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After Kerry, only BDS may save the two-state solution

Not even Ben-Gurion would be able to rally the political support necessary to displace masses of settlers as long as there is no price to be paid for the occupation. So how much longer can liberal Zionists sit and watch the status quo remain static? If instead of trying to persuade Israel to change, two-state supporters started holding it responsible for refusing to change, it could have a jarring psychological impact on the country and its leaders.

Secretary of State John Kerry waves goodbye. (File photo by State Dept.)

Secretary of State John Kerry waves goodbye. (File photo by State Dept.)

Now that the Kerry peace talks have failed and everyone has given up hoping that Netanyahu will change, what’s the new plan for ending the occupation one day? For liberal Zionists – people who want Israel to become a Jewish state that respects Arabs – it would seem to focus on Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor Party. Unlike fellow centrist party leaders Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, Herzog hasn’t been in a position of leadership long enough yet to fail or sell out, so he’s the one. The hope is that he can get elected in the coming years to head a coalition government of the center, left, maybe an ultra-Orthodox party, maybe even an Arab party for once, and do what prime ministers going back to Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago tried but were unable to do – reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Putting their hopes on Herzog is a natural progression for liberal Zionists. After all, they can’t just throw in the towel and resign themselves to the occupation being permanent; it’s unthinkable, psychologically insupportable. Besides, who can tell the future? Herzog seems solid; he’s very smart, competent, likable, the son of a beloved army general and president – a consensus-type figure. And now that the Kerry initiative has failed, and even the timid Obama administration is blaming the Netanyahu government for it while exonerating the Palestinians (off the record), clearly the thing to do is replace the Netanyahu government. Then there will be a fighting chance for peace again (unless of course the Republicans get elected).

Here is my heartfelt, urgent advice: forget it. It’s a waste of time. Electoral politics in either Israel or America, as far as it concerns the peace process, is a waste of time – hopefully not forever, but certainly for now and for the next several years. And maybe forever. This is what liberal Zionists are going to have to face, or they’re going to continue wasting their time, which will make it that much more likely that the peace process will not just be dead for now, and not for the next several years, but indeed forever.

100,000 to 170,000 settlers

Even if Herzog (or Livni, or Lapid) could get elected to lead a center-left government with Meretz and Arabs and all sorts of other good people – which is unlikely; polls show Netanyahu and the right gaining popularity because the public blames the Palestinians for the peace talks’ failure – such a government could not end the occupation and carry out the two-state solution. The reason is that neither a Herzog government nor any other government in today’s Israel can do what’s necessary to meet the Palestinians’ demands, which are backed by the entire world (myself included), and which involve, but are by no means limited to, the removal of between roughly 100,000 and 170,000 settlers from the West Bank.

The first 100,000 live mainly in “ideological” settlements, many of which, such as Hebron, Yitzhar, Bat Ayin and the little “hilltop outposts,” are extremely violent, racist, religiously fanatic and politically deranged. The second 70,000 or so are the population of Ma’aleh Adumim and the Ariel bloc, considered by the great majority of Israelis to be too big and too “normal” to move – though not by the Palestinians and the rest of the world, which see them as Israeli wedges deep in the West Bank whose evacuation is necessary for Palestine to be a “contiguous” state. The removal of the second 70,000 settlers may or may not be negotiable. The removal of the first 100,000 absolutely is not; Ehud Barak offered to take down those settlements at Camp David in 2000, and so did Ehud Olmert in the Annapolis talks of 2007-8.  Since then, of course, their population has grown.

Trying to move out 100,000 people from the most dug-in settlements in the West Bank is, for the coming years at least, the mother’s mother of all non-starters. It’s a joke. The specter of the sort of cataclysm that would be triggered is enough to stop any government from touching it.  As I write this, the hot topic in Israel is the runaway anti-Arab violence by young radical settlers, a story that’s been spiced up further by the discovery that in Yitzhar, they’re debating whether the Torah allows them to kill an Israeli soldier who comes to tear down one of their illegal bungalows. So it’s just silly to talk about “trading land for peace” now. The only way it may, just may, ever happen is if Israelis find themselves paying such a high price for the occupation that they’re ready to empower a government to end it, and to put down settler resistance by any means necessary because they feel Israel itself and their future here are at stake. (More about this later.) But that’s not anywhere close to how Israelis feel now, so a Herzog government or any other government could talk all they wanted about peace and the two-state solution, but they’d be spinning their wheels; until further notice, the settlers aren’t going anywhere, not 100,000 of them, not 1,000, not one.

