Monday, November 2, 2015

The State of Zionism Ninety-Eight Years after the Balfour Declaration

On November 2, 1917 British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour wrote his famous letter to the Zionist Organization that "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

Thirty years on, on November 29, 1947, after the further immigration of approximately 500,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine and civil unrest made Palestine too hot a potato for the British to handle, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181(II), which recommended the creation of two separate states in Palestine, a Jewish state in areas where Jewish settlers predominated, and an Arab state where Palestinian Arabs predominated. The plan contemplated a special international regime for the city of Jerusalem. 

Sixty-eight years on, Israel has been established as a strong and independent state, but the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine are greatly prejudiced, and no separate Palestinian state has been established. 

Responses to UN 181(II)

Jewish leaders generally reacted favorably to the UN resolution granting them statehood, even if many considered the borders as drawn by the UN simply as a starting point for the subsequent expansion of borders by the Jewish state.  See, generally the Wiki entry HERE. Partition of the land was rejected by Arab leaders and governments.

In the resulting war of independence Israel was indeed able to expand the borders of its nascent state considerably. Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria in the first half of 1949. At the war's conclusion, fewer than 200,000 Palestinians remained inside the Green Line (the 1949 cease fire line). These were granted Israeli citizenship; all Jewish settlements that had been located in the West Bank prior to 1948 were driven off, leaving no Jews living in the West Bank.

The Wiki entry on the war of independence notes that just prior to signing the armistice agreement with Jordan, Israeli general Yigal Allon "proposed to conquer the West Bank up to the Jordan River as the natural, defensible border of the state." David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, refused Allon's request. "Although he was aware that the IDF was militarily strong enough to carry out the conquest, ... Ben-Gurion feared the reaction of Western powers and wanted to maintain good relations with the United States and not to provoke the British." He also felt that the results of the war were sufficient to build a nation.

To this day, Israel has not declared what its borders are.

After the war of independence, Jordan annexed the West Bank and Gaza was placed under Egyptian military rule. This resulted in a short lived de facto division of the land. Israel had its state and a strong Jewish majority population.

The Six Day War and the Resulting Occupation

In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel followed up on what Yigal Allon wanted to do in 1949: Israel reversed the initial division of the land and occupied the West Bank, the Gaza strip, the Golan Heights, as well as the Sinai desert.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and returned the Sinai to Egypt.  In 1994 Israel and Jordan executed a peace treaty wherein Jordan relinquished its claim to the West Bank in favor of the PLO.

As Nathan Thrall describes in a comprehensive article in the London Review of Books [November 5, 2015], at this time Israel is no longer threatened by the Arab nations on its periphery. Israel has made peace with them (Egypt and Jordan), is cooperating with them (e.g. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, U.A.E.), or their power has faded away (e.g. Syria and Iraq). At the same time, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been rendered powerless. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is cooperating with Israel, and Hamas is divided and politically powerless. No force exists to compel Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.

What's left is the Palestinian people.

The occupation and Israel's control over Gaza leaves 4.2 million Palestinians living in Israel/Palestine without a state of their own, without civil rights, or effective political leadership. This disenfranchised minority lives under harsh military rule, subject to arbitrary arrest and administrative detention, without due process of law, and it suffers from intolerable levels of unemployment and poverty. Unemployment in Gaza exceeds 45%; unemployment in the West Bank is in excess of 23%.

The Demographic needs of a "Jewish State" Reprised

Israel wants to be a "Jewish state" ... and democratic. This can only happen if Israel enjoys a significant Jewish majority in its population. Israel achieved this in 1949.  Today, within the Green Line, there is the foundation for a "Jewish state" because Israel has a predominantly Jewish demographic (75%) within the Green Line. In Gaza and the West Bank, however, there is a strong Arab majority (83% in the West Bank; 100% in Gaza). If we include the population in the occupied territories, Israel does not have a decisive Jewish majority population.

