Israel-Diaspora Relations before Israel

Around the turn of the last century, the idea of “negating the exile”—of breaking free from the habits and attitudes acquired by Jews during their two millennia of diasporic existence—emerged as an important pillar of Zionist thought. But for those living in the Land of Israel before independence, putting this principle into practice posed unexpected challenges. Donna Robinson Divine writes:

Jewish immigrants to Mandatory Palestine carried their customs to the new land, recreating ethnic neighborhoods in their homeland as in the Diaspora, and for the same reason: to ease the turmoil of assimilation. Even those who embraced Zionism’s romantic ideals often found themselves heavily burdened by trying to put theory into practice. Disappointments that backbreaking physical labor did not produce a sense of fulfillment or feelings of intimacy with the land triggered profound feelings of melancholy and a deep sense of personal self-doubt.

Acknowledged individual “failures”—missing home, lapsing into Yiddish, longing for the music of Beethoven and Chopin rather than for the sound of jackals—were often treated not as private troubles but as public issues, violations of Zionism’s sacred norms.

It was one thing to imagine physical labor as the only way to achieve spiritual fulfillment, quite another to experience it as such. . . . It was one thing to do away with religion—another to live without the warmth of family and synagogue, particularly on holidays. It was easy to criticize traditional worship but hard to replace it with something genuine and appealing. It was one thing to denounce rabbis, another to marry without one. It was one thing to denounce religious rituals, another to bury loved ones without them. It was one thing to insist on speaking Hebrew; it was quite another thing to comply with the demand.

There were also political difficulties with negating the exile:

Leaders of many Zionist political parties understood that the wellbeing of their institutions and organizations depended on their success in generating and maintaining loyalty in the Diaspora as well as in the Jewish national home. Their more powerful branches in various countries of Europe sometimes overshadowed even the strongest of Palestine’s political parties. Torn between conflicting needs, these political parties frequently had to respond to demands issued simultaneously from two different continents or sometimes had to establish priorities between them, often beholden to continental trends.

Read more at Fathom

More about: History of Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora, Mandate Palestine

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood