The tectonic plates beneath the US-Israel co-dependent relationship have begun to shift in the last few years. One obvious reason is that the traditional notion of the US trying to broker a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine has now become a target of deserved ridicule. I’ve begun to find myself halting even to use the words “peace process” to describe Israel’s relentless de facto annexation of the West Bank. It seems increasingly like an abuse of the English language and a fiction that no honest observer can really attest to as reality.
From George W. Bush’s “road map” onward, the Israeli government has played the US to the point of absurdity. It first waged a brutal air war on Gaza with impunity. Then it resumed its aggressive and relentless expansion of colonial settlements and settlers on the West Bank. Netanyahu has recently shown he’d rather release murderous terrorists from jail than give up an inch of Greater Israel. The Israeli public has no interest or belief in compromise, as the hard right strengthens its grip on the country’s politics and as the settler faction maintains a stranglehold on the central government. The Israeli economy can continue to flourish even as the the Arab subjects of Greater Israel remain mired in a vast de facto holding pattern, without dignity, without a vote, without any leverage in any peace process. They are behind the wall, and kept in fences. And this is perfectly sustainable for the indefinite future with enough force of arms and economic growth, as the indispensable Roger Cohen recently argued.
The Kerry initiative – his frenetic, relentless attempt to make some progress – reveals merely, I’m afraid, that there is no progress to be made. The entire trajectory of Israel’s founding to today, as John Judis has ably demonstrated, has been the continuous resolution to create a Jewish state all across Palestine, and to slowly punish and immiserate any Palestinians caught on the wrong side of the line, in the hope that they will leave. It would be great to believe that this were not so, but that would require wiping the last decade from our collective memory. I used to believe that Israel was desperate for peace and that the main sticking point was Palestinian intransigence. You could plausibly have held that view a decade and a half ago, but surely not any more.
Palestinians on the West Bank remain as they long have been, kept in tightly controlled areas with checkpoints in between, denied the right to vote for the government that controls their every move, and subject to financial and economic leverage from the Israeli state. Meanwhile, privileged Jewish settlers are given incentives to colonize the Palestinian land, and Israel barrels ahead to make sure no part of Jerusalem could ever be the capital of Palestine. I don’t know of any US ally that behaves this way. I don’t know of any ally that keeps whole populations under its control without a right to vote, and does so on ethnic and religious lines. The last one that did so was South Africa.
If we are talking definitions of words, this is of relevance:
According to the 1998 Rome Statute, the “crime of apartheid” is defined as “inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
How does that not describe the West Bank and Gaza? It may offend some to think of the Jewish state as increasingly like the old South African one. But that, alas, is solely because the the hopes of the past still occlude the ugly reality of the present. It seems to me important that if the United States has no real power to change that brutal unending reality, it can at least call it what it is.
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty)