Liberal Zionism is in crisis. The occupation is more permanent than ever. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the settlement project’s 50th anniversary in a settlement and announced many more settlements in recent weeks. The Israeli left is marginalized to the point that Labor politicians parrot the right. While U.S. politicians have failed to openly criticize the occupation, even Democrats– till they are leaving office. All signs are that the dream of a Palestinian state is over.
Here are two responses by liberal Zionists to the crisis. In the first case, Alon Ben-Meir, a long time negotiator, pleads with Americans to hold on tight, the left is still alive in Israel, and p.s., Israelis will never accept one state between the river and the sea.
In the second case, Danny Seidemann in a Peace Now podcast is more realistic about Israeli politics. Everything looks grim, he says, including approval of a “doomsday settlement” that would kill a Palestinian state; but Seidemann holds out hope that Israel might still be saved from itself.
Ben-Meir, a professor at NYU, appeared at the Palestine Center on November 17, and said the Israeli left is alive and well.
There is a very strong, well-operating left in Israel today. But you don’t hear much of the left because there is no election going on today. All you have to do is, read the Israeli newspapers, read the commentaries in Haaretz… The public is very sick and tired– the majority … are sick and tired of the conflict. They need to see an end to it. They talk openly about the two-state solution. There are scores and scores of organizations in Israel that’s all they do, promote peace peace peace, based on a two state solution.
The one state solution is never going to happen because no Israeli government from the extreme left to the extreme right will never allow to have one state and be governed eventually by a Palestinian majority. That’s not going to happen.That’s not going to happen, plain and simple.
Ben-Meir called on the audience to “appeal to the segment of the Israeli population that wants to end this conflict.”
Danny Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem spoke in a Peace Now podcast on November 15, and expressed far more pessimism than Ben-Meir.
Seidemann described an unprecedented “major surge” in new settlements in East Jerusalem since the summer. For the first time in a long time there is a “major surge in the number of settlements:” 1300 apartments on the fringes of existing neighborhoods. He pointed to four settlement plans in Sheikh Jarrah, approved in November, including a yeshiva. When these settlements are complete, Seidemann said, they will transform Sheikh Jarrah into an extension of Jewish, pre-67 Israel far east of the Green Line.
“This is a game changer because it’s a border changer.”
Seidemann also cited a “Doomsday settlement” on the south side of Jerusalem, given that nickname because it would end the two-state solution.
Secondly we’ve learned that one of the Doomsday settlements, Givat Hamatos, has been greenlighted by Netanyahu even though there’s no confirmation of that publicly. We’ve heard behind the scenes that the previous restraints have been removed by Netanyahu and the first tenders are going to be expected in the first quarter of 2018.
Givat Hamatos, on an empty hill near Har Homa, would cut off all connection between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Palestinians.
Seidemann also described “massive infrastructures” that have erased the Green Line, integrating East Jerusalem settlements and West Bank settlements into Israel proper.
It’s possible to go from Tel Aviv to Etzion bloc [far south of Jerusalem] without hitting a traffic light, something you can’t do to my house in Jerusalem.
His conclusion :
So it really cuts to the quick… the authoritative question as to whether the two state solution is alive or dead.
Seidemann said that if there were a peace agreement, Israel would need to remove 163,000 settlers who do not live in the major settlement blocs, or about a quarter of more than 600,000 settlers east of the Green Line. That number used to be 116,000 when Netanyahu took office in 2009, but it goes up 6,000 or 7,000 a year, he said.
So if Israel has the capacity and the will to relocate 163,000 settlers, the two state solution is alive. And if it doesn’t, it’s dead.
He went on to say that Israel clearly has “the capacity” to remove those settlers, “because we absorbed 1 million immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.” But Israel doesn’t have “the will to relocate one.”
Now, here are several critical comments on the liberal Zionist crisis.
Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada responded to Alon Ben-Meir at the Palestine Center, and said that if Israelis are pressured, they could change their approach:
The claim we always hear that Israelis will never accept democracy, they will never accept equal rights for Palestinians, I think is underestimating the capacity for people to change. When I studied South Africa I looked at all the opinion surveys through the years from the 1980’s to the 1990’s… where solid majorities of whites said we will never accept a one person one vote system, that that would be suicide for us. FW de Klerk [former president of South Africa] said we will never accept one person, one vote, at the beginning of negotiations to end the racist system. And lo and behold within a couple of years, they accepted it. And no one says South Africa is utopia, but they accepted the thing they said they would never, never, never accept.
Historian Avi Shlaim explained in an interview at Jadaliyya that the left in Israel was killed by Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Having failed to negotiate a deal with the Palestinians in 2000, Barak convinced the public that there was no Palestinian partner for peace:
This was a tragic mistake and it had a real impact on Israeli politics, because if there is no Palestinian partner for peace then negotiations are pointless and hopeless. If there is no Palestinian partner for peace, Israelis don’t need to vote for a party like Labour that believes in negotiations. And rather than a moderate leader, a man of compromise, they would look for a strong one who is good at killing Arabs…. There was a Likud victory in 2001 and either it or an offshoot of the Likud, Kadima, which is also a right-wing party, has been in power ever since.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is a shadow of its former self and no longer represents a clear alternative to the Likud. It has become a nationalistic party, and has changed its name from the Labour Party to the Zionist Union, which tells you everything. So it’s a Zionist party which believes in the land of Israel, that Jerusalem is the unified and eternal capital of the Jewish people, and that Israel should keep all the major settlement blocks in the West Bank in a final settlement. It is therefore not a moderate party, it is not a socialist party, it is not a left-wing party, it is a hybrid sort of centre-left party with no coherent ideology and with no clear alternative to the policies of the Likud.
Seidemann foresees Israel holding on to those settlement blocs. They contain about 200,000 settlers in the West Bank, in addition to the 200,000 or so settlers in East Jerusalem.
David Shulman writes in the latest New York Review of Books that we have now entered the period of a struggle for equal rights within a single country, as a minority of Palestinians now believe in the possibility of a Palestinian state. He is dismissive of the traditional liberal Zionist position. Labor Zionists started the settlement project and have never changed their minds about anything. “Inhabiting a mythic cosmos tends to reduce reality to a manageable set of indubitable equations,” he said.
Finally, Scott Roth points out that equating Israel’s ability to absorb the immigrants from the Soviet Union with removing settlers is a false equivalence because in fact those settlers are doing what the Soviet immigrants did: fulfilling the Zionist ideology. In fact many of the immigrants became settlers in illegal settlements out of the state’s Zionist impulse.