David Shul­man

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - David Shul­man

The Six-Day War:

The Break­ing of the Mid­dle East by Guy Laron.

Yale Univer­sity Press, 368 pp., $28.00

The Only Lan­guage

They Un­der­stand: Forc­ing Com­pro­mise in Is­rael and Pales­tine by Nathan Thrall.

Met­ro­pol­i­tan, 323 pp., $28.00

In Search of Mod­ern

Pales­tinian Na­tion­hood by Matti Steinberg.

Tel Aviv Univer­sity/Moshe Dayan Cen­ter, 503 pp., ₪100.00 (pa­per)

King­dom of Olives and Ash: Writ­ers Con­front the Oc­cu­pa­tion edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Wald­man. HarperPeren­nial,

434 pp., $16.99 (pa­per)

A Half Cen­tury of Oc­cu­pa­tion: Is­rael, Pales­tine, and the World’s Most In­tractable Con­flict by Ger­shon Shafir.

Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 283 pp., $26.95

This June, Is­rael is mark­ing the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the Six-Day War. Some Is­raelis, in­clud­ing most mem­bers of the present gov­ern­ment, are cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s swift vic­tory over Egypt, Jor­dan, and

Syria as the be­gin­ning of the per­ma­nent an­nex­a­tion of the en­tire Pales­tinian West Bank; others, like me, mourn it as the start of a seem­ingly in­ex­orable process of moral cor­rup­tion and de­cline, the re­sult of the con­tin­u­ing oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank, along with Is­rael’s now in­di­rect but still-crip­pling con­trol of Gaza. As it hap­pens, my own life in Is­rael co­in­cides ex­actly with the oc­cu­pa­tion. I ar­rived from the US in 1967, not as an ide­o­log­i­cal Zion­ist but as a young stu­dent who had fallen madly in love with the He­brew lan­guage. Some­times I think it is my pas­sion for the lan­guage that has kept me here for five decades, al­though I would now want to add the strong feel­ing that it is my fate and my good for­tune to be able to fight the good fight.

The coun­try I came to live in fifty years ago was ut­terly un­like the one I live in to­day. It was no utopia, but its so­ci­ety was broadly mod­er­ate and hu­mane, a mildly Mediter­ranean ver­sion of a mod­ern Euro­pean so­cial democ­racy. De­spite what some would say, it was not a colo­nial set­tlers’ so­ci­ety. There was wide­spread fear and even ha­tred of Arabs, in­clud­ing Arab ci­ti­zens of Is­rael, but it was noth­ing like the ram­pant racism one now hears ev­ery day on the ra­dio or TV. Shame, sin­cere or not, had not yet dis­ap­peared from pub­lic life.

In those early years, most Is­raelis re­garded the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries— which in­cluded the Golan Heights and the Sinai Penin­sula as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—not as pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for en­larg­ing the bound­aries of the state through col­o­niza­tion but as bar­gain­ing chips in an even­tual and hoped-for peace set­tle­ment with the Arabs. There were as yet no Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the ter­ri­to­ries and hence no fa­nat­i­cal, mes­sianic set­tlers; the Is­raeli army could still claim, with some jus­tice, to be an army of de­fense, not a po­lice force sent to en­sure that the project of seiz­ing Pales­tinian land take place with­out too much re­sis­tance from the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

Not sur­pris­ingly, a num­ber of new books have ap­peared in this grim an­niver­sary year, some of which at­tempt to make sense of how the Is­raeli state was hi­jacked by the set­tlers and how the oc­cu­pa­tion of most of the ter­ri­to­ries cap­tured in 1967, not count­ing Sinai, was made per­ma­nent. Those who want to un­der­stand the con­di­tions that led to the Six-Day War will find a good ac­count, bet­ter than most ear­lier ones, in Guy Laron’s The Six-Day War: The Break­ing of the Mid­dle East.

Laron ex­am­ines the shift­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions that pre­ceded, and in some ways de­ter­mined, the out­break of the war: these in­cluded Lyn­don John­son’s stark turn away from John F. Kennedy’s pol­icy of di­a­logue with and strong eco­nomic sup­port for Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser’s Egypt (Nasser had promised Kennedy to keep the Is­raeli–Arab sit­u­a­tion “cool” as the quid pro quo) and Is­raeli Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin’s in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent moves to­ward Syria. Rabin, ac­cord­ing to Laron, wanted to go to war with Syria and took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to push the Is­raeli cab­i­net in this di­rec­tion in the crit­i­cal months of spring 1967.

