|Prof. Asher Susser
Asher Susser is a professor of Middle East history at Tel Aviv University. What came across in his talk at last week’s teleconference hosted by the Israel Policy Forum is that he’s a sincere dove who is attempting to be both realistic and hopeful. He would agree with us that negotiations are necessary to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but sees no prospect for such a process actually working at this moment.
Therefore, he suggests “coordinated unilateralism” — a process of phased Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank coordinated with the Palestinian Authority (unlike Sharon’s “Disengagement” strategy in 2005) and thereby moving Israel and the PA in the direction of a two-state solution, to be ultimately concluded via final-status negotiations. But while he mentions the refugees issue as the sticking point in negotiations, we’d contend that the greater problem is the hardline right-wing nature of the majority in Netanyahu’s coalition.
As an aside, a recent JTA teleconference with their correspondents in Washington, DC and in Tel Aviv, on the state of US-Israeli relations in the wake of the “chickensh*t” controversy, discussed whether Netanyahu was inherently pro-settler and against a two-state solution (despite some of his more dovish statements in past years) or not. Israel correspondent Ben Sales opined that since Netanyahu is a life-long dyed-in-the wool Likudnik, his natural inclination is to be a hardliner, but (Sales continued) we can’t know if this is unchangeable or simply the point of least resistance that he defaults to when things get rough or complicated.
Prof. Susser made the historical observation that Ben-Gurion decided upon the necessity of partition (instead of one state) in 1937, with the onset of the bloody Palestinian revolt against the British and the Jews. It was his pursuit of what was possible. Susser suggests pursuing what he sees as possible now, which would be a new armistice agreement, akin to what Israel and the Arab states agreed to in 1949. He thinks that Hamas would accept this, something which they call a “hudna.”
. . . the nature of the conflict is no longer directly existential. . . .
The problem however is that we have these non-state actors on all fronts including Hamas . . . Israel is much stronger than the other side. But . . .
There’s no Six Day Wars anymore. We have these long conflicts – 34 days, 50 days – in which the casualty levels on the Arab side are very high and on the Israeli side actually very low. In all of the 50 days of conflict with Hamas in Gaza, Israel had just over 70 people killed which is the number of people that … were killed every day in the Six Day War or in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. So in that respect these are easier wars for Israel to fight.
But . . . These frequently repeated clashes are taxing the Israeli psyche. Running for the shelters every now and then is not an acceptable long term lifestyle.
And . . . the people need some reassurance from the leadership that it has an idea of where this is going. And that we do not have. . . . There is no direction other than just limping along from day to day.
Hamas was severely beaten in this confrontation. And then Hamas – and they’ve [boasted] about victory standing on the piles of rubble in Gaza. . . . There is great despair in Gaza. . . .
Just like Israel is learning the hard way the limits of power, Hamas is learning through an even harder lesson the limits of their power. And Hamas is not really enthusiastic about renewing the fight in Gaza. Certainly the people in Gaza are not. That doesn’t mean that the fight will not be renewed. . . .
They don’t want to reignite the front in Gaza. But they’d be very pleased to see things deteriorate in the West Bank and Jerusalem. And … what is it that we can do from here? . . .
One is what I call a small deal — a small deal just on Gaza. Just to come to some kind of arrangement with Hamas with the Egyptians and the US and other interested parties like the European Union to create a situation where we don’t [quite] have what Israel wanted — that is the demilitarization in Gaza in exchange for reconstruction.
But some kind of reconstruction in exchange for Hamas not reigniting the fight . . . And then if you have extensive Israeli controls over what goes in, maybe the rearmament of Hamas won’t be entirely prevented, but certainly limited to a considerable degree.
But I would argue that even if we do have a small arrangement over Gaza which is possible, how long can such a small arrangement live and continue unless we have a bigger deal on Palestine? . . . And Isis and Iran are the anchors of a very interesting alliance between Israel and some key Arab states.
But even there, can these alliances last and be more solid unless there is some progress also on the Palestinian question? . . .
Another issue is, you know, can the status quo satisfy Israel on long term interests? If we just continue where we are now, does that satisfy our own long term interests? I would argue that it doesn’t and that we are leading down the slippery slope towards the eradication of the two state solution possibility.
. . . And a one state solution is not a solution. . . . Anybody who really thinks that a one state solution is a solution, I think is living in a world of unreality.
And I think we should even take unilateral measures in the West Bank in order to change the situation if we cannot do it by negotiation. But clearly that is not what the Israeli government thinks. The Israeli government is now deeply digging its feet very deep into the status quo which I think is irrespective of what we’ve just gone through with Gaza. I think it’s a big mistake.
But it’s very easy to sell to the Israeli population that the status quo is the best that we can hope for because “look what happens when we withdraw,” etc. . . .
We have two models. We have the Gaza model and we have the West Bank Jerusalem model. The Gaza model where we withdrew and we maintain our security from without. The West Bank Jerusalem model is deepening the Israeli presence and settlement and maintaining our security by control – by direct control.
And I would argue again, for I think many people in Israel may think these days that the Gaza model is much preferable. That is we maintain our security from outside the territory that is problematic for us and not through occupation. We could have occupied Gaza now again for the third time, and we chose not to.
And I think that we should think of ways of converting much of the West Bank if not most … into something similar to the Gaza model which would leave an opening for the two state idea. Because as you can see in Jerusalem I think is the epicenter of what is . . . beginning to look like a mini civil war. . . . And I think the Arab community in Israel will eventually begin to look like ever more if we continue this occupation, suppression, settlement, whatever.
And actually we should be thinking more in the direction of the Gaza model, as problematic as it is, rather than the West Bank Jerusalem model which . . . holds up against Israel a serious challenge to the Israel Jewish democratic nature . . . And the other is the increasing international isolation of Israel as we continue in this direction.
. . . There are two kinds of Israel. There is the defensive Israel – that Israel that in the eyes of the international community was this active self-defense against the historical plight of the Jewish people. That is an Israel that the world embraced. And that is an Israel that the world still … sees as perfectly legitimate.
But there is the new Israel – the settler Israel, the occupying Israel. And that new Israel is becoming ever increasingly unacceptable. And it is for all these reasons combined that I think we should be seriously thinking about a different strategy.