Meron Benvenisti – a former Labor deputy mayor of Jerusalem, a city planner, and a powerful writer – is understandably bitter about Israel’s ongoing settlement policies in the territories and its discriminatory land use policies within Green Line Israel. He is not apologetic for living as a Jew in the land of Israel/Palestine, and remembers being a boy in Jerusalem under siege in 1948 and playing soccer with youngsters a few years older who were soon all killed in an ambush attempting to defend the Etzion Bloc of kibbutzim that was captured by Arab forces in that war (his brief account in his book, “Sacred Landscapes,” is memorable). Yet my understanding is that he’s given up on the two-state solution and therefore is no longer really in our camp.
Some of his pronouncements can be challenged in the article published in Haaretz, May 25. Perhaps Sharon once had a plan to leave the Palestinians in control of 11% of the original Mandate (one half of their 22% left over from the 1948 war), but none of us really know that he had such a plan when he became comatose. I am suspicious of Benvenisti’s use of this figure with such precision.
Olmert has more than hinted for some time that his “plan” is/was for the Palestinians to possess about 20% of the original Palestinian Mandate (about 90% of the West Bank). Barak was offering more than 21% (up to 97% of the West Bank plus parts of Jerusalem). The UN partition plan of 1947 offered around 45% with slightly more going to the Jews and 5-10% remaining within an international zone that would have included Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The 1937 British partition plan (Peel Commission) offered the Jews about 15-20% and the Arabs as much as 80%. All of these options were accepted by the mainstream Zionist movement and violently rejected by the Arabs. This is something to think about when reading Benvenisti below:
Time for a new lexicon Ha’aretz – 25 May, 2007
By Meron Benvenisti
If you study the public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will discover a fascinating phenomenon: The concepts that were coined during the 1970s continue to define a reality that has since changed beyond recognition. The old concepts that comprise the dictionary of the conflict have turned into code words that make any argument or clarification superfluous.
Concepts like “dividing the land,” “settlements,” “occupation,” “separation” or “a Palestinian state” are perceived as self-evident and those who use them assume the listener attributes an identical meaning to them. The terms, which were meant to simplify reality, have become absolute concepts with qualitative values. When using these terms, a person defines himself as belonging to a particular political camp: “the West Bank” versus “Judea and Samaria,” “partition” versus “giving up parts of the homeland,” hityashvut versus hitnahalut (two Hebrew terms for “settlement” – the latter is generally used to refer to settlements located beyond the 1967 Green Line), and so on. Here are a few such concepts:
- “Partitioning the land / Giving up parts of the homeland” – The concept of “partition” has always served as a gauge for peace and compromise, an absolute concept that does not need to be defined in quantitative terms. Thus, according to the original partition of 1947, the Palestinian territory was slated to encompass about half of Mandatory Palestine. The armistice lines reduced this to 22 percent and the Allon Plan left it 14 percent. The “Sharon plan” (dealing with the route of the separation fence, the settlement blocs and Jordan Valley) leaves 11 percent of the land of Mandatory Palestine in the hands of the Palestinians. The size of the “partitioned” land is ostensibly not important and many portrayed the latest “partition of the land” – presented as the “convergence” plan” – as a historic compromise. Those supporting it were considered “leftists” and the Palestinians who rejected it were labeled “rejectionists of peace.” Right-wing circles, which once considered concession to be treason, are now prepared to “subtract” densely populated areas “in order to solve the demographic problem.” What is left of the principle of partition?
- “Hitnahalut / hityashvut” – The struggle for and against the establishment of Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line has defined the opposing ideological camps since the 1970s and continues to do so – even though in today’s reality these settlements have lost their original significance. During the 1970s and ’80s, the act of constructing a settlement in the territories played a decisive role in determining political facts. Sometime during the late 1980s, the settlements crossed a critical threshold and attained an ongoing demographic and urban development. A legal infrastructure was created that led to their de facto annexation to the State of Israel, and the number of settlements has since become “irrelevant” because of the sophisticated instruments of Israeli rule, which have completely blurred the distinction between “sovereign Israel” and “the territories.” The separation wall and its entrance points – the “sterile” roads, the checkpoints – have taken on the role of the settlements. Ariel Sharon understood that the settlements no longer carried their old significance and therefore did not hesitate to dismantle them in the Gaza Strip. But the left and right continue to quarrel over every prefab dwelling.
- “Occupation / liberation” – The use of the concept “occupation” is the supreme test of affiliation with the “enlightened” camp. From a legal term describing a situation of “belligerent occupation” of enemy territory by a foreign army, it became a definition of political ideology. Those who use the term “occupation” relate to the occupied territories as a “foreign region” that is different from “sovereign” Israel. But where is the border between the motherland and the occupied colony? No model of military conquest can accommodate the Bantustans that have been created in the West Bank and explain how half of the territory has been effectively annexed; only a strategy of annexation and permanent control can explain the enormous settlement enterprise. The “military” component is secondary to the civilian component, and the settlers have turned the army into a militia that serves them. The definition of the occupied territories, after 40 years, is an anachronism aimed at emphasizing the temporary nature of the situation that “must end” when peace comes. All this is designed to avoid making decisions on immediate dilemmas.
Reality has caught up with the lexicon of the conflict, leaving only anachronistic slogans. This contributes to blurring the situation, thus facilitating the continuation of the violent status quo. It would have been fitting if the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war had served as a catalyst for composing a new lexicon.