Israelis largely support calls for Palestinian state, say protesters
Claims backed by survey showing that 70% of Israelis believe country should accept decision if UN votes in favour of move
Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv
The Guardian, Thursday 22 September 2011
It is the exact spot where the new sovereign state was declared. But the year was 1948 and the state was Israel.
Now new officers in the Israeli army are brought to Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as part of their education in the history of the Jewish state.
On the day before Mahmoud Abbas was expected to launch his bid for a Palestinian state, guide Amir Rimon 28, was lecturing a group of young soldiers under one of Rothschild's broad ficus trees.
"We come [here] to remind ourselves of the values on which our state was founded," he said. The Declaration of Independence, read by David Ben-Gurion 63 years ago, said Palestinians would be equals in the fledgling country.
"I think we need to recognise a Palestinian state. Many of the soldiers agree with me – it's 50-50," Rimon added. A recent poll conducted by the Hebrew University found that 70% of Israelis believe that if the UN votes in favour of a Palestinian state, Israel should accept the decision. This is not the position of the Israeli government.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists there can be no peace if the Palestinians follow a unilateral path at the UN. On Wednesday, President Obama threw his weight behind this position.
But on Rothschild Boulevard, alternative Israeli voices are being raised. More than 80 prominent Israeli intellectuals gathered outside Independence Hall on Thursday. They were led by author Sefi Rachlevski, to declare their support for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
"We will have an affect because we represent the real Jewish Zionist heritage and what we're saying is obvious: Palestine, you don't need our permission to have a state. Negotiations on its borders can follow," said Rachlevski.
Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer was among signatories to the declaration. He argued that the establishment of two independent neighbouring states was the only solution, and that it is an outcome that would be supported by the majority of Israelis.
But he warned it would be met with an armed rebellion by the rightwing, nationalist orthodox minority: "The fear I have of is not so much that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will march to the 1967 borders. I am afraid of the violent orthodox who have openly established a separate entity [in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory]. They pose the real danger to Israel."
As the intellectuals launched their protest at Independence Hall, at the opposite end of Rothschild, a few dozen tents and a thriving herb garden were all that remained of Israel's summer of demos. This was the hub of a nationwide call for change that rallied thousands of Israelis.
Palestinian activists note that this unprecedented protest conspicuously ignored the occupation. It proved too divisive an issue for organisers to press upon.
Protest leader Dror Shalom, 35, insisted criticism of the occupation was implicit in their challenge to Netanyahu's rightwing government. The majority of people who protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he said, would extend their calls for justice to Palestinians.
Shalom said: "Palestine is a country and it has been for years. We know where the Palestinian state will be, which is where it is now. We will have to evacuate a few thousand Israelis and that's it."
Shalom believed the majority of Israelis accept a Palestinian state is inevitable, whether it is declared unilaterally or reached through negotiations. Like Bauer, he identified the obstacle as Israel's powerful, nationalist religious lobby and its disproportionate influence over Netanyahu's rightwing government.
He added: "We love Israel and are worried about the direction it is headed. It was our intention at the last big protest to revise Israel's Declaration of Independence."