Israeli Liberals IV: Ending the occupation entails redistribution

A genuine end to the occupation will entail a vast reorganization of space and a redistribution of resources and power. Israeli liberals have a lot to lose from such radical change. If anti-occupation activists wish to target a Jewish audience, they should look at disadvantaged Jewish groups, which have a lot less to lose and much to gain.

In the previous posts of these series, I argued that Israeli liberals are not the right audience for anti-occupation activists, because of their elitist isolation within Israeli society and the benefits they derive from continued control of the Palestinians. But it is not just the benefits that drive Israeli liberals to support the occupation. It is also the fear of the alternative.

Ending the occupation would mean a vast reorganization of Israeli-Palestinian space and a redistribution of resources, power and even values within that space. Right now, patterns of control and ownership are so skewed towards Jews, that anything short of a fundamental restructuring would amount to continuing the occupation under another title.

Israelis, for example, often speak of a solution in which their country retains the major settlement blocks and all the Jewish settlement neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Many even consider Ma’ale Edumim and Ariel, two Jewish cities in the heart of the West Bank, as part of the “Israeli consensus”.

It seems obvious to Israelis that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, would require Israeli approval for alliances or international agreements, and that Israel would retain control of the air space, the freedom to conduct security operations inside Palestinian territories whenever it deems it appropriate, and to cut off the passage between Gaza and the West Bank if it believes this move to be necessary.

Above all else, Israelis are adamant that any resolution of their conflict with Palestinians will end at the Green Line (aside from all the exceptions mentioned above), and that the internal relationships between Jews and Palestinians in Israel will remain as they are. Some even go so far as to demand that the Palestinians recognize that Israel is a “Jewish state”, by which they mean that its Palestinian citizens are just tolerated guests.

This kind of arrangement may very well come to pass, but it will not be an end to the occupation. If Palestinians are to be truly free, they must have a viable territory where they exercise genuine control and throughout which they can move freely. Beyond territorial and material arrangements, it would require Israeli Jews to fundamentally change their perception of Palestinians, to respect them and their rights, and engage them with reciprocity.

Obviously, it is absurd to think that such a change would stop at the Green Line. If Palestinians are treated as an equal people, they would be treated that way wherever they are. This would have to mean, at the very least, an end to the most blatant forms of discrimination and exclusion which are employed against them.

I am not trying to suggest that the two alternatives are paradise or continued occupation. The very fact that this modest scenario is perceived as a utopia merely demonstrates the radical implications of any ambition to truly end the occupation. If Palestinians, for example, cannot move freely throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, without depending on Israel’s permission, can they be considered free?

If freedom of movement is implemented within a two state solution, it would require the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of settlers. If a one state solution is chosen instead, and that state is democratic, can anyone imagine the Palestinian half tolerating the unjust distribution of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean? And can anyone see this injustice amended without, once more, relocating hundreds of thousands of people?

This is a prospect that startles almost all Jewish Israelis, liberals included. However, it is still fairly tolerable for the latter group. After all, most of them will not be the ones forced to relocate, and even if they are, they have sufficient resources to prosper anywhere. However, Israeli liberals must recognize, even if they do not acknowledge this, that radical change can never be so constrained. With a massive shift of resources from Jews to Palestinians, will it be possible to exact the price from the lower Israeli classes, which have so little to give anyway?

If, instead, the resources that will be transferred to Palestinians are taken from opulent Israeli elites, this will trigger a massive round of redistribution. Distressed Jews will surely demand to get a share of redistributed resources. It will be about land, natural resources and money, but it will also be about power, prestige and acknowledgement. If Palestinians are given their place, can weaker Jewish groups continue to be marginalized? And if power relations and cultural preferences change, this can truly threaten the identity of Israel’s Jewish liberals, as well as the channels through which they exercise influence which is disproportionate to their numbers.

That is why the majority of Jewish liberals in Israel will oppose a genuine end to the occupation, even in the face of international pressure, let alone in the current context, when Israel’s international standing has never been stronger. Liberals may not be the most important stumbling block, but nor will they be a major force for change.

If anti-occupation activists wish to target Jewish Israeli groups (and I believe they must, in order to achieve their goal) they have to target those who will benefit from redistribution of resources. Right now, most of these people are either indifferent or outright hostile to the anti-occupation message. This is not surprising, considering that this message of “equality” and “fairness” has been touted by people who are unwilling to treat even their fellow Jews this way, let alone the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, the fundamental interests of most Jews will be served by redistribution. One can certainly imagine it happening exclusively between Jews, leaving the Palestinians out altogether. However, politically, the struggle for justice will be difficult enough. A coalition between disadvantaged Jews and Palestinians makes sense in this context.

I can enumerate all the reasons why this will not happen, but the same can be done for the goal of ending the occupation. Unless you believe that a foreign force will take over Israel, and compel a just redistribution of resources between Jews and Palestinians, then any scenario for change must entail convincing Jews. One can look for support among those who proclaim their good intentions, but have every reason to do the opposite and the record to prove that they will. Alternatively, one can try to mobilize those who can actually benefit from radical change, as difficult as that goal may seem.