Truth: The Holocaust, Lehavdel, and al-Nakba
Ian S. Lustick
University of Pennsylvania
The most unfortunate aspect of the failed Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 was not the failure to produce a signed peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Afterall, this was the very first time the two sides had actually faced the toughest issues between themborders, settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees. The odds against such a spectactular success on the first attempt were enormous. As is known, the summit failed to produce a final agreement and efforts to revive the talks collapsed under the weight of the violence that erupted following Ariel Sharons visit to the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif in September, the heavy handed response of Israeli police and soldiers, and the intense, long-simmering discontent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nor can one count as the most unfortunate aspect of this failure the hundreds of fatalities that have occurred, nor the thousands of lives broken in body or in spirit, nor the economic wreckage of the violence, nor the reinforcing spirals of distrust and hatred that have been triggered, nor even the ascendance of a government in Israel whose leader 1son record as thoroughly opposed to any of the compromises that could conceivably undergird a workable agreement with the Palestinians. No, the single most unfortunate aspect of the Camp David failure is the widely believed, terribly consequential, but utterly wrong idea that Israeli proposals more than met minimum Palestinian requirements, and that the true impossibility of reaching a peaceful two state solution was demonstrated by Arafats rejection of the proffered solution, epitomized by his insistence on implementing the "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees. That is to say, the propaganda victory which the Israel government, with President Clintons strong assistance, gained after Camp David, will cost both Israelis and Palestinians dearly in terms of the time and political difficulty it will take to bring the Israeli polity back to the point of realizing the necessity and possibility of achieving peace by establishing two real states in the country.
Clearing away the misimpressions, calculatedly exaggerated interpretations, and obfuscatory recrimination that have filled the air since the demise of Camp David is itself a tremendous analytic, communicative, and political task. Some of the necessary work is proceeding. Tragically, the suffering in the streets of Israeli cities and the rubble of so many Palestinian cities and villages, is likely a necessary element in the preparation of Israeli and Palestinian audiences receptive to renewed attempts to achieve a negotiated peace based on the "Clinton parameters."
In this context, of a struggle to gather the shards of possibilities scattered across the post-Oslo landscape, it is worth considering certain aspects of the Camp David II experience that have received less attention than is their due. Among these is one particular demand made by the Palestinian side regarding return of refugees. Although most commentators have focused on the demand for return itself and the complex set of options that might be used to parse, distribute, and effectively limit the right, one of the most significant aspects of the negotiations was the demand that Israel formally acknowledge its moral responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1948. Indeed, it appears that the Barak government was prepared to issue a statement of some sort that would announce its regret for the suffering entailed, and perhaps to acknowledge that it shared responsibility for the tragedy. But it would not agree to accept primary responsibility for the expulsion of the Palestinians and their status as refugees.
More interesting than this refusal, is the reason most commonly offered for it. According to David Schenker, in an article published during the Camp David summit itself, Israeli rejection of Palestinian demands for "formal Israeli apology and admission of responsibility for the refugee crisis" were being rejected out of a belief that to do so "would leave the Jewish state exposed to future financial and emigration claims." ()
What was most significant about this rationale for rejecting the Palestinian claims was that they were not rejected because they were deemed to be false. Nor were they rejected because it was considered that to accept them, to acknowledge responsibility and offer an apology, would not have contributed toward peace and reconciliation. On the contrary, in official Israeli arguments that too many economic and legal liabilities would arise from offering such public and official statements, one hears an implicit acceptance of the justice and appropriateness, if not the practicality, of the Palestinian demand. In this light it is unsurprising that in the follow-up negotiations at Taba between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, in the fall of 2000, attention was directly focused on the practical means for addressing the refugee problem, including the kind of language that would be included in an Israeli declaration regarding the events of 1948.
