What Diplomatic Freeze? Things Are Boiling in Israel and Palestine

There hasn’t been a single day when things have been frozen here, diplomatically or otherwise, for at least 20 years. And there won’t be – not while the occupation continues.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Israeli soldiers stand guard in front of Palestinian stone throwers during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, October 5, 2015.
Israeli soldiers stand guard in front of Palestinian stone throwers during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, October 5, 2015.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The day I sat down to write this piece, about a month ago, a headline in Haaretz announced that Israel planned to grant de facto authorization to several more outposts, including hundreds of illegal homes of Jewish settlers, in the West Bank. The very same day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the Palestinians were no longer committed to the agreements that were signed with Israel. In Jerusalem, the disturbances on the Temple Mount continued, and at the Beit Furik checkpoint in the West Bank, soldiers killed another young Palestinian. Soon after, another wave of violence swept through the country: Many Israelis and Palestinians have already been killed and wounded, and the lingering question is whether this is the start of the third intifada.

This is what routine days look like during the “diplomatic freeze.” Actually, there hasn’t been a single day when things have been frozen here, diplomatically or otherwise, for at least 20 years. And there won’t ever be a single day like that – not while the occupation continues, not as long as there is no solution and the terrible injustice endures.

There was no freeze here because Israel did not rest on its laurels for a moment. There hasn’t been a single day in its history when it hasn’t tried to establish irreversible facts. There hasn’t been a single day in its history when it has genuinely intended to put an end to the occupation.

There hasn’t been a single day in its history in which it considered undoing the settlement project – the main stumbling block in the way of establishing some degree of justice. There were a few days in which it did agree to freeze construction in the territories, but even then it was clear that this was just a brief time-out that would be followed by another unbridled wave of construction, to make up for the feigned period of restraint.

Israel hasn’t had a single prime minister who truly intended to reach a just accord. There have been some who wished to reach interim accords, meant just to gain time to further solidify the occupation; others tried to prove that the Palestinians aren’t interested; some wanted to appease a world that is awakening against Israel; others thought of withdrawing from one piece of land in order to extend the occupation elsewhere.

But there has not been one prime minister who saw the Palestinians as equal to the Jews. Not one who understood that without justice there can be no accord, and that justice cannot be established while the people of one nation enjoy any special privilege over the people of the other nation in this bloody land, the land of two peoples.

There was no freeze here, not for a moment, because the Palestinians never gave up their right to this land, which is their land at least as much as it is the Jews’ land. They did not give up on the right to self-definition or the right of return – all inalienable rights.

There was no freeze because the Palestinians refused to give up on their right to resist the occupation, a right anchored not only in the principles of natural justice, but in international law. Very few nations in human history have given up their rights; even fewer have surrendered unconditionally without resistance, which includes violent resistance – including, of course, the Jewish people.

The term “diplomatic freeze” is taken to mean that the politicians and diplomats from both sides are not talking or discussing anything; that all the mediators have stopped mediating. But when there have been summits, open meetings and secret meetings, breakthroughs and even agreements – the real freeze still remained: The occupation remained intact, only growing stronger between one set of negotiations and the next. For that is the nature of injustice: Until it is fully uprooted, it keeps spreading and worsening. And no one ever intended to uproot it.

The Oslo Accords only doubled, tripled and quadrupled the number of settlers in the occupied territories. The 2005 Gaza disengagement only strengthened the vile enterprise in the West Bank. Every deceptive “breakthrough” was always accompanied by an outburst of construction in the territories – which is the only true indicator of Israel’s intentions, the litmus test of the occupation: Israel is building one more balcony in the territories? It has no intention of ever leaving there. Is Israel prepared to halt all construction in the territories, everywhere, once and for all, without conditions? It means to perpetuate its presence there. It’s so simple, so basic.

And that’s how 48 years of a supposed freeze passed, in which everything only seethed and deteriorated. And sadly, we may be facing another 48 years of the same. The reality, meanwhile, kept changing before our unfazed eyes at an alarming rate.

What was attainable yesterday is no longer attainable today, and what is attainable today won’t be possible tomorrow. From the “village associations” to the Islamic State, from the Palestine Liberation Organization to Hamas, from Levi Eshkol to Benjamin Netanyahu, from “territorial compromise” to “functional compromise,” from the “Jordanian option” to “economic peace,” from the Rogers Plan to the Saudi initiative, from autonomy to the two-state solution, and from two states to one state – all different names for a changing reality. But the sole constant has been the endurance of the injustice, the violence, the crimes, the hatred, the terror and the lack of any true intention to put an end to all this.

Over these years, Israel has become much more nationalist, right-wing, religious and racist, as have the Palestinians (though to a lesser degree). The world has lost interest. The occupation of Gaza was replaced by the equally cruel blockade, while the occupation of the West Bank has also changed its appearance, but always remained an occupation, sometimes milder, sometimes as brutal as can be, but always an occupation.

The same goes for the resistance: from the stone-throwing intifada to the suicide-bombing intifada; from the less turbulent interim periods of licking wounds to the times of limitless violence – the resistance always endures. And just as with the force of nature, there is no stopping it.

It’s been more than 20 years now since the sweet illusion of Oslo, and 20 years since the entrenchment of the false perception that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin “killed peace” – and the situation, friends, is beyond despair.

The Rabin murder, exactly 20 years ago, did not “kill” any peace – no one in Israel genuinely meant to achieve it at the minimum price set for it. But it did kill hope. The two-state solution train left the station long ago, never to return. Nearly 700,000 settlers have had their say, and won. Nearly eight million Israelis averted their gaze and sank into apathy, and lost. No new hope is warming up on the sidelines. There is no politician in sight who could breathe new life into it. The resuscitation attempts all failed and it was declared dead.

The years of a “freeze” have left their scars, which likely cannot be healed. New generations of Israelis and Palestinians have grown up on either side of the conflict, having never met one another, and being increasingly brainwashed with fear and hatred. But perhaps something new will nonetheless emerge from out of this disheartening “freeze.” It isn’t yet visible, but the end of apartheid in South Africa and the fall of the Berlin Wall weren’t apparent on the horizon, either. This new thing, should it arise, will have to use a new and revolutionary language of a kind that has never been tried here before. From now on, it’s either the language of (total) equality and (relative) justice – or else more and more of the same, only many times worse. There is no other option, and never will be.

The writer is a senior journalist for Haaretz.



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