I have been writing about what must happen in America if there is to be more than a snowball’s chance in hell of peace on the basis of an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians. (The main point I’ve been making is that unless and until enough Americans are made aware of the truth of history, no American president will have the space to break the Zionist lobby’s stranglehold on Congress). In this article, with thanks to an analysis by Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell, I’m looking at what must happen in Israel if the countdown to catastrophe is to be stopped.
Polish-born Sternhell is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. To my knowledge he has never said so, but I would be surprised if he didn’t have moments when he asked himself if he was witnessing the emergence of it, fascism, in Israel. In his work the Founding Myths of Israel, he wrote that the conquest of 1967 had “a strong flavour of imperial expansionism”.
Under the headline An end to vagueness, he wrote in his latest piece for Ha’aretz that Israel’s political establishment is approaching a point where it will no longer be possible to evade decisions that will be among the most crucial in the state’s history.
“It is a mistake to play around with the idea that such decisions can be made without an open confrontation with the settlers. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Bark will have to decide what they prefer; to be remembered as having capitulated to the settlers or as having taken a courageous leap forward, as befits important national leaders.” (My emphasis added).
He went on to say that the rift on the right (essentially between Likudniks who can tolerate Netanyahu’s temporary and partial freeze and those who can’t) is genuine and can be exploited to reorganize the political system. All on what Sternhell calls by obvious implication the insane right should join the National Union party, with a “conscious choice” to continue the occupation without any kind of time limit.
Those on what he calls the “ordinary, sane right” should have no problem joining forces with Kadima because the difference between them “is mainly psychological and laden with personal grudges, but not more than that.”
And what of the left? It should start a social-democratic party similar to those which exist in Europe.
Sternhell then asks this question: Would the expanded center and left have a majority in Israel that would support it in a conscious choice of peace, relative security and economic prosperity in exchange for the territories occupied in 1967 and still retained?
So far, so good. Perhaps. But can it be reasonably assumed that any Israeli leader would be prepared, come the crunch, to openly confront the settlers and IDF elements that would side and fight with them?
The doubts in my own mind on this matter were planted by Shimon Peres in a one-to-one conversation with me in 1980. At the time he was the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, hoping to become prime minister after Israel’s next election and deny Menachem Begin a second term in office. (An outcome that President Carter among others was praying for). At the time I was in the process of becoming the linkman in a secret, exploratory dialogue between Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
As I reveal in my book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Peres said to me early in our conversation that he feared it was “already too late” for peace on terms Arafat could accept. I asked him why and this was his reply:
“Every day that passes sees new bricks on new settlements. Begin knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s creating the conditions for a Jewish civil war. He knows that no Israeli leader is going down in history as the one who gave the order to the Jewish army to shoot Jews out of occupation for peace with the Palestinians”. Pause. “I’m not.”
When Peres made that statement to me there were only about 70,000 illegal Jewish settlers in residence on the occupied West Bank. Today, including occupied Arab East Jerusalem, that number is 500,000 and rising on a daily basis. (In recent days Netanyahu has assured the settlers that when the temporary freeze ends, it will be back to building and continuing colonization as usual).
If Peres was right in his logic, it’s more than reasonable to assume that there is today no prospect of any Israeli leader taking on the settlers. But is the situation really as bleak as that?
There are some Israeli commentators who think it isn’t. They have suggested that in the event of prospects for a real peace, many of the settlers would agree to quit the West Bank and be re-located in exchange for generous financial compensation. My own guess is that half their present number and perhaps even more would. But that would still leave a very significant number of armed bigots, some of them in my view deluded to the point of clinical madness, who would fight to the death.
As I write, I am reminded of what Eygpt’s President Sadat said to me a few months before he was assassinated. “There will have to be a Jewish civil war before there can be peace.”
My own conclusion is that any Israeli leader even thinking about taking on the settlers, and probably triggering a Jewish civil war, would need to be empowered by a referendum in which all Israelis were asked one question: In exchange for a real and lasting peace with the Arab and wider Muslim world, are you in favour of Israel withdrawing to its borders as they were on 4 June 1967, with Jerusalem an open, undivided city and the capital of two states?”
If a majority of Israelis answered “Yes”, the leader could take on the settlers.
* Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent who covered wars and conflicts wherever they were taking place in the world and specialized in the Middle East. Author of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. He blogs on www.alanhart.net and tweets on www.twitter.com/alanauthor