Peace with Justice in Israel and Palestine

Presentation to the Isocracy Network Annual General Meeting, 13 August 2014

The subject of this forum is peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. It's a subject over which many people who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict far better than myself have written a great deal.

I'm not even going to try to come up with my own plan to come up with a prediction or a plan of how to achieve peace and justice in Palestine because I do not consider myself qualified to do so. What I intend to do this evening is outline what I see as the main obstacles to peace with justice.

I don't claim to do so as a great authority, so what I'd like is for you all to treat my presentation as the opening of a conversation on the issue of peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.

I want to start this presentation by recalling a bet I had with Sol [Sol Salbe, the other speaker at the forum] in May 2010.

Before I say what the bet was about, I want to recall the context in which it took place

Three years earlier, the distinguished American professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt had published a book entitled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which made a strong case that America's policies towards Israel and the Palestinians did not accord with its foreign policy interests and had been unduly influenced by Israel's supporters in the US.

In the previous year, President Obama has made a famous speech in Cairo in which he called for the formation of a Palestinian state, condemned Israeli settlement construction and called for a lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza.

In March of that year, Vice President Biden had clashed with Israel's PM Binyamin Netanyahu over Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem

And President Obama himself was known to have exchanged angry words with Netanyahu over his refusal to freeze settlement building as part of renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.

And it wasn't only Obama who was complaining to Israel

Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi were all following his lead in calling upon Israel to stop building settlements.

So the bet we had was that in 5 years – that is by next May – there would be a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Sol betted that there would be. I betted that there wouldn't. The wager was that the loser would take the winner out to dinner.

Now I think that Sol would concede that the prospect of me taking him out to dinner next year is almost nil.

I'm not saying this to gloat but because it leads to my main argument this evening, which is that for the foreseeable future the prospects for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine are negligible. And that there is every reason to expect that things will continue to get worse.

To demonstrate why this is the case, I want to talk about what I think are some key myths about the conflict because I believe that in order to understand where we are, we need to avoid magical thinking and the idea that there's some kind of silver bullet out there that's going to end the conflict.

And the first myth that I want to deal with is that Netanyahu is an extremist or that he and the right wing coalition he's built around himself are the main obstacle to peace.

If you consider his signature policies, such as the recent assault on Gaza, his refusal to halt settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, his refusal to discuss any form of shared sovereignty over East Jerusalem, indeed even his refusal to countenance a two-state solution that constitutes anything other than a patchwork of semi-autonomous reservations for the Palestinians.

You will find him pretty much in the centre of a broad consensus ranging from Israel's far-right quasi fascist settler parties to its centre and centre-left parties, such as Labour, Kadima and Yesh Atid.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't important differences between these parties over national priorities, including the pace of settlement construction and policies towards minorities within Israel.

What I am saying is that there is no significant opposition to the general thrust of Netanyahu's policy orientation towards the Palestinians, the recent attack on Gaza and his drive to expand the settlements.
And this consensus also reflects a consensus among the Israeli public.

Of course, there are some wonderful peace activists, journalists and human rights organisations in Israel such as Gush Shalom, the Haaretz newspaper and Breaking the Silence that frequently condemn what the government is doing in the Occupied Territories.

But they have very little representation in Israel's Knesset and a succession of public opinion polls, as well as Netanyahu's personal approval rating consistently demonstrate that his policies enjoy the support of a very healthy majority of Israeli voters.

Who, even if they express their support for a two-state solution, sincerely believe that they have no Palestinian partner for peace.

Another myth I want to address is that America or even the so-called international community are going to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories.

Now I'm not saying that America and the countries of the EU have not in the past put pressure on Israel and that their opposition to Israel's settlement expansion has no effect on Israel.

What I am saying is that the development of the settlements has been a consistent national priority for every Israeli government for at least the past 20 years.

And the idea that Israel is some sort of US client state that just does what ikjkt is told has no foundation in reality.

To date Israel has been very successful at fending off international efforts to restrain its colonisation of the occupied territories and at mobilising the so-called Israel lobbies in countries like the US to dilute and divert such pressure.

And I think that the chances that this pressure will ever bring about a “tipping point” of ending the occupation are very low.

