The stalemate

When two dynamite trucks meet on a one-lane road

Ilan Pappé, writing for the Independent, describes without pathos and with great clarity the current predicament in Palestine:

Hamas, although the only government in the Arab world elected democratically by the people, has to be eliminated as a political as well as a military force. This is not only because it continues the struggle against the 40-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by launching primitive missiles into Israel — more often than not in retaliation to an Israel killing of its activists in the West Bank. But it is mainly due to its political opposition for the kind of "peace" Israel wants to impose on the Palestinians.

The forced peace is not negotiable as far as the Israeli political elite is concerned, and it offers the Palestinians a limited control and sovereignty in the Gaza Strip and in parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians are asked to give up their struggle for self-determination and liberation in return for the establishment of three small Bantustans under tight Israeli control and supervision.

The official thinking in Israel, therefore, is that Hamas is a formidable obstacle for the imposition of such a peace. And thus the declared strategy is straightforward: starving and strangulating into submission the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the densest space in the world.

Briefly put, Israel not only wishes to affirm its imposition of an apartheid regime on the Palestinians, it also wants the Palestinians to consent to the existence of this regime, thus legitimizing it. How might they give their consent? Their affirmation of their subjection would issue from their repudiation of Hamas, which currently enjoys democratic legitimacy in Gaza and symbolic legitimacy among the Palestinians as a whole. Israel, of course, has neither. The problem here, of course, is this: Any regime imposed on a subject population cannot be legitimate save for that thinnest form of legitimacy possible, the acceptance by the ill-fated of a fait accompli. Lacking the power to defeat their fate, Israel wishes the Palestinians would embrace it. It is fortunate that any apartheid regime that requires violence to achieve and sustain itself will be morally and legally illegitimate. It cannot be otherwise when these forms of legitimacy require the consent of fully qualified citizens, just the kind of beings the imposed apartheid regime wishes to create in Gaza. The Israelis will never cleanse themselves of this stain, which can be thought of as the political equivalent of "original sin"

But illegitimacy and international reputation, sin and sinning do not seem to matter much to the Israeli elite. God seems to permit the state of Israel to murder whoever it wishes dead. We may confidently draw this conclusion from Israel's gratuitously violent Freedom Flotilla attacks and its post-attack rationalizations, as Pappé elaborates:

One would have thought that Israel's drastic decline in international reputation would prompt new thinking by its leaders. But the responses to the attack on the flotilla in the past few days indicate clearly that there is no hope for any significant shift in the official position. A firm commitment to continue the blockade, and a heroes' welcome to the soldiers who pirated the ship in the Mediterranean, show that the same politics would continue for a long time.

This is not surprising. The Barak-Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman government does not know any other way of responding to the reality in Palestine and Israel. The use of brutal force to impose your will and a hectic propaganda machine that describes it as self-defence, while demonising the half-starved people in Gaza and those who come to their aid as terrorists, is the only possible course for these politicians. The terrible consequences in human death and suffering of this determination do not concern them, nor does international condemnation.

Active and tacit international support for Israel are not elements of the problem, according to Pappé: "It would be wrong, however, to assume that American support and a feeble European response to Israeli criminal policies such as one pursued in Gaza are the main reasons for the protracted blockade and strangulation of Gaza." Pappé believes Israel's political culture to be the elemental cause:

What is probably most difficult to explain to readers around the world is how deeply these perceptions and attitudes are grounded in the Israeli psyche and mentality. And it is indeed difficult to comprehend how diametrically opposed are the common reactions in the UK, for instance, to such events to the emotions that it triggers inside the Israeli Jewish society.

Israel's cultural rigidity produces personal and collective (political) rigidity. The latter becomes evident in the fact that Israel negotiates by making non-negotiable demands which are morally repugnant to anyone who considers them without prejudice of any sort. And it is these non-negotiable demands which reveal the effort to impose a morally and legally dubious regime on the Palestinians:

The international response is based on the assumption that more forthcoming Palestinian concessions and a continued dialogue with the Israeli political elite will produce a new reality on the ground. The official discourse in the West is that a very reasonable and attainable solution is just around the corner if all sides would make one final effort: the two-state solution.

Nothing is further from the truth than this optimistic scenario. The only version of this solution that is acceptable to Israel is the one that both the tamed Palestine Authority in Ramallah and the more assertive Hamas in Gaza could never ever accept. It is an offer to imprison the Palestinians in stateless enclaves in return for ending their struggle.

Thus even before one discusses either an alternative solution — a single democratic state for all, which I support — or explores a more plausible, two-state settlement, one has to transform fundamentally the Israeli official and public mindset. This mentality is the principal barrier to a peaceful reconciliation in the torn land of Israel and Palestine.

Israel appears to have gained the apotheosis of an identity politics — a state that embodies the paranoid imagination.

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