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  • Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism: Possibilities of Recognition
  • Tamar Hermann (bio)

“Both Palestinian nationalism and Zionism, as concepts, embody the same principle; namely both are nationalist movements based on the requirement of a homeland for their own people.”1 The critical problem, however, seems to be that both have been claiming the same piece of land for their homelands, and thus the source of trouble is more practical than ideological. Contrary to the assumption hidden in this article’s given title, political ideologies do not recognize nor reconcile with each other, nor do they determine who recognizes whom and who reconcile with whom. It is only individuals, and sometimes also collectives, who—metaphorically speaking—initiate or undergo such modifications of relationship. Individuals tend to justify changes in their personal relations by terms that are either emotional (e.g., fallen in love with her, cannot stand him anymore) or based on moral-normative grounds (e.g., he behaved decently, she promised, yet . . .). Collectives, on the other hand, often rely on political ideologies as their justification—or excuse—for moving from one state of relations with another collective to a different state. Yet, as the dominant Political Realist school argues, particularly, although not only, on the collective/national level, inter-relations are first and foremost determined by needs and interests of the actors. Ideologies are just the legitimizing hooks to hang on, not the genuine source of or the motivation for such a change.

Thus, it is unlikely that Great Britain gave up on its empire because it suddenly, in the late 1940s, recognized that the Indians, the Kenyans or the Jews in Palestine are entitled to national self-determination. Similarly, it is difficult to believe that the apartheid regime in South Africa dismantled itself because, out of the blue, in the mid 1990s, its leaders reflected upon and recognized its moral fallacies. More likely, in both cases, the situation reached the point at which the costs of maintaining the status quo became higher than the benefit, even considering the costs involved in changing it. In both cases, however, ideological reasons for the change were sought in order to legitimate it. Therefore, in order to predict the prospects for [End Page 133] mutual recognition and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, the conditions under which the two sides are operating and how they got there are no less, if not more important that their proclaimed ideologies.

This article deals primarily with the Israeli Jewish side, suggesting that the reading of the Zionist “Diktat” has changed dramatically from one period of time to the other, depending on the contemporaneous needs and interests. Therefore, Zionism per se has never been nor will it ever be the factor which enables or, alternatively, impedes peacemaking between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. Actually, like most other ideological “ism”s, Zionism resonates differently with different audiences and in different contexts and times. Thus, in the ears of some it has the pleasant tone of a celebratory national revival movement with few equivalents in terms of its practical achievements. However, to others, it generates the alarming reverberation of racism, occupation and expulsion. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether there has ever been one “Zionism”; rather, in fact, there have always been several “Zionisms”. These “Zionisms” have indeed shared some common postulates, but have contested with each other over many other critical issues, some of which strongly related to the Jewish-Palestinian strife; first and foremost - the territorial issue.

Past Experiences

As it is widely known, Zionism is both a political ideology and a movement which originated in Europe in the late 19th century. It emerged somewhat after the peak of the first wave of modern nationalism which flourished there since the late 18th century. Under this influence, early Zionism reflected in many respects more of the European secular conceptualization of the “nation” notion, with its strong emphasis on territory and sovereignty, than the classical Jewish conceptualization of a “people”, basically spiritually oriented and lacking physical and political foci. The main conceptual pillar of Zionism, shared by all its proponents, was that all Jews, wherever they lived, constituted a nation (i.e., not only a religious or ethnic community...