The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute will not come overnight, but a crucial pre-condition is an understanding in Israel of the need to have a stable partner not an enemy across its fine boundaries. Stand back from the passions of the Gaza withdrawal and look for a moment at the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from an unfamiliar viewpoint: the concept of the healthy nation-state.
Western colonialists introduced the idea of the nation-state to the middle east, but it has never gained deep or solid acceptance there. Rejection of it abated during the cold war because it fitted the designs of the two superpowers, but since that period, hostility to the nation-state has re-emerged stronger than ever. This, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons behind the contemporary phenomena of Islamist terrorism and failed states.
The inhabitants of the middle east still conceive their identities more in religious, sectarian and ethnic terms, than as nations. Embracing pan-Arabist and Islamist ideology has also played a significant role in weakening the nation-state through offering some illusory alternatives. We see obvious examples of this in places like Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan.
The nation-state at play: Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine
In Iraq and Lebanon, this vacuum has left the way open to fundamentalist and Iranian state influence, which threatens numerous Arab countries and Israeli interests as well. Israel could help contain the situation, not from any altruistic concern for its neighbours, but principally for its own sake. It could do so by working to establish a Palestinian state as a peaceful neighbour on its borders.
However chilly Egyptian-Israeli relations may be, the so-called cold peace between them was the first in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and twenty-six years on, it has proven the most resilient. In contrast, the Lebanese situation is still one of the most intractable in the region, despite Israels unilateral withdrawal from the south of the country in 2000.
More by Hazem Saghieh on openDemocracy: Lebanons election, no solution (June 2005)
Rafiq Hariris murder: why do Lebanese blame Syria? (February 2005)
Al-Jazeera: the world through Arab eyes (June 2004)
Enough revolution (April 2004)
How has this come about? Out of all the Arab countries, Egypt fits the model of the nation-state most closely, while Lebanon, with its weak state and sectarian divisions, fits the model least well. This goes against the views of many Arabs and Israelis who, for contradictory reasons, believe that Israel benefits from the disintegration of its Arab neighbouring countries.
In the age of globalisation, freedom of movement, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the collapse of one society can easily affect others nearby. In such a situation, one cannot rely on separation walls to prevent crises. To delay the creation of a Palestinian state would be dangerous not only for the Palestinians, but for others as well.
Mother before justice
Israels weakness as a nation-state is something that we should always bear in mind: its borders are ambiguous, while the law of return blurs the distinction between Israeli citizens and Jews living elsewhere. For far-sighted Israelis, their countrys demographic make-up must also be a cause for concern: a mixture of European, Sephardic, and Russian Jews, alongside an Arab population of around 20% (and growing), in which no group has a clear majority.
It is true that the most intensive period of suicide bombings in Israel led many moderate Israelis to place their mother before justice, as Albert Camus once did, commenting on the French-Algerian war. This reaction was understandable, even if it meant incomprehensibly turning a blind eye to the terrible suffering of the Palestinians, the house demolitions, and the land seizures.
However, suicide attacks have since abated, and the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly demonstrated its moderation, pragmatism, and readiness to fulfil its commitments. All this leads one to question the willingness of Israeli public opinion to link the withdrawal from Gaza with the roadmap. Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, and official Israeli statements about annexing the main settlement blocks, make it difficult to be optimistic.
Israeli public opinion must stand up to these policies, which seek a withdrawal from Gaza only so that Israel can swallow up large chunks of the West Bank. If there is no such opposition, as there was to the war in Lebanon, the Israeli public will be complicit in blocking the formation of a Palestinian state and denying stability to Israel itself and to the rest of the middle east.
The sense of justice among Israelis is needed as much as rationality from the Palestinians. Both are required more than ever.
Get our weekly email