Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Two Most Important Articles On Israel In A Long Time

Noam Sheizaf at 972 has just published the two most important articles on Israeli attitudes to "the conflict" in recent memory. You can read them here and here. You should read them. Now.

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What is so brilliant, and telling, about Noam's analysis is that it is just stating the obvious. He clears a way all the spin and bull. I can tell you it is true, because I lived in Israel for 15 years and it was as true in the 1980's as it is today. Its as true as the nose on your face. ... Read the articles. They are short. I am not going to summarize just to save you a few clicks.

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Sheizaf's conclusions are uncomfortable, if like me you think the status quo in Israel/Palestine is immoral and - in the long run - disastrous for the Jewish People and for Israel. (Of course part of Noam's point is that most Israeli's are not overly concerned with morality, or the long run.)

Noam's ultimate conclusion, that only outside pressure can move Israel from the status quo, is similar to the postion I heard from Yair Tzaban - a leader of the left wing Sheli party (later merged into Meretz) back around 1979. Tzaban said - to us young idealistic party volunteers - that peace (and justice for Palestinians) would be a long time coming, and would only come when "the Great Powers" jointly decided it was in their interests to impose it. This because it was not in Israel's material interests (perhaps his Marxism was showing) to relinquish the West Bank, and it was not in the Arab's power to make it in Israel's material interest. When we asked, "if that is that case what is the role of an Israeli pro 'peace and justice' political party like Sheli", he answered that our role was to keep alive the idea and the positive aspects of peace, equality, justice within the Israeli consciousness, so that when it was imposed Israelis would not be so opposed to it as to fight it tooth and nail - or at least our role was to bring about some split on the issue in Israeli public opinion so that not everyone fought the imposed solution tooth and nail.

Tzaban later went on to become a minister in the government of Yitzhak Rabin - so maybe he changed his opinion somewhat. But of course we now know that Rabin's peace initiatives have come to naught. Tzaban is now retired and in his 80's. I wonder what he would think of Sheizaf's analysis.

Sheizaf's piece has received considerable attention. Carlos Strenger, writing in Ha'aretz , calls it "brilliantly analysed." But he shys away from the conclusion that ONLY outside pressure can help. He calls, instead, for a series of "practical" (and unilateral) half measures that might mitigate the worst effects of the occupation. The problem, in my opinion, with Strenger's analysis, is that Israelis are only marginally more likely to agree to these ideas than to any other proposals to change the status quo - and as Sheizaf shows Israelis see little value in changing the status quo. Of course Sheizaf's position and Strenger's are not mutually exclusive - if you are an Israel thinking of strategies to change things: in that case you can hope for / work for outside pressure, and you can hope for / work for half measures to mitigate the occupation. (Though openly calling for outside pressure may lose you credibility with most Israelis - credibility you will need if you wish to win them over to the half measures position.)

But living in the Diaspora I don't face that particular dilemma . While I wouldn't oppose Strenger's suggestions, I wouldn't build my own positions on Israel around them or make them the centre of my advocacy. Better to take Tzaban's position, and keep the hope and vision alive for a principled solution, while hoping - ala Sheizaf - that somehow effective outside pressure is brought to bear.

But like Sheizaf (though obviously less so), I am emotionally and personally tied to Israel, so I - somewhat contradictorily I admit - hope the pressure is both effective yet not severe. It is a sad conundrum, if you are emotionally tied to Israel and if like Sheizaf and Tsaban you think that outside pressure is the only thing that will break the status quo.


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