It is now over 25 years since the Oslo Accords, and there can be little doubt that Israel is in a dark place. There is a right-wing nationalist government and the formal opposition is very far from being left-wing. Binyamin Netanyahu has allied himself with nationalist demagogues all over the world – President Trump, of course, but everyone from Narendra Modi in India to Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jair Bolsanaro in Brazil. He even offers support to his own peculiar offspring – the Tommy Robinson-idolising Yair, who denies the existence of a Palestinian people and rejoices in ever-increasing hysterical social media trolling. The damage this is doing to Israel’s reputation and international standing – always a prickly topic – is immense.
The once dominant Israeli Labor Party has been in decline for some years, but its attempt at Blairite Third Way politics has spectacularly misfired and it now has only six seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Sadly, the genuinely left-wing parties – Meretz and the Arab-Jewish Hadash – have fared little better and made few inroads. Talk of mergers, or of a new Arab-Jewish political project, have again faded as the left has returned to its favoured position of factional infighting. Rising stars like Stav Shaffir in Labor have been overlooked for a return to familiar faces, seen as strong on security.
There is hope, though. Where political parties dither, civic society often forces itself to the forefront to demand change. The peace movement still has many adherents, perhaps best represented by ‘Standing Together’, a new cross-community project that is growing apace. They have organised many impressive demonstrations over the past year and alongside other peace organisations – like Breaking the Silence and B’tselem – are succeeding in making life far more difficult for a government that wants to trample on Palestinian rights and defend the land grabs and settlement-building Netanyahu plainly wants to encourage.
There can be little doubt that the two-state solution, which for many years a watchful world has held out as the best hope for peace, is in trouble – not least because the Israeli government, now colluding with an ever more erratic American president, is acting wilfully against it. New and expanding settlements on the West Bank, a buoyed and radical settlers movements, the ongoing siege in Gaza (without doubt a humanitarian disaster) and a political atmosphere that barely recognises the suffering of millions is no recipe for peace.
Into this mess blunders Donald Trump and his callow son-in-law. Armed with other people’s cheque books, they think they can buy people’s history and aspirations. Nobody can doubt Donald’s addiction to cold-hard cash, but I think he’ll find that most people have other considerations. The so-called “Deal of the Century” is little more than a squalid bribe, and will be treated a such by a people who have often acted with such dignity.
But where else do we go from here? The world cannot look on much longer and allow democratic rights be denied so callously. It cannot allow the demolition of legally-built properties, as we are seeing this week. It cannot ignore the ongoing crisis at the Gaza border, where people are so desperate that they are willing to walk into sniper fire.
Even so, we have to recognise that the two-state solution is still the only game in town. Any talk of one state – “from the river to the sea” – might sit comfortably with our Western values, but doesn’t recognise facts on the ground. A single state including the theocratic zealots from all sides simply isn’t likely or realistic. A state with both Hamas and Kahanists would soon turn from dream to a nightmare that could make even today’s realities seem idealistic. These are facts recognised by most people on the ground in Israel/Palestine. Hatred reins, and whatever we surmise as to the reasons for it, that isn’t the basis for a peaceful state.
We must do more. The international community has to make sure Israel recognises that settlements built on land designated for a Palestinian State will be in a Palestinian State. We must put pressure on all sides – but in particular on the two powerful players here, Israel and the United States, and that pressure must come from across the world. It is long past time for us to recognise a Palestinian State, before it disappears before our eyes.