+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 25 Oct 2014 18:01:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/ http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:53:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97883 Certain rights should be inalienable — yet Israel refuses to grant them to Palestinians and the world continues to treat the country as a rights-based democracy. What does this absurdity say about human rights as a political tool, and about the powers, entities and institutions that speak in their name?

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK David Rotem laid out some of his beliefs and world views in an extensive interview with Israeli financial daily Globes a few weeks ago. One of Rotem’s statements – which made the headline of the piece – was that “human rights are [reserved] for people who are citizens of the state.”

Rotem was referring the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to strike down, for the second time, an amendment to the “anti-Infiltration Law,” which authorized the prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers who entered the country illegally. The final word in this legal battle has yet to be said, as Rotem’s committee will soon discuss and advance yet a third version of the law, which in all likelihood will be also be challenged before the High Court.

Yet when it comes to Israel’s decades-long occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Rotem’s statement captures the entire logic of the system. This logic is tolerated, and often even accepted, by entities and institutions that see themselves as guardians of human rights. In that sense, that fact that a man like Rotem now heads the Israeli parliament’s constitutional committee is more telling than it seems. Human rights here are not a given, but something that are reserved for one category of people and deprived from another.

* * *

Many 20th century scholars, even liberal ones, have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of human rights as a political concept that can be used for advancing freedom and dignity for all human beings.

The fact that these “inalienable” rights were quickly attached to the concept of “national rights” and citizenship is even more troubling. Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt pondered the fate of the person who is not entitled to citizenship – making it “legal” to strip him of his human rights, too. The result is a “legitimate” form of abuse, which could actually be worse than what preceded the idea of the “inalienable rights.”

This might sound too abstract — until one looks at the Palestinian case. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza comprise an indigenous population, and are a people who were uprooted from their homes in 1947-1948, only to be reconquered by Israel 19 years later. Neither group has Israeli citizenship — or any citizenship for that matter. They don’t even have the legal status of “permanent residents,” as do Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They are the subjects of a military regime.

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Under the military regime, Palestinians can have their private property destroyed or confiscated at the discretion of the military commander (and in most cases don’t even have the right to appeal such decisions); their freedom to travel outside the West Bank, and sometimes even within it, depends on special permits given by the military commander; they cannot build without the approval of the military commander, thousands can be deported from their homes with the stroke of a commander’s pen; every political assembly or protest can be deemed illegal unless it was given the permission of the military commander, and; they can be imprisoned, tortured or even killed without trial or due process.

Naturally, when it comes to the decisions of the military commander, Palestinians have no say and no mechanisms for accountability. The army and the Defense Ministry, the sovereign in the West Bank, rule as they see fit. In other words, every Palestinian in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, regardless of their actions, has had his or her civil rights and many of their human rights revoked.

* * *

There is something misleading about the term “occupation” because, in theory, it represents a temporary state of affairs. And while it is true that the international legal system allows the temporary revocation of some rights of an occupied population, Israel’s occupation is permanent. It might not have been this way in the late 1960s, when it wasn’t clear what was in store for the territories Israel captured in the Six Day War. But once the Israeli government started settling its own population in the occupied territory — and even more so, once it began arguing before its own court that such settlements are within its rights — this debate regarding the transience of the occupation should have ended.

People tend to confuse “permanent” with “eternal.” The Israeli occupation is not eternal — no institution is — but it is as permanent as can be in this world. It’s already lasted longer than the post-WWII Soviet bloc, for example. Israel itself stopped treating the OPT as occupied, now viewing them as territories held by Israel under a different status than the rest of the state. Therefore, the act of revoking the rights of an entire category of people is also permanent.

This is something that, in theory, can’t been reconciled with the idea of human rights. How could we deny the inalienable rights? Yet the very same political entities that speak in the name of rights have come to tolerate, accept, and even cooperate and support holding of a certain category of people without said rights.

The international community as a whole tends to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of war and peace, or as a diplomatic issue, rather than an issue of rights. Instead of demanding to immediately return the Palestinians their rights (because rights are inalienable and cannot be revoked in the first place), and only then discuss where those rights will be exercised (within the State of Israel or within a new Palestinian state), the rights were forgotten and the debate focused exclusively on the issue of the state. On a side note, this is also where the deep roots of the failure to reach an agreement lie. The heart of the matter was, and still is, being ignored.

The institutions that speak the language of rights are the very ones that sealed the denial of the Palestinians’ rights. The Israeli Supreme Court, for example, will review cases from the OPT, but it will not uphold Israel’s basic laws (the closest thing the country has to a constitution) in the West Bank and Gaza. The High Court rejects or refuses to hear most petitions from Palestinians, and when it does, it usually approves all the major policies of the occupation – from the confiscation of land, to the transfer of prisoners, to deportations, to imprisonment without trial (“administrative detention”), to torture and targeted assassinations. The court has set certain guidelines and limits on those measures, but the underlying notion that Palestinians have no rights — and can therefore be treated differently than Israeli citizens — has never been questioned.

Once the court accepted this logic it went on to its mini-constitutional revolution of the 1990s, which won it the label of an activist institution. This too was all about rights — but these were the rights of the privileged class: citizens.

Onward, to the world: the United States, which endowed upon the world the very idea of inalienable rights, is preventing the Palestinians from taking their case to international courts. The Palestinians are regarded by all American administrations as people who need to pass various thresholds and litmus tests if they are ever to win back their (inalienable) rights. So far, they haven’t passed those tests — so their current legal status has become the normal state of affairs, while Palestinians’ efforts to challenge it are regarded as “unilateral” acts which need to be punished.

The European Union views its normative power on human rights issues as one of its sources of pride. Some see it as the essence or the EU’s legitimacy. The 1995 trade agreement between the EU and Israel even includes a clause in this spirit:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

Yet the EU never attempted to reconcile these words with the existence of a population living without rights in the West Bank and Gaza. And when it did, instead of questioning the entire agreement, the EU duplicated the Israeli distinction between the “regions of rights” and the “regions of no-rights,” by moving to exclude the West Bank from the agreement. I support the EU policies regarding the settlements, but we should keep in mind that they don’t address the issue of rights; they only allow the EU to feel less complicit in their abuse.

