Zionist leaders who paved the way for Israel's establishment were characterized by an outlook that preferred the future to the past, without negating the importance of the latter. These men had vision but were able to distinguish between what could and couldn't be done. In contrast, the Arab leaders failed by clinging to the past, when there had been an Arab majority in Palestine.
In 1918, the demand by David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett to establish a state for the Jewish people was based on the connection between the people of Israel and their land. They added, however, that when the time came to determine borders, the land should be seen "not just as the Jewish homeland of the past, but also as the future Jewish land." With this vision guiding them through a violent dispute, they were able to promote the establishment of a democratic state with a Jewish majority that stretched over 78 percent of the country. In contrast, the Mufti of Jerusalem declared that he would not agree to partition little Palestine and dragged his people to a future of refugee hardship and a lack of self-definition.
In the Benjamin Netanyahu era, the tables appear to have turned. The prime minister demands that our rights and their realization be founded on the past and repeatedly uses terminology that has perpetuated the dispute. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, is looking forward and concentrating on the practical details of an agreement before they are wrapped in the sides' obligatory narratives. Netanyahu's approach harms the chances of successful negotiations.
Like Zionism, which opposes an Arab majority in a democratic state that belongs to the Jewish people by rejecting the refugees' "right of return," the Palestinians can't recognize Israel's "Jewish-ness" before an agreement is signed. They interpret Netanyahu's demands in this regard as evidence that "Israel's leadership is not looking for peace, but rather wants to impose its ideological vision and outlook via measures such as ethnic cleansing, settlement and siege policies. Official pronouncements demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state have proliferated recently and appeared alongside steps and laws, the most recent being the loyalty-pledge law for citizens who are not Jews."
As we look toward the future, can it be that Netanyahu doesn't see that an emerging Arab majority in the Land of Israel constitutes a genuine threat to Israel's Jewish identity and character that is more serious than conceding Judea and Samaria, the cradle of the Jewish people? Doesn't he believe that the realization of the Jewish people's historic right to part of the land is preferable to controlling millions of Palestinians deprived of civil rights, with such control a serious threat to Israel's democratic future and membership in the international community?
Doesn't he see that he is pushing Abbas, who is threatened by Hamas and its Iranian patrons, into the flexible, open arms of the Arab league, which includes Syria and Lebanon, countries thirsting for the return of the Golan Heights and the expulsion of refugees from their borders? Doesn't he see how the Palestinians are closing ranks with the international community, a community whose resolutions on Israel are less moderate than the Palestinians' own demands?
Because of the different ways the sides define the history of the dispute - as the Nakba catastrophe and as rebirth - agreements cannot be forged about the past. The sides should concentrate on future-oriented arrangements that relate to each side's key aspirations, framed according to the outlines sketched at Annapolis and Geneva. Only under such a forward-looking approach can the sides sign an agreement containing terms such as the end of the dispute and the termination of historical demands.
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