Opinion |

Yes, Israelis, We Must Air Our Dirty Laundry in Public

A government that can't or won't move a few shacks out of an illegal West Bank outpost will not reach an agreement with the Palestinians unless powerful pressure is placed on it, including harsh sanctions.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad addressing the UN Security Council, October 14, 2016.
B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad addressing the UN Security Council, October 14, 2016. Credit: Chelsea Berlin
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now are worthy of as much support as possible for their courageous appearances before the United Nations Security Council last week. The one who forced the civil society groups to turn to international public opinion and international institutions is the government of Israel itself, a stubborn and extreme objector to peace. Only the government, and the forces it represents, are interested in keeping the dirty laundry hidden from outside eyes. As far as they’re concerned, the occupation and the settlements must remain an internal matter protected by a fake cloak of patriotism, because that is the only way to perpetuate them.

That is why the only way to prevent the right from succeeding in its plot is to turn to the world and involve international bodies. This does not in any way harm democracy, or bypass the decision of the majority: The Jewish majority is not entitled to crudely violate the human rights of Palestinians and deny them the right of self determination. The majority does not have the moral right or legal right to do everything it wants. When the majority abuses the fundamental principles of human rights and openly promotes colonialism, it loses its legitimacy.

The right knows all this, so it is holding on tightly to history. But history is not a junkyard, where you pull out what you want, when you want. The claim that we were here before the Islamic conquest teaches that the national rights of the Palestinians are insignificant compared to the Jews’ eternal rights of ownership over the entire land. This is ridiculous in Tel Aviv, not just in New York and Paris.

The majority can also decide, for example, that the basis of Zionism’s legitimacy is not the right to self-determination for the Jews, which is a universal right and so it applies to the Palestinians too, but the fact that Judaism preceded both Christianity and Islam. This does not mean that the recent UNESCO resolution is wiser, or more justified than our claims: It is primitive to the same extent.

The claim that the obstacle to peace is the Arabs’ refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state carries the same weight. All the other minor problems, as everyone knows, have already been solved: settlements, annexation, borders, military presence in the Jordan Valley, and the future of the Jews stuck deep in Palestinian territory. All these do not represent any problem – only the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people stands between us and the end of the conflict.

Whoever expresses these words of folly is not just belittling the intelligence of his listeners, he is ridiculing them to their faces – and then he is insulted when they turn their backs on him and go to the UN.

The same is true of those applying the label “ethnic cleansing” to the Palestinian demand that the settlers be moved out of the territories in the framework of a peace agreement. It is possible, of course, to propose solving the problem by granting Palestinian citizenship to the residents of Beit El and Ariel, just as the residents of Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth are Israeli citizens. Whoever thinks this is a serious solution, let him stand up.

The bottom line is that a government that does not want, or is not able – and for practical purposes there is no difference at all between the two – to move a few shacks in Amona will not reach an agreement with the Palestinians unless powerful pressure is placed on it, including harsh sanctions. We are speaking of a matter of life and death, because without the evacuation of the territories it is doubtful whether we have a future here. Thus, turning to the UN Security Council, a body that holds real enforcement authority in its hands, is not just legitimate, but is an exemplary act of patriotism.

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