By far the most co­gent of the new books, how­ever, is Nathan Thrall’s The Only Lan­guage They Un­der­stand, which sur­veys the last five decades and comes to a re­mark­able con­clu­sion: the only way to pro­duce some kind of move­ment to­ward re­solv­ing the Is­raeli–Pales­tinian con­flict is to ap­ply sig­nif­i­cant co­er­cive force to the par­ties in­volved, and in par­tic­u­lar to Is­rael. No amount of cod­dling and re­as­sur­ing, no in­creased bribes in the form of more money or mil­i­tary aid, will have any ef­fect on Is­raeli pol­icy for the sim­ple rea­son that Is­rael con­sid­ers any sacri­fice that would be nec­es­sary for peace far worse than main­tain­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. As Thrall writes, “no strat­egy can suc­ceed if it is premised on Is­rael be­hav­ing ir­ra­tionally.” In this read­ing of the world­view that has driven all Is­raeli gov­ern­ments—right, pseudo-left, or cen­ter—over these decades, “it makes no sense for Is­rael to strike a deal to­day rather than wait to see if...imag­ined threats,” such as an apartheid state rul­ing over a Pales­tinian de­mo­graphic ma­jor­ity, and thus the end of Is­raeli democ­racy, “ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­al­ize.” The as­sump­tion that Is­rael gen­uinely wants a peace agree­ment is sim­ply wrong; the costs of such an agree­ment are tan­gi­ble, im­me­di­ate, and per­haps over­whelm­ing, in­volv­ing the loss of ter­ri­tory, an end to col­o­niza­tion, and po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal col­lapse, whereas the costs of main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo are for many Is­raelis, if at times un­pleas­ant, em­i­nently bear­able. I think Thrall has got this right. End­less dis­cus­sions of why this or that ini­tia­tive or at­tempt to me­di­ate failed are shown to be su­per­flu­ous. We can stop won­der­ing why the whole process of ne­go­ti­a­tions, be­gin­ning in the late 1980s, has re­mained so bar­ren. Was it be­cause Ehud Barak was not very cour­te­ous to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000? Or be­cause Ehud Olmert was bur­dened by scan­dal and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis when he fi­nally made an of­fer to Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in 2008? It has been clear for many years that the very no­tion of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two par­ties has been lit­tle more than a de­vice to per­pet­u­ate, not to end, the oc­cu­pa­tion. As Thrall writes:

The United States has con­sis­tently shel­tered Is­rael from ac­count­abil­ity for its poli­cies in the West Bank by putting up a façade of op­po­si­tion to set­tle­ments that in prac­tice is a bul­wark against more sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure to dis­man­tle them.

What would make a dif­fer­ence? Ac­cord­ing to Thrall, only co­er­cion by those who have the power to co­erce. This was ef­fec­tive dur­ing the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, which pushed through the peace agree­ment be­tween Egypt and Is­rael in 1979 partly by threat­en­ing to cut off all aid to Is­rael, and in a more lim­ited way un­der Ge­orge H.W. Bush and his sec­re­tary of state, James Baker, in 1991, when a very re­luc­tant Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir was forced to at­tend ne­go­ti­a­tions in Madrid; these even­tu­ally led to the Oslo Ac­cords in 1993 be­tween the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans and a peace treaty be­tween Is­rael and Jor­dan in 1994. Baker was the first—and un­til now the only— Amer­i­can sec­re­tary of state to say clearly that Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the ter­ri­to­ries are the main ob­sta­cle to peace; Bush re­fused to ap­prove loan guar­an­tees of up to $10 bil­lion that Is­rael badly needed. Cor­nered, Shamir gave in and went to Madrid. In the case of both Carter and Baker, US of­fi­cials took a strong stand de­spite pres­sure from the pow­er­ful pro-Is­rael lobby in Wash­ing­ton. Their suc­ces­sors, Thrall notes, have rarely tried.

