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Jewish-Arab alliances are our best shot against segregation

Israel is already a binational state based on ethnic segregation. The struggle to turn it into an inclusive one must be fought by Jews and Palestinians — together. A response to Rami Younis and Orly Noy.

In their article, “Let’s stop talking about a false ‘Jewish-Arab partnership,’” +972 writers Orly Noy and Rami Younis criticize calls for establishing a Jewish-Arab party on what appears to be the ruins of the Israeli left following last week’s elections. While I identify with some of their arguments, their bottom line is problematic, and their criticism of other Israeli left-wing groups is wrong and often unfair.

Let’s begin by agreeing. It is true that for many Jewish Israelis, including on the left, Jewish-Arab partnership includes a division between “good Arabs” who are worthy of alliance and illegitimate Arabs. This, of course, is not real partnership, but rather an attempt to divide and conquer, and Palestinians have every right to be suspicious of it.

Yet I do not believe this claim applies to the entirety of the Israeli left. Younis and Noy’s article deliberately distorts reality, as if establishing a joint framework with some Palestinians delegitimizes all the other Palestinians. There are cases, of course, in which this is true. But there are many other cases in which it is not. It certainly cannot be used as a reason for invalidating the very idea of partnership.

Secondly, the idea that political partnerships reproduce societal power relations (which tend to favor Ashkenazi Jewish men) is nothing new. Power relations exist almost everywhere; the idea that one can circumvent them is the real fallacy. The solution is developing awareness, while creating mechanisms and a culture of equality within those frameworks.


I would not insist on these points had Younis and Noy posited an alternative. One would be able forgo these joint political frameworks had we a different and effective model for change. We all know the model of separation, and we know where it leads to. Separation is the status quo. Israel is a segregationist, exploitative binational state (within both ’48 and ’67 borders). The question is how to turn it into an inclusive, just state based on equality (within ’48 or ’67 borders). In my eyes, partnership is the radical approach — as long as it is not done artificially, but within the framework of a political movement that seeks real change.

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Netanyahu's gift to anti-deportation activists

Netanyahu inadvertently told the entire country that there is a better alternative to his policies. Now that the alternative is within reach, the work of anti-deportation activists will become easier.

The terrible thing about Netanyahu’s UN deal, and its subsequent cancellation on Tuesday, is that behind the political flip-flopping are people — thousands of families wavering between joy and despair, buffeted by decisions over which they have no influence. Political drama in Israel is addicting, but those most affected by it are human beings. When an advisor whispers in Avigdor Liberman’s ear that a harsh response to Palestinian protesters will improve his standing in the polls, someone inevitably dies. Whether the soldier’s finger is easy on the trigger pales in comparison to cynicism of this kind.

Nevertheless, I am more optimistic about the fate of the asylum seekers than I was last week. Here’s why.

First, the mass deportations have been stopped — this is the most important thing. The agreement with Rwanda has collapsed — the prime minister admitted this much on live television on Monday. Public debate on the matter is over. It is unlikely that such a scenario, a third world country willing to take in refugees in exchange for money and political support, will happen again — though I doubt this will prevent Israel’s governing coalition from trying.

Holot, the open-air, desert detention facility built for African asylum seekers is closed. This, too, is a major achievement, despite the millions of shekels wasted on the facility. The situation of asylum seekers who refused to leave and were imprisoned there will also improve. There is no longer any legal reason to keep them in prison.

Most importantly, Netanyahu told the entire country that there is a clear, practicable, and better alternative to his policies. The work of those who opposed the deportations will be easier now because the alternative is within arm’s reach — and we know precisely why Netanyahu first accepted it but then reneged. It has nothing to do with the refugees or with the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv. Rather, Netanyahu’s political fate rests in the hands of a certain segment of the far-right.

The responsibility for finding a solution to the refugee crisis and the poverty of south Tel Aviv now belongs to those far-right forces that torpedoed the agreement with the UN. Every future proposal will be measured according to the potential of what...

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As corruption cases close in, Netanyahu will move further right to survive

Netanyahu is already painting the police recommendation to indict him as a political witch hunt. That will have significant consequences on how the attorney general proceeds, and what Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister does to survive.