The main purpose of this essay is to highlight the political significance of these discussions by considering the negotiations between Israel, the World Jewish Congress, and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1951, prior to the beginning of German reparations payments and prior to the onset of diplomatic relations between Israel and West Germany. After saying "lehavdel" one thousand times, we may yet see in the agony of Jews, wrestling with the challenge of settling for infinitely less than the justice and retribution for which they yearned, an instructive "limiting case" for analyzing the distress of the Palestinians--called upon to abandon their struggle for justice, who seek public acknowledgment by Israel of the evil inflicted on them as an element in a comprehensive peace package. And after another thousand "lehavdels" we may also learn from the artful avoidances and measured doses of truth contained in Konrad Adenauers speech before the Bundestag in September 1951. From that carefully orchestrated speech, we can learn something about how necessary, but how limited and symbolic, will be the Israeli proclamation that will enable a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to contribute its share to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is the same sort of analysis that Israels first Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett, used to suggest, in 1952, "transferring some of the money [from German reparations] to the Palestinian refugees, in order to rectify what has been called the small injustice (the Palestinian tragedy), caused by the more terrible one (the Holocaust)."
In its early years Israels economic situation was extremely difficult, although not desperate. As early as 1945 Weizmann and others had considered the possibility of obtaining substantial financial support for the building of the Jewish state and its economic consolidation by demanding compensation for the property of murdered European Jews. Just one month after the end of World War II Weizmann sent the four powers occupying Germany a demand for title to what he estimated to be $8 billion worth of property whose owners had died in the Holocaust. The allies did respond to this overture, though only in the amount of $25 million, to be allocated to many Jewish relief organizations. Of more significance than the amount of the demand and Weizmanns failure was that it was not directed toward the Germans, but toward the allied powers occupying Germany. Thus there was no question of receiving property directly from the German state, nation, or collectivity and no issue, at that point, of whether acceptance of economic support from Germany was morally acceptable.
In 1948 the dominant view in Israel was categorical rejection of any contact with Germany or Germans and a strong tendency to view the Germany of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who himself had been anti-Nazi, no more acceptable a point of contact for Jews as the Nazi regime. As Tom Segev reports, "(t)he foreign ministry stamped on every Israeli passport in English, a notification that the document was not valid in Germany. The Government Press Office announced that Israelis who settled in Germany permanently would not be allowed to return." But many individual Jews, especially German Jews who had private property, business, and personal ties to Germany, did established contactscontacts that required regularization. And with the West accepting the Federal Republic of Germany into diplomatic, economic, and political relationships, it became increasingly awkward, and even impossible, for Israel to maintain the kind of fierce ostracism and boycott that the emotions of most Jews in Israel still demanded.
Closed discussions within the Foreign Ministry in late 1949 and 1950 focused on the importance of using Germanys need for Israeli goodwill, while that need existed, in order to receive substantial economic resources for Israels development. The primary task was to find a diplomatic and public relations formula that would alleviate the moral distress of establishing relations with Germany and accepting German money. No Israeli leader argued that accepting reparations would close the moral account of the Jewish people with Germany. What was argued was the practical importance of getting sizeable German payments while they were available. Segev describes the attitude of Moshe Shapira, Mnister of the Interior, Health, and Immigration, as representative"everything depended on how much money was at stake (for) it would be pointless to soil oneself with the taint of German contact for a pittance, but if the sum was substantial, it might well be worthwhile."
In fact the amount of money involved was not the only factor. In order to publicly consider the question of amounts, Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish leaders required a proclamation by the leadership of the Federal Republic of Germanysome kind of public declaration of contrition that would express the German nations acknowledgement of and sorrow for the suffering of the Jews at German hands as well as its condemnation of Nazi policies, but that would not require any explicit words of "forgiveness" on the Jewish side.
In March 1951, Ben-Gurions government delivered a note to the four occupying powers, demanding $1.5 billion as a German indemnity, making clear "that no amount of material compensation would ever expiate the Nazi crimes against the Jews." All that resulted was a suggestion that Israel approach Germany directly. When direct (and highly secret) contacts began between Israel and Germany in April 1951, the Israelis demanded $1.5 billion and a "ceremonial act" expressing Germanys acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon the Jews during the Holocaust. Although Adenauer did not immediately agree to the amount, and although he claimed to have already condemned Nazi crimes on many occasions, he accepted the Israeli demand for a solemn expression of Germanys moral perspective on the Holocaust. Negotiations then proceeded between the Adenauer government on the one hand, and the Government of Israel and the World Jewish Congress on the other, over the wording of the declaration to be made by Adenauer on behalf of the German people. These negotiations proceeded simultaneously with discussions over exact amounts and mechanisms of payment.
In some respects these negotiations are reminiscent of the negotiations between the World Zionist Organization and the British Cabinet over the wording of what eventually was issued as the "Balfour Declaration." In both cases the Jewish/Zionist side suggested drafts for the proclamations to be made by the British and German governments that included much more detailed and specific language than the British (in 1917) or the Germans (in 1951) were willing to include. In both cases, the Jewish/Zionist desire for success in the negotiations was so strong, however, that it was willing to accept much watered down versions of a draft submitted to the British Government by the Zionists. In 1917 the Zionists swallowed the excision of references to a Jewish state, to Palestine (all of Palestine) becoming the Jewish state, to recognition of the sole leadership position of the World Zionist Organization, to the Zionist vision of the state as "reconstituting" Jewish sovereignty in the country, etc. The Zionists also accepted the inclusion of unwanted references to the rights of non-Jews in Palestine and to Jews in other countries. In 1951 Israeli negotiators pushed Adenauer to include references in his speech to the guilt of the German people, the existence of groups in Germany still actively anti-semitic, the role of the German Army in the Holocaust, and the innocence of the people killed by the Nazis. They also wanted an explicit reference to Israel. Adenauer did accept many adjustments in his original draft, but refused to describe the German nation as "guilty of the extermination of the Jews." He refused to mention Israel by name and also refused to include an explicit reference to the "innocence" of the victims.
The atmosphere around Adenauers declaration to the Bundestag, on September 27, 1951, was heavy and tense. German public opinion appears to have been opposed to paying much of anything to the Jews, and Adenauers negotiations with Germans appear to have been as difficult as his negotiations with the Jews. Although the negotiations had been conducted in strict secrecy, word had leaked out. After the speech it would be clear how fiercely opposed was Israeli public opinion to any deal with Germany.
Here is the crucial paragraph of Adenauers speecha speech followed by three minutes of silence with all members of the Bundestag standing.
The government of the Federal Republic and with it the great majority of the German people are aware of the immeasurable suffering that was brought upon the Jews in Germany and the occupied territories during the time of National Socialism. The overwhelming majority of the German people abominated the crimes committed against the Jews and did not participate in them. During the National Socialist time, there were many among the German people who showed their readiness to help their Jewish fellow citizens at their own perilfor religious reasons, from distress of conscience, out of shame at the disgrace of the German name. But unspeakable crimes have been committed in the name of the German people, calling for moral and material indemnity, both with regard to the individual harm done to the Jews and with regard to the Jewish property for which no legitimate individual claimants still exist.
In relation to what we know now, and was believed then, about Holocaust and the involvement, support, or acquiescence of the majority of Germans in the war against the Jews, this statement would seem to offer very little in the way of acknowledged truth, condemnation, contrition, or apology. Two of its four sentences describe the opposition of the "overwhelming majority" of Germans to the Nazis extermination policies and the efforts of "many" to protect Jews. Nor does the statement include words that point clearly toward an admission of guilt (at this point most German adults had also been adults during the Nazi period), sentiments of contrition or repentance, or an apology. The most that can be said is that some of these sentiments may be inferred from the description of "unspeakable crimes committed in the name of the German people, calling for moral and material indemnity."
