Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hollow Visions of Palestine's Future

Peace will need more than David Grossman – or Uri Avnery

by Jonathan Cook
(I encourage reading the entire article)

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

There are not too many available:

* 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.

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.

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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