Being in Rome, presumably on holiday, and probably having a deadline for a blog entry, Bradley Burston translated the understandable inspiration anyone could feel looking at Michelangelo’s Moses into a trite piece about the West Bank occupation and why it is bad for Israel. The piece is trite because it says nothing new, except that Burston is in Rome. Still, it is worth a mention because of its conclusion: “If the last 40 years are any indication, the Palestinians will be able [to] survive the occupation. A healthy state of Israel will not. ”
Hm… let’s see. Whether the occupation is good, bad, a necessary evil, or something else, I shall leave to others — including Contentions‘s feisty readership. Still, I fail to see, judging by the record of 40-something years of occupation, how Burston can conclusively state the above.
The Palestinians have never been so far from a state as today — all rhetoric and renewed American engagement notwithstanding. They have lost their charismatic leader and failed to replace him with someone who could unify the tribal, clannish, and fragmented patchwork of Palestinian constituencies. They lost any pretense of unity between the West Bank and Gaza — now split between two competing governments. They also lost their centrality in Arab politics, and most importantly they lost the ability — which the late Yasser Arafat had — to blackmail Arab leaders. Their society is torn between a Palestinian nationalist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel and an Islamist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel (and with a uniquely Palestinian nationalist agenda). Their struggle has been overtaken by Iran and has turned off erstwhile friends and allies. Their economy is one of subsistence — their people have been turned into paupers and parasites, while their leaders either get rich or divert funds to weapons smuggling. They may not be terminally ill as a people, true, but the picture of the Palestinian polity is not exactly one of health, for sure.
What about Israel?
Compare Israel, 2009 with Israel, 1967:
• A much freer and feistier press.
• A much more diverse society.
• Thousands of NGO’s have sprung out to lobby the political elites, to pressure them, and to expose their flaws and shortcomings.
• Israel’s judiciary is as pugnacious as anyone concerned about democracy, human rights, and rule of law could dream — even more so, sometimes.
• Israel’s military remains subordinate to civilian authority — no authoritarian temptation despite the occupation and ongoing conflict.
Israel can survive another forty years of occupation — and do so in a healthy fashion. Israelis — even when in Rome — by and large understand this: that withdrawing from the territories for the sake of some insupportable moral posture, or to make a journalist feel better about himself while on holiday, is not going to guarantee the country’s survival. And there is no point in being “healthy” when the prescribed medicine could end up killing the patient.