ISRAEL IS STRONG ENOUGH TO CONCEDE
I have been asked by many friends here, especially among the students, to give them my opinion, based on talks with many people in different regions of this country, Jews and Arabs, and based on rather extensive readings of documents and secondary literature. I am fully aware of its limitations: I offer it merely as a contribution to the discussion. I believe that the historical goal which motivated the foundation of the State of Israel was to prevent a recurrence of the concentration camps, the pogroms, and other forms of persecution and discrimination. I fully adhere to this goal, which, for me, is part of the struggle for liberty and equality for all persecuted racial and national minorities the world over. Under present international conditions, pursuance of this goal presupposes the existence of a sovereign state which is able to accept and protect Jews who are persecuted or live under the threat of persecution. If such a state would have existed when the Nazi regime came into power, it would indeed have prevented the extermination of millions of Jews.
If such a state would have been open also to other persecuted minorities, including the victims of political persecution, it would have saved still many more lives. In view of these facts, the further discussion must be based on the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state and on consideration of the conditions under which it was founded, that is to say, the injustice done to the native Arab population. The establishment of Israel was a political act, made possible by the great powers in pursuit of their own interests.
The period of settlement prior to the establishment of the state, and the establishment itself proceeded without due regard of the rights and interests of the native population. The foundation of the Jewish State involved, from the beginning, the displacement of the Palestinian people, partly by force, partly under pressure (economic and otherwise), partly “voluntarily.” The part of the Arab population that remained in Israel found itself reduced, in spite of the granting of civil rights, to the economic and social status of secondary citizens. National, racial, religious distinctions became class distinctions: the old contradiction within the new society, aggravated by the merger of internal and external conflicts.
In all these aspects, the establishment of the Jewish State is not essentially different from the origins of practically all states in history: establishment by conquest, occupation, discrimination. (The endorsement by the United Nations does not alter this situation. The endorsement de facto recognized conquest.) “Accepting this accomplished fact, and accepting the basic historical goals the State of Israel has set for itself, the question arises: whether the State of Israel as presently constituted and under its present policies can be expected to achieve its own aim while existing as a progressive society in normally
peaceful relations with its neighbours.” I shall argue this question with reference to Israel’s boundaries as of 1948. Any annexation in whatever form would, in my opinion, already suggest a negative answer. It would mean that Israel could preserve itself only as a military fortress in a vast hostile environment, and that its material and intellectual culture would be geared to growing military requirements. If this were at present the only solution, its dangerously precarious and temporary character is all too evident. While a superpower (or its satellite) may well continue to exist under such conditions a long time, the smallness of the country, and the armament policy of the superpowers preclude this possibility for Israel.
Starting from the presently prevailing conditions, the first prerequisite for a solution is a peace treaty with the U.A.R. which would include the recognition of the State of Israel and free access to the Suez Canal and the Straits, and a settlement of the refugee problem. I believe that the negotiation of such a peace treaty is possible now, and that Egypt’s reply to Jarring
(February 15, 1971) provides an acceptable basis for immediate negotiations. Egypt’s reply asks above all for an Israel commitment to withdraw its armed forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The argument that this would open Israel to a devastating Arab attack could be met by the establishment of a demilitarized zone, protected by a neutral U.N. force. The task involved seems to me not greater than the perpetuated risk of war under present conditions. It is the stronger power which can afford the larger concession – and Israel still is the stronger power. The status of Jerusalem may well turn out to be the hardest impediment to a peace treaty. Deeply rooted religious sentiment, constantly played upon
by the leaders, makes Jerusalem as the capital of a Jewish state unacceptable to the Arabs (and Christians?). A unified city (both parts) under an international administration and protection seems to offer an alternative.
Just Settlement The Egyptian reply furthermore asks for a “just settlement of the refugee problem in accordance with U.N. resolutions.” The wording of these resolutions (including Security Council Res. 242) is open to interpretation and to that extent itself subject to negotiations. I shall outline only two possibilities (or their combination) which were suggested in discussions with Jewish and Arab personalities:
(1) Resettlement in Israel of those Palestinians who were displaced and wish to return. This possibility is from the beginning limited by the extent to which Arab land has become Jewish land, and Arab property Jewish property. This is another historical fact which cannot simply be undone without righting one wrong by another wrong. But it could be mitigated by resettling these Palestinians on still available land, and/or by giving them adequate facilities and reparations. This solution is officially rejected with the argument (correct in itself) that such return would quickly transform the Jewish majority into a minority
and thereby defeat the very purpose of the Jewish state. But I believe that it is precisely the policy aiming at a permanent majority which is self-defeating. The Jewish population is bound to remain a minority within the vast realm of Arab nations from which it cannot indefinitely segregate itself without returning to ghetto conditions on a higher level. To be sure, Israel would be able to sustain a Jewish majority by means of an aggressive immigration policy, which in turn would constantly strengthen Arab nationalism. Israel cannot exist as a progressive state if it continued to see in its neighbours the Enemy, the Erbfeind. And lasting protection for the Jewish people cannot be found in the creation of a self-enclosed, isolated, fear-stricken majority, but only in the coexistence of Jews and Arabs as citizens with equal rights and liberties. Such coexistence can only be the result of a long process of trial and error, but the preconditions for taking the first steps are given now. There is a Palestinian people which has lived for centuries on the territory part of which is now occupied by Israel. The majority of these people now live in territories under Israeli administration. These conditions make Israel
an occupying power (even in Israel itself), and the Palestinian liberation movement a national liberation movement – no matter how liberal the occupying power may be.
(2) The national aspirations of the Palestinian people could be satisfied by the establishment of a national Palestinian state alongside Israel. Whether this state would be an independent entity, or federated with Israel or with Jordan, would be left to the self-determination of the Palestinian people, in a referendum held under supervision by the United Nations.
The optimal solution would be the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians, of Jews and Arabs as equal partners in a socialist federation of Middle Eastern states. This is still a utopian prospect. The possibilities discussed above are interim solutions which offer themselves nowhere – to reject them outright may well create irreparable damage.
“Israel is Strong Enough to Concede” was published in The Jerusalem Post (January2, 1972) after Marcuse’s first trip to Israel.