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Fifty years of opposition

Each decade of the occupation has brought changing fortunes to prospects for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and varying levels of opposition to Israel’s military rule. After half a century, could there finally be a proposal that stands a chance?

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014 (Activestills)

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014 (Activestills)

Fifty-fever marking the anniversary since the 1967 war has swept both the Israeli Left and the Right. The Right is dreaming up ever more creative ways to celebrate Israel’s triumph — the culture minister recently wore a dress screen-printed with scenes from Jerusalem to the Cannes Film Festival — while the Israeli Left is grasping for ways to remind a largely-apathetic public about the ills of occupation.

Still, the often-overlooked fact is that 50 years of Israeli occupation is also a half-century of opposition. It is true that the core goal of ending occupation has failed and there is no political resolution in sight. But the history of opposition holds elements of success. In fact the often-derided “peace industry” has produced not just dialogues and demonstrations but has helped legitimize ideas in Israel that form the core principles for resolving the conflict.

In the beginning, there were doubts

The start of opposition to Israel’s policy in the territories captured in 1967 go back to the war itself. Its consequences have never been a consensus in Israel.

Shortly after the war, the scientist cum conscience-philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz railed against prolonged military rule over the Palestinians. He argued that Israel would lose its Jewish majority and Israelis would turn into security-obsessed occupiers, while destroying Palestinian society.

But even during the war, on its fifth day, a parliamentarian named Uri Avnery called openly on the prime minister to give the captured land to the Palestinians so that the latter could establish an independent state. In August 1967, the writer Amos Oz wrote an open letter calling to end the occupation.

This same phase saw the birth of the settlements. But in 1970, a nascent movement of IDF pre-recruits protesting their service in “the territories” emerged – some would later refuse. In 1978 a letter signed by several hundred officers protested government policy “perpetuating its rule over a million Arabs,” which they argued “could harm the Jewish-democratic character of the state.” The letter became a touchstone moment in the formation of Peace Now.

Demonstrators organize a performance in support of Tair Kaminer, a 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, at the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Demonstrators organize a performance in support of Tair Kaminer, a 19-year-old Israeli conscientious objector, at the Tel Hashomer induction base, Ramat Gan, Israel, January 10, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Today these words sound standard. But at the time, they were shocking. In 1978, just five percent of Israeli Jews polled supported withdrawal from the West Bank and 91 percent rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to news reports. There were already over 5,000 settlers. Uri Avnery suffered attempts on his life, the offices of his newspaper were bombed, and Golda Meir openly longed for him to be banned from the Knesset.

During the 1970s and ’80s, three core ideas emerged from the Left: the notion that the occupation was bad for both Israelis and Palestinians and should end; that settlements were damaging to peace; and that there should be a Palestinian state.

Despite social opprobrium, the most radical of these — the establishment of a Palestinian state — or the two state solution, endured. PLO figures were considering this goal from the mid-1970s, and the PLO formally adopted the notion (implicitly) in 1988. Opinion in Israel began to shift. By the 1993 Oslo accords, Israeli Jewish public support for a Palestinian state was roughly one-third. By the mid-1990s public support reached half, then topped 60 percent in the 2000s (based on data of Israeli Jews from the Institute for National Security Studies).

Losing momentum, changing direction

The failure of peace negotiations in the summer of 2000 and the outbreak of the second Intifada saw severe violence on both sides through the first half of the 2000s. Settlements had ballooned and by 2000, there were roughly 300,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Oslo framework breaking the West Bank and Gaza into segments and restricting Palestinian movement remained, but the diplomatic progress towards a two-state separation ground to a halt.

Expansion and building of new settlement units of Beit Arye on the land of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Expansion and building of new settlement units of Beit Arye on the land of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Instead, the occupation became more entrenched, more elaborate, and more permanent. In response to the widespread violation of human rights including land appropriation, torture, military courts and movement restrictions, a growing community of Israeli human rights organizations arose, becoming more prominent during the 2000s. The two-state solution was stuck, but the idea of protecting human rights spread. Palestinians of course had been demanding rights throughout; now Israeli human rights organizations came to the fore in Israel and on the international scene, to no small controversy. The idea of a “rights-based” approach gained more prominence. But the 2010s, human rights discourse practically took the place of a nearly defunct “peace” discourse among the left.

