Historians speak of Israeli policy under Golda Meir as paralyzed by HaConceptzia, the “Conception” that the Arabs had no capacity to wage war and therefore Israel need only wait for their leaders to finally accept an Israeli dictate on borders and other political arrangements. There is an echo of this arrogance in Prime Minister Olmert’s pronouncement that the Palestinians have until the end of this year to negotiate with Israel or they will have no choice but to accept a unilateral shaping of Israel’s final borders.
I differ from the ultra-critics of Israel in understanding that the current stalemate is a two-way street, not only (maybe even not primarily) of Israel’s making. The Palestinian Authority needs to effectively combat terrorism, Hamas needs to change its spots and convince Israel that, whether via President Abbas or Prime Minister Haniyeh, negotiations may be resumed. But Israel should not be rushing to move unilaterally, which is not likely to improve conditions on the ground enough to pave the way toward peace. By redrawing borders in an ungenerous way (as projected in the news) — leaving the West Bank truncated, walled off, scattered and surrounded by Israeli settlements and soldiers — the Palestinians would be encouraged instead to renew their all-out intifada.
Allow me to return to my Jewish Currents article to clarify another point of controversy related to the historic Golda Meir:
Golda is infamous… for having called into question the existence of the Palestinians as a separate Arab nation, asserting that she was also a “Palestinian,” since that’s what her passport read during the British Mandate. To be fair, the Jews of Palestine used the “p” word freely, including it in such stalwart Zionist institutions as the Jewish Agency for Palestine (the pre-state Zionist government) and the “Palestine [now Jerusalem] Post.” The Arabs were relatively slow in calling themselves Palestinians, a term invented by the Romans to obscure the Jewish connection to Judea after the Jews massively rebelled against them twice….
Still, the transformation of the name “Palestinian,” to identify Palestine’s Arabs, exemplifies a truth argued by Prof. Rashid Khalidi in PALESTINIAN IDENTITY: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (Columbia University Press, 1997): “that national identity is constructed; it is not an essential, transcendent given,” but evolves in the course of a “national narrative.” This is as true of the Jewish ethno-religious identity becoming a national one within 20th century Palestine/Israel, as it is for Palestinian-Arab consciousness evolving from local, regional, and imperial loyalties left over from Ottoman Turkish times. Alas, this would be too sophisticated and subtle a point for the very concrete-thinking Israeli politician…..