Living under foreign occupation is one thing, while living as a minority in a representative democracy is something else. Unquestionably, citizens judged to be Jews by “nationality” (not always identical with religious criteria) are advantaged over non-Jews, especially Arabs, who as long as the conflict with their non-citizen kin endures, are regarded as a potential fifth column. But is Israel’s minority worse off than ethnic and religious minorities and contending factions within most Arab and other Middle Eastern countries?
It’s not that one needs to excuse systematic discrimination within Israel, but some perspective is in order. How do Israel’s failings compare with the violence visited historically against Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, the periodic attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, or the many bloody conflicts among religious sects in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in Israel’s neighborhood? Given this chaotic and intolerant regional norm, is it illogical for Jews to want to rule as a majority in their own land?
. . . Mapam―a forerunner of Meretz, and Labor’s junior partner in the Labor Alignment (an electoral alliance that governed Israel from 1969 until 1977, and ended in the early 1980s)―joined with a couple of courageous Labor doves to suggest negotiating with the Palestinians via the P.L.O. Most of Labor preferred the “Jordanian option” in the 1970s and ‘80s. Yet a peace accord with Jordan’s King Hussein, involving a return to Arab rule of most of the West Bank, parts of East Jerusalem and perhaps the Gaza Strip, was not reached when Labor had its best chance, between the wars of 1967 and 1973.
According to historian Avi Shlaim in his biography of Hussein, The Lion of Jordan (Knopf, 2008), the monarch met with Israeli leaders numerous times during those years, establishing friendships and a de facto alliance. Shlaim’s account of negotiations reveals an initial Jordanian demand for total Israeli withdrawal in exchange for peace (flatly refused by Israel), evolving to the possibility of trading territories, including King Hussein’s suggestion to take over the Gaza Strip. The Israeli position went from an insistence on retaining only the newly expanded municipality of Jerusalem to the ambitious Alon Plan (Yigal Alon’s conception of retaining about one-third of the West Bank) to produce security in depth for Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain. As with more recent negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria, these efforts came close but no cigar, until rendered impossible when political fortunes changed.