Nahum Goldmann

A plan for peace in Palestine

(1978)

 


 

Note

This is an extract from the last chapter of Nahum Goldmann’s, The Jewish Paradox.
The author, founder and long-standing President of the World Jewish Congress, explains very clearly why the policy of imposed colonization of Palestine promoted by the Israeli rulers is totally wrong. He puts forward a plan of peaceful egalitarian coexistence that, if implemented, would have transformed the region in a highly developed one, in many aspects (spiritual, cultural, social, economic, etc.) and would have avoided the violence that we have witnessed in the past and is currently reaching genocidal levels.

 


 

I am absolutely against the Israeli attempt to colonize a territory stretching between the Gaza Strip and Sinai, and the plans to construct the town of Yamit. The idea will have to be discarded once peace has been made. The Arabs will not accept it, and many Israelis themselves are hostile to it. This kind of enterprise is the result of a miscalculation on the part of the Israeli government which is under the impression that if Israel presents the world with a fait accompli, the world will swallow it. This may hold true for many countries which ten years after the end of the troubles in the Near East will be facing other problems - coexistence, race riots, nuclear armament, pollution, etc. The Arabs, though, have the same historical memory as the Jews. The Semitic race is a stubborn one; it forgets nothing.

At a big meeting in Sydney, Australia, I once said that Israel’s bad luck was to have the Arabs for enemies instead of the British. In fact the British have a genius for forgetting; in the space a generation they have lost the world's greatest empire, and despite that they are very happy: for some time their main popular concern was over who was to marry the princess … Can you imagine the Jews in the same situation? The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed two thousand years ago, and we observe an annual day's fasting in remembrance. If we had lost an empire equivalent to the British we would have had to fast twice a week for those twenty centuries!

And the Arabs are like ourselves. It is utterly simple-minded to believe that in the end they will forget our presence in Palestine and come to terms with our occupation of the Golan or Sinai. They have proved that they will prolong the war until they regain their lands. So this whole policy of the fait accompli represents an enormous waste. How many hundred million dollars did Israel spend on the Bar Lev Line along the Suez Canal which was smashed in a matter of hours? How many villages are being built right now which some day will have to be wiped off the map?

On the other hand, if a genuine peace is concluded it is possible to look forward to some improvement in relations in a year or two, and to some sort of arrangement for free movement. Jews would move into the Gaza Strip, Arabs into Israel, there would be open frontiers and perhaps an economic confederation. On the West Bank, the Jews would be foreigners authorized by a treaty to exercise their rights to make homes there and circulate freely, as happens inside the Common Market. There would be no question of building towns, which the Arabs would not permit, but the possibility of agricultural villages would be considered. At the same time tens of thousands of Arabs would have the opportunity to come and work in Israel, where they would earn more money than they do in their own countries. But that kind of approach would only bear fruit in a climate of peace, not in the context of a fait accompli policy imposed by military occupation.

As for the Gaza Strip itself, it must be given up, either to Jordan or to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, in the event of its creation, but in either case with a corridor to Gaza, which would become a free port under the terms of the peace treaty. The Gaza Arabs could work in Israel if they so wished, and their daily comings and goings would reduce the hostility between the parties.

To those who dismiss me as a daydreamer when I air this plan, I can only reply that if they do not believe that Arab hostility can some day be alleviated then we might just as well liquidate Israel at once, so as to save the millions of Jews who live there. On this point I am categorical: there is no hope for a Jewish state which has to face another fifty years of struggle against Arab enemies. How many will there be, fifty years from now?

But I feel sure that we can live as friends within the framework of a genuine alliance. Certainly it has become a lot harder after thirty years of hidebound, ingrown Israeli policy which is largely the fault of Ben Gurion. Yet there is still time to convince the Arabs that the Jews would bring them an immense contribution with their knowledge and technology, their two thousand years' experience throughout Europe. There are no great policies without great designs.

A major section of Israeli public opinion and some influential leaders adhere to a theory according to which the Arab character will never allow them to suffer the presence of the State of Israel willingly. They back up this hypothesis by stressing the intolerance of the Arabs and their negative attitude to all minorities. I reject this theory utterly.

I do so, first, because if it were true there would be no hope of a future for the State of Israel: an Arab world of over a hundred million inhabitants would necessarily end up by annihilating the little Jewish state if the Arabs were not prepared to accept it.

Secondly, I repudiate this idea, which is based on a racist concept. The character of a race or people undoubtedly plays an important, but never a decisive role in its history. In the conflict between racism and the environment (see Taine and Gobineau), nature and nurture, I make no final judgement, but I do think that the two elements carry different weights in different eras. During the 'golden age' of their Spanish domination, for example, the Arabs were more tolerant towards the Jews than the Christian world ever was, and the same spirit characterized them too at other times - even as regards the Christians. And if proof is needed to show how absurd it is to ascribe an immutable character to any people, one has only to cite the example of Israel: in the course of two or three generations the Israelis have become the opposite of what the Jews were supposed to be during the two thousand years of Diaspora. The stereotype Jew was a brilliant businessman but a poor and rather cowardly soldier. In Israel today it is precisely the contrary: the Israelis are excellent fighters but fairly average businessmen.

It is the different living conditions in the Diaspora and in an independent state which have produced so striking a change in so short a lapse of time. The same could happen with the Arabs, once liberated from the complexes of colonial domination and restored to a sense of security and human respect.

