Friday, July 22, 2011

Can Jews and Arabs Live Together?

The title-question seems to be the greatest doubt formulated against the idea of the bi-national state. The question, then, is raised as a rhetorical one, and implies: “no, they cannot live together. Therefore it is best for them to separate.”
I happen to think this is the wrong question. The real question is “can Jews and Arabs NOT live together?” Can they – not whether they wish it, or what they would prefer, if they could choose anything in the world, but quite simply and directly: is there any possibility for a complete separation of Jews and Arabs?
The answer implied in my own formulated rhetorical question is, of course: no, there is no such possibility whatsoever. Therefore, they are simply going to have to make the best of it.
The riots in Acre (Akko) on Yom Kippur are yet another proof of this. The opponents of the bi-national state argue that separation is the only way. That any attempt of co-existence will only lead to further violence and further bloodshed. Yet no separation plan offers separation between Jews and Palestinians in Acre. Or in Haifa for that matter, or in Jaffa.
If the two-state solution will ever be reached and implemented, a mass of Israelis will be appalled to realize the following day that despite the separation, there is still a considerable minority (approximately 20%) of Palestinians that are full citizens of the Jewish State.
How does one explain that Jews and Arabs must learn to live together in Acre, in the Galilee, in the ill-named municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and are unable to do so in the West Bank? What are the unique traits of the Gaza strip, that Jews had to be evacuated from it for the sake of peace, when 10 or 20 miles away from it Jews and Arabs are compelled to live together as equal citizens, at least by declaration?
The conclusion is inescapable: the separationists and the proponents of the two-state model are not interested in whether or not Jews and Arabs can live together. Their concern is maintaining a Jewish majority, in order to justify Jewish supremacy, which is no longer tenable under current circumstances. For this purpose, they deny that Jews and Arabs can live together, and must live together, and will live together – like it or not – even after a foundation of a Jewish State. For this purpose they deny the self-proclaimed Palestinian identity of Israeli Palestinians, deluding themselves that a blue ID has the power to engender a new identity, a new ethnicity, a source of identification stemming from nowhere, stripped of roots, and going nowhere. For this purpose, they also support a Palestinian state that will not be sustainable financially, militarily, and that will have the strangest borders a country ever has seen.
Indeed, even after this state is formed, it would be wrong to expect Jews and Arabs not to live together. Not only because of the Palestinians who hold an Israeli citizenship, but because these two small countries will need to cooperate in order to prosper. Does it make sense for a Palestinian state to import and export by sea only through Gaza, without making use of Israeli ports, some of which are closer to Palestinian towns? Does it make sense for Palestinians not to use the port of the Red Sea, which will be solely under Israeli sovereignty? Does one imagine that these neighboring nations will not have cultural exchange treaties, joint sport matches, or free road travel between them, as is usually the case in neighboring states?
The question, then, is not whether Jews and Arabs can live together. Under circumstances which neither side chose or would have chosen, Palestinians and Israelis share the same land. In fact, a very small piece of land. Each side has to face reality: that the other side is not going anywhere. A Jewish return to Europe, as some Palestinians fantasize, is not going to happen. A mass deportation of Palestinians, as some Israelis fantasize, is not going to happen. Perhaps it would have been better not to live together. Perhaps this happenstance of history has enriched both nations in more ways than they are willing to admit. But in either case, this is the situation. The question on the table should be: how do we manage it? How do we facilitate co-existence? Separation – by peace treaties, by deportation, by genocide or by unilateral measures such as evacuations or wall-constructions – is not an option. Two-State, bi-national state – these are models, and they can be implemented for better or for worse. The important thing is to generate dialogue and facilitate co-existence. Can Jews and Arabs live together? They have no choice. It is high time they admitted it.

By Arieh Amihay

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