Through 48 years of occupation, since the Six Day War, Israel has not found the will and skill to share the land (in the sense of two states living side-by-side). Settlements have undermined the search for a Two State Solution. Almost immediately after the Six Day War, Israel began a settlement process in the West Bank, and this process greatly accelerated after 1980. Today there are more than 223 Jewish settlements and more than 400,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, plus an additional 350,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem (annexed by Israel after 1967). In 2014, housing minister Uri Ariel predicted that in another five years the Jewish population in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) will be 550,000 to 600,000. The movement for continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank is messianic and fervent and has enjoyed the support of every Israeli government since the 1970's.

When Israel annexed East Jerusalem it did not grant citizenship to the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, undermining its democratic bona fides. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem may vote in municipal elections, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Palestinians make up approximately 37% of Jerusalem's population, but this segment of the population is allocated less than 15% of the municipal budgetary expenditures.

It is illegal under International law for a nation to send its civilians to settle occupied territory captured in war, as Israel has done. [The 4th Geneva convention, to which Israel is a signatory, states: "The Occupying Power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies"]  Some argue on behalf of Israel that the West Bank is not "occupied" territory, but rather disputed territory whose status has never been determined--and hence settlement in the occupied territory is not illegal.  But this argument implies a claim that the West Bank is really part of Israel. However, to date, Israel has neither annexed the land, nor granted citizenship to the Palestinians living there. And, of course, the moment Israel annexes the West Bank it loses the strong democratic majority required to maintain a "Jewish state." Conversely, insofar as Israel has failed to grant full and equal citizenship to Palestinians living in all annexed lands, Israel is losing any claim to be "democratic."

The settlement process has undermined Israel's status as a democratic nation.  Forty-eight years of military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is hard to square with "democracy." At the present time, Israel is a Jewish ethnocracy: it has a government by Jews, for Jews, defended by a Jewish army, police, and security forces. It leaves the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the antechamber of democracy and the Palestinians in the occupied territories out in the cold.

Israel needs a Two-State Solution to Exist as a Jewish and Democratic State

The fact that it appears these settlements cannot be undone (politically) leads many observers to conclude that a two state solution--dividing the land and forming two sovereign states--is no longer possible, and that Israel is doomed to be an ethnocratic state that will loose more and more legitimacy in the eyes of the world as the years pass. Yet politicians continue to insist that two states is the only viable solution.

Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon, writing in Foreign Affairs Magazine, said this back in June:
Ironically, however, it is precisely the death of the two-state solution that may turn out to be its revival. Israeli leaders seem to be betting that the status quo of military control in the West Bank can persist indefinitely, but they are likely to be proved mistaken. Younger Palestinians who have lost faith in a negotiated two-state settlement to the conflict are likely to start pushing for their rights inside a single, binational state instead. And as these demands for civil liberties and voting rights escalate and gain international backing, many Israeli leaders may come to realize that however scared they are of a two-state solution, a one-state solution could be even worse. And so they could well end up moving to set up a separate Palestinian state after all.
In light of the ongoing "knife intifada" they were prescient.

What We Know Now

Today three truths stand out:  (1) neither Jews nor Palestinians are going anywhere; (2) the occupation must end, and (3) somehow, Palestinians must become politically enfranchised.

Nobody is Going Anywhere

Although, as Noam Sheizaf says, "there has never been any formal Israeli recognition of historical Palestinian ties to the land" and many in Israel's right wing hold to the belief that Palestinians are mere guests in the land (even while Hamas continues to entertain the parallel fantasy of establishing an Islamic state in all of the land between the Jordan River and the sea and obliterating the Jewish state) it is clear that neither Palestinians nor the Jewish state are going anywhere. They have no choice but to find a way to get along. 

There cannot be a Jewish state in all of the land between the river and sea, with Jewish dominion over all, any more than there can be a Palestinian Islamic state in all of the land between the river and the sea. 

The Occupation Must End

It should go without saying that ongoing occupation and peace are incompatible. No one can have any expectation of peace with a Palestinian society that lives in poverty under the arbitrary rule of 19-year-olds armed with machine guns, tear gas, and the unchecked power to arrest and indefinitely detain Palestinians. Indeed, that is why Netanyahu states Israel is doomed to perpetual strife. It follows from the fact that he has no intention to end the occupation, no intention to facilitate a separate Palestinian state, nor to forge some type of binational state: and so he is committed to perpetual conflict.

