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'No solution,' says the oppressor to the oppressed

A liberal-Zionist writer learns to accept the status quo. A response.

The disappointment over the failure of the Oslo process and the rise to power of an extreme nationalistic coalition in Israel have led to a newly founded belief among some liberal Zionists that “there is no solution to the conflict,” or that “peace cannot be achieved.” This view – which dominates Labor Party politics today as well – is both morally and politically wrong.

The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, a self proclaimed “hawkish dove,” expressed the “no solution” idea in a recent post. After blaming the Palestinians for missing past opportunities, Wieseltier writes:

But still I concur in the necessity and the justice of their demand for a state, and still I yearn for a serious Palestinian diplomacy.

ALL THESE BELIEFS, however, are beginning to seem pointless. Reality appears to have other plans for itself. Hamas maintains its terrorist and theocratic sway over Gaza, and criminally fires hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians, and extols the destruction of its arsenal and its infrastructure by Israel as some sort of apotheosis. Mahmoud Abbas celebrates the attainment of observer-state status at the United Nations with a mean and small speech in which he accuses Israel of “one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history,” and of unprovoked “aggression” in Gaza, and of “an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism.” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian leader for whom we longed, is a tragic figure, undone by Palestinians and Israelis together. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu petulantly responds to the General Assembly vote with an outrageous proposal for Jewish housing in the area east of Jerusalem known as “E1,” which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians. He allies his party with the party of Avigdor Lieberman, the fascist face of Israel, who has proposed loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs, and then his party, I mean the Likud, demotes its moderates and promotes the odious likes of Moshe Feiglin, who refers to Arabs as Amalek and advocates their “voluntary transfer” from Israel. As these anti-democratic maniacs flourish in Netanyahu’s base, one increasingly hears in those quarters the ugly old refrain that Jordan is the Palestinian state. And there is no significant opposition to Likud, only a petty and fragmented and pathetic assortment of self-interested figures and parties. People assure me that all this can change if there is the political will to change it; but I do not detect the political will. So what if the two-state solution is the only solution, when nobody is desperate to solve the problem?

This mistaken analysis leads to disappointment which leads to tacit support of the occupation, thereby thwarting the need to assume any responsibility for it.

The analysis: Wieseltier views the conflict essentially as a diplomatic issue, and he laments the lack of creativity and good will on both sides. But the occupation is a human rights problem – the displacement of the Palestinian people following the creation of the Jewish State, and the occupation. You can argue about who is to blame, but what’s at the heart of the problem is the existence of people with no rights.

Framing the question as a peace and war issue already acknowledges the Israeli perspective as the only valid one. The Israeli interest might be peace – meaning security – but the Palestinians want something else: their freedom, their land and their rights. And while most Israelis enjoy peace most days of the year, the Palestinians are always occupied (it is the same inability to acknowledge the Palestinian reality of life which brings Wieseltier to put the word “Apartheid” in quotation marks. From an Israeli perspective – and Wieseltier writes like an Israeli – Israel is indeed a democracy. But from the perspective of an ordinary Palestinian in the West Bank, who doesn’t vote and whose life is run by the Israeli army, it’s a military dictatorship. Not only is Wieseltier unwilling to acknowledge this, he views such statements as anti-Israel hate speech.)

At the heart of Wieseltier’s text is the belief that the human rights of Palestinians are not “rights” in the way liberals understand them – i.e. something that a person is born with and that cannot be taken from him – but as a political good which is to be handed to them when they accept various Israeli conditions. It is this process – conditions for rights – that has failed, and not the notion of peace.

Furthermore, in the tradition of Israeli propaganda – Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has expressed the same exact view this morning – Wieseltier juxtaposes Palestinians statements (Abbas’ speech) with Israeli actions (the settlements). I have written about this strange obsession with things Palestinian say here; for now, it’s enough to imagine the same practice in other rights-related issues: For example, someone juxtaposing the practice of racial segregation with the rhetoric of black leaders. Could the latter justify the former?

