Return of the Jebusites

Why won't there be true peace between Palestinians and Israelis anytime soon? There are many reasons, including this one: many Palestinians, even among the most moderate of Palestinians, find it impossible to accept the idea that Jews are a people. Palestinians demand, of course, that Jews accept them as a people, and the great revolution in Israeli thinking over the past thirty years is that most Jews now understand that Palestinians are, in fact, a people, because they say they are a people. The Palestinians, as a group, defined for themselves who they are, and the world accepts this chosen identity. It is self-evidently true that the Jews defined themselves as a people -- a very long time ago, in fact -- and it is also self-evidently true that many people refuse to accept this self-definition, or at the very least, see in this self-definition something inherently discriminatory, even genocidal. Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian intellectual, is one of them, apparently, and his recent provocations have prompted this Leon Wieseltier response:

What a poor student of Edward Said Sari Nusseibeh is! Said taught that peoples must create their own representations of themselves, as a matter of right and dignity, and that the representation of a people to themselves, from outside, by others, is an exercise in deformation; but here is Nusseibeh, in Al Jazeera, instructing the Jews on "why Israel can't be a 'Jewish State.'" He prefers "a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism and whose majority is Jewish," which is fine, if the purpose of that Jewish majority is to establish the state also as a permanent unchallenged sanctuary for Jews: Zionism, after all, is primarily a remedy for a danger. But Nusseibeh's reasonableness has its limits. He rehearses the old argument that "a 'Jewish State' implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy (if we take the word 'Jewish' to apply to the religion of Judaism) or an apartheid state (if we take the word 'Jewish' to apply to the ethnicity of Jews)." This is absurd. The prospects of a Jewish theocracy in Israel are much less than the prospects of a Muslim theocracy in Palestine--none of the religious parties in Israeli politics are as powerful as Hamas is in Palestinian politics; and the guarantee of equal rights under law to all the inhabitants of Israel, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, is the obvious antidote to the dystopian fantasy of apartheid. A Jewish state may be just or unjust, but it is not essentially unjust. Nusseibeh points out that "no state in the world is--or can be in practice-ethnically or religiously homogeneous," but the only figures in Israel clamoring for homogeneity are a few sick rabbis and their hangers-on, who have been resoundingly condemned (and in one case arrested) for their exclusivist incitements. Nusseibeh ominously alludes to them, even though he does not like it when the ravings of radical mullahs are mistaken for the Muslim mainstream. And then Nusseibeh goes wild. The "more serious reason ... why Palestinian leaders--and indeed no responsible person--can morally recognise Israel as a 'Jewish State' ... has to do with the very Covenant of God in the Bible with Ancient Israelites." He cites Genesis and Deuteronomy and Joshua and Samuel to establish that "in the Old Testament, God commands the Jewish state in the land of Israel to come into being through warfare and violent dispossession of the original inhabitants." And so, he explains, "no one then can blame Palestinians and descendants of the ancient Canaanites, Jebusites and others who inhabited the land before the Ancient Israelites ... for a little trepidation as regards what recognising Israel as a 'Jewish State' means for them." They have that Jebusite feeling! Never mind that Palestinians are not the descendants of Canaanites. The Arab scion of Oxford rationalism is here concurring with the Jewish chiliasts in the West Bank that the Bible is the warrant for the politics of today.
Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

The Man Who Owns 40,000 Video Games

A short documentary about an Austrian gamer with an uncommon obsession

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Global

From This Author

Just In