Gilad Shalit comes home, & the two-state solution dies.

Gilad Shalit is embraced by his father, Noam, immediately after his return to Israel.

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is home today, in his mother’s and father’s arms, his physical wounds receiving treatment, his other wounds no doubt just beginning to emerge. But he’s home. And that is a very, very good thing, and it’s good aside from and beyond anything else. Nothing I write here or anywhere else changes that. I am trying to hold that in my mind even as I consider all of the horror that surrounds that one, shining, good thing.

Last week, I wrote about some of what’s been wrong in Israel’s response to Shalit’s capture from day one — from day-minus-one, actually, given the Israeli kidnapping of two Gazan men from their homes, one day before Shalit was captured (in uniform and on duty) by Palestinian militants.

Today I’m going to write about what is so frightening and heartbreaking about the implications of the whole, broader story in which Shalit plays a part.

Gilad Shalit was captured in June 2006, about ten months after Israel’s 2005 retreat from the Gaza Strip. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza was hotly contested, but was presented to the Israeli public as a way to disengage the two warring peoples, leave the Gazans to their own fate, and — in the part that most Westerners failed to notice or chose to ignore — make it easier for Israel to hold on to the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The problem (well – among the problems) is that in spite of repeated, and desperate, requests from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel walked away without so much as a by-your-leave.

There were no negotiations, certainly no security arrangements, and as a result, the Palestinian moderates (Abbas and his Fatah party) with whom Israel had purportedly been negotiating for 10 years had nothing to show for their efforts.

As a result, Hamas was able to claim the credit for its decade of terror, boosting the movement tremendously in Palestinian eyes and playing a crucial role in its January 2006 electoral victory (a narrow victory, due more to Fatah’s splintering and efforts to game the system than to any great support for Hamas — witness the fact that the next day, three-quarters of Palestinians polled told Al-Jazeera they hoped Hamas would negotiate peace). Moreover, the lack of security arrangements might very well have played a role in the Shalit capture and Israel’s inability to get him back. We can’t know for sure, but it’s certainly a reasonable question to ask.

Then on June 25, 2006, Shalit was captured. Israel launched an all-out assault on the Gaza Strip, ultimately wreaking tremendous damage on the Strip’s infrastructure and killing more than 250 Palestinians; sixty-four Palestinian legislators and government officials were kidnapped in the operation’s early days. Here’s a snippet from a CNN report on July 1:

Shalit’s abduction on Sunday by Palestinian militants triggered an ongoing military offensive that Israel says is aimed at freeing the soldier.

The groups said they wanted 1,000 Arab prisoners released from Israeli jails, according to a statement faxed to media outlets early Saturday. The statement did not make it clear whether the groups were asking for the prisoners’ releases in return for Shalit’s release.

The prisoners include women and children.

Israel has flatly rejected any prisoner swap.

Israel continued to “flatly reject any prisoner swap” for years, insisting that it would wrest Shalit from Hamas’s hands/punish Hamas for taking him in the first place, right through the 2008/09 Gaza War, in which some 1,387 Palestinians were killed, including 773 who weren’t involved in combat and 119 who were under the age of 11. During these same years of non-negotiation, 13 Israelis (soldiers and civilians) were killed in the course of hostilities.

Not quite a year after it launched the Gaza War, Israel said that it would be releasing 980 prisoners in exchange for Shalit. That deal fell apart, and in the ensuing nearly three years, Israel has continued both to try to do the thing it had “flatly refused” to do, while also still pounding away at Gaza intermittently. Gazan militants have responded off and on with rocket fire, but as in the past, the vast majority of casualties have been on the Palestinian side.

Jump to today. Five + years later, a total of something like 2,000 Palestinians and several Israelis dead — and Hamas has successfully worn Israel down, winning the release of more than 1000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Or at least that’s what it looks like to Palestinians, and unsurprisingly, Hamas’s popularity has soared as a result.

My read is that Hamas in fact wore Israel down, but also caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when he was both desperately in need of an image boost (being universally reviled across Israel at this point), and really interested in sticking it to Abbas.

After all, Abbas just went to the UN to ask for state recognition for Palestine, and furthermore, the prisoners ideologically closest to Fatah (and furthest from Hamas) had just launched a hunger strike that was gaining real ground. It’s my read that Netanyahu still thinks (despite decades of evidence to the contrary) that Israel can just wait the Palestinians out, and he need never negotiate peace with anyone — particularly if he manages to entirely discredit and fatally weaken the one set of people most interested in such negotiations. And with this previously unthinkable prisoner swap, it is my opinion that Netanyahu has done just that.

So bottom line, from August 2005 through October 2011, from Sharon to Netanyahu, Israel’s greatest achievement in its relationship with the Palestinian people has been to throw Abbas and Fatah off a cliff. Which I gather was, at least in part, the point.

But what Israel — Netanyahu, his government, their supporters, the various pundits, and plain-old-folks who are happy to see Fatah go over the edge — has failed to understand is that there is a cord tied tightly around Fatah’s waist, and the other end is tied to us. By rendering Fatah/Abbas impotent, Israel has finally destroyed the possibility of a two-state peace, and thus doomed the Zionist experiment.

And I mean that. I believe that October 18, 2011 is the day on which Gilad Shalit — a pawn in the hands of more people than I can rightly count at this point — came home, and the day on which the possibility of a two-state solution finally died. I am now more convinced than ever that when history looks back on the modern nation-state of Israel, the Jewish State will feature as just one more disaster in the long list of Jewish disasters.

