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Tuesday 11 December 2007

For those who have forgotten what a nation-state is

For those who have forgotten what a nation-state is
By David Navon
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni found herself under heavy attack from the
Arab Knesset members, backed by her colleague from the coalition, Ophir
Pines-Paz, for supposedly expressing the views of the extreme right. And
what was all this about? About having said that when a Palestinian state
is established, it will also fulfill the national aspirations of the
Israeli Arabs.

I could not believe my ears when I heard that. After all, it is for this
very purpose that the solution of "two states for two peoples" was
meant. Were the two peoples desirous of living in a bi-national state,
there would be no reason to partition the land. But nations have been
granted the right of self-determination. For that reason, most
nation-states were not formed on multi-national territory, but rather as
the result of partitioning that kind of territory on the basis of the
lines that separate the living areas of members of different peoples and
setting up nation-states in the areas where one of the peoples has a

This, of course, does not negate the civil rights of minorities living
in a nation-state. But it would be ridiculous if, in the name of
equality, that very target for which the people had aspired to set up a
state of their own, were lost. An ethnic Hungarian born in Bratislava
will have citizenship identical to that of an ethnic Slovak born in
Bratislava, but it is clear that the country where both live is a
Slovakian state. As a state, it aspires, for example, to nurture the
heritage of the Slovakian people, even if it enables the Hungarian
minority to maintain its heritage.

An ethnic Turk born in Copenhagen will have the same citizenship as an
ethnic Dane born in Copenhagen, but it is clear the country where they
live is the state of the Danes. The Danish state will give preference to
ethnic Danish repatriates over migrants from Turkey or any other
ethnicity. And for that very reason, ethnic Macedonians insist that
Macedonia should not be a binational state, as the large Albanian
minority is demanding: The Albanian people already have a state of their
own, the Macedonians have only Macedonia
It was on this same basis that the League of Nations assigned the Land
of Israel to the Jewish people, and in its partition resolution, the
United Nations assigned part of it to the Jewish state even though a
great number of Arabs lived there. The establishment of a Palestinian
state is supposed to constitute the completion of the partition process.
In view of the fact that there is a partition, this means that there
will be two nation-states in this land. The State of Israel is the
nation-state where the Jewish people fulfill their national aspirations,
even though there are millions of Jews living outside of it, and even
though one fifth of its citizens are not Jewish.

Its existence, of course, does not negate the right of the members of
the minority who reside there, who are not members of the Jewish people,
to be equal citizens of the state. But the state is not the state of
their people. The state of the people of the Arab minority will be
beyond the border. If the state of Palestine is defined as the state
that answers the national aspirations of all Palestinians, including
those who reside in, say, Belize, then it is also supposed to satisfy
the national aspirations of the residents of Umm al-Fahm.

This is apparently what the foreign minister meant to say. She was not
talking about a transfer of populations nor about exchanging
territories, but rather of the residents of Umm al-Fahm coming to terms
with the realization that they are residents of a state that is not the
state of their people. Since, after a peace treaty, the state of their
people will be on the other side of the border, they can be consoled by
this. Scant consolation, but that is the fate of millions of people all
over the world whom history has fated to be residents of a state that is
the not the state of their people.

We are not referring especially to migrants, but rather to locals who
found their place on the wrong side of the border. This is what happened
to the German-speaking residents of Alto Adige (South Tyrol?), a region
which has been part of Italy since World War I. They aspired to be
reannexed by Austria and some of them even engaged in terror, which died
down only about 20 years ago. But in the end, they came to terms with
the fate of having to live in the Italian state with the realization
that their people at least are able to fulfill their national
aspirations in the neighboring state.

This analogy, however, is not complete. When the residents of Umm
al-Fahm are offered what the South Tyrol residents can merely dream
about - namely to be annexed to their people's state - they and the
entire leadership of their sector raise their voices in protest.
Regardless of the actual proposal, it is interesting to know what the
source of this opposition is. If it were a matter of national insurance,
it could be solved with ease. Other socio-economic explanations also do
not tell the entire story. Perhaps it is that they regard themselves as
members of a different people from those in Ramallah and Gaza? A more
reasonable explanation than the others is buried in another dream: that
one day, Israel will cease to be the state of the Jews.

If that is indeed their dream, no real peace can be established here
until everyone recognizes that this peace puts a total end to the
conflict between all Arabs and the state of the Jews. If there is no
such recognition, it is possible that we shall wake up in another 10 or
20 years to a new violent conflict, this time of the type in Northern
Ireland, where a small local underground backed by a political movement
in a neighboring country tries to forcefully complete the second stage
of the homeland's "liberation," whose first stage was granted by a
previous agreement.

The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state is
therefore not superfluous. It is not a matter of honor. We do not need
their approval, of course. But recognition is not approval, but rather a
certain commitment. That is why, for us, it is an essential condition.

Prof. Navon teaches psychology at the University of Haifa


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