- One may well think that the struggle inside the Jewish
community of Israel is between those of the political right, who want
to maintain the settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank so as
to "redeem" the Greater Land of Israel as a Jewish country,
and those of the left who seek a two-state solution with the Palestinians
and are thus willing to relinquish enough of the "territories",
if not all, in order that a viable Palestinian state may emerge.
- This is not really the case. Polls and the make-up of
the Israeli government suggest that perhaps a quarter of Israeli Jews
fall into the first group, the die-hards, while not more than 10 per cent
support a full withdrawal from the occupied territories. (Virtually no
Israeli Jews use the term "occupation," which Israel denies it
has.) The vast majority of Israeli Jews, stretching from the liberal
Meretz party through Labour, Kadima and into the "liberal" wing
of the Likud, excepting only the religious parties and the extreme right-
wing led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the current minister
of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, share a broad consensus: for
both security reasons and because of Israel's "facts on the ground",
the Arabs (as we [Israelis] call the Palestinians) will have to settle
for a truncated mini- state on no more than 15-20 per cent of the country
between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
- What's more, it's agreed that the decision whether to
relinquish any territory and how much is an exclusively Israeli decision.
We may proffer to the Palestinians some kind of a "generous offer"
if they behave themselves and it suits our purpose, but any initiative
in the direction of "peace" must be unilateral. The Palestinians
may indicate a preference, but the decision is ours and ours alone. Our
power, our all-encompassing concern for security and the plain fact that
the Arabs just don't count (except as a nuisance factor) limit any peace
process to, at best, a willingness to grant them a tiny Bantustan on four
or five cantons, all encircled by Israeli settlements and the military.
Israeli control of the entire Land of Israel, whether for religious, national
or security reasons, is a given, never to be compromised.
- This is, of course, completely unacceptable to the Palestinians.
That by itself doesn't matter, but it does raise a fundamental problem.
In any genuine negotiations leading to just, sustainable and mutually
agreed-upon agreement, Israel would have to give up much more than it
is willing to do. Negotiations must take place once in a while, if only
to project an image of Israel as a country seeking peace-- Annapolis being
merely the latest charade--but they can never lead to any real breakthrough
because two- thirds of the Jewish public support a permanent Israeli presence
in the occupied territories, civilian and military, that forecloses a
viable Palestinian state. How, then, does Israel retain its major settlements,
a "greater" Jerusalem and control over territory and borders
without appearing intransigent? How can it maintain its image as the only
seeker of peace and the victim of Arab terrorism, effectively concealing
its own violence and, indeed, the very fact of occupatio n in order to
shift the blame to the Palestinians?
- The answer for the past 40 years of occupation is the
status quo, delay, while quietly expanding the settlements and strengthening
its grip on Judea and Samaria (again, we do not use the terms "occupation"
or "occupied territories" in Israel, not to mention "Palestinian").
Just look at the run-up to Annapolis and the negotiations Israel is promising.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said recently that "Annapolis
is a landmark on the path to negotiations and of the genuine effort to
achieve the realization of the vision of two nations: the State of Israel--the
nation of the Jewish people; and the Palestinian state--the nation of
the Palestinian people". Sounds good, doesn't it? Now look at the
pre- conditions Israel has imposed just in the two weeks before Annapolis:
- Redefining Phase 1 of the Road Map. The first phase of
the Road Map, the very basis of negotiations, calls for Israel to freeze
its settlement construction. That is something Israel will obviously not
do. So, on the basis of a letter former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received
from President Bush in 2004--a fundamental change in American policy that
nevertheless does not commit the other members of the Road Map "Quartet",
Europe, Russia and the UN--Israel announced that it defines the areas
considered "occupied" by the Quartet as only those areas falling
outside its major settlement blocs and "greater" Jerusalem.
Thus, unilaterally, Israel (and the US apparently) reduced the territory
to be negotiated with the Palestinians from 22 per cent to a mere 15 per
cent, and that truncated into fragmented cantons.
- Requiring recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state."
The Palestinians are required to formally recognize the state of Israel.
They did so already in 1988 when they accepted the two-state solution,
at the outset of the Oslo process and repeatedly over the past two decades.
Now comes a fresh demand: that before any negotiations they recognize
Israel as a Jewish state. Not only does that introduce an entirely new
element that Israel knows the Palestinians will not accept, but it prejudices
the equal status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, a full 20 per cent
of the Israeli population. This leads the way to transfer, to ethnic cleansing.
Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, recently told a press conference
that the future of Israel's Arab citizens is in a future Palestinian state,
not in Israel itself.
- Creating insurmountable political obstacles. Two weeks
before Annapolis was to convene, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset,
passed a law that a majority of two-thirds would be required to approve
any change in the status of Jerusalem, an impossible threshold.
- Delayed implementation. OK, the Israeli government says,
we'll negotiate. But the implementation of any agreement will wait on
the complete cessation of any resistance on the part of the Palestinians.
Given the fact that Israel views any resistance, armed or non- violent,
as a form of terrorism, this erects yet another insurmountable obstacle
before any peace process.
- Declaring a "transitional" Palestinian state.
If all else fails-- actually negotiating with the Palestinians or relinquishing
the occupation not being an option--the US, at Israel's behest, can manage
to skip Phase 1 of the Road Map and go directly to Phase 2, which calls
for a "transitional" Palestinian state before, in Phase 3, its
actual borders, territory and sovereignty are agreed upon. This is the
Palestinians' nightmare: being locked indefinitely in the limbo of a "transitional"
state. For Israel it is ideal, since it offers the possibility of imposing
borders and expanding into the Palestinian areas unilaterally yet, since
its fait accompli is only "transitional," seeming to conform
to the Road Map's requirement to decide the final issues through negotiations.
- The end result, towards which Israel has been progressing
deliberately and systematically since 1967, can only be called apartheid,
which means "separation" in Afrikaner, precisely the term Israel
uses to describe its policy (hafrada in Hebrew). And it is apartheid in
the strict sense of the term: one population separating itself from the
rest, then dominating them permanently and institutionally through a political
regime like an expanded Israel locking the Palestinians into dependent
and impoverished cantons. The overriding question for the Israeli government,
then, is not how to reach peace. If peace and security were truly the
issue, Israel could have had that 20 years ago if it would have conceded
the 22 per cent of the country required for a viable Palestinian state.
Today, when Israel's control is infinitely stronger, why, ask the Israeli
Jewish public and the government it elects, should we concede anything
significant? We enjoy peace with Egypt and Jordan, and Syria is dying
to negotiate. We have relations with most Arab and Muslim states. We
enjoy the absolute and uncritical support of the world's only superpower,
supported by a compliant Europe. Terrorism is under control, the conflict
has been made manageable, Israel's economy is booming. What, ask Israelis,
is wrong with this picture?
- No, the issue for Israel is rather how to transform its
Occupation from what the world considers a temporary situation to a permanent
political fact accepted by the international community, de facto if need
be or, if apartheid can be finessed in the form of a two-state solution,
then formally. And here's the dilemma, and the source of debate within
the Israeli government: does Israel continue with the strategy that has
served it so well these past 40 years, delaying or prolonging negotiations
so as to maintain the status quo, all the while strengthening its hold
over the Palestinian territories or, at this unique but fleeting moment
in history when George Bush is still in office, does it try to nail it
all down, forcing upon the Palestinians a transitional state within the
framework of the Road Map?
- Olmert, following Sharon, is pushing for the former.
Netanyahu, Lieberman, the right-wing (including many in Olmert's own party)
and, significantly, Labour Chairman and Defence Minister Ehud Barak,
always a military hawk, are resisting out of fear that even a process
of pretend negotiations might get out of hand, creating expectations on
Israel. Better, they say, to stay with the tried-and-true policy of status
quo which can, if cleverly managed, extend indefinitely. Besides, Bush
is a lame duck, and no pressure will be put on Israel until June 2009,
at least six months after the next American president is inaugurated,
Democrat or Republican. We're just fine until then; why rock the boat?
The only tricky time for Israel is the two years in the midst of a presidential
term. We can weather that. Annapolis? We'll try cautiously for apartheid,
hoping that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], prodded by Quartet envoy Tony Blair,
will play the role of collaborator. If that doesn't work, well, status
quo is always a reliable default.
- In the meantime, as long as the Israeli public enjoys
peace-and-quiet and a good economy, and as long as it remains convinced
that security requires Israel to retain control of the territories, no
pressure will come from the home front for any meaningful change of policy.
Given this political landscape in Israel, in the territories and abroad,
it's hard for Israeli leaders to conceal their ebullient feeling that,
whether formally or not, "we've won".
- Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and was a candidate, with the Palestinian
peace activist Ghassan Andoni, for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He can
be reached at email@example.com.