Palestinians today say that they cannot recognize Israel as a Jewish State because it would violate their own national narrative, just as most Israelis are as jealous as to the coherence of their own narrative. One would think that after 100+ years that we could enjoy some historically informed political perspective about Israel and Palestine. But this kind of political perspective gets overwhelmed by the moralizing that saturates the discourse, especially when it comes down to narrative. It too often seems as if the narratives about either place are mutually exclusive. As a critical outsider, albeit one with a definite and obvious bias, I don’t understand why one cannot grab both sides of the narrative horn. It would require that one recognize reasons, i.e. the reasons that motivated both competing sides to what could be a single historical narrative.
I can’t see why Palestinians cannot recognize the reasons why, historically, as many Jews that did decided to organize or re-organize themselves as a people in the face of intensifying waves of anti-Semitism. With strong historical and cultural connections to the Land of Israel and with nowhere else to go, especially after 1924 when Congress shut off immigration to the United States, where were they going to go? Given the state of emergency suffered by the Jews of Europe, immigration was the one thing the mainstream of the Zionist movement could not compromise. If Jews hadn’t started coming to Palestine in mass waves of immigration, starting in the 1920s, again in the 1930s with the rise of Hitler, and then again after the Holocaust, there’s no way that the Zionist project in Palestine would have ever taken root as a “nation state.” It would have foundered, demographically, as a variant form of “settler colonialism.”
I can’t see why Israelis can’t recognize the reasons why, historically, the Arabs of Palestine wanted nothing to do with this mass immigration. They did not want to lose their country, any part of their country, an Arab majority culture to foreigners no matter how in need of refuge they might have been. That’s the simple reason why Zionism was resisted to the bitter end, without compromise, without cutting a deal. Morally and demographically, there was no reason to cut such a deal, even if, in hindsight it might have made sense to do so, tactically and politically.
Maybe after all and over time it turns out to be one single narrative, an amalgam forged out between the micro-narratives of two opposing sides in an asymmetrical conflict over power. What’s surprising about the historical drama is that every character played the part one would expect, precisely. Ideally and perhaps practically, any form of mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians would begin with the historical recognition of the genuine reasons prompting Jewish immigration and the genuine reasons prompting Arab resistance to it so many years ago already. That might be a more interesting place to start than Zionist “settler colonialism” and Arab perfidy.
Rights and responsibilities devolve into each other. One of the problems with Prime Minister Netanyahu wanting to impose the Jewish narrative as a political negotiating principle is that it is one-sided. One should have to ask what Israel should offer Palestine in return for such recognition? Regarding historical narrative, in return for recognition of a Jewish State, I don’t see why Palestinians should not insist upon a formal recognition on the part of Israel as to the historical catastrophe suffered by the Palestinian people as a result of the establishment of Israel in 1948. Or is it simply the fact that neither side is prepared to recognize the other? On the other hand, the idea that you can compel someone to recognize you as a political condition seems fatally flawed. And if Palestinians balk at the idea that Israel is Jewish State because they believe that such a state would be an exclusive one with no democratic rights and protections for a Palestinian –well, it’s not hard at all to figure out from where they might have gotten that idea.