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Hollow Visions of Palestine's Future

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    Peace will need more than David Grossman – or Uri Avnery Hollow Visions of Palestine s Future by Jonathan Cook
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 19 10:38 AM
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      Peace will need more than David Grossman – or Uri Avnery

      Hollow Visions of Palestine's Future
      by Jonathan Cook

      David Grossman's widely publicized speech at the annual memorial rally
      for Yitzhak Rabin earlier this month has prompted some fine
      deconstruction of his "words of peace" from critics.

      Grossman, one of Israel's foremost writers and a figurehead for its
      main peace movement, Peace Now, personifies the caring, tortured face
      of Zionism that so many of the country's apologists – in Israel and
      abroad, trenchant and wavering alike – desperately want to believe
      survives, despite the evidence of the Qanas, Beit Hanouns and other
      massacres committed by the Israeli army against Arab civilians.
      Grossman makes it possible to believe, for a moment, that the Ariel
      Sharons and Ehud Olmerts are not the real upholders of Zionism's
      legacy, merely a temporary deviation from its true path.

      In reality, of course, Grossman draws from the same ideological
      well-spring as Israel's founders and its greatest warriors. He
      embodies the same anguished values of Labor Zionism that won Israel
      international legitimacy just as it was carrying out one of history's
      great acts of ethnic cleansing: the expulsion of some 750,000
      Palestinians, or 80 per cent the native population, from the borders
      of the newly established Jewish state.

      (Even critical historians usually gloss over the fact that the
      percentage of the Palestinian population expelled by the Israeli army
      was, in truth, far higher. Many Palestinians forced out during the
      1948 war ended up back inside Israel's borders either because under
      the terms of the 1949 armistice with Jordan they were annexed to
      Israel, along with a small but densely populated area of the West Bank
      known as the Little Triangle, or because they managed to slip back
      across the porous border with Lebanon and Syria in the months
      following the war and hide inside the few Palestinian villages inside
      Israel that had not been destroyed.)

      Remove the halo with which he has been crowned by the world's liberal
      media and Grossman is little different from Zionism's most
      distinguished statesmen, those who also ostentatiously displayed their
      hand-wringing or peace credentials as, first, they dispossessed the
      Palestinian people of most of their homeland; then dispossessed them
      of the rest; then ensured the original act of ethnic cleansing would
      not unravel; and today are working on the slow genocide of the
      Palestinians, through a combined strategy of their physical
      destruction and their dispersion as a people.

      David Ben Gurion, for example, masterminded the ethnic cleansing of
      Palestine in 1948 before very publicly agonizing over the occupation
      of the West Bank and Gaza – even if only because of the demographic
      damage that would be done to the Jewish state as a result.

      Golda Meir refused to recognize the existence of the Palestinian
      people as she launched the settlement enterprise in the occupied
      territories, but did recognize the anguish of Jewish soldiers forced
      to "shoot and cry" to defend the settlements. Or as she put it: "We
      can forgive you [the Palestinians] for killing our sons. But we will
      never forgive you for making us kill yours."

      Yitzhak Rabin, Grossman's most direct inspiration, may have initiated
      a "peace process" at Oslo (even if only the terminally optimistic
      today believe that peace was really its goal), but as a soldier and
      politician he also personally oversaw the ethnic cleansing of
      Palestinian cities like Lid in 1948; he ordered tanks into Arab
      villages inside Israel during the Land Day protests of 1976, leading
      to the deaths of half a dozen unarmed Palestinian citizens; and in
      1988 he ordered his army to crush the first intifada by "breaking the
      bones" of Palestinians, including women and children, who threw stones
      at the occupying troops.

      Like them, Grossman conspires in these original war crimes by
      preferring to hold on to what Israel has, or even extend it further,
      rather than confront the genuinely painful truth of his responsibility
      for the fate of the Palestinians, including the hundreds of thousands
      of refugees and the millions of their descendants.

