Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meron Benvenisti’s Doom and Gloom

My favorite Israeli Cassandra, Meron Benvenisti, wrote a sobering op-ed in Haaretz today that sums up, more or less, how I feel. The two-state solution is dead; the one-state solution is not going anywhere; the status quo will continue unabated, with periods of violence alternating with periods of relative calm. The world, except for some leftists and Muslims, won't care. There will be some further erosion of Israel's "moral stature" but not enough for any real change. No boycotts, no sanctions, nothing with teeth. And 3 ½ million Palestinians within Palestine, not to mention the multitudes outside in refugee camps and with stateless status, will continue to have a quality of life far lower than their Israeli counterparts.

And what Benvenisti says, in effect, is that no matter what happens, there will be a fundamental economic inequality that ensures that the Israelis will have the upper hand. How long can the status quo continue? Indefinitely.

This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

Of course, Benevenisti, as is his wont, holds out a slim chance for change:

Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible.

I think he feels that change is possible, if one eliminates some of the above factors.

My view is as follows: there is no solution, there is no possibility of justice or peace, there is no way to make a seismic shift. In situations like this, the task of any decent man and woman is to do what they can to alleviate the suffering – to support the activists and the NGOs, to publicize the human rights violations, to talk to our family and friends and let them know what is going on. This will not end the occupation, since the occupation cannot end. But fifty or hundred years from now, our children will be able to say to their children, "Your grandparents were not silent. They tried and failed, but at least they tried."

One thing that we can talk against immediately: the so-called peace process. One of the strongest reasons for the ongoing occupation is "the success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement". More Israelis, and more supporters, must be taught the lesson – there is no possible agreed upon solution, not now, not in fifty years, not in a century. Israelis and supporters must understand that their war is a permanent one, and that the injustices they commit in the name of their security are permanent. Then, and only then, can one ask the question whether the price of a Jewish state is too high. The Jews survived for two thousand years without a state. And while being a minority is not a picnic, they can be proud of what they achieved. Can't they get together and start thinking about alternatives to what a few Russian Jews came up with in 1948? "The Jewish head doesn't stop inventing things," Uri Zohar used to sing. Well, can't we start thinking outside the 1948 political Zionist box?

Here's the article from Haaretz.

Moot argument

By Meron Benvenisti


Its hard to tell whether the reports that more and more Palestinians are now leaning toward a one-state solution are genuinely due to an increase in supporters of the idea, or to Israeli sensitivity. The binational bogeyman is so off-putting to Israelis that any Palestinian expression on the issue gives rise to speculation and conspiracy theories. Former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is aware of this sensitivity, and exploits it every time he hits a bump in the negotiations: "If Israel continues to put up opposition, we will demand a single state for two peoples," he said recently.

Indeed, the Palestinians use the slogan "One State" to threaten Israel, and they know full well how effective that threat is. So great is the fear that the Palestinians are planning to exchange their struggle for national independence for a demand for citizenship rights in a binational state, that the very mention of this option is seen as proof of their unwillingness to reach peace. The Palestinian demand for Israel to annex the territories and extend citizenship rights to their inhabitants is considered more of a threat to Israel than the demand for an independent state, since civil equality is a universal norm and the demand for its implementation would win sweeping support in the West. And woe to the Israeli who dares to champion binationalism; he is denounced as a traitor wracked with self-hatred.

The Israeli public debate over binationalism versus a partition into two states is conducted on the theoretical, ideological and philosophical level, and in effect is put forth only as a threat to the accepted and desirable solution of partition. But that debate, which always resurfaces when frustration with the peace process intensifies, never manages to turn into a real discussion of the two alternatives and instead remains a provocative academic topic. This is not only because the binational option is viewed by most Israelis as spelling the destruction of their state, and by most Palestinians as the end of their national liberation movement. Mainly, it is because the debate over the two alternatives is a moot argument, the sole value of which is in its very existence, and whose purpose is to obscure the robust and durable nature of the status quo.

A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governing system known as "the occupation," which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community's total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates, has become steadily more sophisticated through trial and error - without planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society.

This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary military occupation would indicate. The tensions and internecine confrontations that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute - and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive - that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might.

Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of division - or, alternatively, inclusion in a binational government - is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more dangerous, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be reversed by either alternative: the dramatic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:10 in the West Bank and and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the defense establishment, and even most of those who oppose the occupation are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their welfare.

This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible.

4 comments:

bar_kochba132 said...

This is one of Benveniste's most pathetic columns. Sometimes he makes some good points but he really turns into a crybaby in this one. "The Poor Palestinians"...everyone is responisible for their situation, except they themselves. He laments that there isn't enough "Arab ethic solidarity". Naturally, that is OUR fault, just like we are responsible for all the problems in the world.

It is the "progressives" like Benveniste who brought the Palestinians to their current situation. This was because they insisted that the only "solution" to the Palestinian problem was to bring cut-throat assassin Arafat to rule them. As if the TWO civil wars he ignited (in Jordan and Lebanon) leading to tens of thousands of dead wasn't enough to warn people like Benvenisite that there was something wrong with Arafat and that he had no interest in building a state infrastructure.

