Monday, April 25, 2011
The reference, of course, is to the impending decision of the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine in the 1967 borders. But "September" also means puzzle pieces fitting together, at least for Israelis who constitute the "center": people who are not so deeply committed to Greater Israel that the very word diplomacy feels like a threat, or an invitation to a propaganda effort, or both; people who are not cloistered in settlements or Yeshivot or Jerusalem Gemütlichkeit; people for whom elections still feel like decision points; people who ask the questions and give the answers on Israeli radio; people who can be the difference between a 65 seat majority for the parties of Greater Israel or a 65 seat majority for the parties of Global Israel.
1. For two generations, the people of the center--now, provisionally, Kadima voters, but intermittently Likud voters on the right, and Labor on the left--have talked about the importance of getting to a peace with the Palestinians, but what they've really wanted, or thought post-1967 realities demanded, was something like the status quo, in which the West Bank could double as "Judea and Samaria." Now there is a deadline for a decision. Will Israel be a part of the world community or not? Inaction invites violence and insurrection, as in the rest of the Middle East.
2. The Palestinian middle class--so centrists supposed--had mostly gone to Jordan, and Israeli business and banking would dominate in the territories. Now it is clear that the Palestinian middle class is not only not leaving, it is organizing a mini-state in Ramallah, which is far more attractive to Palestinians--so you find in poll after poll--than the failed Hamas minier-state in Gaza. The Palestinian middle class is the only real bulwark against Hamas in Palestine, as it is the bulwark against Islamist violence in Jordan, for that matter. No interim agreement now makes sense, since Palestine's private sector cannot take off without East Jerusalem and Area C.
3. The occupation, in this context, is not just a vague way for Zionism to thrive, but a clear barrier to Palestine growing in healthy ways. The World Bank reports: "Ultimately, sustainable economic growth...will not rebound significantly while Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets remain in place, and as long as investors are deterred by the increased cost of business associated with the closure regime."
4. Settlers, then, are not culture heroes--people with "values," admirably activist--but a potentially dangerous bunch to be managed, compensated. Increasingly, they appear as historical mistakes, if not international outlaws. True, young Israelis generally express angry, even racist views. (They are young.) But they are not going to settlements.
5. The UN matters, because countries other than the US matter. Israel is economically tied especially to Europe. Become the spoiled brat of the Western world--make EU companies unwilling to work with you--and your economy will implode. For those who read Hebrew, don't miss Dov Frohman's interview in Calcalist; the hero of Start-up Nation tells us we are heading for a catastrophic crisis without peace and new social investment (and, by implication, what he thinks of the book's authors).
6. Even if the "Goldstone Report" is under a cloud, another action in Gaza like "Cast Lead" is out of the question. The Arab world is no longer bolted down by dictators; and Israel will simply not be permitted to go after Hamas "infrastructure" when this means bombing civilians, with Al-Jazeera and CNN there to report every cell phone video.
7. Palestinians will not be forced to endorse a "Jewish state" pretty much like the one Israel has become. The fate of Israeli Arabs are the elephant in the room. Palestinians will, however, be forced to come to grips with international standards for human rights in their own state; and this will have implications for how Israelis refine their own democracy, opportunities for federal relations, tolerance for the Haredi dole, and so forth.
8. Obama is himself entertaining a plan, and the American foreign policy elite is behind him. The time for bilateral negotiations, which meant Israelis talking to one another about what "painful concessions" they will or won't make, is over. Palestine has the world at its back, even without the House Majority Leader.
9. Finally, Labor, much of Kadima, Haaretz, and much of the mainstream press, are no longer purveyors of "consensus." Political divisions are increasingly taken for granted. The left is reviving. Which brings us full circle to the first point, that Israel must finally decide what it is, even at the cost of social solidarity.
I wrote some time ago that the only hope for this country is that centrist leaders will be able point to outside pressures and make these seem more frightening than domestic insurgencies. Read this interview with Kadima's Tzipi Livni, or this plan advanced by (among others) Amran Mitzna, the current favorite to replace Ehud Barak as Labor leader, and ask yourself if that time has not come. The days grow short when you reach September.
Posted by Bernard Avishai at 4:34 AM