Rights is the key question for Israel/Palestine, not just peace

A fine post by Promised Land blogger Noam Sheizaf:

When discussing the Palestinian-Israeli political process, the most common error is setting peace as its goal. This is not only incorrect, but also counter-productive, because it serves those who wish to maintain the status quo. The key to ending hostilities is to reframe the received narrative, as it has been presented since the early 1990s.

First of all, we need to be realistic. As we learned in Gaza, an Israeli withdrawal does not promise an end to the violence. Both sides continue to have conflicting interests which might lead military action, and on both sides there are those who will try to use violence as a means of sabotaging any agreement. It’s clear that the more good faith Israelis and Palestinians show today, the easier it will be to stabilize the region, but more than 40 years of occupation will inevitably leave plenty of bitterness on the Palestinian side even after the last soldier leaves and the last settlement evacuated. The evacuation of settlements will bring its own set of problems on the Israeli side, too; and the huge socioeconomic gap between Jews and Arabs in such a small territory won’t help, either. So we shouldn’t promise the public something that will be difficult to deliver.

Even more important is the message created by all these peace talks. For many people – and this is something I’ve noticed especially in the US – it seems as though there are two equal parties, almost two states, that are entering a diplomatic process to sort out their ongoing differences. But there is only one state here. Israel is negotiating – when there are negotiations – with the people who are under its own control, and to whom it is refusing to grant civil rights.

In other words, talking about peace hides the real nature of the problem, which is the occupation. When we set peace as our goal, it means that the absence of peace – meaning the violence – was the problem. This is true for the Israeli side, but it’s only partly true for the Palestinians. Their main concern is the lack of civil and human rights. For them, the violence that they suffer is only the result of the initial problem, which is the occupation. By talking about peace and only peace, we are accepting the Israeli definition of the problem as well as its solution.

When we discuss peace, we say that the two state solution is the only acceptable one, since that’s how you make peace – between states. If it’s a human or civil rights problem, on the other hand, there are other solutions – such as a confederation, or “one person, one vote.” Since this idea is totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Israelis, by choosing the “peace process” the world is actually choosing the Israeli narrative over that of the Palestinians.

With this endless talk of the putative Palestinian state we seem almost to believe that it already exists, or that at least the Palestinians are running their own lives. In fact, the IDF’s control over the West Bank has never been tighter, and the measures against the Palestinians have never been harsher. Few people notice that, because in order to understand what’s going on now, when there are almost no terror attacks in Israel, we must ask questions about rights rather than about peace.

Israeli leaders understood this long ago. That’s why they never objected to entering negotiations with the Palestinians (at least not over the last 20 years). As long as the topics were national security and containment of violence, these endless talks only increased the international legitimization of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories. Advocates for Israel became experts at finding evidence for “incitement” and “propaganda” on the Palestinian side, which served as proof that the other side wasn’t interested in peace, which in turn gives us the right to continue occupying their land and running their lives forever. But ask Israelis and their supporters why Palestinian civilians have been tried in military courts, without due process, for more than 40 years – or any other question concerning civil rights – and you start get funny answers.

That’s why I hate these debates, so common in both Israeli and Jewish politics, about whether or not the Palestinians really want peace. They are pointless. Each party has an elaborate theory as to why everything is the other side’s fault, with all sorts of historical “evidence” to back it up. This whole concept of a “national desire” for peace is absurd. How can you measure such an abstract notion? But these debates do serve the current Israeli interest well – much better than discussions about civil rights, which are a simple concept that anyone can understand and measure. Even worse, the concept of civil rights is one with which anyone can identify.