Israelis' False Unity Is Enabling the Settlers to Achieve All Their Goals

I have no illusions that genuine peace between us and the Palestinians could be made if only the sides would show ‘a little’ flexibility in their positions. Sadly, real peace requires real catastrophe.

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Israeli soldiers stand alongside settlers from the Maon Farm outpost in the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers stand alongside settlers from the Maon Farm outpost in the West Bank. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

I agree with the right. I, too, hear about the Israel Conference on Peace and picture an event in which a group that fancies itself the best of Israeli society assembles in a plush Tel Aviv hotel and listens empathetically to a token Palestinian speaker and cheers some retired foreign leader who recycles a bunch of old advice. If I were a rightist, I wouldn’t even bother protesting against it. I’d just sit back and enjoy the show of uselessness.

I agree with the right. I, too, chuckle when I hear David Grossman “clinging to the hope that despair is not a path,” or Shimon Peres preaching that “the Book of Books commands us to follow the path of peace,” or Tzipi Livni intoning that “there is no other way.” Despair is a standard human way of responding to a dire situation. As for the Bible, it also contains commands about decidedly less friendly paths. And clearly there is another way other than the path of peace. How about the path that Israel chose of its own freewill: inch after inch, hilltop after hilltop, and then the other side, and for dessert probably a service on the Temple Mount?

I agree with the right. I’m not so sure the occupation is an economic burden. Not if you take into account the profits that derive from this colonialist enterprise. We seized control of land in the middle of the country – a resource “more precious than gas” in a state this size. The Arab cantons in the territories are the backyard to which the exploited day laborers who are making our country bloom return. How lovely that these workers have no decent social rights, that their wages are meager and their children don’t mix with our children. Add to that the profit from the captive Palestinian market and the conclusion is clear: The occupation is not a bad business deal at all.

I agree with the right. It faces no real opposition. If I were a settler, I would vote for Likud and Labor alternately. It’s enough for Likud only to be in power some of the time, since Labor can also be counted upon to expand settlements and expropriate land (just for security purposes, of course). Besides, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni are so good at fooling the world into thinking Israel has a more sympathetic face than that reflected by the political portraits of Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman.

I agree with the right. I have no illusions that genuine peace between us and the Palestinians could be made if only the sides would show “a little” flexibility in their positions. Deep-seated conflicts, like the one between the Jews and the Palestinians, don’t tend to be resolved by negotiations just because, suddenly, one fine day, the parties get fed up of being angry at each other.

Israel is happy and quite wealthy, with most of the public accepting the status quo (which contains some seasonal quarrels) as the realization of both the Zionist and middle-class dream. Real peace requires real catastrophe – the kind that led France and Germany to establish the European Union.

I agree with the right that the wheels of history are propelled by force. Not necessarily physical force. There are other forces – economic, social, moral. Force is effective if the strong achieves total control over the weak. Force is also effective when one side, even if it’s the weaker one, is prepared to sacrifice something to achieve its goals while the other side, even if it is right, is not prepared to take risks and suffer losses.

But I don’t agree with the right about the most important thing: I completely deny that it is our right to continue the occupation. I was brought up in a neighborhood that produced many right-wingers. When I was 18 I voted for a party to the right of Habayit Hayehudi. But I have become sober and view the settlement enterprise as nothing less than despicable. I am still a patriotic person, and as such I feel that the occupiers and settlers are chasing me out of my homeland and ancestral home.

Where the right goes wrong

The anti-settlement and anti-occupation camp isn’t really fighting. Conferences, op-eds and sad songs are just a salve for the conscience, fostering an illusion of action in a time of futility. If the movie “The Gatekeepers” didn’t crack the right, no public diplomacy move will help. The camp is devoid of energy and unwilling to sacrifice any of its comforts in order to achieve its goals.

In the 1970s, we still had a certain amount of influence because we filled a prominent number of combat positions in the army, which made something like the “officers’ letters” possible. That power is faded now, too. All that’s left is a bunch of whiners, myself included.

As the right says, you can’t be politically effective without leveraging some kind of force. If that’s true as far as Israel-Palestine goes, it’s also true for the left-right divide. I can think of only one relevant source of leverage that could be used against the extreme nationalists: casting doubt on the unity of the Jewish people.

The flagship issues for the religious-Zionist camp are unity of the people and unity of the land. They are getting all of the land via the settlements and the occupation. And they’re getting all of the people for free because most of us are addicted to the mantras of unity and refrain from speaking the truth: almost a half-century of occupation and settlement is separating us, the “faithful of the Jewish people,” from them, the “faithful of the Land of Israel.”

Our lot is not with them. There is no place for false groveling or shows of reconciliation. This false unity is enabling the settlers to achieve all their goals. Instead of searching for common ground, we should be declaring our glaring differences. The Israeli right also only understands credible threats. The religious-Zionist public will be compelled to reexamine its positions if it is made to understand that spiritual redemption is not around the corner, and that fealty to the unity of the land is going to shatter the unity of the people.

And if this last force is of no help, all that will be left to do (for me, at least) is stay here, observe with horror the oppression of the Palestinians, watch as a society whose values I don’t respect takes shape and await – with trepidation – the catastrophe, after which everything will, probably, be different.

The writer is a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University and winner of the Israel Prize in economics in 2002.