A moment before dispersing itself, the outgoing Knesset still managed to re-enact the law authorizing the years-long detention without trial of African asylum seekers in the Negev “open prison”. A law which was already twice overturned by the Supreme Court. But for Likud’s Miri Regev, Chair of the Knesset Interior Committee the bill was “not tough enough.” She promised: "Next time we get to power we will enact a stronger law”.
"Next time we get to power" - Regev probably didn’t notice what she let slip. She didn’t say "After the elections” but “Next time we get to power”. For the first time in quite a while, the Likud winning the elections and Netanyahu's remaining in power no longer seem to be a self-evident outcome.
Just a week ago, most commentators - and the general public – thought new elections will not bring any substantial change in the political situation; that calling elections two years ahead of time was a waste of time and money. And then the atmosphere changed overnight, and the possibility of a change in government has suddenly come to seem concrete and real. It is not unthinkable that in a few months we will start getting used to the phrase "Prime Minister Yitzhak Herzog”.
Making this a reality seems a goal worthy of hard work and effort, even though there were Prime Ministers from the Israeli Labor Party whose tenure ended in bitter disappointment and shambles. A goal certainly worthy of hard work and effort - especially considering that if Netanyahu does manage to win the elections and put together his fourth cabinet, it is quite possible that we will have to get used to "Defense Minister Naftali Bennett". (Better not to dwell too deeply on what that would imply and entail...)
Last week, one day before Netanyahu dismissed his Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice and thereby brought his cabinet into a terminal crisis, the French Parliament decided by a majority of 339 against 151 to call upon the French government to recognize the State of Palestine. This week, a day after the Knesset dissolved itself, the Irish Parliament joined the swelling ranks of European parliaments making such resolutions. Like their colleagues in other countries, Irish lawmakers called upon their government to "officially recognize the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions” and stated that such an act would be “a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." At the time of writing, a similar resolution was passed by the Portuguese Parliament, and the European Parliament is to debate the same next week.
The diplomatic clock is ticking inexorably toward the moment when the UN Security Council deliberates the draft resolution setting a definite two-year date for the end of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The United States would have to make the decision whether or not to impose a veto. The Palestinians do not seem inclined to wait for the Israeli elections and halt efforts on the international arena. Whoever enters next March into the Prime Minister’s bureau in West Jerusalem might face a new diplomatic landscape.
In the meantime, on the ground, the Palestinian villagers of Turmus Ayya, Al Mughayer, Qaryut and Jalud went out, together with Israeli peace activists, to demonstrate near settlement outpost "Adey Ad" (“Forever and Ever”). Mayors of the four villages had appealed to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, asking to evacuate the outpost and implement the demolition orders which the army itself issued against the settler houses.
The Palestinian villagers intended to plant olive saplings on their land, recognized as such by the Israeli authorities, but which the settlers claim as being part of the outpost and as “Jewish land from time immemorial”. Soldiers on the spot were given unequivocal instructions to block the Palestinian demonstrators and prevent them at all costs from approaching the settlers; the orders issued by commanding officers made no reference to the fact that the army itself considers the outpost to be illegal. The soldiers started shooting tear gas, although the Palestinians refrained from throwing stones. Some of the soldiers were not content with shooting tear gas from a distance – rather, they closed with the protesters, beat up some of them, grabbed other by the throat and threw them on the ground. All this took place on December 10, which happens to be International Human Rights Day.
Video photographers accompanied the protest and took extensive footage, as they routinely do at all the many demonstrations throughout the Occupied Territories. But usually there is not much chance of Israeli TV broadcasting them. However, among the protesters was this time Ziad Abu Ein, the Palestinian Minister in charge of the Struggle Against the Settlements: by title, a cabinet minister and part of a Palestinian government which is supposed to exercise governing power, in reality an activist living under occupation and forced to face the occupier’s soldiers and settlers in a protest demonstration. In the end of the protest, the unconscious Abu Ein was taken to hospital in Ramallah, where he died.
