From Peace to Separation
Shaul Arieli Expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
“We are not seeking a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but a fair divorce – And this is what the TwoStates solution is about”
Amos Oz on J-Street Convention in 2012
Amos Oz speaks on the opening night of J Street 2012: Making History [Conference]
The Israeli Peace Camp was never homogeneous; rather, it was an ecosystem of countless organizations and initiatives that focused on different issues and forms of action, bound by their shared ambition to promote a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians including the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. With the Peace Camp’s retreat from politics back to the realm of civil society, the controversies and divisions between the various actors resurfaced, making it difficult for them to speak in a united voice and collaborate effectively. In his essay “Give Separation A Chance,” Dr. Shaul Arieli describes how the dissolution of the peace paradigm of the 1990s led to the disintegration of the peace camp into groups that pull in different, and at times, contradictory directions. According to Arieli, there is, however, one thread uniting most of the different actors, namely a shift in their objective from promoting peace to advocating for physical separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank. Arieli writes:
“Mutual distrust, the stalled negotiations, Europe’s weakness in the face of a growing right wing, civil wars in the Arab world and Trump’s leadership have combined to drive an ideological shift in the Israeli “peace camp”: from seeking a peace agreement, to bilateral or unilateral separation from the Palestinians in the West Bank”
Thus, despite the ostensible continuity in the declared objectives of the civil society organizations that have worked to advocate for the two-states solution over the past decades, a profound shift has occurred. While in the 1990s the promotion of the two-state solution was framed as part of a utopian, or at least positive vision that included transforming a negative situation of ongoing violent conflict into a positive situation of peace, today, the main messages are mainly negative in nature and draw on the necessity of preventing a dystopian scenario, e.g. potential escalation of the conflict, the undermining of Israeli democracy, losing the Jewish majority in the country as a result of annexing territories, or international pressure (in the pre-Trump era). Psychologically, the difference between the two framings is huge, if to follow Amos Oz’s metaphor, comparable to the difference between reaching into ones pockets when getting married versus spending money on a divorce lawyer. It is understandably less complex to rally support for the former than for the latter.
While in the 1990s the promotion of the two-state solution was framed as part of a Utopian vision, today, the key messages are negative and draw on the necessity of preventing a dystopian scenario
In his essay “Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?” Meron Rapoport argues that the promotion of the alarmist discourse in which the Palestinians are often depicted as a “monolithic threat” that needs to be put
behind a fence, has only served to further undermine the Israeli left and to consolidate the right-wing narrative. Rapoport writes:
“A fundamental tenet of the separation philosophy is that Israel cannot trust the Palestinians and must rely on itself. Therefore, the argument goes, Israel must strive to separate from the Palestinians as soon as possible, before they become a majority. […] Peddling this urgency has reinforced the belief among JewishIsraelis that, as the Palestinians cannot be trusted, there is no partner for an agreement. If indeed there is no partner for an agreement, maintaining the status quo appears to be the best alternative“
The negative discourse that portrays the Palestinians as a threat that must be disposed of not only harmed the cause of the two-state advocates, according to Rapoport, but also fueled the right-wing demonization campaign against the Palestinian population within Israel. The Zionist left’s doomsday scenario, according to Rapoport, in which equal rights might be granted to Palestinians who are branded as the ultimate “other” plays to the hands of the right and their intimidation-based discourse, while also dividing the Israeli centerleft camp around the question of the very legitimacy of cooperating with the Arab Joint List (and effectively impeding the option of forming a center-left government).
Controversial ‘Divorce the Palestinians’ Israeli Media Campaign Explained
The subsiding of the public debate around the conflict over the past decade has made room for the issue of Jewish-Arab relations within Israel to emerge as the new dividing line between left and right. This issue figured prominently in the series of election campaigns held during the past year. The rise of the Joint Arab List as a prominent political actor has transformed the Israeli Palestinians into a significant player in the parliamentary arena whereby it is practically impossible to establish an alternative government to that of Netanyahu without it. The right-wing slogan: “Bibi or Tibi” (referring to Arab-Muslim MK Ahmad Tibi) aimed precisely at the “Achilles’ heel” of the center parties, which were inundated with challenges from the press questioning the authenticity and viability of their pledge to pose an alternative to Netanyahu without collaborating with the Joint Arab List.
The leadership of the Israeli-Palestinian public is currently at a crossroads between investing in Jewish-Arab partnership, or the independent promotion of sectoral interests
The reluctance to support a partnership between the Arab parties and the Zionist center-left parties is, however, not only the legacy of the latter. As Ravit Hecht points out in her essay, many Palestinian Israelis who now choose to define themselves through their Palestinian identity, prefer right-wing rule in Israel over the Zionist left, which they believe wronged their ancestors more severely than the Israeli right.
In his essay “(Im)possible Alliance,” the poet Marzouk Alhalabi reviews the key developments in the relationship between the Zionist left and the Palestinian public in Israel and concludes that the latter, which was subjected to intensive de-legitimization in the two decades since the events of October 2000 will not be waiting for the Zionist left parties’ stamp of approval, especially given their waning influence in Israeli politics. According to Alhalabi, the leadership of the Israeli-Palestinian public is currently at a crossroads between investing in Jewish-Arab partnership, or the independent promotion of sectoral interests, after the fashion of other parties in the Israeli parliament, while renouncing their automatic affiliation with the Zionist left.