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Philip Mendes: ‘Greater Israel Paradigm’ Returns

By TTN Blog

This was originally posted online as “Back to the Future: the Disturbing return of the Greater Israel paradigm” by its author, Philip Mendes.  An Australian colleague of The Third Narrative, Associate Professor Mendes is director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University near Melbourne.  The following is its text in full:

Prior to the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993, many Jewish commentators either denied that there was a Palestinian people, or alternatively that Palestinians had a legitimate right to statehood. Within that Greater Israel paradigm, the building of Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank (and indeed within the Gaza Strip as well) was openly justified as a means of preventing the emergence of any Palestinian state. Those Jews such as myself who supported a two-state solution in those days were labelled as radicals or even anti-Zionists because we deliberately sought to undermine the logic of that argument by noting that Israeli-Palestinian peace would require compromise on both sides.

The signing of Oslo transformed mainstream Jewish perspectives, and most Jews came to accept that mutual compromise via two states would be required to facilitate long-term peace and co-existence. But the recent election of Trump and the perception that Israeli support for two states may be eroding seems to have provoked the return of the outdated Greater Israel paradigm. In our book, Boycotting Israel is Wrong, Nick Dyrenfurth and I noted (pp.152-53) that this paradigm proposed a zero-sum solution involving justice for Israelis only. It demanded that Palestinians surrender, and give up any claims to statehood.

A number of similar principles are reflected in an article by an American Jewish writer from Los Angeles, David Suissa, published in today’s Australian newspaper (2/1/17). Suissa attacks criticisms of Israeli settlements by suggesting that it is unfair to attack Jews for building new houses. But he fails to add that the houses are in somebody else’s country. If I built a house even three streets from the property I owned, I suspect the owner of that land would rightly be annoyed.

He then states that the Palestinians already have a state in Gaza — which is nonsense. The Hamas regime is a loathsome theocratic dictatorship, but the borders of that territory are controlled by Israel and Egypt which precludes it operating as an independent state able to export and import as it chooses.

He claims that the Palestinians rejected offers for statehood on seven different occasions. Even if we stick to 1979, 1993, 2000 and 2008, that only holds true for the Camp David peace offer of July 2000 and the negotiations that followed around the Clinton peace parameters culminating in the unsuccessful Taba negotiations of January 2001. The Likud-dominated Greater Israel government of 1979 in fact described the West Bank as liberated territory. They did not offer the Palestinians a state, nor did they agree to negotiate with the PLO as the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people. The 1993 Oslo Peace Accord was accepted not rejected by the PLO as the basis for negotiations potentially leading to two states, but it did not formally specify the dismantling of Jewish settlements or the creation of a Palestinian State. The 2008 offer of Ehud Olmert seemed generous in principle, but it occurred in the context of a dying Prime Ministership that lacked a parliamentary majority. It is unlikely the Palestinians viewed that offer as an official Israeli position. Regardless, the interesting question on the credibility of this historical overview is whether Suissa or his supporters endorsed such offers at the time. I suspect the answer is a big no.

Finally, Suissa absurdly attempts to align opposition to West Bank settlements with an anti-Israel narrative, and then accuses President Obama of destroying the peace process by his criticism of Jewish settlements. This is insane. Obama correctly identified that the ongoing expansion of settlements precluded the possibility of a two state solution, and presumably clarified that the Palestinians saw no value in negotiating with an Israeli Government that was increasingly swallowing up the very land that they were meant to be talking about returning to Palestinian rule.

So just as the BDS movement demands maximum justice for Palestinians even if this means absolute injustice for Israelis, so the Greater Israel movement demands maximum rights for Israelis even if this means no rights for Palestinians. The worrying thing is that I can already sniff some Australian Jewish leaders, not only those on the ultra-right fringe, being tempted into adopting some of these dubious arguments.

One Response to “Philip Mendes: ‘Greater Israel Paradigm’ Returns”

  1. Joe in Australia
    February 28, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    Whether Gaza should be considered a state is entirely orthogonal to the fact that it’s presently blockaded. Lots of states have been blockaded before; Israel was pretty nearly blockaded itself early on.If Gaza were governed normally it would be the sort of entity that could have diplomatic relationships with other states; it would be, in fact, a state. This has nothing to do with the (in)justice of Israel ruling another population, but it does speak to the very substantial question of whether there *could* be a Palestinian state in the West Bank if Israel withdrew.

    It’s an open secret that the Palestinian Authority has no support from Palestinians generally, not even those in the West Bank, and that it only remains in power because of profound support and intervention by Israel. Even with that support, it is unable to extend its rule to Gaza. Would the West Bank accommodate a Palestinian state in any meaningful sense if its government continued to depend on Israeli support? Would the state be meaningfully different to Gaza if Israel withdrew all intervention, and the Palestinian Authority were swept from office in a coup or rebellion?

    I quite agree that the existence of the Hamas-run enclave of Gaza is no answer to Palestinians in the West Bank who want a state, but I think advocates for a two-state solution have a duty (not least to the Palestinians) to answer these questions.

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