Who Lost? The People of Israel

The "settlements" and the "consensus for two nation states" continue to feed the public discourse, but their relevance has become nostalgic and anachronistic.

Meron Benvenisti
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Meron Benvenisti

The debate over who won, Peace Now or Gush Emunim, is taking place as if it were a soccer game, and most people agree that at this stage it's a tie - 1:1. Peace Now won and managed to impose an agenda that represents "near consensus" - support for splitting the territory into two nation states. Gush Emunim won the campaign on establishing settlements, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The focus of the dispute is the significance of this tie on the future, with the assumption being that the "settlements" and "two nation states" are indeed the fateful issues that will shape Israel's future, and that the ideological confrontation between these diametrically opposed worldviews remains relevant in spite of the fact that more than a generation has passed since it was shaped, in the late '70s. Both camps are interested in sharpening the issues in dispute in order to stress the importance of their activities, but it is also possible to distinguish, behind the rhetoric, a common denominator, which transforms this ideological flurry into an internal debate, a restricted one, a Jewish-Zionist one.

Both sides agree on the sanctity of the mythos of "settlement" and elevate the home, the outpost, the planted tree, to a supreme value. Except that one of the camps aspires to extend the sanctity of the Zionist settlement to the settlements and outposts in the entire Land of Israel, while the other camp wishes to apply this moral and political significance only to the communities it has set up, or which conform to its geopolitical worldview. Recognizing that there is no disagreement on the symbolism of the Zionist "settlement," only on its contradictory usage - the symbolism of construction versus the symbolism of destruction - Peace Now created a new ideology: the "legality" of the settlement. Thus it rallied to its withering ranks the Supreme Court justices.

The need of both camps to pledge allegiance to Zionism makes them unable to comprehend how this ethos has become an anachronism, since the entire "settlement enterprise" has become a commercial real estate project, which conscripts Zionist rhetoric for profit - the greed of the Gush Katif evacuees is proof of this. Because both movements have enjoyed publicity in connection to the settlements, they have no interest in recognizing the fact that the significance of building in the territories for the purpose of establishing political facts on the ground has dissipated, and that now the number of settlements and their residents are an irrelevant issue, because Israel's mechanisms of control have become so sophisticated that in most parts of the West Bank there is no difference between sovereign Israel and occupied territory.

Of course it is convenient to carry on with the traditional form of protest: There is nothing easier than reiterating routine slogans. And as far as old, routine slogans are concerned, none is more deceptive that "dividing the land into two nation states," which has pretensions of offering an equal solution to the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, this was the ambition in the late 1970s, when it was still possible to divide the land in a way that would allow the existance of two viable states. But today, when all that's left between the separation fence and the roadblocks are lands that are cut off from one another, inaccessible to the outside world, without any ability to develop physical infrastructure and entirely dependent on donations from abroad - under such circumstances the slogan of the Palestinian nation-state is not only an insult; it is hypocritical and patronizing.

The "settlements" and the "consensus for two nation states" continue to feed the public discourse, but their relevance has become nostalgic and anachronistic. The debate between Peace Now and Gush Emunim ended in a draw, but there is no doubt who has lost: the people of Israel.