Jewish Youths in Israel wave flags and stand atop a hill. The author recalls his own young days in Zionist youth groups

Palestinian nationalism is the mirror of Zionism

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Gershon Baskin feels that the fulfillment of Palestinian national aspirations is what will enable the ultimate fulfillment of Jewish national aspirations. Our security is their security, their security is ours. Time is running out for both of us, but there is still sufficient time to reach an agreement that will save both national movements from mutual destruction.

At the age of 14 my family moved from a very Jewish neighborhood in Long Island, NY to a very non-Jewish neighborhood. The percentage of Jewish students in my schools decreased from around 80% to around 5%. It was quite a dramatic change.

As minorities do anywhere in the world, we seek each other out and cling to each other in order to retain a sense of security and belonging. In my first weeks in my new school I found a friend who had just returned from a visit to Israel and whose family was preparing to make aliya. He informed me that he was establishing a chapter of the Zionist Youth Movement Young Judaea in our town, and he invited me to join. By the following year I was elected to the regional executive board of the movement and in my last year in high school I was president of the Long Island region.

I spent the following year in Israel on the Young Judaea Year Course. During that year I firmed up my decision that Israel was my home and after completing my BA in the States (at the urging of my parents) I returned to Israel and became an Israeli citizen.

In Young Judaea, the Zionist education that I received and that I imparted to many others after me, was that moving to Israel had to be a qualitative shift in cognition and not just a change of address. In other words, moving to Israel had to have a larger meaning and being an Israeli meant that I would have to do something that would make a positive contribution to the development of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people. Then, as today, I understood that the most pressing and compelling challenge to the State of Israel was/is to find a way to make peace with our Arab neighbors. It is in that area that I have spent the past 30 years of my life.

IF THE ultimate goal of Zionism is to create a safe haven for the Jewish people, a place where we could develop our own state and society, our culture and our heritage, prosper and excel, then the primary limitation to that is the continued conflict with the Arab world in general and with the Palestinians in particular.

I believe that the struggle of Zionism was never meant to be about the Israeli-Arab conflict. Our historic transformation as a people through Zionism got distorted along the way because of the failure of the Arab world to accept the Jewish state in the region. Our struggle for our national identity in our own state became shaped by the continued Israeli-Arab wars, and much of our identity today is tainted by our as yet unsuccessful attempts to build a lasting peace with our neighbors.

The primary internal conflict within the State of Israel today is about the nature of relations with our Palestinian neighbors. Even the second most pressing conflict internally – between religious and non-religious Jews – centers to a great extent on our relationship to the Land of Israel and its implications on continuing to control the Palestinian territories. For many Israelis the question of control over the territories centers on issues of security. For many others it is primarily a question of religious connections and the promise of God to the Jewish people. The second issue is one of faith and cannot be argued about rationally.

On questions of security, the bottom line with the Palestinians is our assessment on the extent to which they are truly interested and committed to making peace with Israel. Alongside the issue of `will` is the question of capability. The assessment question is one that looks at what we perceive to be the Palestinian acceptance of Israel`s right to exist. Palestinians still find it very difficult to recognize Israel`s right to exist, as we wish to define Israel, as the State of the Jewish people. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, including almost the entire leadership of the PLO, have come to full terms with the existence of Israel as a fact that cannot be changed and are entirely ready to come to terms with Israel in a negotiated peace agreement.

Regarding the capability of Palestinians to crush terrorism and attacks against Israel, there is no doubt at all that there is a sharp incline in their ability, determination and proven effectiveness in this regard. They are not doing this out of their love of Israel, but because the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank fully understands that in order to succeed in their aspirations of building a Palestinian state, terrorism and attacks against Israel are against their own national interests. The Palestinian people want their state to be accepted as a full member of the international community. They are demonstrating responsibility towards themselves and towards the international community. That is why the international community agreed to supply the Palestinian Authority with an additional $250 million for Palestinian security services, the judicial system and for the building of prisons in the West Bank. Beyond what the Palestinians are doing for themselves, Israel`s security will always be provided for and guaranteed by Israel itself. Positive cooperation and coordination between the security services of both sides will best ensure the long-term security for both people.

RAISING THE security dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship forces us to comprehend the limitations and the fragility of the current reality. To some extent it is the question of the `chicken or the egg.` Palestinians will work on preventing attacks against Israel as long as there is a negotiated peace process that still provides hope for an agreement. Palestinians will renew their struggle against Israel, including the armed struggle, when they perceive that the occupation will not end and the Palestinian state will not be established next to Israel. For those Israelis who are ready to make concessions to the Palestinians on territorial issues if they feel secure, it is important to understand the dynamic relationship between security and territory. Continuing to hold onto territories understood by Palestinians to be their future state will serve to lessen Palestinian performance in the security domain. In this respect the Zionist notion that building settlements enhances security is completely wrong. The continued existence and expansion of settlements on Palestinian land directly endangers the security of the State of Israel and Israelis.

Peacemaking is by definition taking risks. Those risks must be assessed on the basis of interests and threat perceptions. The greatest risk to the continuation of the Zionist enterprise today is the possibility that we may not be able to separate ourselves from the occupation of the Palestinian people. There is a timeline on the viability and the feasibility of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel. The future of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel has never before been so inextricably linked to the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The fulfillment of Palestinian national aspirations is what will enable the ultimate fulfillment of Jewish national aspirations. Our security is their security, their security is ours. Time is running out for both of us, but there is still sufficient time to reach an agreement that will save both national movements from mutual destruction.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin