People often confuse Hope with optimism. Hope is a spiritual quality that recognizes that God is ultimately sovereign, and that the arch of history, however long, bends towards justice. Optimists expect change for the better in the near future. Those filled with, and driven by hope operate in difficult circumstances with the faith and certainty that evil and oppression and injustice cannot prevail ultimately, and that oppressive structures carry within them the seeds of their own destruction. They are encouraged by numerous examples in history where apparently all-powerful totalitarian regimes or dictators collapsed almost overnight; where apparently hopeless causes ultimately prevailed, where ingrained hatreds were overcome, and impeccable enemies were reconciled; where, against all odds, unjust regimes were defeated, and the weak triumphed. Examples range from the fall of slavery, apartheid, and colonialism, to the collapse of totalitarian regimes and despots, from Rumania’s Nicolai Ceausescu, to Uganda’s Idi Amin, and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
The victories in each of these cases appeared totally improbable at the time, yet in hindsight, the signs were all there, and the results were not only predictable, but almost inevitable. To detect them, one had to look deeper and take the longer view than the one normally taken by the pundits, the “experts” and those who realistically assess the “situation on the ground.”
This is also true of the situation of the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel and the Zionist movement. Their existing situation gives no grounds for any optimism whatsoever: They are physically fragmented, occupied, exiled, and powerless. In fact the balance of power at every level—military, economic, scientific, and technological—is totally lopsided against them. Their “friends” in the arab world are worse than their enemies; their leadership is pathetic, if not outright collaborationist; Israel effectively carries out its oppressive policies with full impunity and with the support of the world’s only superpower which promises to punish those who attempt to support them in any meaningful way.
Are there any signs of hope for Palestinians? I believe there are such signs, and many of them are paradoxical. Here they are:
1. Ethnic Cleansing is no longer a possible outcome: For a number of reasons, it is no longer possible for Israel to expel additional large quantities of Palestinian Arabs from Palestine, as it did in 1948, and 1967. A few hundreds or thousands may still be expelled, and hundreds of thousands may be disenfranchised, but it is no longer possible to create a mass exodus across the borders and therefore physically ethnically cleanse significant numbers of Palestinians under any conceivable scenario. While there are many in Israel who would love to see such an exodus, and who are alarmed at the “demographic threat,” such an exodus cannot be engineered any more.
2. The reality and acknowledgement that no Palestinian or Arab military option exists. While it is doubtful that any combination of Arab forces could have defeated the state of Israel in the past, now that fact is not only confirmed but is acknowledged by one and by all. While Israel continues to repeat its mantra about its security and the existential threats it faces, no one, including its own military leaders actually considers that military attacks are a serious threat to its existence and power.
3. The slow realization that Israel also has no possibility of resolving the dispute by military power alone. While Israel continues to prefer military strikes as its first option, and has a tremendous arsenal of nuclear, WMD, and conventional military forces, with a huge armaments industry and awesome destructive power, its military might has long surpassed its limitations. It still has tremendous firepower, and can rain destruction on its enemies, near and far, at will, but its ability to achieve political objectives by military power alone is severely limited.
4. Increased international awareness and involvement. While the Palestinian cause has always enjoyed international support, that support and involvement is now increasing in communities that have actual power and influence over Israel, such as Europe and the United States. The increased role of non-state actors, and the effectiveness of such tactics as BDS, as well as social media, provide a basis for Hope, even though we cannot predict how and when these actors will have a decisive impact on the ground.
5. The escalating shift to the Right in Israel, and the weakening of democratic institutions there. Paradoxically, while this shift increases brutality toward Palestinians and adds to their suffering, this element both weakens Israeli overall power, and reduces its ability to garner external support. As those trends continue, the elements of Israel’s “soft power” diminish, and all that is left is brute military force, which historically presaged the fall of many empires in the past.
6. The collapse of the “peace process” and the two-state solution. Another paradox. The peace process provided Israel with protection from forces challenging its occupation for many years, and the two-state solution provided an alibi to avoid dealing with the serious moral and ethical issues involved in the creation of a “Jewish state” and the racist and discriminatory elements involved in it, as well as a delay in dealing with the issues of the right of return and of equality for non-Jewish citizens of Israel. The deliberate sabotaging of that process and of the two-state solution, particularly by settlement building and expansion, paradoxically highlights these issues, and calls into question the entire Zionist project. As long as the two-state paradigm prevailed, Israel was able to continue its policies undeterred.
7. The breaches in the wall of Israeli stranglehold over US foreign policy. During recent years, there has been a deterioration of support for Israeli policies as an unshakable bipartisan issue. AIPAC was exposed as a paper tiger, and it was shown that US politicians can in fact defy the Israeli lobby and succeed. Constituencies that had been viewed in the past as unshakable unquestioning supporters of the most right wing Israeli positions (such as the American Jewish community, and Evangelical Christians) are showing more nuanced positions and openness to issues of Justice for Palestinians than ever before.
8. The revival of Palestinian identity for “Israeli Arabs.” For many years, the non-Jewish Arab citizens of Israel were largely absent from the discussion of Israel/Palestine peace efforts, and Israel seemed to have “domesticated” them with a combination of economic progress and the appearance of political rights. As Israel is becoming more racist and blatantly fascist, this façade has collapsed, and that population is becoming fully engaged in the struggle for equality and for Palestinian rights.
9. The Persistence of Palestinian nationalism against all odds. Ben Gurion once stated that the older generation will die off, and the new generation will not know or remember Palestine. Nothing is further from the truth. Today in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Diaspora, and against unbelievable odds, Palestinian nationalism is alive, well, and vibrant, especially among the young. And this is not the result of “incitement” or directives by any leadership.
Each of these trends and elements seem to be firm, clear, irrevocable, and growing stronger. Together, they provide a great Hope for the future. A just resolution of the Palestinian question will have a tremendous positive effect not only for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, but it will have a great effect throughout the region and will remove a major deep source of antagonism between the West and Moslem and Arab countries. It will also have a great effect on international law and institutions, who have suffered from the weakening of their power and influence because they have not been properly applied to this question.
A tipping point has not yet been reached, and it is unclear what will happen when it is reached. It may well be that Israeli society can find a way to live with Palestinians peacefully, without dominating them, as happened in South Africa when Apartheid collapsed. On the other hand, it is possible that the loss of domination will only occur in the context of bloody destruction. One thing is sure: the arch of history, however long, bends towards justice, and we must continue to work for justice, with Hope and faith, and concern for both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.