The Israel-Palestine conflict is a difficult one for me and for most liberals. We want to support Israel because of, well, the Holocaust. But the country is currently behaving rather badly. And the Palestinians are clearly an oppressed people, but the terrorists acts are hard to support. But in general, I tend to side with the Palestinians because they are currently the weak party. What’s more, as Juan Cole has noted, not only were the Israelis active terrorists before they got to their current powerful position, “One of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence.”
One person I depend upon to shine a light on the conflict is Eric Alterman. He is certainly not anti-Israel, but he’s more than willing to look seriously at what’s going on. And in this regard, last week at The Nation, he wrote, Israel Celebrates a Return to the Status Quo in the Middle East. The perspective of the article is summed up in its subtitle, “Many Israelis, Netanyahu included, were never serious about seeking a two-state solution in the peace negotiations.” It’s very depressing.
Basically, he argues that the status quo is in the best short-term interests of Israel. No one in power is really interested in making any kind of a deal, so it is very easy to sabotage. And that’s exactly what Housing Minister Uri Ariel did when he approved over 700 new homes in the illegal Gilo settlement. All the talk of a two-state solution is just lip service. It is in the service of keeping American and European allies supporting the government.
I wonder how good a long-term strategy this is, however. Just in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a shift in American opinion about Israel. It isn’t that people have stopped supporting the country. But there is push back against what has become a kind of standard conservative belief that whatever is good for Israel is good for America. People are questioning that. And going along with it is the idea that Israel is a real pain. They are like the crazy brother who you try to keep out of trouble. And if I were Netanyahu, I would be worried about this growing realization.
It just isn’t much of a step from accepting that Israel isn’t good by definition to realizing that their treatment of the Palestinians really is quite awful. I don’t think that Israel is any worse in its position than any other government would be. Governments tend to push whatever power they have. And if it were a thousand years ago, this conflict would have ended long ago with a genocide. You can read all about it in the Old Testament. But what’s going on is the same kind of thing, just done at a very slow pace so as not to upset Israel’s allies. It isn’t a genocide, though; rather it is just a way to slowly displace the Palestinians from their land, one settlement (One house!) at a time.
Ultimately, Israel needs the goodwill of the rest of the world—most especially of the United States. I think they should bear that in mind, because their long-term security depends upon it. Giving in a bit to the Palestinians now might be a great deal ten or twenty years from now.