In retrospect, it was wishful thinking to believe that peace could have been made if the Palestinians had accepted Barak or Olmert’s offers; either of those prime ministers would have had to uproot those same fearsome settlements. Barak was terribly unpopular when he got to Camp David and so was Olmert during the Annapolis talks; there’s no way either one could have rallied the massive support necessary to beat back the kind of rebellion the settlers and the Right would have mounted against them. Most of the public and the politicians would have cowered. So back then, as now, the two-state solution was a non-starter, and I don’t think it would have been any different for Rabin, either, had he lived. It’s not a coincidence that the two prime ministers who’ve evacuated settlers were both highly determined, cunning and popular figures from the Right – Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon. To pull off such a feat, it takes a very powerful leader, someone who can get the mainstream Right behind him, which no prime minister from the Left could do. And who did Begin and Sharon uproot? In the first case, 7,000 settlers who’d been in the Sinai for a few years, in the second case, 8,500 relatively moderate settlers in Gaza, a land most Israelis were happy to get rid of. And both times all hell broke loose in this country. I’ve only read and heard about the “trauma,” as it’s called, of Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai, but I was here for the disengagement from Gaza, and it was clear then as it’s clear now that no one but Sharon could have overcome the revolt by the settlers and the hard Right and gotten Israel out of the Strip.

Not even Ben-Gurion could now

Yet what we’re talking about now is not 7,000 settlers in the Sinai or 8,500 in Gaza, but 100,000 to 170,000 in Israel’s “Biblical heartland,” not many of whom are anyone’s idea of moderates. I don’t believe Sharon, or Begin, or Ben-Gurion or anyone else could clear out those settlements under today’s conditions, when Israel isn’t paying any price for their presence. It would seem insane – why turn a stable, safe, prosperous country upside down, why invite bloodshed, why force such huge masses of Jews from their homes, why fork over billions to them in compensation, when nobody and nothing of consequence is bearing down on us to do it? What could Isaac Herzog say to get the Israeli public behind such a project? Aside from the committed Left, which is less than 10 percent of the population, and the Israeli Arabs, who unfortunately don’t count in the national debate, no one would support such a move; again, certainly not now and maybe never.

So what good is replacing Netanyahu with Herzog? Or Livni? Or Lapid?

And what about the hope of getting America to do in the coming years what it’s been so plainly unwilling to do up to now: force Israel to end the occupation by threatening escalating punishments if it doesn’t? That’s not going to happen. The United States is through trying to solve this problem; after Kerry’s remarkably strenuous, remarkably futile effort, the Obama administration will not get back on the Jerusalem-Ramallah road again. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a more idealistically anti-occupation team than Obama and Kerry running American foreign policy in the future. And if America can’t force Israel’s hand, neither can the European Union or the United Nations or anybody else.

So for liberal Zionists, what’s the point of lobbying Congress or trying to move the American Jewish establishment away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats?

As for the last corner of the peace process triangle – the Palestinians – Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is by far the most moderate leader they’ve ever had. He’s 79, and after him comes only less moderate Palestinian leadership, not more so, because more so doesn’t exist.

This is the political map in the wake of the Kerry initiative’s failure. Where does it point to? The end of the peace process as we know it. The end of it as an American-Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic project, which goes back formally to the 1991 Madrid talks, and informally to well before that. This has been the traditional method of Middle East peacemaking, and there’s nothing left of it. It has no further to go. The peace process has finally, truly hit the wall. Myself, I thought it was over in 2009 when Obama caved into Netanyahu and the Israel lobby and dropped his demand for an open-ended, total freeze on settlement construction. But now, after the Kerry talks, it’s hard to see how even the most optimistic liberal can make a sincere argument that American diplomacy can get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on ending the conflict.