In Thrall’s view, “con­trary to what nearly ev­ery US me­di­a­tor has as­serted, it is not that Is­rael greatly de­sires a peace agree­ment but has a pretty good fall­back op­tion. It is that Is­rael greatly prefers the fall­back op­tion to a peace agree­ment.” The fall­back is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the sta­tus quo, which al­lows the set­tle­ment en­ter­prise to go on; pro­tects the gov­ern­ment from po­lit­i­cal chaos, in­clud­ing in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges from the ex­treme right; as­sumes the use­ful se­cu­rity col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, or what is left of it; and comes with enor­mous amounts of US aid. Only a cred­i­ble threat to di­min­ish or cut off that aid, or a move to­ward se­ri­ous sanc­tions against Is­rael by the UN or other ma­jor pow­ers, could pro­duce the kind of change within Is­rael that would make a peace agree­ment pos­si­ble.

Is­raelis, of course, love to blame the Pales­tini­ans for the im­passe. And while the Pales­tinian side has plenty to ac­count for, above all a long his­tory of vi­o­lence, it re­quires an im­pres­sive de­gree of will­ful blind­ness for Is­raelis to ig­nore what is hap­pen­ing un­der their noses and with their col­lec­tive col­lu­sion. A ma­jor com­po­nent of this ob­tuse­ness is the fail­ure to no­tice or un­der­stand the changes that have taken place among Pales­tini­ans in re­cent decades. The He­brew-lan­guage news me­dia largely in­habit a mythic realm in which Pales­tinian hos­til­ity to Jews is seen as ab­so­lute, eter­nal, and en­tirely in­de­pen­dent of Is­rael’s

own ac­tions. Most Is­raelis are only too happy to subscribe to this dis­torted view.

Deeper in­sight is to be found in Matti Steinberg’s In Search of Mod­ern Pales­tinian Na­tion­hood, a mag­is­te­rial study by the lead­ing Is­raeli scholar of Pales­tine. Steinberg served for many years as a se­nior ad­viser to the heads of the Shin Bet, Is­rael’s main in­tel­li­gence agency, and to sev­eral prime min­is­ters. His book traces the his­tory of Pales­tinian “con­scious col­lec­tive think­ing” about the con­flict, roughly from the Yom Kip­pur War in 1973 to the present. He of­fers a pic­ture of strik­ing het­ero­gene­ity and rel­a­tively rapid evo­lu­tion: his read­ers, he says at the out­set, “will find that the Pales­tinian at­ti­tudes went fur­ther and fur­ther from the orig­i­nal una­nim­ity [that Is­rael should be de­stroyed and re­placed by a Pales­tinian state on all the land west of the Jor­dan River] as far as means and aims are con­cerned.” Steinberg dis­cusses crit­i­cal mo­ments such as Arafat’s “Pales­tinian Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence” speech to the Pales­tinian Na­tional Coun­cil in 1988, in which he made a clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween the bor­ders of the “his­toric home­land”—that is, all of Pales­tine— and those of the Pales­tinian state to be es­tab­lished on part of that land. The speech was writ­ten for Arafat by Mah­moud Dar­wish, who was con­sid­ered the Pales­tinian na­tional poet. In 1998, when an­other fifty-year an­niver­sary was marked—that of the nakba, or Pales­tinian na­tional dis­as­ter of de­feat and ex­ile fol­low­ing the 1948 war— Dar­wish, an early mem­ber of the PLO and prob­a­bly the most ar­tic­u­late voice in the Pales­tinian main­stream, called for “elim­i­nat­ing all trace of the nakba by means of a per­ma­nent agree­ment based on the con­cept of two states for two peo­ples.” At that time, not long af­ter the Oslo Ac­cords, a full peace agree­ment seemed to be pos­si­ble, even im­mi­nent. Three years later, dur­ing the sec­ond in­tifada, Dar­wish pub­lished an­other man­i­festo suf­fused by de­spair and by the fear that the Pales­tinian peo­ple faced an­ni­hi­la­tion. Is­raelis might do well to note the un­happy sym­me­try be­tween this and their own en­dur­ing anx­i­ety about be­ing driven into the sea.

Steinberg is no less in­ter­ested in Pales­tinian ex­trem­ists than in prag­matic cen­trists, if such a word is ap­pro­pri­ate in a polity so weak­ened and dif­fuse. He never un­der­es­ti­mates the power of Ha­mas and the mil­i­tant fac­tions. Again and again he shows the di­a­bol­i­cal in­ter­play be­tween such groups and the dom­i­nant Is­raeli pol­icy of strength­en­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion:

Nei­ther “tar­geted killing” [the as­sas­si­na­tion of Ha­mas lead­ers by the Is­raeli army] nor Is­rael’s over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary and tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity is the sworn enemy of Ha­mas. Its arch­en­emy is the po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment with Is­rael.