The third myth I want to deal with is the argument raised by Virginia Tilley at an Isocracy talk I went to about 2 years ago that went something like this:

We've got to stop talking about ending the occupation because it's not going to happen.

And instead we've got to start talking about equal rights for everyone living what is in effect the one state reality of greater Israel.

And that if we do this we will end the conflict because Israel and its supporters will be unable to argue against a call for equal rights similar to that of the US civil rights and anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

And this will have the added benefit of opening the door to solving the Palestinian refugee problem because once the Palestinians form the majority of citizens in the new Israel, their government will allow the about 5 million Palestinians living as refugees outside the Middle East to return to their homeland.

By then of course, Israel will have ceased to be a Jewish state. But the Jews will form a minority within a predominantly Arab country.

I can see the logic behind this argument because not only would it be more just than a two state solution but it also addresses the practical problem of the ongoing failure of the international community to half, let alone reverse, the expansion of Jewish settlements.

But, in my opinion, it's also impossible for a number of reasons:

Firstly, because it has negligible support among the Israeli Jewish public.

Now I realise that there are a tiny minority of the Israeli left including some distinguished intellectuals such as Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper and Matai Peled who support it.

But, and I think that Sol will back me up on this one, even among the left wing Israelis, like those who protested the attack on Gaza, the idea of, in effect, transforming Israel into an Arab country, with an Arab prime minister, in which the Jews are a minority - fails the laugh test.

Israel is a racist country, Israelis do not trust Arabs and they is no prospect of arguing, pressuring or bullying them into accepting such a solution.

And they are the ones with the tanks in this conflict.

The other reason that is won't work is because it has no support among the international community
Certainly not from the US, but also not from the EU, Russia, China or even the Arab League

All of whom recognise Israel's de facto, if not de jure, right to exist.

In fact the last world leader to seriously propose a one state solution to the conflict is the late unlamented President Moammar Gaddafi.

In other words, not only is almost all of the Israeli Jewish public implacably opposed to the idea but there will be no international pressure brought upon Israel to agree to a one state solution.

That is the reason why Yasser Arafat dropped the original PLO's insistence for the liberation of the whole of Palestine from the PLO charter in the 1980s in favour of a partition of Palestine. Not because he thought it was fair, but because he realised the reality of Israeli power and wanted to save the Palestinian nation by building a state on what remained of their homeland.

The final myth I want to address is that there's some sort of non-violent solution to the conflict.
And that if only the Palestinians were to learn from Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela and embark on a campaign of mass non-violent resistance they bring about a just and peaceful resolution to the struggle.

Now, I just want to say that I fully support non-violent resistance and believe it has a vital part to play in the struggle for freedom and justice in Palestine, both in Palestine itself and in countries like Australia.

But the idea that if only the Palesinian... has no basis in reality.

I think it's also somewhat condescending and even racist because it puts the blame for the conflict not on the structural violence of Israeli occupation and apartheid but on the Palestinians' armed struggle against it.

So, in conclusion, I guess the main thesis this evening is that not only is there no prospect for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine for the foreseeable future, but there is every reason to believe that things will continue to get worse.

The blockade on Gaza will remain and the situation grow worse as the water becomes undrinkable, the unemployment rate hovers around 40%.

The settlements will continue to grow larger and the demolition of Palestinian houses in Area C of the West Bank will continue.

The Palestinians will grow more desperate and probably more violent.

Israel's response will grow crueller, and to justify such violence Israel's supporters will resort to even wilder and more racist extravagances in denouncing the Palestinians.

Now, I'd like to add that there are no straight lines in history. And that it is possible that an Israeli de Klerk might emerge who decides that the time has come to cut a deal with Abbas.

But there is no sign that such a leader has emerged as yet.

And the reason I say this is not because I want to demoralise you but because I think it's important that we disabuse ourselves that there is any quick fix to this conflict.

Rather we need to understand that it has become the defining struggle between justice and racism of our era.

That the Palestinians not only need but deserve our support,

And that to be pro-peace and pro-justice you need to be anti-Israel. Because it is Israel's determination to keep the Palestinians in a permanent state of subordination and unfreedom that is at the root of this conflict.

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