We can go on with these examples (how about the American Jewish community – considered the most liberal in the States – and its ongoing refusal to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of rights?), but the bottom line should be clear by now: human rights are not “inalienable,” but are rather seen as something that can be revoked by a sovereign power.

In fact, as Israel denies the rights of millions of people, it is still considered to be a rights-based democracy, and therefore a natural partner and ally to the liberal West. In other words, it is the rights-based discourse itself that has allowed Israel to revoke the rights of an entire class of people and get away with it. Maintaining the rights of some made it possible to take away the rights of others; exactly as Arendt, Giorgio Agamben and others warned could happen.

Needless to say, Israel is not a rights-based democracy, if this idea has any meaning. As I argued here a few weeks back, it’s time the Palestinian issue became a conversation about rights rather than diplomatic solutions. Until then, the failure to address the occupation as such casts a long shadow on the very concept of rights as a political and philosophical tool for bettering the human condition.

Related:
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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Defense Minister Ya’alon: I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict http://972mag.com/defense-minister-yaalon-i-am-not-looking-for-a-solution-i-am-looking-for-a-way-to-manage-the-conflict/97761/ http://972mag.com/defense-minister-yaalon-i-am-not-looking-for-a-solution-i-am-looking-for-a-way-to-manage-the-conflict/97761/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:24:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97761 Moshe Ya’alon is telling it like it is: What you see now in the West Bank and Gaza is Israel’s solution. 

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon looks over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shoulder at a military exercise, (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon looks over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoulder at a military exercise. Ya’alon is the closest minister to Netanyahu since the Gaza war (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a few holiday interviews to the Israeli media. Ya’alon, who has been Netanyahu’s closest partner in the coalition since the Gaza war, was fairly open when he spoke about the Palestinian issue, and a couple of his answers were especially telling.

When asked by the pro-Netanyahu paper Yisrael Hayom whether he sees in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a partner for peace, Ya’alon not only rejected the idea, but went on to dismiss the mere notion of “solving” the Palestinian issue. In short, Ya’alon thinks that maintaining control over the Palestinians is in Israel’s national interest, which no “solution” can or should compromise on.

I believe this is the view of most of the Israeli establishment right now. But Ya’alon, as Secretary Kerry learned last year, has a habit of saying what others around him are thinking.

I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and the maintain relations in a way that works for our interests. We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state. As far as I am concerned let them call it the Palestinian Empire. I don’t care. It is an autonomy if it is ultimately a demilitarized territory. That is not a status quo, it is the establishment of a modus vivendi that is tolerable and serves our interests.”

What is interesting in the above quote is the light it sheds on the idea of a Palestinian state: Netanyahu and his government were willing to sign onto something that would be called a state (they can call it the Palestinian Empire for all Ya’alon cares), but never an independent state, the way the world understand this term. So even if the Kerry process would have ended with an agreement, it could not have ended the occupation. And nothing the Palestinians say or do can change that.

Regarding Gaza, Ya’alon has the same idea – maintaining the conflict:

“We withdrew from Gaza. The Gazans chose Hamas, which in turn chose to manufacture rockets instead of exporting strawberries, and for that they are paying a price. It is probably not a permanent and stable solution, but it is important to talk about ‘crisis management’ in regard to Gaza as well as Judea and Samaria [West Bank - N.S.] in such a way that will serve our interests.

I highly recommend checking out Larry Derfner’s feature on the Israeli establishment’s view post-Gaza. I think Ya’alon pretty much confirmed everything in it. As I wrote here before, the Gaza war was part of Israel’s strategy of maintaining the status quo. This is Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s solution.

Related:
War is the new system of governance (and five other Gaza takeaways)
There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’

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Ex-Israeli ministers, MKs, academics to British MPs: Support Palestinian statehood http://972mag.com/ex-israeli-ministers-mks-academics-to-british-mps-support-palestinian-statehood/97625/ http://972mag.com/ex-israeli-ministers-mks-academics-to-british-mps-support-palestinian-statehood/97625/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 08:41:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97625 Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On criticizes Israeli Labor party for opposing the motion: ‘Labor is conducting itself like another foreign office for Netanyahu’s government.’

Hundreds of Israeli public figures, academics, former ministers and Israel Prize laureates (the state’s official civil decoration) signed a public letter calling British MPs to support Palestinians statehood in a symbolic motion set to face a vote in the UK’s parliament on Monday.

Among those who added their names to the letter are Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman, former Meretz ministers Ran Cohen and Yossi Sarid, four former MKs (including Naomi Chazan, the former head of the New Israel Fund), six winners of the Israeli Prize and the former attorney-general Michael Ben Yair.

The letter reads:

We, Israelis who worry and care for the well-being of the State of Israel, believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state. For this reason we the undersigned urge members of the UK parliament to vote in favour of the motion to be debated on Monday 13th of October, 2014, calling on the British Government to recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

The motion caused a controversy within the British Labour party, with two dozen MPs demanding to add an amendment conditioning the recognition of Palestine on the conclusion of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (thus stripping the motion of its meaning). The chairman of the Israeli Labor party, MK Hilik Bar, also called on the British MPs to oppose the motion. Bar was criticized by members of the dovish Meretz party.

“One cannot say that Netanyahu won’t promote a diplomatic initiative, but then, when the world tries to lead a UN motion, help Netanyahu torpedo it. Labor is conducting itself like another foreign office for Netanyahu’s government,” said Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On.

Related:
Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood

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Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood http://972mag.com/labour-mps-vote-yes-on-palestinian-statehood/97604/ http://972mag.com/labour-mps-vote-yes-on-palestinian-statehood/97604/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 12:32:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97604 In an appeal that demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of the peace camp, the Israeli Labor Party is  calling on its British counterparts to oppose the motion on Palestinian statehood Monday, ‘in the name of peace.’ Netanyahu couldn’t have put it better.

