The State of Jerusalem

Opportunity and Challenge for Israelis and Palestinians - and others

By Daniel Gavron

Opponents of a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians seem to be unaware of the fact that we Jews have been there before. The Israel of the Bible was a pluralistic multi-ethnic entity, far removed from the modern nation-state. Whether one reads the Bible literally, or examines it through the spectacles of archaeology and modern biblical criticism, this fact is manifest. King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and then proceeded to share it with them. He bought the site of his main alter, a threshing floor, from Arauna the Jebusite. He expanded the building of the city to admit his family, court, and administration, without necessitating the massacre or expulsion of the inhabitants. He made use of Canaanite officials, had a Hittite general, and - after some fierce battles against them - deployed Philistines in his army.

The second Jewish commonwealth was inhabited by the Samaritans, by settlers brought in by the Assyrians, by Hellenistic colonizers starting from the time of Alexander the Great, and others. King Herod and his successors were Idumeans, and the Nabateans inhabited the southern regions.

Moving forward in history, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, called his pamphlet The Jewish State, but, when he came to describe it in his prophetic novel, Altneuland, he depicted an entity with a Jewish president and an Arab vice-president. His hero, David Littwak explains:

"We have no state, you see, as Europe had in your time. We are an association of citizens, who are trying to find happiness in work and cultural activities."

Even David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, and a staunch proponent of Jewish sovereignty, was astounded when, in 1937, the British Peel Commission proposed partition, including relocation of some Arabs from the area to be awarded to the Jews.

"This could give us something that we never had, even during the First and Second Temples…an opportunity that we never dares to dream in our wildest imaginings," he confided to his diary.

The best description of Zionism, in my view, was that of Ronald Storrs, the first governor of Jerusalem, during the British Mandate.

"Something stranger than history - the past summoned back and made to live again."

If we think of Zionism, then, we are not necessarily thinking of a Jewish nation-state. If we consider the reality of Israel today, and the entanglement of Jews and Arabs in every part of the historical homeland, we can consider various options without betraying our Zionist ideals. One option, the one I propose, is to establish in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, the State of Jerusalem, a pluralistic, multi-ethnic democracy, based on the principle of one-person-one-vote.

I do not believe in "free lunches." I maintain, therefore, that Israeli Jews and Palestinians will both have to pay for a solution. The Jews by relinquishing an exclusively Jewish state; the Palestinians by giving up their state even before they have attained it. Both peoples, moreover, will have to surrender vital concepts that they hold dear. Israel must repeal the Law of Return, the Palestinians must relinquish their "Right of Return." The naturalization law that will have to be enacted can contain affirmative action clauses both for Palestinian refugees and for Jews in danger, but both sides must give up the principle of mass immigration for their people. Israel/Palestine is already overcrowded; we cannot create a worthwhile society if the area is too densely populated.

That being said, the State of Jerusalem that I propose, solves many of the so-called "insoluble problems" of borders, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, and the Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, a combined military force, wherein the various Palestinian security organizations are integrated with the IDF, the Israeli police and security services will surely have a much better chance of controlling terror and violence than one side acting on its own. There are also communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Christians from the former Soviet Union, the foreign workers, the Ethiopians and others which would benefit from the religious, cultural, and education autonomy that would also be afforded to Druze, Circassians, and other communities.

Above all, the integration of all the different peoples of this relatively small area between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean into one pluralistic entity will release enormous forces of inventiveness, creativity, entrepreneurial skills, and high tech talent that can make the new entity a genuine center of development and construction.

The energy and ingenuity that have been focused for too long on violence and destruction can be redirected toward the creation of a vital and fascinating society. If we take just three examples:

High Tech: Israel is famous for being second only to the U.S. in high tech start-ups. Less known is the fact that, until the recent confrontation, the Palestinians produced most of the world's Arabic software.

Housing: Despite the destruction of so many Palestinian homes in the recent conflict and the terrible state of the Palestinian economy, there are virtually no Palestinian homeless. In its formative years, Israel took in millions of immigrants and managed to house them all.

The Sabbath: Ancient Israel gave the world the Sabbath. The State of Jerusalem could offer the world the three-day weekend - Muslim-Jewish-Christian - with the Jewish Sabbath at its heart, as a day of peace, piety, contemplation, and respite from engines and electronic sound and images. A four-day working week, instead of the current overloaded work schedule for the high fliers and the unemployment (disguised or overt) of too many, interspersed with constructive leisure.

Israelis and Palestinians - and the others living in this area - should come together in the State of Jerusalem, an entity that will be a beacon to the world. It is a daunting prospect, but easier to achieve than the establishment of the State of Israel 55 years ago.

About Daniel Gavron

The Other Side of Despair - A book by Daniel Gavron

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