On top of everything, there is something extremely grotesque – for lack of a better word – in hearing Israelis (or Zionists) explaining that the effort to end the occupation is simply not working, or beginning to seem pointless. Israelis are in power. They can end the occupation with a simple decision. Palestinians can’t. If we continue the racial metaphor, now our white writer is informing his readers that the black struggle for equality is going nowhere, so we should probably give up the hope that anything will change in our lifetimes.

To his credit, Wieseltier does point out that a lost cause is not necessarily an unworthy one. But the Palestinian cause is hardly a lost one. It is the particular process Wieseltier has backed – the Oslo Accord – which has reached the inevitable dead-end, mostly because it failed to understand the Palestinian perspective. The process is dead; the failure continues.

Disappointment: Jews and Palestinians will probably live on this land together for a very long time, and the armed conflict is but one form that their relations have taken. There could be more rounds of violence and peace in the future. There could be other forms of struggle and cooperation as well. There will be no “peace” that will end history, nor such a war. A major part of the problem in the thinking of the Israeli left is the yearning for “a solution” that will end the conflict on the very same day – a notion strangely parallel to the right’s wish for the disappearance of the Palestinians. There are no quick fixes. That’s not how life, or history, works.

Wieseltier mentions Meron Benvenisti. Benvenisti was the first Israeli scholar to recognize that we are already in a one-state solution, only that this is an undemocratic state, in which the Palestinians have limited representation and rights, at best. The diplomatic peace is but one solution to this situation, and in any case, we should lose the messianic hopes we attach to it.

Occupation: What Israelis understand and Wieseltier doesn’t, is that they already have their peace now. Putting aside the future implications, the current status quo represents the best alternative for Israelis. This is why they vote for a leader who basically promises them more of the same. Palestinians, on the other hand, are in a war. Wieseltier regrets that ” nobody is desperate to solve the problem,” but fails to understand that it is nobody in Israel that is desperate. The Palestinians are pretty desperate for freedom and justice – they just won’t buy the version Netanyahu is trying to sell them.

After concluding that nobody wants peace anymore, Wieseltier’s text accepts that status quo: “Reality appears to have other plans for itself,” he writes, dividing the blame between the Israeli right and the Palestinian leadership, as if Israelis can democratically decide to continue the control over another people (as they are doing, again and again). Had he ended his text with a call for new actions against the powers at hand, things would have been different. But Wieseltier is clearly not ready to be honest about the Israeli decision to maintain the occupation, or to draw the moral and political conclusions from it.

His text – like much of liberal Zionist politics and writing in recent years – pretends to be a recognition of personal failure, but is in fact an attempt at distancing himself from the responsibilities for the current state of affairs, or for the crimes of the occupation (to the extent that he is ready to acknowledge them). Arab rejectionism is to blame, or the Israeli right, and in any case he wants peace, so please leave the author alone.

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    1. aristeides

      Exactly right, Noam. Israel already has the benefits of peace. Israel believes it has nothing to gain from a formal peace, so why give up anything for it?

      The consequence is that Israel keeps making war on the Palestinians without suffering the disadvantage of the Palestinians making war back on them.

      And here’s the logical consequence of the situation – Hamas is right. To bring Israel to peace would require war. Only if Israel suffers from war will it learn to want peace.

      Reply to Comment
    2. OK – of course your analysis is right, but what we gonna do about it? We need more than analysis, we need a praxis to undo the Gordian knot. Part of the knot is Israel’s sort of unique psychohistory: immense strength, combined at the same time with a mutated and large victim complex (which is not 100% imagined). Recipe for frozen reality! I also don’t know what to do about it, but I’m reading the book “Black Swan”, and hoping for the best….

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        We KNOW what to do about it. Weaken Israel. Apply force.

