Obstacles to a Just and Sustainable Peace Agreement


[Rabbi Lerner explains in an addendum to this article why some at Tikkun disagree with important parts of this article, even though we think that it also has some important points to make. Please read Glick’s article and Lerner’s response.]
Secretary of State John Kerry’s frantic efforts to secure a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has failed, like so many efforts before his, because of three major reasons that make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of the most intractable conflicts in the world today: the disparity in power between the warring parties, the essential nature of the Zionist enterprise, and the underlying psychological dynamics of the conflict.The US provides Israel with three billion dollars annually in financial and military assistance and according to a US Congress report has provided Israel with 112 billion dollars since its birth in 1948. Of equal importance, the US provides Israel with total diplomatic immunity by exercising its Security Council veto to ensure that Israel is never held accountable to the many General Assembly and Security Council resolutions condemning its occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.
Throughout the long and tortuous so-called peace process, US involvement has never been that of an honest broker as demonstrated by Rashid Khalidi in his book Brokers of Deceit. In reality the US has continuously served as Israel’s lawyer, allowing it to continue its massive settlement construction in the occupied territories even as the peace process limps along. The US has seldom put any serious pressure on Israel to conform to international law while continuously insisting the Palestinians concede more and more to Israel’s demands. It was as if the two warring sides were sitting down to divide a pizza while one side was already eating it. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, roughly 600,000 Israelis have been settled in the occupied territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law.
Many argue that the point of this special relationship between the US and Israel is that Israel serves US strategic interests in the region, an explanation often associated on the Left with Noam Chomsky who has long been a fierce critic of Israel. To whatever extent that remains true, one cannot discount the overwhelming influence of the Israel Lobby on US policy towards Israel. Due to the power of the Israel Lobby – comprised of AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the numerous Christian Zionist organizations that comprise a major part of the Republican Party base – Congress has essentially become Israeli occupied territory. No member of Congress dare challenge it. To do so is to do it at one’s own political peril.
A second major reason for the intractability of the conflict is the nature of Zionism itself, the worldwide political movement launched by Theodor Herzl in 1897 to remedy Jewish victimization and powerlessness. The founders of the Zionist movement were secular Jews who nonetheless appropriated God’s promise in the Bible to legitimate their colonization of Palestine even as they sought to secularize Jewish life and free it from the grip of religious orthodoxy. The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, once wryly observed that the founders of the Zionist movement did not believe in God, but the God they did not believe in nonetheless promised them Palestine.
Since its inception as a political movement, Zionism aimed at the creation of a Jewish state in a land populated by another people who had been living there continuously for many centuries. Political Zionism, as acknowledged in the writings of virtually every major Zionist politician prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, saw itself as a colonizing movement that could only succeed if the Palestinian people were dispossessed from the very land that was eyed as the future Jewish state. In as much as the Jews were a small minority and the Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, comprised the vast majority, expelling them was a necessity built into Zionism from the beginning. Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote about this most candidly and since then virtually every major Israeli political party has seen its task as acquiring as much land as possible while ridding it of as much of the indigenous Palestinian population as possible. Today we call this ethnic cleansing. The famous Zionist rallying cry, “a land without a people for a people without a land,” was pure nonsense and sophistry, designed for internal consumption and to win support from the outside world.
The tragic truth is that the Zionist movement, created to remedy Jewish victimization, ended up victimizing the people of Palestine who had nothing to do with the centuries long anti-Semitism Jews had experienced throughout Christian Europe. To put it simply, the Zionists solved their European problem on the backs of the Palestinian people.
Thus any just and sustainable solution to the conflict would require Israel to abandon the very essence of the Zionist project because it is incompatible with compromise and sharing the land. This de-Zionization would be tantamount to Israel abandoning its ideological birth mother. This dilemma accounts for Israel’s bad faith and intransigence in its negotiations with the Palestinians. Abandoning one’s cherished identity does not come easily and requires much courageous soul searching and internal education.
Zionism is riddled with many complexities and contradictions that from the beginning stirred up deep controversy in the Jewish world that continues to this day. Many Jews, especially after the horrors of the Holocaust, saw Zionism as a national liberation movement intended to remedy the long history of Jewish victimization and powerlessness. However, if it was a national liberation movement it was a most unusual one. Typically we think of national liberation movements as revolutionary movements that seek the national independence of a country from a colonial power. But in this case, the Zionists saw themselves as a nationality seeking independence through the establishment of a state, but which under the circumstances could only be accomplished with the aid of an imperial power. One cannot fully comprehend Zionism without acknowledging the contradictory elements of colonialism and East European nationalism that reside within it.
Many other Jews rejected Zionism as imposing an undemocratic solution on the Palestinian people and feared it might stir up more anti-Jewish sentiment in the world. As far back as 1919, some 300 prominent rabbis and civic leaders in the Jewish community signed a letter addressed to President Wilson opposing the creation of a Jewish state for those very reasons. Other Jews opposed Zionism on theological grounds while still others feared it was creating a civic religion that in emphasizing the more tribal and nationalistic elements in the Jewish tradition was undermining the universal values found in the prophetic tradition of Judaism. And other more secular Jews were more attracted to various forms of socialism and political struggle in their home countries rather than embracing Zionism as a solution to the problem of Jewish powerlessness. Albert Einstein and Martin Buber were among the many prominent Jews who opposed political Zionism’s goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. The Palestinians, of course, saw Zionism as the actual colonizing movement that the various Zionist leaders acknowledged it was in their internal writings and they opposed it for that reason.
In so far as the Zionists understood their movement as a colonizing enterprise, the state it created is best understood as a settler colonial state, much as the US, Australia, and South Africa prior to the ANC’s rise to power, were originally settler colonial states. However, Israel is an unusual kind of settler colonial state in that its colonists did not come from a single mother country, but were gathered from countries around the world. Nonetheless Zionism from the very beginning sought and ultimately acquired the assistance of an imperial power and found it in Great Britain with the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
The US long ago accomplished its goal of manifest destiny by committing genocide against the native peoples who bravely but in vain opposed the theft and conquest of their land. But unlike the US, Israel arrived late on the scene. Consequently it is still in the process of implementing its own version of manifest destiny by relentlessly seeking to acquire virtually the entirety of Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River at the expense of the Palestinians living there.
In many respects Israel is similar to apartheid era South Africa. But whereas the white ruling elite of South Africa saw the South African Blacks as a captive labor pool to be exploited for profit and gain, the Zionists primarily saw the majority Palestinians as a demographic threat and an obstacle to the goal of a Jewish majority state who had to be either driven out by force of arms or persuaded to leave by virtue of the intolerable conditions under which they are forced to live. Given the historical context in which Zionism arose, it was inevitable that for it to succeed, deep-rooted elements of racism, chauvinism, militarism, and an aggressive expansionism were tragically built into its DNA. Thus the state it ultimately created is best understood not as a democracy, as Israel likes to call itself, but rather as an apartheid state and an ethnocracy, since it privileges by law and custom the rights and benefits of its Jewish citizens above those of its Palestinian citizens who comprise some 20 percent of the population.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current ultimatum that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state is the latest demand intended to sabotage what is left of the “peace process.” This demand is especially cynical in light of the fact that in 1993 the PLO recognized the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security, while Israel has never recognized the right of Palestinians to a state of their own. In the real world, recognition occurs between states and the Palestinians do not have a state. Moreover, states recognize each other as states; they do not endorse, nor are they required to endorse, the legitimacy of the founding ideology or self-definition of the state they are recognizing. This latest ultimatum is tantamount to demanding that the Palestinians endorse the legitimacy of the Zionist narrative, one that denies the national rights of the Palestinian people, the rights of Palestinians living within Israel to full and equal citizenship, and “the right of return” guaranteed under UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Finally states must have boundaries to warrant recognition by other states and Israel has never declared just what are its boundaries.
If, on the other hand, this ultimatum is not a cynical move to sabotage negotiations, one must ask why Netanyahu needs assurance from the Palestinians for Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish” state. States are entitled to their own self-definition. Why this national inferiority complex? Why this doubt about its own legitimacy? I would suggest that it might stem from deeply buried guilt at the tragic and painful effects that Israel’s policies, deeply rooted in Zionism, have had on the Palestinians. Acknowledging that guilt and taking responsibility for it would be a courageous steptoward healing, reconciliation, and an ultimately just and sustainable peace.
A third reason that contributes to the intractability of this tragic conflict is the psychological dynamics that undergird, complicate, and perpetuate it. One of these factors is the dynamic of shame. Shame has many sources, but fundamental to it is a sense of helplessness and impotence that causes one to feel weak, inadequate, and defective in one’s essential being. Shame is a deeply painful emotion because it casts a cloak of unworthiness over the entirety of who we experience ourselves to be.
