palestine (Yiftachel, (1999:369). Palestinians protested against the Jewish aspiration to create a state on their territory through active non-violence and later on through violent means, perhaps because the environment they were operating in proved to be too hostile for them to succeed nonviolently (Muste, 1940).

The violent conflict ended with a tremendous loss for Palestine: part of the Palestinian leadership was imprisoned and another sent to exile, the population was demoralized thus ending the revolt (Yiftachel, 1999 & Aronson, 1987). Beit-Hallahmi’s (1992) ‘original sin’ goes this far back. Contextualization of Hallahmi’s (1992) argument is an implicit search for the conflict causing issues, otherwise referred to as factors underlying conflict or conflict root causes. The search for peace today cannot succeed without recourse to this history because therein lie the issues that need genuine disposition to dialogue in a search either for conflict resolution (Ramsbotham, Miall & Woodhouse, 2011) or conflict transformation (Lederach, 1995) depending on the school of thought that one may wish to subscribe to.

Pervading the processes of migration and occupation of the contested land, as well as the war that ensued, are notions of Palestinian dispossession and ruination (Pappe, 2007). The formation of Hagana – the front runner of the Israeli army – is the buildup of Jewish formation spearheaded by political Zionism culminating in the so called Palestinian catastrophe of 1947-48. Hagana is a manifestation of the ideological goals of the political movers of Zionism.

Israel was to declare independence in 1948. This ‘war of independence’ is the normative Israeli, and more broadly diasporic Jewish paradigm by which the events of 1948 have been understood, and made mythic. Mythology characterizes Zionism in many ways and it so appears that it is in such myths that Zionism thrives hence leading to shrouding of the history in numerous myths both of the origin of Jews as a nation but also around the wars fought in the name of liberation. Part of the efforts to resolve the conflict should therefore focus on demythologizing a host of issues regarding the conflict (Davis, 1985).

The Jewish myths, as propagated by Zionists, constitute what Pappe (2007) refers to as ‘heroic struggle’ of the few against the many; of Occident against Orient; and, more pointedly still, of a Jewish nations’ reasserting itself in the post-Holocaust, so that the remnant of the catastrophe might survive and prosper. This goes to show that the “eructation of Palestinians from their native hearth was no tragic accident arising out of the contingent circumstances of ‘war’ but was, on the contrary, at the very center of Ben-Gurion’s game plan” (Pappe, 2007:2). It was firmly embedded within the logic of Zionism itself, in effect amounting to a long-term intentionalism geared towards the removal of Palestine’s indigenous people to make way for a demographically homogeneous population of recent Jewish arrivals.

The ten-decade long (1938-1949) turmoil is therefore better understood within this filament; a push for an establishment of a virgin Jewish nation in Palestine on the one hand, and an opposition to the same on the other. This did not happen without bloodshed that sow the seed of bitterness and enduring enmity between Jews and Palestinians.

Between 1937 and 1948 Britain attempted to reconcile the Jews and Arabs of Palestine. However, Britain failed to reach an agreement between the two conflicting parties and hence turned its responsibility to the newly created United Nations. The British were requested to leave Palestine and the two states “plus a Corpus Separatum compromising the Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas” (Gerner, 1994:43) were to be established by 1 July 1948. The planned partition of the country clearly favored the Jewish population. The Jews were given 57 percent of Palestine although at that time Jews constituted only about one third of the population owning less than 10 percent of the land. This can partly be explained by the risen sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust (Dean, 2004.)

The UN formed a special committee on Palestine which worked out two proposals on how to end the conflict. The first proposal suggested the establishment of two separate political entities in Palestine which remain economically joined. The second proposal included the creation of a “single federal state containing autonomous Jewish and Palestinian areas” (Gerner, 1994:42).

While Zionists agreed to the first proposal, Palestinians rejected both as they would mean to give up part of their sovereignty. As a response to this, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab league drafted their own proposal which called for “a single, unified state in Palestine that would be democratic and secular with equal rights for all its citizens” (Gerner, 1994:42). This proposal has been rejected by Zionists as it considers only Jewish people who have arrived in Palestine before 1917 as citizens. On the 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly voted in favor of UN Resolution 181 which affirmed the creation of an independent Jewish state and Arab state within Palestine, one that has not only remained controversial and disputed (Morris, 2009) but also part of the problem according to DellaPergola (2003).

