Obsessively following the Israeli media during this time of crisis, as is my habit and addiction, it’s truly painful to witness the deterioration of the Jewish-Arab discourse within Israel; yet another victim of the current violence and of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And now I’ll say something wildly unpopular, compelled by my lifelong love and commitment to Israel and to peace.
Israel — with intentionality and as a matter of policy and strategy — has cornered the Palestinian movement into an impossible “Catch-22” crafted deliberately over a period of decades, where the Israeli response to both Palestinian violence and Palestinian non-violence is one in the same: maintaining and deepening the occupation.
For the Israeli government and the public at large, when things are quiet there’s apparently no incentive to make sacrifices and end the conflict. On the contrary, quiet periods have been consistently exploited by various governments as an opportunity to expand settlements.
After all, life is pretty good during these quiet years. Abu Mazen’s Palestinian Authority is doing Israel’s work in preventing terror attacks. The ‘separation fence’ is in place. Tel Aviv cafes are full. The economy is growing and money is being made. The Palestinians are behaving themselves. Most Israelis have long since tuned-out politics and learned to live rather comfortably within this bubble of self-delusion that life is good and everything’s OK.
On the other hand, during periods of violence neither the government nor the public is in any mood to negotiate or to make the hard compromises necessary to end the corrosive occupation. How, we hear, can Israel negotiate with terrorists? With people committed to our destruction? And anyway, after nearly 50 years, most of the world has learned to live with the status quo. There’s no partner for peace, so let’s circle the wagons, set aside our petty political concerns and form a unity government to confront the existential threats facing Israel: Iran, Daesh/ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and, oh yes, the Palestinians.
To make matters worse, after each such cycle, the constituency for compromise and ending the conflict seems to grow narrower. Rationality, truth and the public’s ability to see it are apparently the first victims of years of right-wing rule. And so, government ‘manages’ the conflict and people accept that as part of the new normal.
The same is largely true on the domestic front with regard to the status of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. When the Arab sector and its leadership are ‘quiet’, there is apparently no incentive – or pressure – to expand rights or lower the barriers to full inclusion and participation. After all, most of Israel’s Arab citizens have no desire to live in a Palestinian state, and aren’t they much better off than their cousins in the rest of the Arab world? But when the Israeli Arab community finds a unified political voice as it now has and asserts its demands for recognition of both its individual rights and its status as a native-born national minority, that’s when it hits the fan.
In Catch-22’s absurdist logic, pilots who want to fly combat missions are crazy by definition, and the rules say that anyone crazy is not allowed to fly. Therefore the only pilots fit to serve are the sane ones who refuse to fly. And that, unfortunately, seems to be the place where Israel is stuck. No peace with those we don’t trust; no need for compromise with those that we do.
And that’s where visionary leadership is needed the most. A leadership prepared to proclaim loudly and convincingly that the status quo is not sustainable. Not across the Green Line and not domestically. That the convenient perception that life is good and things are OK is a dangerous, even suicidal delusion. And that’s precisely the kind of leadership that is so tragically missing on both the left and the right of Israeli politics.
Postscript: I’m already imagining the stream of indignant push-backs to this post. But I’m also thinking about the childhood advice of parents and teachers when we’d get into the occasional schoolyard squabble and defend ourselves with the famous “He started it” or “I didn’t do anything” or “You’re not being fair.” Now, as then, the response is the same: You may be right, but it doesn’t matter. The real question is: What are we going to do to fix it? Only when Israel – and its friends abroad – understand that “fixing it” is a matter of pure self-interest rather than doing a favor to the other side will progress be possible.