A public exchange has been taking place between Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and the paper’s columnist Ari Shavit over Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” According to Shavit’s latest piece, supporting peace means forcing the Palestinians to accept Israeli preconditions, otherwise there will be no agreement. This has always been the logic of the Israeli center – we will make up our mind over what to do with the Palestinians, and they will just have to accept our decision. Otherwise, the occupation will never end. Then, as always, comes the line about Israelis being the real victims of this unpleasant situation.
I would not have written this piece if I didn’t hear people refer to Shavit as a peacenik, or even as a “lefty” (twice!) in the past week. You just don’t hear that being said in Israel, mostly because Shavit is too busy attacking the left. However, that is the kind of language used to describe him in the United States.
Shavit needs to be congratulated for using the term “occupation” in an Israeli political climate that is all about denying reality, but this is where his activism ends. I cannot remember a serious political issue over the last decade in which Shavit didn’t parrot Netanyahu’s line, not to mention Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak’s before him. Sure, Shavit can comment about the need to halt settlement construction and bring about a two-state solution, not to mention his repeated line regarding the inevitable “moment of choice” on Iran. But whenever there is a concrete issue at hand, something that requires taking a side, Shavit retreats into his comfort zone as the spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office.
By now it is clear to everyone in their right mind, both supporters of the diplomatic process or his critics from the left, that Bibi manipulated Kerry into the only outcome he could live with: forcing the Palestinians to abandon negotiations over an issue that Bibi’s central constituencies – the Jewish-Israeli public and the American Jewish establishment – view as consensus. (For more, read this interesting account by Yossi Beilin on Kerry’s mistakes in handling Netanyahu.)
In order for Bibi to achieve his goal, he simply cannot take on the issue of settlements, as a large part of the Jewish public on both sides of the Atlantic accepts the 1967 borders and sees the settlements as a historic mistake and a violation of international law. But the abstract demand that Palestinians endorse the Jewish narrative regarding their homeland is something very few Jews oppose. Some even support the idea while others simply don’t care, thinking that Abbas shouldn’t either.
As negotiations head toward their only possible outcome – the U.S. working with Israel to keep the Palestinians negotiating over nothing, rather than turning to the international community for recognition – it is time for some soul-searching among those who thought that without confronting the issue of Jerusalem, neither a just nor sustainable solution could be achieved.
But in certain circles, the idea that Israel doesn’t want to end the occupation, or that the current political elite is satisfied with the status quo, is simply not an option – not even in theory. Thus, we are bound to see many more discussions about the “complexity” of the problems that have brought about this failure, and even more references to the Shavits of the world as peaceniks.