Yair Lapid – no cause for optimism.

yair lapid

Yair Lapid

In the lead-up to yesterday’s elections, there was real concern in certain circles (and happy certainty in others) that Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) Party was poised to sweep into the Knesset’s second place position, directly behind a weakened Likud—weakened in part by Bennett himself, a man who gives public expression to what many assume to be the real position of both the Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu: Settlements Always, Palestine Never.

When that didn’t turn out to be the case—when it turned out that the putatively centrist Yair Lapid had not only come in behind Likud, but had far outstripped Bennett—there were expressions of relief, even hope, in some corners. Perhaps, just maybe, a roughly centrist government will emerge, one that will genuinely negotiate for peace?

With all due respect, though, there’s simply no objective reason to even entertain that thought.

First of all, it’s important to remember that these results are preliminary, in that they don’t yet include the votes of the military. Israel’s soldiers have traditionally skewed slightly to the right of the rest of the country, and in recent years, this tendency has increased, along with a growing religiosity. There’s good reason to think that when all the votes are counted, Bennett and/or the Likud will have gained two-three seats, and in a parliament this polarized, that can make a big difference.

More to the point, however, even if the division of seats doesn’t much change, neither will Bibi. He is and has always been a right-wing opportunist whose first and primary goal is to achieve and maintain power. He’s spent his entire political career catering to the settler community, and though he’s not himself personally religious, has been more than happy to cede power and influence to the ultra-Orthodox in order to maintain a coalition that keeps him in the driver’s seat, and advances the settlement project. A single speech at Bar Ilan University, made years ago, doesn’t mitigate the fact that the Prime Minister has done everything in his not inconsiderable power to make sure that a Palestinian State becomes a literal impossibility.

And then there’s Yair Lapid, also an opportunist, albeit one who at least looks centrist. He’s said that he won’t join a government that doesn’t negotiate with the Palestinians—but honestly, that’s meaningless. “Negotiations” can mean anything or nothing, and Netanyahu has himself “negotiated with the Palestinians” on more than one occasion. Negotiations aren’t a goal unto themselves, and without a solid commitment to compromise, will continue to serve the Israeli government as they have for years: a handy diversion with which to distract the international community, even as Israel’s hold on the West Bank deepens.

Moreover, Lapid has made it painfully clear that he has no real grasp of the enormity of the occupation’s implications, and doesn’t understand what a genuine, durable peace agreement will entail. He launched his campaign in the bloated West Bank settlement of Ariel, and has publicly (and more than once) announced that if Israel’s government just stands firm, it will convince the Palestinian people to give up on East Jerusalem as their capital.

As I’ve written before, this latter position is nothing short of delusional, and reveals a deep and abiding attachment to the same kind of magical thinking recently expressed by Daniel Gordis: We will deal with the Palestinians as we imagine them to be, and all will be well.

The only thing approaching an ideological commitment that Lapid has ever clearly expressed is an aversion to the ultra-Orthodox. I think it’s a decent bet that he wouldn’t join a government in which the ultra-Orthodox have more power than he does, but as long as he can present himself to his secular supporters (half of whom, not incidentally, self-identify as right wing) as having done better than Shas in coalition negotiations, I imagine he’d be happy to sit alongside them—and, quite possibly, Bennett—in a Netanyahu government, and passively support expanding settlement construction and the headlong rush toward West Bank annexation. And again: The rightist parties are likely to actually gain seats when the soldiers’ votes are counted.

There are two Israeli Jewish parties actually dedicated to saving the Jewish State from itself and negotiating a true peace accord with the Palestinian people: Meretz and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah. And if the projections hold, Meretz and HaTnuah will jointly take 12 seats.

So really, there’s no cause for even cautious optimism. On the contrary, perhaps a hard-right government would have shocked the world and Israel out of its complacency. As it is, it looks like Israel is set to continue to muddle along on its way to its own ruin.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What I mean when I say the two-state solution is dead.

The other day I dropped what amounted (for me) to a bombshell, and I feel duty-bound to explain myself.

When Gilad Shalit returned to Israel, I wrote

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 could be wrong, and lord knows I hope so. It might bear noting that the only times that I’ve been really wrong about this conflict have been those times that I’ve been optimistic, but then again, who knows.

