Zeev Sternhell To most Israelis, a colonial regime is preferable
This is the reality that the Labor Party refuses to address for fear of losing half its voters.
HAARETZ.COM|Di Zeev Sternhell
Israeli society’s fundamental problem lies in the fact that the first phase of the War of Independence ended only in 1966 with the lifting of military rule in Arab areas. The second phase began immediately thereafter, in June 1967.
Israel transitioned smoothly from curfews on Taibeh to military rule over Nablus. The emergency regime under which Israelis lived for the first two decades after independence prevented the introduction of a constitution and created shameful habits of governance.
In retrospect, one can ask whether our leaders intended, perhaps unconsciously, to make inferiority seem second nature to the vanquished people. The transition from this to the occupation regime in the territories was completely natural.
After Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s modest liberalization in 1963, it seemed the days of conquering the land had ended. But the Six-Day War halted the attempts to ratchet down the conquering nationalism and gradually shift to a situation in which tribal particularism could be tamed by the universal principles of democracy.
While it’s true that the Zionism of the Labor Party and its antecedents wasn’t much less radical than that of the right-wing Revisionists, and the cult of historical rites was natural to Labor even without “the two banks of the Jordan,” there was still a chance the party would recognize that all Zionism’s goals had been attained within the existing borders. But even that tiny spark of normalization was obliterated by the great victory of ‘67.
Still, the supremacy of the national aims over any other aim remained unquestioned throughout. After 1967, the left’s social and political elite had 10 years in power to contend with the occupation, but the only thing it did was offer the half-lunatic proposals of the trio of Yigal Allon, Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres.
This was based on the annexation of wide swaths of territory as part of the partition of the West Bank between Jordan and Israel. Dayan had a more “original” idea: The Palestinians would live under Israeli rule as Jordanian citizens, with voting rights in that country.
And so, unless today’s center-left leaders undergo a deep intellectual and conceptual turnaround, the question of who will rule has no real meaning. To most of the public, a colonial regime is preferable to dealing with the settlements, and disadvantaged groups willingly sacrifice their economic interests on the altar of Jewish national superiority.
This is the reality the Labor Party refuses to address for fear of losing half its voters. Thus, all the pronouncements about two states aren’t worth a thing without the genuine political will to withdraw from the vast majority of the occupied territories.
If Labor had won another six Knesset seats at the expense of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, replaced Likud and formed a coalition with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and the ultra-Orthodox parties, the style would be different and the sword would not be hanging over the Supreme Court. But nothing significant would have changed regarding the existential situation of the occupation.
The problem lies deep within Israeli society. After nearly half a century of controlling the territories, most Israelis view the colonial regime as something to be taken for granted and the invalidation of the Palestinians’ rights as part of the natural order of things.
The segregation of the buses was an interesting symbolic test that reflected reality. The average Israeli will rebel against apartheid only the day he’s barred from trading with Europe and has to wait three months for a visa to visit Paris.