The Two-state Solution, Israeli-style

Charity, Checkpoints, and Client Rulers

RAMALLAH — Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been much criticised in Israel, as well as abroad, for failing to present his own diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to forestall US intervention.

Mr Netanyahu may have huffed and puffed before giving voice to the phrase “two states for two peoples” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but the contours of just such a Palestinian state — or states — have been emerging undisturbed for some time.

In fact, Mr Netanyahu appears every bit as committed as his predecessors to creating the facts of an Israeli-imposed two-state solution, one he and others in Israel’s leadership doubtless hope will eventually be adopted by the White House as the “pragmatic” — if far from ideal — option.

While Israel has been buying yet more time with Washington in bickering over a paltry settlement freeze, it has been forging ahead with the process of creating two Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, that, despite supposedly emerging from occupation, are in reality sinking ever deeper into chronic dependency on Israeli goodwill.

This is creating a culture of absolute Israeli control and absolute Palestinian dependency, enforced by proxy Palestinian rulers acting as mini-dictatorships.

For a growing number of Palestinians, the conditions of bare subsistence and even survival are Israeli gifts that few can afford to spurn through political activity, let alone civil disobedience or armed resistance. The Palestinian will to organise and resist as their land is seized for settlements is being inexorably sapped.

It is little mentioned but Israel all but abandoned completing its massive separation wall in the West Bank some time ago. There are significant gaps waiting to be filled, but, with things having grown so quiet and the cost of each kilometre of wall so high, the sense of political and military urgency has evaporated.

Suicide bombers, had they the determination, could still slip into Israel. But increasingly Palestinians view such attacks as futile, if not counterproductive: Israel simply wins greater international sympathy and has the pretext to turn the screw yet tighter on Palestinian life.

None of this has been lost on Israel’s leaders of either the so-called Left or Right.

Rather than being an aberration in response to rocket attacks, the blockade of Gaza has become Israel’s template for Palestinian statehood. The West Bank is rapidly undergoing its own version of disengagement and besiegement, with similar predictable results.

Gaza’s blockade — and the savage battering it took in December and January — has suggested even to Mr Netanyahu that the Israeli version of the carrot-and-stick approach works.

The stick — a devastated Gaza unable to rise from the rubble because aid and basic goods are kept out — has transformed most of the population into a nation dependent on handouts, borrowing where possible to buy necessities smuggled through the tunnels, and concentrating on the lonely art of survival.

As the normally restrained International Committee of the Red Cross reported last month: “Most of the very poor have exhausted their coping mechanisms. Many have no savings left. They have sold private belongings such as jewellery and furniture and started to sell productive assets including farm animals, land, fishing boats or cars used as taxis.”

The carrot — if it can be called that — is directed towards Gaza’s leaders, Hamas, rather than its ordinary inhabitants. The message is simple: keep the rocket fire in check and we won’t attack again. We will allow you to rule over the remnants of Gaza.

In the West Bank, the carrot for the leadership is even more tantalisingly visible. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is colluding in the creation of a series of mini-fiefdoms based on the main cities.

Trained by the US military, Palestinian security forces with light weapons are taking back control of Jenin, Nablus, Jericho, Qalqilya, Ramallah and so on, while the PA is encouraged by promises of economic charity to prop up its legitimacy.

The leader of a Palestinian non-governmental organisation in Ramallah confided at the weekend that what is being created are “City Leagues” — a mocking reference to the Palestinian regional militias known as the Village Leagues armed by Israel in the early 1980s to stamp out Palestinian nationalism by threatening and attacking local political activists. Those were a dismal failure; this time Palestinians are less sure Israel will not succeed.

Palestinian prisons are starting to fill not only with those suspected of belonging to Hamas but those who dissent from Fatah rule. The ground is being carefully tended by Israel to create a brutal client state.

The stick, as in Gaza, is directed at the ordinary population. The news headlines are of the easing of movement restrictions at the checkpoints. That may be true at a few places deep in the West Bank. But at the big checkpoints that separate Israel from what is left of the West Bank, such as the one at Qalandiya between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the monitoring of Palestinian movement is becoming fearsomely sophisticated.

These checkpoints are now more like small airport terminals, with limited numbers of “trusted” Palestinians entitled to pass through. To escape the poverty of the West Bank each day to reach manual work inside Israel, they must have a magnetic ID card storing biometric data and a special permit. Cards are denied by Israel not only to those with a record of political activity but also to those who have distant relatives deemed to be politically engaged.

The same NGO leader concluded, again with bitter irony: “Our leaders are declaring victory: the victory of defeat.”

