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The One-State Solution | The Nation

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The One-State Solution

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At its most elementary, The Fate of Zionism is about history as it might have been. Hertzberg, a rabbi, a former president of the American Jewish Congress and the author of such well-known studies as The French Enlightenment and the Jews, opens with a description of a Labor Party conference in Israel shortly after the 1967 war. The mood at the conference was euphoric. Israel had just achieved one of the most stunning victories in military history, and, as a consequence, Jews "could now fly to Mount Sinai or drive the short route from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee through what had been, just a few days before, the West Bank of Jordan." For the first time in twenty years, they could pray at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the sole piece of the Second Temple the Romans had left standing in AD 70.

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Daniel Lazare
Daniel Lazare is the author of, most recently, The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of...

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But then, Hertzberg writes, the guest of honor, David Ben-Gurion, arrived and proceeded to throw cold water over the festivities. By this point in his early 80s and living in retirement on a desert kibbutz, Ben-Gurion demanded that the speaker (who happened to be Hertzberg) cut short his remarks so he could take the podium. When he did, Ben-Gurion sternly told the party faithful that Israel was overextended, that it had bitten off more than it could chew and that it should return nearly all the conquered territory immediately. "The recent conquests were evoking dreams of grandeur that might be realized if the messiah were indeed about to appear," Hertzberg writes, summing up the ex-PM's remarks. But given that the messiah had not bothered to show up during the Holocaust, "Ben-Gurion did not believe that he might appear now to safeguard Jewish possession of the Sinai Peninsula, or even of the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria." Israel, as a consequence, should withdraw to more defensible boundaries while it still had time.

Hertzberg wishes Israel had heeded Ben-Gurion's warning at the time. Thirty-six years later, not only does Israel find itself saddled with a captive population it cannot control, he writes, but the conquests have fundamentally altered the ideological balance. The problem has to do with the land itself. The Sinai and Gaza were relatively unimportant since, according to the Bible, they were never really part of the Holy Land. But Judea and Samaria, even more than Israel itself, are the real Israelite heartland. They are sites of the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom of Judah, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Thus, the result of the conquest was not to provide the Jewish state with another bargaining chip in its dealings with its neighbors but, rather, to fuel the most far-out theocratic fantasies. Small but vehement sects like Ateret Kohanim began talking of blowing up the Muslim Dome of the Rock as a first step to restoring the ancient Temple of Solomon so that Jewish priests could once again sacrifice bulls and rams to the glory of Yahweh. The fact that an "unimaginably bitter war of religion" would ensue, Hertzberg adds, did not bother "the new messianists" a bit: "They feel free to engage in the most dangerous provocations because they are certain that they will be forcing God to come down to earth and give them victory."

This is crazy, all right, which is why Hertzberg believes that withdrawing to pre-1967 boundaries is the first thing Israel must do to restore a degree of sanity. What's more, he believes it is the only way to cope with what is known as "the demographic dilemma," the fact that Jews now account for only 54 percent of the 10 million people under Israeli control between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, a razor-thin majority that is likely to disappear altogether during the next few years as the Palestinian birthrate, both in Israel itself and in the occupied territories, continues to outpace that of Israeli Jews. Virtually every major player in the Middle East has an idea of how to respond. Islamic fundamentalists would solve it by driving the Jews into the sea, Jewish ultranationalists would drive the Palestinians across the Jordan, left-wing secularists would like both groups to settle down together in a single nonreligious, nonethnic democracy, while liberal nationalists believe that the realistic way out is for two separate states to take their place side by side, with appropriate guarantees that neither will launch a sneak attack when the other is not looking.

But Hertzberg believes in none of the above. He believes that what Jewish ultranationalists are proposing is unthinkable, but also thinks that the two-staters are naïve for failing to recognize the depths of Palestinian hostility. He believes that advocates of binationalism like Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said are even worse. While their ideas play well in intellectual circles in New York, London and Oxford, he argues, they are "wildly untrue to the real situation on the ground" and, in any event, are just an "elegant way" of accomplishing the old Palestinian goal of eradicating the Jewish homeland. "Make no mistake," Hertzberg warns, "even the doves and the liberals in the Jewish community, even Jews like me who have been opposed to the creeping annexation of the West Bank since it began in the late 1960s, will never make common cause with those who want to put an end to the Zionist state."

That settles that. The plan that Hertzberg puts forward might be described as "one state plus zero." Specifically, he favors a little Israel with a sizable Jewish majority, but no state for the Palestinians until they learn to behave themselves, a process, he blithely informs us, that could take a "generation or two." In the meantime, he proposes that Israel continue to patrol the occupied territories to insure that the worst weapons of mass destruction remain out of Palestinian hands, while the United States concentrates on intercepting the funds, from places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, that have enabled Palestinians to buy guns and explosives in the first place. America could then use the proceeds to provide schools for "young [Palestinians] that will educate them for useful lives but keep out of the curriculum the glorification of suicide bombers."

For some reason, he believes that such a program will result not in more bombings but fewer. It hardly bears pointing out that Palestinians will not put up with another twenty-five to fifty years of slavery and that the Israeli right will not put up with the acts of terrorism that will inevitably ensue. Even liberal Zionists are at a loss over what to do, which is why resistance to Sharon has essentially collapsed.

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