Opinion |

Israel's Honorable President

When the right’s screamers cry annexation, the state president tells them there’s only one annexation – the kind that grants full, equal civil rights to all the annexed area’s residents.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at a conference held in Jerusalem by the Besheva newspaper. February 13, 2017
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at a conference held in Jerusalem by the Besheva newspaper. February 13, 2017Credit: Mark Neuman, GPO
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Once again, the real opposition leader emerges as the only politician who speaks the truth around here. Reuven Rivlin is tearing the mask off the Israeli right wing’s face.

When the right’s screamers cry annexation, the state president tells them there’s only one annexation – the kind that grants full, equal civil rights to all the annexed area’s residents.

When the president of the United States and Israeli prime minister renounce the two-state solution, the president raises the only democratic alternative.

And when the one state, marking its 50th anniversary, is in the midst of laying the ideological and legal bases for its segregation regime, the First Citizen stands up and proposes the only way to stop the establishment of the Jewish apartheid state in the Land of Israel.

More honest than Isaac Herzog and more decent than Yair Lapid – they have nothing to offer – Rivlin offers an alternative. We always knew he was in favor of annexation.

On Tuesday he explained what he means when he says “no” – “no” to Herzog, Lapid and the two-state proclaimers; “no” to Netanyahu, Bennett, Ariel and the rest of the pseudo-annexation supporters – Rivlin means a state of all its citizens.

In a right wing gathering, of all places, and on the eve of the Washington summit, of all times, the president said he was in favor of one democratic state. There’s no other way to interpret his revolutionary statement – “sovereignty grants citizenship.”

The populists, the fascists and the ignoramuses on the right think there’s another option – to annex the area and give rights to the Jews only. For them the Palestinians are like air, or at least like lowly savages. That’s Israeli apartheid in its refined, brutal form.

The Zionist center and left believe they can have it both ways - both two states and settlements. Both sides are deceptive. Those who wanted a Jewish state have missed the train, those who wanted a democracy must grant equal rights and give up the Jewish state.

Rivlin tore off the disguise. Rivlin comes from a bad place to a good one. The bad place is his belief that “Zion is all ours.” It’s not clear on what basis – the Bible, Messianism, the chosen people or the Holocaust – but also that Zion-Palestine belongs to both peoples.

Rivlin is (Shimon) Riklin when he doesn’t recognize the Palestinians’ national rights, but also Azmi Bishara when he grants them full, equal civil rights. The result is one, binational state, which is democratic as well.

The Betar man of Jerusalem isn’t going to ask the Palestinians what their aspirations are, another mark of insufferable racist-chauvinist condescension. But presumably most of them will say “yes” to the proposal of a completely egalitarian democracy. They will have to be asked.

It would be hard to overestimate Rivlin’s revolution. It harbingers the end of Zionism in its bad old sense and its beginning as another movement, which strives to establish a just regime in what was for a moment the state of the Jews and will become a democracy like all democracies.

Rivlin will probably be outraged by those terms, as by the support for his ideas – but that’s the only meaning for what he says. Anyone who suggests annexation and full, equal civil rights from the sea to the River Jordan is proposing one, secular democratic state.

Welcome to utopia, which could become the state of the new reality, if only more Rivlins pop up among both peoples.

All the doomsayers, from those predicting a civil war to genocide, base their forecasts on existing reality. But the idea is to change it fundamentally. In a partial, shaky way it already exists in the mixed cities and the Galilee. Jerusalem, too, would look different if the authorities treated both its peoples in an equal manner.

The fears and hates, the politicians, generals and journalists who inflame base emotions won’t remain forever. Am I dreaming? So what’s the alternative? Oh yes, the two states, or a Jewish democracy. That never has been and never will be. Ask the president.

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