Thursday, April 29, 2010

A High-Level Israeli Considers a Suggestion from Jimmy Carter

Where the Middle East is concerned, what is most admirable about former President Jimmy Carter has been his ability to go in "idea space" where no one else has dared to go before, not with foolhardy force but with the conviction to suggest an "inconvenient" hypothesis worth considering. This is the way I view the opinion piece he wrote last September for the Washington Post, in which he went against all conventional wisdom and commitment to open his mind to the option of a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. When I read his piece I described this position as "a possibility that seems to have progressed only in the fictional world of You Don't Mess with the Zohan;" and, as far as I am concerned, that description has sustained for over half a year.

Today, however, a relatively high-ranking Israeli has decided to stand beside Carter. Here is the report about him taken from Al Jazeera English:

Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of Israel's Knesset, has said that he would rather accept Palestinians as citizens of one country than divide Israel and the West Bank into two separate states.

"I would rather [have] Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up," Rivlin, a member of the ruling Likud party, was quoted as saying in Israel's Haaretz newspaper on Thursday.

The fact that this statement came from the second-ranking member of the Likud part carries a significance that recalls that it took Menachem Begin to finally break the ice with Anwar Sadat (or, in a broader context, that it took Richard Nixon to decide to recognize China).

The Al Jazeera English report further clarifies that Rivlin's position did not come out of the blue:

Rivlin said last year that Israeli Arabs were an inseparable part of the country that often encounter racism and arrogance from Israel's Jews.

In a speech given in the president's residence, he called for a fundamental change in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, urging the foundation of a "true partnership" between the two sectors, based on mutual respect and absolute equality.

"Israeli Arabs are a group with a highly defined shared national identity, and which will forever be, as a collective, an important and integral part of Israeli society."

Haaretz also reported him as saying that the establishment of Israel was accompanied by much pain and suffering and was a real trauma for the Palestinians.

"Many of Israel's Arabs, which see themselves as part of the Palestinian population, feel the pain of their brothers across the green line - a pain they feel the state of Israel is responsible for."

Rivlin's recognition of a true partnership "based on mutual respect and absolute equality" is consistent with the case Carter had made in the Washington Post:

By renouncing the dream of an independent Palestine, they would become fellow citizens with their Jewish neighbours and then demand equal rights within a democracy.

By framing his position in the historical context of the original partition plan, Rivlin strengthens his credibility by acknowledge that the plan probably, in the long run, did more harm than good.

Only one question remains. Will Rivlin's suggestion be taken seriously, or will it be dismissed out of hand? After all, we are only talking about a hypothesis. Can those who disagree give it their best shot with refutations rather than bullets?

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