In a more gen­eral for­mu­la­tion: “It is a com­mon wis­dom that when prag­ma­tism fails, then the way is paved, by de­fault, to­wards rad­i­cal­iza­tion.” Steinberg has noth­ing but scorn for the ra­tio­nale put for­ward by Is­raeli prime min­is­ters, from Ehud Barak to Ariel Sharon to Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, that Is­rael has no Pales­tinian part­ner. Such a claim is self-serv­ing, fac­tu­ally wrong, and above all self-ful­fill­ing; it will, no doubt, be loudly trum­peted in Is­rael (and per­haps by Trump’s White House) in the event that Ha­mas takes over the West Bank, as if Is­rael had no re­spon­si­bil­ity for such an out­come. Par­tic­u­larly tren­chant in this re­spect is Steinberg’s anal­y­sis of the ef­fect of the Saudi-led Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive (API) of 2002, in which a pan-Arab con­sen­sus sup­ported com­pre­hen­sive peace with Is­rael in re­turn for full Is­raeli with­drawal to the pre-1967 bor­ders. The sup­port of Arab gov­ern­ments for the API has re­mained re­mark­ably con­sis­tent de­spite re­cent tur­moil in the Mid­dle East and was reaf­firmed yet again at the Arab League Sum­mit in Am­man in March of this year. Steinberg ar­gues that the very ex­is­tence of a re­al­is­tic peace plan served to stoke hy­per­na­tion­al­ist po­si­tions in both Is­rael and Pales­tine, as if the loom­ing prospect of a so­lu­tion were sim­ply too aw­ful to con­tem­plate. The whole thrust of his book could be summed up as: Things could have been dif­fer­ent, and maybe they still can and will be, though time is run­ning out.

Steinberg’s view con­verges with a stark state­ment by Thrall:

When peace­ful op­po­si­tion to Is­rael’s poli­cies is squelched and those with the power to dis­man­tle the oc­cu­pa­tion don’t raise a fin­ger against it, vi­o­lence in­vari­ably be­comes more at­trac­tive to those who have few other means of up­set­ting the sta­tus quo.

This con­clu­sion, how­ever, casts doubt on the idea that Is­raeli pol­icy, how­ever short­sighted, is nonethe­less ra­tio­nal. Sys­temic cru­elty in­flicted over generations on in­no­cent pop­u­la­tions will even­tu­ally ex­act a price—prob­a­bly a ter­ri­ble price. It is an il­lu­sion to be­lieve that large-scale erup­tions of vi­o­lence can be con­trolled, or their costs and re­sults eas­ily sus­tained.

Per­haps “ra­tio­nal” is not the word we want. A pol­icy driven mostly by greed, and also to no lit­tle ex­tent by sheer mal­ice, such as Is­rael’s, may be in­tel­li­gi­ble, but that doesn’t make it ra­tio­nal, and it is cer­tainly far from wise. How­ever, there is an­other di­men­sion that we miss if we stick pri­mar­ily to hard­nosed cal­cu­la­tions of self-in­ter­est and strate­gic ad­van­tage. A fifty-year an­niver­sary in­vites us to take stock of the moral con­se­quences of our de­ci­sions. No mat­ter how we look at it, un­less our minds have been poi­soned by the ide­ol­ogy of the re­li­gious right, the oc­cu­pa­tion is a crime. It is, first of all, based on the per­ma­nent dis­en­fran­chise­ment of a huge pop­u­la­tion. Many Is­raelis seem not to know this. Once I was de­tained by sol­diers in a rocky field in the South He­bron hills (in what is known as Area C, un­der full Is­raeli con­trol). These sol­diers had just driven sev­eral Pales­tinian shep­herds and their flocks of sheep off their tra­di­tional graz­ing grounds. One of the sol­diers—hardly more than a boy—was cu­ri­ous about the Is­raeli ac­tivists he had en­coun­tered, and he came to talk to us. We in­formed him that what he had just done was

clearly il­le­gal, ac­cord­ing to a Supreme Court rul­ing from 2004. “What do you mean?” he said. “I’m here to pro­tect democ­racy.” “Re­ally?” we replied. “What democ­racy do these Pales­tini­ans have? For ex­am­ple, do they have the right to vote for can­di­dates who will rep­re­sent them?” The young sol­dier thought hard for a mo­ment. He had ob­vi­ously never con­sid­ered this prob­lem. Fi­nally, he said, “I don’t know, but there must be some­one they can vote for!”

