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Why the Silence of the Lambs?

February 2, 2011 – 7:40 pm30 Comments

By Larry Stillman

The Palestine Papers, as revealed by Al-Jazeerah and the Guardian, are explosive evidence about the state of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, leaning over backwards to break a deal—a deal that never went ahead and has even less chance of doing so with Netanyahu still in power.

What has been talked about for years on the left, and vigorously denounced by the Israeli government and its foreign agents, has been confirmed by cold hard facts.   Israel has not negotiated in good faith. A state of war has been an easier option than a just two-state solution for Palestinians.  The latter would require Israel’s leaders to take some extraordinarily challenging political decisions and undertake territorial sacrifices that shake some of Israel’s core beliefs to the core.

But something very strange is going on at a time when many voices should be heard both about the situation in which Israel now finds itself.  All the machers and fixers, from the well-funded Diaspora lobby groups, those who never seem to lack a comment, who to act as an ‘amen corner’ for Israel at every opportunity, have fallen strangely silent.


The Palestine Papers show that, contrary to all the public protestations over the years by Israel and its hardline supporters, Israel did in fact have a willing partner for peace, even, if, tragically, in my opinion, the Palestinian Authority offered a solution that is out of tune on several issues with the Palestinian public. 1) The right of return. 2) Proper evacuation of settlements as well as some neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem that have been unlawfully appropriated since 1967. 3) The status and administration of holy places.   This means that if the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government are to be real partners for peace, each of these issues needs to be dealt with much more generously by Israel to the point that the solution is acceptable to most Palestinians (perhaps affirmed through a plebiscite like that held for Sudanese around the world).

Additionally, the papers show the extent of collusion between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on security matters (including the Gaza Invasion, rather than a state of mutual antipathy).  In the long term, this would result in an authoritarian and unrepresentative regime in the State of Palestine, which while useful to Israel, would be along the lines of other authoritarian Arab regimes (and we can see what’s happening to them right now).   Any future relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel needs to be based on civil society principles, not authoritarianism.

The papers also demonstrate that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in something of a fantasy land if they think that they can keep the screws on Hamas, whose prestige is only going to be advanced through these revelations. This doesn’t automatically mean that Hamas supporters are all supporters of the despicable Hamas covenant with its anti-Semitic calumnies, or that they are Islamic ideologues. Hamas is seen as taking a more just and moral stand than the secular Fatah.  In one way or another, Hamas and Gaza are part of the story.

Finally, without internal constitutional and structural reform that again demands a rethink of Zionist tenets, an Israel-Palestine deal will never gain the support of Israeli Palestinians whose status as equal citizens needs to be absolutely established in a way that does not lead to their situation of being in a kind of citizenship limbo – yes you are equal, but…not absolutely equal.

Now, in the major Jewish Diaspora communities, my bet is that the machers don’t quite know what to spin because nothing makes much sense anymore. None of the old justifications for a poor, weak, massively threatened Israel make sense.  A deal with a supine Palestinian Authority will last five minutes and Israel is seeding the roots of another revolt if it thinks it can get away with it.

It gives me no pleasure to have to take such a critical view of the whole episode, and I am not happy that the Palestine Papers will make Israel haters delirious.  Back in the early 1990s I believed that the Oslo Accords were a first step towards a long-term peace, and I was angry at Palestinian critics such as Edward Said who said in 1993, that it was all a fraud, ‘an instrument of Palestinian surrender’. Sadly, he has been proven correct.

There appears to be no other way around it.   International intervention is desperately required, certainly more than the one-sided and in many ways ineffectual approach taken by US administrations. Israel’s leaders, for all the think tanks and experts it appears to have on board, have not proved that they want much more than an enforced peace with a local Bantustan, without any pain, or apologies for deep injustices over the years.

Trumpeted exceptionalism to the rules of international law and peace-making curry little favour for Israel these days.  Israel’s justifications are looking very thin and will get very little support as the Middle East erupts with new states, some democratic, some not, but most of which will not necessarily play ball with the non-resolution of a problem that has simmered, with increasing fervour, for not just 40 years, but ever since Zionists became political.

And no wonder so many of the local lambs are playing very quiet to their guiding fox these days.

The author is writing purely in a personal capacity.

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