In his opinion piece last Friday, Yitzhak Laor concluded that "we don't need to leave here and give up our lives. But for their sake, we should free ourselves from Zionism" ("Get rid of Zionism," June 3 ). As he sees it, Zionism caused the egregious error that led part of the Jewish people to cling to the territories conquered during the Six-Day War and to settle them. Now we should admit the error and give up on Zionism. _ Laor's conclusion is fallacious, and his analysis is based on a huge mistake concerning the essence of Zionism. Jewish sovereignty in the territories is not crucial to Zionism, and so conceding sovereignty over them does not mandate "liberation" from Zionism.
In the history of the Zionist movement, there were those who saw its goal as re-uniting the Jewish people with its historic homeland, and those who emphasized the idea that the objective of Zionism is the political rebirth of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Yet on every occasion when the leadership of the country's Jewish community, the Yishuv, faced a choice between having a Jewish state in part of the land or clinging to the dream of a Greater Eretz Israel, it selected, by a large majority, the option of having political independence in part of the land, where there would be a stable Jewish majority, and allowing the Arab minority to enjoy rights and equality.
During a Knesset debate in April 1949, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made this point clear: "When the question arose of seeking the entire country, without having a Jewish state, or having a Jewish state without the entire country, we decided in favor of a Jewish state without the entirety of Eretz Israel." This was the vision reflected in Israel's declaration of statehood. Most of those whom Laor cites and praises (for example, David Ben-Gurion and Yeshayahu Leibowitz ) for taking a stand in 1967 against Israel's acting as though it owned the territories did so in order to guarantee the independence of the Jewish state.
The same holds true today. A strong majority of the Jewish population in Israel wants to end the occupation and create a reality in which a stable Jewish majority is preserved in a State of Israel that does not rule over another people, whose members lack civil and political rights. The debate is not about liberating ourselves from Zionism, but rather, about creating the basic conditions crucial for Zionism's realization.
The validity of this goal and its advancement are not predicated upon the Palestinians' intentions or ambitions. Ostensibly, even the prime minister understands this and declares it to be his objective as well. Yet, neither he nor his government have shown consistent support of it, nor are they doing enough to promote it. They put the keys for advancing toward its realization in the hands of the Palestinians.
Clarifying this point is crucial for our future here. The prospects for peace depend upon all agents in the region recognizing that war against Israel over its very existence and identity will not succeed. This is not a society of "spider webs," or of rootless individuals who came to gain control of a land that does not belong to them under the aegis of colonialism and imperialism. The internal debate in Israel over the future of the territories does not detract from the belief in the justness of the Zionist project as a whole.
The Zionist movement reached its peak with the establishment of the state. The gist of this achievement is the desire to fulfill the Jewish people's need and longing to create in their homeland the foundations of national rebirth. The prospects for peace depend on our enemies' recognizing that if no diplomatic agreement with them is reached, the Jewish people will do what needs to be done to continue their independent existence, even if that means settling in just part of the historic homeland. Connecting the narrative of Greater Israel, that is, the entirety of the Land of Israel, with the Zionist discourse is more than a misreading of history. Ironically, such a connection plays into the hands of those, Jews and Arabs, who oppose partitioning the land.
Only by understanding that we have a deep, painful dispute within Zionism can the Jewish people in Israel make the difficult decisions that need to be made to promote our vision, not that of the other side; and only by reaching such decisions against the background of a shared ideal can we uphold the sense of mutual solidarity that is a fundamental pillar of our strength. We will choose to concede political control over part of the land, and we will carry out this decision because we have a joint Zionist ideal which can only be preserved through such a concession.
The path chosen to move forward will, of course, depend upon political and strategic conditions in the country, the region and the world. This is, indeed, the existential challenge facing our generation. We've procrastinated long enough. Once again, as was the case before the state was born, the time has come to take responsibility for our fate, define clear objectives for Zionism, and move ahead with determination, wisdom and responsibility.
Prof. Ruth Gavison is founder and president of the Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought.
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