My latest New Matilda column is about the political realities in Israel and Palestine:
Antony Loewenstein looks behind the pre-election rhetoric in Israel and says the lack of a real difference between the front-runners means deeper trouble ahead for both Israel and Palestine
Israel is currently in political limbo. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s leadership of the Jewish state is nearly over due to his refusal to nominate for the upcoming Kadima primaries and rivals are positioning themselves for the poisoned chalice. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, former Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ehud Barak and former leader Benyamin Netanyahu are all possible candidates.
None of them talks about ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, puts his finger on what is missing from so much of the Western commentary chronically more interested in the personalities than the policies. Levy says the unwillingness of any of the candidates to make any real move towards a peace means there is really no choice for Israel’s voters, but constant demonisation of Netanyahu falsely implies that the others are moderates:
“That is the choice. That is the arsenal of candidates seeking to succeed Olmert. None speak in the name of any ideology whatsoever. A past prime minister who failed at his post and brought about the second intifada (Barak); a former chief of staff and defence minister, a cruel military man, who fanned the flames and knows only how to sow destruction and death (Mofaz); a mild-mannered foreign minister who has not advanced peace in any way (Livni); and Netanyahu – the person everyone loves to hate [ – no worse] than his fellow candidates, but immeasurably more persecuted. The media embraces Livni, accepts Mofaz as legitimate, sometimes supports Barak, but is terrified only by Netanyahu. Why?”
Veteran Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, in a powerful recent essay in Haaretz, articulates what is at stake in the current political charade playing out in the Jewish state. He virtually pleads for the world to wake up and pay attention to what Israel has constructed in the occupied territories and pressure them to stop immediately. Despite his fears that the colonial enterprise will end the dream of a “democratic Jewish state” (arguably already an impossibility when one racial group discriminates against another) his words are powerful:
“…What was essential and therefore justified in the pre-state days is now assuming an ugly and violent form of colonial occupation: the authoritarian regime in the territories, the creation of two legal systems, the placing of the army and police at the service of the settlement movement, the robbing of Palestinian lands. These all symbolize not the fulfilment of Zionism but rather its burial. It is there, between Hebron and Yitzhar, that the settlements are burying the democratic Jewish state.
“…If society does not find the emotional strength to remove the noose of the settlements, nothing but a sad memory will remain of the Jewish state as it still exists.”
Alas, nobody is talking about seriously changing the power dynamic in the Middle East – and most in the region don’t expect a President Barack Obama to shift his country’s bias away from Israel’s occupation – or even attempt to halt the continued growth of settlements. Colonisation is now an essential part of Israel, and will destroy it, in my opinion.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said on Sunday that the Palestinians may soon demand a bi-national state if Israel continues to reject proposed borders. The days of the Jewish state are numbered.
A recent Australian commentator argued that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was subtly re-defining the country’s relationship with Israel to be more “even-handed” in the Middle East. However, actions speak louder than words, and maintaining an outright ban on dealing with Hamas and remaining virtually silent over Israel’s settlement project suggests a business-as-usual mentality.
One issue that has received rudimentary coverage in the Western media is the ongoing civil strife in Gaza and the West Bank. Although there has been some detail on the clan rivalries involved, there has been little discussion about the outside forces that are contributing to the instability. The elevation of Hamas in June 2007 to control of Gaza undoubtedly shifted the power dynamic in the Strip, and many established families quickly discovered the limits to their influence, but what of the US-backed Fatah forces that desperately crave dominance over Hamas?
The role of Washington has been virtually ignored in the current impasse, even after this detailed Vanity Fair essay in April that proved the Bush administration was involved in the instability, having attempted a failed coup in 2007 against Hamas by supporting Fatah forces and triggering a civil war between the rival groups. The aim was to install Fatah and wrestle power from the democratically-elected Hamas.
As recently as March, the Washington Post was reporting that these US-backed forces, being trained in Jordan, are “mired in delays, a shortage of resources, and differences between Israelis and the Americans over what military capabilities those forces should have once deployed in the territories.”
In other words, Fatah, under President Mahmoud Abbas, was willingly collaborating with Washington to provide military forces to essentially manage the occupation and suppress an opposing political party. The result, as we’ve seen over the last weeks, is a resurgent Hamas and brutal tactics from both sides (something rightly chastised by Human Rights Watch in a recent report).
But here’s the catch. Although much of the West stands by and cheers from the sidelines, pleased that the Palestinians are fighting amongst themselves, this thinking is seriously deluded. As pointed out by Daniel Levy – a former liberal Israeli peace negotiator whose blog is essential reading – Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas is threatened by the ongoing violence (something many Israeli politicians welcome, such is their desire to re-invade Gaza and attempt to destroy the Islamist group root and branch):
“…Perhaps most worrying of all is that as Palestinians lose hope in the peace process, and look despairingly at both the Fatah and Hamas leaderships, there is a danger of extremist Al Qaeda-style alternatives emerging. Such activity may already be taking place today, as politics breaks down into clan structures and groups like the Army of Islam appear. Hamas is not Al Qaeda, but the alternative to it might be.”
Palestinian lawlessness in Gaza and Israeli settler chaos in the West Bank is a toxic mix, and the Jewish state is fanning the former and ignoring the latter. The Palestinians are not blameless in this process, of course, with many rival groups positioning themselves for the spoils of (limited) power. But it’s vital to never forget the fact that Gaza remains an occupied prison, surrounded by Israel on all sides (something to be highlighted by the “Free Gaza” boat campaign this week).
More worrying still, the voices within Israel that shun any peace initiatives with the Palestinians are growing. Witness writer and playwright Naomi Ragen, soon to visit Australia, who told the Fairfax press last weekend that she opposed withdrawal from any occupied territory and supported killing all “terrorists”. Ragen, who slammed me as a “liar” and a “typical self-hating, ignorant Jew”, is symptomatic of modern, perverted Zionism. To them the Arabs are unpeople.
Jewish American professor Marc Ellis told the ABC in 2001 that contemporary Judaism was being increasingly defined through the barrel of the gun. “If we want helicopter gunships to define us as a people, say it”, he said, “but don’t pretend that helicopter gunships are not defining us.”
The Israel/Palestine conflict will never be resolved without a serious re-configuring of the Jewish mentality. Militant Zionism has become the default position.
We are barely past the starting line.