Is there a solution to the conflict? I would argue, no. Forever? No. But for now, there is no reasonable chance to reach such a solution. Has there been a chance over the past 70 years? No. For the next 70 years? Maybe.
This is a tough thing to admit for someone who’s been devoted to the idea that there is a solution, and has been working for decades toward it. But you have to look reality dead in the face without flinching, and say what you really see. Not what you want to see. The truth is very plain. It’s staring us in the face. We just hate what we see so much we don’t want to admit it.
There are many who still harbor illusions about what’s possible. They still believe in fairy tales of love, peace and understanding. Co-existence. Dialogue, Liberal democracy, Two states., etc. etc. I admit I was once one of them. Back in the day, I thought I was a visionary. I believed in two states when it was still anathema to do so (New Jewish Agenda circa 1981), I believed in negotiations with the PLO and was stoned for it at a Jerusalem protest (1979). As far back as 1969 (age 18) I wrote a paper at Camp Ramah’s American Seminar, comparing Israel’s conquest of the West Bank in the 1967 War to apartheid South Africa.
But there comes a time when you have to give up your dreams and visions when they’re no longer relevant. There’s a trite saying that when reality gives you a lemon, make lemonade. But when Palestinian reality gives you a dead baby, you better admit something’s terribly wrong; and that you will never be able to fix it with good intentions. The Bible says: humans “do not live on bread alone.” Nor do they live on prayers alone.
Too many UN resolutions ignored, too many “expressions of concern” by foreign governments, who will do nothing to stop the latest massacre from happening again. Too many statements like this: “Israel has a right to defend itself from Palestinian rockets.” Too much milquetoast. Too many media appraisals shorn of context. Too many empty promises. It’s time to stop being a sucker. To stop believing in nostrums.
They say: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We have been fooled not once, not twice, but a thousand times. Liberal Zionism is a particularly toxic brew in that regard. It offers optimism. It says hope, faith and charity can work miracles. “Believe that love conquers hate,” it declares; thus embracing Dr. Pangloss’ “all is for the best, in this best of all possible worlds.”
Such Zionism offers a two-state solution which is really a two-state illusion. It tells a dying patient there is hope for recovery. It is cruel and deceitful. You are not doing anyone any favors by fooling them into believing a lie.
Gaza and the ‘Road to Damascus’
All this was spurred by this month’s Israeli assault on Gaza. To be ghoulish, this one was relatively ‘minor’ as Israeli attacks go. “Only”
44 46 dead Gazans. “Only” 15 dead children. Compared to the 2,300 killed in 2014, Gaza got off relatively ‘easy’ this time.
Some seem to find a way to hope amidst this endless carnage:
Indeed Gaza challenges our propensity to be hopeful. But as someone whose ancestors were sold at the auction block, I believe that however long/filled with setbacks to road to justice/freedom may be, we must stride along, with a deep conviction that we or our kids will get there.
— Mamadou Sow (@MamadouSowICRC) August 8, 2022
I respect that.Really I do. But my ancestors were exterminated in Nazi death camps. I’m less hopeful than you. But would welcome being proven wrong. https://t.co/iminKuZEFP
— Tikun Olam (@richards1052) August 8, 2022
When I read these tweets from a kind, gentle African man in my timeline, in which he quoted Martin Luther King’s “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” I realized I could not share his faith or MLK’s. Not now. Maybe not ever. Realizing I couldn’t, broke something inside me. Not anything earth-shattering. Not anything life-altering. But it rooted out any tiny reservoir of hope that there can be a solution to this conflict. At least not in my lifetime. Maybe not in my childrens’.
It kills me. I can remember back to when I wrote that essay in 1969. I believed surely if we understood enough. If we protested enough. If we argued enough. If we studied enough, educated enough–surely Israel and the world would eventually understand the folly of its actions. I remember asking myself: how long will that take? Surely in a decade. A decade ago or more I thought: surely in my lifetime. Now, I know that I was not only wrong, I was deluded. Perhaps through no fault of my own. But deluded nevertheless.
Another spark for this essay came from Norman Finkelstein. In his inimitablly polemical way, he too strips away falsity and illusion. He too, so I understand, believes a solution is no longer possible. If my impression is correct of his views, then he too has come far. He repeatedly lectured in the past about the possibility, though never the inevitability, of a real solution. So if you want to glass of ice cold water thrown in your face, read some Finkelstein. The realization that he too was going in this direction was yet another catalyst for my change of heart.
To some, my epiphany of despair may seem obvious. “About time,” they might say. “What were you waiting for?” To others, it may arouse disagreement. Liberal Zionists will undoubtedly say my “cynicism” only gives in to those on the radical Israel right, whose own corrosive cynicism fuels their hatred, racism and rejectionism. They might accuse me of giving up. Of admitting failure.
That’s not it at all. Anyone who knows me knows I can never do that (though sometimes the urge is quite strong to do so). But once you accept that you or the Palestinians or anyone, are powerless to realize the sort of radical change necessary, you must ask what comes next. How do you accept what no one can change, and still engage with/against this evil sytem in a meaningful way?
Israel: Battleship Invincible
The truth is that Israel refuses any reasonable compromise. Refuses to engage in any serious negotiation. It has done so for years and will continue to do so for years more, if not decades. If Israel was fading and economically vulnerable, like the Soviet Union was in 1989 or like South Africa was in 1992, then Israel too could be forced to accept a similar transformation.
But Israel is strong. It’s army is powerful. And even if wasn’t, it’s fighting an insurgency that cannot begin to match its firepower. Israel’s economy is roaring (despite the enormous gap between rich and poor; and the extremely high poverty rates). Its entrepreneurs and tycoons are bullish.
