Hussein Ibish Is Not a Zionist

Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, has written an extremely sensible piece about Middle East pragmatism, in which he takes on advocates of the so-called one-state solution, who argue, among other things, that any Arab who supports a two-state solution is an Uncle Tom, or worse, an actual Zionist:

To call me a "Zionist" because of commitment to peace is to strip language of all meaning. By this logic, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were "Maoists" because they made peace with Communist China. And any Israeli who is committed to Palestinian statehood alongside Israel is also, therefore, a "Palestinian nationalist."

For some, the term "Zionist" is simply a useful pejorative to attack the reputation of Arabs who seek peace, or who deviate from the increasingly intolerant one-state dogma. I've been amazed at the number of one-state advocates who adamantly refuse to agree to disagree and I've lost a number of once very close personal friendships simply because I do not follow their new party line.

I don't think Norman Finkelstein was exaggerating at all when he recently described this movement as "a cult" led by self-appointed "gurus." Like all cults it recasts the world in simple binary terms: the good people who agree and the bad people who do not.

So, of course I'm not a "Zionist." Whether or not to define oneself as a Zionist is really an issue for those who identify themselves as Jewish. However, as many Jews of varying backgrounds and perspectives have demonstrated, one can be staunchly pro-Israel, and in that sense "Zionist," without supporting occupation, settlements or racism against Palestinians.

Zionism remains the dominant Jewish national narrative, and this narrative can and should be understood, by others, especially in the interests of peace. It is also necessary that Jewish Israelis and their allies understand the legitimacy of the Palestinian national narrative, even if they cannot embrace it.

Hussein makes a key point here: The inability of so many Palestinians and Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of their adversaries is a key -- maybe the key --  impediment to compromise. Putting yourself in the shoes of your adversaries does not transform you into that person, of course, but this insight is not widely held in the Middle East. When Hussein and I, as an experiment, wrote a joint op-ed for The New York Times about pragmatic approaches to compromise, we disagreed about many things, including and especially the idea of boycotting the settlements. I've said that while I don't support such a boycott, I fully understand why  Palestinians, and Arabs generally, would support such a thing, and I think Hussein understands why I can't support a boycott. This disagreement does not preclude agreement on other issues, of course, precisely because we've both made the effort to understand the thinking of the other. I'm repeating myself here, but if Palestinians would simply acknowledge that Jews are native to the region they claim as their own, and if Israelis would acknowledge in some official manner that the rebirth of the Jewish state caused Palestinians, who are also native to the land, some real suffering, we might get closer to a breakthrough.