In the mid 19th century, a new literary genre began cropping up in the American South. Fed up with elitist Northerners and their attacks on the Southern way of life, pro-slavery authors began publishing "plantation literature" to highlight the purported benefits of slavery — for slaves and slave-masters alike. These novels, meant to counter books such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's wildly popular “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” tended to feature a good intentioned white patriarch and his benevolent wife presiding over infantilized slaves who labor on the family's plantation.
- Does Abbas really want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank?
- Netanyahu fears Palestinian Authority collapse that he helped induce
- Israel's 'occupation' keeps Palestinian society afloat
The underlying theme of the books is hard to miss: African Americans not only benefitted from slavery, they simply could not function without living under the boot of their white overlords.
The notion that oppressed groups are the beneficiaries of their oppressors is a common theme in colonial societies. In fact, it's one of the many ways ruling groups justify their seemingly never-ending control over the colonized. This is as much for us as it is for them, goes the thinking.
Gadi Taub's latest article in Haaretz, "Does Abbas Really Want Israel to Withdraw From the West Bank?" highlights just how engrained that plantation mentality is in Israel, even among its liberal intelligentsia, and despite the vast differences between antebellum South and Israel. The author describes a friendly conversation he had with a Palestinian journalist who asks what makes Israelis think Palestinians will let the Israelis leave the territories. Who, asks the journalist, will protect them once the occupation ends?
Taub then proceeds to list a number of reasons why ending five decades of military dictatorship in the occupied territories may be undesirable, not for Israelis, but for Palestinians themselves: the undying belief in the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their historic homeland; severe human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority and its various security branches; the very real possibility of a Hamas takeover; a final-status agreement that leaves the PA looking weak and granting Israel the international legitimacy it so craves; and a potential collapse of the Palestinian state, with extremist groups such as Islamic State filling the void.
"Given all this," Taub asks, "why should Abbas exchange victimhood for an uncertain future that is liable to have an even higher toll of victims?"
Let us be very clear about one thing: For all its corruption and brutality, the Palestinian Authority holds very little power in comparison to Israel. The PA was founded for the stated purpose of laying the foundation for future Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Over the years, however, it became a subcontractor for Israel's occupation in the West Bank, working in tandem with Israeli security services to prevent terror attacks against Israelis. As long as the Palestinians held up their end of the bargain and prevented violence, so went the thinking, they would eventually be granted their own state.
Years of close security coordination between Israel and the PA, however, haven't brought the Palestinians any closer to independence. Prime Minister Netanyahu uses Abbas as his own personal punching bag for shoring up support among the Israeli public, while Abbas ensures his rule by clamping down on both violence and dissent. Thus Abbas’ regime is the only surefire way to maintain the occupation, at least in the short term. The system in place dictates that relative stability for Palestinians is actually dependent on their living under continued military rule. It is, therefore, no wonder that the end of the occupation greatly worries the elites, whether they are in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Ramallah.
Considering this, one can understand why a "thought experiment" on the demise of the PA comes off as benign; after all, these are tough questions that Palestinians should be grappling with. Instead, we end up with Israelis projecting their fears — legitimate as they may be — onto Palestinians, couching them in a veneer of paternalism that views the occupied as incapable of managing their own affairs. Checkpoints, land confiscations, settlements and air strikes are brutal, yes, but they are the only bulwark against a real catastrophe for the Palestinians. This is how Israelis end up lending credence to a fundamentally illiberal project, all while perceiving themselves as defenders of Palestinian lives.
Taub concludes by assuming that Abbas has already come to the conclusion that endless occupation is preferable to the unknown. “If so, perhaps we should start thinking of how to try and end the occupation without his help,” he writes.
But this is precisely the kind of thinking that has guided the Israeli peace camp for the past 15 years. From Ehud Barak’s belief that Israel had “no partner for peace,” to Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, through Isaac Herzog’s current separation plan, the peace camp has consistently viewed the Palestinians as being unworthy of even having a seat at the table.
In the end, Palestinians are viewed either as barbarians can only be saved by more Israeli military control, or as unworthy of being partners in building a future together. However, just as plantation literature did not represent the reality of the American South in the 19th century, today’s peace camp does not represent the reality on the ground in Israel/Palestine, but rather the moral corruption of the occupier.
Edo Konrad is the deputy editor of +972 Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @edokonrad.