But here’s why I think pessimism is in order: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been a proponent of the two-state solution since the 1980s. It was his movement (Fatah) within the PLO which, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, entered peace negotiations with Israel in the early 1990s, and he’s long been known to be more moderate (which is to say: more willing to renounce violence and/or to acquiesce Israeli demands) than Arafat ever was, even in his most Nobel-peace-prize winning days. If Israel was ever going to achieve a negotiated two-state peace, Abbas was the guy. And he and his government have consistently been available for talks and compromise — witness the revelations of the Palestine Papers.

But Israel has never given Fatah anything to show for their efforts. Life has gotten demonstrably worse in the territories since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and every time Arafat and then Abbas tried to do something about it, they got shut out.

Furthermore,  since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, during which Israel steadfastly refused to negotiate anything, Abbas’s credibility has been in steep decline, in favor of Hamas. The Shalit deal is one more striking example of this: The prisoner exchange comes against the backdrop of Abbas’s UN statehood bid and a growing hunger strike on the part of Palestinian prisoners in or close to Fatah — or, in other words, just when it looked like Abu Mazen (as Abbas is known among Palestinians) was about to achieve something, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gift wrapped 1,000 prisoners, and gave them to Hamas.

You simply cannot humiliate your negotiating partner again and again and expect that he will forever retain the political capital he needs to make the hard compromises that peace agreements always demand. This is perhaps the most egregious Israeli blind spot: No Israeli government has ever seemed to genuinely grasp that Palestinians will also be giving something up in any real negotiation process, and just like in Israel, that’s a hard sell. Political capital is crucial.

Now, Hamas has said time and again that it’s willing to enter some form of negotiations, or accept the results of a public referendum ratifying a peace deal, and don’t forget that back when Israel first started talking to the PLO, they were the terrorists we hated.

But to negotiate with Hamas, Israel would have to be even more willing to bend than it’s been with Abbas/Fatah. If Israel has been unwilling to discuss the eminently reasonable Fatah positions — all of which are based on every single peace proposal put forward to date — there’s no real reason to believe that Israel, particularly under the current leadership, will feel comfortable working with Hamas.

Which is not to say that the negotiation theater will end any time soon. Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the US will continue to talk about it ad naseum — I just believe that is will continue to be an expensive, deadly exercise in wheel-spinning. Israel has no intention of actually making peace (witness the new settlement in Jerusalem) and Abbas probably couldn’t right now, even if Israel were to give it a go.

Having said that, I still believe that the two-state idea is the only possible resolution of the conflict. The vaunted “one-state solution” about which so many people like to talk is not what the vast majority of the people on the ground actually want (most particularly Israelis, but Palestinians, too), and if the sides haven’t been able to reasonably discuss a good way to share the land in two pieces, I cannot imagine what makes people think they’ll be able to reasonably discuss how to share it in one.

No, the “one-state solution” which I now believe is the inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come about as a result of ongoing, escalating bloodshed and destruction, and it will not be negotiated. It will be imposed, whether by fiat or by circumstances.

I imagine it won’t happen soon — death throes tend to take a very long time in global politics — and I will continue to advocate against it, but I am now genuinely convinced that the dream we’ve had for 25 years of two states and two peoples, living side by side and in peace, has become an impossibility.

The two-state solution, in which both sides would achieve both national dignity and genuine security, allowing each to heal and grow over time into real neighbors, is still the only resolution available. I will still fight for it. But I am now convinced that I fight a losing battle.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Update: Click here for more on why I support a two-state solution, if you’re interested.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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.

Oldie-but-goodie: Why two states.

UPDATE: To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV


A while ago, I was asked in the comments why I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, I in my role as an American citizen am asked to support the maintenance and creation of two single-identity states. I’m a both pluralist in my bones, and, despite my preference for the highly unlikely solution a federated state, quite practical.

So, my question to you: Why should a pluralist support a two-state solution, particularly when that solution explicitly rejects pluralism?

And, if the answer is about practicalities, then I also have to ask how practical is a two-state solution?

I think that this is a very legitimate, and important question, both in its specifics (why should a pluralist support an anti-pluralist political solution? is this solution even practical?), and in general: Why the hell two states?