The well-organized and well-equipped Zionist military force used the turmoil which took place between November 1947 and May 1948 to expand their territory beyond the areas specified by UN Resolution 181. They took over areas which they deemed important for their “security and economic success of the still-to-be declared State of Israel” (Gerner, 1994:43). The State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben Gurion on May 24, 1948. The Arabs in Palestine did not follow his example and chose not to declare the independence of the Arab state. This can be understood if one considers the areas the Arabs were left with after Israel expanded its territory. DellaPergola (2003:5) states that “the putative Arab state, in turn, was now dismembered into three portions: The Gaza Strip, under Egyptian occupation; the West Bank, under Jordanian occupation; and the rest, as noted, incorporated by Israel.” In addition, DellaPergola (2003:5) states that what happened between 1947 and 1949 is “the real bone of contention” and “not the outcome of the Six Day War in June 1967.” During the Six Day War Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Until today Israel and Palestine have been trapped in a conflict cycle.

Palestinians started inhabiting Gaza in 1948 after they had been expelled from their land by new founded state of Israel. Until Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip in 1967, Gaza belonged to Egypt. It had a flourishing economy trading in fish, fruits and vegetables. However, after the occupation Israel imposed export restrictions on Gaza and diverted its water to Israeli settlers. These economic policies reduced Gaza’s GDP to a fraction compared to what it was before the occupation. The experience of economic hardship of Gaza is linked to the Palestinian uprising or intifada in December 1987 (Aronson, 1987) and the emergence of Hamas (Marshall, 2012).

Hamas started to fight for self-determination with violent means. Bombings, rocket fires and terror attacks targeting Israel became more frequent in the 1900s leading to Israel’s offensive (Gaza-Israel conflict, 2014, August 26). Since Hamas gained power in Gaza in 2007, the conflict between Gaza and Israel “has turned into a cycle of periodic outbreaks of violence and subsequent cease-fire agreements” (Marshall, 2012). Israel has carried out four major attacks on Gaza between 2007 and today, these are Operation Hot Winter (February 2008); Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009); Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012); and Operation Protective Edge (July-August 2014). The last military operation started on July 7 and ended with a cease-fire agreement on August 25 brokered by Egypt.

The level of unproportionality between Israel and Hamas has been widely debated especially within the theorization on the principles of just war. The difference, in weaponry for example, does cause differential impacts. For instance, Marshall (2012) reports that Hamas’s rockets hardly caused damage while Israel’s bombardment devastated large areas of Gaza. The asymmetry is also reflected in the number of casualties and destroyed infrastructures (Eshel, 2014). The large number of civilian deaths seemed inevitable to Adas (2014) as “Israel used battlefield weapons on densely populated neighborhoods” and “people had nowhere to flee even if given prior notice.”

Israel claims to be more secure than ever since it succeeded to kill three Hamas military leaders and roughly 1,000 Hamas fighters, destroyed 32 attack tunnels and badly damaged Hamas military infrastructure (Ceren, 2014). However, this claim has not gone unquestioned, for instance, Marshall (2014) proposes exactly the opposite. He states that “Israel did not emerge a victor but seems likely to be less secure than ever” (Marshall, 2014). He believes that Gaza’s children have been deeply traumatized and “are likely to grow into adults filled with anger and the desire for revenge.” He therefore, predicts that if Israel does not alter its policy it might “become trapped in permanent warfare” (Marshall, 2014).

There are conflicting narratives on what triggered the conflict between the IDF and Hamas in the summer of 2014. A typical Zionist narrative as contained in the official report (State of Israel, 2015) is that “Hamas caused the violence by repeatedly firing rockets into Israel.” Hence, Israel started Operation Protective Edge in Gaza “aiming at destroying Hamas’s terror infrastructure” (State of Israel, 2015). On the other hand, Marino (2014) explains that the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank (for which a Hamas leader later claimed responsibility) led Israel to imprison hundreds of Palestinians which in turn provoked Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. However, Adas (2014) argues that the cause of the latest assault has little to do with the kidnapping, the firing of rockets and the imprisonment. In his view, these are just manifestations of a deeper issue, which he claims is the fact that Palestinians no longer accept Israeli’s siege on Gaza (Adas, 2014).