Even worse is the con­tin­u­ous theft— lit­er­ally hour by hour—of Pales­tinian land. There should be no doubt that this is the real point of the oc­cu­pa­tion; sol­diers, po­lice­men, the mil­i­tary courts, the bu­reau­crats of the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion, a ma­jor­ity of the politi­cians, and most of the Is­raeli me­dia serve this over­rid­ing aim. Re­cently, we were treated to a truly as­ton­ish­ing na­tional farce, per­haps pos­si­ble only in Is­rael: set­tlers from a place called Amona in the cen­tral West Bank, built on pri­vately owned Pales­tinian land from the vil­lages of Sil­wad, Ein Yabrud, and Tay­beh, were forcibly evac­u­ated, and their homes de­mol­ished, in com­pli­ance with a Supreme Court or­der from 2014. This came af­ter a Supreme Court de­ci­sion in 2006 declar­ing the set­tle­ment il­le­gal and a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion that proved the set­tlers had forged doc­u­ments in claim­ing own­er­ship of the lands.

The set­tlers and their vo­cif­er­ous spokes­men in the gov­ern­ment and the Knes­set pre­sented this tragedy as some­thing on the or­der of the de­struc­tion of the Sec­ond Tem­ple by the Ro­mans in the year 70 or the ex­pul­sion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Ne­tanyahu, as usual, pan­dered to the ex­treme right; he was also quoted as telling the Amona set­tlers that he could un­der­stand their plight per­fectly, since he and his wife were forcibly up­rooted from their home—the prime min­is­ter’s res­i­dence—and “thrown into the street” af­ter he lost the elec­tion of 1999. In any case, the Amona evac­uees are to be hand­somely com­pen­sated for this in­con­ve­nience (some half a mil­lion Is­raeli shekels—more than $130,000—per fam­ily) and re­set­tled a few hun­dred yards away from their for­mer homes, once again, of course, on Pales­tinian land. The sol­diers who car­ried out the evac­u­a­tion were un­armed and un­der or­ders to use the ut­most del­i­cacy in deal­ing with the set­tlers, who had bar­ri­caded them­selves in­side their houses. Such are the melo­dra­mas of Is­raeli pol­i­tics. The Knes­set has re­cently en­acted a law that retroac­tively le­gal­izes the ap­pro­pri­a­tion by the state of huge chunks of pri­vate Pales­tinian land for Is­raeli set­tle­ments. It is un­clear whether the Supreme Court will strike it down.

Let me of­fer some ex­am­ples of life un­der the oc­cu­pa­tion of which I have per­sonal knowl­edge. On March 5, 2017, the res­i­dents of the Pales­tinian ham­let of Twaneh in the South He­bron hills woke up to dis­cover fif­teen of their olive trees hacked and de­stroyed, al­most cer­tainly by the no­to­ri­ously vi­o­lent set­tlers from ad­ja­cent Cha­vat Maon. If we were to count the num­ber of olive trees up­rooted by set­tlers from the Twaneh lands over the last ten years or so, it would eas­ily reach the low hun­dreds. Olive trees are the pri­mary source of sup­port for many im­pov­er­ished Pales­tinian fam­i­lies. In ad­di­tion to the dec­i­mated trees, two fields of lentils were sprayed with poi­son.

Two months ear­lier, on Jan­uary 7, the same set­tlers from Cha­vat Maon vi­o­lently at­tacked a group of Is­raeli peace ac­tivists who were ac­com­pa­ny­ing Pales­tinian farm­ers seek­ing to plow a field. I was there with an­other party of ac­tivists, a lit­tle far­ther down the hill, and I wit­nessed the ar­rival of the wounded in Twaneh: one hit by a rock on the head, two others badly beaten, still more with con­tu­sions, and one with a smashed cam­era.

