Parallel Lives, Parallel States: A New Solution to Our Age-old Conflict?

Eyal Megged
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Eyal Megged

We are not going to get rid of them. They will continue to live around us and in our midst. The day will come when we will sit with them and discuss how to live together. That will probably not happen by choice, but by coercion, and the representatives from the two sides will not be the present ones. Those who represent us today are attached to one story alone, and quote from it what they consider convenient.

For example, I read that from the famous eulogy that Moshe Dayan delivered for Roi Rothberg – who was killed on the border with Gaza in 1956 – Ehud Barak chose to quote only this sentence: “This is the fate of our generation. The only choice we have is to be prepared and armed, strong and resolute ? or else our sword will slip from our hand and the thread of our lives will be severed.” (Source: Avi Shlaim, “The Iron Wall.”)

The rest of the eulogy, which was written in the spirit of a biblical lament, did not serve the defense minister’s purpose at that moment. This is the vast disparity between the leadership of our generation and that of the previous generation: Ours are salesmen, mainly selling themselves, while they – despite all their blunders – were fired with a sense of mission. Even as he grieved at the newly dug grave, Dayan did not forget the other side to the tragedy and did not let his listeners forget: “Let us not today fling accusations at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their very eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers lived. We should demand [Roi’s] blood not from the Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves.”

If that narrative does not speak to you, there is no chance that you will be able to breach the hate barrier. There is no reason to suspect that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unaware of the course of history. But whereas Dayan felt the Arab side of the story in every fiber of his being, Netanyahu is insensitive to it. He refuses to see reality through the eyes of the other side, apparently on the assumption that seeing both sides will weaken him and us. But to be sensitive and mindful of what is happening on the other side of the fence does not mean forgoing the survival instinct. On the contrary: Those who see the whole picture are assuredly more firmly rooted in reality.

In the same period in which Dayan delivered his lamentation for Roi Rothberg, an infiltrator from the Gaza Strip murdered my grandfather in his orchard, in the dunes of Palmahim. The citrus industry had just recovered from the nadir into which it had been plunged by the world war and Israel’s War of Independence. Following a lengthy period rife with despair and humiliations, during which my grandfather had to hide continuously from his debtors, buds of hope had appeared. One day, before starting to walk along the dirt trail that led to the road to Rishon Letzion, from where he always started his long journey home by foot and by public transportation, my grandfather went to start the pump engine, as he did at the end of every working day. He was killed near the dark structure that housed the well. An Arab worker nearby fled when he heard the shot, leaving my grandfather to bleed to death.

After the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, an interview with him was broadcast in which he had rejected all possibility of Jewish life in the Land of Israel. “I have no problem with a Jew who lives in the United States or England,” he said, “but I will fight every Jew who lives between the Jordan and the sea.” Those words, combined with the deeds that have accompanied them for decades, are depressing and cause for despair. But those who look for ways to compromise with their enemies hope to soften them by means of the new reality that will come into being after a settlement is eventually reached. As such, they assume that a compromise is possible even with an extreme and brutal organization such as Hamas, because in the end most of us want to live. Propaganda is one thing, reality another.

We are not really talking about a Pillar of Defense or Operation Accountability. It’s not mythology, as some people would have us think by means of these bombastic names. It is a struggle over a place in which to live.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of another chapter in this struggle. By now, everyone knows that when one launches a military operation, there is no way to know what its aftermath will be. From the Punic Wars to the Napoleonic conquests and the two world wars, the first moves by one of the parties began with a triumphant fanfare, often followed by impressive achievements on the ground, continued with disappointments and ended in bitter chagrin. On the very first day of Operation Pillar of Defense, we were informed of tremendous achievements by the air force in destroying the enemy’s missile stocks, just as in previous operations. But amazingly, as the war went on the attacks did not lessen, much less stop; on the contrary, they intensified, as though nothing had been destroyed. Moreover, one errant bomb wiped out a family, instantly turning the war heroes into war criminals.

‘So, what do you suggest?’

Accordingly, you find yourself wondering about the hidden motives that impel your government - which you are supposed to trust implicitly - firstly in going to war, and secondly, in feeding the public with falsehoods. Too often have we gone through the ritual in which extraneous considerations encourage public attention to focus on the cycle of violence, which suppresses thought and fans passions. As in narrative plots, psychological motives are at work here, which do not manifest themselves either in headlines or in what underlies them. Here, precisely, lies the position that should be occupied by the irresponsible eccentric known as the “intellectual,” who, in contrast to commentators and politicians, eventually gets bored with thinking the same thoughts all the time.

