Many nations have a deep kernel that never changes, despite changing fashions and historical modes of dress. This kernel is connected to religion, myth and culture. During some periods, the kernel is covered, pushed aside and even suppressed. But in moments of crisis or historical transition, the deep foundation breaks out and rises from the abyss to loom over all the rational calculations that are based on “ordinary” geopolitical assessments.
The Middle East and Mediterranean cultures are the cradle of Western civilization, and because of that we cannot describe the conflict and the relationships between countries here only in “flat” terms. A century ago, Turkey turned toward the Western world after the Kemalist revolution. The depth of change was apparently almost irreversible. The religion and ancient myths of the Turkish people were quarantined. Even the writing was changed to Latin characters. The country’s face was turned toward the West. But in history, a century is a short amount of time. At the end of that critical century in the life of the Turkish nation, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamic Movement rose up, bringing back the deep religious and mythical power that had been biding its time.
This is also true of how the Sept. 11 attacks are regarded. It seems that the terror attacks were surprising to those who thought of the end of civilization or of Israel as the focal point of the conflagration that nourished worldwide terrorism. The terror attacks brought extremist Islam up out of the abyss and along the way aroused ancient powers that see the West and the freedom that it represents as absolute evil.
Israeli thinking in diplomacy and in politics is based mainly on rationalism and on realpolitik that takes only practical considerations into account. “Two people grasp a cloak. One says, ‘It’s all mine,’ and the other says, ‘It’s all mine.’ Is this not the political situation in our region? (True, some Israelis say ‘It’s half mine’ from the start; are there no Arabs who do the same?) The ancient Jewish answer to that is “Let them divide it.” Of course, under certain conditions. But this is logical thinking. The Arab answer was -- how to put it -- give us half and then we will fight you for the other half. Yes, after we went back home, it turned out that our region has different ways of thinking that are not necessarily Western -- for example, the idea that not every problem has a solution, and sometimes one has to let time and history solve matters. Or not.
It is not only in personal psychology, but also in politics and in history that we can (and should) talk about the conscious and the unconscious. Beneath realpolitik lies the nation’s political unconscious, which has no less, and perhaps more, of an effect on how matters are managed. Because of that, in any political negotiation that is carried on in a universal language, one must also take into account the language’s unconscious, that which is not said during the meeting but is present there in all its power.
The problem of the West (and also of the liberals among us) is that there is no room for the lack of a solution. In addition, since the Renaissance, and even more so since the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, religion and myth have been pushed aside and remain in the hands of the masses or in departments of folklore. This is neglect, and sometimes constitutes ignorance about the place of national foundation myths in the daily lives of citizens and also in the way in which the government manages policy.
Judea and Samaria, and particularly Jerusalem, are not only places, as important as they are. Their markings are deeper than any sea. They are the cradle of the Jewish nation. These regions, which represent not only the nation’s history but also its God in the national ethos, are the flipside of the coin of the Hebrew idea: nation and religion. Together they combine to form a powerful myth. Not a myth in the sense of popular slang, not a fictional story -- on the contrary, a myth in the original sense of the word: the formative story of a nation. From this perspective, Jerusalem is not only a place, but a profound idea, which represents the reason for the existence of Zionism, which comes from the word “Zion,” and the war over it, therefore, is being waged for Jewish existence.
The Palestinian initiative to seek independence from the U.N. has no connection to independence or to the establishment of any state. I trust the statements of many experts that the Palestinians are not really interested in a state. The truth is that the planned announcement at the U.N. is part of the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. This is no positive request for Palestinian independence -- otherwise, they would have long ago accepted historic proposals -- but rather a negative desire to negate the right of the Jews to a country of their own. Since 1947, most of the Jewish nation has agreed to various partition proposals, while the Palestinians have consistently refused. Over the past decade, two offers were made to them that could have ended the prolonged conflict -- Ehud Barak’s at Camp David in 2000, and Ehud Olmert’s in 2007-8. These far-reaching offers even included Jerusalem and the right of return. As far as many people were concerned, these were reckless proposals, but the Palestinians turned them down as well.
What is the root of the Arab refusal to the various offers of compromise, the refusal that the liberals among us refuse, in their blindness, to accept? Beneath the surface bubble the ancient myths, sabotaging all possibilities of a rational agreement. The Arab myth speaks of the supremacy of Islam over all other religions and nations, a supremacy that has political ramifications concerning a way of life solely under the rule of Islam, about the land of Israel as belonging to an inalienable Muslim trust, about the seventh century, the century of Islamic conquests, with a longing to reinstate them. The way they regard agreements with the West, and particularly with Israel, is reminiscent of the agreement that Muhammad made with the members of the Quraysh, an agreement he violated with cruelty.
School textbooks in Arab countries are based on these ideas. The relatively new Palestinian myth, which is becoming more powerful, among other reasons, because of encouragement by Israelis, speaks of the “Nakba” (“Catastrophe”) and of the demand to return to the places that were destroyed. No leader, great as he may be, can abolish his nation’s formative myths.
The Palestinian story is more complex because there is really no ethnic or national connection between the Arabs of Gaza and the Arabs of Nablus, or between the latter and the Arabs of Hebron, many of whom are the descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Islam and still keep the customs of forced converts without knowing their source. The name “Palestine” was given by the Roman Empire in the second century in order to blot out all connection between the Jews and their land. The Romans maliciously turned the land of the Jews into Philistia. The Philistines had come from the Greek islands approximately one thousand years before and vanished into the mists of history. The Palestinians adopted a mythical identity as a counterweight to the Jewish people’s national nucleus.
The Palestinians did not agree to the partition proposals because any agreement for them means the end of the conflict and the recognition of the Jews’ right to part of their ancient homeland, a recognition that is tantamount to harming the roots of their existence. Instead, they have asked for unilateral recognition without having to give something in exchange. Although the announcement will not change the situation on the ground, it does require us to bring our ancient myths to Israeli diplomacy. The discourse should revolve not only around security, but also around the rights of the Jewish people.