The word “Palestine”
Does Palestine exist? A blogger on the often-provocative website JewsNews doesn’t think so. A package of dates marked “Palestine” must be “magic,” he says, since there’s no such country. And this echoes Moshe Arens’ trotting out of the old canard that Palestine doesn’t exist, but Jordan – the real Palestinian state – already does.
There are at least two issues at stake for Israelis: legitimacy and security. Yet a closer look reveals that neither concern is quite what it seems.
Part of the reason that many Jews have been allergic to the word Palestine is that it has long been used to negate the legitimacy of Israel. In this view, the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (or west of that, to the Green Line, depending on one’s view) is like a blue and white transparent film revealing a red, white and green film, containing a different narrative beneath. Since time is linear and space is finite, there seems to be room for only one people and one narrative on that tiny slice of Middle East territory. One cannot reverse the flow of the sands of time. Israel exists, so Palestine, the logic goes, cannot.
But, surprise! Those who would wish to roll back history and replace Israel with Palestine, as the Palestinian national movement claimed to want to do for decades, have now indicated – at least via their official leaders – that they will be satisfied with a mere 22 percent of the land they originally claimed as theirs. A state of Palestine, in other words, need no longer negate the symbolic right of Israel to exist.
Complicating all of this, though, is the one little word one often hears from Israeli officials, and which every state and all people deserve: security. For example, Bibi Netanyahu, in a video posted Dec. 27 to the Prime Minister of Israel’s Facebook page, contained an address to an enthusiastically nodding U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham.
In the span of a few seconds, Bibi managed to call out Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s rhetorical hyperbole (Erekat’s comparison of ISIS’s Islamic state desires with Bibi’s Jewish state utterances), while associating the Palestinian negotiator’s “incitement” with the throwing of a firebomb on an Israeli girl in the West Bank. The kicker: the folly of the Palestinians seeking to bring to the United Nations Security Council a proposal – a “diktat” Bibi calls it – containing provisions that “seek to undermine our security.”
The trouble with the security discourse is that, just as stating “there is no Palestine” (or “there is, but it’s in Jordan”), it tends to serve as a rhetorical trump card. We all deserve security but we also know that full and total security is ultimately elusive. Where security threats were traditionally measured solely in terms of territory, now security experts also think in terms of environmental safety, immigration and contagious diseases. There are always new threats on the horizon. All the while, we must recall that conventional security threats never really disappear – for anyone.
On top of all this we must ask whether the little girl who was tragically burned by the act of terrorism in the West Bank was in fact more secure by Israel holding onto that territory and moving its population there. Counterfactual reasoning is never foolproof, but one could certainly make the argument that occupying a hostile population for decades on end is itself a security liability, rather than a security guarantee.
Many have indeed made this argument. More than 100 retired Israeli generals, other high-ranking officers, Mossad officers and police chiefs have even told their prime minister as much, writing a letter last November urging him to “adopt the political-regional approach and begin negotiations with moderate Arab states and with the Palestinians (in the West Bank and in Gaza, too), based on the Saudi-Arab Peace Initiative.”
Obviously Israel wants security. So do the Palestinians. When it comes to the nasty world of international politics, there are no absolute security guarantees – but there are calculable risks. For starters, peace treaties tend to hold better than wishing that an occupied people will sit on their hands for decades. With 59 internal checkpoints in the West Bank, not counting the 40 near the entry to Israel at B’Tselem’s last count, I would even suggest that hoping that your own civilian population can move freely and safely within the occupied territory where an enemy population resides is where the magical thinking really lies.
So, as for that blogger and those dates, I would advise him to take a bite out of the dried fruit. I doubt that those dates are magical, but there is indeed a sweet spot that reveals the best chance for peace between two peoples vying for security and independence. And it doesn’t involve keeping the status quo going, unhappily ever after.
Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She blogs at Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. A version of this article was originally published on haartez.com.