Israeli Jews maintain the occupation because it is in their interest — Noam Sheizaf

Noam Sheizaf, from his twitter feed

Noam Sheizaf, speaking at the Kehilla Community Synagogue of the East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area last Friday, made the point that Israel will not change its occupation without outside help. And the most obvious outside “help” to be had is the United States stopping to run interference for Israel at the UN, says Sheizaf. Are you listening Nikki Haley?

The Israeli writer elaborated on why, among the available choices under discussion for peace in Israel/Palestine–(a) the one state solution, (b) the two state solution, and (c) the status quo–the status quo is the most attractive option from an Israeli Jewish perspective. The status quo is also immoral; and morality doesn’t hold a candle to rational self-interest.

Here are extended excerpts of his comments. Sheizaf:

The Risks of a One State or Two State Solution

“I want to explain something . . .  which has to do with the Jewish public. Since the Jewish public has the assets and has the sovereignty, the keys are in the Jewish public’s hands. It takes an Israeli decision to end the occupation. There is no way around that. And despite the fact that everyone understands it takes an Israeli decision, and not a Palestinian decision, to end the occupation, the political interventions that we keep reproducing don’t recognize that fact. They look at both parties.

“But it takes an Israeli decision to end the occupation.

“There are many explanations why an Israeli decision to end the occupation has not been forthcoming. Some have to do with fear of existential violence, but I want to offer the political thought which has to do with choices. With political choices, and choices the Jewish public makes.

“Let’s think about the options that Israeli Jews face. . .  Israelis are told—by Obama and everyone else—you either choose the two state solution, or the one state solution, and the one-state solution will be the end of the Jewish dream, the end of Israel. And this may be good or bad, depending on your perspective. But that is what we are told. Because we are not moving towards a two-state solution, we are moving to a one-state solution.

“The problems with the one state solution in the Israeli psyche are clear. The . . .  one state solution—meaning giving equal citizenship to everybody on the ground—would mean a reshuffling of everything. The Palestinians might not like being absorbed into the state of Israel, but every Palestinian acknowledges they will use their rights if they get them to change the nature of the state: to redistribute the assets, the ground, the physical assets, the political assets; they’ll redistribute them to create a one state solution. Whether it will still be called Israel or something else is up in the air. Nobody knows. It will be a reshuffling of the entire system.

“If you’re the privileged group that holds all the assets, and all the political rights, this is the scariest thing you can be thinking about. The one thing we know about the one state solution is we don’t exactly know how it will behave after it’s implemented. We don’t know what the relations between Jews and Palestinians will look like. Will they be peaceful or not? Will the redistribution of wealth and assets work, or not. We know nothing about that. So in the Israeli mind this one state solution is probably the worst outcome, because it’s the big unknown.

“But let’s look at the two state solution, which is the solution that the international community has supported, and that both publics, at least in theory, support. The two state solution for Israelis is still not a simple thing. It will mean a big internal controversy, some would say a civil war within the Jewish society. Every politician who tried to evacuate some parts of the West Bank in Israel lost his job as prime minster, and one time his life. Olmert fell from power, Rabin was murdered, and Sharon had to break his own political party, the Likud. So politicians see the personal cost of this type of political debate about leaving the West Bank.

“And to be completely honest, the Israeli fears of what will happen post two-state solution are grounded. Nobody knows what will happen in the relation between Israel and Palestine the day after. There can be all manner of commitments. But that’s all true on the moment when you sign the agreement. Nobody knows what will happen after that. The point about giving Palestinians sovereignty over their state is that they can do whatever they want with it. That’s sovereignty. Nobody can dictate that the moderates will rule. And Israel understands this. There is the chance for violence. There is the chance for internal violence between Jews. There is the external violence that can come with a solution. So this solution might not be as costly as the one state solution, but it is still an enormously costly solution.

The Status Quo is Rational

“But the thing that is unspoken in the media, and in the political process that accompanies it, in all the international interventions—the European and the American—is that there is a third option. There is always another option. The third option is the status quo. The third option is to maintain things as they are. And if you’ve been to Israel lately, it’s not such a bad option. The economy is fine, security is fine.

