Neve Gordon, an assistant professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva is a friend of Meretz USA’s founding first couple (to coin an expression), Harold and Myra Shapiro. They are old friends of his father, who convinced Harold to become a supporter of Ratz, the civic rights party of Shulamit Aloni, which later merged with the socialist-Zionist Mapam to form Meretz.
Prof. Gordon, currently on sabbatical at the University of Michigan, is a frequent contributor to “In These Times” magazine, a publication that I have also contributed to recently, after a ten-year hiatus. (In recent months, fellow Meretz USA activist Ken Brociner has become a presence at ITT, both online and in print.)
Gordon’s articles are difficult reading for Zionists, even a progressive Zionist such as myself. It’s not that he’s wrong in most of his facts regarding inequities in the Jewish State and injustices in the Palestinian territories, but he writes from a gratuitously anti-Zionist perspective. His most recent article, “Outsourcing Zionism,” is a case in point. We know of the injustices visited upon the Negev Bedouin, not to mention what’s going on in the territories; we’ve highlighted the shame of the Negev situation in a lead article in the current issue of our publication, ISRAEL HORIZONS. The problem with Gordon, symbolized in the harsh choice of title for that ITT article, is his ideology.
The fact that we as progressive Zionists deplore the treatment of the Bedouin and work for an equitable two-state solution with the Palestinians should prove that “Zionism” as such is not the issue. Besides, it’s hardly unique to Israel that an indigenous minority is mistreated by the majority. (To his credit, Gordon has been forthright in his writings and in his talk that Israel is far from the world’s worst violator of human rights; this is hardly a matter of pride for any supporter of Israel, but it’s an important point to make.)
The Shapiros and I attended a lecture he gave at Columbia on Feb. 5. He’s written a political science analysis of the occupation that will be published by the University of California Press in the fall. It posits that Israel has gone from a “colonialist” model of governing the West Bank and Gaza to one of “separation.”
The colonialist period ended with the first Intifada, when Israel realized that it could no longer control the territories in this way. It involved a certain amount of improvement in the standard of living for Palestinians (e.g., infant mortality dropped significantly) in return for Israel exploiting Palestinian land and water resources, cheap labor and the development of settlements. There was a great deal of interaction between Israelis and Palestinians during this period.
With Oslo, Israel embarked upon a solution of separation that meant very few Palestinians working in Israel and very little interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. He implies that this framework also has resulted in many more Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands because now Palestinian lives “have no value” for Israel. (One questioner pointed out that the great increase of Palestinian deaths reflected the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.) This is not the case in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed soon after the Six Day War; the annexation explains why Israel would never use air power against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The main criticism voiced at his presentation was that his analysis did not track closely with historical events. In response, Gordon says that he knows that events create facts, but he is also arguing that “structures” create facts. As a political scientist, it is structures that interest him.
I argued with him that it’s unfair to regard Oslo as negatively as he does because it ended mid-way, with Rabin’s assassination and Peres’s defeat by Netanyahu. And even when the peace camp was nominally returned to power, its new defacto leader, Ehud Barak, rejected Oslo’s incremental logic. Gordon insisted that the problem was Oslo in the first place; he admitted that if Rabin had lived or if Peres had defeated Netanyahu that something might have been successfully negotiated, but he insisted on saying that this would not have been Oslo.
I was too flummoxed by the boldness of his assertion to respond that he’s confusing the very limited control that the Palestinians had when the Oslo process was frozen in its tracks in 1996 with the ultimate intention of the Labor-Meretz government that had initiated Oslo. To him, Oslo meant the facts on the ground at the time it was aborted. To me, the essence of Oslo was its gradualist nature.
Prof. Gordon said that he still doesn’t rule out the possibility of a two-state solution, but it would have to be something very different than Oslo. (Perhaps we can both agree that a Geneva-like agreement would be such an approach.) Interestingly, one of his hosts sitting at the seminar table, Prof. Rashid Khalidi, had exactly his perspective in coming to oppose Oslo in the mid-‘90s, after the pro-Oslo forces were defeated by episodes of extremist Israeli and Palestinian violence that precipitated an unfortunate election result.
When someone else in the audience suggested that Camp David had represented a good approach, with something like 95 percent of the West Bank offered as going to the Palestinians, Gordon said that the percentage is hard to gauge because it wasn’t clear how Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem were being counted. If the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem (built beyond the 1949 armistice lines) were included, this 95 percent figure was actually more like 85 percent. But Gordon indicated that what was really bad was that Camp David was portrayed as a failure— even though it had produced unprecedented moves on the Israeli side and negotiations did not end there. This representation of the process as a failure was largely the fault of Barak.
On this, I agree with Gordon. But it’s unfortunate that Gordon’s grand theorizing implies that Israel has never been sincere in trying to make a practical solution to the problem of the territories— not even during the peace process of the 1990s.