Imagining a different Israel, one less abuse at a time

A stunning piece by Gideon Levy in Haaretz that imagines a Jewish state that completely challenges its history and institutional racism:

In my dream I see Benjamin Netanyahu giving the speech of his life, which is the speech of our lives: thanking Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his willingness, Netanyahu announces the shuffling of the Israeli deck of cards, launching a completely new approach, a new Netanyahu, and even more than all that, a new Israel.

The new Israeli will immediately carry out, without any preconditions, a series of generous, trust-building steps. The new Israel will announce in advance, yes, in advance, all the steps it would be willing to take at the end of the negotiations. This unexpected change will catch the Palestinians and the international community off-guard: What happened to the Israeli tradition of refusal? Where has Israel’s petty bargaining gone? This new breeze will change the atmosphere in the region like magic, immediately enhancing Israel’s standing, which will now be irresistible.

In his speech Netanyahu will begin by declaring the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. The declaration won’t be forced from him against his will − the result of the kidnapping of a soldier, or American pressure − but will be part of a new Israeli initiative that comprehends that the path to peace always passes through the prison gates. Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, some held without trial, and others, murderers who have been imprisoned for decades, will now go free, with Israeli blessing. This would symbolize the revolution Israel wishes to promote. This is what unjust regimes do, as they begin to try to redeem themselves.

Israel will then open its gates to Arab workers, to family visits, to Palestinian trade and tourism. Last year’s pilot proved itself, when tens of thousands of Palestinians received a single-use permit, and enjoyed several hours of freedom, fun and happiness, without harming a single Israeli. Just as the removal of checkpoints in the West Bank did not harm Israel’s security, a controlled opening of the gates would serve the same, positive, purpose. The separation fence will be demolished, or rebuilt on the Green Line. The new Israel will also announce the liberation of the Gaza sea, including the construction of a sea port, open to imports and exports, under international supervision. The West Bank and Gaza Strip will be re-unified, with the safe passage that was long promised but never implemented as it should have been. This should be the new Palestinian life routine − as free men and women, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This will have positive effects on both Palestinians and Israelis.

And now we approach the peak of this summer illusion. The new Israel will announce its willingness to discuss with the Palestinians, from equal footing, the guidelines for the final status: two states according to the 1967 borders, with agreed-upon border changes; or full civil rights for all in a bi-national state − whatever comes first, whatever will be agreed upon by the leaders of both peoples. Two states without the settlements, or one state with them. This will halt the endless discussion focusing on the minute details, recognition or non-recognition, demilitarization or what-not, the details that never fail to evoke the devil. The details will be dealt with only after the groundbreaking peace agreement, not before.

Israel will go one step further, taking the crucial step of recognizing the historical injustice it has − and continues − to cause the Palestinian nation, and apologize for it. This recognition and apology can play a crucial role in the process, as it did in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that enabled the republic to forge a new path of justice.

The Palestinians, in return, will apologize for their murderous terror. The right of return will be recognized; its implementation will be controlled and agreed upon, in order not to create new refugees, Israelis this time. There will be no limits on return of refugees to the Palestinian state, if that be deemed the correct solution; or to the bi-national state, in an agreed-upon ratio with regard to expected Jewish immigrants. This too, might turn out to be far less dangerous than the old Israel ever imagined.

This speech could be a game changer: trading intimidation for promises, risks for chances, and threats for hope. This can only happen in one fell swoop, in a move by statesmen of historical standing. This change will surprise everyone − Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. At this point, it all seems no more than summer illusions. The days are as hot as ever and Kerry managed to produce another photo opportunity, derailing many minds. But is there any other possibility that could re-introduce hope?

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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