Global Dialogues

No Exit? Israel – Palestine

Before the peace process, during the peace process, and after the peace process appears to have collapsed, the conflict between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians has persisted. Try as the principals may to imagine a solution, often with considerable agreement about its basic contours, as was envisioned in the Geneva Accord, there seems to be no way to get from here to there, no alternative to the injustice of the way things are, no exit.

It is within this maze that we respond to the latest news: the surprising results of an election, in which the ruling party has been humbled, and once again a centrist party has emerged from nowhere, followed by Obama giving a moving speech on his first official visit to Israel, also once again, one of his best. The more things change, the more they stay the same?

It does indeed seem that nothing changes. I, thus, especially appreciate how Deliberately Considered contributors, Michael Weinman, Hilla Dayan and Nahed Habiballah have pushed themselves to provide independent critical perspective (see here , here, and here). Though they hold different positions, I am struck more by their common sensibility, their pursuit of the normal as a realistic though perhaps utopian project. Their differences are marked, but of less significance. I think that perhaps it is their common sensibility that might be the basis for common political thinking and acting against despair.

Weinman observed the most positive side of the election. He doesn’t approve of “the winner,” Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid (“there is a future”) Party, but he thinks there was hope in the election results, a suggestion of a possible future:

“Let me be clear: I am no fan of Lapid, I wouldn’t have voted for him in January had I had the chance, and I haven’t liked him on Facebook, either. But I do recognize that he represented and represents the hope of many young and youngish people that Israel can be ‘a normal country.’”

This may be clear to Dayan, but she takes exception. On my Facebook page, she noted; “my biggest disagreement with Michael Weinman is that I do not believe Israel could ever ‘go back’ to being a normal liberal democracy, since it never was. From it’s inception it had the twin pillars of democracy and dictatorship…” For her the election was profoundly disheartening. The radical promise of the Israeli protests of 2011 was lost:

“The summer of 2011 was a moment when hundreds of thousands poured to the streets to demonstrate against … Israel’s business oligarchy. This seemed to have the potential to lead to an even broader, more threatening mobilization against the existing order. It didn’t happen. No serious opposition to the reign of the neoliberal hawkish right emerged from this outburst. The 2011 protest did not generate any visible crack in the tectonic structures of Israeli politics.”

Dayan demonstrates in her post how political freedom and repression are the two sides of the Israeli polity. “The irrelevance of the occupation to the Israeli voter in these free and democratic elections must be understood as being painstakingly manufactured. The occupation grinds on as if taking place in an unrelated, autonomous universe.”

This is harsh stuff, so harsh that I misunderstood it. I read Dayan’s post as implicitly supporting a one state solution as the only way out. But she corrected me: “I am not for ‘one state’ but for democratisation, in whatever form (be it federal, bi-national, power sharing, what have you).” A wise position: I fully agree, and I imagine so would Weinman.

Habiballah might also, although her view of the conflict comes from a very different place, as she put it in her title, it is “from both sides of the wall” and really up close and quite personal. She views Israeli politics as a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, living in Amman, visiting her parents home bi-weekly, just on the wrong side of the Wall (very much a wall and not as it is sometimes euphemistically called by apologists as a separation fence), a wall and separation that has fundamentally disrupted the normality of her life as she precisely describes. As she moves from her present residence to visit family, and as she thinks about her family home cut off from Jerusalem and her native grounds in the Nazareth area, she is constrained, with her dignity compromised each way she turns.

Habiballah on the elections:

“Palestinians living in Israel might have been perceived by many during the election period as apathetic, but I think what could be more appropriate is a state of alert. They have lost confidence in the democratic nature of the state. This feeling is strengthened with proposing new laws by government officials and sometimes passing such laws in the Knesset (such as the law of allegiance which requires all citizens to pledge allegiance to the state as a Jewish one). This result is the further alienation of Palestinians living in Israel from the rest of the society and jeopardizes their right to exist in their home country.”

Living with dignity in ones home country, (Habiballah), seeking democracy by any means possible: one state, two states, federated states or anything else (Dayan), living a decent middle class life, the aspiration of the typical Lapid voter, “Riki Cohen,” the Israeli Jane Doe (Weinman), but also the aspiration of the typical Palestinian who wants to securely be at home in her own land (Habiballah), these are struggles for normality. This is the common sensibility that cuts across the Palestine – Israel divide.

Sometimes the normal appears as the utopian. This is when it is of critical importance, something I came to know in Central Europe in the good old bad days of the Soviet empire. I think an open publicly shared commitment to and struggle for this utopia, among Palestinians and Israelis, is the precondition of a “Peace Writ Small,” perhaps the only way out of the maze.

Suspecting that Michael, Hilla and Nahed don’t see themselves as holding a common view, particularly as I have suggested it, I look forward to their responses.

  • Grzegorz55

    I am sorry to say, but I am unable to read articles with a phrase “progressive forces” – in my old communist Poland propaganda it always meant “antidemocratic left alied with the Soviet Union”. Who are “the progressive forces” supporting now? Castro? China? Venezuela? As for “I am not for ‘one state’ but for democratisation, in whatever form (be it federal, bi-national, power sharing, what have you)” it is just a meaningless platitude, similiar to a Polish saying goes: it is better to be healthy and rich than poor and sick. So there is only this one tiny problem left – how to reach that wonderful, happy state of personal or national bliss?

    And why wouldn’t Habiballah securely be at home in her own land? Does she have more freedom of speach, habeas corpus, independent judiciary there? That would be news to me, as Jordan is 90 places lower than Israel in Freedom House freedom of the press report and is clearly among non democratic states while Israel is listed as fully democratic in FH democracy reports.

    So I suspect that “normalcy” means something very different to all three of the authors, not necessarily a democratic, Jewish Israel. “Normal” for people living in the communist Poland meant “the way it is there in Western democratic capitalist countries” not “in a fairytale land”.

    Let me finish with an old joke, that somehow seems apropos here: What is a difference between socialist democracy and democracy? The same as between an electric chair and a chair.

  • Nahed99

    What does it matter where I live? I go to the gulf, Jordan, the US for research, work and personal matters. My analysis (true) was based on personal experience nonetheless it is an objective observation and the argument that Israel is democratic than other countries is problematic as democracy must be applied to ALL citizens which is not the case in Israel as it was not the case in South Africa.

  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

    Nahed does not live securely and with dignity in her own land, Grzegorz. Read her account and put down your preconceived position. Her struggles and experiences are very real and certainly not normal. And Dayan’s position concerning democracy (and I would add fundamental minority rights) is much more than a truism. Rather it underscores that any formula – one state, two state, Jewish state, Jewish homeland, federation etc. – must be measured by how it affects the lives of people, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims, secular and religious, Nahed, Riki Cohen,