(After) The Status Quo In Israel and Palestine?

status quo ante

As Larry Derfner writes here at +972, Israel seems to be settling back into the old status quo prior to what everyone is now calling the “war” in Gaza. It’s a depressing picture, to be sure, the idea that the conflict between Israel and Palestine just grinds on based on the same old rules of conflict management, the occupation of territory, and the strangulation of populations. It’s going to be my hope that Derfner misreads the situation by attending too close to the surface, where nothing seems to have changed, and that the status quo has been more deeply unsettled than he suggests. I’m putting a little hope in the emergence of new sets of political constellating not quite visible over the horizon, and that Israel will have no choice but to respond, one way or the other to changing conditions, and that this demands deciding in favor for a one state or two state solution to their conflict with Palestine. The recent refusal of reservists in an elite intelligence unit might be a sign of things to come. Derfner thinks the status quo remains unbroken, and I won’t pretend to be sure otherwise. But it “feels” broken, although I admit that perhaps what I’m reflecting upon is the discourse about Israel and Palestine over here in the United States.

But what was the old status quo and who defined it? My own sense is that, while it’s easy to spit on the grave of a two state solution as representing an old status quo idea, the actual status quo on the ground has been the one dominated by Israel and Hamas these last 14 years or so since the Second Intifada. That status quo has been an inverse mirror image of a zero-sum, one-state-solution-in-the-making, either/or, either Israel or Palestine. The recent land grab by Israel of a long and narrow strip of Palestinian territories along the Green Line in Gush Etzion looks like more of the same, while my guess is that this needless and provocative stick in Abbas’ eye was a sop to the rightwing angry that the IDF didn’t “finish the job” in Gaza. But it’s hard to imagine this summer’s fighting repeating itself in another month or two, or in another two years. Israel has run out of political-diplomatic credit and the so-called victory by Hamas, despite its spike in the polls, has done nothing to advance the Palestinian national interest. The bubble about which everyone in Israel spoke last summer is busted. And yet now, after this current round of fighting in Gaza and Israel, life supposed to go back to normal, i.e. more occupation and more “armed resistance.”

Something has to shift fundamentally, in Israel and Palestine, but, of course, it won’t. The parties will settle for more of the same, by racism, rage, violence, more international isolation and anti-Semitic animus as Israel creeps towards transforming itself into a pariah, quasi-apartheid state with an embittered Palestinian majority which turns increasingly towards a leadership offering as compensation self-destructive fits of resistance that only bring death, destruction, and political-diplomatic isolation upon its own people. In other words, more of the old status quo based on mutual rejection intermixed with attempts by Israel and Hamas to “manage the conflict” with short term truces. One would like to think that, instead of this, this old status quo has to give way to new cognitive and political models based on mutual recognition and genuine understanding, peace and justice, compromise and integration.

Each year, the conflict gets worse, reaching a new low this summer with the kidnapping and murder in cold blood of teenagers. The current bloodshed in Gaza, the incapacity or unwillingness of Israel to “finish the job,” and what will very likely turn out to be the inability of Hamas to lift the siege of Gaza or end the occupation of the West Bank all bring us back to basics: [1] There’s no military or armed resistance solution to the conflict in any of its aspects. [2] Based on delusions, the old status quo is going to continue to fracture both societies from within, getting people killed [3] Negotiations that are meant to lead nowhere need finally give way to actual political agreements based on the principle of 2 states for 2 people while [4] simultaneously integrating the two states and its peoples into close and common cultural, economic, and political frameworks, perhaps into some kind of consortium.

While this may sound naïve, it’s no less impractical than a return to the status quo ante. Israel can’t depend only on itself and brute force. No state does. Even the security bubble has probably popped. Security depends upon alliances (with Egypt, PA, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), in this case, one which will impose a new order on the region, determine Israel’s eastern border, lift the siege of Gaza, rebuild a demilitarized Gaza under some kind of PA auspices with or without international supervision, create a viable and prosperous State of Palestine alongside which Israel can enjoy security and peace, meaning normalization and integration of Israel into the region and Palestine into the community of nations. There’s no indication that any of this lies on the horizon, so it sounds Pollyannaish. But one should consider the violent dead end that every other option based on this or that variant of the old one-state-in-the-making status quo has led the parties to the conflict, including occupation, deluxe occupation, creeping apartheid, armed resistance, and military violence.

