After the elections, the Palestinians must scare Israel into ending the occupation

Our post-election depression comes from being reminded that an end to tyranny and inevitable war is as distant as ever. It’s time for new ideas – or old ideas that haven’t been tried.

Well, that was fun. And now it’s over, and who really cares whether Yair Lapid becomes minister of this or minister of that; the twin elephants of tyranny over the Palestinians and the inevitability of war are still in the living room, and if anything, the country seems more determined than before to pretend they aren’t there.

For those who do see those elephants, there’s a sense of let-down, of anti-climax: all that excitement for nothing. It’s post-election depression, caused by the realization that after all the excitement over Da’am or Meretz or Hadash or whoever, an end to the tyranny and the automatic wars remains so damn far away. After all the excitement, we’re back to normal with a thud, and we remember with depressing clarity that this gradualism isn’t working, that it plays right into Israel’s hands, and that something has to change. So I think it’s time to forget the election, to treat the formation of the government as entertainment at most, and think anew about how to force the change, how to uproot the status quo.

I keep coming back to one conclusion: Israel isn’t going to do it, and the West isn’t going to force Israel’s hand, certainly not now. It’s up to the Palestinians. That’s not fair, but that’s reality.

The best that I or any other non-Palestinian can do is offer ideas and support for supportable Palestinian goals and tactics. And it seems to me that the Palestinians have to scare the shit out of this country, and the best ways I’ve heard of to do that are 1) taking Israel to The Hague, and 2) demanding Israeli citizenship for the 4 million-plus Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Regarding the first tactic, taking Israel to the International Criminal Court, the Palestinian Authority would face a backlash from the United States, and very possibly a cutoff of U.S. funds. But at some point, the Obama administration would be disgraced, while the Palestinians would gain huge international political support (and probably money). Punishing the Palestinians for taking their case to the world’s highest arbiter of justice is a losing proposition for Obama, and it seems he’s decided he no longer has to lose just to make AIPAC happy.

To those who warn that Israel could retaliate by taking the Palestinians to the ICC over terrorism, I’d like to see that happen, because then the Palestinians could retort with the pre-state record of Begin’s Irgun, Shamir’s Lehi and the mainstream Ben-Gurionist Haganah and Palmach, which between them committed scores upon scores of terror attacks against British officials and soldiers as well as Arab civilians (and in Lehi’s case, the assassination of the UN envoy to the Middle East, Count Folke Bernadotte). If such a trial gained international attention, it would be devastating to Israel’s claim of self-defense against terror. So I think the Palestinians have the winning hand over Israel and the U.S. at The Hague.

About the second tactic, a collective Palestinian demand for Israeli citizenship, this is what Ehud Olmert said about it in 2007:  “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

Here’s the scenario Jeffrey Goldberg envisioned two months ago were Mahmoud Abbas to say that if the Palestinians couldn’t have independence, what they wanted from Israel was democracy – citizenship in the country where they lived.

Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

I don’t quote Olmert and Goldberg as political or moral pathfinders, but as people who know something about Israel’s place in the world – and when they say a Palestinian demand for Israeli citizenship is a political weapon of frightful power, they should be listened to.

I wish all 300,000 or so Palestinians in East Jerusalem would take out Israeli citizenship right now; they don’t have to demand that right, it’s theirs under Israeli law. Imagine what would happen if they did so and declared their intention to use their numbers – which give them nearly 40% of the “unified capital’s” population – to gain power in City Hall. Moreover, imagine if all 4 million-plus Palestinians declared their intention to join with 1.7 million Israeli Arabs as citizens to gain power in the Knesset.

Everyone understands the Palestinians’ reluctance to give up their demand for independence and instead insist on their democratic rights within Israel, which is the sovereign power over every inch of land they live on, including the Gaza Strip. But to use the title of Goldberg’s blog, this is “the quickest path to Palestinian independence,” because it would terrify Israel into giving up the occupation and leaving the settlers to decide where they wanted to live, in Israel or Palestine.

And if it didn’t do the trick, then Israel, as Olmert said, would get the full South Africa treatment, and not just on a few dozen college campuses. The world’s reaction would be a catastrophe for this country. And in the end, that reaction would save Israel and the Palestinians, just like the South African treatment saved that country’s whites and non-whites.

None of these ideas, of course, are mine – the notion of taking Israel to The Hague, of demanding Israeli citizenship, and of East Jerusalemites implementing their right to citizenship, all were first raised by Palestinians. I just want to throw in my two cents by saying they sound real promising, they do not get anyone killed, they do not require the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority and the imposition of new hardships on the people, and, again, they do not mean the end of Palestine but rather the hastening of its arrival.

Finally, these tactics haven’t been tried yet, while the ones that have been tried – mainly terror and conciliation – have not worked. By taking the peaceful and legal yet radical route outlined above, the Palestinians, it seems to me, have nothing to lose and everything to gain.