During the Second Intifada, liberal American Jews like me had nothing to say against the steps taken by Israel to secure its citizens from Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. Many of our friends further to the left did, and we got into harsh and sometime unforgiving arguments with them. The same thing repeated itself with the Second Lebanon War, the first incursion into Gaza, and then the second and more short-lived one. While I don’t think I was too wrong, at least in a general if not always a specific sense, about the kinds of choice made by a sovereign nation state in defense of its own borders and the security of it citizen, it is also true that critics to the left were right about one very important thing about which people like me were naive and unknowing.
I always presumed that security would secure the possibility for peacemaking. I guess, in this general sense, many liberal supporters of Israel were wrong about this. Once secure behind it’s a security-separation wall, most Israelis, perhaps understandably, seem willing to accept a status quo which includes the expansion of settlements and the entrenchment of settlements. The presumed security of the status quo is highlighted by the great uncertainty roiling Egypt and threatening Jordan, and the carnage in Syria. While for many if not most Israelis, the status quo seems safer than taking risks in a volatile regional environment, to many Israelis inside Israel and to most interested and informed observers looking in from the outside, friends and foes of Israel alike, that status quo looks unsustainable and self-destructive.
From the looks of it, the marriage of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett under the hupa set up by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is going to swamp the country deeper into the occupation. One should never be sure of anything. About this one can be wrong as about anything. But that’s the way it looks right now. Without Ehud Barak in the Defense Ministry, there will be nothing to keep even more and more money and more settlements sloshing into the West Bank, securing, in the process the creation of a one-state apartheid political structure in the territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Already the first racist, ant-democratic piece of legislation is working its way through the government. If passed, the law would put the country’s “Jewisness” above democracy. One can only hope it will be killed by either the Justice Minister or in committee.
What is a liberal American Zionist to do or to say? Pretty much nothing for now, although perhaps maybe more later, depending upon conditions.
All I can say for right now is that the Israel towards which I will look and put my confidence will be represented not by the government, but rather by my family and friends, and by those organizations in opposition that place a critical eye on Israel and Palestine. In the age of new media, there are more venues than ever for more criticism, more perspectives, more political vigilance, and more critical investment, not divestment. There is no claim that anyone can make that Israel is not already well down on the slippery slope towards apartheid; and the security argument no longer carries the same precise weight that was once the case, precisely because the security problems have been, for now, adequately addressed by the Israeli security establishment.
As long as Israel does nothing to end the occupation and to secure a genuine democratic future for itself and its neighbors, Jews and Palestinians alike, both inside its sovereign borders and in the occupied West Bank, as long as the government acts to entrench the occupation and undermine liberal values, there’s nothing that a liberal, including liberal Zionists, can say against even the country’s most hostile critics.
I’m willing to continue to argue that a two state solution has not yet been rendered impossible, but that’s a weak hand and a heavy burden of proof falls on those who want to advocate this position. The only argument left for the two state solution is a negation, the Jeremiah-like argument from disaster, that the emergence of a one state political arrangement will never involve anything but misery for both parties to the conflict and for those of us who follow it and continue to care about it from abroad. As a good liberal, I’ll concede that I might be wrong about everything. Maybe a one state solution is the best of all possible worlds. But I won’t underestimate the power of catastrophe as the true force behind radical change.