A relook at history from the Zionist perspective is invaluable since indeed as Chertok (1998) argues, accounts of the factors underlying conflict, especially those that touch on and are recounted by the affected, are useful for understanding the Israel-Palestine conflict. For purposes of a discourse on peace, perspectives of those entangled in the conflict and those whose lives are affected by the same conflict in one way or another, are certainly helpful in striking a provocation that enables any observer to think in terms of people instead of politics. This is especially true at a time when politicization of the Israel-Palestine conflict has made it look like a mere political contest that it is not.

Underneath such seeming political contestations are untold narratives of human suffering that craves for peace (Israel-Palestine Timeline, n.d.). Hence, unlike Haim’s (1998) and many other pundits’ work, this chapter does not in any way seek to compete ideas between the belief or lack thereof in Zionists’ bankruptcy or as an ideology that is either dying or should die on the one hand, and a leftists’ support, at least theoretically, of the notions of human rights for Palestinians on the other. It is rather, an objective analysis of the conduct and posture of Zionism and what it portends for the peace process.

Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism 

As opposed to constructs such as those of nostalgic appreciation, collective memory, common tragedy and shared feelings about and sentimental attachment of a people to places, nationalistic attachment to land is more powerful and appeals to identity. When land is elevated to the level of what it means to be, then groups claiming such a land often times are seen as willing to claim it, fight for it and if necessary die in defense of their land. For without it; they are not a people. This is how powerful the nationalistic approach to land can be. Nationalism transforms territorial claims into a necessity without which, a group is nothing. To make it a little more complicated, nationalism converts sentiment into politics (Gelvin, 2014:6).

The struggle to control the disputed land between Palestine and Israel is a clash of competing nationalisms creating two distinct and apparently irreconcilable movements. However, though different the two nationalisms exhibit remarkable similarities. Each of them has, over time, successfully constructed and propagated a historical narrative that traces unbroken lineage of a nation and each endows the site of the nation’s birth or greatest cultural or political moment with special meaning (Christison, 1987:110). Each uses its purported inseparable affinity to some territory to justify its right and/or claim to establish a sovereign nation-state in that territory (Gelvin, 2014:5). Adherents of nationalistic movements, mobilized around this claim and charged by real or perceived threat by the ‘national other’ to prevent them from realizing the dream of creating a sovereign state find reason to fight for the land they think is rightfully theirs. With this understanding, it becomes difficult to refute Gelvin’s (2014:6) claim that “when it comes to connecting history and geography to political rights, neither Zionism nor Palestinian nationalism is a slacker.”

In the discourse on the history of world peace, it is important to invoke deliberative consciousness on the fact that nationalistic narratives, such as those underlying Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, present a skewed, obviously tilted and largely incomplete executions of history (Bright, 2000). Therefore, even as this lines present a Zionist perspective of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, such a narrative cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be thought of as being entirely unproblematic. It only helps the current peace actors to create an imagination that juxtaposes the past with the present for purposes of ascertaining what has been achieved or lost in the search for peace among and between Jews and Palestinians. This also helps peacemakers to have realistic aspirations on what is achievable under prevailing circumstances.

The complexities that underpin these skewed and incomplete histories held by both nationalisms erode their usefulness. Two of such factors can be pointed out. First, like any nationalist movement, both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism assume that nations – such as the ones whose genealogy they assert – have existed throughout history (Whitelam, 2013). Hence, they distinguish themselves as carriers of consciousness raising (Marshall, 2006:231 & Almog, 1987). In other words, they do not appear as creating anything new but as agents of raising the awareness of the people about what has always existed, how it was, it is and / or should be. In this regard, the Zionist narrative, just as its Palestinian counterpart, lays emphasis on the claim to be agents that create a state of self-awareness. On this basis therefore, Zionists argue that Jews always belonged to a territory in Palestine and search for whatever available evidence, both biblical and archaeological to support this narrative (Gelvin, 2014 & Newman, 2001). In the process, selective reading of history and if necessary ‘amendment’ of history happens. This is one of the complications of nationalistic narratives.

The second, is that nationalistic movements have a tendency to obscure and / or ignore the similarities between the nations whose history they claim to relate and other nations. This, of course, is done deliberately, by making it appear that the nations they propagate for are distinctive, and ones that have a right to self-rule and sovereignty over a designated piece of real estate (Gelvin, 2014:14). In the case of Zionism, this includes invocation of the name of God (YHWH-Yahweh) who gave them the land and ordained that they, not only be a nation but that their nationhood depends on a specific piece of the earth. Obviously, a claim that invokes deity as the originator of what is, contributes to the intractability of the Israel-Palestine conflict making it one of the most protracted conflicts in the history of nations and humanity.

The history of peace in the middle east and in view of Zionists as important protagonists in the Israel-Palestine conflict should be seen in the light of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism as movements cast in the same mold. “While Zionism and the advent of a distinct Palestinian nationalism were never forgone conclusions, there can be no doubt that in a world in which nation-states provide the model for organizing political communities, Jews and the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine would claim to belong to some nation – either their own or someone else’s – and espouse some nationalistic creed” (Gelvin, 2014:14).  Perhaps as we revisit this history, some of the questions to ponder on should revolve around the viability of nation-state as the modern-day model for organizing political communities. How do the construct, nation-state augment claims for autochthony and indigeneity as key factors that determine the localization of a people in a certain space? How does the idea of possession of a real estate interact with cultural and religious beliefs to justify the claim by a community to establish a nation-state in very specific locations? Is establishment of two distinct nations a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and how is it even possible?

Zionism

Political Zionism, that is Jewish nationalism, has become one of the hallmarks of the Jewish identity and their quest for an Israeli polity in a territory they claim and are emotionally attached to as a homeland. Zionism is traceable to the writings of a Jewish author and journalist named Theodor Herzl at the end of the 19th century. He proclaimed that the Jewish people are ‘one people’ and henceforth have a right to an own state. During the first Zionist congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897 delegates concluded the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, which coincides with the Biblical land of Zion. The aspiration is contained in the statement: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz­Israel secured under public law” (Mendelsson, 2003:1).

Zionism emerged in the late 19th century both as a reaction to European anti-Semitism and to various nationalist movements that excluded Jews from political communities in the process of formation (Gelvin, 2014:15). Notwithstanding the detours along the way, Zionism has since emerged as a nationalistic movement that has distinguished itself as the political manifestation of the Jewish nation, and perhaps, as a realization and a fulfilment, in part, of the Jewish history. There are three relatively distinct schools of Zionism; political, labor and cultural. However, identifiable in Zionism is an ‘ideological consensus’ within which most, if not the full gamut of Zionist thinking unfolds. One element of this consensus is the claim that Palestine should one day contain a Jewish majority. Within this consensus coexist all the three variations of Zionism but most importantly, it is this consensus that has proved to be the principle obstacle to any reconciliation with the Arabs (Gelvin, 2014:5-6).

In a manner analogous with other nationalisms, “Zionism has constructed a three-part narrative that traces the unbroken history of the Jewish nation from its birth and efflorescence in Palestine through a period of decay and degeneration in exile to a period of redemption at the hands of the modern Zionist movement and its return to its ancestral home in Palestine” (Gelvin, 2014:6). The Jewish claim for the territory in Palestine, as their land, is traceable to biblical narratives collaborated with archaeological evidence (Thompson, 2007 & Gilmour et al., 1985:181-195). This history is hinged on Abraham and his descendants, who migrated to Palestine in the in the second millennia, possibly from a region that is home to current Iraq (Thompson, 2007; Dever, 2003 & Bright, 2000). The 10th century BC reigns of Kings David and Solomon as high points of the Jewish presence in Palestine (Gelvin, 2014).

Tragically, the glorious moment of Zionism exemplified by the great Kings only lasted a short while – about 70 years – and was to be followed by many years of turmoil for the Jewish people. The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and scattering of the Jews from the city meant disruption of the central cultic site which was the glue of the Jewish unity. The Jews were scattered and Jewish life shifted to the diaspora. The diaspora was to remain the central site of Jewish life until the emergence of the Zionist movement. Zionists have since created, spread and sustained a narrative –  and successfully so – that Zionism saved the scattered Jewish nation from decay from within and corruption from without and redeemed it by restoring it to rightful home in Palestine (Gelvin, 2014; Ravitzky, 1996 & Almog, 1987).

