Changing Palestinian Minds

There are three ways of responding to conflict: conversation, negotiation and force. Force tends, at the end of the day, to be the basis of war, while the other two - modes of dialogue - are constitutive of politics. But where the politics of negotiation aims to resolve conflict through trade-offs and concessions, conversation aims for genuine understanding, for learning and progressively transforming positions so that they can be integrated or reconciled rather than compromised.
Only in a conversation, then, does one try to "convince" someone to change; in a negotiation, by contrast, one puts pressure on the other and so, as with a less restricted use of force, one may be described as aiming to "persuade" them to change instead. That is why only conversation can be considered the basis of a politics that is concerned with truth, with the "common good."
Since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, we Zionists have either fought wars with the Arabs or attempted to negotiate with them, but we have never really tried to convince them to recognize Israel's legitimacy. Recognition requires conversation because recognition, as both the Hebrew and Arabic words for it make clear, is about knowledge (the Hebrew hakarah is a synonym for "conscious of," and the Arabic i´tiraf has as its root ma´rifah, which means "knowledge"), and knowledge is just not something that can be offered or taken away as part of some bargaining session.
Recognizing the legitimacy of the other, moreover, is a prerequisite to negotiation, for one will only negotiate in good faith if one believes that the other is, though an adversary, nevertheless still a legitimate one. So conversation must come before negotiation, not least in this case because many Palestinians are devout Muslims and so cannot allow themselves to compromise on what they believe to be the word of God.
Zionists, then, need to take on the task of changing Palestinian minds, of convincing them that the Jewish state is not something that they must, however reluctantly, accept, but that it is truly legitimate. Yet given conversation's inherent fragility, this is no small challenge.
Nevertheless, if it is to be taken, on I suggest that the Palestinians need to be convinced of two truths in particular: 1) that Jews are not evil but constitute a nation that, like all nations, feels a special attachment to a particular piece of territory (even when that territory happens to conflict with an equally valid attachment felt by another nation); and 2) that no nation can consider itself free without being recognized by the state under whose sovereignty it lives. In the case of the Jews, this means that the Jewish nation needs a Jewish state - which is, of course, but an echo of the Palestinians' own call for independence.
What is required for communicating these truths? Let me offer two suggestions:

1) "I must confess," wrote Martin Buber many years ago, "that I am horrified at how little we know the Arabs." This remains all too true today. We Zionists need to develop an intimate knowledge of Arab and Muslim cultures, one that would assist us in convincing them of our two truths. Few of us, for example, are familiar with the Qur'an, which is especially disconcerting given that the book contains passages which provide strong support for our two truths, passages such as:

O people! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another (Qur'an, 49:13).

And thereafter we said to the Children of Israel: "Dwell securely in the Promised Land" (Qur'an, 17:104).

Something must also be done about the fact that in the Jewish Israeli public school system today the second language taught is not Arabic but English; indeed Arabic joins French as an equally recommended option when students wish to study a third language. This, in a country with a large Arab minority and which is surrounded by millions of Arabic speakers.

2) Decrying Arab and Muslim anti-Semitic propaganda is a popular Zionist pastime. Little, however, is done to counter it, say by reaching out through the media. This accounts for why a recent Israeli hasbara ("public diplomacy") budget represented a pathetic 0.015% of the total. And what did that hasbara have to say on the few occasions that it was directed not at Americans but at Arabs and Muslims? I once asked Gideon Meir, then-deputy director general for public affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (who, by the way, does not speak Arabic; indeed, when I interviewed him in 2004 there were only seven Arab Israelis among the ministry's staff of 985), what message he would like to communicate to the Arab world. His reply: "Hi guys. With violence and terror you will achieve nothing." This is far from adequate.

Engaging in these two tasks in order to facilitate conversation does not mean forgoing the use of force in Israel's defense, although it should, of course, be employed as infrequently and as carefully as possible. We need to distinguish between those Arabs and Muslims who are terrorists and must be met with force and those who support them, the hope being that the latter can be brought to do otherwise. "Divide and convince" has never been a popular Israeli tactic; it must become so.