The Israeli police on Tuesday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption cases, referred to as Case 1000 and Case 2000. In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of trying to advance the interests of Israeli tycoon Arnon Milchen in exchange for lavish gifts he and his wife demanded; in Case 2000, Netanyahu was recorded plotting to pursue regulatory changes that would have assisted the daily paper Yedioth Ahronoth in exchange for “indefinite” positive coverage, as promised by the paper’s publisher, Arnon Mozes. Netanyahu is suspected of receiving or being offered bribes in both cases.

Netanyahu doesn’t deny the facts, only the police’s interpretation of them. In a live message Tuesday evening, he tried to rally his base by claiming (as he has in the past) that he is the victim of politically motivated attacks. He also vowed not to resign. Tuesday’s big news – the involvement of Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main political rival, as a key witness for the prosecution in Case 1000 – assists Bibi in politicizing the discourse around the affair even further.

So what’s next for Bibi?

The decision whether to press charges lies in the hands of the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who will likely take months to consider the evidence, maybe even a full year. Theoretically, Mandelblit could make up his mind much sooner, since the prosecution was involved in the police investigation from its inception, as it does in high profile cases – but this is unlikely for legal and political reasons alike.

If Mandelblit presses charges, the assumption is that Bibi’s coalition partners would resign, leading to early elections. But the common wisdom is that if Bibi senses an indictment coming he will call snap elections. Mandelblit won’t be able to announce his decision during a campaign – for fear of tipping the elections, and once Bibi wins, it will be politically difficult for the attorney general to press charges at all (if Netanyahu loses it won’t matter anyway). On the other hand, if the public pressure against Bibi intensifies, things might move faster.

Personally, I don’t see how Mandelblit can avoid pressing charges without it being seen as a cover-up. A decision not to indict...

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On Jerusalem, Trump is proving that the Israeli right was right all along

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital the U.S. president is boosting the settlers’ argument that in the long run, ‘facts on the ground’ are more important than diplomacy, and that Israel will eventually win legitimacy for its actions — even unilateral annexation.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan is said to have hesitated before ordering the IDF to conquer the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967. “What do I need this Vatican for,” he said at one meeting. But even the secular Dayan was swept by the wave of religious euphoria that took Israel after the war. A few weeks later, the government decided to annex the eastern part of the city, along with a sizable territory around it, including over 20 Palestinian towns and villages that had never been part of the city. The size of the annexed land was 10 times bigger than what the Jordanians defined as East Jerusalem during the 19 years they ruled over it.

No country has recognized Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory (and people) of Jerusalem; and since the Oslo process in the 1990s, it was commonly understood that the fate of the city would be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. To complicate things further, Israel didn’t grant East Jerusalemites citizenship; it has kept them as “permanent residents” – a legal status usually meant for immigrants, which deprives them of many rights (most notably, the purchase of state land and the participation in the general elections), and which can be revoked at any moment by the Interior Ministry.

Today, Palestinians make up over one-third of Jerusalem’s population. Jewish neighborhoods have spread mostly east, beyond the Green Line. In the Israeli political discourse this is simply “Jerusalem”; the rest of the world sees it as occupied land, and calls those neighborhoods settlements. Trump’s announcement will completely align U.S. policy with Israel’s positions.

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Changes to the status quo in Jerusalem have led to violent outbursts in the past. The most obvious examples are the tunnel events in September 1996, which claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis and Palestinians and led to the Hebron agreement; Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which started...

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No institution is safe from the corrupting power of occupation

The persecution of Breaking the Silence’s spokesperson is further proof that the state’s investigative bodies are not only deeply politicized, they are simply uninterested in doing their job.