Exactly how did the actions of the soldiers confronting the demonstration relate to the death of Minister Ziad Abu Ein? This afternoon I conducted a lengthy argument with an unidentified caller who resented the text of the ad published by Gush Shalom. "Why did you write in your ad that he was killed in a confrontation with soldiers? He died from a heart attack!" - "If soldiers fire tear gas on a heart patient, is there a connection between that and the heart attack from which he died right afterwards? If a soldier takes a heart patient by the throat and chokes him, is that connected with the heart attack?" - "If he had a heart condition, he should not have been there. He took a risk." - "When a soldier goes into battle, he is taking a risk. There at the settler outpost was also a battlefield of a kind, only that Ziad Abu Ein went there empty-handed, without arms. That was the risk which he and his fellows took.”
Soldier holding Ziad Abu Ein by the throat, a few minutes before he lost consciousness.(Photo: Mahmmood Arafaat.)
Is the death of Ziad Abu Ein going to be the spark which would set off the great conflagration of the Third Intifada, which has long been talked of? Probably not yet, although yesterday afternoon came the news of a Palestinian throwing acid on the passengers of an Israeli car - apparently yet another case of an act of violence undertaken at an individual’s personal initiative without any organizational guidance.
Even after this violent death of one of their own senior people, the Palestinian Authority and PLO, under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas, seems determined to continue the delicate balancing act: militant rhetoric and diplomatic offensive, combined with continuation of “security coordination” with the Israeli security services which is highly unpopular with grassroots Palestinians. This could be maintained for some time yet, at least as long as there seems a chance for the diplomatic approach to achieve concrete results.
In a little over two years and a half, on 5 June 2017, a symbolic date is due - a precise fifty years since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel's armed forces. If this symbolic date passes without a significant change in the situation, it will be hard for the State of Israel to continue arguing that its rule over the Palestinians is just "temporary”.
Three ongoing processes take part in a race against time towards this symbolic date - the changes taking place in the Israeli political system, the diplomatic process led by the Palestinians in the international arena, and the growing escalation of violence on the ground. Which of them will be the first to arrive at the finishing line?
The petition of Israeli citizens, calling upon European parliamentarians to support recognition of Palestine, continues to gather momentum. Among the latest to join more than 900 signatories are the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, as well as singers Achinoam “Noa” Nini and Mira Awad.
Dalia Yairi-Dolev is a well Israeli radio broadcaster, writer and poet. Her first husband was Colonel Uzi Ya’airi, killed in battle with Palestinians in 1975. Though considered broadly dovish in orientation, she never took an outspoken political position, and on one occasion was invited by AIPAC to address the lobby’s annual conference in Washington. She has now decided to strongly endorse the petition to the European parliamentarians:
This petition is an outspoken declaration, aimed at underlining how vitally important this issue is for us. It expresses the aspirations of the generations who were born and grew up here, dreaming of a country with secure borders, a country which invests its resources in its citizens, in education, in health services, in the standard of living, in the quality of life. A democratic, egalitarian state whose army is in truth “The Israeli Defense Forces” - an army which knows how to defend and safeguard both security and peace. This petition expresses how deeply these generations long for quiet, for peace – all of them, those who were born before the state was set up [like Yairi-Dolev herself], and those who were born afterwards, and those who were born to these and grew up and undergone military service. Longing for peace, for a clearly defined state of our own. Better a cold peace with soldiers guarding a clearly-delineated border than a military involvement among a hostile population. A state is an entity, a clearly defined “address” of those whom we face. A Palestinian state is not a gift to the Palestinians. It is a gift to ourselves. It is our liberation from the chains binding us to them. Creation of a Palestinian state is the Palestinians’ share in the process of their divorce from us. There are those who try to draw us into a trap of fear and demagogic threats, as if the creation of a Palestinian state is a threat to us. It is not a threat, it is a promise. A promise of normalization, of a future.
(English text of the petition after the Hebrew)