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Israel and the Middle East

After Meeting with Palestinians in Bonn

Daniel J. Elazar

28 April 1985

Professor F.G. Friedmann
Munchen, GERMANY

Dear Professor Friedmann:

I much appreciated your comments on the Bonn meetings, especially the comparison between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which I believe is basically accurate. The Israelis are indeed very concerned with security but the situation in Lebanon is not parallel to that of the West Bank. Withdrawal from Lebanon still leaves a wide, sparsely populated buffer zone in the Galilee between the Lebanese border and the Israeli heartland as wide a zone as exists in Israel. Moreover, as long as Syria stays where it is, there is no enemy in southern Lebanon that aspires to annex any of Israel's territory or is capable of mounting a serious military offensive against Israel.

This is not the case with Judea, Samaria and Gaza. First of all, all three are immediately adjacent to Israel's heartland, with no buffer zone. Indeed, as you have undoubtedly heard many times, they bring a potentially hostile Arab presence to within less than 10 miles of the sea at numerous points and no more than 15 at any. This is an intolerable risk, especially since Israelis are definitely not convinced that Palestinian radicals, including the PLO, do not still seek to destroy Israel. That is to say, unlike the Lebanese who simply want the Israelis out, the Palestinians have parallel claims which they have not renounced.

If the situation in Lebanon had been parallel, I can assure you that Israel would not have withdrawn, no matter how much trouble the locals might have caused. Indeed, the Israelis would have cracked down harder rather than withdraw. It is precisely because Israel did not need to or intend to hold on to Lebanon that the Israeli army confined itself to half measures or less. In Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the Israeli army maintains full control precisely because there is no possibility of a similar withdrawal.

I would add that it is a mistake to assume that our argument from history is merely an ideological justification, as you seem to do. We are only in the land of Israel becuase of our historic rights, otherwise we would have no claim at all. The Palestinian Arabs fo not owe us a refuge from Hitler or any other kind of refuge. We are there because this is the land of the Jews. We may not choose to exercise our claims over all the land for the sake of peace, but they are as real for Jericho as for Tel Aviv and for Nablus as for Haifa. Indeed, they are in most respects, more real for Judea and Samaria than for the parts that virtually all Europeans concede to us.

I cannot agree with the comments of the two Jewish participants which you cited about young people becoming more militaristic and less sensitive to other peoples rights because of growing up in an immoral status quo. I do not believe that Israel is in danger of losing her soul. I do not see any evidence of this even though there are some Israelis who have acted in ways repugnant to me and to most Israelis. One must keep that small group in perspective. Obviously, I personally thoroughly reject all acts of Jewish terrorism against Arabs as much as I reject Arab terrorism against Jews and I certainly have less than no use for Kahane. But, in a world of extremists and fundamentalists, Israel is singularly moderate, even if we, too, are beginning to have a few crazies of our own.

I understand the Palestinians' argument and I believe that they believe it, although I still have some trouble reconciling that belief with the fact that it only surfaced after Israel came to occupy the territory, not before, at which time the Palestinian Arabs saw themselves as part of a larger Arab nation, no more and no less. I find it particularly difficult to believe that they need a separate state west of the Jordan, especially when the population of Jordan, itself, is overwhelmingly Palestinian (no less than 60 or even as many as 70 percent) and contains as many Palestinians as the West Bank. The literature of the PLO makes it clear that , in its view, Jordan is ultimately to be absorbed in a PLO state just as Israel west of the green line is to be absorbed. I do indeed sympathize with the Palestinians and strongly believe that they should have s state, but in my opinion the heartland of that state must be east of the river. West of the river they will have to share rule with the Israelis, rather than demand exclusive sovereignty. I see no reason why they need two Palestinian states in a territory whose total area is less than the size of Pennsylvania.

Your description of the views of the Israelis and Palestinians was, to me, good and accurate reporting. My response is a response to them, first and foremost. The question of Jerusalem, however, seems to be a comment of yours. It seems difficult to me to argue that Jerusalem does not mean more for Jews than Mecca does for Arabs. Mecca, for Arabs, after all, has but one role -- it is the place of pilgrimage. It has no association with Arab national sovereignty or for that matter, reinvigoration as a result of building a strong Mecca. It is strictly a place of pilgrimage. It is not to be denigrated for that, but it cannot be compared to Jerusalem which for Jews, is the embodiment of national reconstruction, political independence and messianic hope as well as a holy place of pilgrimage. It is precisely because we are Jews that the holy places are sufficient. For us it is the city itself. The fact that it is a living city, not a museum or simply a place of pilgrimage is what is important.

Incidentally, the Muslim claim for Jerusalem is almost entirely manufactured since the rise of Zionism. Jerusalem was an utterly neglected city to which no Muslim came on pilgrimage or for any other purpose unless he had to, for all the centuries from the time of the Arab conquest to the time of the British conquest -- that is to say, close to 1300 years. At no point and in no place is there any reference to Jerusalem as other than as part of a legendary triad of holy cities. It meant nothing. Only after the Zionist revival led Jews to emphasize their claim to Jerusalem, did Arabs pull out the appropriate passages from the Koran and seek to build a counter claim. It just won't wash.

I quite agree with you that fundamentalism is an almost universal phenomenon of our time and not necessarily one to be blessed, although it takes different forms among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or whatever. Christian fundamentalists in the United States may not be particularly attractive to liberals, but they are far different from followers of Khomeini in Iran. Still, it is a universal phenomenon. What is characteristic of Jewish fundamentalism, it seems to me, is that while it has the "back to the Bible" characteristics of fundamentalism, it does not fight technology but mobilizes it for fundamentalist purposes. This keeps Jewish fundamentalists in the real world. How much more so should Jewish nationalism not be thought of as being the same as Islamic fundamentalism.

One can have different opinions about nationalism. As a Jewish nationalist, my opinion is that it is because of the revival of Jewish nationalism that the Jewish people has been able to stay alive as a people in our times. Having lost our autonomous existence in the diaspora and achieved the right of individual integration into our respective territorial states, which is something we would quite rightly not give up, the only way to survive as a group is to have a territory, a Jewish "turf", where a Jewish community can maintain the full range of Jewish civilization. The only way to do so in our times is through a national territorial home and the only way to preserve a national territorial home is through statehood and politically sovereign statehood at that. As one who is personally committed to the federalist ideal, and who is constantly critizing certain Israelis for exaggerated notions of what national political soveregnity and statehood means, as one who firmly believes that no nation or state is politically sovereign today in the way that classic political theorists presented the case for soverign statehood three and four centuries ago, I am not certain that I would have designed a world in which political sovereignty is so important, but that is the world we have and I would rather not lose the Jewish people and its civilization by being the only ones to abjure political sovereignty or its necessity.

As to the Palestinian Arabs, not every people can have political sovereignty over exactly the territory it claims. We Jews have already given up a good share of our territorial claims through a series of partitions and I believe are even prepared to give up exclusive exercise of of sovereign powers in part of the territory that remains, namely Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The Palestinians must be prepared to make a similar accommodation -- to build their state east of the Jordan River and to share rule with Israel in those territories to the west known today as the West Bank.

Once again, it was good meeting you. I look forward to other opportunities to be together, perhaps in Israel.

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