by Jonathan Ophir 5 March 2017 Mondoweiss
From the Israeli leadership perspective, a Palestinian state in any true capacity has always been a ‘Never-Never Land’ that should remain in the realms of fiction. When Israel and the Palestinians embarked upon the famous ‘peace process’ in Madrid in 1991, Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir coined the ‘teaspoon policy’: endless negotiating sessions at which countless teaspoons amounting to mountains of sugar would be stirred into oceans of tea and coffee, but no agreement would ever be reached. For Israel, with or without a ‘peace process’, this continues to be policy: the more it draws out the time, the more opportunity it gets to annex, the more it shrinks Palestinian enclaves into Bantustans and open air prisons.
Israel has no intention of realising a real Palestinian state, and it never had.
Let me review the history. Israel took over four-fifths of historical Palestine in 1948 and ethnically cleansed five-sixths of the Palestinian population therein, and then 19 years later it ‘completed the job’ territorially, ethnically cleansing another roughly 250,000 Palestinians as well as over 100,000 Syrians. So in 1967, Israel was left with a ‘greater Israel’ territorially – yet it had now further taken under its control roughly the same number of Palestinians it had expelled in 1948.
Thus the ‘Palestinian demographic problem’ was not solved.
The preferred option for Israelis was to forget Palestine altogether. Prime Minister Golda Meir said that Palestinians didn’t exist, and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said that “there is no more Palestine – finished.” But that was wishful thinking on behalf of the Zionists. Palestinians were not completely ‘finished off’, and even if Israel wanted to provide itself the genocidal prospect of erasing them conceptually, it had to continue its campaigns to make them shrink demographically.
So this time, 1967, Israel would be cautious not to annex the conquered territory, as it would entail a large Palestinian population. While saving the option for slow-motion ethnic cleansing, Israel had to make sure that the ‘limbo’ territory under the status of ‘belligerent occupation’ would not be claimed by anyone, to challenge Israel’s effective sovereignty. In the 1948 paradigm, the ‘existential threat’ to the Jewish State was related to the demographic issue of the refugees, and denial of their return was essential to avert this ‘threat’. In 1967 nonetheless, the ‘existential threat’ tripled: not just the refugees, but the new ‘demographic problem’, as well as the need to avoid future ‘foreign’ claim to the territory.
Israel sought to solve the territorial issue by settlement – creating ‘facts on the ground’. Such ‘facts’ also facilitate the eviction of the population, on claims of ‘security’ (although nowadays outright theft of Palestinian land via Israeli law does not seem to require the ‘security’ alibi at all).
The Palestinian PLO position before the mid-1970’s was comfortable for Israel, in that it sought a liberation of the whole of historical Palestine, and Israel could claim it was an untenable zero-sum claim, which it would fight as a wholesale existential threat. But in mid-1970’s, the PLO was making steps which very seriously approximated the international consensus on Israeli withdrawal to June 4, 1967 lines, proposing a Palestinian state within the remaining 22% of historical Palestine.
Israel thus stepped up its belligerence to avert this Palestinian ‘peace offensive’ as Israeli strategic analyst Avner Yaniv called it (see 1981-2 Fez plan). The averting of this ‘peace offensive’ meant of course Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, in an attempt to destroy the PLO’s political power (the PLO leadership was exiled in Lebanon). From the next exile in Tunisia, PLO leader Yasser Arafat came to Geneva in 1988 for a special UN gathering, due to the USA’s refusal to grant him an entry visa. There he spoke and said that
“The PLO will seek a comprehensive settlement among the parties concerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality and the balance of interests, especially our people’s rights, in freedom, national independence, and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all.”
No one was expecting Israel to agree to this without pressure, as it would destroy its plans for the takeover of entire historical Palestine. The 1st Intifada was already on its way, a predominantly unarmed civil uprising– met with bone-breaking policy by Defense minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the popular resistance was not quashed, and continued into the 1990’s.
Israel was beginning to appear as the rejectionist, and so a semblance of willingness to ‘negotiate’ had to be provided.
Thus Israel and the Palestinians embarked upon the famous ‘peace process’ which started in Madrid in 1991, hence Shamir’s mentioned ‘teaspoon policy’. Although many around the world thought that the Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) meant a Palestinian state, even Rabin, just before his assassination in 1995, assured the Knesset that it would be “less than a state”. The ‘temporary’ Oslo division of the West Bank, appropriating Israel more than 60% full control of the West Bank, became permanent, and a means to assure that whatever Palestinians would eventually get, their lands would effectively be a set of Bantustans, with Israel controlling them from all sides.
While portraying the ‘conflict’ as the competing claims to the land of two sides, Israel maintains the powerful position in all aspects, demanding that Palestinians remain surrounded and disempowered even after an ‘agreement’ is reached.
The illusion of the Palestinian Never-Never Land is maintained not only by denial of Palestinian statehood, but also by the denial of the colonialist paradigm that governs the Zionist venture, hence the Jewish State. Denial of this paradigm aids in the creation of the illusion of the ‘two more-or-less-equal parties’, and suggests that this is a mere territorial dispute that can be likened to Israel vis-á-vis Egypt, over the Sinai. But this is not a dispute between two states. It is a matter of colonialist control by a one state, over a disempowered native population.
The Palestinian state does not arrive, because Israel doesn’t intend, and never has intended, for the Palestinian dream to come true, as pragmatically tailored as it has become. Palestine is anathema to Zionism, and this is why Israel will not recognize Palestine. It will pay lip service to political correctness and go as far as saying ‘Palestinian authority’ and ‘Palestinians’ as long as they are committed to Bantustans – but it will not go beyond that.
So the left Zionist Union leader Herzog provides us with a 10-point plan, which entails a 10-year ‘waiting period’ for that dreamed-of Palestinian state– only after which ‘negotiations’ may begin. He ends his presentation saying:
“This is how we’ll save the settlement blocs and keep them under Israel’s sovereignty. It will be Zionism’s real victory. A new reality of security and mutual trust will ultimately forge a peace process and prevent disaster.”
Journalist Gideon Levy suggests an 11th point, to perfect the plan:
“The parties should announce a 10-year period during which Isaac Herzog will remain in a cage. During this time, they will move toward realizing the two-state vision. At the same time, the economic development of the cage will be accelerated dramatically, among other things through regional and international assistance. Pieces of bread will be thrown into Herzog’s cage from time to time, and over the years the addition of various spreads will be considered. The parties will work to renovate the cage, including building a seesaw (subject to strict security arrangements). If his behavior conforms to expectations, Herzog will be entitled to declare his cage a state with temporary borders. At the end of the 10-year period (if Herzog is still alive), and on condition that he has behaved properly, the jailors will begin direct negotiations with the cage’s occupant, backed by the countries of the region and the international community, with no preconditions, as equals, seriously and resolutely, while moving toward a full and final peace agreement.”
The liberal Zionists seem to love these sorts of dreams more, whilst the rightists irritate them by being more unabashed about annexation and injuring Israel’s global image. Theodor Herzl’s “if you will it, it is no dream” (the famous claim ending his 1902 novel Altneuland), means that Palestine and a Palestinian state must remain in the realms of fiction. Palestine must remain a fairy-tale, whilst Jews return to the promised land.
Who cares if it’s a legend. What matters is only if we, the Jews, wish it to be true. As to Palestinian wishes – their wishes are consigned to Never-Never Land.
About Jonathan Ofir Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.