Israeli human rights activists tended to formally steer away from advocating specific political frameworks for resolving the conflict. They sought an objective human rights standard that could transcend politics, that they could demand of any party in power.

Some in the Left wondered if the improvement of piecemeal human rights without addressing the underlying political policy that caused the violations might actually make the occupation more sustainable. Those voices remained committed to a political solution.

Two states fade

But by the late 2000s, the implementation of two states began to seem increasingly remote. In 2009 a far-right government took over Israel; Palestinian leadership was divided and weak. The settlement juggernaut, with the accompanying infrastructure and IDF land takeovers, continued to spread.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men walk near the separation wall around a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men walk near the separation wall around a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An idea that was long found only on the marginal fringes of the Left in Israel began to reappear in public discourse: one single, democratic state with equal rights for all.

It became a heated debate, sparking countless articles and arguments in various left-wing forums such as J Street, from roughly the beginning of the new decade in 2010. Committed two-state advocates found themselves defending the position to the growing number who felt the window had closed.

The truth, however, was that one-state never truly launched. After decades of occasional consideration (going back to the early-20th century), only 20 percent of Israeli Jews, and over one-third of Palestinians support it, in the December joint survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (proper disclosure, I am the Israeli researcher on this project). Both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are formally against it; and many Left and centrist organizations, including the main center-left parties in Israel, have made one state into a scare tactic, to convince Israelis that a two-state solution is urgent.

By 2016, the number of settlers had roughly doubled since 2000, approaching 600,000. The two-state solution appears more unlikely every day. Although settlements represent the bullseye target of left-wing opposition for decades, some feel that instead of fighting windmills, there is a need for new solutions. Fifty-five percent of all Israelis still support the two-state solution, but just half of Jews, according to the December 2016 survey.

Waning prospects have driven new ideas again. In recent years, some have begun to envision a modified version of two states, based on two governments for two peoples, with different national identities and a geographic border. But instead of a hard separation, this approach envisions a porous border. Citizens of either side would be allowed to cross for travel, leisure, work or even residency unless they pose an individual security threat — to replace the collective restriction of movement that exists today.

Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, February 25, 2016. (Activestills)

Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, February 25, 2016. (Activestills)

Rather than uprooting massive numbers of settlers as the traditional two-state solution would require, with the accompanying potential for internal Israeli social breakdown, this approach allows for citizens of each side to live as permanent residents in the other state – under local laws, with full rights, but national voting in one’s country of identity (Arab citizens of Israel can choose their citizenship, or retain both).

Jerusalem would remain united, the capital of two states, under a unified municipality representing both populations, to provide municipal services. Holy sites would be protected by religious authorities like today, and perhaps an international body. Security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces can continue as it is today — in fact this is one of the only successful forms of cooperation today. The situation is precarious because Palestinians view security cooperation as collaboration with the occupation. But under a framework of independence, joint security need not be a magnet for political anger. Other joint authorities could be establish to manage natural resources, and help with economic integration.

The word “confederalism” or “confederation” scares many. But it is interesting to note that the initiative has sparked interest and curiosity among settlers and other right-wing figures, the classic spoilers in all previous two-state efforts. An organic social community has grown up around the idea, called “Two States/One Homeland” with diplomats and policymakers expressing significant interest.

And it is worth remembering that what the Left says has often sounded radical, shocking, or frightening at first — but some of its core concepts go mainstream over the years. Perhaps a two-state confederation is the next.

A version of this article was first published in German on taz.de, and is reprinted here with permission.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      I am afraid the whole premise of this article is wrong….there is no “50 years of occupation”. Every Palestinian will tell you that the occupation began, NOT in 1967, but in 1948, which makes 69 years of occupation, as they see it. It is unfortunate that we have to remind people that Arafat’s FATAH organization was formed in 1959 and the Palestine Liberation Organization began in 1964, all of this BEFORE the 1967 occupation began.

