“I need to ask you something,” I say.
“You were always a territorial maximalist and a political democrat. One can’t say that of Ben-Gurion, Weizmann, or Herzl. Weizmann and Ben-Gurion supported partition—once in your lifetime and again in 1947. Weizmann was a social and cultural elitist. Ben-Gurion was a Leninist in his younger years. Herzl would have settled for Uganda. He thought a Jewish state should be an ‘aristocratic republic,’ because the masses couldn’t be entrusted with political decisions. You alone cared passionately about the right to all of Palestine and the rights of all who lived there. You wouldn’t concede any of it and you said that the moment Jews formed fifty-one percent of its population, you would grant full equality to every Arab.”
“I meant it.”
“But how could a Jewish fifty-one percent have ruled an Arab forty-nine percent without being an ethnic dictatorship?”
“It couldn’t have. But it wouldn’t have remained fifty-one percent for a day. Millions of Jews wanted only to leave Europe. As soon as there was a Jewish state to take them in, they would have arrived by the boatful. Fifty-one percent would have become sixty percent, seventy percent, eighty percent, in no time. That’s the same ratio of Jews to Arabs that you have in Israel today, excepting the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.”
“I see you’ve managed to keep abreast of things.”
“Only in Israel. I don’t follow much else. You’d be surprised how much that matters when you’re living no longer does when you’re dead.”
“I don’t have to tell you, then, that since 1967 we’re a country torn in two: the party of territory and the party of democracy, the land of Israel versus the rights of man, the Right against the Left. I need to know where you stand.”
“I’m a man of the Right.”
“Of course. And that’s how you’re remembered today: the fiery nationalist, the unyielding Jewish patriot, the man of ‘Both sides of the Jordan are ours’—unless you’re simply the name of a street in every city and middle-sized town in Israel. But you were more complicated than that. So is the situation. We control all of Palestine now—and those millions of European Jews don’t exist any more.”
“No, they don’t.” His hands clench and unclench on his knees. “I was lucky not to live to see them die. If only I could have seen Israel born, though!”
“But what should Israel do now?” I ask. “Return to its 1967 borders for a dubious peace? Going on ruling millions of Arabs against their will and the wishes of the world? Not all of us have taken sides. Some of us are split down the middle just like the country. There’s no one whose opinion would matter to us more than yours.”
“Get the best deal you can,” he says.
I look at him.
“I’ve disappointed you? You would have liked me to be more specific? A Palestinian state, the settlements, Jerusalem? I agree, the details are everything. I just don’t have the head for them any more. I had the reputation of a zealot, but I was the least ideological of all Zionists. The best possible deal for the Jewish people was all I wanted. For that, though, we had to be tougher and smarter than we were. There’s no other way to survive in this world: I learned that as a boy in Odessa. Well, you have the state I dreamed of. It came too late for too many Jews, but it’s there. Don’t lose it.”...Sage advice, I'd say.