I can’t speak about and for Palestine and the discourse about Palestine. I don’t know in any intimate way the discourse and dialogue. But re: Israel I can sense something a little different, at least in terms of the terms by which we understand its cultural constitution. An important emblem of the old status quo for liberal Zionism is the idea that Israel constitutes a polity and a culture that is “Jewish and democratic.” Maybe it’s enough to settle for Jewish culture and a democratic Israel, assuming that “Jewish” is folded into and implied by the name Israel, folded into the demographic constitution of Israel inside the Green Line as a simple Jewish majority state, marked out by the rhythm of the week and calendar year, it cultural and civic life. The “Jewish” should be allowed to take care of itself, apart from the apparatus of the state. This would mean that Israel is a “state of the Jews” as envisioned by Herzl, not a “Jewish state” as per Ahad Ha’am, and maybe it would be easier to integrate the state of the Jews into the larger and so badly fractured region that is the modern Middle East.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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6 Responses to (After) The Status Quo In Israel and Palestine?

  1. marilyn braiterman says:

    What is that image? A movie set?

  2. Alan Jay Weisbard says:

    Zak, a very interesting and thoughtful analysis, as is customary for you. The reflections about “Jewish State” vs, “State of the Jews”, and the connections to prior Zionist thought , are especially pertinent as Israel considers its future, including its internal challenges as well as its relations with Palestinians.
    The letter from the intelligence officers seems to have aroused a fierce counter-reaction, even from members of the opposition. Yet something may be cracking underneath.
    My own reluctant conclusion is that intervention will be required from outside–the politics both in Israel and Palestine make the necessary compromises virtually impossible for each side. The notion that the parties can get there through negotiations, whether or not facilitated by outside powers, seems to have run its course. My hope-probably pending the midterms–is that U.S., European, and regional Arab powers–will cooperate in setting parameters for a resolution, and more or less impose it on the parties. If the present Israeli government won’t go along, a new government can be encouraged. As for the Palestinians, financial incentives or disincentives may have the necessary impact, perhaps combined with more imaginative approaches for refugees living outside Palestine (perhaps including recent speculations about land in Sinai). One risk, of course, is that Israel will withdraw into itself and resist external pressure, at least for a period. But I think over time Israelis will recognize their dependence on the outside world and rethink their options. With the turmoil in the Arab world, the more conservative Arab regimes–Egypt, Jordan, the Saudis and some of the emirates–may be ready to put the problem of Palestine behind them to focus on more current threats to their regime. At least, that is my hope.
    The biggest problems in this fantasizing may be the American Jewish community and fundamentalist Christian supporters of a pre-apocalyptic Israel.

    • zjb says:

      Responses by Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea in Ynet were interesting views from the establishment. They both rejected the act of social disobedience while agreeing that the intelligence refuseniks were fundamentally right about the use of the intelligence unit in controlling Palestinian populations, and not just rooting out terrorism.

      • Alan Jay Weisbard says:

        The Israeli establishment really does go hysterical with any such action, whatever the validity of the complaints or the moral force behind them. There appears to be no respected tradition of (public) civil disobedience, although I gather more private and individualized acts of conscientious refusals are sometimes quietly accommodated, or subject to minimal penalties. Part of the harsh reaction this time may reflect the right wing government, but I wonder if this hits too close to home, and establishment forces are withdrawing behind a phalanx of dismissal. Of course, as we know, an act like this one is probably necessary to command the attention of the media and the public, and there is an element of bad faith in reporters taking up the issue while dismissing the actors. Certain comparisons to American whistleblowers , and government reactions to them, are difficult to resist.

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