Clem Sunter

Einstein was right about Israel

2012-04-04 11:48

Clem Sunter

We normally associate Albert Einstein’s name with the advancement of physics, in particular the special theory and general theory of relativity. We do not think of him as being astute in political matters; but I came across an article by Donald Macintyre that was recently published in the Cape Times and The Independent which suggests otherwise.

In a letter written to the Arab editor of the newspaper Falastin in December 1929, Einstein stated: “I think the two great Semitic peoples that have made each in its own way lasting contributions to the civilization of the modern Western world can have a great future in common and that instead of facing each other with unfruitful hostility and mutual distrust they should seek for the possibility for sympathetic co-operation.”

The following year, he outlined the process to achieve this objective, a central part of which would be the establishment of two teams of four members, one side Jewish, the other Arab, that would act as a bargaining council. Neither side would have any politicians in their ranks. Rather, he suggested a physician, jurist, worker representative and cleric. Their meetings would be confidential, but when three on each side agreed to a resolution, it could be made public. In this way, the council would “lead to a state in which differences will gradually be eliminated and common representation of the interests of the country will be upheld.”

Brilliant. Only a couple of months ago, I was talking to a prominent member of the Jewish community in South Africa and, without knowing anything about Einstein’s recommendations, we both agreed this was the only way forward. What was needed was a negotiating forum to kick-start the same kind of process that occurred in the early 1990s in South Africa when everybody said that the two sides would never meet. They did and, even though on several occasions the parties walked away as a result of a breakdown in talks, the deal came together.

I know that roadmaps on peace in the Middle East have already been constructed, handshakes between leaders have taken place and agreements have been signed. Tragically, progress has stalled and somehow we are almost back to square one. Hence, the need for a new initiative; and, rather than involving the politicians with entrenched interests, bring in a  representative panel of experts from both sides – university professors and the like – to restart the dialogue. Again the entire conversation should be held in private as Einstein suggested so that grandstanding is avoided.

Macintyre quotes Professor Hanoch Gutfreund at the end of his article. He is an eminent theoretical physicist himself and academic head of the Einstein archive. While calling Einstein’s proposal “naïve”, he added: “It’s great, it’s romantic, it’s beautiful and maybe one day if nothing else works this is the only way to go about it.” Well, that day has arrived.

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