Understanding The Permanence Of Greater Israel

Israeli air strikes on Gaza

My old sparring partner, Jeffrey Goldberg, has been busy pondering why Hamas has sent hundreds of rockets – with no fatalities – into Israel. He argues that it does this in order to kill Palestinians. It’s an arresting idea, and it helps perpetuate the notion that there are no depths to which these Islamist fanatics and war criminals will not sink.

It also helps distract from the fact that Hamas itself did not kill the three Israeli teens which was the casus belli for the latest Israeli swoop through the West Bank; that Netanyahu had called for generalized revenge in the wake of the killings, while concealing the fact that the teens had been murdered almost as soon as they had been captured; and that Israeli public hysteria, tapping into the Gilad-like trauma of captivity, then began to spawn increasingly ugly, sectarian and racist acts of revenge and brutality. It also side-steps the rather awful fact that this nihilist and futile war crime is all that Hamas has really got left.

Yes, they conceal armaments and rockets and weapons in civilian areas – and that undoubtedly increases civilian deaths. But what alternative do they have exactly, if they wish to have any military capacity at all? Should they build clearly demarcated camps and barracks and munitions stores, where the IDF could just destroy them at will? As for the argument that no democratic society could tolerate terrorist attacks without responding with this kind of disproportionate force, what about the country I grew up in, where pubs and department stores in the mainland were blown up, where the prime minister and her entire cabinet were bombed and some killed in a hotel? I don’t recall aerial bombing of Catholic areas in Belfast, do you? Or fatality numbers approaching 200 – 0? Democratic countries are marked by this kind of restraint – not by calls for revenge and bombardment of a densely populated urban area, where civilian casualties, even with the best precision targeting and warnings, are inevitable.

And there is, for all the talk of aggression on both sides, no serious equivalence in capabilities between Hamas and the IDF. The IDF has the firepower to level Gaza to the ground if it really wants to. Hamas, if it’s lucky, might get a rocket near a town or city. I suppose Israel’s reluctance just to raze Gaza for good and all is why John McCain marveled that in a war where one side has had more than 170 fatalities, 1,200 casualties, 80 percent of whom are civilians, and the other side has no fatalities and a handful of injuries, Israel has somehow practiced restraint. One wonders what no restraint would mean.

And look at the image above. Part of our skewed perspective is revealed by it. Imagine for a second that Hamas had leveled a synagogue. Can you imagine what Israel would feel justified in doing as a response? Or imagine if a Jewish extended family of 18 had been massacred by Hamas, including children? Would we not be in a major international crisis? At some point the lightness with which we treat Palestinian suffering compared with Jewish suffering needs to be addressed as an urgent moral matter. The United States is committed to human rights, not rights scaled to one’s religious heritage or race.

But this morning, as if to balance Hamas’s blame for every single death in the conflict, Goldblog feels the need to chide the Israeli prime minister for his “mistake” in having utter contempt for any two-state solution. “Mistake” is an interesting word to use.

It implies a relatively minor slip-up, a miscalculation, a foolish divergence from sanity. But it is perfectly clear to anyone not always finding excuses for the Israeli government that Netanyahu wasn’t making a mistake. He was simply reiterating his longstanding view that Israel will never, ever allow a sovereign Palestinian state to co-exist as a neighbor. And unless you understand that, nothing he has done since taking office makes any sense at all. Everything he has said and done presupposes permanent Greater Israel. And he is not some outlier. Israel’s entire political center of gravity is now firmly where Netanyahu is. The rank failure of the peace process simply underlines this fact. As do half a million Jewish settlers and religious fanatics on the West Bank. Which means that US policy is completely incoherent. Since the whole idea of a two-state solution is as dead as the infamous parrot, why on earth are Americans still pursuing it?

I think because many want Israel to be other than what it plainly is. They understand that this project of a bi-national state with Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement is a horrible fate. Jeffrey is as eloquent on this today as he has ever been:

If Netanyahu has convinced himself that a Palestinian state is an impossibility, then he has no choice but to accept the idea that the status quo eventually brings him to binationalism, either in its Jim Crow form—Palestinians absorbed into Israel, except without full voting rights—or its end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state form, in which the two warring populations, Jewish and Arab, are combined into a single political entity, with chaos to predictably ensue.

But this is clearly the reality. The Obama administration was the last hope for some kind of agreement, and the Israelis have told the president to go fuck himself on so many occasions the very thought of accommodation is preposterous. With the acceleration of the settlements, and the ever-rising racism and religious fundamentalism in Israel itself, this is what Israel now is. And what it will always be. Anyone still assuming that a two-state solution is actually in the minds of the leaders of Israel is therefore whistling in the wind. One wonders simply how many Palestinians have to die and how much largess we must keep sending to Israel before that whistling eventually stops.

A reader adds:

This is what really put Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank in perspective for me: Israel has possessed the West Bank for almost precisely the same proportion of its national existence as the United States has possessed Texas and California. About seven-tenths.  That is, Israel has occupied the West Bank for 71 percent of the time since national independence in 1948; the United States has possessed Texas and California for 69 percent of the time since national independence in 1776.

Imagine an American claiming that possession of Texas and California was not in some way fundamental to the character of the nation. Imagine if American border politics was predicated on the claim that possession of Texas and California was temporary and both would someday be returned to Mexican sovereignty. Preposterous! A United States without Texas and California would not be the United States anymore. Though it might keep its name, it would be a fundamentally different nation. Even more, the United States would first have to become an existentially different nation before it would even consider peaceably permitting California and Texas to leave the union.

Just so with Israel. Despite protestations otherwise, possession of the West Bank has become a fundamental and existential part of the character of Israeli nationhood. Possession of the West Bank is not temporary, it is not contingent, and it is not an exception to the general rule of the character of Israeli nationhood. Occupation and settlement are as central to the Israeli nation, its politics and culture, as burritos, Hollywood, and Sunbelt conservatism are to American politics, culture, and national identity.

And this was the vision of many of the Jewish state’s founders. To see what is in front of one’s nose …


For more of our ongoing coverage of this latest Israel/Gaza conflict, go here.

(Photo:  A Palestinian boy inspects the Al-Noor Mosque destroyed in air attacks staged by Israel army within the scope of “Operation Protective Edge” on July 14, 2014 in Deir Al-Balah district of Gaza City, Gaza. By Belal Khaled/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)