Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Is there any hope left?

The following was written for the September issue of "Jewish Socialist", magazine of the Jewish Socialist Group in London. 

The symbolic date of June 5, 2017 – fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians – had come and gone. It was marked by a reasonably large rally held at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, plus a few more political and artistic events. A week later, it was again occupation as usual. One more reason for doubts whether the Two State Solution is still a realistic option.

Can hundreds of thousands of settlers be removed from the West Bank, or did   their numbers already reach “a point of no return”? There had been some 8000 settlers in the Gaza Strip - and in 2005, having soldiers physically pick up each and every one of these settlers was a very big strain on the IDF resources. On the other hand, back in 1962, France’s De Gaulle did manage to remove a million and half French settlers from Algeria by the simple expedient of removing the soldiers and letting the settlers remove themselves. An Israeli De Gaulle (if we ever get one…) might be able to do the same on the West Bank.

A much bigger problem is that most Israelis no longer believe peace to be possible. Indeed, there can be no doubt that the Oslo Process, as actually carried out by actual Israeli governments, ended in miserable failure – though one can argue endlessly over why it happened and especially whose fault it was. So, if you define “Oslo” as “Peace” it would be is quite reasonable to conclude: “We tried to make peace, and it did not work”.  

As to the reason why it did not work, most Jewish Israelis have come to accept the official narrative: that  Israel made “great concessions” and “generous offers”, to which the Palestinians responded by suicide bombings and the lobbing of missiles; that Palestinian violence is  endemic, motivated by a blind hatred, part and parcel of a worldwide “terrorist wave”. Can counter-arguments be offered? Sure they can, but only a minority are willing to listen.

Opinion polls still indicate most Israelis willing to give up the Occupied Territories in return for peace – but they regard this as a hypothetical possibility only. If a peace deal were to be presented to the Israeli electorate as a done deal, it is likely that the majority would vote “yes”. But until and unless this happens, they would not lift a finger to bring it about – neither mass peace demonstrations, not a mass voting for peace-oriented parties. Which leaves us in the position of waiting for outside pressure.

From 2008 up to 2016 we kept hoping for Obama to have an all-out confrontation with Netanyahu – but every time when it seemed in the offing, Obama backed off. Had he let the UN Security Council condemn the settlements in the first month of his first term, rather than doing it as an ineffective parting shot by a powerless lame duck, things might have been different. But Obama didn’t. And the European Union, Israel’s biggest trading partner, never showed a real inclination to use its economic leverage – not even in times when the EU was in a much better shape than it is now.

So, is the Two State Solution dead? If it is, it means that the Solution is Dead, period. The idea of taking up instead the One State Solution – i.e., that Jewish Israelis rejecting a Palestinian State on the West Bank would be ready to embrace millions of Palestinians as their new fellow citizens of Israel – completely ignores the most basic realities of Israeli society and politics.

Yes, it is quite possible that the Solution is Dead. We are not living in a Hollywood film, and nobody guaranteed us a Happy End. It is quite possible that there will be no solution, that Israel will just go on becoming ever more oppressive, more racist, more nasty and disgusting – as long as Israel maintains its military superiority and as long as the US is able and willing to fully back Israel. (And when Israeli superiority and/or American backing come to an end, several outcomes can be conjectured – most of them nasty, too.)

Is there any cause for optimism? I can point to no strong, coherent, clear-cut cause. But some glimmers can be discerned in the dark.

* Netanyahu is deeply mired in corruption investigations, and his term seems near its end. There is no guarantee that he will be replaced by somebody better – but perhaps...  

* In the recent crisis around Temple Mount / Haram A Sharif Compound, the Palestinians for the first time used the methods of large-scale, non-violent civil disobedience – and it worked and gained them an important moral victory. This might have long-term results.

* Among many other drastic effects, the Trump Presidency might bring about a final discrediting of the American monopoly over mediation between Israel and the Palestinians. Eventually, a better, more even-handed mediator might emerge.

* Perhaps most important: An increasing number of American Jews, especially young ones, are strongly critical of Israeli government policies. The advent of Trump has widened the rift – most American Jews are disgusted and horrified by him, most Israeli Jews are rather pleased with Trump.  A historical precedent: one of the factors which made the Portuguese finally give up their colonial empire was coming under strong criticism from the Brazilians, with whom Portugal shares language and history…

* Today Hadas Tal, an 18-year old Israeli girl, begins her second month in the military prison, and her fellow refuser Noa Gur Golan is already on her third. The two of them reject the idea, widespread in the Israeli media and public discourse, that female soldiers’ participation in holding  down the Palestinians constitutes a form of “Women’s Empowerment”. Rather than take part in this kind of state-sponsored Feminism, Hadas and Noa  prefer to spend a prolonged period behind bars. So long as Israeli society can produce such young people…

Will these two flags ever fly, side by side, 
 at the border crossing between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine?