Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Zeev Sternhell: An end to vagueness

4 December 2009

Israeli society will have to decide what it prefers: a future of peace, relative security and economic prosperity in exchange for territories, or holding on to the territories while endangering the future of the Jewish state…

IOA Editor: These concerns are shared by moderate Israelis who view the prospects of a “binational state” as “gloomy.”

By Zeev Sternhell, Haaretz – 4 Dec 2009

We should welcome the open differences of opinion in the Likud party regarding the future of the territories occupied during the Six-Day War. The political establishment is approaching a point where it will no longer be possible to evade decisions that will be among the most crucial in the state’s history.

It is a mistake to play around with the idea that such decisions can be made without an open confrontation with the settlers. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak will have to decide what they prefer: to be remembered as having capitulated to the settlers or as having taken a courageous leap forward, as befits important national leaders.

The rift on the right is genuine, and can be exploited to reorganize the political system. The settler wing, from Moshe (Feiglin) to Moshe (Ya’alon), should join the National Union party and all the others who share their viewpoint, and together they can all create a new political body. However worded, the implication of the split in Likud, for the new rebels, will be a conscious choice to continue the occupation without any kind of time limit.

Such a decision will be based on a reasonable assumption that, in the absence of any genuine progress, a third intifada will break out in the territories – which will lead to a closing of the ranks in Israel and a postponement of any negotiations until sometime in the unforeseeable future. But in any case, a barrier will be created between the settlement right and the ordinary, sane right; the difference between the latter and Kadima is mainly psychological and laden with personal grudges, but no more than that. Everyone there understands that true peace and security – or in other words, the ability to stop, if not completely destroy, Iran’s nuclear capability and following that to become gradually integrated into greater Europe – requires an immediate and total freeze on expansion in the territories.

In terms of leadership and personal relationships, if Netanyahu is now able to live in peace with people like Silvan Shalom, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor – who for years did not hesitate to publicly express their disgust with him – there’s no reason why he can’t find a way to cooperate with Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz.

The Labor Party, which effectively split a long time ago, must institutionalize the present situation. Barak and his people will assume their natural place in the center, on condition the defense minister can accept the fact that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a party leader.

On the other hand, the left will start a social-democratic party, similar to what exists in Europe.

Does the expanded center and the left have a majority in Israel that will support it? We can reasonably assume that it does; not all the ultra-Orthodox are happy to bite the hand that feeds them, nor is the Russian immigrant population composed entirely of rightists like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Not everyone there considers settlement beyond the Green Line the Zionist ideal, and not everyone is willing to sacrifice Israel’s future on the altar of the settlers’ interests.

Thus we are gradually seeing the beginning of a situation in which Israeli society will have to decide what it prefers: a future of peace, relative security and economic prosperity in exchange for territories, or holding on to the territories while endangering the future of the Jewish state.

It’s true that the people who believe the situation in the territories can continue indefinitely, because the population under occupation in any case has no choice but to accept the fact of Israeli power, are with their own hands preparing the foundations for a binational state. The first stage toward that gloomy tomorrow is the unprecedented delegitimization of Israel, which has become prevalent among wide circles of the Western intelligentsia. We are already in the midst of this stage. All those who believe they can do whatever they please in greater Jerusalem, including its Arab neighborhoods, in spite of the fact that two nations live in the city, would do well to reconsider.

For the political elite, the coming month will be a final opportunity to prove that among them are also leaders who want to enter the history books, not only politicians who will be satisfied with barely a footnote, like President Shimon Peres.

In any case, a surrender to the Jewish uprising in the territories will signal the end of the careers of both Netanyahu and Barak. The two would do well not to rely on the fact that a successful attack against Iran, if there is one, will atone for their weaknesses and enable them to pose as heroes. Time is short, and it is a time of trial: History does not forgive those who fail at the crucial moment.

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