      Every day that Grossman denies a Right of Return for the Palestinians,
      even as he supports a Law of Return for the Jews, he excuses and
      maintains the act of ethnic cleansing that dispossessed the
      Palestinian refugees more than half a century ago.

      And every day that he sells a message of peace to Israelis who look to
      him for moral guidance that fails to offer the Palestinians a just
      solution – and that takes instead as its moral yardstick the primacy
      of Israel's survival as a Jewish state – then he perverts the meaning
      of peace.

      Another Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, diagnoses the problem
      posed by Grossman and his ilk with acute insight in a recent article.
      Although Grossman wants peace in the abstract, Avnery observes, he
      offers no solutions as to how it might be secured in concrete terms
      and no clues about what sacrifices he or other Israelis will have to
      make to achieve it. His "peace" is empty of content, a mere rhetorical

      Rather than suggest what Israel should talk about to the Palestinians'
      elected leaders, Grossman argues that Israel should talk over their
      heads to the "moderates," Palestinians with whom Israel's leaders can
      do business. The goal is to find Palestinians, any Palestinians, who
      will agree to Israel's "peace." The Oslo process in new clothes.

      Grossman's speech looks like a gesture towards a solution only because
      Israel's current leaders do not want to speak with anybody on the
      Palestinian side, whether "moderate" or "fanatic." The only
      interlocutor is Washington, and a passive one at that.

      If Grossman's words are as as "hollow" as those of Ehud Olmert, Avnery
      offers no clue as to reasons for the author's evasiveness. In truth,
      Grossman cannot deal in solutions because there is almost no
      constituency in Israel for the kind of peace plan that might prove
      acceptable even to the Palestinian "moderates" Grossman so wants his
      government to talk to.

      Were Grossman to set out the terms of his vision of peace, it might
      become clear to all that the problem is not Palestinian intransigence.

      Although surveys regularly show that a majority of Israelis support a
      Palestinian state, they are conducted by pollsters who never specify
      to their sampling audience what might be entailed by the creation of
      the state posited in their question. Equally the pollsters do not
      require from their Israeli respondents any information about what kind
      of Palestinian state each envisages. This makes the nature of the
      Palestinian state being talked about by Israelis almost as empty of
      content as the alluring word "peace."

      After all, according to most Israelis, Gazans are enjoying the fruits
      of the end of Israel's occupation. And according to Olmert, his
      proposed "convergence" – a very limited withdrawal from the West Bank
      – would have established the basis for a Palestinian state there too.

      When Israelis are asked about their view of more specific peace plans,
      their responses are overwhelmingly negative. In 2003, for example, 78
      per cent of Israeli Jews said they favored a two-state solution, but
      when asked if they supported the Geneva Initiative – which envisions a
      very circumscribed Palestinian state on less than all of the West Bank
      and Gaza – only a quarter did so. Barely more than half of the
      supposedly leftwing voters of Labor backed the Geneva Initiative.

      This low level of support for a barely viable Palestinian state
      contrasts with the consistently high levels of support among Israeli
      Jews for a concrete, but very different, solution to the conflict:
      "transfer," or ethnic cleansing. In opinion polls, 60 per cent of
      Israeli Jews regularly favor the emigration of Arab citizens from the
      as-yet-undetermined borders of the Jewish state.

      So when Grossman warns us that "a peace of no choice" is inevitable
      and that "the land will be divided, a Palestinian state will arise,"
      we should not be lulled into false hopes. Grossman's state is almost
      certainly as "hollow" as his audience's idea of peace.

      Grossman's refusal to confront the lack of sympathy among the Israeli
      public for the Palestinians, or challenge it with solutions that will
      require of Israelis that they make real sacrifices for peace, deserves
      our condemnation. He and the other gurus of Israel's mainstream peace
      movement, writers like Amos Oz and A B Yehoshua, have failed in their
      duty to articulate to Israelis a vision of a fair future and a lasting

      So what is the way out of the impasse created by the beatification of
      figures like Grossman? What other routes are open to those of us who
      refuse to believe that Grossman stands at the very precipice before
      which any sane peace activist would tremble? Can we look to other
      members of the Israeli left for inspiration?

      Uri Avnery again steps forward. He claims that there are only two
      peace camps in Israel: a Zionist one, based on a national consensus
      rooted in the Peace Now of David Grossman; and what he calls a
      "radical peace camp" led by … well, himself and his group of a few
      thousand Israelis known as Gush Shalom.

      By this, one might be tempted to infer that Avnery styles his own
      peace bloc as non-Zionist or even anti-Zionist. Nothing could be
      further from the truth, however. Avnery and most, though not all, of
      his supporters in Israel are staunchly in the Zionist camp.

      The bottom line in any peace for Avnery is the continued existence and
      success of Israel as a Jewish state. That rigidly limits his ideas
      about what sort of peace a "radical" Israeli peace activist ought to
      be pursuing.

      Like Grossman, Avnery supports a two-state solution because, in both
      their views, the future of the Jewish state cannot be guaranteed
      without a Palestinian state alongside it. This is why Avnery finds
      himself agreeing with 90 per cent of Grossman's speech. If the Jews
      are to prosper as a demographic (and democratic) majority in their
      state, then the non-Jews must have a state too, one in which they can
      exercise their own, separate sovereign rights and, consequently,
      abandon any claims on the Jewish state.

      However, unlike Grossman, Avnery not only supports a Palestinian state
      in the abstract but a "just" Palestinian state in the concrete,
      meaning for him the evacuation of all the settlers and a full
      withdrawal by the Israeli army to the 1967 lines. Avnery's peace plan
      would give back east Jerusalem and the whole of the West Bank and Gaza
      to the Palestinians.

      The difference between Grossman and Avnery on this point can be
      explained by their different understanding of what is needed to ensure
      the Jewish state's survival. Avnery believes that a lasting peace will
      hold only if the Palestinian state meets the minimal aspirations of
      the Palestinian people. In his view, the Palestinians can be persuaded
      under the right leadership to settle for 22 per cent of their historic
      homeland – and in that way the Jewish state will be saved.

      Of itself, there is nothing wrong with Avnery's position. It has
      encouraged him to take a leading and impressive role in the Israeli
      peace movement for many decades. Bravely he has crossed over national
      confrontation lines to visit the besieged Palestinian leadership when
      other Israelis have shied away. He has taken a courageous stand
      against the separation wall, facing down Israeli soldiers alongside
      Palestinian, Israeli and foreign peace activists. And through his
      journalism he has highlighted the Palestinian cause and educated
      Israelis, Palestinians and outside observers about the conflict. For
      all these reasons, Avnery should be praised as a genuine peacemaker.

      But there is a serious danger that, because Palestinian solidarity
      movements have misunderstood Avnery's motives, they may continue to be
      guided by him beyond the point where he is contributing to a peaceful
      solution or a just future for the Palestinians. In fact, that moment
      may be upon us.

      During the Oslo years, Avnery was desperate to see Israel complete its
      supposed peace agreement with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. As
      he often argued, he believed that Arafat alone could unify the
      Palestinians and persuade them to settle for the only two-state
      solution on the table: a big Israel, alongside a small Palestine.

      In truth, Avnery's position was no so far from that of the distinctly
      unradical Oslo crowd of Rabin, Peres and Yossi Beilin. All four of
      them regarded Arafat as the Palestinian strongman who could secure
      Israel's future: Rabin hoped Arafat would police the Palestinians on
      Israel's behalf in their ghettoes; while Avnery hoped Arafat would
      forge a nation, democratic or otherwise, that would contain the
      Palestinians' ambitions for territory and a just solution to the
      refugee problem.