The thinness of this symbolic declaration is what is most striking. Yosef Sprinzak, Speaker of the Knesset, denounced the negotiations that ensured as "morally absurd." The Maariv and Yediot Acharonot newspapers, along with the communist Kol Haam and Herut, were fiercely opposed. In an editorial entitled "Amalek," published a week after Adenauers speech, the editor of Maariv wrote that "a true peace movement will arise in the world, and it will ensure peace in Europe by eradicating Germany from the face of the earth." Mapam mobilized former partisans and ghetto fighters to oppose the negotiations. In a newspaper poll, 80% of 12,000 respondents registered their opposition. Declaring that "Every German is a Nazi. Every German is a murdered. Adenauer is a murderer All his assistants are murderers," Menachem Begin led an enraged crowd on a violent assault against the Knessetbattling with police, overturning cars, shattering store windows. Stones, broken glass, and tear gas forced an end to Knesset deliberations. Hundreds were wounded; hundreds more arrested.
As thin as Adenauers "ceremonial act" was, and as violent and widespread was the opposition to reconciliation of any kind with Germany, the Bundestag speech, combined with the promise of substantial resources for Israel and non-Israeli Jews, was sufficient. Israeli politicians used the semblance of truth, condemnation, and contrition offered by Adenauer imaginatively and energetically. Ben-Gurion never tired of repeating that Adenauer represented the "New Germany." To counter fierce criticism that no amount of money could represent adequate indemnification for millions of murdered Jews, Foreign Minister Sharrett made much of his choice of "shilumim" (payments) rather than "pitzuiim" (compensation for injury) to describe the reparations. Government ministers denounced Begins march on the Knesset as a mob attack on Israeli democracy, helping to transform the raging controversy over accepting "blood money" into a contest over the rule of law in the Jewish state. To achieve a positive vote in the Knesset, Mapai insisted on party discipline, while freeing most of its parliamentarians from having to explicitly vote for reparations by contriving a resolution which did not endorse the reparations negotiations, but left it up to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee to do so. Subsequent negotiations resulted in an agreement by September 1952. The Luxemburg Treaty was signed on September 10, 1952, by the representatives of Israel, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the World Jewish Congress. It has been meticulously implemented, resulting in payments of $60-80 billion worth of payments in cash and in kind to Israel and to individual survivors and their families.
There is much to be learned from this episode for gaining perspective on what is achievable, useful, and/or likely in the Israeli-Palestinian casemuch more than can be assessed in this brief essay. It bears repeating, however, that such learning in no way can be interpreted as suggesting that the Holocaust and el-nakba were intrinsically similar events. The Holocaust was the result of a systematic, premeditated plan for genocide. The creation of the Palestinian refugee problem was attendant upon the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and refusal to allow them to return. It was a tragic and unjust and opportunistically accelerated unfolding of the logic of circumstances.
This fundamental difference certainly make it difficult to compare efforts of Germans and Jews on the one hand, and Israelis and Palestinians on the other, to achieve reconciliation based in part on truth, apology, and/or political or economic compensation. Much work would be required to sort out the differences that would make one more optimistic about prospects for Israeli-Palestinian success. Certainly the greater scale of horror in the German-Jewish case might lead to the conclusion that Jewish/Israeli-German reconciliation would be much harder to achieve than Israeli-Palestinian.
Other factors work in the opposite direction. Compensation paid to Israel and to individual victims of Nazism had a largely positive, invigorating effect on the German economy and greatly improved its political and diplomatic posture. While peace with the Palestinians would most certainly improve Israels economic prospects and its international standing, satisfying Palestinian political demands and demands for return of refugees will pose threats to Israeli/Jewish demographic, political, and security interests that the German agreement with Israel did not pose for Germany.
