All Writings
September 11, 1988

Territory and National Identity

One of the major problems that continues to haunt the Israelis and Palestinians is the core issue of national identity as it relates to a territorial settlement. The relationship between territory and national identity could have been easily defined and resolved if the Israelis and Palestinians had been able to establish completely separate territorial, socio-economic, and political entities. However, such a physical separation is not contemplated even by the extremists in both camps. The settlement of the territorial dispute could provide only a political framework for self-determination. Thus, the national identity of a minority of Palestinians and Israelis would not always be functionally exercised within the respective political and territorial domains.
Any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would still leave the Palestinians dispersed within Israel proper, the West Bank, Jordan, Gaza and in various other Arab states. Short of voluntary repatriation of a limited number of Palestinians, perhaps from Lebanon, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will not change the current demographic situation of the Palestinians in any dramatic way.
By the same token, from the Israeli point of view, any future solution must provide for the Jews' affinity to the land of their ancestors. No Israeli government can even contemplate the return of the entire West Bank to the Palestinians and abrogate the Jewish right to settle at least in part of these territories. A satisfactory solution to the problem of dual claim to the territories would raise the question of national identity for those Israelis and Palestinians who must live, or may choose to live, outside the political boundaries of their respective national entities. At issue, then, is the validity of the Israelis' and Palestinians' dual territorial claim and how can that be reconciled with the need to establish and maintain their separate national identities.

The Israeli Claim

Events since 1967 have introduced an entirely new factor to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 1967 Six-Day War, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza District, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai, finally convinced most Arab leaders that a solution to the Israeli problem could not be achieved by force of arms alone. (The Yom Kippur war in 1973 was further evidence of that fact.)
For the first time in more than two millenia, and after 19 years of Jordanian rule, Israel occupied the West Bank (which former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and current Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, call by its Hebrew designation, Judea and Samaria). For millions of Israelis and diaspora Jews, the reoccupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem, where Judaism's holist shrine, the Western Wall, is located), was not merely the fulfillment of an ancient dream, but the realization of a national goal and the vindication of Zionist ideology and religious beliefs.
In the eyes of Jews around the world, centuries of yearning and hope had come to fruition: decades of desecration of Jewish temples, cemeteries, and biblical holy places by Ottoman (Turkish) and then Jordanian rulers came to an end. For the first time in 19 years, Israeli Jews were free to worship at their holiest places. Moreover, for the first time in 19 years, people of all faiths flocked to Jerusalem to pray in their holy shrines, unhindered, unrestricted, and under the full protection of the law.
While the Jews maintained an uncompromising affinity to their ancient homeland, and especially Jerusalem and its holy places, the Israeli government's occupation of the West Bank was not in the least motivated by religious considerations. King Hussein had been warned repeatedly in June 1967 by the then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol not to enter the conflict, and was told that Israel had no designs on the Hashemite Kingdom. However, Hussein, who was misled by the Syrians, by Arab propaganda and disinformation, and by the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt into believing that a quick victory over Israel was possible, did not heed Eshkol's plea and entered the conflict with all his forces.
Between June 1967 and May 1977, the Israeli Labor government tried in vain to settle the Palestinian problem by negotiating with Jordan. The Labor government's approach was based on the territorial compromises in the Allon Plan, which was based on territorial concessions for peace.
Although the Labor government's formula of territorial compromise was flatly rejected by the Palestinians, Egyptians, and to a lesser extent, by the Jordanians after 1967, Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza continued to be established on the basis of Allon's master plan to create a permanent Jewish presence in the Biblical Jewish homeland. While Labor and the Likucl differed (and continue to differ) on their approach to the Palestinian problem and the disputed territories, both political parties still firmly hold to the view that Jews have an inalienable right to settle in Judea and Samaria. (The fact that Jews have always maintained a presence in their ancestral homeland is well-documented. The repeated expulsions of the Jews never forfeited their right to return.)

