No, not that veil.
I had an interesting conversation with a pro-BDS Israeli man (‘BDSM’) and an anti-Zionist Jewish woman (‘AZJW’) recently that made me think. To paraphrase, it went something like this:
MK: I get what you’re saying and I’m not denying that there are huge problems with Israeli policy in the West Bank, but why don’t you just target specific policies? Why can you only talk grandiose solutions, as though the only way to make the situation better would be for the Israeli government to fall and a whole new regime put in place? [Note: this would not make things better, but that wasn't what I was arguing with them]
BDSM: Because it all comes from occupation! And the government is part of it!
MK: Ok, let’s take an example. Why don’t you advocate for Israeli soldiers to be responsible for preventing settler attacks on Palestinians? At the moment, they have to protect the settlers from Palestinians, but have no power to use any kind of force against the settlers. If they were able to arrest them and hold them accountable, the whole atmosphere would change in the West Bank. Settlers would stop feeling so entitled.
BDSM: It’s deliberate.
MK: Sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t end.
BDSM: But that is just one part of the whole approach. Look at Susya, the settlers are making a big push to drive all the Palestinians out of area C so that they Israel can annex it.
MK: Yes, but if they couldn’t attack Palestinians without repercussions, it would make that much harder for them to do.
AZJW: But it’s part of the whole occupation system. It won’t just change.
MK: It can. There is one IDF officer somewhere who can sign an order and it will change overnight.
BDSM: But they won’t! The government supports the settlers.
MK: Not all of them do.
BDSM: What do you mean? It was Labor that started the settlements in 1967. Every party has supported them since then. During Oslo when the two state solution seemed so close, it was Rabin that was building more settlements and letting them carve-up the West Bank with settler-only roads.
MK: Yes, but it wasn’t his initiative, it was a deal that he made. Labor is not pro-settlement. Even Likud has a strong anti-settlement faction.
AZJW: Or is that just what you want to believe?
BDSM: What do you mean? The settlers and the government are one and the same!
It carried on like that for a while and I gave up eventually, but something did strike me about what they said.
From their perspective, they are completely right. The awful law-enforcement policies in the West Bank are part of The Occupation. Every Israeli government in history has supported The Occupation. There is no political party with any kind of record of ending The Occupation, so all Israeli governments would be bad and the only way to end The Occupation would be to overthrow the current regime.
The problem, as always, is a lack of nuance – but this nuance is particularly difficult to grasp. I can see why they are wrong because I have been immersed in the political/lawmaking system in Australia and all democratic systems work similarly on some basic level. They have been outside the system and so they cannot truly appreciate what is going on.
They see The Occupation and The Government. When governments do not end pro-settlement policies despite political leaders promising to do so, these two see that The Government is in bed with The Settlers.
I don’t. I see a holistic political system full of competing interests. The Knesset has 120 members, all from an unnecessary number of different parties, and within the major parties are factions.
An overview of the Knesset
The opposition: the traditional Israeli left represented by Meretz and Avoda (Labour); an Arab bloc made-up of socialists, secular nationalists and Islamists; the extreme religious-Zionist parties, which range from far-right to borderline Jewish Fascism; and of course the leading opposition party Kadima – the largest single party in the Knesset – which contains a faction of former Likudniks who were loyal to Ariel Sharon and a faction of more leftist politicians sourced from various other places.
The Government: Shas, the haredi party that mostly cares about holding onto the State Rabbinate, welfare for large families and keeping Haredim exempt from the military; Yisrael Beitenu, which has a large base of Russian immigrants, is fiercely secular and nationalist, has left-wing social policies, is very hawkish on foreign policy, and rife with anti-Arab racism; Habayit Hayehudi, the religious-Zionist, pro-settler party; Atzmeut, Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s offshoot of the Labour party; and, of course, Likud.
Likud is the party of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism. Jabotinsky was a strong, secular nationalist and a classical liberal. He believed in an Israel on both sides of the River Jordan and believed that the Jews had to fight for everything they get as the rest of the world hates Jews and would only ever try to hurt Israel. This message was being declared on the eve of the Holocaust – had he been listened to, history could have been very different.
Likud today has a pragmatic faction, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, which stays true to Jabotinsky’s liberalism while keeping their thinking in the modern world. There is a less savoury faction, led by Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, which follows Jabotinsky’s militant ‘Whole Israel’ ideas while ignoring the humanitarian, anti-racist and democratic pillars of Jabotinsky’s beliefs. There is also a faction led by Moshe Feiglin, who is pro-civil liberties and does not believe peace to be a priority.
Why that little aside? Well, all of those factions have different agendas and interests that govern how Israeli policy is made. Netanyahu relies on pro-settlement factions for support in order to maintain government, so has every Israeli government for decades. In the scheme of things, Labour and Likud have always made a trade-off: they accept support from settlers, turn a blind eye to what they do in the West Bank, and concentrate on domestic and other issues.
The important thing to notice is that there is a majority in the Knesset who are against settlement, or at least indifferent. The problem is that they will not work together.
My pro-BDS interlocutors do not see this because they do not see through the veils of the parties and the government. They cannot break The Occupation down into a series of policies and policy vacuums that have evolved over time to create a certain dynamic in the West Bank.
The settlers are basically like spoilt children who become bullies. They have been allowed to do whatever they want in the West Bank without limits and have developed a sense of entitlement.
I believe that small changes could be very easy to make and could have huge consequences. One order from the Defence Ministry could introduce effective law enforcement and prevent daily harassment and abuse of Palestinians. Adopting some of the Levy Report’s recommendations could end the dubious zoning policies around Area C.
If these two things happened, the resentment from the Palestinian side would immensely reduce and the settlers would have limits to their actions. The entire mindset would begin to shift.