“It’s not the best of all worlds. Even if you go to Israelis who support maintaining things as they are, they will tell you, “we would like not to have the occupation.” I heard that from Dani Dayan, the UN Counsel General in New York. He is a settler, but as a young person he didn’t travel to South Africa because he was boycotting Apartheid. And he says he doesn’t like the occupation. He acknowledges everything that comes with it, and it troubles him. And I believe him. I really believe he is an honest man.

“Israelis might say it is not the perfect solution, but in terms of rational choice, of what costs us more, and what gives us more benefit, there is simply no doubt that maintaining the status quo is the best solution from the Israeli perspective. And we are not talking about the values of good and bad, or evil. I’m not making any moral judgments here. I’m just looking at what a politician might pay if he chooses one of the solutions, the one state or the two state, as opposed to if he chooses the status quo.

“I’m also talking about what a person in the street might feel, in terms of his own personal security in a one state framework, a two state framework, and in a status quo framework. And everywhere I examine it I would say that the status quo comes in first. The status quo is the best option as far as the Jewish public is concerned. People may argue, as I do, that in the long run the status quo might be the worst option, but political choices are never made in the long run. And there are good reasons for that because reality and political relations are fluid, and you don’t know what will happen. So you make plans for five, ten years. And for the foreseeable future, the status quo is better for Israeli Jews.

 And so Jews are left with a Moral Choice

“This also should be common sense, but it is never referred to because the deep meaning of what I’m arguing is that your personal interest, your deepest interest as a citizen, as a parent, as a mother and a father, the deep political interest is inherently immoral. And what do you do then?

“I think this is what is at the root of the famous Israeli anxiety over where we are and where we are heading, and the anger over intervention from the outside. And this is why pointing the finger and saying if you don’t implement a two state solution, you’ll end up with a one state solution doesn’t work. Israelis understand the situation perfectly well and they make rational choices. And the rational choice in the short to medium term is to maintain the status quo. And this is why we’ve elected the person whose whole persona, whose whole political existence, is a fabulous talent in maintaining the status quo, despite all sorts of pressures: pressure for war and pressure for peace. . . .

“Palestinians will never consent to the occupation and maintaining people without rights. It’s simply about control. It’s about controlling people without rights; locking them in the same situation for more, and more, and more years. And I think some of the things that we put a spotlight on, like the tiny settlement here and the appropriation of land there, misses the essence of the story. The essence of the story is about control, about keeping people without rights, by force, for decades and decades.

“And if you look at the West Bank right now . . . . if you traveled in the 60’s to the West Bank, or in the 70’s, and even the 80’s. . . the place today looks very different. It looks more and more like a prison, the West Bank: it’s surrounded by walls that are 10 yards high, and watchtowers, and there are cameras everywhere, in separate rows, all aimed at maintaining the situation on the ground (indefinitely), with the least possible violence, the least possible problems.

“Maintaining the status quo; maintaining people under control without rights for more and more years, until something happens. And I think this is the essence of the occupation in the post Oslo period. Not the settlements, not anything else. It’s about maintaining people without rights under control.”

And if we care about changing the status quo, Sheizaf ends on a pessimistic note:

“Ten years ago this was such an anomaly in the international system– the idea that half of the population under a certain sovereignty [has no effective say], that one third of the population does not enjoy the rights and benefits of the political system, that it’s a democracy for this and not a democracy for that, that these can participate, and those are held through force, that these are held through consent and are patriotic while those are held at gun-point . . . . This is such a bizarre situation in the international system that I thought it cannot hold; it cannot hold.

“There was a sense of inevitability about the occupation [that it would end] in the 90’s, and even during the second Intifada because we looked at the suicide bombings and we said ‘this is a product of the situation,’ and the situation cannot hold. But when I look at the world today, I see more and more places where people are held without rights, and you see more and more walls and watchtowers everywhere in the world. And you see more and more democracies thinking about how can we hold these refugees, or these countries that we’ve gotten into everlasting wars with, how can we hold it, this unnatural situation where people are being held by force without rights for longer and longer. How can we maintain it?

“And I don’t believe in this inevitability any more.”

This post first appeared on Roland Nikles’s blog today in a slightly different version, which includes a report on Larry Derfner’s dialogue with Gilad Halpern.