Settlements and Sovereignty

Israel's settlement policy has always had a dual purpose: 1) to provide security for Israel prior to the establishment of peace, and 2) to assert the Jewish right to settle in Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Both Begin's Likud regime and its Labor predecessor used the settlement policy as an indispensable tool to meet Israel's security needs, while simultaneously exercising Israel's right to create a permanent presence in the territories considered an integral part of the "Land of Israel."
The difference between the two governments was a matter of emphasis on the balance between the requisites of security and the exercise of a "natural" right. Unlike the settlements built in the Sinai which Israel was prepared to evacuate after hard bargaining, the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza have far greater significance in both the question of security and right to settle. There was never any collective Jewish affinity for the Sinai; it was not seen as an integral part of the "Land of Israel," nor did the Israelis develop any lasting emotional attachment to the area after the second occupation of the peninsula in 1967.
From the start, the Sinai settlements were built (on the whole) for security reasons. Although it was painful for Begin to concede the Sinai settlements to the Egyptians, he was able to do so since, in the Egyptian case, security concerns were allayed because: 1) unlike the situation in the West Bank, Israel enjoyed territorial depth along its southern border; 2) few Egyptians live in the Sinai, and therefore, demilitarization became a verifiable goal; 3) Israel was dealing with only one country and a leader who had made his peaceful intentions clear; 4) U.S. influence over Egypt is considerable and could be expected to dampen any renewed Egyptian military designs; and 5) both Israel and Egypt shared the same views regarding the security of the region and saw the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the radical left, from within and outside the region, as the real enemy (not each other).
As for the West Bank, for which most Israelis feel a unique and sacred attachment, none of the above considerations apply. There is no territorial depth, and the territory is densely populated, two facts that make total demilitarization virtually impossible.
The Palestinians are also subject to the influence of other Arab states, and are deeply affected by the maelstrom of Palestinian national politics. The Soviet Union, not the United States, enjoys considerable leverage over the Syrians and the PL(3. In the final analysis, and despite the disarray in their political ranks, the Palestinians consider Israel to be their primary adversary.
While it is true that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza District once played a fundamental role in Israel's strategic planning, these settlements also provide tangible physical evidence of Israel's claim to exercise its historical rights. While Begin was prepared to trade a piece of territory for peace with Egypt, no Israeli leader, be he Labor or Likud, would, or could, ever wholly abandon these settlements, even for a guaran-teed peace.
Without Palestinian acceptance of the principle of an Israeli presence, any peace worked out between the principals will remain fragile at best, subject to outside influence and factors over which neither Israel nor well-intentioned Palestinians have any control. The settlement policy thus constitutes an answer to fundamental Israeli requirements – security through coexistence, and the right to settle, which together comprise a basic philosophy, a way of life, that cannot be vitiated by either pressure or persuasion. Thus, no matter which party – or coalition of parties – governs Israel, no Israeli government could survive the political storm that would arise if it is perceived to have compromised Israel's right to settle in either Judea or Samaria.

The Palestinian Claim

The Palestinians also have a legitimate claim – a claim that was not only recognized by the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 – but is based on the fact they they, too, have lived on this land for centuries. Although the Palestinians, upon the advice of their Arab brethren, refused to accept the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, and instead joined with seven Arab armies in 1948 in an attempt to dismantle the newly-born Jewish State, most of them still live within the old (pre-1921) boundaries of the League of Nations' Palestine mandate. The majority, some 3.5 million, currently live on the East and West Banks of the Jordan River, in the Gaza Strip, and within Israel proper. Most of the remaining one-and-a-half million Palestinians are dispersed among some 15 Arab countries, with a majority (about one million) living in the oil-producing Gulf states and in Lebanon.
The fact that the majority of Palestinians live in Israel and the territories controlled by or adjacent to Israel makes coexistence both politically and economically imperative. In the socio-economic realm, and despite the uprising, the last 20 years have produced new conditions that neither side can undo. The Palestinians have been gradually, if reluctantly at first, integrated into the Israeli economy. In addition to the fact that over one hundred thousand Palestinians work in Israel's private and government sectors, the two communities' interdependence and exchange of consumer goods and services has become a major part of their daily lives. For example, thousands of tons of produce are transported weekly from Israel and the administered territories to Jordan, and from Jordan to other Arab countries.

