Oct 11, 2011 | Middle East Forum | by Efraim Karsh
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.
Sari Nusseibeh has done it again. In an article titled “Why Israel Can’t be a ‘Jewish State,'” published on the Jewish New Year of all dates [Sep 29-30, 2011], the supposedly moderate president of al-Quds University goes to great lengths to explain why Jews, unlike any other nation on earth, are undeserving of statehood.
“[T]he idea of a ‘Jewish State’ is logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious, historical and social implications,” he wrote. “The implications of this term therefore need to be spelled out, and we are sure that once they are, most people — and most Israeli citizens, we trust — will not accept these implications.”
Not that this should have come as a surprise. For decades, Nusseibeh has tirelessly advanced the “one-state solution” — a euphemistic formula that proposes the replacement of Israel by a country, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority.
This advocacy of the destruction of a long-existing state, established by an internationally recognized act of national self-determination, has hardly dented Nusseibeh’s “moderate” credentials. That can be partly explained by the desperate yearning among Jews and their supporters worldwide for Palestinian and Arab peace partners. That desire dates back to the 1920s and the 1930s, despite countless setbacks and disillusionments. It is also a corollary of the narcissist and patronizing mesmerization among educated westerners with the “noble savage” in general, and the Westernized native in particular. With his posh Jerusalem high school education, his Oxford and Harvard degrees and impeccable western demeanor, Nusseibeh, like cultured Arabs and Muslims before him, represents the ultimate product of the “white man’s civilizing mission,” a contemporary replica of George Antonius, the Cambridge-educated Syrian political activist who was the toast of the British chattering classes in Palestine and beyond during the 1930s.
I was personally privy to this feting during a London meeting in the spring of 1989. I was then a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Jafee Center for Strategic Studies, and like many well intentioned Israelis at the time and since, we aspired to lay the ground for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation through secret talks with Palestinian interlocutors, including members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, then an outlawed organization in Israel. The group we met was headed by Faisal Husseini, then the PLO’s most senior official in the disputed territories, flanked by Nusseibeh and a few prominent London-based Palestinian academics.
The meeting was pleasant and informative enough, with the courteous British hosts going out of their way to keep their Palestinian guests sweet. Yet I was taken aback when Nusseibeh, the celebrated epitome of Palestinian moderation, turned out to be the most extreme member of the group. Dismissing out of hand the two-state solution — Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — he sang the praise of the “one-state paradigm,” demanding the incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza population into the Jewish state as full-fledged citizens, to be followed by Palestinian “refugees” from the neighboring Arab states and beyond.
In subsequent years, Nusseibeh would pay customary lip service to the two-state solution while consistently questioning the very legitimacy of the state with which he ostensibly wished to make peace. On a few occasions he even let the mask drop, unveiling his true agenda. In the late 1990s, for example, he told an old Oxford friend that “one day, in the near or further future, all this [Israel and Palestine] will be one binational state. It’s just a question of how we get there.”
In an April 2005 debate at Dartmouth College, Nusseibeh advocated the creation of a bi-national state as the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
“We will have spent 100 years killing and fighting each other, doing our best to avoid a one-state solution, and we will find ourselves in that exact situation in 40 or 50 years,” he argued.
In a 2007 political memoir Nusseibeh missed no opportunity to denigrate and delegitimize the Jewish state through sharp, short, often subtle yet always false readings of history.
He does this in spades in his latest article. A Jewish state cannot exist, he argues, because “no state in the world is — or can be in practice — ethnically or religiously homogenous.” But the Jewish state that has existed for over 63 years has never been, nor aspired to be, totally homogenous: unlike the Palestinian Arab leadership which, since the early 1920s to date, has insisted on a Judenrein Palestine. Rather, Israel has been home to diverse religious and ethnic minorities accounting for nearly 20 percent of its total population.
As David Ben-Gurion told the leadership of his own (Mapai) party in 1947, the non-Jews in the Jewish state “will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is, the state will be their state as well.”
Nusseibeh claims that a Jewish state must by definition be either a theocracy or an apartheid state, and that its Jewish nature opens the door to legally reducing its substantial non-Jewish minority (whose very existence he previously denied) “to second-class citizens (or perhaps even stripping them of their citizenship and other rights).” This, too, flies in the face of Israel’s 63-year history, where Arabs have enjoyed full equality before the law, and have been endowed with the full spectrum of democratic rights — including the right to vote for and serve in all state institutions.
In fact, from the designation of Arabic as an official language, to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal resting days for their respective communities, to the granting of educational, cultural, judicial, and religious autonomy, Arabs in Israel enjoy more formal prerogatives than ethnic minorities anywhere in the democratic world.
Small wonder that whenever an Israeli politician proposes the inclusion of some frontier Israeli-Arab settlements in the future Palestinian state, as part of a land exchange within the framework of a peace agreement, the residents of these localities immediately voice their indignation. Moreover, recent surveys show that more Palestinians in east Jerusalem, who are entitled to Israeli social benefits and are free to travel across Israel’s pre-1967 borders, would rather become citizens of the Jewish state than citizens of a new Palestinian one.
But Nusseibeh is not someone to be bothered by the facts. His is the misconception, prevalent among Arabs and Muslims, that Jews are a religious community and not a nation deserving of statehood.
Hence, instead of insisting on being accepted for what it has been for 63 years, or what the UN partition resolution envisaged it to be, Israel should shed its Jewish identity and become “a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism” like many of its Arab neighbors which have Islam as their official religion “but grant equal civil rights to all citizens.”
This of course is the complete inverse of the truth.
The Jewish state is a civil, democratic and pluralistic society, something that none of its Arab neighbors can stake a claim to. On the contrary, precisely because Islam is enshrined as state religion throughout the Middle East, the non-Muslim minorities have been denied “equal civil rights” and have instead been reduced to the historic dhimmi status whereby they can at best enjoy certain religious freedoms in return for a distinctly inferior existence, and at worst suffer from systematic persecution and oppression.
And this is the “one-state paradigm” offered by Nusseibeh to Israel’s Jewish citizens.
Efraim Karsh is research professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and author, most recently, of Palestine Betrayed.