Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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The Hong Kong of the Middle East
Last uploaded : Sunday 29th May 2005 at 02:04
Contributed by : Roman Bronfman


Haifa -

Two substantial problems dictate our behaviour. One (which is built in) is the definition of the state as "Jewish and democratic," and it contains an underlying logical contradiction; the second (which is acquired) is the ongoing occupation of the territories. With the conclusion of the Six-Day War in June 1967, senior officials in Israeli intelligence recommended to the prime minister that he establish an independent Palestinian state in the territories of the West Bank as quickly as possible. For the next 38 years, this recommendation was not accepted by the political echelon. Over time, the occupation became a part of us, and of our view of life in the Middle East.

The Israeli worldview ranges between two extreme schools of thought: an apartheid regime in the occupied territories, on the one hand, and the desire of some Israelis for an Israel as "a state of all its citizens," on the other. The policy of apartheid has also infiltrated sovereign Israel, and discriminates daily against Israeli Arabs and other minorities. The struggle against such a fascist viewpoint is the job of every humanist. However, in the long run, neither the policy of apartheid nor the "state of all its citizens" will be possible in a future Israeli society: The first eliminates the democratic component in the definition of the state, the second eliminates the Jewish component.

The solution to this dilemma lies in the end of the occupation. But that is not sufficient. The solution lies not only in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, but also in Israel's genuinely becoming a part of the cultural and conceptual milieu of the Middle East, and in the Jewish people's gradually freeing themselves from several components of the ethos that has been with us since the establishment of the state - the victimhood, the sense of persecution and the fear of extermination.

For decades, Israel has been enjoying the status of a military superpower in the Middle East. This fact, combined with the strategic treaty with the United States, should finally convince Israelis that there is no existential danger in store for them and for the state. Only then will Israel be able to take it upon itself to be an inseparable part of the region where it is located, including open borders with its Arab neighbours.

The fulfilment of this vision depends on Israel - on the integrity and the courage of its leaders, on the atmosphere in Israeli society; but it depends just as much on the Arab world. In light of that, we have to regret the fact that, with the exception of President Moshe Katsav, none of Israel's leaders took seriously the Arab world's proposal for an overall peace, the Saudi Initiative. This document presents a simple and fair formula: an end to the occupation and a return to the 1967 borders, in return for complete normalization of relations between Israel and all the Arab countries.

Whereas the Geneva Initiative is a local peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians, and the road map is the vision of the U.S. administration for resolving the conflict, the Saudi Initiative is an overall initiative for regional normalization and peace. It is another step for solving the conflict between Israel and the Arab world, on condition that all the sides concentrate on a determined struggle against terror.

The Saudi Initiative, which was adopted by the Arab League in its Beirut convention in 2002, marks a sharp departure from the decision of the Khartoum Conference in 1967, a turnaround that symbolizes the basic change that has taken place in the viewpoint of the moderate leadership in the Arab world. The first step has been taken, and now Israel must respond to the proposal with all due seriousness.

Israel can become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, thanks to its financial, technological and scientific strength, as well as its widespread international contacts. It can also contribute to the development of the region - on condition that the occupation is ended, on condition that Israel is recognized by the Arab countries, on condition that there are international guarantees for its security, and above all, on condition that the rhetoric of war, which is dominant in the Middle East, is replaced by the rhetoric of peace.

Without open borders and regional-economic integration, Israel will cease to exist. A continuation of the present socioeconomic order of priorities, which is dictated by the occupation and the creeping accumulation of arms, guarantees the widening of the gaps within society and the weakening of Israel's economy in the international arena. Social solidarity, which is an existential necessity for the survival of society and of the nation, will weaken even further.

Israel's leadership must honestly reread the geopolitical map and say "Yes" to the Saudi Initiative. It must do so in order to erase the stain of occupation and racism, and in order to ensure prosperity for ourselves and for the coming generations.

* Roman Bronfman is the chair of the Democratic Choice faction in the Yahad party.

Source: Ha?aretz, May 20, 2005.

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