Houses of Parliament, London, UK (photo: Ramón Cutanda López / (CC BY 2.0)

Houses of Parliament, London, UK. The British Parliament will take a symbolic vote on Palestinian statehood on Monday (photo: Ramón Cutanda López / (CC BY 2.0)

The British Parliament will vote Monday on a motion supporting the Palestinian Authority’s request to recognize it as a state. The vote is mostly symbolic, and the British government will still be able to take any form of action it wants. The big drama is taking place within the ranks of Labour. The opposition party is supporting the motion, but Israel is hoping to get as many MPs as possible to defy the party line and oppose. Apparently, a real controversy is taking place.

The call to recognize independent Palestine is just about the last card in Mahmoud Abbas’ hand, apart from dismantling the Palestinian Authority, which is a highly risky move that could lead to unknown consequences throughout the region. Abbas, like any sensible observer, finally realized that Israel has made up its mind to reject the two-state solution. Even if Abbas was to recognize Israel “as a Jewish State” – even if he was to join Likud – there is a consensus in the Israeli leadership against withdrawing from the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. This alone makes any two-state solution impossible, before even getting to issues like refugees or the fate of the settlements.

Netanyahu made his position on the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem clear to John Kerry, and has repeated it publicly since. The war in Gaza didn’t change Israel’s mind – in fact, it made it even more determined to maintain the status quo.

Abbas is therefore trying to get the international community’s help in creating diplomatic momentum that might make Israel reevaluate its policies. Recognizing Palestine won’t change a lot on the ground, but it will make it clear to Netanyahu’s government that the world doesn’t accept the status quo — like Israel does — as the preferred option for the foreseeable future.

It is surprising, therefore, to see who is leading the Israeli government’s effort to reject the motion in the British Parliament. Haaretz reported Sunday morning that the Israeli Labor party chairman (not to be confused with the party leader), member of Knesset Hilik Bar, sent a letter to members of the British Labour Party explaining that symbolic recognition of Palestinian statehood will make peace “less, rather than more likely.” Bar is calling UK’s Labour to oppose “unilateral moves” that would only make efforts towards peace less popular with Israelis.

It is only in the twisted world of Israeli-Palestinian politics that appealing to the international community and its most respected institutions is considered to be a “unilateral measure,” while actually changing the reality on the ground — as Israel has been doing for decades — isn’t. But let’s leave semantics aside and focus instead on the case the letter making.

MK Bar is not just the chairman of his party and the head of its foreign policy forum, he also leads the two-state caucus in Israel’s Knesset. Knowing his foreign audience all too well, he is using the only argument that still works for Israelis: that any move against the occupation will only play into the hands of the Right and prolong the occupation. But according to his logic, the international community should support Israel’s right-wing government in all its actions, teach Abbas a lesson that will prevent him from trying to challenge Jerusalem again, and wait for Israelis to change their minds about the occupation, of their own volition, at some undefined point.

For some reason, for a very long time most of the world thought that this was the best course of action. It took five years with Bibi, three wars in Gaza and record-setting settlement construction to make some reconsider. Not Bar and his friends, though. Even though Netanyahu failed to mention the notion of a Palestinian state during his speech at the UN, even though settlers invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and after a bloody war in Gaza which was all about maintaining the status quo, they are still trying to convince us that the way to advance the cause of peace is by helping them promote right-wing policies, even as they sit in the opposition.

If Bar and his friends had minimal integrity, they would have dismantled the two-state caucus and declared it will only reconvene when there is an actual plan to discuss. If they were a bit more cunning, they would have realized that international pressure on Netanyahu would play into the opposition’s hands — that is, if the opposition has an alternative to offer regarding the Palestinian issue.

But Labor gave that up years ago. By now, the party has become accustomed to its role as the Likud’s spare tire. The only real debate you get in Labor is on the right timing to join the collation and the perfect moment to pretend being in the opposition — exactly as Tzipi Livni and her party function, by the way. Both Labor and Livni trade places from one Netanyahu government to the other – previously Labor was “promoting peace” within the coalition and Livni was talking about “the need to negotiate” from the opposition, and now it’s the other way around – Livni is in charge of negotiations inside the government and Labor is “promoting peace” from the opposition.

The only unbelievable aspect of this charade is the fact that there are still people who take it at face value. I kid you not: there are actually people convinced that the two-state caucus has something to do with the two-state solution. There are still people addicted to the Israeli Orwellian talk about the importance of negotiations. And when Labor or Livni stop talking about diplomacy and peace for a moment, those people become concerned that something might be wrong. The real problem is their failure to spot the lies that they have been fed for so many years by the heads of the Peace Camp.

When it comes to the occupation, there is not much difference between the Right and most of the Israeli Left. Both sides agree on the need to deal with the Palestinians through military force; both agree on the settlements (make no mistake – the disagreement is about their location, on what makes “a legitimate” settlement, and not on the principle of settling occupied land); both view Palestinian diplomacy as a threat. And most importantly — both see the diplomatic process as a constant attempt to form an Israeli consensus and then shove it down the Palestinians’ throat. This is exactly what MK Bar’s letter was all about.

Personally, I think that Abbas’ strategy probably reached a dead end. Right now, the necessary recalculation goes beyond a move at the UN or the identity of the next mediator. But before that, people should simply stop and listen to MK Bar and other heads of the so-called Israeli peace camp. On every major issue, they simply echo what Netanyahu and Liberman say, though with a different tone. So why not take it from the horse’s mouth?

Labour MPs, make no mistake: By opposing Palestinian statehood you won’t make negotiations resume, and even if they do, the Palestinian side will be weakened so much that nothing will come out of them – exactly as happened in previous rounds. Vote yes for Palestinian statehood. You will not make your Israeli counterparts at Labor any happier, but you’ll do the right and just thing. And by doing so, you might even help advance the cause of peace.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related
Reward activism and diplomacy, not violence
This is Netanyahu’s final status solution
Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t

 

]]> http://972mag.com/labour-mps-vote-yes-on-palestinian-statehood/97604/feed/ 86 Elie Wiesel and Amos Yadlin congratulate East Jerusalem settlers http://972mag.com/elie-wiesel-and-amos-yadlin-congratulate-east-jerusalem-settlers/97540/ http://972mag.com/elie-wiesel-and-amos-yadlin-congratulate-east-jerusalem-settlers/97540/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 12:35:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97540 Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin of the centrist think tank is among the signatories of an ad praising the Jewish settlers who entered 25 apartments in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan last week. ‘By your act of settlement you make us all stand taller,’ the ad reads. Yadlin and Wiesel serve on the public council of Elad, the organization behind the settlement in Silwan.

