The Americans and Europeans have tried being the voice of reason and failed. Now they must speak to Israel in the language it understands best (hint: it’s not Hebrew.)
By Gideon Levy
Published 19:43 31.05.14
If there is a world, let it appear immediately. For now, there’s the sense of an ending of the international intervention in Israel. The Americans folded, the Europeans gave up, the Israelis rejoice and the Palestinians are lost. “Sleep now high road / ending comes, Sleep thou king / here comes the clown” (“Shir Eres” [Lullaby], by Natan Alterman, translated by Avigail Caspi-Lebovic).
Occasionally some pope or foreign minister makes a visit (Norway’s FM was here last week), pays loose lip service in favor of peace and against terror and the settlements, and then disappears again. On the high road ending comes, and the king has been replaced by the clown. But even this waning is a statement, and idleness is action: They leave the conflict to the sighs of the Palestinians and the occupation in the hands of Israel, which is sure to perpetuate it and to ground it even more firmly. For that reason, the world’s withdrawal is unacceptable: The international community does not have the option to leave the status quo as is, even if that is Israel’s most fervent wish.
The current situation is not acceptable in the 21st century. It is easy to empathize with the United States for giving up, with Europe for tiring. How much longer can the same road be trodden? How many times can the same futile proposals be read out to deaf ears.
After a brief recovery from the American failure, the time has come for a new way, one that has never been tried before. Both the message and the medium must change, to a message of civil rights and the medium of punishment. The previous route included sycophancy toward Israel, one carrot after another in order to please it. It was a resounding failure. It only gave Israel an incentive to further entrench its policy of disinheritance.
The message also failed spectacularly: The two-state solution has given up the ghost. The world tried to bring it to life using charm. The proposals came thick and fast, amazing in their resemblance to each other – from the Rogers Plan to the shuttle diplomacy of John Kerry – and each one only collected dust in some drawer. Israel always said no, only its excuses and conditions changing: an end to terror here, recognition of its being a Jewish state there.
In the meantime, the number of settlements in the West Bank grew threefold and fourfold, and the brutality of the occupation increased to the point where soldiers now shoot demonstrators out of nothing but boredom.
The world cannot lend its hand to this. It is unacceptable, in the 21st century, for a state that purports to be a permanent member of the free world to keep another nation deprived of rights. It is unthinkable, simply unthinkable, for millions of Palestinians to continue to live in these conditions. It is unthinkable for a democratic state to continue to oppress them in this way. It is unthinkable that the world stands by and allows it to happen.
The two-state discussion must now become a discussion of rights: Dear Israelis, you wanted an occupation and the settlements – knock yourselves out! Remain in Yitzhar, dig yourselves into the mountainside and build to your hearts’ desire in Itamar. But you absolutely must grant full rights to the Palestinians living alongside, exactly the same rights that you enjoy.
Equal rights for all; one person, one vote – that should be the message of the international community. After all, what could Israel say to this new message? That there cannot be equal rights because the Jews are the chosen people? That it would endanger security? The excuses would quickly run out, and the naked truth would come to light: that in this land, only Jews have rights. Such a message cannot go unchallenged.
At the same time, the entire approach to Israel must be changed. As long as it does not pay the price for the occupation and its citizens go unpunished, they will have no reason to end it, or even to deal with it. The occupation is deep inside the Israeli closet. There is no one to out it, the overwhelming majority want it to remain inside. For this reason, only punitive measures will remind us of its existence. Yes, I mean boycotts and sanctions, which are greatly preferable to bloodshed.
This is the truth, even if it’s bitter. America and Europe have kowtowed to Israel enough. Unfortunately, to no effect. From now on, the world must speak a different language and perhaps it will be understood. After all, Israel has proved, more than once, that the language of power and punishment is its main language.