Will Israel Still Exist 90 Years From Now? Should It?

Uri Avnery has lived a life as forward-thinking peace activist. At age 90, he may still be ahead of his time, and also right, both about Israel's future and the present.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

If there were an award for the one Israeli who has been ahead of his time for more years than absolutely anyone else, the short list of nominees would surely include Uri Avnery.

He was way ahead of his compatriots in the pre-state Irgun armed underground in 1942, when he broke with them over Irgun bombings that killed Arab civilians in retaliation for Arab attacks against Jews.

He was way ahead of the Israeli public when, recovering from serious wounds suffered as an Israeli soldier in the 1948-9 war, he "came out of the war totally convinced that one: we need peace, two: there exists a Palestinian people, and three: that making peace with the Palestinians means to have a Palestinian state next to Israel.''

He anticipated official Israeli-Palestinian peace attempts by more than a decade when, at the height of the 1982 IDF siege of Beirut, he risked arrest and worse to cross battle lines in order to meet Yasser Arafat. It was said to be the first time the PLO leader had ever met an Israeli.

So it only makes sense that the 90th birthday last month of the journalist, politician, peace activist and trouble maker named Uri Avnery, would be marked this week with a panel discussion addressing the future.

Specifically, "Will Israel exist 90 years from now?"

Given this Israel, it is more than likely that, lurking behind the answers to the provocative discussion topic, a second question will emerge: "Should it?"

This week, listening more closely to Uri Avnery than usual, I've found to my surprise that I have an answer: Yes. And Yes.

Surprise, because of the volume and the persuasiveness of those on the left and right who agree on only one thing: there cannot be two states here. There will not be two states here.

What they are telling us, in essence, is that long before 90 years is up, that which is democratic and Jewish about the Israel we know, will be eroded and dissolved into dust by settlements, segregation, demography, and diplomatic isolation.

There's another possibility, though. That a 90-year-old may still be ahead of his time. And also right, both about the future and the present.

To those who say that settlement expansion has already rendered impossible the evacuation of settlers and the creation of two states, Avnery told Ben Lynfield of the Christian Science Monitor ahead of the panel discussion: "You need a very strong [Israeli] government , but it can be done."

After all this time, after fleeing Hitler's Germany as a child, after nearly being killed in war, after years of being pilloried and of watching one peace overture after another go up in literal smoke, Avnery has not given up.

''I see my job in the last 60 years as changing the mutual perceptions of Israelis and Palestinians," he told the paper. "The first thing needed to make peace is to respect the other side, to see the other side in human terms, as an enemy but not as demonic.''

If Israel continues to exist, and should, it will be because of a key majority of Israelis – Arabs included - who would much prefer to live in a democracy-in-progress, rather than a bloated, overtly discriminatory, theocratic, lemming-like rogue state.

They have built a unique culture here, Arabs included, a new literature, a body of music and the arts. They speak a language brought back from the dead. They want the Palestinians to be their neighbors, not a population under heel, drained of hope, waiting only for the only chance left to them by the Israeli right – taking over entirely.

That key majority exists. It is what keeps the enemies of Israel democracy, which are over-represented in the Knesset, from ramming through laws that are totalitarian in design and destination, and from kneecapping the courts to eliminate democracy's last resort of defense.

Most Israelis want two states. They want their Israel. In order to keep it in existence for the next 90 years and longer, they know that at some point, an independent Palestine will need to be established alongside.

True, many Israelis have lost hope in two states. But not, at 90, Avnery. ''When I want to evoke laughter, I say I've decided to stay alive 'til it happens."

At 90, Uri Avnery, has yet to let up on his efforts toward peace. Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

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