The City of David archaeological park, against the background of Silwan (photo: JC/Activestills.org)

The City of David archaeological park, against the background of Silwan (photo: JC/Activestills.org)

One of the most dramatic settlement efforts in decades took place a couple of weeks ago, when 25 apartments in the Palestinian neighborhood Silwan, in East Jerusalem, were occupied by Jewish settlers. Silwan is the prize trophy for the settler movement, since it sits right on the edge of the Old City, inside the Holy Basin. The new Israeli push into the Palestinian part of the city was condemned by the international community and stood at the heart of the media coverage during Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. The settlement effort, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, was carried out “by individuals who are associated with an organization whose agenda, by definition, stokes tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The settlement activities in Silwan are carried out by a non-governmental organization called Elad, which is said to have had good ties with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jerusalem Municipality. The government appointed Elad to run City of David, the Jewish archaeological site in Silwan, and an attempt to give Elad rights near the Western Wall was recently struck down by the High Court.

Peace groups and investigative journalists have been warning for years about the role Elad plays in changing the demographic and political reality in East Jerusalem. (A comprehensive background document to the Israeli effort to take over Silwan can be found here.) Elad itself doesn’t have a web site, and the government has granted it a waiver from the requirement to disclose its considerable financial sources.

This morning, Elad’s public council ran an ad in Haaretz congratulating the settlers who entered the Palestinian neighborhood. The ad is signed by the chairman of the public council, Nobel Prize Laureat Elie Weisel. Weisel, a Holocaust survivor, is known for his support of Israel’s effort to settle Palestinian East Jerusalem. In the past, he has confronted the Obama administration for its criticism of government projects beyond the Green Line.

Other names include former Israeli Chief of Police, former head of the Prime Minister’s Office and that of the director of the Institute for National Security Studies, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin.

Yadlin’s role with Elad is of special interest. The INSS presents itself as a security-oriented, realist think tank, so the fact that its head serves in the public council of a religious, ideologically-driven settler organization is particularly telling. Yadlin is also considered pretty close to the dovish Labor party, and he apparently mulled a run in the party’s primaries before the previous Knesset elections. (Rumors are that Yadlin is still considers entering politics with one of the centrist parties.)

The ad reads: “On the eve of Sukkot, we are happy to congratulate the dozens of Jewish families that are joining the Israeli settlement of Ir David [the settlers' name for Silwan - N.S.]. We salute the Zionist work of those who take part in this mission. Strengthening Jewish presence in Jerusalem is the challenge for all of us, and by your act of settlement you make us all stand taller.”

ELAD ad congratulating East Jerusalem settlers

Elad ad congratulating East Jerusalem settlers

Last week, Haaretz revealed that Elad is looking to hire Israeli Jews to occupy the homes it purchased in Palestinian neighborhoods. The payment stands at 500 NIS (136 USD) per day. The job requirement: A licensed gun.

Related:
Settlers take over 7 E. Jerusalem homes in dead of night
In Silwan, the settlers are winning – big time
A couple of Netanyahu’s not-so-white lies to Americans

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A couple of Netanyahu’s not-so-white lies to Americans http://972mag.com/a-couple-of-netanyahus-not-so-white-lies-to-americans/97356/ http://972mag.com/a-couple-of-netanyahus-not-so-white-lies-to-americans/97356/#comments Sun, 05 Oct 2014 10:47:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97356 In the past week or so, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated a couple of talking points that diverged from the truth, but few people called him out on it.

1. In a meeting with the Jewish Federations of North America in New York last Tuesday,  the prime minister fielded a question regarding the state’s practice of sending asylum seekers to detention facilities in the desert, sometimes for unlimited periods of time. This has been the first time the prime minister commented since a recent ruling by the High Court that ordered the detainees to be released. “There is no asylum seeker problem in Israel – they are illegal job immigrants,” responded Netanyahu, according to Barak Ravid’s report in Haaretz. ”We don’t have to open our doors to be swamped by the way other people run their economies.”

But if those who crossed the border from Sudan and Eritrea are job seekers, why doesn’t Israel deport them, like countries do with illegal immigrants? The fact of the matter is that Netanyahu’s government itself gave “group protection” to all asylum seekers from those countries (At the same time, Israel refrains from individually examining their asylum request). Netanyahu might say that the asylum seekers are immigrants, but his own policies dictate a different approach.

2. During Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S., settlers occupied 25 apartments in Silwan, East Jerusalem – the largest entrance of settlers to this flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood since the early nineties. Netanyahu dismissed the fierce criticism the government got over this issue. This is what he said in a press briefing in New York (and again Saturday on Israel’s Channel 2):

“Arabs in Jerusalem are free to purchase apartments in the western [part of the] city and no one is arguing against it [...] I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs [...] This goes against values that the United States also believes in.”

Let’s leave aside the various ties between the government and all those organizations and agencies who settle Jews beyond the Green Line, and take Netanyahu’s words at face value. The simple truth is that Palestinians from East Jerusalem cannot buy apartments anywhere they want in the city. East Jerusalem Arabs – who make up one third of the city’s residents – are not Israeli citizens, but rather permanent residents. They have a lower legal status, which, among other things, prevents them from buying apartments on state land – and most of the big housing projects in Jerusalem are done on state land (East Jerusalemites cannot vote in national elections, and if they leave the country for seven years – de jure, though de facto it can be less –  they lose their residency rights and are prevented from returning).

I am not sure that keeping people as second class citizens–more accurately, non-citizens–goes in line with “values that the United States also believes in.” But at this point, there is such indifference to the Palestinian issue, that Bibi can simply get away with anything.