Chil­dren from the Twaneh area are at con­stant risk of be­ing at­tacked by set­tlers on their way to school in the vil­lage; the daugh­ter of a friend of mine, Ali from Tuba, nearly lost an eye in such an at­tack. The army has been forced to pro­vide a mil­i­tary es­cort to take them to and from school, but even that is not al­ways enough; there have been oc­ca­sions when the sol­diers stood idly by while set­tlers beat the Pales­tinian chil­dren with clubs and metal chains.

In the north­ern Jor­dan Val­ley, Be­douin shep­herds from a tiny place called al-Ham­meh are sub­ject to con­tin­u­ous at­tacks by set­tlers from a new il­le­gal set­tle­ment that sits on the al-Ham­meh land; these set­tlers have mur­dered Be­douin sheep, threat­ened the shep­herds with guns, beaten them sav­agely, in­vaded their tents, and in gen­eral done what­ever they can to make their lives mis­er­able.1 At nearby al-Auja, on April 21, a gang of masked Is­raeli set­tlers from Ha­bal­adim, an il­le­gal West Bank out­post, used clubs and rocks to at­tack a group of Pales­tinian shep­herds and more than a dozen Is­raeli ac­tivists who were there to pro­tect them. The re­sult: one ac­tivist with an open head wound, an­other with a bro­ken arm, and sev­eral others badly bruised.

A di­ary that kept track of such as­saults on Pales­tini­ans would run to thou­sands of pages, with daily, per­haps hourly, en­tries. And I have not yet men­tioned the end­less de­mo­li­tions of Pales­tinian houses—en­tire vil­lages, such as Susiya and Umm al-Khair, are in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion—or the re­morse­less pro­cesses of ex­pul­sion and eth­nic cleans­ing that we see ev­ery­where in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. The oc­cu­pa­tion is also a sur­real world of de­nial, where lies mask them­selves as truth and truth can’t be ut­tered, at least not by the of­fi­cers and politi­cians who hold power. I rec­om­mend the graphic and mov­ing de­scrip­tions of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the West Bank and Gaza in King­dom of Olives and Ash, a vol­ume of per­sonal es­says by well-known writ­ers, in­clud­ing the No­bel lau­re­ate Mario Var­gas Llosa, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Wald­man and pub­lished to co­in­cide with the fifty-year an­niver­sary.

The set­tlers them­selves, how­ever ob­nox­ious, bear only a por­tion of the blame for the atroc­i­ties they com­mit. They carry out the poli­cies of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, in ef­fect main­tain­ing a use­ful, steady level of state ter­ror di­rected against a large civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. None of this can be jus­ti­fied by ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment. All of it stains the char­ac­ter of the state and has, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, hor­rific ef­fects on the minds and hearts of young sol­diers who have to carry out the or­ders they are given. A few unusu­ally aware and con­sci­en­tious ones have had the courage to speak out; as al­ways in such sit­u­a­tions, most peo­ple just go along.2

In the end, it is this on­go­ing moral fail­ure of the coun­try as a whole that is most con­se­quen­tial, most dan­ger­ous, and most un­ac­cept­able. This fail­ure weighs more heav­ily on our hu­man­ity than any of the con­cerns men­tioned ear­lier. We are, so we claim, the chil­dren of the prophets. Once, they say, we were slaves in Egypt. We know all that can be known about slav­ery, suf­fer­ing, prej­u­dice, ghet­tos, hate, ex­pul­sions, ex­ile. I still find it as­ton­ish­ing that we, of all peo­ple, have rein­vented apartheid in the West Bank.

Has the cor­rup­tion gone so far that it can no longer be re­versed? Or, to state the ques­tion in more prac­ti­cal terms, is the Is­raeli colo­nial project in the West Bank so deeply en­trenched that any mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able form of par­ti­tion is al­ready ruled out, as Meron Ben­venisti, the for­mer deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has been ar­gu­ing for years? Ger­shon Shafir, in his sub­tle his­tory of the oc­cu­pa­tion, sug­gests that while the no­tion that the set­tle­ment project is “ir­re­versible is best re­jected... the re­main­ing ob­sta­cles to ter­ri­to­rial par­ti­tion, though not in­sur­mount­able, are for­mi­da­ble.” As­sum­ing that the so-called set­tle­ment blocs, most of them rel­a­tively close to the pre-1967 bor­ders, would be an­nexed to Is­rael in ex­change for more or less equal ter­ri­tory from in­side Is­rael, he cal­cu­lates that “only” some 27,000 set­tler house­holds would have to be evac­u­ated from Pales­tine as part of a work­able peace agree­ment.