Between the years 2013 and 2016, Israeli anti-occupation group Yesh Din tracked the police’s response to 289 cases of “ideological crimes” against Palestinians in the West Bank. In each of those cases, the Palestinians filed a complaint with the police; some of them included photographic material, video, and testimonies provided by Israeli civilians or soldiers. And yet, only 20 cases led to indictments. In no less than 183 of them, the police were unable to locate the criminals or find evidence; more often than not, they never truly carried out a real investigation. Of the 45 cases that were opened between 2012-2014 following violence by Israelis from the radical settlement of Yitzhar against Palestinians and their property (a phenomenon known as “price tag attacks”), only one led to an indictment.

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, B’Tselem, another Israeli anti-occupation organization, demanded the State Attorney’s Office investigate the 739 cases in which Palestinians were killed, beaten, or wounded by soldiers, or their property damaged (as opposed to Yesh Din’s cases, which deal violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians). In a quarter of these incidents, not a single investigation was undertaken. In half of them, the cases were closed and only 25 cases ended in indictments. When B’Tselem asked for updates on 44 cases, the state attorney was unable to even locate the files.

Three years have passed since “Black Friday,” in which the Israeli army used the Hannibal Procedure, killing (some say purposefully) hundreds of Palestinians in the city of Rafah during Operation Protective Edge. The state attorney is still debating whether or not to investigate the incident, despite the recommendations by an Israeli committee, which established that these kinds of decisions must be made within 14 months, at most.

This is the context underlying the police and the army’s investigations of violence in the occupied territories. At best, investigations are characterized by apathy, foot dragging, and negligence; at worst, they are beset by distortions, whitewashing, and cooperation with criminals.

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Everyday encounters

Those who want to gain a better understanding of the way the authorities...

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No, Catalonia isn't Palestine

Some in Israel are drawing parallels between the Catalonian demand for national self-determination and Palestinian independence. The two situations are nothing alike.

The referendum over Catalonian secession underway in Spain is turning into a serious political crisis, which threatens to become a European crisis that could dwarf even Brexit. The European Union has succeeded at tampering internal conflicts inside member states: the vision of European identity was critical in ending the violence in Northern Ireland, and perhaps even the struggle for Basque independence.

Now, a declaration of Catalonian independence would put to a test not only Spain, but the European Union itself: other member-states also have secession movements of their own, of varying significance. The basic instinct of the EU is, of course, to preserve the status quo but it is possible that is no longer an option. (On that note, I recommend reading the New York Review of Books’s survey of literature calling for a new European narrative or political framework.)

On the sidelines of the referendum in Spain, some in Israel are drawing parallels between the Catalonian demand for national self-determination and Palestinian demands. These wonder out loud how Spain and Europe could push Palestinian independence on Israel when they oppose the independence of minority groups within their own borders. The two situations are nothing alike, however.

Catalonians are already full citizens in Spain, like the Kurds in Iraq, Tibetans in China, and most of the minority groups in the world that are demanding independence. If we were to imagine a parallel situation in Israel, it would be if Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Galilee or the Negev were to demand independence. Alternatively, another comparable situation would be if following Israel annexing the Palestinian territories and giving citizenship to all of its residents, Palestinians within the resultant one-state solution were to hold a referendum on secession. That might not be the worst idea in the world.

Likewise, the “autonomy” that Israel has supposedly granted Palestinians does not at all resemble the idea of autonomy that is discussed in the rest of the world. Autonomy for certain regions or minority groups is supposed to supplement basic civil rights, not in place of them. The Israeli example is more akin to the demands in South Africa to recognize Bantustans as autonomous regions than to other ideas of autonomy.

Current examples that are closer to the Israeli case, at least...

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Everything you think you know about Israeli-Palestinian peace is wrong

Israelis and Palestinians have grown the furthest apart during periods of quiet; it is in times of violence that the two nations have suddenly become flexible in their positions. That defies everything we tell ourselves about prospects for peace, and everything the world has told Palestinians they must do to achieve it. A review of ‘The Only Language They Understand,’ by Nathan Thrall.

“The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine”, by Nathan Thrall, Metropolitan Books, 2017, 336 pages.

The year 2012 was particularly noteworthy in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: for the first time since 1973, not a single Israeli was killed in the West Bank. This was also the final year of then-Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building project, celebrated by the international community, and even by Israel.

