It is possible that the entire political model of the State of Israel may soon be threatened by no other than John Kerry as he builds the legitimacy to declare the Two-State Solution null and void by his relentless effort to consolidate Israeli-Palestinian understandings on Permanent Status
Some of you may have seen me quoted twice by Tom Friedman over the past three weeks, with a generous mention of Flexigidity. His first op-ed titled Why Kerry is Scary dealt with the threat of Secretary of State, John Kerry, taking a failure of his diplomatic mission to its logical conclusion that the so-called Two-State Solution is no longer relevant and viable. My quote there referred to the art of U-turn politics, which is what may be required from PM Netanyahu if such a scenario unfolds in the not-too-distant future. The second and more extensive quote in Israel’s Big Question, this week, related to the fundamental dilemma that Kerry is forcing Israeli politics and society to confront regarding the identity of our nation.
I have been concerned that many Israelis fail to appreciate how momentous the coming few weeks may be. The all-or-nothing American strategy – ill-designed to begin with – may arrive at its likely outcome, which is failure and then chaos [As you may remember, the Reut Institute advocated for a strategy of initially establishing a Palestinian state based on coordinated unilateralism in order to pin down a two-state reality]. In fact, it is possible that the entire political model of the State of Israel may soon be threatened by no other than John Kerry as he builds the legitimacy to declare the Two-State Solution null and void by his relentless effort to consolidate Israeli-Palestinian understandings on Permanent Status. The responses that he gets from both parties – most likely to be reservations – may push him to reassess his entire effort, at which phase he may actually be tempted to reach such a very conclusive conclusion.
A major sticking point in the negotiations seems to be Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as the ‘the nation state of the Jewish People.’ On the one hand, this demand is perfectly legitimate by the fact that the entire Israeli-Palestinian political process is premised on the principle of two-states-for-two-people. On the other hand, I do not think that Israel needs such Palestinian acknowledgement, since its Jewishness is primarily and democratically anchored in its significant Jewish majority. When Israel loses this majority, no legal text will save its soul. In other words, it is ending the control over the Palestinian population that is the most important service that the Prime Minister can render to the vision of Israel being the nation-state-of-the-Jewish-People.
But PM Netanyahu’s insistence on this matter should usher in a new public debate in Israel, focusing on the question: what does it mean for Israel to be the ‘nation state of the Jewish People?’ For sure it must mean that Israel officially undertakes some responsibility for and accountability toward more than six million Jews, who are not its citizens, and some of them do not even support it. This has far reaching ethical, political and budgetary implications, and can even get Israel into contentious situations (see here re Argentina). Furthermore, it means that Israel’s national security outlook must seek to protect and serve not only the physical safety of Israel and of Israelis, but also the Jewishness of Israel and the wellbeing of the Jewish People at large. Hence, while the primary threat to Israel’s safety may be the thousands of missiles targeted at it, the primary threat to Israel’s Jewishness may be the collapse of the Two-State Solution and a primary threat to the unity and wellbeing of the Jewish People may be the aggressive policies of the orthodox rabbinate in Israel.
This relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is a central theme in Flexigidity, where I argue that Israel must rise to serve that original calling and vision of being the nation state of the Jewish People. In the third section of the book, where I outline my vision for the State of Israel and Israeli society, I argue that Israel’s must reflect all four founding stories of Judaism, and not predominantly that of nationhood; that the basic unit of Israeli society must be the community, like in the Diaspora; and that Israeli laws can and should be enriched by an authentic project of Israeli talmud.
In other words, the issue of being the nation state of the Jewish People is so much bigger than a contentious point with the Palestinians. It is primarily and initially a calling for our society.