Israel does not want peace. There is nothing I have ever written that I would be happier to be proved wrong about. But the evidence is piling up. In fact, it can be said that Israel has never wanted peace – a just peace, that is, one based on a just compromise for both sides. It’s true that the routine greeting in Hebrew is Shalom (peace) – shalom when one leaves and shalom when one arrives. And, at the drop of a hat, almost every Israeli will say he wants peace, of course he does. But he’s not referring to the kind of peace that will bring about the justice without which there is no peace and there will be no peace. Israelis want peace, not justice, certainly not anything based on universal values. Thus, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Not only is there no peace: In recent years, Israel has moved away from even the aspiration to make peace. It has despaired utterly of it. Peace has disappeared from the Israeli agenda, its place taken by the collective anxieties that are systematically implanted, and by personal, private matters that now take precedence over all else.
The Israeli longing for peace seemingly died about a decade ago, after the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, the dissemination of the lie that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, and, of course, the horrific blood-soaked period of the second intifada. But the truth is that even before that, Israel never really wanted peace. Israel has never, not for a minute, treated the Palestinians as human beings with equal rights. It has never viewed their distress as understandable human and national distress.
The Israeli peace camp, too – if ever there was such a thing – also died a lingering death amid the harrowing scenes of the second intifada and the no-partner lie. All that remained were a handful of organizations that were as determined and devoted as they were ineffectual in the face of the delegitimization campaigns mounted against them. Israel, therefore, was left with its rejectionist stance.
The single most overwhelming item of evidence of Israel’s rejection of peace is, of course, the settlements project. From the dawn of its existence, there has never been a more reliable or more precise litmus test for Israel’s true intentions than this particular enterprise. In plain words: The builders of settlements want to consolidate the occupation, and those who want to consolidate the occupation do not want peace. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.
On the assumption that Israel’s decisions are rational, it is impossible to accept construction in the territories and the aspiration to peace as mutually coexisting. Every act of building in the settlements, every mobile home and every balcony, conveys rejection. If Israel had wanted to achieve peace through the Oslo Accords, it would at least have stopped the construction in the settlements at its own initiative. That this did not happen proves that Oslo was fraudulent, or at best the chronicle of a failure foretold. If Israel had wanted to achieve peace at Taba, at Camp David, at Sharm el-Sheikh, in Washington or in Jerusalem, its first move should have been to end all construction in the territories. Unconditionally. Without a quid pro quo. The fact that Israel did not is proof that it did not want a just peace.
But the settlements were only a touchstone of Israel’s intentions. Its rejectionism is embedded far more deeply – in its DNA, its bloodstream, its raison d’être, its most primal beliefs. There, at the deepest level, lies the concept that this land is destined for the Jews alone. There, at the deepest level, is entrenched the value of “am sgula” – God’s “treasured people” – and “God chose us.” In practice, this is translated to mean that, in this land, Jews are allowed to do what is forbidden to others. That is the point of departure, and there is no way to get from there to a just peace. There is no way to reach a just peace when the name of the game is the dehumanization of the Palestinians. No way to achieve peace when the demonization of the Palestinians is hammered into people’s heads day after day. Those who are convinced that every Palestinian is a suspicious person and that every Palestinian wants “to throw the Jews into the sea” will never make peace with the Palestinians. Most Israelis are convinced of the truth of both those statements.
In the past decade, the two peoples have been separated from each another. The average young Israeli will never meet his Palestinian peer, other than during his army service (and then only if he does his service in the territories). Nor will the average young Palestinian ever meet an Israeli his own age, other than the soldier who huffs and puffs at him at the checkpoint, or invades his home in the middle of the night, or in the person of the settler who usurps his land or torches his groves.
Consequently, the only encounter between the two people is between the occupiers, who are armed and violent, and the occupied, who are despairing and also turn to violence. Gone are the days when Palestinians worked in Israel and Israelis shopped in Palestine. Gone is the period of the half-normal and quarter-equal relations that existed for a few decades between the two peoples that share the same piece of territory. It is very easy, in this state of affairs, to incite and inflame the two peoples against one another, to spread fears and to instill new hatreds on top of those that already exist. This, too, is a sure recipe for non-peace.
So it was that a new Israeli yearning sprang up: the desire for separation: “They will be there and we will be here (and also there).” At a time when the majority of Palestinians – an assessment I allow myself to make after decades of covering the territories – still want coexistence, even if less and less, most Israelis want disengagement and separation, but without paying the price. The two-state vision has gained widespread adherence, but without any intention to implement it in practice. Most Israelis are in favor, but not now and maybe not even here. They have been trained to believe that there is no partner for peace – a Palestinian partner, that is – but that there is an Israeli partner.
Unfortunately, the truth is almost the reverse. The Palestinian non-partners no longer have any chance to prove that they are partners; the Israeli non-partners are convinced that they are interlocutors. So began the process in which Israeli conditions, obstacles and difficulties were heaped up, one more milestone in Israeli rejectionism. First came the demand for a cessation of terrorism; then the demand for a change of leadership (Yasser Arafat as a stumbling block); and after that Hamas became the hurdle. Now it’s the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel considers every step it takes – from mass political arrests to building in the territories – to be legitimate, whereas every Palestinian move is “unilateral.”
The only country on the planet with no borders is so far unwilling to delineate even the compromise borders it is ready to be satisfied with. Israel has not internalized the fact that, for the Palestinians, the borders of 1967 are the mother of all compromises, the red line of justice (or relative justice). For the Israelis, they are “suicide borders.” This is why the preservation of the status quo has become the true Israeli aim, the primary goal of Israeli policy, almost its be-all and end-all. The problem is that the existing situation cannot last forever. Historically, few nations have ever agreed to live under occupation without resistance. And the international community, too, is one day apt to utter a firm pronouncement on this state of affairs, with accompanying punitive measures. It follows that the Israeli goal is unrealistic.
Disconnected from reality, the majority of Israelis pursue their regular way of life. In their mind’s eye the world is always against them, and the areas of occupation on their doorstep are beyond their realm of interest. Anyone who dares criticize the occupation policy is branded an anti-Semite, every act of resistance is perceived as an existential threat. All international opposition to the occupation is read as the “delegitimizing” of Israel and as a provocation to the country’s very existence. The world’s seven billion people – most of whom are against the occupation – are wrong, and six million Israeli Jews – most of whom support the occupation – are right. That’s the reality in the eyes of the average Israeli.
Add to this the repression, the concealment and the obfuscation, and you have another explanation for the rejectionism: Why should anyone strive for peace as long as life in Israel is good, calm prevails and the reality is concealed? The only way the besieged Gaza Strip can remind people of its existence is by firing rockets, and the West Bank only gets onto the agenda these days when blood is shed there. Similarly, the viewpoint of the international community is only taken into account when it tries to impose boycotts and sanctions, which in their turn immediately generate a campaign of self-victimization studded with blunt – and at times also impertinent – historical accusations.
This, then, is the gloomy picture. It contains not a ray of hope. The change will not happen on its own, from within Israeli society, as long as that society continues to behave as it does. The Palestinians have made more than one mistake, but their mistakes are marginal. Basic justice is on their side, and basic rejectionism is the Israelis’ purview. The Israelis want occupation, not peace.
I only hope I am wrong.