I have been on a speaking tour in the United States with Jewish Voices for Peace over the past few weeks. If you’d like to hear an audio recording of one of my presentations, click here. My next stops will be in Virginia on May 28 and 29.
Month: May 2017
For years now, commentators have noted a determined and consistent move to the Right in Israeli politics. The current government is the most right wing government in Israel’s history, and the real challenges to Natanyahu’s leadership come from his right, not from the Left.,, The younger generation seems even more right wing than their parents.,, Political views and parties which were once considered fringe and radically right wing are now mainstream, and their representatives sit in the government and often dictate its policies towards Palestinians. Why then do I view this trend as a sign of Hope?
First is the obvious reason, that as Israel moves to the Right and is recognized increasingly as such, the support and sympathy it used to garner as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and all the talk of “shared values” wears thin, and people of decency and good conscience find it more and more repugnant. Israeli propaganda (Hasbara) calls this process “delegitimization” of Israel, even though the culprit in this “delegitimization” is Israel itself and its policies rather than those who point out this phenomenon. As Israel becomes more and more right wing, it loses much of the support it used to engender, even among its traditional friends who have become embarrassed to associate with Israel and its policies.
A liberal sounding, leftist leaning Israeli government can get away with much more repression, expansion, settlement building and establishment, and usually is given a “pass” by the international community as long as they believe such a government is genuinely seeking peace. The Labor Party was much more successful in building settlements and creating the legal and institutional structures for them than the loud and obnoxious Likud party. For many people who think in binary terms, it was easy to side with the “good,” peace-loving Israel against what was perceived as its warmongering, rejectionist enemies. A right wing Israel is less likely to garner this level of support.
More importantly, however, is what this right wing trend does to Israel itself and its own internal character and institutions. I have always felt that Israel’s strength and successful defeat of its enemies has always had more to do with its “soft power” elements rather than its military might: Elements like rule of law, a free press, tolerance of dissent, diversity, transparency, self criticism, and the like. An open, progressive society which genuinely demonstrates these qualities has a clear advantage over a society that does not.
Israel currently reflects increasingly bigoted, intolerant, and fascist elements. Leftist Israeli Jews are openly reviled, and accused of treason,, human rights NGOs are targeted, and harassed., Laws endeavoring to limit judicial review of the state’s actions are routinely introduced; new laws that are openly racist and discriminatory are passed. Racist and discriminatory practices which were cleverly camouflaged in the past are now blatantly heralded and defended. History shows us that while this may create the appearance of “unity” behind extreme and nationalist programs, in reality it weakens a society, and leaves it nothing but brute military force, which is never a hedge against internal weakness and collapse.
The weakening of the traditional “leftist” Liberal Zionists strips off the mask, and brings into focus the heinous aspects of Zionism and its necessarily injurious effects on non-Jews living in the Land. It highlights the racism and discrimination, as well as ethnic cleansing that not only accompanied the creation of the state of Israel, but that was inherent in the very idea of setting up a Jewish state in Palestine.
Once these elements are acknowledged, we can go about the very difficult task of trying to reconcile the legitimate desires of Jews, who sought a refuge and homeland in Palestine, with those of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, without subterfuge or hypocrisy. This difficult task would also require us to engage the settlers in the West Bank, however difficult or repulsive that notion is. Hoping to achieve peace while keeping settlers out of the conversation is as foolish as trying to keep Hamas and its supporters out of the picture. Both parties must be engaged and dealt with.
In this sense, therefore, the move to the Right can be truly a sign of hope. Not only does it weaken support for Israel, and reduce Israel’s ability to oppress Palestinians with impunity, but the move to the Right also opens the way for genuine (as opposed to fake) peacemaking and resolution.
In my last post, I listed the details of the awesome power of Israel’s military, and stated that the recognition of its military superiority can be a Sign of Hope for peace.
I now must state what the limits of that military power are, and why those limitations constitute another Sign of Hope.
While Israel does have awesome firepower and the ability to rain fire and destruction on its enemies near and far, and while Arabs (and certainly Palestinians) have no credible military power to threaten, much less defeat Israel, nonetheless this military machine has long reached its outer limits and no longer can achieve any additional strategic goals on behalf of the State of Israel and its policies.
Geographically, Israel’s army can no longer capture or hold additional territories: to the North, it advanced as far as Beirut but had to withdraw and was not even able to hold a “sanitary corridor” in South Lebanon, in the face of Lebanese resistance by Hezbollah created largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Any further incursion into Syria, beyond the Golan Heights, would necessitate occupying the Syrian capital of Damascus, with its 4 million inhabitants, which is only 20 miles from the current borders. No Israeli general or politician would seriously contemplate such a step after the Lebanon debacle.
To the South, Israel’s army reached the Suez Canal but had to withdraw from Sinai, after the October War, as part of the Camp David Peace Accords. The Sinai Peninsula stretched the Israeli army to its limits, and Israel was pleased to withdraw from that area. It has even withdrawn from the densely-populated Gaza Strip, and while it still controls the borders of the Strip, the air above it, and the sea coast, it is unlikely to achieve much more militarily by reoccupying it.
To the East, despite the fact that some extremists would claim historical and religious rights to some of the territory east of the Jordan River (two and a half tribes of ancient Israel were “promised” territory there), the political and demographic headaches involved, not to mention the international outcry, would make any territorial expansion to the East wholly unthinkable.
In addition, some military analysts point to the fact that the Israeli Army made a poor showing both in its war on Hezbollah and its war in Gaza, . Other than remote bombardment and destruction, its army failed to effectively engage adversaries on the field of battle, despite their numerical and equipment advantages. In all cases, Israel has captured all the territory its army can possibly capture and hold, and can at best hope to achieve effectively demilitarized zones to prevent Arab armies from approaching it.
It is true that the Israeli army continues to believe in the power of deterrence, yet that power does not seem to have the desired effect on non-state actors, who continue to form a security threat to Israel and its citizens.
The reality is that Israel’s “security” challenges are no longer military in nature, but have to do with the very essence of the political struggle it has with Palestinians and the Arab world in general. In that struggle, military domination and power seem to have little effect. Israel is facing a determined population that, despite the huge imbalance of power, has not been cowered and refuses to acquiesce to continued Israeli domination.
Even though Israeli intelligence has made impressive successes in infiltrating hostile organizations, it has not been able to neutralize the feelings of the people, or their willingness to carry out often hopeless attacks. The latest manifestations of this resistance has been “lone wolf” attacks by individuals not affiliated with any of the armed or political groups, and even individuals who have no access to weapons or training have been using household instruments (knives and scissors) or vehicles to ram into soldiers, settlers, or civilians. The army leaders have made it clear that politicians cannot look to them for answers when the civilian population under their control erupt from time to time into mini “intifadas”.
Imposing excessive punishment on the population, as well as collective retribution against the families and communities of the perpetrators have also failed to do anything other than increase the level of hatred and bitterness and determination to resist.
Israelis often complain that the Palestinian Authority (their greatest ally in controlling the population) is “not doing enough.” And they also hypothesize that certain elements, as opposed to the occupation, “incite” the population, and that the school curriculum (which is approved by Israel) somehow further incites Palestinian children to resist. The reality is that their insistence on military responses as their preferred solution has failed.
While the Israeli population at large continues to emphasize the military as a necessary tool for achieving its goals, objective observers, including many in Israel’s own military leadership, recognize that force alone and military power alone cannot achieve these goals, and that some form of cooperation by Palestinians is required to get them the security they need. And this growing realization is itself another Sign of Hope.