A Year of Historical Choices – by Uri Zaki Posted January 3, 2017 by Lawrence Joffe


A Year of Anniversaries, A Year of Historical Choices

By Uri Zaki – who is speaking at Meretz UK this Sunday

2017 is going to be a year in which we are about to commemorate many anniversaries for important mile-stones in the history of Zionism: 120 years to the first Zionist Congress in Basel which launched the Zionist movement; 100 years to the Balfour Declaration; 70 years to the United Nations General Assembly’s historical vote on the Partition Plan and the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in Palestine; 50 years to the great victory of the Six Days War, and its ongoing consequence – the military occupation of the Palestinian population in the West Bank.


Meretz leaders at a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv, late 2015, with Uri Zaki pictured far right (bearded, dark shirt)

These are not just mere anniversaries that can be celebrated either in concerts or panels of academic experts, but rather a living history in the making. In order to save the great miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel we need to stop the occupation of the Palestinians in the territories that were occupied 50 years ago.

“At Basel”, Theodor Herzl famously wrote in his diary at the end of the first Zionist Congress, “I founded the Jewish State”, adding that “If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it”. Indeed, 50 years after his prediction, the UN declared that a Jewish state shall be stablished.

From the dawn of Zionism in 1897, there were two pillars of the envisioned future state: it would be a Jewish homeland and it would be a democracy. The forefathers and foremothers of our national movement have all shared this vision: from Herzl himself, Weizmann, Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky. When Israel was founded, these were the two pillars on which it was created. Despite the fact that there is an obvious tension between a national-ethnical-religious character and the basic principles of democracy, Israel succeeded to maintain a robust democracy, even under grim existential security threats, which caused many other democracies to collapse in similar situations.

Nonetheless, 50 years after it occupied the West Bank, in order to remain a democratic Jewish homeland, Israel has to withdraw from it. If we will not do this soon, we will no longer be able to maintain the two pillars on which Israel was built.

In order to keep the territories and remain a democracy, Israel will have to grant the three million Palestinians living under its control full rights including the right to vote. Given the current demographics in the Israeli controlled area, sovereign Israel and the West Bank, this will lead to a Bi-national state. 

In other words, in order to keep Israel Jewish, it will have to stop being democratic.

Indeed, for five decades we have been living with this dichotomy. On one side of the Green Line – the pre-67 border – Israel is a democracy, while beyond it millions of Palestinians live under a “belligerent occupation”. This façade is no longer viable. The first reason to this is the settlement enterprise which created a situation in which at the same geographical area two ethnic populations are living under two different legal systems – one group, the Palestinians, lacks the most basic rights: freedom of movement, freedom of speech. Thousands of them have been imprisoned without trial, and all are suffering from lack of basic resources such as sufficient water supply. The other group, the settlers, enjoys all the rights and privileges that a democracy can offer.

The second reason for the peril that occupation represents is that a nation cannot keep the practices of occupation for so long, without them penetrating its political culture. Accordingly, it is not surprising that lately there are growing attacks from the Israeli government on freedom of speech, the media, the judiciary, the civil society and of course on minorities.

Judea and Samaria are the cradle of the Jewish civilization. I deeply understand the pioneer passion of the settlers to include them in the reviving Jewish homeland. They are my brothers, and certainly not my enemies. Nonetheless, the settlement enterprise is an enemy of the existence of Israel that we know and love.    

In the last 100 years the Palestinians have made many mistakes. Many times they chose violence and terror instead of a political path. Their current leadership denounces terror and is actively working with the Israeli security forces to prevent it. A responsible Israeli leadership should stop building and expending the settlements and promote a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians which will include an establishment of a Palestinian state. This is the true national existential interest of the state of Israel, which will ensure 120 years and many more of Zionist future.  

  • Uri Zaki is the President of the Israeli Meretz Party’s Governing Assembly
  • And also Fellow at the Emile Zola Chair for Human Rights at the College of Management Academic Studies, Israel
  • He will be a giving a talk on Sunday, January 8, at Hashomer House, 37a Broadhurst Gardens, London NW6 3QT