We just finished the first evening of the 2011 Israel Symposium which featured an overview of ‘the situation’ from the imcomparable Prof. Naomi Chazan. In a comprehensive talk, Prof. Chazan focused on three dimensions of ‘the situation’:
1) The relations between Israel and its neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, given the changing currents in the Middle East
2) The situation within Israel, in terms of the anti-democratic thrust of the current government, and questions regarding Israel’s democratic future
3) The future of Israel’s left
In all these areas, Chazan stressed the great fluidity and flux of the current period, which is one of great transition. Transitional periods, she noted, tend to be short, and they also set the stage for much lengthier periods in which change does not come as easily. As a result, the upcoming 6-12 months are going to be crucial for Israel’s future.
Surveying the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Chazan said that the democratic uprising in the region would necessarily include a free Palestine. The international community, she said, would have to deliver quickly on a Palestinian state, and this could happen through UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders come this September. It will also mean mounting pressure on Israel to end the occupation.
There was still time for negotiations as the preferable way to end the occupation, Chazan noted, but Israeli leaders (not to mention the Israeli public) don’t seem to grasp the urgency and seem in no rush to push a negotiated solution. Indeed, the reports regarding Netanyahu’s soon-to-be-announced “diplomatic plan” suggest that he will fall far short of what the rest of the world is waitng for from the Israeli leader.
Should the UN recognize “Palestine”, things will get only worse for Israel, since it will now be occupying the land of a UN member state. Israel could very possibly face international isolation of dramatically increased levels.
Chazan related the Occupation to the current anti-democratic trends in Israel. She explained that this government seems to be preparing for the day in which it will have to defend the Occupation against the entire (or almost entire) world. To stand up to the rest of the world, Israel’s government will require near wall-to-wall domestic support – hence the systematic de-democratization campaign targetting all peace movements, all human rights organizaitons and all left-wing parties, Meretz first among them. The right-led government is trying to create a situation in which anyone not conforming to its defintion of a ‘patriot’ would be depicted as a traitor.
The Left, though increasingly energized in face of the looming catastrophe to Israel, Chazan reported, needs to organize itself quickly on the political-party level so as not to waste the chance it will have at the next Knesset elections, which she predicted will come sooner than most believe.
Chazan also stressed her opposition to a blanket boycott of Israel, which, she said, hurts the Israeli left more than anyone else in Israel, and which also fails to sufficiently stress the difference between a legitimate Israel within the 1967 borders, and the illegitimacy of the Occupation and settlements.