The experience of the Holocaust, or the Shoah as it is called in Hebrew, has seared itself into the Jewish psyche with good reason. What distinguishes the Holocaust from other mass atrocities and instances of genocide is not so much the nature of the suffering of the victims, which like these other tragedies was horrific, but the intention of the perpetrators. I wish to be clear here. I am not saying Jewish suffering was greater than any other people’s suffering. Each suffering is unique and comparing various people’s suffering to determine which is greater is a fool’s errand. It is pointless, insensitive, and disrespectful.
Nonetheless, I believe there still may be differences that are relevant. Two tragedies that relate to US history serve as examples. It cannot be denied that far more Native Americans perished in the genocide perpetrated against them than the number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust and far more Africans perished in the genocide of the Middle Passage and during slavery than the number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Without a doubt the suffering of both these peoples was horrific. However, one thing that differentiates the Holocaust was the clearly stated policy of the Nazi regime to exterminate every single Jew it could, regardless of age or gender. The Nazis regarded the Jews as a virus that had to be eradicated. Their crime was their very existence. Their extermination had no political, economic, or geographic justification. It was not a means to and end, but an end in itself. Killing Jews was as important as the war effort itself. Resources that otherwise could have been used to pursue the war were instead diverted to the program of mass extermination. The entire state apparatus, its laws, military, and infrastructure, was dedicated to this end and it was pursued with terrifying efficiency. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the helplessness and sense of abandonment Jews experienced before the overwhelming might of the Nazi regime, a reality which led to their genocide, has created in the Jewish psyche deep-seated fears, insecurity, despair, rage, and ultimately a sense of shame.
This psychological condition has infected the national consciousness that has developed in Israel. The Zionists wanted to develop a new Jew, one that was strong and tough unlike the Diaspora Jews who were often held in contempt. One way in which Israelis compensate for that shameful Diaspora identity is to become tough, aggressive, and hardened as if to say, “I will become so powerful that no one will dare mess with me. I will become so powerful that I will never again be helpless and vulnerable and allow what happened to us in Europe happen to us again.” It is a way of attempting to purge the shame, to purge that defect, to rid oneself of it by becoming tough, strong, and so militarily powerful as to never show weakness.
Inevitably Israel’s overwhelming military might and its brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people understandably produces among Palestinians that same helplessness that leads to despair, rage, and resistance. As a result a mutually reinforcing cycle of violence and aggression fueled by fear and rage on both sides is then let loose with tragic consequences for all.
Psychologists call this mutual “projective identification,” a concept that operates unconsciously and elucidates one of the core dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If one sees oneself exclusively as a victim of the other’s violence, it is all too easy to believe in one’s essential innocence and goodness and the righteousness of one’s cause and actions. We then become blind to our own hostility, violence, and aggression and attempt to rid ourselves of these disowned parts of who we are by projecting them onto the other. We then see in the other what we refuse to see in ourselves and act toward the other with that disowned aggression that inevitably evokes the defensive and retaliatory behavior of the other that is then used to confirm our picture of them as essentially hostile, violent, threatening, and evil.
As a Jew, I feel more confident exploring how these psychological dynamics affect American and Israeli Jews. As mentioned previously, I believe it is a safe generalization that virtually all Jews grow up under the shadow of the Holocaust. Jewish consciousness is shaped by it and Jewish identity is steeped in it. Consequently there is a kind of collective wound in the Jewish psyche. Many Jews carry within their historical DNA the trauma of the persecution Jews experienced in Christian Europe – systematic discrimination, the Inquisition, forced conversions, mass expulsions, pogroms, and ultimately genocide.
For many Jews this has resulted in a kind of psychological sickness, a deeply felt conviction that they are the eternal victims. This has resulted in an inability to reflect honestly about their own behavior toward the Palestinians and their other neighbors in the region. The understandable resistance of the Palestinians to the Zionist theft and conquest of their land is experienced by the Israelis as unjustified aggression. Regardless of whether that resistance is violent or non-violent, it confirms in their mind fearful images of the Jewish past.