Related:
Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination
In Silwan, the settlers are winning – big time
‘National Parks’ in East Jerusalem: New tool in occupation toolkit
In East Jerusalem, only Palestinian property seized as ‘Absentee’

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How to talk occupation at a Rosh Hashanah dinner and make it out alive http://972mag.com/how-to-talk-occupation-at-a-rosh-hashanah-dinner-and-make-it-out-alive/96981/ http://972mag.com/how-to-talk-occupation-at-a-rosh-hashanah-dinner-and-make-it-out-alive/96981/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 08:57:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96981 What were you thinking? Everyone in the family noticed that anti-war status you posted this summer, and the hasbara video they sent that you didn’t ‘like.’ Tonight they are going to air it all.

The Rosh Hashanah holiday dinner is a dangerous event for Israeli leftists — especially after this past summer. Remember that angry post you uploaded to Facebook about Shujaiya, or the settlement budget, or about people who put Israeli flag badges on their profile pictures? Present at your holiday dinner will be at least two cousins who noticed and have been waiting two months to take it up with you. And let’s not forget about mom’s elderly uncle. He may not have noticed that you didn’t ‘like’ the hasbara video he posted on your Facebook wall, but you better trust that he won’t miss his chance to explain, at first with a smile but quickly with a face flush red from wine, about the true nature of “the Arab” (in the third person singular).

The keyword of the evening: ISIS. You’re going to hear it a lot. Because the Israeli leftist is a specimen: an object to identify, educate, and if that doesn’t work, to chop up and make meatballs out of. It really doesn’t matter if you’re one of those provocateurs who at Passover says that “freedom is for Palestinians, too,” or if you shelter yourself by “hiding” everyone on Facebook with whom you disagree in order to fortify your safe and pleasant bubble — the family thought-police will catch up with you. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about not getting married, or about the kids you need to have already. This time, the interrogation will go in an entirely different direction.

The recommended strategy is desertion. A long weekend out of the country, or at least out of town, will stop you from becoming the central attraction that keeps all the guests in their seats until midnight. But if you don’t have a viable escape plan, or if you’re one of those masochists who is still planning to convince those who aren’t really even part of the debate, you should probably come prepared, and use only the leftist strategies that have been proven over the years to work. The occupation has been around since 1967, which means that we’re the second and third generations of annoying polemicists, so we might as well make good use of our accumulated experience.

Illustrative photo of Rosh Hashana family dinner. (Photo by Rache Barenblat/Flickr/CC)

Yes, we are looking at you. (Illustrative / Rache Barenblat/Flickr/CC BY-NC SA 2.0 )

1. The “so what do you propose” method (for use in a diverse crowd): This is by far the most effective tactic we have in our arsenal. The trick is to never allow yourself to be dragged into historical arguments of “who started it” and other similar traps. Look only forward. I’ve always wondered about interviewers who allow right-wingers to pour fire and brimstone on the Left, on Arabs and on “the world’s anti-Israel bias,” but who don’t ask them, “OK, so what do you propose?” The first thing that always happens is that the angry tone of the security-oriented Right immediately drops by at least 20 decibels, and their monologues start to become much less matter-of-fact and much more foggy. Now you’re going to hear slogans about an “iron fist” and “if we pull out of the West Bank they’ll shoot at the TLV airport,” and so on and so forth.

At this point, all you need to ask is, “and then what?” In other words, after we crush and eliminate and scorch, what do we do next? Do we annex it all? Do we expel them? Withdraw from the territories? Because those security problems will also be there in five or 10 or 20 years, along with the same West Bank hillsides and the same mortars and the same airport they can hit. Indeed, the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, so what do you propose?

The Right doesn’t have an actual operative plan, and therefore, you can continue in these circles endlessly, or at least clear through to dessert. As it becomes obvious that your opponent has nothing to offer, the rest of the family will lose interest. Maybe they’ll even appreciate you and your rational thinking. You might be a lefty Arab-lover, but not an idiot. Under the present circumstances, that’s something.

There is, of course, the possibility that your opponent will double down and yell: “There is no solution! We’ll always live by the sword!” From my experience, that answer is not a crowd pleaser — especially for those in the crowd who have children to be drafted into the army soon. If they choose to get involved, you’ve won.

2. The Ehud Barak method: As everyone knows, Barak’s only contribution to the public discourse in Israel was in that old interview with Gideon Levy, in which Barak said that if he was a Palestinian he would have joined one of the terrorist organizations and fought against Israel. Despite all of the hasbara efforts, there’s something about that sentence — the simple truth in it — that most Israelis understand. Use that to your advantage.

The challenge here is timing. If you ask, “what would you do if you were Palestinian,” at the right moment, you may just get some surprising answers. If the conversation wanders to the refugee camps and general misery in Gaza, know you are on the right track – you may even be able to mention the siege.

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Your friend in this fight. Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

The problem is that after this past summer many people think that if they were Palestinians they would fight against Hamas because it’s fighting against Israel. So you need to demonstrate that those Palestinians who don’t fight against Israel (like Abbas) still don’t get anything from the Israeli government. At the end of the day, you can explain, the tragic truth is that Israel makes concessions only to those who fight it with force. After the First Intifada we agreed to Oslo, after the Second Intifada — the Gaza Disengagement. “And in order to agree to withdrawing from Sinai,” you should add, “we needed the 1973 War, with thousands dead.” The older crowd will give you a point, if not for the idea then at least for the historical reference.

3. The strategist approach (suitable for an audience with a tendency for geopolitical analyses): A simple argument, which should only be pulled out after the whole family has already talked about ISIS. After they recite the Netanyahuian argument that we can’t make any concessions right now because there are animals like the Islamic State all over the Middle East, you should say something like, “you could also look at things in a different way.” For the first time in the history of Israel, you’ll explain, there’s no functioning army within hundreds of kilometers of our borders. Not Iraq, not Syria and not Hezbollah, which are all busy with civil wars. Even the Egyptians are occupied with their own internal matters, and their coordination with Israel isn’t actually all that bad.

The Israeli existence has never been so secure. What will destroy us is the occupation, and so it’s actually now, when we’re in a strong position and secure, that we need to make a fair deal with the Palestinians. If your audience puts up too much resistance, revert to Method 1: “So what do you propose?”

