The juxtaposition of the Donald Trump administration moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the massacre of Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel ‘border’ placed in sharp relief the moral and political bankruptcy of the US-Israeli alliance, one reinforced by their alliance with Wahabist Saudi Arabia. For all intents and purposes, the Palestinians have been cut adrift by Israel’s new found Sunni Arab allies. This is amid Israeli-American rightwing unity in what emerges as a joint Apartheid project in Palestinian subjugation. It mocks liberal Zionism’s inspirational birth of Israel. If Israel and supporters can justify the massacre that happened, including thousands injured, by propagandizing it as having been orchestrated by Hamas, this is tantamount to dismissively justifying the Sharpeville Massacre as caused by the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.
The Gaza confrontations amid Trump-Netanyahu provocations serve as a backdrop for what is very real agonizing underway within Israel and its Jewish diaspora on ‘where to from here.’ What has passed for many decades as a ‘two-state solution’ aka ‘Peace Process’ entered a cul-de-sac under Barack Obama. The rupture is total under Trump. It is well known how skittish US politicians are to venture even mild criticisms of Israel, fearing reprisals from the Israel Lobby.
But this is changing as harsh criticism of Israel gathers momentum from within American Jewry and Israel alike. This was evident in one of the most read articles in the Washington Post calling Israel a ‘savage, unrepairable society’. The fact that this reticence has been broken by Jewish former Democratic Party presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, points to an increasingly urgent Jewish and Israeli debate underway in search of a pathway out of the dead-end that US-supported impunity and intransigence in Tel-Aviv has rendered. This debate was on display in Johannesburg at the beginning of 2018.
On February 5th 2018, the Liliesleaf Museum and Estate (where Rivonia trialists were nabbed by apartheid security police on 11 July 1963) hosted an insightful dialogue on “Israel and Palestine: What lies ahead?” It featured some of the most intensely sobering and extended exchanges to be witnessed on this seminal issue between three heavyweights. Featured was former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, once a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Liel squared off with renowned liberal journalist Benjamin Pogrund and the head of the Afro-Middle Eastern Centre, Naéem Jeenah.
Most notable about the event was how it could have been witnessed as an intimate ‘hearts and minds’ debate among Israelis and Jews between Alon and Pogrund, with Palestinians and Arabs in the background. Perhaps under current circumstances, this is as it would have to be. Gross US-backed power asymmetries between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and its Arab neighbors amid the fraught regional geopolitical landscape leaves little of consequence to discuss. Hence, Naéem was never really in the dialogue.
Indeed the Palestinian position on what should lie ahead for Israelis and Palestinians currently has no power in the equation, less in fact than what black South Africans had when confronting Afrikaner nationalism. On top of that, internal Palestinian power-struggles add yet another layer to the Israel-Palestinian equation. Hence, Israel’s exploitation of these dynamics in the Gaza massacre with the Trump administration chimming in amid unanimous international condemnation. But this digresses from internal Jewish-Israeli agonizing over the future.
What was most interesting on the night of the 5th February 2018 in Rivonia was the point-counterpoint between an Israeli senior diplomat on the one hand and a respected Jewish liberal senior journalist on the other. At dialogue’s end, one thing was clear: Alon and Pogrund both converged into a consensus that Israel can in no way, shape or form be considered a democracy. Considering, between them, how significant a swath of Jewish and Israeli opinion the two of them may represent, this emerging consensus puts paid to the notion of an Israel as simultaneously democratic and Jewish. This convergence strikes at the very heart of what must be the anguish of soul searching burdening Israeli and diaspora Jewish ambivalence about ‘where to from here’ for Israel.
For the democratically socialist project of Zion has hit a wall, a wall of ultra-intolerant, extremist fanaticism in the service of settler-annexationism. Israel, ‘the Home of the Jews’ is no longer democratic, let alone liberal: an illiberal democracy perhaps? Moreover, the no longer hidden corruption cloud hovering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further erodes the very credibility of an Israel in rightwing lockstep with the equally scandolous Republican administration of Donald Trump, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Ambassador Alon and Pogrund could not arrive at common ground on either one or two states. Pogrund latched onto two states as if to a security blanket while Alon had no illusions about its realistic prospects.
Where Alon may be headed in his own thinking and where Israelis of his mind-set may need to nurture their diaspora brethren is somewhere in the vicinity of where veteran Israeli commentator Bernard Avishai pointed: toward “Confederation: The one possible Israel-Palestine solution,” in New York Review of Books. He states that: “A confederal system modeled on greater Jerusalem, but without the repression mobilized by Likud governments” would, in effect, constitute ‘one state’ while accommodating two interdependent but autonomous polities, something of a halfway house between one and two states. Moreover, Avishai’s plan could conceivably even include federating with Jordan as well. Perhaps, in the end, much depends on a new American-Israeli coalition of forces taking shape to place on the table a new security and policy framework that offsets the overwhelming power asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians to force changes in the strategic calculus in Tel-Aviv much as changed Afrikanerdom’s reality in the South Africa of the late 1980s.
Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.