Despite the horrors of the Holocaust and the desperate situation of the Jewish refugees that had escaped extermination, the Western countries, bowing to the forces of anti-Semitism within their own population, refused to take in the survivors in substantial numbers. By 1946, some 250,000 Jewish survivors languished in Displaced Persons Camps. Understandably many Jews therefore sought a safe haven that found expression in their attraction to Zionism. Sadly this collective wound in the Jewish psyche has resulted in a deep-rooted moral blindness that has prevented all too many Israeli and American Jews from understanding the very real suffering that Palestinians have experienced at the hands of the Zionist enterprise.
Given the desperate situation the Jewish people faced resulting from the Holocaust, I can certainly find within myself understanding and sympathy for the Zionist cause. Nonetheless, it is the racism and the brutal and oppressive policies toward the Palestinian people that I deplore in the kind of state Israel has become.
Following World War II, Palestinians could not understand why they were expected to give up their homeland to pay for Europe’s anti-Semitism and the horrible crimes committed against the Jews prior to and during the Holocaust. While most of the Jewish refugees preferred a safe place other than Palestine, had the Zionists who came to Palestine been merely seeking sanctuary as guests in another people’s homeland, they more than likely would have been welcomed. But once it became clear that the Zionists intended to establish a state of their own by dispossessing the Palestinians, conflict was inevitable. Understanding this grievance is fundamental to understanding the tangled roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is essential that we Jews face our inner sickness and work to heal it. As long as we wrap ourselves in the righteous mantle of the eternal, innocent victim, we will avoid responsibility for our part in creating and perpetuating this tragic conflict. It is imperative that we Jews confront the shadow that resides in Zionism, a shadow that resides in all religions and ideologies and that others must be challenged to confront as well.
The shadow side of Zionism is the exceptionalism that can be seen in the exclusive entitlement to the land of Palestine as justified by God’s promise derived from certain biblical texts, an entitlement that leads directly to land confiscation and ethnic cleansing . In a sermon preached in 1942, Rabbi Samuel Goldenson said, “Judaism does not fare well at the hands of Zionism…The danger to Judaism in the Zionist doctrines is in its emphasis upon the earlier and narrower features of our heritage, the features that lead to separatism and exclusiveness.” He then contrasted these early more tribal elements with the later transcendent, universal, all-encompassing truths taught by the prophets of Israel that lead to justice and inclusiveness. In addition, we Jews must confront the exceptionalism and sense of entitlement inherent in the idea of “the chosen people” that yet resides in some forms of Judaism that at its worse can lead to elevating one’s own humanity above that of others.
When and if we have the courage to do this, I believe it will go a long way toward healing the painful wound between Jews and Palestinians and finding a just and sustainable solution to this conflict, regardless of whether what is finally worked out is a two-state, one-state, bi-national state, or regional federated solution. Moreover, it will help toward healing the growing anti-Jewish sentiment in many parts of the world due to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Regrettably there are those in Israel and the larger Jewish community who cynically use the Holocaust to play on Jewish fears and suppress legitimate criticism of Israel. Jews who voice such criticism are often slandered as self-hating Jews, and non-Jews who voice such criticism are often slandered as anti-Semites. This manipulative use of the Holocaust to disingenuously cast Israeli aggression into acts of self-defense desecrates the sacred memory of all those who perished in the ghastly inferno of that Nazi hell. To appropriate the long history of Jewish persecution and suffering as a shield for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people is beneath contempt.
The late renowned Edward Said once famously observed that it is the tragedy of the Palestinians to be the victim of victims. While true, we must not let Israel off the hook. We must be careful not to view the powerful state of Israel simply as a victim. Many Christians understandably feel a sense of guilt and embarrassment over the way Jews were historically maligned in Christian theology, which led to their deplorable treatment at the hands of the Church. Nonetheless if Christians are to be fair-minded, it is important for them to speak out when there is legitimate criticism of Israel. Keeping silent betrays their own faith and neither helps the Palestinians nor ultimately the Israelis–who both deserve to live in peace and security.
Finally, when and if the Palestinian political leadership overcomes its deep divisions and comes together in the same powerful manner as has Palestinian civil society in its non-violent embrace of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, then the hope for a just and sustainable peace will be closer at hand.
David Glick is a psychotherapist, poet, and peace and justice activist in Marin County, California, and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. © Copyright 2014 David Glick. You can reach him at dclaudeglick@yahoo.com.