4. The Leibowitz method (for the Labor/Meretz crowd — or really, for anyone who worries about “the conflict”): The basic argument is that the occupation is destroying Israeli society. All of the tension, the violence, the fact that people can’t imagine a future here more than three or four years ahead, is the inevitable result of the occupation. And in the prophet’s own words, many, many years ago:

A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

Explain to them that everything is happening exactly as Leibowitz foretold. So, maybe let’s change direction?

If among the guests there are any couples whose twenty-something children ran away to New York or Europe (with the encouragement of their parents, as is acceptable today), it’s possible they might nod in agreement. The problem is that most of the Israeli public is living pretty well with today’s status quo, so this approach won’t bring you any further than a draw.

5. The one-state method (best used with a very right-wing crowd). This is your nuclear option. After you voice it, most of the table will probably think you’re delusional, but that’s still better than getting beaten up. In order to use it, you need to understand that the Right’s premise is that the entire Left falls somewhere between Tzipi Livni and Peace Now — that the only thing we’re interested in is dismantling settlements. The goal here is to stupify your opponent by completely agreeing with them, and then to end the argument before they have time to recover.

For most of the discussion let the other side presume that you are only in favor of withdrawal from the West Bank. After they pull out their “security borders,” and ISIS, and the mortars fired at the airport, and maybe even something about our right to live in Hebron (strangely, the Right rarely raises this argument anymore), in a calm voice tell your interlocutor that they’re 100 percent correct, that the two-state solution has no chance, and that the only people who understand it are Uri Elizur, Tzipi Hotovely and Reuven Rivlin.

Yeah, yeah, it turns out that since the Pasover Seder you’ve become a one-state supporter, and they’re actually the ones who convinced you, cousins from Ariel who were always disappointed by your political views. They won. Therefore, clarify that you support Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex Area C — because it will inevitably lead to granting voting rights to Palestinians in areas A and B. We will have it all: democracy, security – and Hebron. Just in case your cousins don’t think of it on their own, remind them that we didn’t come to this land in order to settle Herzliya.

From there, the rest of the argument becomes irrelevant. It’s even possible that silence could prevail. Exploit that moment to clear your plate, quickly thank your hosts, and dash home. It’s late, and you have to catch a flight in the morning.

Related:
From my old blog: Talking to Israelis is so useless these days
There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’

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There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’ http://972mag.com/theres-nothing-static-about-the-west-bank-status-quo/96770/ http://972mag.com/theres-nothing-static-about-the-west-bank-status-quo/96770/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:03:05 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96770 Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s annexation plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

The indispensable Amira Hass reported this morning about an Israeli plan to push thousands of Palestinian-Bedouin into a new town it plans to build in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is one of three areas in which Israel is trying to relocate Bedouin into designated areas or towns; the others are south of Hebron and east of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s government treats all “state land” in the West Bank as if it already belongs to Israel, as opposed to land under dispute. For Israel it’s actually better than annexed land: projects that would take an arduously long time to plan and execute under the civilian planning system in Israel proper can materialize in a matter of months under the IDF military regime in the West Bank.

The government has also been transferring Palestinian municipal — and even private — land into its own possession and control. Despite commitments to several American administrations not to build new settlements, the Israeli government has been legalizing outposts for several years now. It even started construction on the first “official” new settlement since the Oslo accords. Most recently, the government appropriated 1,000 acres near Bethlehem for a new settlement. Altogether, 2013 was a record-setting year in settlement construction.

There will be no Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. Israel will not allow it, and the political circumstances that would otherwise force it to reconsider its position simply don’t exist. Instead, Israel is maintaining the status quo of occupation in the Palestinian territories. But the term is misleading. There is nothing static about the status quo. Israel constantly strengthens its control over the West Bank — and while doing so, it creates a new reality on the ground.

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The effort in the Jordan Valley is especially telling. Netanyahu’s government made the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley a key demand in its negotiations with Secretary of State Kerry earlier this year. In fact, it was one of the key hurdles that prevented the American administration from presenting a framework for a final status agreement.

Since the Gaza war and the shift of international attention to radical Islamic militias in Syria and Iraq, Israel’s desire to hold onto the Jordan Valley has only grown. The effort to create a contiguous Jewish population in the area and to clear the land of Palestinians can only be understood as part of a long-term project that would isolate the rest of the West Bank from Jordan and as consequence – from the rest of the world.

The logic in the government’s other measures isn’t hard to find, either. Its land appropriation near Bethlehem and measures against Palestinian rural communities are aimed at pushing the Palestinian population into several disconnected urban areas, while maintaining a contiguous Israeli presence around and across the West Bank.

Settler leader Naftali Bennett long ago proposed that Israel annex Area C – roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli administrative and military control – giving full civil rights to the roughly 100,000 Palestinians living there. The other millions would live under some form of “enhanced autonomy” in the remaining 40 percent of the land, which would be so fragmented and non-contiguous that it looks like an archipelago.

I don’t think Israel will annex Area C. The international fallout would be too great. More importantly, forced relocation, advancing zoning plans and creating new settlements is actually much easier when the land is under military sovereignty — especially in comparison to the bureaucratic difficulties of civil control west of the Green Line, not to mention the greater degree of transparency.

Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

In the past 20 years or so the international community’s strategy toward the occupation was to try and slow down Israeli measures in the hope that the establishment of a Palestinian state would actually reverse them. This school of thought has failed miserably.

Israel’s ability to find — and use — creative legal and political tools that allow it to pursue its territorial ambitions is constantly improving; efforts to contain those ambitions, meanwhile, have completely disintegrated. Every few years, Israel demands that new “facts on the ground” be recognized as a starting point for any negotiation; the international community then has no option but to discuss these demands, and at times, even accept them as the new norm.

It is now clear that the current road will not lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. A new approach is required if the Palestinian population is ever going to gain its rights, freedoms and at least some of its assets.

Related:
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
Jordan Valley fence would finalize the West Bank’s complete enclosure
PHOTOS: A week in a demolished Jordan Valley village
How Israel uses the pretext of peace talks to build more settlements

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Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle http://972mag.com/replacing-the-peace-process-with-a-civil-rights-struggle/96506/ http://972mag.com/replacing-the-peace-process-with-a-civil-rights-struggle/96506/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:30:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96506 What would happen if Israeli progressives and their supporters demanded an end to the military court system, or called for freedom of movement for Palestinians? The answer: a lot.