        The problem isn’t the lack of a solution, it’s the lack of will to impose it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Perhaps because those that have no will to apply your remedy don’t believe it would have the desired effect?

          A weaker, isolated Israel will act even more forcefully against the Arabs.

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    3. XYZ

      You can’t separate the “occupation” and the “human rights problem” from the Arab refusal to make peace with Israel. Everyone knows that if the Palestinians, with the backing of the wider Arab world, were to agree to give up the “Right of Return” of the refugees and to end all future claims against Israel, that any Israeli gov’t, including a Netanyahu-Lieberman gov’t would have no choice but to accept a complete withdrawal to the pre-67 lines. But the Arab CAN NOT make such an agreement. All territories given up by Israel INCLUDING SINAI have been turned into bases for violence against Israel. The “progressives” ignore this. It is true that Noam says that there are no quick fixes and giving up the territories will not end the conflict, but that is the crux of the arguement…the “progressives” want to take the chance, even if it means almost certain suicide, just so they can “feel good about themselves” whereas most Israeli said “we made this experiment, it failed with Gaza, it failed with southern Lebanon, it failed with the West Bank before it was reversed with operation Homat Magen (Defensive Shield) and it is now failing with Egypt in the Sinai, so why take another chance. The current situation is preferable to a probable war with a much less defensable territorial arrangement.

      Reply to Comment
      • You indulge in your own “right of return,” actualized by the vanguard settlements.

        Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      What “everyone knows” is usually wrong. And in this case no more than an excuse for not doing anything.

      The bottom line is that Israel refuses to give up the territories under ANY circumstances, and all the rest is rationalization.

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      • Kolumn9

        I didn’t realize you were writing to us from 1975. Remember the Sinai, South Lebanon, Gaza, and all those areas the PA runs?

        The bottom line is that Israel has given up territory repeatedly and received more hate and violence in return.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          Any why has Israel given up this territory? Out of the goodness of its heart? Or because it was forced? Because it figured it would benefit.

          And, for the most part, it has. Decades of peace with Egypt. An armed truce with Lebanon. And whatever hate and violence it has received, it has also handed out.

          Besides which, there is territory and THE territories, to which too many Zionists have developed a fanatical attachment.

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          • Kolumn9

            “The bottom line is that Israel refuses to give up the territories under ANY circumstances, and all the rest is rationalization.”

            As you yourself have now admitted this line is absolute and utter rubbish. In other words, Israel is willing to give up territory, (including parts of THE territories) under the right circumstances.

            What was you argument again? That Israel isn’t giving up territories ‘out of the goodness of its heart’? You mean Israel gives up valuable and limited territory if it believes it can get peace in return? My my, what a revolutionary policy.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            My line, K9, is that Israel has the benefits of peace now and thus no incentive to give the other side the benefits of peace. And only force will change this.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Your line was that Israel never makes territorial concessions. This was proven garbage. Your new line is that Israel must be pressured into giving up territory without regard to whether it gets peace in return and in the face of all previous experience where Israel got violence in return for territorial concessions.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Too bad your interpretation is refuted by the record, K9

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            and yet more crap out of your mouth.

            Reply to Comment
          • Khaled Khalid

            I thought Israel left Gaza because it was costing Ariel Sharon Billions of dollars in security for a few thousand Israelis (New Yorkers?).

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Sharon was also convinced that withdrawing from Gaza would help cement Israel’s permanent hold on the WB. Of course now we can’t ask him how that was supposed to work.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      “It’s hopeless” stated in any form is a betrayal of the participatory urge.

      And, to not clarify what one’s goal is an expression of that hopelessness.

      I had understood that Wieselther was a much more conservative man than appeared from the article.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Richard Witty

      I sympathize with Israeli observations, that the likelihood of a Palestine that would accept Jewish Israelis self-governing (even at 67 lines) is strained, when confidence is needed to make any substantive change.