      Now with Arafat gone, Avnery and Gush Shalom have lost their
      ready-made solution to the conflict. Today, they still back two states
      and support engagement with Hamas. They have also not deviated from
      their long-standing positions on the main issues – Jerusalem, borders,
      settlements and refugees – even if they no longer have the glue,
      Arafat, that was supposed to make it all stick together.

      But without Arafat as their strongman, Gush Shalom have no idea about
      how to address the impending issues of factionalism and potential
      civil war that Israel's meddling in the Palestinian political process
      are unleashing.

      They will also have no response if the tide on the Palestinian street
      turns against the two-state mirage offered by Oslo. If Palestinians
      look for other ways out of the current impasse, as they are starting
      to do, Avnery will quickly become an obstacle to peace rather than its
      great defender.

      In fact, such a development is all but certain. Few knowledgeable
      observers of the conflict believe the two-state solution based on the
      1967 lines is feasible any longer, given Israel's entrenchment of its
      settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank, now numbering nearly half a
      million. Even the Americans have publicly admitted that most of the
      settlements cannot be undone. It is only a matter of time before
      Palestinians make the same calculation.

      What will Avnery, and the die-hards of Gush Shalom, do in this event?
      How will they respond if Palestinians start to clamor for a single
      state embracing both Israelis and Palestinians, for example?

      The answer is that the "radical" peaceniks will quickly need to find
      another solution to protect their Jewish state. There are not too many

      · There is the "Carry on with the occupation regardless" of Binyamin
      Netanyahu and Likud;

      · There is the "Seal the Palestinians into ghettoes and hope
      eventually they will leave of their own accord," in its Kadima (hard)
      and Labor (soft) incarnations;

      · And there is the "Expel them all" of Avigdor Lieberman, Olmert's
      new Minister of Strategic Threats.

      Paradoxically, a variation on the last option may be the most
      appealing to the disillusioned peaceniks of Gush Shalom. Lieberman has
      his own fanatical and moderate positions, depending on his audience
      and the current realities. To some he says he wants all Palestinians
      expelled from Greater Israel so that it is available only for Jews.
      But to others, particularly in the diplomatic arena, he suggests a
      formula of territorial and population swaps between Israel and the
      Palestinians that would create a "Separation of Nations." Israel would
      get the settlements back in return for handing over some small areas
      of Israel, like the Little Triangle, densely populated with Palestinians.

      A generous version of such an exchange – though a violation of
      international law – would achieve a similar outcome to Gush Shalom's
      attempts to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. Even
      if Avnery is unlikely to be lured down this path himself, there is a
      real danger that others in the "radical" peace camp will prefer this
      kind of solution over sacrificing their commitment at any price to the
      Jewish state.

      But fortunately, whatever Avnery claims, his peace camp is not the
      only alternative to the sham agonizing of Peace Now. Avnery is no more
      standing at the very edge of the abyss than Grossman. The only abyss
      Avnery is looking into is the demise of his Jewish state.

      Other Zionist Jews, in Israel and abroad, have been grappling with the
      same kinds of issues as Avnery but begun to move in a different
      direction, away from the doomed two-state solution towards a
      binational state. A few prominent intellectuals like Tony Judt, Meron
      Benvenisti and Jeff Halper have publicly begun to question their
      commitment to Zionism and consider whether it is not part of the
      problem rather than the solution.

      They are not doing this alone. Small groups of Israelis, smaller than
      Gush Shalom, are abandoning Zionism and coalescing around new ideas
      about how Israeli Jews and Palestinians might live peacefully
      together, including inside a single state. They include Taayush,
      Anarchists Against the Wall, Zochrot and elements within the Israeli
      Committee against House Demolitions and Gush Shalom itself.

      Avnery hopes that his peace camp may be the small wheel that can push
      the larger wheel of organizations like Peace Now in a new direction
      and thereby shift Israeli opinion towards a real two-state solution.
      Given the realities on the ground, that seems highly unlikely. But one
      day, wheels currently smaller than Gush Shalom may begin to push
      Israel in the direction needed for peace.



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