Israel's Choice - By NEVE GORDON
Jerusalem -- Returning to Israel after an extended absence can
be a disturbing experience. On the way back from the airport
to my Jerusalem apartment, I noticed new posters tacked onto
utility poles and bridges along the highway. They read:
Transfer= Peace and Security. The meaning was unambiguous:
Israel must expel the 3 million Palestinians living in the
occupied territories--and perhaps even its own Palestinian
citizens--in order to achieve peace and security.
While racist slogans have become pervasive in Israel, it was
this particular message--the notion of expulsion as a political
solution--that unhinged me. One does not need to be a Holocaust
survivor to recognize the phrase's lethal implications. The
slogan, however, does not merely underscore the moral
bankruptcy of certain elements in Israeli society; it also
helps uncover some of the inherent contradictions underlying
Israel's policies in the occupied territories.
>From the extreme right (those behind the posters) to the
radical left, Israelis agree on at least two points: The
current crisis must be dealt with, and land is the major issue
around which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves. After
more than two years of armed conflict, which has left close to
2,500 people dead--including 300 Palestinian and eighty
Israeli children--most Israelis see the situation as hopeless,
a view that is, ironically, shared by many Palestinians.
Israeli hopelessness does not stem merely from the Sharon
government's preference for military action over diplomacy
(which despite its ruthlessness has not stabilized the
situation), but also from the fact that public discourse has
been colonized by military calculations, which undercut the
possibility of even envisioning a positive change. The current
absence of a political horizon helps explain why no one greeted
the government's announcement of early elections with any
Most Israelis appear to understand that the doctrine advanced
by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and adopted by Sharon
is no longer tenable, namely that the West Bank, Gaza Strip and
East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty while the
Palestinian population would be given some form of autonomy
without receiving full citizenship. The Israeli left has
rejected this solution for pragmatic and ethical reasons,
recognizing that in Israel's effort to maintain control over
the territories it has become an apartheid regime.
Israel has introduced a segregated road system in the
territories, transforming all major arteries into roads for
Jews only. Palestinian villages and towns have consequently
been turned into islands, hindering the population's access to
medical facilities, work and education. (According to UNICEF,
close to a quarter-million Palestinian children cannot reach
schools.) Not surprisingly, the Palestinian economy has also
collapsed--a recent Israeli military report states that between
60 and 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Israelis on the left and right now realize that the conflict
cannot be resolved under the current conditions, regardless
of the amount of military force Israel employs. A new
government will be expected to come up with new ideas.
Although the situation is complex, there will be only three
options from which to choose if we are to break the current
The first is the two-state solution. Even if the Labor Party's
new leader, former Gen. Amram Mitzna, ends up forming the next
government, which is highly unlikely, it is not clear that he
will have the courage to radically alter the Oslo format. This
option, however, will be viable only if Israel implements a
full withdrawal to the 1967 borders and dismantles all Jewish
settlements, which now contain almost 400,000 people. While
this may appear to be an impossible endeavor, one should keep
in mind that when France finally ceded control of Algeria, it
managed to evacuate a much larger number of French citizens.
The second option is the one proffered by the extreme right:
the expulsion of all the Palestinians from their lands,
forcefully transferring them to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria or Egypt.
This idea, which until recently had been marginalized, is
gaining broader support among the powers that be. Polls indicate
that the National Union, a right-wing party advocating expulsion,
is expected to receive 10 percent of the vote in the upcoming
elections, and its members are not the only ones who are
promoting this solution.
The third option is for Israel to annex the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, bestowing full citizenship on the Palestinian population,
and thus turning itself into a binational state rather than a
Jewish one. This solution, which had been perceived by
Palestinians as a betrayal of the struggle for self- determination, has
recently gained legitimacy within the
Palestinian establishment. While the binational option is, in
a sense, the most democratic of the three, within Israel it is
still considered an abomination not only by the right but also
by Labor and the liberal Meretz.
If Israel's next leader is to overcome the current crisis, he
will have to decide whether to abandon the notion of a Jewish
state, employ a policy used by the darkest regimes (not least
the Third Reich) or dismantle the settlements and bring the
Jewish settlers back home. Each of these options negates certain
elements of the Zionist project, suggesting that the settlements
constitute a contradiction; they are now destroying the very
project that initiated and upheld them. They have come back to
turn the Zionist dream into a nightmare.
Neve Gordon is a freelance writer who writes for The Nation,
among other publications.