The constant interaction between Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and those living in Israel proper is such that no political or military boundaries can conceivably inhibit, let alone stop, the movement of people, money, goods, and services from one sector to the other. This growing mutual dependence has made it clear that no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can work unless it takes this continuing, mutually beneficial socio-economic relationship into full consideration.
During the past 20 years, Israel sought to normalize its relationship with the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and Gaza, while maintaining both military and administrative control. This dual approach has been resisted by the Palestinians, and while they have taken full advantage of Israel's economy and technological advancements, they have maintained their nationalist fervor, as exhibited by the continuing unrest which began in December 1987.
Any traveler visiting the Palestinian cities, towns, and villages of the West Bank is at once struck by the evident economic prosperity: thousands of new and spacious homes have been built; advanced agricultural machinery and sophisticated irrigation systems are in use, (and have made the West Bank a net agricultural exporter); modern household equipment is visible in most Palestinian homes; quality medical, educational, and other social services are readily available.
Yet, while Palestinians recognize the advantages of coexistence with the Israelis and enjoy the abundance that economic prosperity has brought, their passionate desire for self-determination has not changed in the least. In fact, Palestinians remain bitterly defiant toward Israeli authority and their anger has been, and is, expressed in a continuing cycle of violence and other acts of resistence. A whole generation of young Palestinians, born a few years before and since 1967, is even more prone to violence and even more anxious than the generation before them to restore lost national dignity. The Israeli soldier has become the symbol of oppression.
According to General Ehud Barak, deputy chief of staff prior to the uprising, nearly 80 percent of the violent incidents involving Palestinians – more than 3000 a year from 1982 to 1987 – were initiated in the occupied areas. To be sure, the Palestinians developed the emotional, psychological, and intellectual foundations for their own brand of nationalism long before 1967. However, 19 years of enforced quietism under Jordanian rule, followed by the experience of more refugee camps and Israeli rule, made it almost a foregone conclusion that Palestinian political resentment would eventually be galvanized into open, violent resistance. The eruption of unrest in December 1987, when young Palestinians in Gaza revolted violently and were joined in sympathy by Israel's nearly 700,000 Arab citizens, dramatically underscored that Israel cannot have it both ways, that it cannot be both a friend to, and overlord of, the Palestinians.
Contrary to Israeli hopes, the last 20 years have created a set of political imperatives that make continuation of the present situation potentially dangerous. Tragically, while most Israelis recognize the danger, no consensus on the Palestinian problem has yet to emerge in Israel itself. The vast majority of Israelis accept the fact that Palestinians have lived and continue to live in this part of the world.
Polls also suggest that more than 60 percent of Israelis agree that the Palestinian claim to the territories where they currently reside is perfectly legitimate. The nub of the conflict, of course, remains whether the Palestinians' claim, though legitimate, can or should, compromise or negate Israel's equally valid claim. The question, needless to say, is not posed in the abstract.
It is, in fact, answered on a daily basis by those who live in the land, and even more concretely, by those who choose to settle on it and thereby "make it their own." Given equally valid, but conflicting claims, the question ceases to be one of the right to settle but of finding ways to accommodate both claims without resorting to violence. If, as I have argued, a zero-sum solution (gaining exclusive possession through war) is no longer a viable alternative, then the problem is transformed – qualitatively – into finding a formula which, when implemented, can satisfy the national aspirations of both sides, while simultaneously fostering respect for each other's political independence and territorial integrity.