The narrative of the Jewish people, as recounted by Zionists, situates periods of Jewish exile from Palestine (such as Egypt and Babylon), dispersion (such as by Assyrians), political division (such as a split into Israel and Judea), and wars with other inhabitants of the land (such as with the Philistines) within a framework that gives pride of place to ancient periods of political unity and dominance within Palestine. Of course, this is a narrative that both elicits anger from Palestinians and criticism from a section of pundits. For example, commenting on the matter, Gelvin (2014:7) argues that “what Zionists did, as all nationalist movements, was to read their history selectively and draw conclusions from it that would not have been understandable to their ancestors before the advent of the modern era.” This reminds one of Ernest Renan’s famous quote that “getting history wrong is part of being a nation” (Gelvin, 2014:7). Indeed, many other nationalistic movements, from around the world, have shown similar tendencies. Whereas, this cannot be said to be a uniquely Zionist attribute, analysis of the same goes to help in the comprehension of the role that such conviction and tendency play in contributing to the intractability of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Implications of Zionist Perspective on the Conflict

The Zionist approach remains one of the complicating factors – in most instances if not all, a conflict escalating one – since in the considerations of Benvenisti (2000) the Zionist struggle for the land is largely a struggle for ‘profitable zoning.’ Benvenisti’s (2000) hypothesis on failure to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict is, from the very onset, pegged on the impracticality of creative alternatives to the conflict due to the ‘all or nothing’ attitudes that have remained a constant throughout the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Benvenisti (2000) notes that if the Israeli government were to provide infrastructure to the ‘unrecognized villages’ where Israeli Arab citizens were driven during the 1948 war, give building permits to these citizens, allow restoration of Arab mosques and churches in communities where Jewish immigrants were settled, and compensate Arab owners of land currently being sold by the State to developers, it would set a ‘precedent for good intentions’ and signal that the state of war with the Palestinians is finally over. Unfortunately, suggestions such as these have never been considered an alternative to Zionists given their ‘all or nothing stance’ traceable to the very conception of the idea of creation of unadulterated Jewish nation in Palestine (Caplan, 2011).

The protracted nature and intractability of the conflict certainly makes it hard to resolve (Caplan, 2011). It would be important to look into how the Zionist stand has contributed to intractability of the Israel-Palestine conflict (Nets-Zehngut & Bar-Tal, 2007:3-13). The claim over land based on a zero-sum approach that essentially defies all efforts to resolve the conflict. This hardline position has over the last century suffocated any possibility for compromise that is to be found in numerous suggestions made by peace and conflict experts (Atran et al., 2007:1039.). The Zionist response to virtually all peace processes have left the peace actors, in many respects, at the very same spot that they started. The most perturbing questions to many conflict experts would be; on the one hand, the possibility of resolving a conflict with these perspectives and, on the other; whether or not the Zionist demands are: first, probable and, second, how they can lead to peace if they were to be granted.

Historically, the complexity of the Zionist perspectives to the peace of Israel-Palestine has been extensively written about and commented on. But, as a former member of the Irgun, Avnery (1986), who became one of Israel’s most famous peace activists and a member of the Knesset, has made a reflection on this matter over the course of a decade pretty fascinating. Of particular significance is how he (Avnery,1986) examines and presents the development of this matter behind the scenes with a depiction of how “Israel never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” in making peace. Underlying this ironical assertion is the conspiracies around which the search for peace is deliberately frustrated on the side of Israel led by a Zionist nationalistic tendency that sees no option but an uncompromised creation of a Jewish state in Palestine (Gelvin, 2014).

A careful analysis of the Israel-Palestine peace process reveals how the cards have been stacked against the Palestinians in most negotiating situations (Ashrawi, 1996). As talks take uneven curves punctuated by occasional dangerous turns, the contours have in many ways revealed an Israel that is not keen in creating peace because peace comes at a cost that may require compromise which a Zionist philosophy cannot stand. Once the Palestinian negotiating team consisted of non-politicians whose main emphasis was human rights but that is no longer the case (Ashrawi, 1996). It shows that Zionists have ensured that even the very basic – human rights – has been denied of Palestinians. This is problematic in many ways, with the most important being the danger of not seeing that truth for Palestinians is more important than some ‘honor/shame’ code (Ashrawi, 1996).

