Years ago I was close to relatives in the religious settler camp. They were generally warm, generous and honest toward members of their families and communities, but unapologetically racist toward Arabs. I remember one woman who walked miles in the summer heat every Sabbath to visit elderly synagogue members in the hospital, but frowned with distaste when she saw Arab women there. One man explained to me matter-of-factly that here in (Greater) Israel, Arabs are guests who may stay only if they behave themselves. Another referred to them off-handedly as stinking Arabs, "aravim masrichim." A third expressed hope that in the next war, we could drive all the Arabs out, because the Arabs are the modern incarnation of Amalek, the enemy of God and the Jews.
When I said that Israel couldn’t continue to rule over Palestinians without granting them equal rights, the settlers looked at me like I was from outer space. We finally drifted apart after I expressed enthusiasm for the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, because, as one of them frankly explained, "We like to be with people who think like we do."
So if some religious settlers and their right-wing allies are now proposing to grant Israeli citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank (see Haaretz report here, longer Hebrew version here), it’s safe to assume that they’re not much motivated by new-found love of Arabs or respect for human rights. Rather, they’re forced to admit that world opinion is increasingly impatient with Occupation and its associated horrors, and that Israel can’t ignore world opinion forever. They understand that in the era of Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara, criticism of Israel can’t be dismissed as anti-Semitism, and that Israel is in real danger of having even its legitimate concerns disregarded because of its illegitimate actions.
The settlers are by no means solely responsible for the Occupation. Most of Israeli society is complicit. But the settlers, especially the religious ones, are the spearhead. They’re the ones who believe that God granted the Land of Israel to the Jews, and that settling the whole of it will speed the coming of His Messiah. How can you argue with someone who knows how to bring the Messiah?
The settlers are also the ones who have the most to lose if Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim go the way of Gush Katif. They’ll lose their homes, jobs, communities and dreams. Thus, many of them would prefer to stay where they are, even at the cost of making substantial concessions to Palestinians. Some would choose to stay put even if they found themselves living within a Palestinian state.
So now the settlers and their political allies are looking for ways to square the circle: that is, to grant Palestinians rights – or at least to gain points and time by talking about doing so – while also preserving the essential Jewishness of the Jewish state. That’s why right-wing proposals to annex the West Bank and grant Israeli citizenship to Palestinians living there are invariably and immediately accompanied by one or more of the following qualifications: the Gaza Strip and its residents will not be included in Israel; there will be no Palestinian right of return to Israel; Israeli citizenship will be granted to West Bank Palestinians only gradually, perhaps over the course of a generation; and the grant of citizenship may be contingent on some kind of profession or proof of loyalty to Israel. Lots of wiggle room there.
In politics, one should never underestimate the power of a highly-motivated and well-organized minority to lead an apathetic or directionless majority around by the nose. When settlers and their political allies talk, it’s a mistake not to listen. They’re filling an ideological vacuum. The much-reduced-in-size Israeli peace camp is dejected, deflected and caught up in internal squabbles. The political center has no plan and no direction. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
What, then, is to be done? How is the awful stalemate to be broken?
I support BDS, but it’s not having much of an effect, at least not yet. I take my hat off to the brave folks demonstrating in Sheikh Jarrah and Bil’in, but they don’t seem ready to storm the Bastille. I’m overwhelmed with admiration for the many human rights organizations operating in Israel and the Occupied Territories, but by and large they work to alleviate the symptoms of Occupation, not to end it. Meanwhile, Fayyad is a technocrat, Hamas is medieval, Obama’s been squished, and Europe is ineffectual. Where is the political movement that will end the Occupation, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bring about a workable one-state or two-state solution?
My last two posts, which discussed a possible framework for a one-state solution and its implications for the Palestinian right of return, generated a few hundred comments, along with a thoughtful response from Ahmed Moor that generated another fifty. Responses ranged in tone from thanks and praise to suggestions that I be hit over the head and banned from Mondoweiss. Substantively, the comments touched on many different subjects, from the Peel Commission and the Palestine Electric Company to South Africa and the Bolsheviks.
However, I received not a single response, positive or negative, to my proposal for a Palestinian voting rights campaign in the Occupied Territories. Nor did anyone raise the possibility of using some other kind of moral and political judo, like for example the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders, followed by a campaign for international recognition, followed by the settlers having a hard time explaining their illegal presence in a foreign country. Nobody put forth a plan.
In this post I’m taking a break from turgid analysis and detailed proposals. Instead I’m throwing the ball back to the community of Mondoweiss writers and commentators.
It’s undeniably therapeutic to fulminate against injustice. It may also be useful to apply pressure to a corrupt regime through criticism and other sanctions, even if one doesn’t have a plan for changing that regime, or a clear idea of what will replace it. Still, at some point, one must formulate a plan. That’s what the settlers are doing.