Some of us argue that increasing level of emigration by young, largely secular professionals, bodes ill for Israel’s future. That it indicates a key demographic sector has grown weary of perpetural war and is deserting like rats, from a sinking ship. That it means that Israel in the long run will, in a generation or two, become a nation of Palestinians and ultra-Orthodox Jews without a professional or middle class. But we must face the fact that this either will not happen, or will not materially change conditions inside Israel.
The Left is Dead
Perhaps if the Left (referring here and below to the Zionist Left) was stronger. If there were political leaders or parties that represented real change; and which challenged the status quo. Back in the day, pundits used to ask plaintively: where is Israel’s DeGaulle? The truth is, Israel doesn’t need DeGaulle, doesn’t want DeGaulle. It wants Bibi or Bibi-Lite, like the current government.
If there was a viable Israeli Left, perhaps there might be some hope for a political earthquake, like when Chileans overthew a brutal military junta after Pinochet’s death. But again, look reality in the face and admit: the Left in Israel has been left for dead. Nearly fifty years of far-right dominance of the political landscape has turned the left into feeble eunuchs (no offense to eunuchs), incapable of offering a vision of what the world could be if it led the country. It is certainly the Left’s fault for its timidity, vacillation, and compromising with what it believed to be the “prevailing consensus.” But the Israeli voters are at fault too. They will not vote for change. They’re reminiscent of the Mad Magazine’s icon, Alfred E. Newman, whose tagline was: “What? Me Worry?” As a teenager, I never understood why anyone thought that was funny. Perhaps because I wasn’t a comics fan. But now I understand it with a vengeance.
Israelis voters may cast a ballot for politicians who promise change. But “change” in the mouths of such charlatans and liars means nothing. Change is a mirage a man dying of thirst sees in the desert. Change, that sort of change, is dead.
The Real Israeli Left Isn’t Dead, Just Powerless
There is another Left in Israel. The Palestinian Left. Though it has none of the weaknesses outlined above, it faces insuperable obstacles limiting its power. Israeli political apartheid has systematically suppressed the Palestinian political voice. There has never been a Palestinian prime minister. Never been a Paletsinian holding a major ministerial portfolio (defense, foreign affairs, interior, finance, etc). There have been very few Palestinians MKs holding even junior portfolios. Until this past election, there has never been a Palestinian party within a governing coalition. So Israel has severely limited Palestinian political agency. Yet another sign that the Israeli system ensures the continuation of the status quo, and suffocates any possibility of radical change.
In some ways, Israel has learned from failed ethnocratic states of the past. It has seen what weaknesses led to the downfall of South African apartheid, for example, and put into place regulations, laws and policies which strangle the baby of real democracy in its bed. Israel is nothing if not innovative and clever at maintaing Judeo-supremacy.
What Is to Be Done?
Lenin’s famous dictum strikes a chord for those who’ve given up a dream, awakened from slumber, and face the frightening question: where do we go from here? We don’t stop agitating. We don’t stop writing. We don’t stop strategizing. We don’t stop building coalitions. We just do so with a different set of expectations. And in a way, that makes our work more powerful. We know that circumstances now beyond our control make the change we envision impossible. But nevertheless, we will persevere.
None of this is to say that the current impasse is permanent. History is long. We humans have roamed this earth for millions of years. Kingdoms have risen and fallen. Pagan worship once fired the faith of millions. Then faded away as quickly as it arose. Only to be replaced by other religions. Wars have been won and lost. Everything changes. Nothing remains the same.
Those cynical Israeli leaders who believe they can maintain this evil charade perpetually are doomed-and their nation is doomed (in its current form). They may die peacefully in their beds assured that they have stayed the course for the sake of their people. But if they had any wisdom at all they would understand that nations may reign for a time. They may rule proudly for a generation, a century or more. But all of them collapse in time. Some through folly. Some through corruption. Pride, as they say, goeth before a fall. When this version of Israel falls, it will inevitably do so amid huge catastrophe, like what befell ancient Judea after it was conquered by the Romans.
Israel in its current state is proud. It is impregnable. So it appears. It may last for a generation, maybe two, maybe ten. But it is unsutainable. In some lucky future, there is a just, honorable outcome. We (or at least I) will not live to see it. And that is a personal tragedy. But someone, somewhere will.
In the final scene of King Lear, the once haughty ruler is a poor old beggar, stripped naked and raging at the howling wind and rain. Once he has peeled away the vanity of power and expectation that his power-hungry daughters will rally to his side and do the right thing; and once he understands that Cordelia, in death, was the only true, pure one of the three, who loved him as they did not; then he becomes a powerful, redemptive and tragic-heroic figure. He no longer has any artifice or vanity. He understands that through his own self-delusion he has lost the things most important to him.
But as a result, he has something that none of his remaining daughters can ever have: he has humility; he has suffering; he has inner wisdom. During a summer spent at the UC Berkeley Greek Worshop, I learned of the Greek philosophical wisdom: ‘learning through suffering.’ This epitomizes the humbled Lear. His suffering will help him expose the evils wrought upon him by his daughters, and overthrow their rule. Thus restoring him to his rightful throne as an older, deeper and wiser man.
This is where we stand with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have freed ourselves of false hopes. Now we can see the present more clearly and start working toward a better future.
There is an old Jewish saying: “So may it be, speedily and in our day.” It refers to the coming of the Messiah, an event Orthodox Jews yearn for. But we are not such Jews. We do not need a Messiah. We need something here on earth. What we yearn for is a Palestine-Israel filled with peace and justice. Will it come speedily? No. In our day? No. But we affirm that while it cannot be now, it will be. We don’t know when. But it will and must come.
We have waited 70 years. Russian Communism lasted for 75 years. Rome fell after centuries. But eventually a house, the house of Israel-Palestine, divided against itself, cannot stand.