The problem is that the practical, ostensibly acceptable ideas are appallingly limited. Time and again, we chew the same conceptual cud; time and again we hear the same moldy, despair-creating solutions, which are unable to breach the vicious cycle of stimulus-and-response, the solutions we have witnessed all our lives. As someone who is considered an “involved writer,” I am frequently asked, after I voice comments of one kind or another, the question of questions: “So, what do you suggest?” I prefer to say what I dream about. I dream about a leader who embarks on peace talks more easily than he embarks upon a military operation. Someone who is not entirely certain that the only language the Arabs understand - in contradistinction to us - is the language of force. Someone who is capable of fresh thinking.

In recent years I have been involved in an Israeli-Palestinian think group initiated by senior Swedish diplomats and academics with the aim of trying to formulate an innovative peace plan. It’s called the Parallel States Project (http://parallelstatesproject.cmes.lu.se/). At first - and perhaps second - glance, it will seem fantastical. Very briefly, it foresees two parallel states in the entire territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Each state will have the right to say “it’s all mine,” and the citizens of the two states will realize their sovereignty bodily. They will bear that sovereignty wherever they go within those borders. In other words, sovereignty will be based on the citizen, not on the territory. As such, every citizen of the two states will be able to live wherever he chooses between the sea and the river, but as a citizen of his state. He will be able to vote for the governing bodies of his state and be brought to trial according to the laws of his state.

The program sprang from the clear recognition that it is impossible to divide the Land of Israel and impossible to divide Palestine, either physically or mentally. Disengagement from the Palestinians carries with it no salvation, but the reverse, as we have seen with our own eyes since the magic solution concocted by Ariel Sharon. That is why I opposed the unilateral pullout from Gaza with all my might, despite the high price I paid for crossing the political lines.

The parallel states idea stems also from the desire to break the dogmatism of the “peace camp” - or should we say “peace religion”? - which presupposes, in a mistake that conflicts with reality time and again, that the return of the territories that were conquered in 1967 will constitute suitable atonement for the sin (with or without quotation marks) we committed in 1948. In an era in which, to evoke Marx’s axiom, consciousness is no longer necessarily determined by one’s being, in the virtual and simulative time in which we live it is possible, we believe, to apply full sovereignty without territorial attachment. For example, all the features of a Jewish state can be realized without our possessing exclusivity over the territory.

The parallel states plan is a compromise between the prevailing notion of two states for two nations and a binational state. We are talking explicitly about two salient nation-states, each of which realizes within its framework its aspiration for a distinctive, separate identity.
Half a state

Obviously, numberless questions arise, of a legal, economic, and, above all, security character. Each question has an answer in the detailed plan. Leading experts in each field worked on the plan - for example, in the security realm, which is of course liable to shatter our illusions. The assumption is that in the foreseeable future there will be no choice but to allot exclusive areas to each state in which military forces will deploy for every emergency (special forces, secret weapons and so forth).

There is reason to believe that the European community will be obliged to assist in the building of this model by bringing our peculiar animal into its herd, which of course will be a crucial incentive for both sides. That is the plan, in a nutshell. The working papers are packed with details, if only so that we do not come across as hallucinatory. The truth is that a range of people with whom I spoke about the plan did not send me straight for psychiatric observation, but listened attentively. Sometimes their eyes lit up. Astonishingly, people from the right wing are more receptive to the idea than those from the left. The leftists suspect that the plan is a right-wing conspiracy to prevent the partition of the country. But that is sheer nonsense.

Our Palestinian partners will testify that never before have they reached the same level of understanding with Israelis as they have in this forum. Never have they been shown the same openness by Israelis, leftists or rightists, as in our meetings. There was understanding between us that, above all, a separation into two states does not meet their true longings; an understanding which, they say, the Palestinians do not have with most of the Israeli peace activists. The half-country waiting around the corner is not what they are dreaming of. The Palestinians with whom we dialogued declined to let go of their national childhood; of the good childhood and the bad childhood, of the memory of its ordeals and of the pain caused by their expulsion from it. The emphasis here is on a mirror image, and this is something many among us tend to repress. Not until we face squarely the joint trauma of the two nations can the deep scars be healed. I believe that the parallel states plan copes precisely with this repression through the solutions it proposes. That is what makes it revolutionary in the deep sense of the word.

I have no choice but to believe that if a leader arises who thinks in such terms, he will also be able to find a path to the bitterest of our enemies, including the leaders of Hamas, who at present we see only through gunsights. I have no choice but to believe, because if I do not have faith, my life here will be unbearable. Masada is not the place I want to live, not even in a villa. It seems to me that this is also not the wish of the majority of the nation that is emerging here, for whom pampering and self-indulgence are the usual mantras. The leader I would like to see in my lifetime will be able to say to the Arabs without fear: “Let us live together here.” Not only does it rhyme - we simply have no other choice.

The Galilee School in the Misgav district, where Arab and Jewish students learn together in Arabic and in Hebrew.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

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