The first condition of success is, of course, that the Jews should adapt to the Arab world. Take the oil question for example. In my opinion the oil producers were quite right; they behaved brutally, but we must not forget that the capitalist world was exploiting them cynically. Western governments were making far more out of the re-sale of oil than the Arabs were making from the price of crude. It is thanks to the exploitation of the Third World that the Western countries went through an era of unprecedented prosperity. Well, on this point in particular Israel should have taken the side of the Arabs and not lined up with America and the exploiters. Its position on this problem has had a disastrous consequence, because the Arabs said to themselves: 'Israel is decidedly a foreign element. It is an agent of imperialism and we've got to eliminate it.'

The clinching proof for the Arabs that the State of Israel was interfering with their international policy and so was not to be tolerated was provided by the Sinai war. They could not accept either the Israeli attack which sparked of the conflict or, still less, the collusion with the French and British, who in retaliation against Nasser for nationalizing the Suez Canal used Israel as a spearhead. I consider that war as one of Ben Gurion's major mistakes.

I have often defended the notion of a confederation uniting all the states in the Near East, Israel included. Each state would be sovereign in its domestic policy, but when it comes to foreign policy the Jews would have to adapt to the main lines laid down by the Arab majority. I have had hours of discussions on this subject, and have drawn the following conclusions: what disturbs the really responsible Arab leaders is not that Israel possesses half of Palestine; actually this is of little interest to them, especially if the Palestinians are granted a state of their own. No, what troubles them is the Jews setting themselves up as an independent minority inside the Arab world.

I had a close friendship with the late Dag Hammarskjöld, the secretary general of the United Nation: I was one of ten people, I discovered, who were on first-name terms with him. ‘Go and see Nasser for me,’ I once suggested to him, ‘and propose this solution to him: let him recognize Israel and make peace, and Israel will become a member of a confederation of Near Eastern states including not only the Arab countries but Turkey as well. In that way the Jews will form a minority, which means that they will not be able to conduct an individual policy determined by the Americans, the British or the French, but will have to bow to the
collective decision. Israel will have to adapt, just as the members of the EEC do, like it or not.’

Hammarskjöld passed on the message and Nasser replied: ‘This actually may be a solution. The Arabs will steel themselves to accept the partition of Palestine, because we have vast amounts of land available which will take centuries to develop. But we will never accept Israel as a wedge inside the Arab world. Our plan is to form a bloc stretching from Morocco to Iraq. Unfortunately, at the centre of that bloc there is an Israeli state which does not care a rap for our plans. We want to create a policy of no alignment and Israel practises a pro-capitalist policy. We cannot tolerate that.’

It was a very good answer, and a year later, when I submitted my suggestion to Nehru, he was so impressed by it that he altered his schedule of visits and stopped in Cairo to talk it over with Nasser.

‘I have already discussed it with Hammarskjöld, Nasser told him, 'and I instructed him to let Nahum Goldman know that it really was a valid idea. Only, this Mr. Goldmann cannot deliver the goods. It is Ben Gurion who makes the decisions, not Goldmann, and we will never sign an accord with Ben Gurion, who is a brutal man, an aggressor and an imperialist!’

A good friend of mine is Roger Garaudy, whose courage and free-ranging opinions I very much admire. Asked to deliver a series of lectures at the university of El Azhar in Cairo on the relations between modern socialism and religion, which is his favourite subject, he was invited to dinner by Nasser and spent four hours in conversation with him. Garaudy noticed that the Egyptian head of state was more familiar with Jewish and Zionist questions than some of Israel's own leaders.

'I desire peace,' Nasser told him, ‘because I know that in my own lifetime at least we will be unable to destroy Israel. My great aim is to build a modern, socialist Egypt and to unite the Arab world. To achieve that, the Israeli problem must be resolved, not by eradicating but by accepting Israel.’

‘If you do sign a peace,’ asked Garaudy, ‘will it be a true peace allowing for freedom of movement and communication, trade treaties and some degree of cooperation?’

And Nasser, who lacked neither charm nor humour, told him: ‘Of course; only I shall have one big worry: every Sunday the Israelis will flock into Port Said in their thousands and empty our shops, and we shall have to replenish our stocks every Monday!'

But the reality of the present moment is taking us daily farther from this solution. I have often been publicly critical of the Zionist economic policy. The Jerusalem government should have brought the Israeli Arabs into the economy right from the start. Banks were created: why not grant thirty per cent of the shares to the Arabs? Big industries were created: why not get them involved? Like everybody else, Jews do not like to give something for nothing, and that is a very human reflex. The slogan 'Jewish labour to create a Jewish state' brought about a revaluation of manual and agricultural labour in Israel, and that was a fine thing, but it also excluded the Arabs from the development of Palestine.

The big mistake of the Zionists was their insistence on monopolizing all the positions of power. Yet just imagine the combination of the Jewish financial and commercial acumen with the Arab billions! The Near East could become one of the wealthiest regions in the world. We unquestionably took the wrong direction from the start, and did not pay enough attention to the warnings of a far-sighted Zionist minority (people like Buber, Kalvariski, Arlosorof and others) who sensed what a false step it was. I often point out that had we put twenty per cent of the energy we expended on influencing the British, American, German and French governments into influencing the Arabs instead, there would never have been a war. But we said to ourselves: ‘What do these Bedouins matter? Better to convince Balfour, Wilson and Roosevelt.'
An expensive mistake.

 


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