In recent interviews, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expanded the boundaries of the Israeli-Arab conflict from an argument over territory, population and security arrangements into an ideological dispute. Sharon is correct in his claim that "the Arabs" do not recognize "the inherent right of the Jewish people to establish a state in its ancestral homeland." But his conclusion, that peace can only come about when the Arabs educate their children in the spirit of Zionism, only perpetuates the conflict.
Practical Zionism believed in a "facts-on-the-ground" approach that would force the Arabs to accept the existence of a Jewish state in their midst. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the Oslo process and the the 2002 Arab peace initiative proved that stubbornness and patience pay off.
The neighbors are digesting the existence of Israel, albeit not very enthusiastically, and are willing to end the conflict and establish normal relations with the state in return for its shrinking back to the Green Line and "a just and agreed upon" resolution to the refugee problem.
Israel rejects this even as a basis for negotiations, but enjoys the fact that the Arab world is not questioning its very existence.
Sharon's bountiful career, in the military and politics, was the blatant expression of "facts on the ground": We will beat the Arabs with clubs and settlements until they accept our terms.
The "Bush letter" from last year that Sharon presents as the height of his diplomatic achievements recognizes the existence of the settlements as the basis for the future border between Israel and Palestine. Here you have a successful merger of practical (another goat and another house on a settlement) and political Zionism that has worked its way into the consciousness of the superpowers.
Now Sharon regrets the fact that for years he focused on the security issues and less so on the question of "the right." His parents taught him to distinguish between the rights "to the land," which are entirely Jewish, and the rights "in the land," which the other residents have too. As far as he is concerned, this is how the Arab teachers have to be educated too, and their students in turn, until every child in Sanaa and Casablanca, Alexandria and Khaleb is singing "The Land of Israel for the People of Israel." Only then will peace be possible.
The prevailing opinion in the Arab world is indeed that Israel is an outsider, and that the conflict stems from the migration of European Jews who pushed the Palestinians off their land. It is difficult to think of an Arab statesman who has remained true to the peace process more so than Osama Al Baz, eternal advisor to the presidents of Egypt and confidant of many Israelis. And even he is demanding that Israel change its identity from "a Jewish democratic state" to "a state of all its citizens." How rude: Al Baz's country calls itself "the Arab Republic of Egypt." Why deny its neighbor, Israel, self-determination? It's insulting and infuriating. But surely remaining on bad terms can't be the solution.
Sharon is arousing impossible expectations. How will he know that the Arabs "recognize the Jewish right?" According to surveys? Based on their test scores in the subject of Zionism? And how does one define "the right?" And who granted it - the Holy One, blessed be He?
It is interesting that Sharon, a secular man, is basing his policies on a divine decree. One can understand his political need to break to the right on the eve of the Likud primaries. The problem is that in doing so, he turns the conflict into a religious war, in which there are no compromises, only a battle to the bitter end. One can argue over Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Beit El, and barter with them in return for alternative territory and other arrangements. When it comes to principles and faith, there's no bargaining.
The practical approach is less romantic, but it is the only way to reach an agreement. Instead of dreaming dreams of turning the Arabs into Zionists, it would be best to come up with reasonable solutions for living together on the basis of mutual interests. The Catholics and Protestants, who once murdered each other, are living together today without recognizing the veracity of each other's beliefs.
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