What keeps the occupation going? One reason is that the relative peace and quiet in recent years, enforced in part by the Palestinian authority, has led Israelis to believe they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation.  A second reason is that the occupation is necessary for continued expansion of settlements; to appropriate land, and to provide protection to settlers. A third reason is an erroneous perception that the occupation is needed to protect Israelis against Palestinian aggression. These are all illusions. The occupation must end in order to build the conditions for peace.

Yehuda Shaul was a soldier serving in Hebron:
We are told that ... we need to apply even more force. The Israeli army is doing precisely that in Hebron every day, at every hour. During the Second Intifada, settlers called upon Israelis to “let the IDF win,” by putting security first. In Hebron, the IDF has indeed won. So how is it that ... during every ... period of escalation, the threats to Israeli soldiers and civilians in the city have only multiplied? ... The answer is simple. What we are enforcing in Hebron is not Israel’s security, but rather Israeli settlement and domination. And that has a price.
The soldiers ... conscripted to protect Israel ...  (have) managed to crush Palestinian life in the city over the last 20 years, without providing genuine security for either Israelis or Palestinians. 
Hebron is the microcosm of the military’s system of control throughout the entire West Bank. The lessons we are learning in the city can and must be applied to the entire system. Prolonged military control over Palestinians will not bring security, but rather perennial cycles of violence. More forceful “security” won’t change a thing.
We aren’t the only ones to blame in this story but we are the stronger side, and we have a choice. We may either continue to enforce this policy of “security” and the violent routine that accompanies it, or try a different approach, working toward ending the occupation and militarily control of the territories. If there is hope for genuine security in our region, that is where it can be found.

The Status of Settlements

UN Resolution 242 is based on a faulty idea of swapping land for peace. If Palestinians deliver peace, Israel might (... in theory) agree to return occupied land, as they did with Sinai... they say. "We can't do it unilaterally," say Israelis, "because look what happened when we abandoned Gaza?" They mean when Sharon decided to remove all settlements from Gaza and for the army to disengage from Gaza in 2005, this did not result in peace. Hamas continued to launch thousands of rockets at Israel from Gaza, which resulted in three Gaza wars, most recently in the summer of 2014.

But this argument ignores the fact that Israel has turned Gaza into an open air prison.  It ignores the fact that after Israel withdrew from Gaza it closed its borders and did not allow Palestinians to bring their crops to market. It ignores that Israel has placed a choke hold on Gaza, resulting in world leading levels of unemployment and poverty. Israel must build the conditions for peace. The conditions for peace require Israel to ease up and slowly eliminate the occupation; it requires that Israel permits the economy of Gaza and the West Bank to improve, and slowly flourish. It requires gradual reintegration of the societies, not further separation. 

Some of my friends say “Why shouldn’t Jews be able to settle and live in the West Bank, after all there are Palestinians living in Israel?” and that is a reasonable position. I’d say, “no reason.” But this implies that Jews and Palestinians can/must live together in peace, side by side. They live together side by side in peace in Bat Yam, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko, and Nazareth—so why not in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, Jericho, and Jenin? It can't happen under occupation.

The idea that Jews and Palestinians can get along in peace is the correct premise and the parties should proceed by reintegrating, not separating and building higher and more walls. Fences don't provide security. They create estrangement, they foster the objectification of the unknown "other," and they allow hate and prejudice to fester. Tearing down walls creates connections, knowledge and understanding of the "other;" it leads to more empathy and less hate.

Rejecting the premise that Jews and Palestinians can live in peace side-by-side is demonstrably false because Jews and Palestinians do live in peace side-by-side in Bat Yam, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko, and Nazareth. It is belied by the fact that, despite all, most Palestinian Israeli's are loyal subjects of the state.

People who argue for separation and occupation as a security measure, should recognize that this implies Israel should give up the West Bank settlements. Occupation for the sole purpose of building and protecting Jewish only settlement activity in the West Bank is a bankrupt idea.

Abbas and the PA accept this division of the land.  I don’t think Hamas does. I don’t think the Palestinians leading the BDS movement accept a division of the land. I don't think the present Israeli government does.

In the meantime..., nobody is going away. When it comes to creating a Palestinian state, or ending the occupation, Israel holds all the cards.