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Fifty years of opposition

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DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN

The often-overlooked fact is that 50 years of Israeli occupation is also a half-century of opposition. The core goal of ending occupation has failed and there is no political resolution.

But the history of opposition holds elements of success: the often-derided “peace industry” has produced not just dialogues and demonstrations, but has helped legitimise ideas in Israel that form the core principles for resolving the conflict.

Opposition to Israel’s policy in the territories captured in 1967, go back to the war itself. Its consequences have never been a consensus in Israel.

Shortly after the war, the scientist cum conscience-philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz railed against prolonged military rule over the Palestinians, arguing that Israel would lose its Jewish majority and Israelis would turn into security-obsessed occupiers, while destroying Palestinian society.

In 1970, a nascent movement of IDF pre-recruits protesting their service in “the territories” emerged. In 1978 a letter signed by several hundred officers protested government policy “perpetuating its rule over a million Arabs”, which they argued “could harm the Jewish-democratic character of the state”.

In 1978, just five per cent of Israeli Jews polled, supported withdrawal from the West Bank and 91 per cent rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state. There were already over 5 000 settlers.

During the 1970s and ’80s, three core ideas emerged from the left: the notion that the occupation was bad for both Israelis and Palestinians; that settlements were damaging to peace; and that there should be a Palestinian state.

The establishment of a Palestinian state – or the two-state solution, endured. The PLO formally adopted the notion (implicitly) in 1988.

Opinion in Israel began to shift. By the 1993 Oslo accords, Israeli Jewish public support for a Palestinian state was roughly one-third. By the mid-1990s public support reached half, then topped 60 per cent in the 2000s.

 

Losing momentum, changing direction

 

The failure of peace negotiations in 2000 and the second Intifada saw severe violence on both sides. Settlements had ballooned and by 2000, there were roughly 300 000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli human rights activists tended to formally steer away from advocating specific political frameworks for resolving the conflict. They sought a human rights standard that could transcend politics, that they could demand of any party in power.

Some leftists wondered if the improvement of piecemeal human rights without addressing the underlying political policy that caused the violations, might actually make the occupation more sustainable. Those voices remained committed to a political solution.

 

Two states fade

 

By the late 2000s, the implementation of two states began to seem increasingly remote. The settlement juggernaut, with the infrastructure and IDF land takeovers, continued to spread.

An idea, long found only on the marginal fringes of the left in Israel, reappeared in public discourse: one single, democratic state with equal rights for all.

Both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are formerly against it.

By 2016, the number of settlers had roughly doubled since 2000, approaching 600 000. The two-state solution appears more unlikely every day. Although settlements represent the bullseye target of left-wing opposition for decades, some feel that instead of fighting windmills, there is a need for new solutions.

In recent years, some have begun to envision a modified version of two states, based on two governments for two peoples, with different national identities and a geographic border. But instead of a hard separation, this approach envisions a porous border.

Citizens of either side would be allowed to cross for travel, leisure, work or even residency.

This approach allows for citizens of each side to live as permanent residents in the other state – under local laws, with full rights, but national voting in one’s country of identity (Arab citizens of Israel can choose their citizenship, or retain both).

Jerusalem would remain united, the capital of two states. Security co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces can continue as it is today.

The word “confederalism” or “confederation” scares many. But the initiative has sparked interest and curiosity among settlers and other right-wingers. An organic social community has grown up around the idea, called “Two States/One Homeland”.

* Dahlia Scheindlin is an international public opinion analyst and strategic consultant, specialising in progressive causes, political and social campaigns in over a dozen countries. She will be presenting at Limmud. Limmud Johannesburg takes place from August 4-6; Limmud Durban August 9; Limmud Cape Town August 11-13.

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