The Israeli election results have put to rest any faint hope for a settlement of the Israel/Palestinian conflict in the foreseeable future. No one should be fooled by Netanyahu’s post-election “clarification”: his behavior as well as his words, not only during the election campaign but long before, have demonstrated that he has no interest whatsoever in loosening Israel’s grip on its occupied territories. He remains determined to extend Israel’s effective borders to as large a chunk of the West Bank as he can get away with.
Many Israelis as well as friends of Israel see Netanyahu set on a course that is not only morally disastrous, but threatening to Israeli democracy. Some warn that that course moves ineluctably toward the construction of something like an apartheid regime of Greater Israel in all of Palestine. All historic analogies are imprecise, but the South African one is actually a bit kind to Israel. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the situation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories is worse than that of black Africans under South African apartheid. After a tour of the West Bank, former Brown University President Stephen Robert called the occupation “apartheid on steroids.”
Since most of the world believes that the status quo in Palestine is unacceptable, and since there can no longer be any pretense that Bibi could ever be gently prodded into a fair settlement, what is to be done?
Having hinted that it might reconsider its knee-jerk defense of Israeli positions in the United Nations, the Obama administration has expressed appropriate incredulity at Bibi’s flip-flop. But domestic politics will continue to limit the amount of pressure the US government will put on Israel. The European Union is a different story. Israeli journalist Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man has reported that the EU has seriously considered sanctions against Israel; the definitive death of the peace process could now push the Europeans toward a decision.
In the non-governmental sphere, the international boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel can be expected to gather increased force. In the past, I’ve expressed reservations about BDS because many of its supporters seem intent on a one-state solution in Palestine that would effectively mean the end of the Israeli state. Now I’m more inclined to think that one can’t always be too squeamish about one’s allies—any source of pressure on Israel to change course can only be a good thing. As Peter Beinart (also wary of BDS) has put it: “With Netanyahu’s reelection, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin. If Israelis have the right to vote for permanent occupation, we in the Diaspora have the right to resist it. ” The pressure process didn’t work quickly for South Africa, and it won’t work quickly for Israel, but it seems to be the only way.
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