Analysis from Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is routinely lauded as a “moderate” and a peace-seeker, because unlike Hamas, he generally refrains from openly calling for Israel’s destruction. But anyone who believes he doesn’t share this goal should pay close attention to what he told a group of journalists and Israeli intellectuals on Monday. Amid all the soothing bromides about continued security cooperation and the importance of negotiations was one highly revealing sentence: When the Palestinians seek UN recognition as a state later this month, “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.”

For anyone who needs reminding, Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza began 44 years ago, in 1967. What happened 63 years ago was Israel’s establishment – in the pre-1967 borders. In other words, as far as Abbas is concerned, the problem isn’t Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, it’s Israel’s very existence: Even pre-1967 Israel constitutes an “occupation.”

Nor is this position uncommon among Palestinians: A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2007 found that fully 77 percent of Palestinians think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists.”

The charitable might say Abbas was simply referring to the Palestinians’ 63 years without a state: At the same time Israel was established, in 1948, Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. But in reality, there has never been an independent Palestinian state; Palestinians have always lived under someone else’s rule. Before 1948 came the 31-year British occupation; before that came the 400-year Turkish occupation; before that came various Arab caliphates that ruled “Palestine” from Damascus; and so forth.

In short, 63 years doesn’t mark the start of Palestinian life under occupation -unless you think Israel’s very existence, and only that, constitutes an occupation. And in fact, that’s precisely what Palestinians do think. That’s why the PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, with the explicit goal of eradicating pre-1967 Israel; that’s why Palestinians never demanded an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza during the 19 years when Jordan and Egypt controlled these areas; that’s why Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 and every subsequent offer  of statehood; that’s why Palestinians still demand millions of “refugees” be relocated to Israel under any peace agreement, thereby eliminating the Jewish state demographically (see here, here, here, for instance); that’s why the PA systematically denies the truth of Judaism’s historical ties to this land; and that’s why Abbas still refuses to grant that a “Jewish” state – as opposed to an “Israel” that could be Palestinian-majority via an influx of refugees – has any right to exist.

Abbas, of course, is faithfully reflecting his people’s views – the views of that majority who think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists,” who see a two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone toward Israel’s eradication. And as long as that remains true, any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace is a pipe dream.

 

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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