Israel, Palestinians and the Nation State
Israel is now being forced to confront what it means be a nation-state. The evident fact that Israel will never withdraw from the territories is forcing Israel to confront the awful question that it has dodged for far too long since 1967. What to do with all these hostile Palestinians under its control?
In dealing with the Palestinians, the West expects Israel to perform like a Western nation-state; so a careful examination of just exactly what a nation-state is, required.
The idea of the nation-state came out of the American and French Revolutions. The idea arose out of the Enlightenment that a state is actually a social contract between the people and the leaders. Gone was the concept of divine rule. Gone was the concept of top down authority. To certain extant, so was identity. People could choose their nationality.
The nation-state elevated everyone to the status of citizen -- initially limited to white males. Along with the status came equality and rights, as well as civic obligations. These were tied together. Once the idea of natural and civil rights was enshrined, it became impossible to deny rights to women and minorities.
In France the effect was astounding. In 1789, France was an empire, not a nation. Brittany spoke Celtic Breton, not French. The French Basque country spoke a language related to no other on the planet. The Southern half of France spoke Occitan, a language halfway back to Spanish. Corsica spoke Italian. Alsace-Lorraine spoke German. The Mediterranean coast spoke Provencal, a relative of Catalan. Gentically, Northern France was Germanic, Southern France Latin, Brittany was Celtic, the Basque country Basque, the Mediterranean coast and Corsica Latin. Only the areas around Paris and the Northwest coast spoke Langues d'oïl: what we would call Parisian French.
Formerly, France had been united only in the person of the monarch. With the monarch gone, a new creation was born in France: the citizen. He had rights and duties enumerated to him. The Revolution gave the citizen equality, enfranchisement, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to a trial. In return, he was required to learn (Parisian) French, forget his provincial ethnicity, serve militarily if called upon, and assume the honorific of Frenchman.
For the most part it worked. Multiple ethnicities and languages -- many now all but extinct -- surrendered their traditions and history for their future; the unassimilable mix become French, by decree of the République du France. A similar process happened here in the USA with the incorporation of immigrants.
Those nations which maintained monarchies, like Britain and Spain, did not fare so well. There, ethnic rivalries spun out of control. Ireland left the United Kingdom. Scotland may go. Norway split from Sweden; and Spain is chock full of separatist provinces. Only the equalizing promise of Republics proved effective at assimilation and unifying. To see the difference, take note that Basque separatism is rife in Spain, but weak in France.
The transaction of exchanging indentity for equality worked.
The concept of common blood, ancestry, and language has been traded for reason, and freedom is the unifying principle of Western Civilization. Even Euro-monarchies now function like republics, with the monarchs all but useless vestigial traditions.
So effective is the Western idea of the nation-state that we assume that it is the standard of good governance, and we have exported it -- with some degree of success -- to much of the planet. We assume it is God's natural order. Even those who oppose the West adopt some of our governmental forms.
By this process, Israel should start to teach Hebrew to all the Palestinians, slowly enfranchise them and make Israelis out of them.
But Israel refuses to do this, and frankly, given Arab intransigence, it is not going to happen. Even were the Palestinians constitutionally similar to the obedient Swiss, I doubt Israel would agree. Israel is determined to remain ethnically Jewish, even to the point that it is willing to ditch democracy if need be.
America required one to become an American, not an Anglo-Saxon. Israel however is determined to remain Jewish, an ethnic as well as religious identity.
The Bible says that the Jews are a "people [who] shall dwell alone" (Num 23:9). Scripture forbids intermarriage with Gentiles (Deut 7:3), and there is a sense that this has an ethnic component, not merely a religious one. It is seen as a covenant made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This indicates more than a religious choice. One may convert to Lutheranism, but one is usually born a Jew. Assimilation is anathema to many religious Jews.
Many religious Jews take these instructions to heart. While Israel may have been founded by secularists, their numbers are decreasing relative to an Orthodox revival in Israel. Religious legislation is increasing in Israel.
Judaism is not Thomas Jefferson and the Middle East is not the Mid West. - Rabbi Meir Kahane
Freedom of religion is allowed in Israel, but Orthodox Judaism, the state subsidized creed, is a case of more equal than others. Rabbis have great control over who is declared Jewish, who is allowed to marry, etc.
Now, I have to admit that the refusal of Israel to accept Western Nation-State norms, especially the separation of state and religion, I find troubling; particularly since so many Jews in the West strove for a separation of religion and state. Moreover I find it astounding that Israel strives for a high percentage of Jewish immigrants, particularly since many Jews in America, such as Congressman Emanuel Celler, worked to overturn laws in America that preferred North European immigrants, as a means to protect America's heritage. The consequence of that is that America may cease to be a European majority country in a few decades. Why is it okay for Israel to maintain a Jewish majority, but wrong for the USA to maintain its Northwest European heritage? I cannot help but see this as a double standard.
Yet, I also know Israel will not budge in its policies. Neither will the Islamically-driven Arabs, who are much more tribal, unstable, and violentl. The nation-state will not work in the Mideast. Where sacred scripture takes precedence over human reason, and where tenets are matter of public, not individual, choice, the nation-state will not be entertained.
There is more at work here than security. Israel intends to be Jewish, and would not even take in a large Euro-Christian minority.
Right now, many Palestinians and their supporters, realizing that a two-state solution is over, are starting to push for a one-state solution, with a secular state and full enfranchisement to Arab and Jew irrespective of religion. This is the Western method, how the nation-state assimilates, incorporates, and grows.
It will not work in the Mideast. This is something the Western Liberal does not grasp. This is why American demands, and Middle Eastern responses (from both Arab and Israeli) are pointless exercises where the parties talk past each other. They use the same terms, but interpret them differently.
Israel values democracy, but values Judaism more. It defines itself as the Jewish state, rather than the present Western understanding of a state as a secular state of all its citizens.
Israel's new opponents will come from the West. They do not worship Allah, but they do worship the Age of Reason, Rousseau, and leftist Revolutions. They will insist that the freedoms the democracies tendered to Jews in America, Canada, France, and Britain, must now be tendered to the Palestinians, or Israel will suffer the consequences
In the end, Israel cannot win such a fight. For Western Civilization has some virtue in its philosophies. It is an age-old fight, which goes back to the Rabbis vs. Hellenism. Even the Maccabees that fought Hellenization adopted Greek names, and practices. Unlike its immediate neighbors, the West offers genuine competition to the Jewish culture.
Israel has to avoid that fight, and it can only do so by finally making the tough decisions on the Palestinians. It can no longer fudge and obfuscate. The two-state solution is dead, now Israel must either enfranchise the Palestinians or find another home for them. Failure to act will force a Western solution on the Israelis. Israel will remain democratic, but it will not remain Jewish, if that occurs.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, or Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.