Abram Epstein

Me and Peter: To dream the Palestinian dream

Peter Beinart’s recipe for a future Israeli democracy blending the political worlds of Arabs and Jews between the Jordan and Mediterranean is a concession to the impossible: Noble in intent, idealistic in estimating the better angels of future policy-makers, but, in my opinion, poorly constructed as viable architecture for a West Bank/Gaza-inclusive Israel- as- a- two-homeland bi-national state.

(Peter, if you should read this, permit me to suggest you find time to peruse my prior blog “A Proposal for an Israeli Democratic Future”). Here is a relevant outtake:

“Until  major organizations such as J Street, IPF, NIF, APN, and B’Tzelem join in convening a First Congress to explore the architecture of a Bi-National State of Israel fully securing and guaranteeing her unrestricted cultural and religious expression of Jewish and Arab homelands to be eternally preserved in a genuinely democratic state, according to articles of law, in a congruent structure, we are failing to stop the rapacious deformity masquerading as Zionism under Netanyahu and the governing rightwing’s theo-fascism.”

One important provision of my fully detailed plan in the same blog reads:

“(Regarding) the Jewish population in the settlements and occupied areas Jews in these areas will have the right to either move to pre-1967 Israel, or to remain where they are. If they do not return, their votes will be limited to non-Coalition leadership. FURTHER: Settlement Jews may exercise the same Right of Return as Jews of any other nation in the world, and make pre-1967 Israel their home and homeland. But there is an important proviso should they choose to do so: Under no circumstances will they be able to will their ownership of their settlement habitat to heirs, nor will it be salable to others inhabiting the settlements. By design, the settlement families are to have a finite lineage and not become a separate nation. If a settlement residence is vacated, compensation will be provided by Israel or (the new State of) Palestine, and it may be purchased by the State of Israel and maintained as unbuilt land  with an option to purchase by the State of Palestine.”

So, if me and Peter are hardly at odds when it comes to many of the sentiments which he has expressed in Jewish Currents (“Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine” 7/7/20), I shall enumerate the plusses and the minusses of his doctrine.

Making his case for the concord between his view that a pan-Arab/Jewish State of Israel comprising the dual Muslim-Jewish homelands is a manifest vision in formative Zionism, Peter superbly animates his argument with references and emphasizes the “Jewish State” hegemony reducing Arabs to second class inhabitants was a consequence of the Holocaust, both resulting from 1930’s Arab violence toward Jews and Jewish victims internalizing the terrors of their near annihilation.

In other words, the wheel of history was forced off its most likely course of a unified democratic bi-national State of Israel and that’s a path towards which we can work to return.

Peter, I hope I’ve done your position justice without too much distortion.

With due deference to your absolutely correct goals, here’s how I find it necessary to adjust your position regarding a possible solution.

Even though you point out that young Palestinians and others prefer a one-state solution, the poll, I submit, is altogether misleading. The respondents are only reacting to what you yourself are suggesting is now impossible: Namely, a two-state solution. So what other option do they have, realistically? All they see is a bizarre ghettoization behind a maze of Trump-Netanyahu imposed roads connecting sovereign settlements annexed as the “Jewish State.”

BUT, their dream is the same dream we Jews have had for two thousand years, sung in our Hatikva, the Herzl mantra “ain zo  aggada” to have their own land, a state called Palestine, in which their hearts can be free to be Palestinian.

This, Peter, is what you seem not to fully grasp, or fail to recognize: The depth of their dream. I submit, under the surface, the Palestinians living on the West Bank have a sentient aversion to a one-state future confederacy with the Jews of Israel.

I must go farther, and my comment is meant as constructive advice to almost all my fellow Jewish activists (actually, excepting, Peter): There is an arrogance, albeit unintended, in thinking of the necessary alteration in perception of Palestinians; urging Jews to enable them to “be equal.”

They are equal.

Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) is their home and homeland, stolen.

It is every bit as much their Hatikva to once again be in it as a free People, just as our homeland in Eretz Yisrael is the place of our homeland.

Enabling the Palestinians the legal framework of a West Bank State of Palestine is not a favor, not an international gift or concession, it is a return of stolen land.

Just as we Jews express no gratitude except to God when we sing Hatikva, so too we may understand we have no right to think ourselves especially righteous for returning to the Palestinians that which we took from them.

In this light, and from this perspective, an amalgamated single state, whether confederated or creatively unified as culturally discreet, under one State of Israel Bi-National flag, is not attitudinally up to us Jews! This posture deprives the West Bank Palestinians of their freedom to be a separate, free independent state. And, not to appreciate the fact that their reality is none of our admissible business, other than getting out of their way, is to negate their dignity and assert a backdoor hegemony, even a subtle vestigial Zionist inclination to define historic, legitimate claims to occupancy in the region.

In the year of this blog, 2020, I submit, Zionism which brought our Jewish People home to Eretz Yisrael has served its purpose. It was glorious in doing that. When, however, it metamorphosed into a political and religious battlecry to oust, subdue, occupy, oppress and rule our non-Jewish and non-Hebrew fellow-citizens and neighboring Arab populations it became anathema to Torah values.

In my opinion, the weakness of those Israeli Jews who would disenfranchise Arab citizens and exalt themselves as premier citizens reigning supreme,  have put Herzl’s vision fully at risk.

Finally, I wish, to end with this optimistic note. Peter, you have observed in your article, that several historic changes considered irreversible should, plausibly be reversible. You have emphasized how Jabotinsky believed there was no need for a “Jewish State”:

“As Jabotinsky explained in 1909, ‘The full pathos of our ideal was never focused on sovereignty, but rather on the idea of a territory, a compact Jewish society in one continuous space . . . not a Jewish state but a Jewish collective life.’”

I assume your point is, we can “get back to where we belong,” as the lyric goes…at least Jabotinsky-style.

But, then you deny that same possibility of reversible land-theft, visa vie the West Bank as Palestine, making a concession, instead (as I put it in my opening) to the impossible: namely, that there should be a one-state pan Arab-Jewish State.

Here, I urge your reflection: If as I earnestly entreat, the Palestinians do indeed, despite the polls you cite, harbor deep immutable hope for the State of Palestine, you may wish to reflect on the legislation (which I have alluded to, above)anticipating  a progressive Knesset could reverse even an annexed West Bank.

About the Author
Abram Epstein, a New Yorker, has served as Director of Education for several synagogues and actively participated in the Manhattan Educators’ Council. His graduate studies at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center focused on ancient Near Eastern religion and Biblical Judaism. He is a recipient of the university’s prestigious Founders’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and has a screen credit as Historical Consultant for "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore. His other books include, "The Historical Haggadah," "The Matthias Scroll," "A Documented Biography of Jesus Before Christianity," and most recently, "The Matthias Scroll–Select Second Edition." Abram invites communication on his FB page: "Abram Epstein" or "Abram's Historical Writing."
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