To Answer the Unanswerable

By Roy Ribitzky

Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series of three articles published consecutively. The first part can be found here and the second part can be found here.

Palestinian Nationalism is in its best diplomatic position ever. The Palestinian Authority claims it now has the foundation for a modern democratic nation; history, ever the ironic foreshadower, reminds us that the once impossible idea of a tiny minority evicted from its homeland and returning there with conviction can happen twice. This time, instead of the Jews, the Palestinians may be the underdog minority once evicted and returning.

The history of the conflict during the 1990s was riddled with potential breakthroughs and failures. Israel and the Palestinians almost achieved peace in 2000 and 2008 but both have since been overshadowed by the Second Intifada, Hamas terror attacks, settlement expansion and the flotilla debacle of 2010 — to name just a few occurrences. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — an ultra-religious fanatic from Russia — Israel has set sail into isolation.

When ideologies clash, people lose.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman captures the essence of Netanyahu’s government quite nicely: “The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.

“This has also left the U.S … hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.” Netanyahu would have made a great British officer during the Mandate Period.

But today a hopeful future is on the horizon. On this first day of fall, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will ask the United Nations for the recognition of the State of Palestine.
The fact is, the Palestinians deserve a state. The U.N. was established on the principle that nations have the right to self-determination. Describing an entire ethnicity as terrorists is racism and ignorance in its most obvious form. The prematurely named Arab Spring has weakened the West’s global influence and it is in our interests that Israelis and Palestinians learn to trust each other, but it will never happen with Netanyahu in power.

Vetoing the bid today will come back to haunt America. When the Arab states do become democratic over this decade or the next, they will say to the then-President: “remember when you denied our brothers and sisters the right to be recognized?” They will have every reason to refuse trade deals, military cooperation or diplomatic relations. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that they deserve a state of their own, but they can’t get it through the governing body that grants statehood.

You can ask all the questions: “What if another Intifada erupts? What if the settlements are removed? What if the Arab states wage war against Israel? What if peace succeeds? What if …” You can jump off the bandwagon; those are dead-end questions. What we should do is envision a state where both peoples have their identity accepted and respected.

There will be peace in the Middle East one day. There will be a day where an imam and a rabbi take a stroll down the streets of Jerusalem looking for the best falafel. Muslims and Jews will coexist under the same flag one day. Despite arguments to the contrary, it is not a matter of “if” but “when.” It is only a matter of time until Jews and Arabs exchange olive branches and replant the seeds of the orange groves once again. We know what the future will look like; we just can’t seem to get past the present.

How can we allow modern democracy to say “wait your turn” in the 21st century? Well, I don’t really know the answer considering the world is doing just that now.

I said when this series began that the conflict’s end will redefine how we identify nationalism. Israeli society is entangling by internal political strife. The question is whether Israel will become a true secular democracy governed by publicly elected officials or an autocratic state run by the religious right. Israel must choose with haste. We will have to ask not only what does it mean to be a Palestinian but what it means to be Israeli?

We are entering an age where identity will only be used in the plural. The idea of having national pride is young. Capitalism is young. Only 40 years ago, 10 percent of the world’s countries were democracies. Democracy has merely started, of course we are going to have to reevaluate and revise.

Israel will have to become a new type of nation where for Jews it is the Jewish state, for Palestinians it is an Arabic state and for the rest of the world a shining beacon of democracy where the worst of our enemies have become the greatest of friends. It is about moving forward, not simply moving on. How that happens, I have no clue.

The answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be found yet because we haven’t created the philosophy, theory and ideas – the tools of solution – about which the next century will bring to fruition. Multiculturalism includes multi-faceted identities, and they may well become the future of diplomacy. I am not saying the whole world will be one nation. I am not as naïve about my ideas as some German philosophers were. But being nationalistic is taking on a different meaning because it combines history, culture and the individuals that form that society.
Individualism will be tied more with how to better the community. The personal material based self-interest we live with today will evolve into a community interest in making society fair and equal for individuals. Even the meaning of “we” will carry with it so much baggage, blurring the lines of basic associations. A society that supports the individual and creates community is the one that will lead the world.

All of this means more to youth. The long-term solution to creating world peace and equality is our responsibility. Perhaps I think about it more now that I’m a senior in college and I have the whole world ahead of me, but in 20 and 30 years’ time, we will be the ones proposing legislation in Congress. We will be the ones raising our kids. Do we want them raised in an era marked by violence? It is not up to Netanyahu, nor Obama; it’s up to us.

It will take time to mend the broken bones. A century of hurt cannot be undone with one generation. Or maybe it can. If we dream, we can act. And if we act, we can save the world. I challenge you to answer the unanswerable.

Roy Ribitzky is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]