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Dream of a 'Greater Palestine' Dooms Dreams of Peace

September 1, 2005 By:
Saul Singer
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Greater Israel is dead; long live Greater Israel, says The New York Times.

Let me explain.

In a "news analysis" on Aug. 16 headlined, "Dream of 'greater Israel' lured too few," veteran Times reporter Ethan Bronner explains that the settlement movement's "cherished goal - the resettlement of the full biblical land of Israel by contemporary Jews - is not to be."

One might think that now, 12 years after Oslo and five years after Ehud Barak put a Palestinian state on the table at Camp David, is a bit late for such a journalistic epiphany. The almost five years of terror that came after Israel formally offered such a state might have been expected to derail such a process but did not, and everyone knew it.

It was during the recent terror war that U.S. President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made explicit their nations' commitment to Palestinian statehood, thereby hammering more nails into the coffin of Greater Israel long after it had been buried.

Yet in the Times's eyes, the night during which soldiers gathered to evict settlers was the night of the living dead, when the ghost of Greater Israel returned to haunt the region - a ghost so powerful that its exorcism must be Bush's top peacemaking priority.

Could we return to earth for a moment, please? Settlements and Greater Israel are no longer the principal obstacle to peace, if they ever were. Another dream is: Greater Palestine.

According to the Times editorial page, Sharon is only mouthing support for the two-state solution while cleverly plotting the opposite. Meanwhile, when the Palestinian leadership mouths support for a Palestinian state "with Jerusalem as its capital," this can be taken at full face value on the assumption that the Palestinian dream of Greater Palestine - i.e., destroying Israel - has been abandoned.

Yet there could hardly be a more striking contrast between the mountain of evidence marking Greater Israel's extended and deepening demise and the near-total lack of evidence of the abandonment of Greater Palestine.

I am not even speaking of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which openly declare their aim to "liberate Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea" - though their position is hardly a trivial consideration given that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas seems powerless to confront them. But even the "mainstream" Palestinian position clearly remains imbued with the Greater Palestine ideology.

Palestinians, including Abbas, do not even have to call their goal "Greater Palestine" because, to them, that is what the word "Palestine" means. The Palestine of Palestinian maps, poetry, dreams and legal claims includes all of Israel. Even during Oslo's heyday, the Palestinian media referred to towns in Israel proper as "settlements."

The drumming in of the myth of a "return" to Jaffa, Haifa and the rest of Israel has not let up for a moment.

Indeed, many people were amazed to see the citizens of Gush Katif, with the soldiers on their doorsteps, still believing that a miracle would save them from disengagement. But the Greater Palestine camp is not in miracle mode; this idea is still the animated core of a real, living strategy - one, indeed, that is more alive than the goal of a rump Palestinian state living peacefully beside Israel.

Ironically, the Times editorialists, who know all this, believe that just as Sharon's secret plan is Greater Israel, Abbas' secret plan is Lesser Palestine, no matter how loudly he champions the "right of return" and how welcoming he is to his "brothers" in Hamas (imagine, for example, if Sharon had invited the banned Kahane Party into his government).

But even if these clashing dreams were equally alive, they were never symmetrical.

Greater Israel was always a minority position among Israelis, while Greater Palestine was the normative Palestinian position. Even the most moderate Palestinian asserts that Israel sits on "stolen" land, and that while it must be recognized de facto, a Jewish state has no moral or legal right to exist.

The Arab problem is that not a single non-Muslim state agrees that Israel has no right to exist. The Jewish problem is that not a single country, including the United States, will place at the center of its policy a demand that the Arab world recognize not just our de facto existence, but Israel's national, legal and moral right to a Jewish state in this land.

Saul Singer is the editorial-page editor of The Jerusalem Post.

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