Israelis may want peace, but they want it on their terms: without Palestinian resistance to the occupation.
By Raef Zreik
The rhetoric of “peace” as a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict blurs the problem at hand: the Palestinians don’t want peace. Peace is viewed as the opposite of war, but the Palestinians are not in a state of war with Israel — they are under occupation and are at war with the occupation. As in any occupation, you have those who are occupiers and those who are occupied. And while war presumes some sort of symmetry, there is nothing symmetrical about the nature of occupation.
Living under occupation leads Palestinians to fight for their freedom, independence, self-determination, and economic prosperity. They want to control their borders and natural resources, and insist on sovereignty over their fate. Peace can — and is meant to — be the result of their struggle, and it can be assumed that a people no longer living under occupation or in refugee camps will have every reason to live in peace. Peace could also be an Israeli demand regarding the end of a process that ensures conflict doesn’t continue after the occupation ends, and that a just solution is found for the refugee problem. But peace — as it relates to quiet, a lack of resistance, and acceptance — cannot exist as a precondition for negotiations; peace can only be a result of the process.
The current Israeli government’s rationale is that the Palestinian Authority must cease all resistance to the occupation. But how can you stop the resistance to the occupation while the occupation still exists? Resistance will end when the occupation is over; conditioning ending the occupation on peace and entering into peace talks is equivalent to making peace while leaving the occupation in place. That is how what we call the “peace process” perpetuates the occupation instead of ending it. If peace — meaning no incitement and no resistance to the occupation — were a precondition for peace negotiations, it’s unclear why Israel would have any desire to enter into peace talks, for in such a scenario it will already have the peace it seeks.
That is the paradox of the Israeli understanding of the logic of occupation: if there is resistance to the occupation, then Israel won’t enter into peace talks with the Palestinians because they are inciting against it. On the other hand, if there is no resistance to the occupation then there’s no incentive to hold peace talks because there’s actually no more conflict.
It’s not hard to see that the right wing in Israel is making a concerted effort to redefine the boundaries of the internal discourse: if the consensus used to be a Jewish-democratic state with the right to national self-determination for the Jews, then today that consensus now applies to the entire Land of Israel/Palestine — from the river to the sea. Slowly, anyone who speaks out against this truth is deemed a heretic. If he’s Jewish, like the members of B’Tselem or Breaking the Silence, then he cannot speak of the occupation. If he’s Palestinian, then he cannot resist the occupation. The connection between the two is clear: opposition to the occupation is undergoing a rapid process of delegitimization, both in the internal Israeli political sphere as well as in relation to the Palestinians.
There is no chance of a final-status agreement in the near future. This is bad, but there are worse things. One of them is to lose the basic vocabulary with which we can describe the justness of the struggle. To lose the language we use to dream and imagine another more just and equal world. The “peace discourse” that has developed since the beginning of the Oslo process and until today has distorted the Israeli worldview to the point that Israelis actually believe that incitement against the occupation is a crime, and that Palestinians must do away with said incitement in order to be “eligible” to end the occupation. Thus, the Right builds on the much of the rhetoric promulgated by the Left.
Even if the Palestinian Authority has adopted Israel’s rhetoric and has begun to deny the very existence of incitement, Israelis must not delude themselves. On the other hand, who needs peace with a PA that submits to the occupation and adopts parts of its vocabulary. Let’s be clear: resisting occupation is not a crime — the occupation itself is the crime.
Dr. Raef Zreik is a Raef Zreik is a lecturer at the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa and a fellow at the Minerva Center for the Humanities, Tel Aviv University. This piece was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.