Chance to transform?

I know this is a dismal view of the way things are. And I’m not going to pretend that there’s a sure way to turn things around; it may well be that the occupation is permanent, or that the only way it’s going to end is by Israel starting one war too many, so that the end of the occupation takes Israel with it, or at any rate leads to a mass exodus of Jews, and that would be a catastrophe. But I do believe there is still a chance to transform the situation peacefully, and the way to do that, again, is by bringing such international pressure to bear on Israel that it uproots those masses of settlers and ends the occupation for the sake of its own basic well-being.

From the Palestinians’ side, I’m talking, obviously, about the UN strategy, which ultimately means the threat of trying Israel for war crimes in The Hague. Their other viable options include unarmed “popular resistance”; “people power” marches to the separation barrier and the settlements; dismantling the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and “handing back the keys” to Israel; and/or demanding Israeli citizenship.

For everyone else, I’m talking, of course, about supporting the Palestinians in such actions, and supporting the BDS movement at one level or another.

Such a political stance is foreign to liberal Zionists. It was foreign to me, a liberal Zionist in Israel, until recent years, when I began to run out of justifications for not supporting non-violent tactics against the occupation. If a substantial number of the liberal Zionists who are appalled at what Israel does to the Palestinians were to give up trying to persuade Israel to change, and instead start holding it responsible for refusing to change, I believe it would have a jarring psychological impact on this country and its leaders. What I know for sure is that a continuation of the genial, toothless, J Street-style approach will continue to change nothing, at least not over here.

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

About BDS. A lot of people denounce the movement because it singles out Israel for punishment when so many other countries that do much worse things get off scot-free. In fact, the opposite is true; as I wrote recently, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and lots of other countries are sanctioned and boycotted, and not by minor academic groups and trade unions as in Israel’s case, but by the United States, European Union, UN Security Council or all of them together. Israel, meanwhile, gets $3 billion dollars a year in arms, along with “unbreakable” political support, as Obama likes to say, from the world’s greatest superpower. So yes, there is a double standard when it comes to Israel, and it tilts heavily in Israel’s favor.

But it is also said that the BDS movement is run by people who don’t just want to dismantle the occupation, they want to dismantle the Jewish state altogether in favor of a “state of all its citizens,” which is something liberal Zionists can’t support. In fact, the boycott movement as a whole has now spread beyond the “one-staters” who started it – and for which they deserve full credit, whether one agrees with them or not – and moved to “two-staters” that include the European Union and numerous financial institutions within it. As Stephen Hawking had visited Israel four times before boycotting a major event in Jerusalem last year, it’s fair to assume he’s a two-stater as well. I’m a two-stater myself. And I have no problem supporting BDS because I know that if Israel ever gets to the point where it’s ready to concede to international pressure, it will be responding not to the small left-wing groups calling for it to give up Jewish statehood, but to the powerful forces in the democratic world calling for it to give up the occupation alone.

But then some people say a massive BDS campaign will just harden Israelis, make them more resistant to change. Since this is speculation, I can’t disprove it, but I am completely convinced that even if that were the immediate reaction in this country to an intensive, steadily mounting BDS campaign, it would turn around very soon and an urgency to finish with the occupation would start to be felt. If push ever comes to shove, very few Israelis will be ready to endure the kind of ostracism that apartheid South Africa faced – and so they will throw in the towel well before things get that bad. The great majority of Israelis are practical people; they are not going to become the world’s pariahs for the sake of the settlements, or the dubious privilege of hearing Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or the right to keep Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley indefinitely, or for any other barricade that their right-wing leaders put up in the occupation’s defense.

But let’s say for argument’s sake that there is a risk BDS will backfire; what the alternative? What other tactic is there that might challenge the status quo, now in its 48th year? I would love to fight the occupation by kinder, gentler means than supporting the boycott of this country, or supporting the Palestinians at The Hague, but I don’t know of any, and I haven’t heard of anyone who does. So the choice is either BDS – whose potential is reflected in the alarmed reaction of the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish powers-that-be – or impotence.

