Exile and the Prophetic: People have been predicting a ‘game change’ in Israel/Palestine since the early 80s. Why hasn’t it happened?

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Could Israel fall off the American political cliff?

Take 1948: Israel is quite young as a state. Then 1967: American love for Israel isn’t even that old. Now 2012: Despite the campaign rhetoric, America’s love affair with Israel seems more and more about the projection of American power than it has to do with Israel itself.

Political landscapes change. Think of Europe in relation to Asia in the changing American imagination and the global equation.

Still I doubt that Israel will fall off the American cliff. Not in my lifetime at least.

Can Israel fall off the Jewish cliff? 1948, 1967, 2012: Think of the shifting Jewish views on Israel. The ‘love’ graph is nondescript, then up. Now middling, heading down. What’s left is mostly rote sloganeering. Repetition without emotion.

In the Israel case, the Jewish love lost won’t be rekindled. Despite the Jewish establishment’s rhetoric, comparatively speaking the Jewish love affair with Israel is on the rocks.

Still I doubt that Israel will fall off the Jewish cliff. Not in my lifetime at least.

If Israel were to fall off a cliff, is it more likely the American or Jewish cliff?

Israel has already fallen off the Jews of Conscience cliff. Indeed, Jewish conscience made way for that decision. It hasn’t been easy. Nor should it have been.

The only argument left is what to do after the fall. Can the Israel pieces of the puzzle be brought back together in another configuration? Or should the Israel pieces be left were they lay?

Whatever one’s view of the future, the near term doesn’t look good at all. Jews of Conscience – indeed Palestinians of Conscience – aren’t even on the American political radar screen.

Is the American political radar screen the only politics in town?

When the usual political radar doesn’t record your presence, stealth is the only option. But then the prophetic is hardly known for hiding the dirty laundry of the unjust.

On the macro political level we need a series of game changers. The same is needed in the Middle East.

For how many years have I heard that the game changers in Israel/Palestine were right around the corner?

I first heard them when I visited Israel/Palestine in 1984. In the minds of many, there was no way Israel could sustain its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It was too draining on the Israel’s economy, army and morale. Not only was the occupation doomed, American support for Israel was on its last legs. Once the United States government – and people – realized what was going on there, it would withdraw support from Israel.

There was something even more ominous that faced Israel. As a nation, Israel was increasingly divided between secular and religious forces. The liberal center that held Israel together was fracturing. Likewise, the distance between Jewish ethics and the power abuses of a Jewish state was too great. Over the long run, Jews wouldn’t tolerate this ethical gap.

In sum, the state of Israel couldn’t survive its own contradictions.

All of these predictions proved wrong.

It’s not that the predictions lacked merit. They did then. They do today. Yet they are fundamentally flawed.

To begin with, the foreign and domestic successes of Israel weren’t factored it. On the one hand, those making the predictions didn’t take into account Israel’s resilience and ability to use their weaknesses to bolster their strengths. On the other hand, they didn’t take into account how much the political deck of cards was stacked against Palestinians.

Many of the predictors were Palestinians and those associated with their struggle for freedom. Years later, some Palestinians added the collapse of their own leadership as factors for Israel’s ability to persevere. Before this either Palestinians weren’t able to look their leadership in the eye and tell the world what they thought or it wasn’t obvious that Palestinian political leadership was part of Israel’s victory.

After all these years of deflection and defeat when we ask what Jews of Conscience can do, we likewise have to ask what Palestinians of Conscience can do? With Obama’s reelection and the next two years of his effectiveness, what should Jews and Palestinians of Conscience be about?

Can Jews and Palestinians of Conscience identify, propose and implement a game changer, one that would force politics as usual to take a decisive turn toward justice?

In retrospect, the gap between the normative politics of Israel, Palestinians, the Middle East, Europe and America and Jews and Palestinians of Conscience seems less than it is today. Or better, perhaps the gap between normative politics and the facts on the ground seem less.

In the time frame I’m using – 1984 – 2012 – is it true that the gap has widened? It may be that the gap that seems wider – what with the extensive settlements and loss of Palestinian land – isn’t really wider at all. Taking time further backward, say to 1948, it seems more accurate to see continuity in Israeli policies and the adjustment of political actors in the conflict to this now entrenched and seemingly more acceptable continuity.

Same Israeli policies, less international resistance? Same Israeli policies, less Palestinian territorial integrity? Same Israeli policies, more Arab and American buy-in?

It’s complicated to be sure. So much has happened in the world and the region. On the international level, it’s certainly the case that the Palestinian profile has never been stronger. The question is at what cost?

The American, Israel and Palestinian cliffs – indeed the global cliff – keeps moving. In a few years there won’t be anywhere to fall.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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