And we will have people like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu to thank for it.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


  1. Steve

     /  October 18, 2011

    Whats heartbreaking is that you make constant references to yourself and use the word “I” no less than ten times in this piece.
    It’s not about you.

    • Not “no less” – no fewer. I would expect a man who misses the point so entirely to get the grammar right.

      And PS – It is about me, my children, my husband, my whole family. I’m Israeli. It is about me. It’s my home, and it’s dying.

    • What a dumb comment.

  2. Is it really impossible that Hamas will ever negotiate though? Arafat in the 1970s and 1980s would have been indistinguishable from Hamas today. I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, I’m not as well versed as you are Emily, I am just curious though.

    Didn’t realize Bibi was so universally hated though. Is it the poor economy mostly, or just basically being a dick all his life?

    • Not stupid! I frequently point out that the people with whom Israel refused to negotiate yesterday are the people with whom it is negotiating today. Everything I’ve seen about Hamas over the past five years indicates to me that they would be willing to negotiate (not least because they’ve said so), though of course no one can predict what the outcome would be, which is what Israel has always wanted to do.

      No, the problem is on the Israeli side. Israel has made it very, very, abundantly clear that Hamas is the devil and cannot be trusted. There is (as far as I can see) no wiggle room in that position. In pushing away the one side that it was supposedly willing to work with, Israel has either signaled its utter unwillingness to negotiate a resolution of the conflict along the lines that we’ve been talking about for 20 solid years (two states, shared Jerusalem, mutually agreed-upon resolution of the refugee issue) OR (possibly and) has been too clever by half and in trying to show Abbas who’s boss, has utterly destroyed what little credibility he had left and thus ruined all efforts he might make toward peace — and further proven to the Palestinian people that negotiation is pointless and worthless. That contrary to popular opinion, it is they who have “no partner for peace,” not Israel.

      • corkingiron

         /  October 19, 2011

        An excellent piece, Emily. Is it Israel that has walked away from a two-state solution – or is it Netanyahu’s coalition? Is there no constituency in Israel for a coalition that would continue to support a two-state solution – even if it meant holding your nose and dealing with Hamas? It is a “solution” after all, with a very long shelf-life. Despite decades of violence, no one has proposed a more realistic one. I continue to hope that, once the bombast and hatred are swept away by the simple war-weariness of it all, that a solution along the lines of Oslo will once again gain strength – because there is no other available.

    • I forgot to answer your second question! As I just said to Anon, it’s been something of a day, and I’m not firing on all cylinders.

      He’s universally hated mainly because he hasn’t managed to do anything but keep his coalition together — which is to say: They pretty much hate him as much on the right as they do on the left right now. He’s made no one happy, the social/economic stuff is just appalling (and cuts across all kinds of political divides), and he’s failed to actually accomplish anything . So yeah. Hated. Though not so much today, because he “made a tough decision” and brought Shalit home. (And he’s already blatantly using it for self-promotion purposes, so who knows? Maybe the new shine will wear off soon).

      • Thanks for the replies. One of my working theories is that Netanyahu is a less overtly stupid equivalent to G.W. Bush–he has a certain political skill set that helps him get elected, but lacks much of a policy skill set to match, and doesn’t really care about much more than being the guy in charge. The worst kind of politician, but they usually wind up messing up enough stuff through indifference that they lose in the end.

  3. dmf

     /  October 18, 2011

    deep breathes dear ee, as long as there is life there is hope

  4. I left Israel 8 years ago. Yet I do not think that she is dying. I left because we could not make a living. My older daughter stayed to finish her army service. This gave me a bit of perspective. Looking at the politics from the outside in, I saw that not everything is Israel’s fault. The constant threats of suicide bombers, rockets and etc is also part of the equation. In spite of the constant pressure of conflict there are large numbers of people that want to work this out. That is not a country that is dying or is it a tragedy. I do believe in a two state solution. However, forget everything else and plan to STOP the hostilities. I remember how excited we were about Oslo, every terrorist attack or lunatic shooting up a cave put an end to our hopes. We are running before we can walk. First things come first an end to violence. That what we have to work for. The rest can come after we achieve that goal.

  5. BJonthegrid

     /  October 19, 2011

    You know I adore you, but I am going to go with crossing my fingers and hoping you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. *don’t ban me*

  6. Israel can just wait the Palestinians out

    What does “waiting them out” mean in this context? I mean, where are they going to go?

    I once read someone making the argument that the one-state solution was the way to go – it would be difficult, but also the most fair.

    • That’s a tough option as well if the Israelis are going to stick to the “Jewish state” formulation.

      • Yes, very true. I can’t remember how this person got around that. In fact it can’t really be gotten around.

    • Very slow getting to this – will do so a bit later today. Sorry!

    • Part of why it took me awhile to reply to this is because I suspected I would be writing about the idea of a one-state solution, and I did today: My bottom line is that “one-state” sounds good in the abstract, but on the ground, there is no abstract. The only way one state will be achieved is through more destruction. Here’s more on that, from earlier:

      “Wait the Palestinians out” – I don’t think this is necessarily an entirely conscious thing, but there is definitely a sense among a certain set of Israelis that if we just hit them hard enough, long enough, they will give up hoping for a state/opposing ours, plus a lot of them will actually leave.

      There are policies in place in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem that actively seek to encourage Palestinians to, in fact, just go away — Israel doesn’t care to where, as long as it’s nowhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — that range from refusal to recognize residency to refusal to allow family reunification to refusal to allow construction (and/or the destruction of homes built in spite of said refusal), not to mention the daily difficulties and indignities and dangers of living under occupation, on and on. There is something of an exodus as a result, but I don’t know how big it is.

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