on the Brink of Tearing Itself Asunder?
15, 2016 "Information
- Is Israel on the verge of civil war, as a growing
number of Israeli commentators suggest, with its
Jewish population deeply riven over the future of
On one side
is a new peace movement, Decision at 50, stuffed
with former political and security leaders. Ehud
Barak, a previous prime minister who appears to be
seeking a political comeback, may yet emerge as its
has demanded the government hold a referendum next
year – the half-centenary of Israel’s occupation,
which began in 1967 – on whether it is time to leave
the territories. Its own polling shows a narrow
majority ready to concede a Palestinian state.
other is Benjamin Netanyahu, in power for seven
years with the most right-wing government in
On Friday he posted a video on social media
criticising those who want to end the occupation.
that a Palestinian state would require removing
hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers currently
living – illegally – on Palestinian land, Netanyahu
concluded: “There’s a phrase for that. It’s called
did the comparison upend international law, but
Netanyahu infuriated the Obama administration by
implying that, in seeking to freeze settlement
growth, the US had supported such ethnic cleansing.
A spokeswoman called the comments “inappropriate and
unhelpful” – Washington-speak for deceitful and
Israeli prime minister is not the only one
hoodwinking his audience.
its proponents imply, the Decision at 50 referendum
is about neither peace nor the Palestinians’ best
interests. Its assumption is that yet again the
Israeli public should determine unilaterally the
the exact wording is yet to be decided, the
referendum’s backers appear concerned solely with
the status of the West Bank.
consensus believes Gaza has been free of occupation
since the settlers were pulled out in 2005, despite
the fact that Israel still surrounds most of the
coastal strip with soldiers, patrols its air space
with drones and denies access to the sea.
unyielding, deluded Israeli consensus has declared
East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a
Palestinian state, as instead part of Israel’s
problem runs deeper still. When the new campaign
proudly cites new figures showing that 58 per cent
support “two states for two nations”, it glosses
over what most Israelis think such statehood would
entail for the Palestinians.
A survey in
June found 72 per cent do not believe the
Palestinians live under occupation, while 62 per
cent told pollsters last year they think
Palestinians have no rights to a nation.
Israelis talk in favour of a Palestinian state, it
is chiefly to thwart a far bigger danger – a single
state shared with the “enemy”. The Decision at 50
poll shows 87 per cent of Israeli Jews dread a
binational conclusion to the conflict. Ami Ayalon, a
former head of the Shin Bet intelligence service and
a leader of Decision at 50, echoed them, warning of
an “approaching disaster”.
So what do
Israelis think a Palestinian state should look like?
Previous surveys have been clear. It would not
include Jerusalem or control its borders. It would
be territorially carved up to preserve the
“settlement blocs”, which would be annexed to
Israel. And most certainly it would be
“demilitarised” – without an army or air force.
words, Palestinians would lack sovereignty. Such a
state exists only in the imagination of the Israeli
public. A Palestinian state on these terms would
simply be an extension of the Gaza model to the West
Nonetheless, the idea of a civil war is gaining
ground. Tamir Pardo, the recently departed head of
Israel’s spy agency Mossad, warned last month that
Israel was on the brink of tearing itself apart
through “internal divisions”.
this a bigger danger than any of the existential
threats posited by Mr Netanyahu, such as Iran’s
supposed nuclear bomb.
truth is that there is very little ideologically
separating most Israeli Jews. All but a tiny
minority wish to see the Palestinians continue as a
subjugated people. For the great majority, a
Palestinian state means nothing more than a makeover
of the occupation, penning up the Palestinians in
slightly more humane conditions.
years in power, the right is growing in confidence.
It sees no price has been paid, either at home or
abroad, for endlessly tightening the screws on the
moderates have had to confront the painful reality
that their country is not quite the enlightened
outpost in the Middle East they had imagined. They
may raise their voices in protest now but, if the
polls are right, most will eventually submit to the
right’s realisation of its vision of a Greater
cannot stomach such an outcome will have to stop
equivocating and choose a side. They can leave, as
some are already doing, or stay and fight – not for
a bogus referendum that solves nothing, but to
demand dignity and freedom for the Palestinian
Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of
the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism