Times changing rapidly in the Middle East

My following article appears in today’s Crikey:

Times are changing fast in the Middle East.

The legal affairs editor at Yediot, Israel’s largest circulation daily, wrote on the weekend that the situation in the West Bank is “apartheid”.

One leading American commentator, Time’s Joe Klein, directly challenges Barack Obama to withhold US aid until Israel “comes to understand that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine, and that if you actually want peace, you don’t build illegal settlement colonies in the Palestinian capital”.

The world is tiring of Israeli intransigence.

In the context of a stagnated “peace process” and ongoing colonial expansion that makes a two-state solution practically impossible, the Australian Greens have embarked on a tentative and informal but important process to re-assess their current policy on the Israel/Palestine conflict. It currently endorses a two-state equation…  and “supports the rights of the Palestinian peoples to statehood through the creation of a viable state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, based on the pre-1967 borders and the right of all peoples in the region to peace.”

During last weekend’s national conference in Melbourne, I was invited to address a forum to advocate a one-state solution (with two speakers pushing for maintenance of the status quo). It is a position backed by senior figures in the NSW Greens and I’m told a growing number of Greens members.

I argued that a one-state solution was the only just solution to the conflict, removing discrimination against Jews and Palestinians and creating a modern state that grants equal rights to all its citizens; one person for one vote.

A Jewish state (or Muslim state, for that matter) is discriminatory by definition. Partition is the cornerstone of a two-state solution, oblivious to facts on the ground that allow 500,000 Jewish settlers to settle illegally on Palestinian land. Such realities cannot be resolved through drawing arbitrary borders.

The two-state solution, I stressed, was a failed dream, easy rhetoric in place of sound and moral policy. Alas, many Jews seem unwilling to give up the concept of a racially exclusionary nation that benefits Jews above Palestinians.

One other speaker, David Rothfield, a Jew who had lived for many years in Israel, argued that there was strong international consensus for the two-state solution and now wasn’t the time to undergo a re-examination of Greens policy. “The role of the Greens in Australia is to prevent the climate emergency”, he said, “and we have to set priorities for the party.”

The other speaker, Sol Salbe, believed that neither the one- nor two-state solutions were likely in the future, but one was even less likely. He argued that the world trend was towards ethnic separation, not united countries. However, he acknowledged the difficulty of separating the two peoples due to the ongoing colonisation project in the West Bank.

The group discussion was highly instructive. It was respectful and thoughtful, two attributes often missing in this debate. Furthermore, many speakers were curious about breaking the deadlock of the Middle East.

One person said that the Greens were supposed to support pluralism and multiculturalism and “Israel is not either”… ”‰—”‰the US State Department said last week that Israel is a fundamentally intolerant nation —”‰and “we have to support democracy, therefore a one-state solution is the answer”.

Many of the comments followed suit, across gender and generational lines. The positions articulated by the Labor and Liberal parties were barely acknowledged, as in reality they haven’t changed in years. Kevin Rudd will support whatever policies Israel pursues, ignoring its brutality and anti-democratic nature.

A key drafter of the original Greens policy said that it was may be time to re-examine the basis for supporting a two-state solution, though he was under no illusion of the traumas ahead if the issue was re-visited. Targeted boycotts against firms complicit in the West Bank occupation…  were mentioned as a possible way forward for the Greens.

One older Jewish woman was in tears explaining the pain and personal abuse she suffered a few years ago during the period of formulating party policy. She urged the status quo to remain.

An organiser of the forum, Tad Tietze, said that Australia couldn’t ignore Israel’s Jewish character and its discrimination against non-Jews. Greens policy backs secularism, he argued, “so why do we support an exclusionary Jewish state?”

Such thoughts are circulating in Israel, too. Noam Sheizaf, a journalist and blogger in Tel Aviv, wrote last week that fighting over a two-state solution was a fool’s game. True democracy was the goal:

”¦ The Palestinians should simply focus on getting equal rights from the Israeli government. This is one fight Israel will have a really hard time winning… ”‰—”‰in Europe for sure, but even in the US. Are we going to explain that we need to keep the Arabs as second-rate citizens so we can have a Jewish majority? How is that going to sound to the Jews who took part in the civil rights movement, or to a nation which just elected a black president?”

Senior figures in the NSW Greens have pledged to continue the public discussion towards changing party policy and better reflect facts on the ground in the Middle East.

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

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