      I must say, however, that the idea of “confederation” that the article posits, does seem to have some merit and, in fact, the long-term prospects of a condominium-type (Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian) regime on the West Bank, is, in fact, partially existing today, but it will have to be DE FACTO, i.e. UNOFFICIAL, but not based on some sort of contractual peace agreement between the sides, which in unachievable.

      Here is a very good, long article, giving a true, honest analysis of why a contractual, compromise peace between Israel and the Palestinians is simply unachievable.

      http://www.timesofisrael.com/why-peace-talks-between-israelis-and-palestinians-keep-failing/

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Ike: I don’t think you’ve actually read the article you posted. It starts out:

        For the past 50 years, Palestinians and Israelis have been subjected to the uniquely corrosive institution of belligerent occupation.

        And it ends with:

        Hatred is a reasonable choice when the costs of reconciliation are so high, but a century into this conflict, and five decades into the occupation, it is becoming increasingly clear that it may not be a winnable strategy for either side over the long term.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Please do not forget that 90 % of the “Palestinian” according to the Oslo agreement live under the Ramallah government (A zone). So they are not under Israeli “occupation”.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Firentis

      The words “confederalism” or “confederation” do not scare me. I think they will be useful props eventually when a peace treaty is signed after the Palestinians are forced to accept the principle of two states for two peoples. I expect Bibi to start talking about a confederation in a couple of years.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      “In 1978, just five percent of Israeli Jews polled supported withdrawal from the West Bank and 91 percent rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to news reports. There were already over 5,000 settlers. Uri Avnery suffered attempts on his life, the offices of his newspaper were bombed, and Golda Meir openly longed for him to be banned from the Knesset.”

      Yeah, those peace loving, language-of-peace-understanding, compromise-seeking, non-land-coveting Israelis. Non-violent, hand stretched out in peace. They never miss an opportunity to not miss an opportunity. Yessiree.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        I wasn’t aware that Uri Avnery “suffered attempts on his life”, although most Israel did and probably still do despise him. In any event, Avnery’s good friend Arafat made many, many attempts on the lives of the rest of us, leading to thousands of Jews (and not a few Arab by-standers) being killed or wounded.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You’re not aware of many things. Your accounting system of human life lost does not impress me too much. Your nationalist friends have made many, many attempts on the lives of those resisting their erasure by your friends, leading to thousands of Arabs being killed or wounded (and no Jewish bystanders being killed or wounded in the process, due to the murderous, intentional, controlled precision of the Israeli army and police forces, who, being vastly more powerful, can afford that precision and the smug, self-righteous preening that comes with it; but when they were the Stern Gang and the Irgun, could not afford such precision). And you do not account for those locked up for years without any due process and tortured. And you do not account for all the things Rami Yousef, Amjad Iraqi, and Noam Sheizaf account for in a remarkable series of interlinked essays about what has happened since 1948.

          Reply to Comment
          • JW500

            Your brainwashing is clear. “Your nationalist friends have made many, many attempts on the lives of those resisting their erasure by your friends, leading to thousands of Arabs being killed.”

            First of all, Jewish Nationalism (Zionism) is completely moral and legitimate. If it is not, then what right do Americans, English, French, etc. have to a country of their own. Second, no one is trying to “erase” the Arabs. They were given every chance to accept the presence of a Jewish state of some size but kept rejecting it and losing control of more land. But even if every Arab was expelled from Israel and the West Bank and Gaza it would not be a tragedy since the Arabs would still have 99% of the rest of the Middle East. It would be an allocation. It’s hard to see how two distinct people claiming the same little land as their birthright can make peace until one side is defeated decisively. That’s the way it has worked historically.

            Any “confederation” would have to be done with a different Palestinian people. One not brainwashed to hate Jews. Perhaps in a generation or two, after the schools and mosques are controlled in what they teach, the Arabs might be capable of being trusted in a confederation or with a state.

            Reply to Comment