In ‘Bitter Harvest,’ Sami Hadawi (1991:37) argues that “one of the most massively important features of the entire Palestine struggle was that Zionism deliberately arranged that the plight of the wretched survivors of Hitlerism should be a ‘moral argument’ which the West had to accept.  Sami Hadawi (1991:35-39) foes on to discuss the use of manipulated, sometimes invented, anti-Semitism in promoting Zionism, for example as seen Ian Gilmour (1985:184) who argues that ‘in the Arab countries, Jewish difficulties and emigration to Israel were the result not of anti-Semitism but of Zionist activities and the existence of the state of Israel.” It is partly, therefore, the case that the Zionist activities, in the words of Naeim Giladi (1998), pushed Jews to move to the territory that is currently occupied by Israel.

Zionists used many ways including trickery and even coercion to have Jews from around the world, especially Europe move, en-masse, to Palestine in a bid to go and establish a Jewish nation there. As result, not only Palestinians suffered but also many Jews. To demonstrate how Jews themselves were victims of Zionism, Giladi, Naeim (2003) wrote a book in which he asserted that: “I write this book to tell the American people, and especially the American Jews, that Jews from Islamic lands did not emigrate willingly to Israel; that, to force them to leave, Jews killed Jews; and that, to buy time to confiscate ever more Arab lands, Jews on numerous occasions rejected genuine peace initiatives from their Arab neighbors.” Similar sentiments have been echoed elsewhere. For instance, Edwin Black (2001) argues that “in many places Zionists manipulated local Jewish populations into going to Palestine/Israel, in some cases using subterfuge and terrorism.” These lines of thought are to be found in the writings of Hannah Arendt’s (1963) ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ as recounted by Seyla Benhabib (1996) and most subtly in other authors like Lenni Brenner (2002) who elaborates on the Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis which as well saw a number of Jews become victims the machinations of political Zionism. If this filament of thought is anything to go by then it serves to demonstrate that majority of the Jews are in Palestine and indeed entangled in the Israel-Palestine conflict, not at will but as victims of Zionism nationalistic ideologies which has in numerous occasions deliberated elided possibilities for peace at will (Podeh, 2014).

Quoting from the Ball and Douglas’ (1992) ‘Passionate Attachment’, Norman Finkelstein, (2003:29) publishes a message from future prime minister Menachem Begin, head of the Irgun Zionist terrorist group, commending them on the grisly massacre of women, children, and old men at the village of Deir Yassin. Begin is reported to have said; “tell the soldiers: you have made history in Israel with your attack and your conquest. Continue thus until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou has chosen us for conquest.”

The political wing of Zionism, in its extreme form, has never shied away from the use of violence as a strategy to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine. However, the use of violence has in many ways been portrayed as Israel’s ‘inevitable’ means for sheer existence. This is touched on in: John Whitbeck (2007) when he posts that: “what ‘Israel’s right to exist’ means to Palestinians…it means a huge cost; it costs lives.” It so appears that many actors are neither interested nor unwilling to ask questions that are a little bit harder. For example; whether or not the use of violence is justifiable on grounds that Israel only turns violent during times of existential threat or that Israel has continued to use the same Zionistic ideology, that is not devoid of violence, to further its inherent desire to create a purely Jewish state in Palestine? And if the latter is the case; how does it undermine the search for peace in the region?

Prospects for Peace

While the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas helped to create some sort of ‘negative peace’ (Grewal, 2003), another outbreak of violence might erupt any time. For instance, during the last months Hamas carried out some sporadic attacks on Israeli civilians and it threatened to start a new fight if Israel does not stick to its promises. The reconstruction of Gaza has been halted by Israel’s reluctance to open the borders which can be explained by its mistrust that materials will be used for military purposes. These kinds of perceptions ad suspicions do not aid peace since they act more as dividers than they do as connectors (Shirch, 2015). As one of the ways forward, this paper suggests the reconstruction of trustful relationships among the Israel and Palestinian populations. In line with this, Gerner (1994) proposed a multitrack approach to the conflict. This approach includes opportunities for informal interaction between the two groups in order to mitigate prejudices and stereotypes and confidence-building measures which have to facilitate trust and forgiveness. However, Gerner (1994) warns that not all actors might be interested in peaceful coexistence especially in the initial stage; therefore, security has to be guaranteed to Palestinians and Israelis.