Shafir also con­vinc­ingly cites Shaul Arieli—a for­mer colonel in the army, a mem­ber of the pres­ti­gious Coun­cil for Peace and Se­cu­rity, and an ex­pert on the ear­lier rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tion and the fea­si­bil­ity of a fu­ture break­through—to the ef­fect that the set­tle­ment project has, in prac­tice, slowed to a trickle, de­spite at­tempts by the gov­ern­ment to per­suade ever more Is­raelis to move into Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory. Un­for­tu­nately, this has not caused Is­rael to give up on the na­tion­al­ist dream of col­o­niz­ing as much of Pales­tine as pos­si­ble. Re­al­ity has a way of punc­tur­ing il­lu­sions, though usu­ally too late.

There ex­ist other tem­plates for some sort of res­o­lu­tion. The most in­ter­est­ing and cre­ative is prob­a­bly the Two States One Home­land pro­posal by Meron Rapoport, Awni al-Mashni, and the group of Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis they have gath­ered around them. They en­vi­sion two states within a sin­gle ge­o­graph­i­cal space and a move­ment to­ward si­mul­ta­ne­ous shar­ing and sep­a­ra­tion. The blue­print speaks of two in­de­pen­dent poli­ties with Jerusalem as their cap­i­tal; free­dom of move­ment and even free­dom to set­tle on both sides of the bor­der, sub­ject to agree­ment on the num­ber of ci­ti­zens of each state who will be­come per­ma­nent res­i­dents of the other; a Joint Court for Hu­man Rights, a Joint Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and other com­mon in­sti­tu­tions func­tion­ing along­side the in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures of each state.3

I’d like to think this idea has a chance of com­ing true. Shafir, how­ever, con­cludes that, in the ab­sence of a vi­able plan for a sin­gle bi­na­tional state, “the two sides are most likely to stum­ble ahead heed­lessly.” He may be right, for now. But if I had to guess, I’d say the oc­cu­pa­tion will even­tu­ally col­lapse un­der the cu­mu­la­tive weight of wrong­do­ing, mis­ery, and ex­is­ten­tial peril that it en­tails, maybe even in our life­time— not, how­ever, with a whim­per.

One can’t help won­der­ing about the ef­fects of the new Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion on the Is­raeli–Pales­tinian con­flict. In March Pres­i­dent Trump’s spe­cial emis­sary to the re­gion, Ja­son Green­blatt, ar­rived with the ap­par­ent aim of gen­er­at­ing move­ment to­ward a re­gional set­tle­ment. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, peo­ple on both sides liked him— in­clud­ing Pales­tinian refugees in the camps and Is­raeli set­tlers on the West Bank. One ma­jor ex­cep­tion, it seems, was Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, who, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, was asked by Green­blatt to come up with con­crete steps to cur­tail set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity along with some state­ment of what com­pro­mises he would ul­ti­mately be pre­pared to make.

Pre­dictably even un­der Trump, the old blue­print for par­ti­tion, along fa­mil­iar lines, has sur­faced again; it re­fuses to go away. One should never un­der­es­ti­mate Ne­tanyahu’s un­canny abil­ity to stall, pre­var­i­cate, and erad­i­cate even the slight­est glimmer of hope. But maybe the Thrall prin­ci­ple will yet be put into prac­tice.4 The pres­i­dent’s visit to Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael, and Pales­tinian Beth­le­hem in May, on his first for­eign trip, is, I sup­pose, meant to sug­gest that he is se­ri­ous about pur­su­ing a deal. As sev­eral friends of mine, Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, have said, if Don­ald Trump were some­how to im­pose an agree­ment, this would prove not that God ex­ists but that, if He does, He has a sense of hu­mor. —May 24, 2017

Is­raeli po­lice­men re­mov­ing a protester dur­ing the evic­tion of Jewish set­tlers from the il­le­gal set­tle­ment of Amona in the oc­cu­pied West Bank, Fe­bru­ary 2017

Is­raeli sol­diers in­ter­ro­gat­ing a Jor­da­nian Arab dur­ing Is­rael’s cap­ture of the Old City of Jerusalem dur­ing the Six-Day War, June 1967

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