Moreover, BDS isn’t an all-or-nothing tactic. If liberal Zionists don’t want to boycott Israel, let them just boycott the settlements. If they want to support the economic boycott but not the cultural boycott, or the cultural boycott but not the academic boycott, that also helps. But if they don’t want to boycott anything, let them come up with a better idea for transforming the status quo, or just any idea that hasn’t already failed.

How much time?

Again, while I think the occupation may be irreversible, I don’t think that’s proven yet; I believe there’s still time to try to reverse it. But there are reasonable limits to that time. If beyond a certain point the occupation is still in force, then believing it can end becomes pure self-deception – the politics of denial. If the occupation is still here, for instance, after another 47 years, will it still be possible for clear-thinking liberals to try to uproot it? Of course not.

So how much more time is there to fight before the cause becomes, in all honesty, lost? I’d say six, seven, eight years – I think in terms of 10 years maximum. Why 10 years? Because if a decade of escalating punishment from the world and the Palestinians doesn’t make Israel crack, I can’t see why 15 years of it, or 20 years of it should. And if the world does not get its act into gear against the occupation in the coming years, if the “greater BDS movement” does not become an irresistible force within a decade at most – then why should it become one afterward? With the failure of the Kerry talks, what more does the world need to know before realizing that Israel cannot be persuaded to move out at least 100,000 settlers and give up control of the territories, that it can only be forced into it? There’s nothing left to wait for; all that’s left is for people to decide whether they will go on accepting Israel as the lord and master of 4 million Palestinians, or they won’t.

For a liberal Zionist whose commitment to Israel depends on his or her belief that one day the occupation will end, the decision whether or not to tolerate the status quo is, of course, especially meaningful. Because now that the decades-long, U.S.-led peace process lies in ruins, now that the old tactics have failed, if one doesn’t oppose the status quo in a new, more forceful way, then one is coming to terms with its permanence. And for a liberal Zionist who cares deeply about Israel, whose hopes and maybe even identity are tied up with this country, that would be a kind of death.

Therefore choose life.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Rab

      Well, actually, there is another way to end up with a two state solution: Have all the countries that claim they want a peaceful resolution, and all the NGOs that claim they want a peaceful resolution, and all the Jewish pro-
      Palestinian activists and non-Jewish pro-Palestinian activists, and all the peace-loving Palestinian activists turn their sights away from Israel’s government, which has demonstrated on three occasions in the past 14 years that it is ready for compromise, peace and two states (and which has shown over the course of a century of attempted boycotts that it is impervious to such attempts), and instead focus on the Palestinian leadership which has rejected all overtures for compromise and a two state solution.

      You could force the Palestinians’ hands by shutting down foreign funding mechanisms, shutting down UNRWA, place sanctions on banks that transfer funds to Palestinian leaders and their cohorts, place further sanctions and treat them with the disrespect in international fora that, for example, Obama had no problem demonstrating to Netanyahu in his first visit to Obama’s White House.

      Then, when the Palestinians recognize that their dream of destroying Israel is off the table, and their leaders realize the gravy train that has proven so lucrative during the years they were supposedly striving for peace but really pursuing war, my bet is that peace will come much faster than any BDS pressure on Israel.

      By the way, Larry, in case you haven’t had an opportunity to read BDS movement’s goals and their leader’s statement that Israel should be “euthanized,” permit me to offer you the Cliffs Notes version: BDS is opposed to a two state solution. Therefore, pursuing BDS to achieve a two-state solution is like, as the t-shirt says, fighting for peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rab

        Apologies for the grammar. Am in a hurry today. Still, the meaning comes through.
        ;)

        Reply to Comment
    2. David

      Agreed.

      Furthermore, the world’s failure to hold Israel accountable, is also what is responsible, to a large extent, for the rise of the Israeli right wing.

