15 October 2017

The Guardian: “Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace”

The real explanation for the past decades of failed peace negotiations is not mistaken tactics or imperfect circumstances, but that no strategy can succeed if it is premised on Israel behaving irrationally. Most arguments put to Israel for agreeing to a partition are that it is preferable to an imagined, frightening future in which the country ceases to be either a Jewish state or a democracy, or both. Israel is constantly warned that if it does not soon decide to grant Palestinians citizenship or sovereignty, it will become, at some never-defined future date, an apartheid state. But these assertions contain the implicit acknowledgment that it makes no sense for Israel to strike a deal today rather than wait to see if such imagined threats actually materialise. If and when they do come to be, Israel can then make a deal. Perhaps in the interim, the hardship of Palestinian life will cause enough emigration that Israel may annex the West Bank without giving up the state’s Jewish majority. Or, perhaps, the West Bank will be absorbed by Jordan, and Gaza by Egypt, a better outcome than Palestinian statehood, in the view of many Israeli officials.

Nathan Thrall

That’s a damn valid reason! Israel (as a state) has little to lose from the status quo, given the unwillingness of the international community to impose tough sanctions. This lack of resolve is somewhat understandable, seeing how Israel is the only real long-term ally of Western democracies in a region largely controlled by military and religious autocracies – including Turkey lately. On the other hand, it exposes a dangerous double-standard, if we compare it, for example, with Russia’s incursion in Crimea, where sanctions were swiftly imposed.

Since the end of the cold war, the United States has not so much as considered using the sort of pressure it once did, and its achievements during the past quarter-century have been accordingly meagre. US policymakers debate how to influence Israel, but without using almost any of the power at their disposal, including placing aid under conditions of changes in Israeli behaviour, a standard tool of diplomacy that officials deem unthinkable in this case.

Listening to them discuss how to devise an end to occupation is like listening to the operator of a bulldozer ask how to demolish a building with a hammer. The former Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan once said: Our American friends offer us money, arms and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice. Those words have become only more resonant in the decades since they were uttered.

The wall separating Israel and the West Bank at Bethlehem
The wall separating Israel and the West Bank at Bethlehem. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty

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