Despite itself, Israel is busily creating its own worst nightmare: a bi-national state including the West Bank.
There’s no way to stop the lucrative Israeli occupation
Among Palestinians, the phrase “Oslo Accords” has become a concise way to refer to land theft, economic domination and the failure of the international community to pressure Israel into moving towards a two-state solution.
Meanwhile Israel, despite a superior army, a tendency for violence and the backing of the United States, finds itself stymied by internal indecision and infighting about a sustainable solution.
Israeli settlers and their supporters in the government have taken advantage of society’s uncertainty. And the more deeply the occupation entrenches itself, the more valuable control over the West Bank becomes for Israel.
To put it simply, Israel is in the throes of creating its own worst nightmare: a binational state.
Walk around any West Bank city these days and you will find people who are quick to say that Israel wants a “South African” solution to the conflict. That is, they want to control the land and administer it through an unequal system of governance which affords privileges and rights on the basis of religion.
Many Palestinians have come to understand that Israel could not disengage from them, even if it wanted to. They see that the land of the West Bank is simply too valuable, that holding the Palestinian economy captive is too lucrative and that the appeasement of radical Jewish settlers is too convenient; for these reasons Israel is unwilling to end its control and really begin to move towards a two state solution.
All but the most starry-eyed and emotional supporters of the two- state solution can now clearly see the reality of the current situation: Israel has built its system of domination into the very fabric of life for all between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, but at the same time had been timidly reticent to take responsibility for the results of its actions.
An hour at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem shows Israel’s absolute control plainly, and a broader look at contemporary Israeli society confirms these suspicions.
To put it bluntly, society is confused about the future and its political actions often fail to stay in a logical realm of statecraft.
In Tel Aviv in 2011, for example, “social justice” protests in Tel Aviv attracted hundreds of thousands to complain about cost-of-living issues. Yet most Jewish Israelis utterly refuse to engage with the Palestinian issue.
Israeli society is listless and schizophrenic on the issue, unable to chart a path towards resolving it. Opinion polls regularly show that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, but the recent elections were a coup for the settler movement.
The only thing left for Israel is to hope that US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians can provide the country with a thin veil of legitimacy to cover the continuing entrenchment of Israeli control in the West Bank.
None of this would be possible without the blessing of the US. We are accustomed to seeing Israel as the dominant force in the region, but the 20 years since Oslo have shown that Israel is little more than a pawn in a greater game.
The United States has come to rely on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, as cornerstones of its Middle East policy.
Against the backdrop of the latest round of turmoil in Egypt and Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is best understood as reflecting America’s desire to be seen as engaged in diplomacy, not military action, in the region.
But is all of this sombre information surprising? Over the seven years that I have lived in Israel and Palestine, I have watched the two societies come together uncomfortably under the regime that Israel has created with the tacit support of the international community.
I have watched as liberal Israelis took to the streets protesting for social justice, only to see politicians close to the settler movement make huge gains in the subsequent election.
One evening this summer I drove from Ramallah to Tel Aviv on Israeli settler roads which divide the West Bank, past settlements under construction and through military checkpoints where all who pass are racially profiled. Arriving in Tel Aviv, I drank coffee with an Israeli writer confident that peace will come in his lifetime and that two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, will emerge.
But I can’t help but feel that Israelis have deluded themselves so badly about the reality of the conflict that they are not even discussing a real place anymore.
Despite constant reminders of Israeli military strength, a genuine fear has taken hold in Israeli society, fear that it has lost control of the evolution of its occupation of Palestinians. But this fear is repressed and the result is a society adrift, unable to decide what it wants and fearful of the future.
Joseph Dana is a journalist based in Ramallah
On Twitter: @ibnezra