The Palestinian Elephant

Better security and paralysis on peace made Israelis lose interest in the Palestinians. It is a mistake to deny the demographic challenge.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The English expression is "elephant in the room." It refers to that huge obvious thing which, in spite of its size, nobody dares talk about or call by its name.

In the era of slavery, black slaves were the elephant in the room. In the Victorian period it was sex. In the socialist world the elephant in the room was the human urge for competition. In early Zionism it was the Arabs. Almost every chapter in history and every place had an elephant in the room, which nobody mentioned although it filled the space with its threatening presence.

In Israel today the elephant in the room is the Palestinian issue. Israelis no longer talk of peace with the Palestinians, not even of withdrawing from Palestinian territories. They don't talk of the Palestinian West Bank and the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the occupation, nor of Palestinian demography, the Palestinian diaspora and the Palestinian people.

Even the Palestinian minority in Israel is hardly ever mentioned. The Palestinians were here and are gone. Some 20 years ago they broke through the cognitive block - which Amos Oz was first to define - but now they have once again disappeared behind that barrier. The present absentees who became present turned absentees again. Nobody talks about them, nobody thinks about them, nobody gives a damn about them. A massive mental separation wall divides Jewish Israel from its neighbors, whose existence Israel has cleverly concealed from its consciousness.

Hiding the Palestinian elephant from sight is first and foremost the outcome of success. The first intifada evaporated, the second was defeated, Hamastan was inhibited and the diplomatic tsunami was thwarted. The Palestinians failed to force us to acknowledge their existence with their attacks on our walls.

Hiding it is also the outcome of failure. The Oslo agreement collapsed, Camp David failed, the disengagement was found to be a false hope and Annapolis produced no fruit. The Palestinians failed to persuade us they were real partners for peace, or for dividing the land, or for a two-state solution.

The (security) success vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the (peace process) failure made us lose interest in the Palestinians. We got tired of being afraid of them, tired of feeling sorry for them and tired of remembering they were always there.

After the Palestinian national movement was discovered to be dysfunctional (both in war and in peace), Israelis decided it wasn't worth wasting time on it. So the pragmatic Israeli majority turned its back on security and peace process issues and embraced an economic social agenda. The practical Israeli majority became indifferent to the Palestinians and started venting its rage on the ultra-Orthodox.

But here's the thing: The elephant is one of the most dangerous animals in the world. It's especially dangerous when you don't notice its existence, enter its space and provoke its anger. An elephant that isn't seen in time and is provoked inadvertently can destroy those who were blind to its presence. All the more so regarding the Palestinian elephant. Time and again we've ignored it and were burned. We deluded ourselves into thinking it wasn't really here, and we were beaten. The twin nation we share the same land with cannot be swept under the carpet. Disillusionment will come and the pendulum will once again swing to the peace process.

Reality will prove to us we cannot deny the demographic challenge, strategic threat and moral problem embodied in the Palestinian issue for long. But when we reopen our eyes and see the huge elephant standing in the center of our life, we will have to find a new way to deal with it. It will no longer be possible to try to hunt the Palestinians down with a shotgun, as we tried to do in the distant past. Nor will we be able to achieve real peace with them, as we had hoped in the near past.

But we will have to observe them, see them, talk to them and reach an agreement with them. We will need to find a new way to divide the land between us and those people we don't see.

Palestinians attend a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah supporting the resolution that would change the Palestinian Authority's U.N. observer status from "entity" to "non-member state," Today.Credit: Reuters

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