Theoretically, that should have led to a breakthrough in the peace process, at least as far as the West Bank was concerned. Conventional wisdom in Israel and in the world said that the violence and corruption that flourished under Arafat’s leadership were the main determinants in the collapse of peace talks and the meltdown of an Israeli “peace camp,” by virtue of the disappointment and lack of trust they created on the Israeli side. But after Arafat, in 2012, the two men in charge of the Palestinian Authority were: Mahmoud Abbas, who all but ignored Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip and saw security coordination with Israel as sacred (as he reportedly told a delegation of Israeli peace activists in 2014), and Prime Minister Fayyad, whose main focus was institution-building, and who refrained from almost any type of confrontation with Israel.

Instead, the exact opposite happened: Israel’s interest in the peace process completely died out. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who thee years earlier agreed under the duress of American threats to the idea of a Palestinian state, began laying more and more obstacles in its path. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was added as a new “core issue” in negotiations. Netanyahu’s demand that Israel maintain complete freedom of military action in a future Palestinian state hollowed out the very idea of Palestinian sovereignty. “Economic peace,” which had been Netanyahu’s proposed alternative to actual peace during the 2009 elections, turned out to be an empty slogan. Settlement construction and expansion continued unabated, and the settler population in the West Bank...

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There is no right-wing one-state solution

Seven years after publishing a feature on Israeli settlers who support equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, it’s time to revisit the idea.

There is nothing the Israel Right loves more than adopting the criticism of its rivals on the Left in order to justify its rule. Strangely, this criticism has turned into a main aspect of the language settlers use when describing their “coexistence” with the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Their argument goes as such: while Tel Aviv is a bubble where rich, liberal Jews love Arabs in theory only, in the West Bank we truly see the Palestinians as humans and as neighbors. The Left fantasizes about peace agreements with people it doesn’t even know, but the Right’s version of coexistence includes real people — who are sometimes filled with hate and sometimes are not, who work and live together but want to keep their own culture, and who see each other as equals.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that if the first part of the argument has some grounding in reality (even if limited, since there are Arabs in places like Tel Aviv-Jaffa, as well are joint Jewish-Arab schools and a shared — if limited — economy), the second part is simply absurd. In fact, all it does is evince the grotesque lack of awareness brought on by the Right’s intoxication with power.

Ask the Palestinians

The recent outcry over the IDF’s futile attempt to approve the building of several thousands housing units for Palestinians in Qalqilya over the next several decades proves that the Right’s imagined coexistence in the occupied territories is uncannily similar to the kind whites dreamed of in Rhodesia. That is, we can get our cars fixed for cheap, and they can come work for us, bereft of any rights. In the meantime, they can continue living in their crowded cities and squalid refugee camps.

On the Right, the political argument takes place between the colonialists, who accept this current situation, the apartheidists, who believe in complete separation between the two populations, and the transferists, who are now openly awaiting a third Nakba.

Although I live in Tel Aviv, I have met a few Palestinians in my life. Surprisingly, none of them believe that the right wing’s authentic, violent, outright racism is preferable to the Left’s invisible discrimination. At most, they despise both of them.

It is true that Jews and Palestinians live amongst each other in the...

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Israel's problem isn't Palestinian nationalism — it's Palestinians themselves

Most of the circumstances that made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ripe for resolution — or at least made the peace process attractive to both parties — have all but disappeared over the past decade.

Many Israelis were likely happy to read The New Yorker article titled “The End of This Road: The Decline of the Palestinian National Movement” earlier this month. The piece is of particular interest due to where it was published — the liberal elite’s most prominent magazine, which generally champions the Zionist Left and the American-backed two-state solution.

The identity of its authors is also noteworthy: Ahmad Samih Khalidi was involved in Israeli-Palestinian talks for years; Hussein Agha is a close associate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was charged with holding secret talks with Yitzhak Molcho — Netanyahu’s chief envoy to the negotiations — and Obama’s former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross in the run-up to John Kerry’s peace initiative in 2013.