      When you don’t pay a price for stealing the water, raw materials and land of Palestinians, it makes perfect sense to vote for colonialist policies.

      Reply to Comment
      • IlonJ

        ” Ehud Barak offered to take down those settlements at Camp David in 2000, and so did Ehud Olmert in the Annapolis talks of 2007-8″

        There you have it in a nutshell. Even though they offered to remove those settlements, that wasn’t enough for the Arabs. They wanted the right of return too which is a formula for Israel’s destruction.

        So why oh why do liberal Jews like you, Larry, persist with this nonsense that the “settlements” are the problem? Why don’t you want to accept that Arab intransigence has been the problem in this century old conflict? To them, the whole of Israel is a settlement.

        For the record, originally I too was against the settlements. Not necessarily because I considered them to be illegal but because I considered them to be unwise. An obstacle to peace. But after the rejection by first Arafat, then Abbas, of the two peace offers that you mention, Larry, I came around to the opinion: what the hell. The settlers may as well go for broke. We may as well get compensated for this state of war and hatred that the Arabs insist on imposing on us. Yes, I am bitter and yes I want the Arabs to be punished for their intransigence.

        Reply to Comment
    3. BOOZ

      “Moreover, BDS isn’t an all-or-nothing tactic. ”
      Quite an unsupported assumption… Sincere 2-staters who support BDS are just useful idiots for the BDS leaders hidden agenda.

      If Jewish liberals don’t want to boycott Israel, let them just boycott the settlements.

      I might consider this.. but if for that I should have to ally with the “euthanizers” of a Jewish democratic State, it will be without me and even against me.

      Moreover,I do not call “non violent action” the fact of heckling, harassing or shouting out Israeli artists, academics or politicians ( even the most left-leaning ones) when they are abroad. An you don know this happened more than once in UK and in France. Or do you deliberately ignore it ?

      Reply to Comment
    4. shachalnur

      Yup,it looks pretty bleak if the world would consist of only Israel,Europe,US and Palestinians.

      But that’s too myopic.

      Please read the transcript of Putin’s historic interview with Chinese television two days ago:

      “Russia-China ties at highest level in history-Putin” on RT.com.

      And in case you don’t understand what that means ,read the desperate spin and US/European/Banker Hasbara by Efraim Halevy ,former Mossad chief the day after:

      Ynet”Israel bowing down to Russia ,degrading US”

      And don’t forget to read the comments,cognitive dissonance all over the place in Zionlandia.

      There are much bigger movements going on behind the scenes,and the Bankers,Mossad and ADL(all banker-controlled)are becoming more and more desperate.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        “There are much bigger movements going on behind the scenes,and the Bankers,Mossad and ADL(all banker-controlled)are becoming more and more desperate.”

        The only desperate people are the haters like you Shachalnur. Because Israel, against all odds, has been going from strength to strength since 1948. And the signs are that it will continue to do so.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Nobody and nothing can “save” the two-state solution:
      If “Ma’aleh Adumim and the Ariel bloc [...] evacuation is necessary for Palestine to be a “contiguous” state.”, then Nazareth and Umm Al Fahm could be seen as preventing Israel to be a contiguous state too…
      ‘Two-state solution’ is another word for apartheid and racial “contiguity”!

      Nor BDS nor any sanctions could bring Israel to evacuate 100,000 hardcore settlers as long as the Palestinians are perceived by Israelis as wanting all of Israel, and not only the West-Bank.
      Their refusing to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” in order to keep alive the Right of Return inside “1948 Palestine” has confirmed the worst Israeli fears. Netanyahu is a very skillful politician…

      A federation is the only way to have self-determination for both people in one country:
      pa-il.org

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ron Temis

      Larry,

      Maybe Israelis should boycott you? No shopping for you anywhere, no services whatsoever, you can’t drive as you will not be issued a license by us evil Israelis, certainly no medical aid should you need it. (you wouldn’t want our fascist blood transfused to you, would you)

      You are using the Internet created and supported by us evil Israelis and must stop right now. Hypocrite.