Palestinian National Identity

The establishment of an independent Palestinian entity in the West Bank and Gaza provides the Palestinians living in these territories with a national identity of their own. However, the existence of the majority of Palestinians outside the occupied territories, especially those who live in Israel and Jordan as full-fledged citizens of their respective countries, poses a different and serious set of questions that need to be addressed. What kind of relationship should Israeli Palestinians have with a Palestinian state if one is established? And what of the Jordanian Palestinians? How would they define their national identity? Where does their loyalty lie?
While Israelis and Palestinians will have to accept each other's claim to the territories, the national identity of those Israelis living in the West Bank, or that of Palestinians living in Israel, will have to be defined not by geographical location but by the affinity and religious and cultural ties each group has to its political entity. The fact is that while the Israelis have established their national identity and will take every conceivable measure to maintain the Jewish identity of the state, the Palestinians can be expected to seek the same objective once they establish their own political independence.
Thus Palestinians living in Israel as Israeli citizens will of necessity gravitate toward their "own homeland" to satisfy their national identity. In this connection, the acceptance of dual territorial claim will make it possible for both sides to maintain their own national identity without uprooting themselves and establishing a physical presence in the area where their political national expression is exercised freely. Just as the area's Jews regard Israel as their homeland, the Palestinian national entity will then become the national core with which all Palestinians, regardless of their place of residence, can identify.
The Palestinians living in Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, and in Israel proper constitute more than 75 percent of all Palestinians. It would be folly for Israel and Jordan to assume that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would limit its political activities to the West Bank and Gaza. For any territorial agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to be fully observed, it will have to make provisions for the Palestinians to move freely between the four centers – Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan. That is to say, that while national identity establishes its center in the West Bank, all Palestinians residing elsewhere will have the right, and should have the right, to identify themselves with their own political entity.
The Palestinians' national aspirations will then be ful-filled as long as they establish a place of their own and as long as any Palestinian who wishes to identify himself as a Palestinian national can do so while still living and working in Israel or in Jordan. Palestinian citizenship in Israel or Jordan does not necessarily negate the premise that they can be loyal to their country of residence and, at the same time, identify emotionally and intellectually with their political entity. Obviously, the underlying assumption is that peace and harmony prevails. In the case of the Palestinian, Jordanian, and possibly Israeli, relationship, the formation of a confederation is certainly a workable option that could further diminish any inconsistencies. Obviously, Israeli Jews who elect to live in the West Bank will have the same right.

Commitments and Understandings

Assuming that both Israelis and Palestinians recognize that coexistence under separate political authority is the only realistic, peaceful option left for them, what then are the commitments and understandings that could breathe political life into the assumption itself? First and foremost is the fact that whatever the shape of the final agreements, a Jewish presence in the West Bank will remain a permanent feature of life.
However, the numbers of settlers involved, the location and size of the settlements, would be subject to negotiation. It might well turn out, for example, that those settlements most offensive to Arab sensibilities could be relocated, and others dismantled entirely. It might also be possible, for example, to negotiate a formula whereby Jewish settlements could grow in size only in some fixed ratio to the overall growth of the Palestinian population in these areas. Second, the Palestinians will have the right to establish their own political entity.
In the interim, the Israelis would have to guarantee that further expropriation of Arab land would cease, and that no Israeli government would use coercion to either acquire land or to place new settlers in the West Bank or Gaza. During the negotiation period and throughout any transitional period prior to the full implementation of agreements, Israel must avoid giving even the slightest impression that it is guided by intentions that could – even hypothetically – leave a single Palestinian homeless.
Finally, and most important, it must be made absolutely clear that coexistence and the "Jewish right" to settle in the West Bank means just that – the acceptance of Jewish settlers who have their own national identity from that of Palestinians who enjoy their own national identity both inside and outside the West Bank and Gaza.
Seeing it in this light, the new settlements policy, in fact, could by itself provide the basis for peace, so long as the Palestinians' self-determination is guaranteed and the peaceful transfer of the territories to the Palestinians takes place after an agreed upon transitional period. Thus the Israeli settlements need not be an obstacle to peace, but instead could facilitate the peace process and the common goal of finding a modus vivendi between Israelis and Palestinians.
All things considered, Israeli and Palestinian dual claim to the same territory can, and indeed will have to, be resolved on the basis of existing demographic and socio-political conditions. Neither side can hope to attain and sustain their national objectives unless they consider the other's national aspirations. National identity, which is the core of self-determination, can be accomplished only through mutual acceptance of their dual claim to the same territories.