For the same reason we should also take the authors’ main argument, according to which Abbas is the last remaining Palestinian who can sign a final-status agreement, with a grain of salt. Yet the headline is not misleading, and it joins a long list of publications that rightfully declare the end of the Oslo peace process.

Over the past decade, most of the circumstances that made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ripe for resolution — or at least made the peace process attractive to both parties — have all but disappeared. The process began with the Madrid Conference at the end of the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising that subverted and upended Israel’s mechanisms of control in the occupied territories at the time, which meant that Israel was suddenly faced with managing a hostile population. Meanwhile, as the Cold War came to an end, the United States was the sole remaining superpower to which the rest of the world wanted to get closer. The peace process promised Israel a thaw in relations with the Third World, an economic leap, and an end to the Arab boycott. Meanwhile, the then-exiled PLO was facing a crisis and feared the emergence of an alternative leadership developing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Twenty-five years later, Israel has grown stronger, including with regards to its influence over internal American politics. The low-hanging fruit of the peace process have already been picked. It is convenient for the Israeli Right, which loves to criticize...

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Decades of failed peace talks: How Israel negotiates with itself

Why have Israeli-Palestinian negotiations failed? The most common answer among the Israeli right focuses on “Palestinian rejectionism” or mistakes made by American facilitators. According to the narrative espoused by the center-left, Israel also hasn’t shown up to the negotiating table with clean hands — certainly not in the past decade. And yet, the fact that talks continue to fail without any correlation to the makeup of the leadership on either side (leaders representing different governments with different politics and approaches, operating under different international and regional circumstances), leaves much to be desired.

I’d like to propose an alternative framework, focusing on the dynamics and interests in the process, rather than the personalities and ideologies.

We already live in a one-state reality

The median age of the Jewish population in Israel is 32. The median age for non-Jewish Israeli citizens is 22.5, and the median age of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is 20. In other words, half the population between the river and the sea was born — or, at least, grew up — in the post-Oslo era. Only a small minority remember what things were like before the occupation began in 1967. We talk about the status quo as a temporary state of affairs, but it is actually the opposite: in a chaotic and volatile world, the occupation is a rare constant for most people in Israel-Palestine.

What does this reality look like on the ground? The Jewish and Palestinian populations are mixed together throughout the territory. Jews and Arabs live alongside one another in the West Bank, along the coastal plain, in the north and in the south of Israel, and of course in Jerusalem. And in each one of these areas, the State of Israel is sovereign. It controls every land and sea border, all of the airspace, the primary currency and the population registry — within the Green Line, in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and for the most part, in Gaza as well. The State of Israel also exercises perhaps the most important ingredient of sovereignty — it enjoys a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in the entire territory.

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U.S. Jews can’t expect Israel to be liberal only where they want it to

Liberal American Jewry is up in arms after the Israeli government nixed a deal to allow men and women to pray together at Judaism’s holiest site. But if American Jews want their interests in Israel safeguarded, they must rid themselves of the fantasy of a nonexistent Jewish pluralism.

The Netanyahu government created an uproar across the Jewish world on Sunday by rolling back an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall where men and women could pray together. The compromise would also have brought representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements into a committee meant to manage that space.

That arrangement was vetoed by the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government, parties that hold an almost king-maker role in Israeli politics. The ball will probably land in the court of Israel’s judiciary, once again, like most issues of religion and state that could not be resolved politically over the past few decades. But even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Reform and Conservative movements, the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel’s governing coalition will likely block implementation just as they did this week.

Much has already been written on the issue, including the ironic fact that until 1948 worshipers at the Kotel weren’t segregated at all, and that the current arrangement does not reflect a Jewish tradition, but rather an Israeli political tradition. But the important lesson has to do with the idea that the American Jewish community’s interests in Israel can exist in a plane that is separate from politics, and therefore shielded from the nativist and xenophobic ideological trends that have come to dominate Israel in recent years. Or put simply: the idea that the political unpopularity of liberal positions in Israel can by bypassed through back room deals made among the prime minister, his envoys, and the heads of the American Jewish community.