      The reiteration by Meshaal yesterday that Hamas regards all of Israel as “occupied”, and that that is a permanent, active commitment, and that violence to Israeli civilians is regarded as an acceptable means to realize that, is nothing but sobering.

      Again, I believe that community building along the line of the color-blind emphasis of the social movements, is the way to make real political change.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Weinstein Henry

      Noam, your arbitrary interpretation of Leon Wieseltier’s post – nota bene: I don’t know who is Leon Wieseltier, what are his other writings, I react to your nihilistic method – has much to do with the rhetoric of Andrey Vyschinsky, the prosecutor general of the USSR during Stalin’s Great Purge than anything else: “This mistaken analysis leads to disappointment which leads to tacit support of the occupation, thereby thwarting the need to assume any responsability”.
      If you think the conflict = the occupation is essentially a human rights problem, write an argumentative essay instead of scapegoating someone else, guilty to be “a liberal-Zionist writer” if I understand correctly the reason-why.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      “This mistaken analysis leads to disappointment which leads to tacit support of the occupation, thereby thwarting the need to assume any responsibility for it.”

      I hear similar in differing forms from all of the 972 authors, including yourself.

      Your critique seems a bit petulant to me, similarly frustrated that not much is changing, and seeking to blame.

      The response to Wieselther could be “we can do something. This is what I recommend. Will you assist in this effort?”

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        And, on the other hand, you’ve sold me on the importance of witnessing (seeing and conveying) the experience of Palestinians, item by item.

        If accompanied by condemnation, rather than witness, then it will fall on deaf ears.

        If physically heard, the first response by Israelis and Americans will be, “that is just an inconvenience or that the police have to do their job, what are they bitching about”, which is the current norm.

        If presented persistently through some appropriate medium, say non-polemic film, then the next reaction will be “no, this isn’t just an inconvenience. This is a few steps past inconvenience or police doing their job.”

        A decade ago, during the second intifada, on an old discussion site, for two weeks, I said an appreviated kaddish on the blog for everyone that died during that week.

        By the end of the second week, I actually got threats via e-mail and one via phone, and my wife insisted that I stop posting.

        Even speaking about a right that one is born with, is not convincing. Every adult that I know says, “yeah I have unconditional rights by being alive, but in reality I don’t, and I accept that”.

        Which rights are those that one is born with?

        Freedom of movement? Right to speak freely? Right to protection from intrusions? Right to health care? Right to food? Right to equal due process under the law? Religious rights?

        That is not a statement to dismiss your assertions, but a request to clarify them, and also to note that any of those rights don’t exist universally.

        Reply to Comment
    9. I often find, in the writings of Noam, someone I wish I could have been. Historical analyses of who lost what chance for “peace” are used to silence, bash, or dumb down thought, imprisoning the young in some defined past. Yes, there is a past, but the problem before us is how to make a small break in that wall. That break will have to be made by people on the ground, not grand commentators. If and when a bit of day comes through, then others must act and speak to keep it open.

      The occupation is one-way intimate: daily life for residents, brief foray for young IDF. It is as much a challenge for residents to stand, articulate, and act on their rights as it is for various bits of the Israeli State to respond in an improving manner–seen as improving to both “sides.” A battle for rights is a different hard than direct war, but it is still most hard, and it must develop a supporting, local, social economy, irrespective of IDF nays. I don’t know how that can be done; I suspect only those living the occupation can discover that how–but I have faith there is a how.

      One State is not “solution” but outcome; “solution” sounds as if an option, and what now is is no option. Staying in the world of “solutions” lets blame fall on vacuous deciders. An outcome is as a medical condition, with diagnosis, prognosis, and action. Within Israel, one may highlight the occupation’s financial cost. But until an atrocity flowers it is a hard slog through righteousness. This is uncharted territory. You are not going to pull out of the Bank, economic and social ties are going to expand among Israelis and prior residents therein, and the settlements are going to continue to force their ostensive neighbors to the margin. The fight is as much within Israel, within the Bank, as between Israelis and Palestinians thereon.

