There are issues in the life of a nation and a country that must not be turned into pawns in an internal political game and must not be cashed into tactical coins. One of them, if not the foremost among them, is the foundational idea of the State of Israel, the unique nation-state of the Jewish people, which practices the universal values of democracy, humanism and human rights.
The future of the country depends on its ability to prevent and solve tensions between being “Jewish” and being “democratic.” Such a mission must be approached with great respect. And now we are witnessing the intolerable cheapening of this foundational idea in our public and political lives. We have witnessed, for example, the embarrassing struggles surrounding the loyalty oath, which exuded an odor of the cynical political exploitation of basic values.
After all, this pledge, which in any case will not stop those it is designed to stop, is no more than a sub-clause in what should be an overall immigration policy, which the State of Israel so badly lacks. If maintaining and nurturing “Jewish and democratic” values is important to our government, it would do well to take care of all the issues they entail, including Israel’s immigration policy, its treatment of minorities, its conversion policy and a host of other neglected issues. It would also do well to teach these values in the schools.
A similar thing can be said about the demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, in the context of a peace agreement. I am not among those who scorn or dismiss this demand. It contains a basic value, not because Israel is unsure of itself and its identity and needs others in order to define itself, but because it comes from a desire to use the historical opportunity of a peace agreement, if one is reached, to redefine Israel’s relationship with its neighbors and to stabilize the foundation on which the end of the conflict and the termination of demands will be based.
As an Israeli citizen, it is important to me to know that my neighbors and partners in a peace agreement officially accept the legitimacy of my national existence; otherwise there will not be a stable peace. Of course, in doing so, we cannot make light of the growing international delegitimization of the State of Israel.
But reaching this legitimate goal by turning “policy and strategy into tactics,” in the words of the late professor Yeshoshafat Harkabi, makes it more difficult to attain it. Announcing it with great fanfare from every platform greatly increases its price among the Palestinians. The more Palestinian flexibility there is in the face of this demand, which means giving up the Palestinian historical narrative – and in my opinion such flexibility does exist – the more exorbitant will be the price demanded in return. Then Israel will have to consider whether it is worth paying that price, and that will come only at the end of the negotiating process, once the core issues are resolved.
Whatever its motives, what is being conveyed by equating the principle of recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people with the tactical step of freezing construction in Judea and Samaria for a few months? Is this outsize tactics or cheapened strategy? An attempt to advance the strategic objective or to achieve a tactical advantage in a mutual blame game?
Israel must decide whether it is treating its foundational idea with the necessary respect and translating it into systemic and practical action, into a calculated political act and cautious talk, or, as things look, treating it as mere currency. If we don’t respect it, no one else will either.
This article was originaly published in Haaretz