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Why it's still important to talk about peace

Israelis may want peace, but they want it on their terms: without Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

By Raef Zreik

Palestinian and Israeli activists take part a protest against occupation, Route 60, between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinian and Israeli activists take part a protest against occupation, Route 60, between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

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.

Students from Birzeit University clash with Israeli security forces near the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 24, 2017. (Flash90)

Students from Birzeit University clash with Israeli security forces near the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 24, 2017. (Flash90)

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.

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    1. Paranam Kid

      Israel completely ignores the fact that the UN has authorised the Palestinians specifically to resist by ANY means, incl. armed struggle, as laid out in UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 (November 1978), and UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/3246 (XXIX) (November 1974).

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Paranam Kid

        When has Israel ignored UN incitement? Israel isn’t ignoring they are simply not agreeing that the UN General Assembly is empower to issue such an authorization. Everyone is entitled to an opinion including the UN. A power that has established a ultimate monopoly on force in a territory is the only entity capable of making law and authorizing action.

        Reply to Comment
    2. JeffB

      Sorry Raef but no. A crime is violating a conduct or action prescribed by a controlling or ruling authority. As the ruling authority whatever Israel says is a crime is a crime. This is quite literally a tautology. Resisting the occupation is an attempt to the overthrow one government and substitute another government. That’s again by definition a revolutionary act. Most revolutionary acts are classified by rulers as crimes.

      History is not static. If a negotiated solution for territorial division fails one of the alternatives is there is no division of territory and Israel stops classifying itself as a occupying power and instead classifies itself as a governing power.

      Finally: it can be assumed that a people no longer living under occupation or in refugee camps will have every reason to live in peace

      One of the reasons the peace process died, and the peace advocates internally discredited is that this could no longer be assumed. The peace process was premised on the fact that the Palestinians were willing to make reasonable compromises that took the interests of other parties into account. That is no longer believed. In a fair and free election Hamas won. If a fair and free election were held on the West Bank today, Hamas would likely win. A people whose desire were merely greater political autonomy and prosperity would not be voting for Hamas.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      In these two posts JeffB emerges from hibernation and outdoes himself, unreservedly revealing a coldly officious, amoral tactician hiding behind legal pettifoggery. Let me translate what is being said: “Justice and morality and history and human rights don’t matter. Throw it all out. What matters is power. We’ve got it. And what we can get away with. Putin is my idea of a real leader.” (I wouldn’t deny it, Sir, you said it before. Screw the Ukrainians and the Lithuanians, right? Screw the Belorussians and screw the French Huguenots.)
      “Resisting the occupation is an attempt to overthrow one government and substitute another government.”
      Every word of that sentence is false, is the definition of 1984ish, Brave New Worldish propaganda. Same with the bunk about voting for Hamas.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…Resisting the occupation is an attempt to overthrow one government and substitute another government…”

        Actually, it’s beyond false. It’s a compete nonsequitur, an internally incoherent political statment, breaking apart and collapsing between the words “occupation” and “is.”

        “whatever Israel says is a crime is a crime.”

        This actually has a silly, morbid humor to it. The equivalent of saying “The mafia in these here parts is the controlling authority. That is quite literally a tautology. Whatever the mafia says is a crime is a crime.”

        “And besides all that, Mr. Capone is a businessman, Your Honor. He’s just trying to make a living like the rest of us, Your Honor.”

        Pretty funny stuff. I love the weaselly pedantry of “that is quite literally a tautology.” Oh my.

        Reply to Comment

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