blog | Elephants: Part II

While certainly agreeing with the core of Shalom’s analysis – that the tension between “Jewish”, “democratic”, and physical and political realities on the ground is climbing to its inevitable breaking point – I would contest the fatalism of his final scenario. I certainly accept that  Kenya or Algiers are hints of one possible outcome, although here I would add the Yugoslavian and Rwandan models, with the majority state attempting to resolve its tensions with the minority by trying to deport it or get rid of it. But either kind of a violent super-escalation of the conflict is the most likely prognosis, considering the conduct of our major political players and public opinion in general. It’s hard not to agree with Noam Sheizaf, who writes today that

The Israelis, both the leaders and the public, prefer things to stay the way they are. The Palestinians desire a change – though not at all costs. This is a none-symmetric situation, and as long as it stays this way, the instability will go on, and there will be no meaningful negotiations.

My argument, however, would be that other scenarios are still possible. Conflicts considered no less intractable than ours have actually managed to  find their way into the post-violence stage, and to channeling themselvses into democratic frameworks. I’m thinking here first and foremost about Northern Ireland, where, despite a number of recent violent incidents, the conflict is now being managed through a system of power-sharing, and a return to full scale violence is unpopular in the extreme on both sides of the divide .

Noam goes on to offer a way forward, saying in the same post:

The most effective way would be a clear demand by the international community- accompanied by diplomatic and even economic pressure – to give the Palestinians full civil rights and replace the military authority in the West Bank with a civilian one. This will make it clear to Israelis that we are already moving on a road that will lead to a bi-national state, in which they won’t have the current super-majority and will be forced to share power with the Arab population on a more equal basis.

This sounds, in a way, like a win-win formula (at least for non-nationalists), with a one-state democracy if the move suceeds and the much coveted (at least by nationalists) two-state solution if the Israelis are alarmed enough to get a move on. It certainly seems the most likely next step, too, as the Palestinian struggle for exclusive self-determination has been bled white by the Intifada, and the settlements appear more unmovable than ever. What I hope, though, is that Noam is not offering it as a conflict resolution program. First, because I personally agree with some of my teachers in Northern Ireland that conflicts are at best managed, not “resolved”; and second, because a popular movement along the lines of Noam’s proposal would first and foremost inject new energy into and become a new phase of the conflict, with bi/non-nationalists fighting nationalists and nationalists happily resuming the fight between themselves.

In my personal opinion, one possible way forward – in the very, very long term -towards managing the tensions in a non-violent manner is power-sharing. Despite the numeric imbalance in the long run, I really don’t see the Israeli Jews becoming a passive minority “deprived  of the right for self-determination”; even if/when Shalom’s scenario does come to pass, I would still see it as a phase in the ongoing conflict, rather than the permanent status quo: There’s no reason to believe Jewish nationalists will prove any less combative than Palestinian ones, especially if their community is pushed to grant them popular support. Moreover, they quite simply have nowhere else to go – they’re allied to the land, not to some overseas power like the pied-noires, and here is their only home.

Power -sharing, by contrast, would allow each side to express its national aspirations, while, necessarily, acknowledging the similar aspirations of the other side. In other words, rather than having twin versions of political Zionism – two exclusivist nation-states – we should be striving for something like a twinned Balfour declaration, a Palestinian national home alongside a Jewish-Israeli national home, in the same interdependent political union, with ample gaps between the two for people who don’t primarily define themselves by a single nationality. And as a side note, I really don’t think that such a political entity would be instantly overrun by pan-Arabism and get swallowed up by neighbors; see Lebanon vs Syria, for instance.

With pain, existential fears, mutual exhaustion and loathing, the road there will most certainly not be an easy one – and the time-frame I’m talking about is decades, at least. But for all this even to become possible, Israel’s radical left would have to acknowledge the existence, and, shock/horror, the legitimacy of Jewish-Israeli national identity and right for cultural (and some degree of political) self determination; while the right wing groups on either side will have to acknowledge that they share certain values (such as return from exile), and can therefore find some way of mutual respect. If this was reached after 400 years of conflict in Northern Ireland – and I’m talking here about the single fact of mutual recognition of Unionists and Republicans, as the internal and external factors that brought them there merit a separate article – is it really all that impossible for something similar to be reached here?

All I can say for sure is that it seems we’re heading for interesting times, folks.

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One response to “blog | Elephants: Part II

  1. Pingback: blog | A guest post on elephants, and some notes on power-sharing « Dimi’s notes

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