Getting Rid of the Nationalism Disease

Nationalism is a human illness; the path to recovery is the establishment of two separate national entities - Israel and Palestine.

Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha
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Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha

Nothing stands still. History and demography will propel us forward, whether we like it or not. Therefore, one doesn’t have to be a prophet to know that things between Jews and Arabs cannot continue as they are.

There are no immutable situations in history. Empires fall and others are built on their ruins. States can also disintegrate into tribes and ethnic groups. Iraq isn’t what it once was and Syria, which is hemorrhaging in the north, will never go back to being the Syria we knew. But since it is written that “the poor of your city come first,” let’s leave the rest of the world alone and focus on our own “poor,” Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis.

The ongoing Israeli occupation has created a complex and dangerous reality. A nation of masters, the settlers and those who sent them to steal the lands and restrict the opportunities and living space of another people sitting in its homeland. This reality turns the entire country into a powder keg. One solitary event − a road accident, for example − could set the whole thing aflame and cause still more bloodshed.

All nations are imaginary, as are the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides are still in the process of formulating their unique national identities. Both these “nations” are straddling the line that separates the religious from the national. In recent years, however, religion seems to have gained the upper hand on both sides. If this process isn’t stopped, a head-on collision is inevitable. Religions, by their very nature, do not compromise. By contrast, national movements can find ways to come to terms.

Lately people have been toying with the binational solution. There are those who go as far as the South African solution of one man, one vote, as Gideon Levy suggested in Haaretz ‏(April 25‏). But Israel-Palestine is not South Africa. The reconciliation committees in South Africa could convene in one church, blacks and whites together. There is no house of worship in which both Israelis and Palestinians can come together. Unlike the church in South Africa, here the houses of worship divide, rather than unite.

Nationalism is a human illness. When the religion bug is added, the disease becomes metastatic. Before we can realize utopian visions we have to bring the “peoples” back to history. To get rid of the nationalism disease, you have to develop it and then recover from it. The path to recovery is the establishment of two separate national entities.

We could start by neutralizing the religious virus of Jerusalem. This demon should be corked in a bottle. Both sides must recognize the religious ties each of the three major religions have to their own sites in the city, and remove these sites from the sovereignty game, such that they will no longer be political pawns in the hands of delusional political leaders claiming that the other side poses a threat to them.

The slogan of Israel’s Communist party, “two states for two peoples,” which long ago became a mainstream Israeli, Palestinian and international concept, must be given content. When the occupation of 1967 is ended, Israel will be recognized as the Hebrew state, in which the Jewish nationalist disease expresses itself, just as Palestine will be recognized as an Arab state, in which the Palestinian nationalist disease is expressed. Each state can naturalize citizens as it sees fit.

To remove apprehensions and bring about an end to the occupation and the conflict, there must be two additional clauses to any agreement. The first: that Jews who choose to live in the Palestinian state will be Palestinian citizens for all purposes, just as Palestinians living in Israel will be Israelis in every way. The second: That the State of Israel, in which Jewish nationalism is realized, will be recognized as the national homeland of its Arab citizens, with all this implies politically ‏(refraining from land confiscations, ceasing talk of “transfer,” etc.‏)

This is the optimal solution. From here, the process of recovering from the harsh disease of nationalism can begin. If not, we are doomed to Balkanization.

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