This is a dangerous fantasy that led the American Jewish community to a bad place – holding liberal values at home and supporting illiberal policies in Israel as long as those policies were directed at Palestinians and did not affect the interests of the community itself. This in turn led to a cross-generational crisis in the community. The bottom line is that many times controversy is better than fake unity.

Since Sunday, some commentators have argued that the defeat suffered by the Conservative and Reform movements is the result of their lack of direct political power both...

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The settlers' goal is not the settlements

It is the total transformation of Israel.

The settlements, the settlers, and the occupation are all entirely associated with one another in the Israeli consciousness. The Left and the Right agree on this, albeit with varying considerations: the Left wants to apportion blame for Israel’s continuing control over the West Bank, while the settlers want to take credit for the settlement project and for thwarting the idea of partitioning the land.

The image of the settler leadership as ideological extremists suits everyone — even the international community, which has accustomed itself to an artificial distinction between “good” and democratic Israel, which is embraced and respected, and bad “settler” Israel.

But this discourse is disconnected from reality. The occupation has persisted not because of the settlers, but because of the actions of the state — in which all of Israeli society participates. The settler leadership is highly pragmatic, enabling it to adopt whichever political position prevails vis-a-vis the settlement enterprise in the Israeli political discourse. Under certain political circumstances, this pragmatism makes possible the evacuation of settlements. Settling the land is not at all the settlers’ true goal, and I’ll explain why.

The first settlement was established in Gush Etzion immediately following the Six-Day War in 1967. There were no real political disagreements over its founding, because it was thought of as a “return” to a site that had been lost 19 years earlier during the 1948 War. The following year saw an attempt at establishing a settlement in Hebron, eventually leading to the founding of Kiryat Arba (Jews only began properly residing in the Palestinian city after Likud took power in 1977). Most of the settlements that sprung up in those early years were in the Jordan Valley, and were in fact established by the Labor Zionists of the Mapai party.

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This last point is significant: there has never been a debate in Israel over establishing settlements, and every single government since the occupation began has built beyond the Green Line. Rather, the debate has been over where to build — or, to be more exact, who will decide where settlements should be built. As such, the term “settler” has never been applied to people living in the Jordan Valley, just as the...

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The lie of Netanyahu's economic 'gestures'

Netanyahu’s goodwill ‘gestures’ to the Palestinians are nothing more than a way to appease President Trump on his visit. So why is the media playing along?

In the run-up to President Trump’s visit to the region, the Israeli government adopted a number of modest goodwill gestures vis-a-vis Palestinians in the West Bank, which the Israeli media immediately dubbed “trust-building” measures. Local newspapers reported that none of the steps taken had anything to do with security, but rather revolved around civilian issues. This included making sure the Allenby Bridge — which connects the West Bank to Jordan — stayed open for longer; easing construction in Area C; and expanding the Tarkumiya industrial zone. As expected, ministers from the right-wing Jewish Home party opposed the measures.

Why do we need a visit from an American president for these measures? After all, Netanyahu believes in “economic peace,”  and the Right keeps promising us that Palestinians under occupation are far better off than anywhere else in the Arab world, and surely better than under a Palestinian state, if and when it is established. The Left has always argued that politics and the economy are intertwined, yet the Right pledged to undo this knot. And anyway, if Israel intends to remain in some or most of the West Bank, what is more logical than developing those territories?

It is no coincidence that not a single political reporter has raised these naive questions before the prime minister. We all know that these gestures are not intended for the Palestinians, but rather for Trump. The Right has no interest in economic development in the occupied territories. “Economic peace” is a farce, and all of us — the media and the political system — take part in it.

The last thing Israel wants is a strong, sustainable Palestinian middle class, since that same middle class will immediately demand political rights. The occupation works best in the face of a poor, disintegrated society, which depends on work permits and a constant flow of money from the Palestinian Authority. And in order to get a work permit from Israel, a Palestinian needs to be uninvolved in all political activities, and is sometimes even asked to spy on his neighbors or family members. Collaborators are an essential part of the system; a viable economy, like freedom of movement, stands in contradiction to the occupation.

Those same “gestures,” similar to work permits, are cards that Israel...

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