Changing Zionist Minds

Conversation is a two-way street. What, then, might we Zionists learn from conversing with our opponents? One thing we may come to appreciate is that our two truths do more than support a two-state solution for the conflict; they also call for a genuinely bi-national Israel. By this I mean an Israeli state which recognizes that the country contains within it a Jewish as well as an Arab nation, as opposed to no nations, as those such as Tony Judt who erroneously refer to a "bi-national" model would have us believe (their model is best described as "post-national"). Israel's Basic Laws, in other words, need to be amended to declare that the state is not only "Jewish and democratic" but also "Arabic."
To see why, we need to be clear about the difference between two kinds of community: the civic and the national. The former is thoroughly political; it is the community of citizens that, above all, is expressed by the state. Nations, by contrast, lay claim to cultural practices that are mostly carried out within civil society - "mostly" because, as noted above, nations also require some form of recognition from their state to be considered free. Thus the United Kingdom may be said to constitute a single civic community which also includes four nations: the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, as well as the Unionist religious community and various ethnicities. Israel, then, is likewise a civic community, albeit one that contains two national communities within it. And while it goes without saying that the Israeli state sufficiently recognizes the Jewish Israeli nation, when it comes to that of the Arabs, just as official bilingualism has been inadequate for recognizing the Québécois nation within Canada, Arabic being one of Israel's official languages just does not do enough for the Israeli Arab nation.
Given that the formal legal equality shared by all Israeli citizens has not prevented the state's inferior treatment of Arab Israelis in everything from education to building permits to garbage removal, this symbolic issue of national recognition may seem secondary. But I would claim that the formal legality has not been sufficiently translated into substantive practice precisely because of a deficiency at the level of national recognition.
What form might state recognition of the Arab Israeli nation take? I suggest that a symbol representing that nation (e.g., a crescent moon with a Solomon's Seal pentagram) should be added to the Israeli flag, alongside the Star of David. I can already hear the cries of horror from my fellow Zionists at the idea, but it must be said that recognizing the Arab Israeli nation in this way in no way detracts from the recognition of the Jewish Israeli nation. For it is fully compatible with the notion that, with Israel, we Jews have a state of our own. The only qualification would be that it is not exclusively our own.
The recognition of nations, in other words, does not have to be a zero-sum affair. On the contrary, it is much like what the Jewish Midrash says of a candle, which loses none of its brilliance in kindling another.
Zionists who reject this genuinely bi-national Israel do so mainly for two related reasons. Either they fail to see that it is compatible with a two-state solution, or they fail to distinguish between the recognition of a nation by a state and the question of who forms the majority in a democracy. The question of majorities and minorities, however, is a matter of counting individuals, not of recognizing communities. With recognition, the point is not the number of a community's members but taking into account its specific needs. That is why I would suggest that there is nothing contradictory about combining the recognition of Israel's bi-nationality with a constitutional declaration that the state is responsible for maintaining a significant Jewish majority. For, given the Holocaust, as well as the historical mistreatment of Jewish minorities within Arab and Muslim regimes, the need for a constitutional guarantee of this should be clear.
Affirming Israel's bi-nationality is not only a matter of domestic justice; it can also help us communicate our two truths to the Arabs and Muslims outside of the country. For example, flying an Israeli flag such as the one I have suggested above Jerusalem would (at least partly) respond to the calls of many Muslims to "liberate" the city; it should thus make their acceptance of Israel's legitimacy that much more likely. Furthermore, in helping to reconcile Arab Israelis to the state, it can only make it easier to enlist their help in reaching out to their brethren outside the country. Finally, a bi-national Israel would lend support to the notion that any Jewish national minority present within a future Palestinian state itself deserves to be recognized by that state. For that, too, is what justice demands.


Particularly since the demise of Oslo, the complaint has often been voiced that Yasser Arafat never prepared his people for the concessions essential to peace. My question is: What was the sense in waiting for him, or anyone else, to do so? We Zionists must make a serious effort to convince our opponents of our legitimacy. We have not done so because most of us have arrived at our positions prematurely, and this applies to both the belief that negotiations are already viable and that there is no prospect of ever making them so. For what is required is something that has been overlooked: conversation. Only by convincing, rather than persuading, can we get our opponents truly to accept a Jewish Israel; only by "speaking to the rock" (Numb. 19:1-22), not "striking it" (Exod. 17:5-6), will we ever see that Israel in peace.
Of course, there is no guarantee that this approach will succeed. That said, it has yet to be seriously tried. Even accepting this, many might wish to object that it would take a very long time to carry off. To that I can but respond with a question: How long do you wish Israel to remain in the Middle East?