      And, as I continue to say, how can you articulate the rights of Bank Palestinians without first articulating those of your non-Jewish Israeli citizens? The two issues are now linked. The Citizenship Law Case basically made that linkage the law of the land.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        And, when the consensus of young dissent is that there is no hope for a political option, how is that different than Wieselter coming to a similar conclusion.

        Both end up acquiescing to the status quo, at least politically.

        If there is “no hope”.

        Reply to Comment
        • I do not read Noam as saying there is no hope; rather, that the global “solutions” offered have become or are becoming (I think after the election “have become” is it) vacuous; that, under an occupation with an expanding Israeli settlement population, human rights is the only point of leverage.

          The greater Likud coalition has won the present struggle over world views. So one has to prepare other action to later enter that struggle again.

          Reply to Comment
    10. Yitz

      Noam states that the occupation is a human rights problem – the Palestinians have no rights. Thats ridiculous, The Palestinians under the IDF have every possible freedom that anyone in the free world has. Under the PA rule they will have zero human rights. see what human rights the residents of Gaza have !Are there women’s rights in gaza ? Is there Gay rights in Gaza? Is there freedom of speech in Gaza? Are there fair trials and due process in gaza? Does one have the right to dress as they wish, listen to music, drink alcohol in gaza? The Hamas overthrew the PA in the most brutal fashion in 2007. It took the Hamas 1 week and they will do the exact same in the WB. The WB status must be determined at the negotiating table. Bibi has stated in simple english that he supports the 2 state solution but he does not support going bk to 67 borders. Israel cannot handover the Jordan valley and other areas in the WB to the PA.Regarding “Who is to blame” This is VERY VERY VERY relevant”. If you start a war and lose it you don’t receive a territorial reward. Let us recall that the 1947 partition plan was 2 yrs after 6 million Jews were murdered and the Arabs didn’t have the decency to even consider accepting the UN plan and thereby letting these refugees into Israel and instead declared war and lost. In 1967 the Arabs swore to annihilate Israel and would have, and in 2000 Arafat encouraged millions of martyrs to blow themselves up everywhere in Israel. It is beyond ludicrous to think that after the Arab and Palestinian leadership perpetrated so much devestation towards Israel and towards their own people, Israel should give up the whole WB and hope that maybe some of the WB Arabs will keep their word and maintain a lasting eternal peace!Regarding ending the occupation: Noam states “Israel can just end the occupation” – In other words Israel can just commit national suicide!And finally Noam: Israel wants peace very much and Israel led by Likud governments have made concrete land concessions with the hope that peace would would ensue. In all of those cases ie Sinai, Gaza and South Lebanon those territories have been taken over by the most brutal intolerant local leaders or governments and terror was the primary outcome. Israel will continue to strive for peace with the WB Palestinians but until the PA leadership shows signs that they see peace as a value and are ready to pay a price for peace Israel and the IDF will continue to provide security, compassionate health care, human rights and much more for all those residing “between the river and the sea”!

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        That argument doesn’t wash. The Jordanians held the West Bank and Egypt held Gaza for 19 years and it wasn’t the end of the State of Israel. Quite the contrary, Israel’s last outright victory dates from then.

        On the other hand the devastation you mention was committed while Gaza and the West Bank were under Israeli occupation. So, no need to bother your head about national suicide. It won’t happen.

        Unfortunately Israel does not provide security, compassionate health care, human rights and much more for *all* those residing “between the river and the sea”.

        Reply to Comment
      • JG

        >The Palestinians under the IDF have every possible freedom that anyone in the free world has.

        Sure. Can you tell us quickly what colour the sky on your unicorn planet has?
        Do you have no idea about freedom of people in the rest of the world or no idea what is happening in the occupied territories or both neither?

        Reply to Comment
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