Only non-Jews can save Israel, Eldar says

Israel/Palestine
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The only thing that can save Israel is non-Jews. This was the message of Akiva Eldar, the veteran Israeli journalist, in a conference call on January 2 held by Americans For Peace Now.

These non-Jews could save Israel by acting in two ways: The Palestinian citizens of Israel must vote in three weeks, instead of staying home, and this will allow a Labor coalition to form a new government dedicated to making peace with Palestine (and guaranteeing Israel’s existence), Eldar says.

Or, if as is almost certain, Netanyahu’s coalition is reelected, the Europeans– who unlike Obama are unbound by AIPAC– will at last pressure Israel in ways that will force the Netanyahu government to dissolve before too long, Eldar says.

In short, if you are counting on Israeli Jews to change their society and end the occupation, forget about it. The “Masada syndrome”– the belief that “the goyim” are against us– has taken hold in the Israeli public, Eldar says, pushed by the only strong leader in Israeli society, Netanyahu, so that even secular liberals accept the idea that peace with the Palestinians is a theoretical possibility but not practical. 

So you have a liberal Zionist, Eldar, 67, columnist for Haaretz and al-monitor.com, arguing that the only way to save the Jewish state is for non-Jews to take action. Though Eldar did not say so explicitly, his argument turns Zionism on its head: Jewish sovereignty is actually destructive.

You can listen to Eldar here. Key points of his analysis: 

1.       The Israeli Palestinians are the “game changer,” if they would only vote.

“If Labor/Kadima what’s left of it, [Tzipi] Livini, if they will be able to convince the Arab Israeli constituency that if they win, things will change– because the reason they don’t vote is they gave up hope that things will change–… I think the Arab or Israeli Palestinian electorate can be a game changer. But otherwise the common wisdom is, that Bibi Netanyahu is going to be the next prime minister.”

If Israeli Palestinians voted, Labor Kadima could then form a 61-member coalition with the addition of Shas, the Ultra-Orthodox, who would be in the government because they always want to be in the ruling coalition, so as to be “close to the bank,” Eldar explains.

2.       Israel is careening to the right, and the Europeans are the only ones who are going to stop Israel.

Netanyahu lost to the radical right twice, first when he combined the Likud party and the rightwing Yisraeli Beteinu party, a masterstroke/”mistake” brokered by American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein, which put the radicals inside his own party; then he has lost more recently with the rise of the charismatic Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home Party on his right. Bennett, an Orthodox Jew, is for Bantustans on the West Bank, annexing Area C, and pushing Gaza into Egypt, Eldar says, but even the secular elite young like him because he made money in high-tech and his secular wife is a chef in a non-Kosher restaurant. 

The Israeli Jewish public claims to be for a two-state solution but it will vote for Likud and Bennett because it has accepted Netanyahu’s propaganda that Palestinians don’t want peace, they want Jerusalem; and so the international pressure on settlements is an effort to delegitimize Israel – in the pointed finger,”it’s our fault, not the goyim’s fault.” Netanyahu also claims to be for a two-state solution but if he had to adopt his own Bar-Ilan speech of ’09 as his platform, his coalition would abandon him. Even Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitch has deferred to the radical right on the settlement policy, because she doesn’t know anything about the Palestinian issue. The Masada syndrome is reminiscent to Eldar of a song that Israelis sung after the 1967 war: “The whole world is against us. Sorry, we won.”

Of course, the Europeans and the Americans have been letting Israel get away with consuming the West Bank while claiming they are for the two state solution. The Americans briefly changed the program in ’91 under Bush and in ’99 under Clinton (note to reader: last year of their presidencies) and in each case Likud lost the prime ministership because the US pressure changed Israeli public opinion.

This time round Obama “doesn’t seem interested,” but the Europeans are “getting fed up.” The Israeli ambassadors’ revolt against their government’s E1 settlement plans shows that they can’t sustain European support. The biggest crack is the Czechs. The Czechs were the only EU member to vote against Palestinian observer state status at the UN last November, but the Israeli ambassador says since then for the first time he has been getting “difficult” questions from the Czechs about E-1 and other settlement plans.

So when Netanyahu is sworn in again, on Day One his coalition will have a radical right line and the Europeans will start to confront him. On two potential fronts: Hey, we like the American visa system, and now when you want to have a bar mitzvah in Paris, you have to wait for weeks to get a visa; and we have noticed that even you Israelis are boycotting settlement goods, so we are going to do so too. Eldar spoke about the Israel lobby. During the statehood initiative at the UN, the US signaled to European countries, you can vote for enhanced status for the Palestinians, but we can’t:

“I believe [the pressure] will not come from the Americans, it will come from the Europeans, because… the Europeans are getting fed up, and in the case of the Palestinian request to the UN, there was a message, you can go ahead with this, you don’t have to follow us and vote against the Palestinians. [It was a] subtle hint from the US to Europeans, you don’t have to worry about the European AIPAC, so take advantage of this.”

Netanyahu will respond to the economic pressure, and his coalition will break. There will be new elections not long after he forms his coalition, Eldar indicated.

When asked by a Peace Now caller what could produce a meaningful two-state solution, Eldar basically admitted no one is Israel is thinking about this.

“People are thinking now of other solutions including a kind of one state solution which will allow Israel to maintain its Jewish nature and the Palestinians [not to have] borders and allow the settlers to stay where they are.”

But this disturbs him:

“The majority of the Israelis, and the Palestinians don’t believe in a one-state solution. They don’t want to get married, they want a divorce. There is so much animosity and unfinished business between the two people. Look at the Balkans, look at Belgium, at Quebec, let alone here where you have different religions, different history, and so many years of occupation that left millions of Palestinians wounded. I don’t believe there is an other way.”

I understand this argument but am not convinced by it. It is generational. How many of Peace Now’s constituency even believe it? People are sick of a charade, the peace process, and Israeli expansion has forever changed the West Bank landscape. The two state solution would require repartition and return of colonists; and there’s no political will to impose it. As for “unfinished business” and the wounds of occupation, world opinion is beginning to valorize Palestinian grievances, from ’48 to ’67, and that is a good thing.

If you follow Eldar’s logic that only non-Jews can save Israel from the dangers of Jewish sovereignty– well, it is actually a democratic argument for everyone who is under the power of the Israeli government to have a vote. The extremism Eldar so disparages is the fruit of empowering only half the population, on an ethnic basis. 

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