The Lack of a Vision: Utopia and Peace in Israeli Discourse

Article excerpt

Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, many Israeli writers, politicians, and supporters of the peace process described their conceptions of a future peace, depicting different aspects of an imagined Middle East that they believed would be realized in the immediate future. The media was full of such descriptions, which contained visions of prosperity, open markets, high-tech industries, large roads and economic development, restaurants in Ramallah and Damascus, and Israeli projects in Jordan. No more violence, no more anxieties, no more responsibilities: a peaceful land in which Israel will finally be ready for a process of cultural regeneration and for the completion of the socalled political revival of the Jewish people. "Peace" was perceived as a revival of the allegedly original values of Israeli society. Proponents of Oslo produced an image of a just and progressive Jewish-Israeli society that would emerge at the end of occupation and the "end of conflict."

However, none of these Utopian visions were concerned with the fate and the future of even a single child in a Palestinian refugee camp. Of course, many speakers mentioned the advantages of peace for the Palestinians, but it was not the realization of Palestinian self-determination that was celebrated by Israelis, but the return to a homogeneous Jewish society. The idea of peace was to get rid of the Occupation in order to get rid of the Palestinians, in order to recover the Israeli self-image as innocent and progressive, an image that had been seriously damaged by thirty years of occupation, particularly after the first intifada. The "peace process" was not associated with a desire for reconciliation, a vision of equality and partnership between Jews and Arabs, nor a desire for a common future.

On the contrary, the leading concept of the peace process was not the co-existence of two states, but separation. In other words, the idea of a Palestinian state in Israeli discourse was not perceived as a means of fulfilling Palestinian rights, not a vision of co-existence based on the recognition of the responsibility for Palestinian suffering and hope for a peaceful common future for both people. Thus the Israeli vision of peace did not include the intention to undermine the division between Jews and Arabs, but rather to emphasize it. The rationale for the agreements, as the initiator (Yitzhak Rabin) of the Oslo Accords presented it, was to prevent the creation of a binational state, and in fact, to deny any vision and any perspective that includes both IsraeliJews and Palestinians living together in peaceful coexistence.

It is striking to note the similarities between these images of peace and those of early Zionism. Since the late nineteenth century, Zionist writers and artists have produced various Utopian visions. In spite of important differences between them that reflect the versatility of Zionist social and cultural values, they also shared major components: the idea of an Alteneuland, a New Old Land (the title of Herzl's most famous and influential Utopian novel), which would include the revival of the Biblical past within a framework of a modern, western-oriented Jewish secular community, established in opposition to the "Orient," thus bringing the gospel of progress and modernity to the primitive "East." The return was not towards the concrete land, Palestine/Eretz-Yisrael, but to the image of the land associated with European images of the ideal society and state.

The location of this vision was perceived as an "empty land," a land without history since the destruction of the Temple, uncivilized, indeed-a Utopia, a no-land. In Herzl's novel, the Arabs were described as grateful to the Jews who improved their lives and saved them from their primitive conditions. Other writers described the Arabs as representing the ancient Hebrew culture, the one Zionism should imitate. But none of these images considered the desires, hopes, or dreams of the Arabs. …