Other scholars like Dubai and Cohen (2010) emphasize the importance of dealing with the past even if the conflict is not yet resolved. They submit that Israeli and Palestinians have different historical accounts on what led to the conflict. They (Dubai & Cohen, 2010) further report that each side sees itself as an exclusive victim and denies that the other side has also suffered. In agreement with Ghasan Khatib this paper sees it difficult to achieve “a lasting peace agreement without dealing with these contradicting narratives” (Dubai & Cohen, 2010:235). For example, Pappé (2007:73) reports that “the continued denial of the Nakbah in the peace process was the main explanation for the failure of the Camp David summit, the consequence of which was the second uprising in the occupied territories.” The Nakbah refers to the ethnic cleansing which took place during what Israel termed wars of independence. Pappé (2007) reports that during 1948 hundred of Palestinian villages were destroyed, hundred thousand Palestinians were expelled, and several thousands were killed. Israel continues to deny the perpetration of ethnic cleansing. According to Jamal (2000:41) the honest confrontation of past abuses and eventually the acceptance of past wrongs are based on the recognition of the humanity and legitimacy of the other and lays a good ground for peace negotiations. To aid peace, both narratives should be acknowledged and made legitimate in the eyes of the other (Dubai & Cohen, 2010:247).

However, in concurrency with Dubai and Cohen (2010) one would think that while such efforts would contribute to the reduction of conflict it cannot substitute official peace negotiations. The most promising official peace initiative according to Podeh (2014) might be the Arab Peace Initiative (API) adopted by the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut. It repeated the UN recognized demands; of “full Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied in June 1967, and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital” (Podeh, 2014:588). But in turn it offered the “return for the establishment of normal relations between the Arab states and Israel in the context of comprehensive peace” (Podeh, 2014:588). So far, Israel has not accepted the terms of this proposal, however, it might constitute a good foundation for further negotiations.

Lastly, is the recognition of the fact that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without the involvement of regional and international actors. The ambiguous roles of the international community should be fixed since they cause an ambivalence that has been problematic over time. On the one hand, they often greatly contribute to the violence through the supply of arms and on the other, they can play a crucial role in mediating the peace process. The ambivalent role of the international community needs to be comprehensively addressed.

Within these processes, a more aggressive and sustained bottom-up approach reminiscent of the intensified negotiations in the late 1940s (Azoulay, 2014) by many Jewish and Arab communities who cared for their country is necessary. Continuation of the grassroots campaign for peace on shared lives will certainly be helpful in the search for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Conclusion
There are two conflict underlying issues in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. First, is the disputed land ownership which has led to a protracted military occupation and confiscation of land by Israel, especially the West Bank, and control over Gaza. The Palestinians’ opposition to what they see as oppression of the weak has been characterized by crude means leading to intervals of violence over the last century. Apart from the waves of overt conflict punctuated by instances of détente and intervals of interventions aimed at attempting to resolve the conflict, both protagonists continuously engage in clandestine attacks that have caused numerous deaths, destruction and unending human suffering. Second, is the inevitably destabilizing effect of trying to create and maintain a state based on contested nationalist ideology, Zionism. These two conflict underlying issues are compounded by a thoroughgoing Jewish ‘ethonocracy’ that seeks to Zionize the territory and create a Jewish nation-state, a concept fiercely opposed by the Palestinians. This has led to 100 years of a contest between a quest for and an opposition to ‘judaization’ of the territory between Jews and Palestinians (Yiftachel, 1999: 367-70).

According to the Oslo peace accords of 1993, these territories were supposed to finally become a Palestinian state. However, after years of Israel’s continued confiscation of land and Palestinians opposition and rebellion, the conflict situation has been escalating steadily over time. Any search for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict should find its point of departure from these conflict underlying issues for indeed finding an acceptable agreement to both the Jews and Palestinians on the two conflict underlying issues will unlock the stalemate and play as a platform upon which peace will be incubated and nurtured. An understanding that political Zionism – as any nationalistic ideology – is not necessarily unproblematic in its entirety would help, at least in part, in addressing the conflict.


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