By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org
From the outside, the intensely charged Arab-Israeli conflict can be baffling. He said, she said, they said, we said. But we often don’t ask—we assume. And based on our media outlets of choice or the friends in our Facebook feed, we see only one side to the violent and deadly conflict that has been roiling Israel for the past month.
These are the facts on the ground: From Oct. 1-25, 11 innocent Israeli Jews were killed and 126 were wounded (13 seriously), according to Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency response organization. This includes 54 stabbings, five shootings, and five car-rammings in what has become known as the Palestinian “stabbing intifada.” Continuously compiled unofficial statistics paint an even grimmer picture.
“The recent series of attacks against Israelis is the direct result of incitement by radical Islamist and terrorist elements, calling on Palestinian youth to murder Jews,” writes the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
JNS.org reached out to three Israeli scholars—a self-proclaimed “left-wing” Jewish academic, self-proclaimed “right-wing” Jewish commentator, and self-proclaimed “centrist” Israeli-Arab academic—and asked each of them the same questions. Their responses indicate that sometimes, those three camps have more in common than one might think.
Dr. As’ad Ghanem (centrist Israeli Arab), Department of Government and Political Philosophy, School of Political Science, University of Haifa
Eli Pollak (right-wing Israeli Jew), vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch as well as founder and chairman of Knesset Watch, a parliamentary lobby group which follows the voting record of Israel's Members of Knesset
Prof. Sammy Smooha (left-wing Israeli Jews), Sociology Department, University of Haifa
JNS.org: Why is genuine dialogue and finding a resolution to this conflict so elusive?
Ghanem: We are farther from finding a solution to this conflict than we were in 1993…because of some major developments in the conflict over the past 20 years:
1) The collapse of the Palestinian National Movement—there is no Palestinian National Movement. Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) is doing his best, but he is not the right person to solve this conflict on the Palestinian side….There is no genuine representation on the Palestinian side.
2) Since [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon came into power, there has been a historical move to the right in Israel—not just the right, the extreme right.…Not just to the political right, but demographic shifts in Israel that cannot be solved through politics.
I am pessimistic.…Right now there is a very protracted/complicated situation that makes the possibility of going back to the peace process very difficult. There is a hope that international powers will use some of their power to push the sides.…But I don’t think the world is ready to invest in us right now.
Pollak: There is no interest on the Palestinian/Arab side to generate dialogue, so there is no dialogue.
Smooha: Both sides are not prepared to make the necessary concessions, despite the fact that they agree on an overall solution. They disagree on the details and the details are important. The core issues of dispute:
Borders: The Palestinians demand pre-67 borders with land swaps, the Israeli government does not accept this.
Settlements: The Palestinian Authority demands the dismantling of Jewish settlements; Israelis disagree.
Refugees: Can they return to the pre-67 borders? Israel rejects this demand altogether.
Jerusalem: The Israelis want a united Jerusalem. The Palestinians want a divided Jerusalem.
The nature of a Palestinian state: The Palestinians want a sovereign state with few restrictions. Israel demands that it have its army positioned on the Jordan River, that it have the right to search for terrorists, etc. Israel wants closed borders.
Is the two-state solution still viable?
Ghanem: Many thought that U.S. President Barack Obama would choose to use his political power to push for peace, now we know this was not real and the hope for two states is a lot less promising. We have two options: One is to continue this conflict, and it seems right now that we are going to face this situation for many years coming.…The other option is one democratic state for both peoples.…If we could set up a state where we have an equal share political entity with equal citizenship for both peoples—for members of both communities—and we preserve the right for both sides to self-determination, why not?
Pollak: It will never be because there is no interest from the other side to make real peace. It is clear this is a religious war and…ultimately the other side’s goal is to have a single state on the land of Israel, without Jews. Speeches by Arab political leaders document this.
Smooha: It is not viable now because the right wing is in power and now Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu is not interested in any solution.…Jews in this country are post-traumatic, they are frightened and Netanyahu is using their post-trauma to reinforce an iron wall mentality and get support.
How do you balance religion and democracy? Can we maintain a Jewish state?
Ghanem: I know many politicians believe there should be separation of religion and state. I don’t agree with this. It is okay to have some kind of religious elements in politics, including in more secular states such as the U.S. or France. There is a connection between religion and state and it is not anti-Democratic. The question is what is superior to the other. Politics needs to be superior to religion, this is democracy. The will of the people should rule, not the rule of God.
Pollak: Judaism is a set of values. Democracy is a system by which a nation rules itself. They are very different and they go parallel to each other. What does it mean that we are a Jewish state? That the day of rest is Saturday and not Sunday. Is that against democracy?
Smooha: We need to privatize religion and strengthen Israeli citizenship to be the basis of our commonality. To find balance, we must find a way to respect democracy and religion.
Do you (Pollak and Smooha) trust Israeli Arabs? Do you (Ghanem) trust Israeli Jews?
Ghanem: I trust many Jews—the people, I trust them. Many Israeli leaders, them I don’t trust….I don’t trust Abu Mazen either.
Pollak: In principle, yes. You have more than 1.5 million Israeli Arabs and obviously some of them are anti-Israel and want to throw us into the sea. I believe most of them don’t want that. Most of them are actually happy to live within the Jewish state because they know the situation here is better than in any Arab state.
Smooha: I do try to trust Israeli Arabs. There is always some suspicion because of the situation. One cannot be 100-percent trustworthy of every Arab, but without some trust, we will never resolve the conflict.
Is there equality in Israel?
Ghanem: There is no equality, except the right to vote.
Pollak: In practice, no. One of the big errors that we, the Jewish majority, have made is that although the non-Jewish minorities have equal rights, we have not treated them equally, the way they should be treated. So many times, I have walked around Arab towns and seen the sewage in the streets, the lack of police presence, how poor they are. Israel has made mistakes and it is still not doing enough to correct those errors.
Smooha: There is no equality between man and woman, rich and poor, or Arab and Jew.
Can we stop the violence?
Ghanem: I don’t have a recipe. Only if the leaders will be ready to make real steps toward peace will we be able to reduce the terror and violence.
Pollak: We have to ask ourselves what is the root of the violence and treat the root.…The root of the problem is the religious war of Islam against any other religion in the world.
Smooha: We have to give the people hope. Otherwise, the situation will start cooling down, but it will start again in a couple of months or years.
*Scholars’ opinions are their own and not represent the academic establishments at which they work.
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