But it is all written there in history. During the British Mandate period, the British encourage BOTH the Jews and Arabs to set up autonomous administrative structures. The Jews did so, through the Jewish Agency. It formed an embryonic state infrastructure which collected taxes and set up a civil society that worked. The British repeatedly pressed the Arabs to do the same. THEY REFUSED. They said "why should we take responsibilty and tax ourselves when the British will run everthing for us AND PAY FOR IT. We just sit back and let them do everything." (Benny Morris discusses this in his book "1948").
Today it is the same situation. Arafat refused to set up a true civil society and state infrastructure, instead he set up a large number of "security organs" that spied on each other which sucked up the part of the money that was given to the Palestinian Authority by the US and EU -the rest was diverted into the Swiss bank accounts of the PA's leaders-(the other Arab sates have always refused to help fund the PA-why should they when the "dhimmis" are willing to do it?).
Now I know what you are going to say-"how could they set up a civil society and state infrastructure when they are under occupation? THE JEWS SUCCEEDED TO DO IT UNDER BRITISH OCCUPATION-and recall that whereas the PA had total control of most of the Arab populated areas of Judea/Samaria and Gaza with their own "security forces", the Jews were completely under the thumb of the British security forces and Jewish self-defense like that of the Hagana was illegal.

The fact is that the rulers of the Palestinians, both FATAH in Judea/Samaria and HAMAS in Gaza have NO INTEREST in setting up a state. They are all living off handouts given to them by the EU and US (in the case of FATAH) and the Iranians and other supporters of Islamic extremism (such as Saudi Arabia) for the HAMAS. They are happy, they are enriching themselves, they couldn't care less what is happening to their population and the "lack of rights" which the "progressives" are always moaning about.
Benveniste is also worried about the "economic imbalance" between the Palestinains and Israel. Well, where in the world is their true "economic equality". All the Arab countries that aren't blessed with oil are poor. Arabs have a poor educational infrastructure, they don't encourage women to study and to work, their legal system and civil society is weighted to protecting clan interests, the judicial systems are corrupt, etc, so how can you expect them to keep up economically with Israel? If you give them more handouts, it just means more is siphoned into the Swiss bank accounts of those who get their hands on the aid money.

Foisting Arafat on the Palestinian ensured that there will never be a Palestinan state, but even if Peres and Rabin hadn't, the overcoming structural defects of Palestinian society would have proven to be a major hurdle, however, no one even made an attempt. Peres and Rabin smelled the Nobel Peace Prize, they decided the easiest thing is to cut a deal with the terrorist (someone I have a sneaking suspicion they felt a certain sense of identification with) and to hell with both the Israeli and Palestinian populations who have both paid a heavy price for that criminal Oslo Agreement.

Margaret said...

All I can think of is a lackwit-sounding "Oh wow!" ...I being the person lacking in wit, expressing appreciation of this declaration. I think: what if Sari Nusseibam's grandkids grow up walled off from neighboring Jews? What a heartrending possibility.

Jerry Haber said...

Bar kochba, it's not true that Benveniste in this column absolves Palestinians of responsibility -- he talks himself of Palestinian infighting.

As for why there wasn't a Palestinian state, the definitive guide is Rashid Khalidi's The Iron Cage, which also does not spare the Palestinians from criticism, especially the upper middle and intellectual classes that abandoned the poorer Palestinians. Benveniniste, in one of his nastier moods, threw that back at Said's family, after Said criticized him.
But of course, your memory is highly selective, and your comparison between the British and Israeli occupations laughable. After all, the Zionists always had long term territorial objectives that was at the heart of their activities, and the British did not. The Palestinians are striking at the core of Zionism by holding out for their own state -- nothing like that with the British.

I am glad you didn't make the dumb comment that most people do, that the British favored the Palestinians. That was true of some British at certain times, but on the whole, without the British there would be no Israel.

I haven't read Morris's book, but he is, as you know, a bigot when it comes to all things Arab, and I am looking forward to seeing the other views.

And waving the Arafat flag is stupid. If the Palestinian leader was a combination of Nelson Mandela, David ben Gurion, and King Solomon, he would still be under the thumb of the Israelis.

Finally, your point about economic inequality is well taken. The Jews have a state and the Palestinians don't, because the Jews outfinessed the Palestinians -- and their so-called Arab brethren. If you want to talk about survival of the fittest,well there you have it. There is no arguing with success.

But there are only two problems with this.

1) Israelis, and Jews (and, for that matter, all people) like to see themselves as the tiny David that, against all odds, won a state. They weren't. They were -- and are -- the Goliathes, and in this world, Goliath wins.

2) The Palestinians have lost, but they aren't going anywhere. I have a rightwing friend who is constantly worried about Israel. I say to him, "What, are you nuts? Do you think that the Palestinians can seriously inflict damage upon Israel." His answer: "No -- but they can make Jews bleed."

The point is not who is responsible for the matzav. Bar Kokhba, you and I love to point fingers. But the real issue is what happens from here. And how long can a country keep another people in a permanent occupation. Annex the West Bank and Gaza, and be done with it. Give them citizenship. After all, according to you, they can't run themselves anyway. So in the one state, they will continue to be subordinate.

YMedad said...

He's now done it again, in Hebrew only so far.

http://www.haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1835834