Opinion

Between Appetite and Starvation: The Search for a Jewish and Palestinian Compromise

Jabotinsky's metaphor for the Jewish and Palestinian nations is still relevant; to achieve peace today, each side must settle for satisfying its hunger, not its appetite

In front, from left: Generals Rehavam Ze'evi and Uzi Narkiss, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin near the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Six Day War.
IDF archive

In his testimony before Britain’s Peel Commission in 1937, Ze’ev Jabotinsky said: “When the Arab claim is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved, it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation.” As he saw it, juxtaposing the “starvation” of the Jews with the Arab “appetite” strengthens the moral foundation of the Jewish nation’s claim to the Land of Israel in the face of the Arab nation’s forceful denial of that claim.

After over 100 years of conflict, it might seem that the picture has flipped, that the Israeli appetite now fights Palestinian starvation. For 50 years, the Palestinian people in the West Bank has struggled under the burden of the occupation, while Israel pursues a larcenous policy of territorial expansion by encouraging the unrestricted usurpation of Palestinian land and the establishment of dozens of settlements. The settlement policy created an apartheid regime in the West Bank that accepted the presence of settler militias that terrorize and torment the Palestinian population.

But that is only half the picture. From the beginning of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel at the end of the 19th century, through the building of the Yishuv pre-state Jewish community, the struggle for immigration, the clash with Arab nationalism, the partition plans, the establishment of the state, the Six-Day War, the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, the Oslo Accords, Camp David and the talks between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 — the history of Zionism and of Israel has been one of hunger: hunger for a national home for the Jewish nation and the refugees of the Holocaust, for an independent state, for peace agreements with the Arab world and the Palestinian people; hunger for international recognition, for personal and national security.

The unexpected transition from starvation to appetite followed Israel’s colossal victory in the Six-Day War. That war, imposed on Israel by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser as a defensive war, turned things upside down and ended, unintentionally, as a war of occupation.

From the Palestinian prospective, the Six-Day War reversed the result of Israel’s War of Independence. The Palestinian community, which until 1948 had unity and territorial contiguity under the violent leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, found itself after the 1949 armistice agreements divided into four disjointed groups: refugees in camps, Arab subjects of Jordan in the West Bank and of Egypt in the Gaza Strip, and second-class citizens of Israel under military rule. The historic irony is that the 1967 war, which ended with the conquest of Sinai, Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, reunified most of the Palestinian people, giving it territorial contiguity under united Israeli rule. As such, it also enabled the renewal of Palestinian nationalist consolidation, halted by the 1948 war.

The imperialist hubris and euphoria that gripped Israel after the Six-Day War suffered a severe blow in the Yom Kippur War and the intifada that broke out in 1987. Israel learned its lesson, as can be seen by the willingness of prime ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak to withdraw from appetite to starvation. The result: peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, the Oslo Accords and Barak’s proposal at Camp David to withdraw almost completely from the territories in exchange for an end to hostilities. Yasser Arafat responded to Barak in September 2000, initiating the second intifada and holding fast to the mufti’s strategy of the Palestinian appetite.

Today, the split and the struggle between starvation and appetite is not only between Israeli society and the Palestinian people; it tears apart each side separately. In Israel, Naftali Bennett’s right-wing government turns its back on the political Zionism of the center-left. The appetite for settlement pulverizes the hunger for peace.

Palestinian society is also split between starvation and appetite. In the West Bank, Abbas seems to represent the Palestinian hunger for a sovereign state alongside Israel, but we must remember that he is firm in opposing Israel as a Jewish state, claiming that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality, and that Israel is the state of the Israeli people, not the Jewish people. Hamas in Gaza continues the mufti’s appetite strategy, despite Israel’s withdrawal. Hamas seeks not fulfillment of the Palestinian right to self-determination, but rather to establish an Islamic Palestine on the ruins of Israel.

Thus, it is impossible to say today where the Palestinian people is headed: to sate its hunger for independence and a sovereign state alongside Israel, or its appetite to destroy Israel. And if there is an Israeli consensus for peace over the settlements, as repeated polls show, the Israeli hunger for peace does not manifest at the ballot box; territorial appetite is winning.

The history of the Israeli-Arab conflict shows that when appetite is pitted against starvation, between and within each side, there is no chance for a political agreement. Peace talks can only conclude successfully when both two sides stop trying to satisfy their appetite and settle for satisfying their hunger.

Shmuel Harlap is an Israeli businessman and a former lecturer in political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.