Should Mr Abbas and his PA functionaries sign up to this Israeli vision of statehood, the defeat for the Palestinians will be greater still.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on July 12th, 2009 at 4:23pm #

    Jonathan Cook describes accurately the unbearable conditions that the Palestinian people are subjected to under the illegal Israeli ocupation. This is an inherent component of the Zionist program since its inception. Namely, to subject the Palestinian people to deprivation, dispossession and humiliation for the ultimate purpose of their complete ethnic cleansing. Sadly, the world community remains predominently silent and some of the Palestinian leaders remain subservient and go along with the treatment that their people are being subjected to.

  2. mary said on July 13th, 2009 at 3:45am #

    Hang about! Surely this is not happening in the ‘only democracy in the
    Middle East’?

    This article in the Independent corrects that lie.

    Shin Bet ‘R Us.

    Israeli agents to screen judges before appointment

    Fury as security service gets veto over judiciary
    By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem

    Thursday, 9 July 2009

    Israel’s internal security service has been given a de facto veto over the appointment of judges in an unprecedented decision that has the country’s embattled liberals up in arms.

    The move by the Judges Selection Committee on Friday is likely to make it harder for members of Israel’s Arab minority and others with views that are not mainstream to become judges, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri). Zahava Galon, a former MP of the dovish Meretz party, said the decision was “a scandal”. She said: “We are turning into a kind of police state with Big Brother everywhere. A judge shouldn’t have to pass the Shin Bet’s tests. This is just something that isn’t done.”

    The selection committee’s membership – partly determined by the ruling coalition – has become more nationalist and intent on limiting the power of the Supreme Court due to appointments made since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in April.

    Increasing the powers of the security service, the Shin Bet, were part of an attempt to erode the judiciary’s ability to protect civil liberties and human rights in a country that lacked a constitution to defend them, Ms Galon said. The security establishment has always enjoyed wide powers but the Supreme Court was seen as a bastion of liberalism that counterbalanced that and helped define Israel as a democracy.

    Dan Yakir, the chief legal counsel for Acri, called the step “troublesome”. But supporters of the change argue that it is necessary for “state security”.

    Uri Ariel, a far-right MP newly appointed to the selection committee, said allowing Shin Bet to screen candidates was necessary because judges reviewed highly classified security information “and this can directly influence state security”.

    “Until now, the clearance for judges was low even though they were seeing the most sensitive material. This was anomalous and inappropriate,” he said.

    Mr Ariel said the screening would not apply to serving judges, only to new ones. The new policy was “experimental” and would be reviewed in a year.

    The Shin Bet’s assessment is only a recommendation but it is thought unlikely that the committee would endorse those rejected by Shin Bet.

    “I have never encountered an incident in which the government didn’t accept the Shin Bet’s advice,” said the human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, who is representing an Arab-Israeli whom the agency deemed inappropriate to serve as a mosque leader. Mr Sfard said he was “not surprised” by the move and that it fitted with the norm of the Shin Bet screening the appointments of high officials and educators in Arab schools. The difference in this case, he said, was that the agency’s role was being openly acknowledged.

    The Shin Bet has asked for the power to screen judges in the past but has been rebuffed by the committee, which comprises judges and politicians.

  3. jon s said on July 13th, 2009 at 4:10am #

    (I’m back!!)
    A few months ago I contributed to DV for a time, seeking mainly to inject an element of sanity ,balance an fairness into discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the perspective of the Israeli Left.
    I stopped writing for personal reasons, but also because I was dismayed by the tendency towards hate-filled demonization of Israel ,and even outright Anti-Semitic ravings from writers like Mulga.
    Anyway , I’ve decided to try again…
    In the Middle East one can always find resons for pessimism, and the pessimists are often proved to be correct. Right now the one ray of light appears to be the policy that President Obama has formulated. It will be interesting to see whether he caves to the pro-settler lobby.

  4. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on July 13th, 2009 at 6:08am #

    when any cult wld proclaim that ‘god’ had chosen them to ‘lead’ the world, then, to me, that wld be a casus belli.
    so, is it any it any wonder, that hebrews evanesced in wars? Later, judeans bit the dust and possibly entirely disappeared?

    but even euros with the moshe’s cult suffered for accepting mad priestly proclamation.
    and their proclamation of supremacy will always be hated.
    folks, this is called antisemitism even tho euros with cult are not semites at all.
    in any case, this cult may also evanesce ust like jones’ and koresh’s have. tnx

  5. B99 said on July 19th, 2009 at 4:31pm #

    Jon S – Two good reasons that Obama will likely cave to the pro-settler lobby, is that anti-settler sentiment in Israel and among US Jews is pretty passionless.