Response from Rabbi Michael Lerner:
It will be no surprise to Tikkun readers to note that we have been strongly critical of the Occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, as I’ve explained in detail in Embracing Israel/Palestine (www.tikkun.org/EIP), we view the current situation more as a tragedy that emerged from the desire to both people to live in dignity, and both facing immensely difficult and at times traumatic circumstances as they began to develop self-consciousness through the framework of 19th and early 20th century nationalism.
We dispute the portrayal of the relationship between Arab/Muslim culture and the minority Jewish population that lived in Arab lands, which in many respects resembled apartheid for most Jews, and which turned particularly ugly after European colonial powers sought, as they always did, to create havoc between the Jewish minority and the Muslim majority – ask the Sephardic/Mizrachi majority of Israel whose antagonism to the Arabs long predated the state of Israel and which is now the backbone of the right-wing forces controlling the politics of Israel. As part of that Arab majority and nation, Arabs were not just innocent bystanders – their Arab nation and Muslim majority in the Middle East helped create the conditions that led the Jewish population of Arab lands to flee (mostly to Israel).
Similarly, from our standpoint, European Jews did not return to their ancient homeland to serve imperial interests, but to escape the oppression and then the mass murder they were subjected to in Europe, not as agents of Western colonialism but as its prime victim. Both Arab nationalist movements and Jewish Zionism sought to present themselves as potential allies to the major colonial powers of the early 20th century in order to win their support (Palestinian nationalists even supported Hitler in WWII), but that was not the motivation that led Jews to seek a return to Zion. Yet victims can become victimizers, and David Glick presents a perspective that highlights that reality, a reality that we also deplore, though we doubt it can be transformed without showing a high degree of compassion for both sides, a recognition that we are dealing with people on all sides of this struggle have become victims of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and that what they need is healing before a political solution is likely to meet the approval of either side. But that’s just our perspective.
We like to present many different perspectives, highly respect David Glick’s outrage at the present policies of the State of Israel which can reasonably be described as oppressive and ethically outrageous, and so we’ve presented Glick here in Tikkun even though we disagree with many specific parts of his analysis. And that, as we frequently like to remind our readers, is true of many articles we publish – they do not necessarily (and often do not in fact) correspond to our own views. Would that the rest of the major intellectual and political publications were equally open to views with which they disagreed!


4 thoughts on “Obstacles to a Just and Sustainable Peace Agreement

    There are significant areas of agreement and disagreement between Rabbi Michael and myself. First and most important, as should be clear from my writing, we both view the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians as a horrible tragedy and secondly, we each have compassion for both peoples who wish to live in freedom, dignity, and security. Where we disagree is that Michael views Zionism simply as the national liberation struggle of the Jewish people. To me this is a half-truth and as such, it blinds us to the ugly shadow side of Zionism and ignores its complexities and contradictions. I am not speaking here of the Zionism that exists in the abstract realm of ideas where the various currents of Zionism can retain their purity, but rather in the actually existing, real world Zionism that touched down on earth and interacted with the Palestinian people and imposed its will upon them.
    I do not deny the desperate situation of the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Holocaust and I have great sympathy and understanding for our predicament and the need we had for a place of refuge and safety. But the Zionists did not only seek a place of refuge and safety, but rather the creation of a Jewish state that of necessity required them to impose their will on the majority Palestinian population who did not want to live under a Jewish state. And it is this real world, actually existing Zionism that has created in Israel a state that brutally oppresses the Palestinian people and violates the precious values of justice and compassion that I was taught to revere as a Jew. Perhaps we can never know what would have been the outcome had the Zionists not sought the creation of a Jewish state, but rather a place of refuge and safety in a place they had lived in thousands of years ago.
    Perhaps that would have been too much to expect under the circumstances. Yet I cannot help but wonder, even as I know we cannot turn back the clock.

  2. I do not think Jews can have a place of refuge and safety without having a country. Before the creation of modern-day Israel, it was suggested Jews move to the Amazon basin or some such area. I don’t think that would have worked out, do you?
    Also, the U.S. partition called Gaza and the West Bank the “unassigned” territories. They never said Jews couldn’t live there–and only the Arabs call for the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from both territories. After watching Caroline Glick’s lecture, I think her one-state solution is the right one.

    • Dodz: When peace in your country comes at the exenpse of a) what is right, b) your country’s sovereignty, or c) the freedom of some, then the important thing is not peace. The important thing is Israel’s sovereignty. The important thing is that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. Not to the muslims. Not to anyone but the Jewish people. THAT is what is important.

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