The Nazi regime was destroyed in a war of its own making. Its successor acknowledges it was German, but traces no political, moral, or ideological ancestry to it. Governments in Israel arise as products of a regime that proudly represents itself as the creation of those same events, in 1948, which produced the experience of el-nakba for the Palestinians. Most Germans quickly drew back from denying or defending the Nazi war against the Jews, and debates over "revisionist" interpretations of the Holocaust are marginal affairs compared to the widespread conception among Germans and others of the Holocaust as an icon for the greatest crime which could be committed by one people against another. In Israel, "revisionist" histories have greatly increased Israeli appreciation of the suffering of Palestinians in 1948 and the injustice of acts of expulsion and of enforced exile that produced and have maintained that suffering. Still, these "findings" have not achieved the emotionally reassuring status (for Palestinians) of official truth in Israel (though they are much more widely accepted outside of Israel).
In the final analysis, however, it is the overwhelming difference in the character and extent of the crimes committed which mark these cases as so different. If we can learn from such comparison it must be precisely because of, not in spite of, this enormous difference. In effect, the reparations agreement, or at least the formulation used by Adenauer and agreed to by Israel for the symbolic statements that would make that agreement possible, serves as a limiting case. Given that it is virtually impossible to imagine a more horrible crime committed by one nation against another than that which Nazi Germany committed against the Jews, we may therefore infer that: A) if at least a workable form of reconciliation has been possible between Israel and Germany, it cannot be said to be impossible with regard to Israel and Palestine; B) if official and symbolic acts as restrained, self-serving, and historically pallid as the formula read out by Adenauer could be adequate to the political task, it may not be necessary for a future Israeli government to explicitly and fully acknowledge the detailed injustice meted out to the Palestinians in order for its "ceremonial act" to play a crucial political and psychological role.
Despite the despair and panic that now afflict many of those who aspire to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, in light of the relatively low standard set by the German-Israeli case, we may find some encouragement in the progress that was made between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2000. Prior to his departure for the Camp David summit, in July 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak stipulated to his Cabinet the four "red lines" he would not cross during negotiations with the Palestinians. One of the four was: "No Israeli recognition of legal or moral responsibility for creating the refugee problem." This formulation is interesting in several respects. First, it implies that there is an outstanding demand for an Israeli declaration on the events of 1948 from the Palestinian side that stands apart from their material or political requirements. Second, it does not explicitly rule out some kind of response to this demand, short of formally accepting "legal or moral responsibility." Third, it opens the door for formulas about what occurred in 1948 that would include shared Israeli responsibility, Israeli sorrow and compassion for the plight of Palestinian refugees, acknowledgement of mistakes made and false propaganda employed that increased the number of refugees, aggravated their emotional and psychological difficulties, and readiness on the part of Israel to contribute materially and politically to a comprehensive solution to the refugee question in all its parts. Such exquisite parsing of Baraks statement, to accentuate the opening it gave to negotiations despite the sparse and negative form it took, can be justified by considering the speech Barak gave before the Knesset on October 4, 1999, expressing "regret for the suffering caused for the Palestinian people." how one other of the four red lines, viz. "A united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty" could just weeks later be interpreted as consistent with Israeli proposals that envisioned an end to Israeli sovereignty claims over most of "el-Quds."
On the Palestinian side traditional demands for the complete return of all refugees were advanced in response to initial bargaining positions by Barak regarding Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and mere "administrative autonomy" arrangements for Palestinians in Arab neighborhoods of expanded East Jerusalem. But these were effectively, if not formally, withdrawn as Israeli positions loosenedreflecting Palestinian focus on the truth of Palestinian suffering as a consequence of Israels creation, on the crucial need for unlimited immigration into the Palestinian state, and on a symbolic opportunity for return of some 1948 refugees to territory inside the Green Line.
In the joint statement released by the Palestinian and Israeli delegations at the conclusion of the Taba negotiations, the refugee issue was included as one of those four crucial questions which had been addressed and with respect to which gaps still remained. Nevertheless these gaps were said to have narrowed sufficiently to warrant the belief that "in a short period of time and given an intensive effort and the acknowledgment of the essential and urgent nature of reaching an agreement, it will be possible to bridge the differences remaining and attain a permanent settlement of peace."
