What Israel wants from the Palestinians, it takes
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael B. Oren, argues in his Sept. 15 Times Op-Ed article that Israelis want peace, and I believe him. They’ve said so often enough. But the Israelis want lots of other things too.
For instance, they want the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In addition, they want the Palestinian aquifers situated beneath the West Bank, and they want to preserve their racial privilege in the Jewish state. They also want to shear the Gaza Strip from Palestine.
Most of all, the Israelis want Palestinian quiescence in the face of Israeli wants. Those wants have made the two-state solution impossible to implement.
For decades, the Israelis have taken what they want from the Palestinians. Consequently, there are about 500,000 settlers in Jewish-only colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, the Israelis are discovering that what one wants and what one can afford sometimes diverge.
Some Israelis — but apparently not Oren — are beginning to realize that the deep, irreversible colonization of territory comes with a price: the end of the Jewish state as it is. It’s a painful lesson to learn, especially after decades of superpower indulgence. America’s obsequious coddling turns out to have been a curse for the Jewish state. Serious cost-benefit analyses around occupation policies — collectively, apartheid — were evidently never conducted.
When Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza — proportionally equivalent to 300,000 Americans — in Operation Cast Lead, incoming President Obama stayed mum. The Israelis counted on and got American cover. But they didn’t anticipate the impact of Richard Goldstone’s damning report on world opinion and the American layperson’s views. No one seems to have ever asked, “Wait, what will killing more than 300 children do to our image abroad? Can we afford to launch an assault against a defenseless and captive population just because President Bush says we can while Obama remains silent?”
Oren’s words fail to obscure the “facts on the ground” Israel has established in recent decades. These facts were engineered to entrench Israel’s permanent presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The conversation the ambassador is engaging in would have been timelier 42 years ago before Israel’s colonies killed the two-state solution, which was never an equitable solution anyway.
Today, the ambassador’s words are not just empty platitudes to peace but also effectively irrelevant. That’s because honest and well-informed observers understand that there will never be a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.
Obama’s circus — the so-called peace process — is designed only to pacify the perennial bugaboo of U.S. politics. The Israel lobby wants to promote the illusion that Israelis want a Palestinian state to enable the continued colonization of occupied land. It’s unclear why anyone seems to think that the theatrics are an effective smokescreen at this late stage.
Yet the reality is that Palestine/Israel is already one country. Five hundred thousand settler-colonists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have congealed in place; small numbers may be evacuated, but the vast majority are not going anywhere.
Furthermore, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stand for no one and nothing. The two men have no democratic mandate. Their terms in office having long expired, they are propped up by American and Israeli leaders who seek weak leaders as more apt to concede fundamental Palestinian rights. Of course, these are concessions they are incapable of making legitimately.
Abbas’ presidential term ended in January 2009, and Fayyad was illegally reappointed after the Fatah coup attempt against Hamas in June 2007. They cooperate so extensively with Israeli forces that the Palestinian Authority is more like a subcontracted colonial government than an adversarial negotiating party.
Obama recently asserted that Abbas knows “the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing.” But Abbas, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are already too late. Unless Abbas accepts noncontiguous “Bantustans” and uses U.S.-trained forces to enforce the abandonment of Palestinian rights, one state will become increasingly clear to all involved as the only alternative to apartheid. In effect, Israel will have colonized itself out of existence.
As in South Africa, it is time for Israeli leaders to embrace a pluralistic and humanistic vision for the state. Rather than lecture on Israel’s desire for a lopsided “peace,” Oren should begin to imagine a state in which each person — Jewish or non-Jewish — is equal under the law irrespective of religion or race. He can begin to imagine an apartheid-free society.
To see it in practice, he could travel through the American South. Yes, the American South and post-apartheid South Africa are not perfect, but they are dramatically improved over the reality of 50 years ago — a discriminatory and racist reality still endured today by Palestinians.
To be fair, we Palestinians also want a lot. We want what people everywhere else do: to live as free human beings in our country, in the absence of a foreign military occupation. We want to return to our towns and cities that were ethnically cleansed of us in 1948. We want to vote for our government, the one that controls every aspect of our lives. We want a united Jerusalem. And, when the state is united, we want an ambassador who speaks for all of us, not just the Jewish half of the country.
Put differently, we want equality and justice.
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian American journalist living in Beirut.