by Daniel Bar-Tal
This double issue on national identity is devoted to a weighty subject that is crucial for all of us in this region. National identity is often a force that dominates conflict between peoples, not least in the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. Nevertheless, it can also be a concept that provides meaning and motivation for people everywhere to conduct an active struggle for the realization of shared ideas, emotions and values.
While in its modern meaning, national identity emerged only in the last two hundred years, the concept of nation has been in use for more than two thousands years. It originated in ancient times, especially in association with the city-state concept. The word used in English, "nation," derives from Latin "to be born." Today, national identity does not only imply self-categorization as a member of a "nation" or self-identification with a nation. Other key elements construct (in Benedict Andersonís words) an "imagined community," including a sense of belonging, unity, loyalty and solidarity. In addition, national identity implies a whole range of contents, requirements, and forces that accompany this social-political phenomenon.
The contents of an identity include all the shared goals, ideas, narratives, collective memories, societal beliefs, holidays, commemorations, rituals and myths that give meaning to the notion of national identity. The requirements refer to the goals set by national identity that need to be fulfilled through, for example, the achievement of independence and self¨determination, or the establishment of a nation-state. When we speak of forces, we refer to activities that are inherent in the construction of national identity - among them are mobilization for achievement of national goals and readiness to make sacrifices for a nationís sake.
Often, two or more national identities collide over self-determination, territories, narratives, myths, rights and goals. And sometimes this leads to intractable conflict. In such a case, one nation constructs a notion that
its own national identity is threatened as long as another national identity exists. This was so in the case of Jews and Palestinians who, for many years, negated the existence of each other. Now the time of denial has passed, and much progress has been made toward better mutual understanding and recognition. But there are still many antagonistic elements within each national group that contribute to perpetuating the conflict, since they assume that the two sides have totally opposed national goals and contradictory collective memories.
The core of the conflict is this: Jews have already fulfilled their goal and established the State of Israel, while the Palestinians are still struggling to fulfill their aspirations. At present, Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation and are striving to realize an objective derived directly from their national identity - the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This asymmetry in national fulfillment should be a concern to both nations. Only the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the territories that Israel conquered during the 1967 war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem) will correct the asymmetry. More and more people are becoming convinced that establishing such a state not only serves the interests of the Palestinian people but also the interests of the Israeli people - indeed of the entire international community.
First and foremost, the fulfillment of Palestinian national aspirations will mean an end to the occupation, which by all moral standards is unjustified, pernicious and brutal. It will also correct a historical debt, since the Palestinian state was supposed to have been founded decades ago. It is the only way to ensure the security to which all Israelis and Palestinians aspire.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict does not have to be of zero sum nature and irreconcilable, as some leaders and groups on both sides present it. Such an irreconcilable characteristic, however, is not inherent in the . conflict; rather, it is constructed by human beings who do not have the desire to resolve it peacefully by making the necessary compromises that will satisfy the goals and needs of both nations. While progress obviously depends on the two parties, in the present stage of the conflict the Israeli government holds many more of the political cards than does the Palestinian National Authority.
No doubt progress in political negotiations would provide hope to both nations and decrease the violence. Almost invariably, negotiations between rival nations in the world on reducing violence in the past decades were carried out under conditions of violence. Thus, the Israeli government has made unrealistic demands for "quiet" while its own policies are instigating waves of violence precisely at a time when a reduction of terror is within reach. This leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the present Israeli government lacks a sincere desire to offer anything realistic in its negotiations with the Palestinians. Instead, it is searching for excuses to avoid serious negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state. However, a state and no less than a state is what the Palestinian nation merits in order to forge an ultimate meaning to its national identity.
We call on all peace-loving political forces in the region and in the world that believe in the necessity of negotiation and dialogue to help both nations restore their hopes for peace. Otherwise, the present agonizing cycles of violence and bloodshed would only lead to a dead end. Peaceful coexistence between two independent nation-states is the only viable alternative.