Despite the reports of various participants, no official record of what was or was not agreed upon at Taba has been released. However, in the summer of 2001, Le Monde published what appears to be a rather accurate record of the final positions of the two sides. In many respects they correspond to the "Clinton Parameters"thirteen guidelines for or target formulations for the achievement of a lasting compromise that President Clinton believed could actually be accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Interestingly, although Clinton emphasized the need to compensate and resettle refugees, and guarantee full rights to immigrate into the Palestinian state, he did not refer explicitly to any statement of responsibility, regret, or blame Israel might make. The President did argue that "the end of the conflict must manifest itself with concrete acts that demonstrate a new attitude and a new approach by Palestinians and Israelis toward each other" and also emphasized the need to "find a truth we can share." In his account of the Clinton parameters, former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin described the Presidents approach as including Israeli acknowledgement of the "suffering of the Palestinian refugees" without accepting "sole responsibility" for it. According to Beilin, at Taba a great deal of progress was made on various aspects of the refugee question, and in particular on the question of how Israel was to express its sentiments with respect to the "truth" that Israelis and Palestinians would share.
At Taba, agreements were reached concerning the nature of personal compensation, compensation for assets, options of rehabilitation and absorption in third countries, and compensation for the host countries. Above all, we were very close to an agreement concerning the story of the creation of the refugee problem, which described the Israeli approach and the Palestinian approach to the issue, and their common denominator. (emphasis added) Specific sums of money were not agreed on, nor was the actual number of refugees which would be permitted to come to Israel. However, the distance under dispute between the parties was narrowed substantially, and the Palestinian side agreed that the number of refugees must be such that it would not damage Israel's character as a Jewish country.
The passages published in Le Monde relevant to the question of the official position Israel would take as part of the peace agreement are consistent with this formula of two juxtaposed, and partially overlapping narratives. Both positions used very similar language to recognize the centrality and moral weight of the Palestinian refugee question. The Palestinian proposal has both sides acknowledging that "a just resolution of the refugee problem is necessary for achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace." The Israeli proposal labeled the refugee question as "central to Israeli-Palestinian relations" and described "its comprehensive and just resolution is essential to creating a lasting and morally scrupulous peace." But clear differences remained.
The Palestinian position was articulated under the heading of "Moral Responsibility."
2. Israel recognizes its moral and legal responsibility for the forced displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian civilian population during the 1948 war and for preventing the refugees from returning to their homes in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
3. Israel shall bear responsibility for the resolution of the refugee problem.
The Israeli delegation preferred to put forward their ideas on this subject under the heading of "narrative"emphasizing Israeli recognition of the suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian refugees, their right to compensation, dignity, and resettlement options, but acknowledging Israeli responsibility for their fate only as part of a wider array of forces and actors.
2. The State of Israel solemnly expresses its sorrow for the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees, their suffering and losses, and will be an active partner in ending this terrible chapter that was opened 53 years ago, contributing its part to the attainment of a comprehensive and fair solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
3. For all those parties directly or indirectly responsible for the creation of the status of Palestinian refugeeism, as well as those for whom a just and stable peace in the region is an imperative, it is incumbent to take upon themselves responsibility to assist in resolving the Palestinian refugee problem of 1948.
4. Despite accepting the UNGAR 181 of November 1947, the emergent State of Israel became embroiled in the war and bloodshed of 1948-49, that led to victims and suffering on both sides, including the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian civilian population who became refugees. These refugees spent decades without dignity, citizenship and property ever since.
Clearly, progress was made. Here the Palestinian side demands an Israeli acknowledgement of its "moral and legal responsibility" for the fate of the Palestinian refugees and its "responsibility for the resolution of the refugee prolem." Significantly the Palestinian formulation (as reported in Le Monde) does not include a demand that Israel accept the Palestinian "right of return." Nor does it insist on an Israeli formulation that explicitly places "sole" or even "central" or "primary" responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians or for the solution of the refugee problem on Israeli shoulders. For its part, the Israeli side was willing, indirectly and implicitly, to acknowledge that Israel was partly responsible, ready to contribute "its part" to the solution to the problem, and willing to articulate a narrative of the events of 1948 emphasizing the direct and terrible consequences of the war surrounding Israels establishment for Palestinians and omitting any reference to the orders of Arab leaders as responsible for the departure of the refugees.