The two-state solution has long been transformed from a means (to solving the problem of the occupation) to an end. As I wrote here in the past, this change has had severe consequences as far as the Israeli political opposition is concerned. Those range from a de-facto acceptance of the status quo to a political alliance with the Right and support for all the latest rounds of violence. The excuses are always the same – that we are on the road to the two-state solution and “this is the only game in town.”

The truth is that we aren’t on the road to two states or to one state. We are deep in the status-quo solution. Israel directly controls the lives of some 4 million Palestinians (and indirectly almost two more million in Gaza), and only a minority of them have the rights of full citizens, and even then only formally. The debate over the correct term for this state of affairs (‘occupation’ or ‘apartheid’ or ‘status quo’) is not half as important as recognizing this reality itself, which is stable, institutionalized and not going to change in the foreseeable future.

As a matter of fact, a final status agreement seems as far off as I can remember. The two-state solution is highly unlikely to take place in the coming years, and there is no way of knowing what the more distant future holds. Regional events along with internal developments in Israeli society serve those who oppose an agreement. The occupation empowers those who support it.

The common wisdom in Israel today is that every territory that is evacuated will eventually become another hub for Middle Eastern anarchy. The security establishment believes that only the IDF can prevent forces such as Islamic State from crossing the Jordan River. Israel would also like to make sure that Hamas doesn’t take over the West Bank. In other words, even if a Palestinian “state” is formed, it won’t have even the minimal degree of independence. No credible Palestinian leadership can be expected to agree to that.

I also don’t see any form of international pressure that would force the two-state solution on Israel. Much of the international community is clearly unhappy with Israel’s policies of the last decade, but this is nowhere near the mobilization against South Africa in the 1980s or, more recently, Iran. In both cases the tipping point was the U.S. decision to support and impose sanctions. And while the U.S. might end up distancing itself from Jerusalem, it will continue to use its power to prevent sanctions against it. The EU is also unlikely to expend its measures beyond some steps against the settlements. So there is truly no end in sight.

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the separation wall controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to enter Israel wait at the Israeli military checkpoint in the Separation Wall, controlling movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Facing this new reality, Israeli progressives that supported the peace process are turning to one of a few options: There are those who join the Right in maintaining the status quo; those who continue to believe that some recent events – the war, the ceasefire, American elections, the lack of American elections, etc. – opened a “window of opportunity for peace;” while in fact there is no window, not even a crack. And there are also those who are crying, not without some perverse pleasure, that “all is lost.”

On a more positive note, I believe there is renewed recognition in Israel of the dominance of the occupation on all other political problems, in the long-term threat it presents before Israeli society. I used to hear people say that the Left should focus on social issues and leave the Palestinian problem aside, but not anymore. You even see conservatives voicing some concern over the failure to solve the Palestinian issue. In other words, there is some new recognition of the problem, but there is no political strategy to accompany it among progressives, except for continuing to bang one’s head against the peace process wall.

***

The solution is to replace the diplomatic process with a civil rights struggle, to break the occupation into pieces, and deal with each one of them: The fact that Palestinians do not enjoy freedom of movement. The fact that they have been tried in military courts for almost half a century. The limits on their freedom of speech and their right to freely assemble. The lack of proper detainee rights (including minors). The disrespect for their property rights, and, of course, their lack of political rights.

A civil rights struggle doesn’t necessarily mean a single-state solution, nor two states. Civilian rights for Palestinians can lead to any final status agreement. As I wrote here last week, there is little point in debating solutions right now.

A civil rights struggle is not a new idea, and many Palestinians have been engaging in it for a long time. But Israeli progressives and peaceniks have always placed it second only to the diplomatic process. In other words, instead of the Palestinian state becoming a means for the fulfillment of Palestinian rights, it was made the only desired political object; those rights no longer bared value once they were separated from the idea of statehood – as if because the Palestinians have no state they don’t deserve freedom of movement or a fair trial. Thus, progressives find themselves justifying an authoritarian regime in Ramallah in the name of Palestinians rights, and many other absurdities.

On a tactical level, a civil rights struggle opens the door for Arab-Jewish cooperation on both sides of the Green Line, and leaves aside the questions of statehood and historical narratives that people love to debate. Instead, it focuses on the lives of real people under occupation.

The equal rights of all men and women is such a simple and broadly accepted notion that it’s easy to explain and for everyone to understand. Israelis have adopted all sorts of revisionist readings of the conflict in recent years; for example the idea that the territories aren’t occupied because they were never claimed by any other state. But the most important problem with the occupation is the millions of people held under a military regime for decades, and not just the legal status of the land.

The target of a civil rights struggle is not the settlers, or any other Israeli community, but the state and its practices. It might not make progressives more popular with the Israeli public, but it could make their work more effective.

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon and opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of Labor (Photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon and opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of Labor. Banging one’s head on a hopeless peace process (Photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

What could such a struggle look like? It should raise specific political demands that touch the basic liberties and rights of human beings; such as the right to a fair trial, to equality before the law, and to political representation.

The military court system is a good place to start. Military tribunals could be accepted in very specific contexts and for a limited period of time. They aren’t meant – nor could they be used – to run the lives of a civilian population for decades, as Israel does.

There is no way to justify military commanders ruling over civilian issues for half a century, the way they do in the West Bank. There is no way to justify administrative detentions. What prevents a “pro-peace” party or organization – say, Meretz or Labor or J Street – from right now demanding an end to the military court system, regardless of diplomatic developments? The fact that such an idea is not even debated demonstrates the degree to which even the “pro-peace” camp has adopted the mentality of the occupation.

What about freedom of movement? The Palestinians are held like Israel’s prisoners, not only in the West Bank but also in Gaza. It takes a permit from a military commander to allow a Palestinian to visit his or her family in Jordan. Why not demand turning this policy on its head, right now, and have the security authorities state who they forbid from traveling, and allow everybody else free passage? Surely this is a reasonable enough request?