What with the near parity in current Israeli and Palestinian population figures, and Israel’s endless building in the territories (making a contiguous Palestine a near-impossibility), doesn’t it make more sense to leapfrog over an idea whose time has past and just go straight to something else?

A fair number of people have in fact begun to openly advocate a one-state solution, and I can see why. A single state — often referred to as “a state of all its citizens,” in reference to the fact that a Jewish State cannot, by definition, genuinely be the state of its non-Jewish citizens — is far more in keeping with the values on which I was raised and am raising my children. One person-one vote, for instance, and multiculturalism. Mutual respect, liberty and justice for all. As I have said in the past, these ideas move me deeply and inform both my daily life and my political actions.

And yet for Israel/Palestine, I still passionately support a two-state solution, nationalism at its purest. WTF?

Simply put, at this point in blood-drenched history, the idea that Israelis and Palestinians would readily agree, en masse, to give up on their dreams of national statehood is utopian. At best.

First of all, and aside from anything else, a majority of Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike favor a two-state solution — 64% and 55%, respectively.

The search for a two-state agreement has become such boring conventional wisdom — and so frustratingly unachieveable — that people forget how revolutionary the idea really is. The real achievement of the Oslo Process was that it made a once crazy notion commonplace. Until the early 1990s, both sides roundly rejected the idea of sharing the land: in 1987, only 21% of Israeli Jews were willing to consider it, and Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag, just as Israelis could be arrested for meeting with members of the very organization with which we now negotiate as a matter of course, the PLO.

Furthermore, there is vanishingly little support for any other resolution of the conflict. Only 11% of Palestinians support “either of the other alternatives under discussion, a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis or a confederation with neighboring Jordan and Egypt,” and while I can’t find poll numbers regarding Israeli support for a one-state solution, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of those 36% who oppose two-states aren’t looking to live in multicultural harmony with their Palestinian neighbors. Some surely are, but the majority (like, for instance, the 25% who oppose dismantling even the “outpost” settlements, recognized as illegal even by the Israeli government) are far more likely interested in continuing to hold the Palestinians down — or just plain kicking them out.

Moreover, an enormous amount of work has already gone into laying the ground-work for the establishment of a two-state resolution. From the 2000 Clinton Parameters, to the non-official Geneva Accord (2003), to the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007) the basic framework has never been more clear. Today, quite honestly, the only thing that stands between us and lasting peace is a lack of courage and goodwill (well, and a seemingly endless Israeli building program on the West Bank — but that which is built by human hands can also be pulled down by human hands).

But beyond all of that, I believe that for the peace to be lasting, both peoples will need some time to get used to being neighbors without being at each other’s throats. I can’t provide links for this — as it is my gut sense, based in years of exposure to the story — but I just cannot believe that Israel’s Jews and the Palestinians are ready to pay taxes together, develop an educational system, and choose a new anthem. They hate and fear each other too thoroughly, and for too many good reasons. They both need time to lick their wounds, get to know each other as something other than Evil, and build (yes) confidence. It would be a waste of our little remaining energy and too-few resources to try to organize people where we want them to be — like all people, Israelis and Palestinians can only be organized where they actually are. No matter how we feel about where they are.

Ultimately, I believe that humanity will move beyond nationalism. I believe that nationalism will prove itself an important stepping stone to something better, and that, if we are very lucky (very very lucky), the people known today as “Israelis” and “Palestinians” will live in some sort of federation, which will in turn prove itself to be a stepping stone to – what? I don’t know. I can hardly imagine actually. My mind (quite literally) goes to Star Trek, and John Lennon.

But that isn’t now. And we can’t yet get there from here.

If we don’t create the context in which people can begin to heal and realize their self-expressed dreams, I fear the sheer, unmitigated pain and misery we will wind up inflicting on each other — beyond anything we have seen to date. Indeed, I fear flat-out catastrophe, yet another great disaster for both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples. And so, I’m sticking with (am stuck with) the imperfect idea of building two separate states. To my mind, it’s the only choice that has any chance of both being realized, and doing actual good.

Related: In the meantime, I also wrote Why I still call myself a Zionist.

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