On the other hand, important gaps remain between the Israeli and Palestinian positions. The Israeli side was not willing to explicitly acknowledge legal, moral, or historical responsibility for the fate of the refugees or to assume sole responsibility for the solution of the refugee problem. This refusal is consistent with longstanding fears in Israel that any such declaration would expose Israel to virtually unlimited property, rights of return, and compensation claims. It also chose to include reference to "all those parties responsible for" the refugee problem, thereby implying that the Arab states and perhaps the Palestinians themselves played a role. The Israeli proposal also included explicit reference to Israels initial acceptance of the 1947 United Nations partition plan and to the mutuality of suffering that resulted from the (implicitly alluded to) failure of the Arab side to accept it.
But in this back and forth we can see the outlines of the kind of agreement eventually reached by the German and Israeli governments in 1951. Not only did the German government (of course not a Nazi government) not accept responsibility (legal or moral), but explicitly included claims that the "overwhelming majority of the German people abominated the crimes committed against the Jews" and that they "did not participate in them." Such "apologetics," including the recollection of "many among the German people who showed their readiness to help their Jewish fellow citizens," were swallowed by the Jewish/Israeli side, even though most historians would argue that a more truthful account would not have been so generous in its memory of German public opinion and civic virtue during the Third Reich. What Adenauer did say was that what happened to the Jews was awful ("unspeakable"), that his government and the people of Germany were aware that it was awful, and that it had been done "in the name" of the German people. That it had been done in the name of the German people is what, he declared, warranted the New Germanys commitment to a measure of indemnification (no claim was made of full expiation, restitution, or rights to Jewish forgiveness).
Based on the negotiations over the reparations agreementsuccessful via a much less than fully accurate embrace by the successor regime of what had actually occurred; and based on the progress made in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians so far, it is not difficult to imagine a workable package of arrangements and declarations to enable a mostly internationally funded compensation, resettlement, and return arrangement to be agreed upon. The formulas utilized would allocate a portion of responsibility for the refugee problem to a portion of Israeli actions and policies in 1948, thereby justifying a significant but certainly not majority role for the commitment of Israeli resources. Israeli acknowledgement of and expressions of regret for injustices committed either "in connection with the establishment of the State," "as a consequence of the establishment of the State" or "in the name of the State of Israel or of Zionism," would not require Israelis to deny their own truthsof an heroic, necessary struggle for elementary Jewish rights of survival and self-determination.
Two elements are likely to be key: the political imperatives of consolidating statehood and an expectation that no denial of the truth of what befell the Palestinians would be required in order to achieve it. If Palestinians are to receive a real state, with unfettered access to it for refugees living outside of Palestine, Palestinian leaders will likely act just as did Ben-Gurion, Goldmann, and Sharettavidly searching for formulas to make massive packages of aid for that state, and its newly arriving citizens, politically acceptable. And if Israel were ready to include within the curricula of its schools the type of information and explanation about Jewish-Arab relations in 1948 available in the "Tekumah" series of documentaries on the establishment of the State, it would be well on the road toward the kind of treatment of the Nazi era, from the victims perspective, that has featured in German textbooks since the 1960s (a decade after Adenauers speech to the Bundestag). That Israelis would be gradually socialized away from depending on narratives of national pride that require the denial of palpable Palestinian truths will become a factor of immeasurable importance in the subsequent normalization of ties between the two nations who claim the Land of Israel/Palestine.
© 2002 Palestinian Development Research
The page was last modified on April 20, 2002 by Marc Lanteigne and Rex Brynen.