      Reply to Comment
      • BOOZ

        Ron,

        In fact, Larry is a Zionist who deserves to be boycotted by BDS’ers.

        He contributes hugely to the “Zionist apartheid regime” each time he fills the tank of his car, he buys his groceries for family..For all his purchases are subject to VAT.

        …And he pays income tax, too! This is final evidence of his co-operation with the evil entity!

        Reply to Comment
    7. Richard

      BDS has already backfired and reaped great political capital for right-wing alarmists. There’s no point in making arguments about its legitimacy because the debate has played out-BDS didn’t stick and doesn’t work. Like many people of conscience, Larry suffers from the “what can I do about it?” syndrome. There is nothing you can do about it. Its not important that you have a clear position. Too many unknowns. Would anyone have expected the world to tolerate such an enormous dislocation of people in Syria? Barrel Bombs and Chemical Weapons? Palestinians starving TO DEATH in Yarmouk? Maybe a second Nakba is possible and the West Bank will become Jewish. Maybe Israel will withdraw unilaterally (again) keeping Samaria Bloc and Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley and let the 100,000 fanatics decide for themselves whether to hold their ground or come to their senses. Who is going to force the IDF to remove them anyway? The only realistic and intelligent thing to do is recognize the limits of your predictive and analytical abilities. Being “for” BDS, or Herzog, or anything in particular is an exercise in arrogance and foolishness if your goal is affect what the map looks like in 40 years.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Victor Gilinsky

      Here is how it looks from a distance. First of all, “peace process” is a phony label. In practical terms it has been a negotiation over formal surrender terms–the terms for Palestinians to give up their claims and stay quiet. Israel keeps raising the requirements and lowering the price they will pay. At this point the Israelis think the situation is manageable and don’t think they need an agreement anymore. I am not sure Palestinians would support boycotts of West Bank Israeli businesses because they supply jobs, and so in the long run such boycotts will not engage the rest of the world. What would do that is a Palestinian demand for equal rights. It’s up to them to take the lead. But that means a significant change in thinking on their part, which will take time. It’s up to them to decide whether they will accept indefinitely being a repressed class or allow themselves to be pushed out altogether (surely the dream of the Zionist ultras). For Americans and others the task it to press for change in their government’s current policy that in effect supports oppression.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Great article, Larry. Another hope is a change of mind of the evangelical Christians in the US. As they support Israel entirely one-sided and oppose any form of a Palestinian state, but constitute almost a third of US population, their change of mind would make a huge difference. At present, there are no signs for a shift but it is not impossible. There were incidents where the alliance was close to break.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jeff Warner

      Larry: You make a compelling argument. But I am worried by the argument in your paragraph that begins, “But it is also said that the BDS movement is run by …” You say that most foot soldiers in the BDS army are not one-staters like the BDS leaders – I agree. Nevertheless, I don’t feel comfortable marching in an army that is being led by people with goals so very different than mine. Any advice?

      Reply to Comment
      • Thanks, Jeff – I don’t think the one-staters are leading the army – they may be the most visible and vocal, but it’s the two-staters – the mainstream – that’s going to make the difference, if anyone makes a difference.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Joe Rella

      I agree with Larry that BDS is the best available option, given the realities of the situation.

      People may have issue with one aspect or another… but as it stands, BDS has the best chance of changing anything.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Yoel

      I would like to dispute the basic premise – that a two state solution is only viable if the Palestinian one is Judenrein. Israel has a minority of almost two million non-Jews. Why cannot the Palestinians live with a minority of two hundred thousand Jews? And what about the moral dimension? Why is it that only Jews can be moved around like cattle at the whims of policy makers? If it’s ok to move Jews to solve the problem, some would say, why not consider moving Arabs East of the Jordan river? Is ethnic cleansing only a crime for some ethnicities but not for others?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Harry Green

      All the BDS movement has done for me on a personal level is to get to find out what products come from beyond the green line and buy as much as I can possibly use and urge others to as well. For all those who say apartheid , I never hear any complain about the 78 percent of the mandate land that became Jordan was taken.

      Reply to Comment

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