Human rights groups have been monitoring and discussing these issues for decades, but they have yet to enter progressive politics, which is still chained to the endless peace process. Imagine what would happen if mobilization by the international community around Israeli relations with the PA or its settlement policies was directed at the rights of Palestinians.

To some this might seem like back-door annexation by Israel – an idea that most Israelis and Palestinians still oppose. But the fact of the matter is that de-facto annexation has already taken place, only without allowing the civilian population their basic human and civil rights. Recent cries over the appropriation of some 1,000 acres of land by Israel sound hollow compared to the massive human rights violations that have been taking place for decades. I actually believe that even if Israel was to hand the Palestinians full voting rights in the Knesset tomorrow we could end up with some version of a two-state solution or a confederative model, because both people here are interested in national sovereignty.

Make no mistake: Keeping the Palestinians without rights is not some temporary holding pattern on the way to a final status solution (or peace). For Israel, this is the solution. And giving Palestinians their rights will not postpone an agreement – quite the opposite. It would force Israelis to really think about the kind of future they want, alongside the Palestinians.

***

A final note: This post does not intend to tell Palestinians how to run their affairs, or what form their struggle should take. I don’t think Israelis are in a position to give such advice to the people they occupy, and the Palestinians would be correct not to heed the advice. It’s about Israeli politics. Terminating the occupation (as the first necessary step), reaching a fair compromise with the Palestinian people, and then entering a process of reconciliation are all in the interest of Israelis; but I believe that Israeli and Jewish politics on this issue have reached a dead end, especially on the organizational level. The confusion and anxiety is palpable these days. This is a good starting point for a new journey.

Originally published on my Hebrew blog at Local Call

Related:
One- or two-state solution? The answer is both (or neither)
Gaza war: It’s about keeping the Palestinians under control
This is Netanyahu’s final status solution

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]]> http://972mag.com/replacing-the-peace-process-with-a-civil-rights-struggle/96506/feed/ 36 One- or two-state solution? The answer is both (or neither) http://972mag.com/one-or-two-state-solution-the-answer-is-both-or-neither/96263/ http://972mag.com/one-or-two-state-solution-the-answer-is-both-or-neither/96263/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 19:58:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=96263 The two-state solution is not a progressive cause and neither is a single-state solution — they are just possible means to an end. The only possible goal for progressive politics in Israel/Palestine can be full human, civil and political rights for everyone living on this land. 

[Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com]

[Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com]

Every now and then a comment on this blog attributes a position to me — one I thought I had been very careful to avoid taking. A misunderstood writer should blame only himself and not the readers. However, there is a specific point I always have trouble getting across, maybe because of the way it diverges from the way people tend to frame the political debate — and not just in Israel.

The issue at hand is a so-called final-status agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I often get comments that assume I am preaching for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and for the evacuation of settlements. Other comments take for granted that I am calling on Israel to annex the West Bank and give citizenship to all of the Palestinians.

The truth is that I am not a follower of either of these ideas – or if you prefer, I accept both of them under certain circumstances.

My principal political position is opposition to the occupation. By “occupation” I don’t mean the legal status of the land administrated by Israel. I am referring to the existence of a regime that separates the two populations on ethnic lines and grants them different rights, and to all the policies that are part and parcel of that regime: the military court system, the extra juridical assassinations of people living under Israeli sovereignty, the lack of freedom of movement, the limits on freedom of speech, and many more such measures.

I support equal rights for all people living in this land, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Theoretically this can happen as part of a two-state solution, a single-state solution and in various hybrids of the two. All these solutions could just the same preserve a situation where there are no equal rights and Jews continue to rule over the Palestinians but through different measures, much like what happened in Gaza following the withdrawal of IDF forces and 9,000 settlers in 2005. A person can state that he or she is in favor of the two-state solution or that he or she supports applying Israeli civilian law – instead of a military regime – in the West Bank, but such making such statements guarantees nothing.

Even when such final status plans are presented in their ideal form they all have considerable flaws. The game in which progressives bring up ideas for resolving the conflict and the Right finds holes in them is a lost cause. In fact, the entire debate on solutions might be intellectually intriguing but its only importance is as counterweight to the claim that the conflict is some type of given state of affairs or a natural disaster that cannot be solved. One needs to put alternatives on the table, but they shouldn’t be turned into a cult.

One of the major problems in Israel is that the two-state solution was transformed from a means — to ending the occupation and its evils — into a goal. This is a disastrous development. There is no “peace camp” in Israel and no major political force seeking justice; there is only a “two-state camp,” which is something completely different. If a peace camp is having trouble implementing the two-state solution, it looks for just alternatives which will end the occupation and diminish its evils. But when a two-state camp has trouble implementing a two-state solution, it stops looking for any sort of solution and instead becomes a supporter of the status quo with all its inherent policies, such as the need to kill 2,000 people in Gaza in order to maintain the current state of affairs.

This is why progressives need to go back to opposing the occupation, and they need to do it actively — not just through lip service about “a diplomatic process” or two states or peace and all the newspeak Shimon Peres trademarked.

One must be very wary not to delve too deeply into the debate about solutions. More often than not, this conversation is a waste of time and political capital. Solutions are not the result of debate clubs but of political interests at a given moment in time. In other words, once Israeli society decides to end the occupation irrespective of the political circumstances, the power relations and various interests will determine the nature of the arrangements on the ground.

That is the moment in time where we, Israelis, will need to conduct an honest conversation about the kind of arrangement we would rather negotiate (Palestinians would do the same probably). Such a debate cannot exist now because the one thing we can all agree on is prolonging the status quo. This is what happens every day in the Israeli political system: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Liberman, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni (or Labor’s Yitzhak Herzog, for that matter) can be part of the same coalition despite their contradictory options because they can live with the status quo. That is the common denominator that defines the entire system.

One final note: even when the final status agreement presents itself, it will be neither final nor static and we will need to continue working so that relations between Jews and Palestinians are conducted within an egalitarian and accountable political system and not through though exploitation or military force. There are no endgames in politics, certainly not here.

Related:
Who gets to vote in Israel’s democracy?
War is the new system of governance (and five other Gaza takeaways)
This is Netanyahu’s final status solution

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