Shaqued Morag speaking tour - 7 take-aways
Shaqued Morag, leader of Israel's Peace Now movement, visited Canada May 13-19, to speak in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, about the urgency for Israel to change course. Here are some of the highlights of her talks.
1. Original Zionist vision being eroded
Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence envisions a democratic Jewish state with equality for all citizens regardless of race, religion or sex. But that inspiring vision is being undermined through a right-wing ethos that champions Jewish supremacy above all. The regressive Nation-State Law, declared last year, emphasizes Israel's Jewish character but omits mention of democracy and equality. The military rule of 2.8 million disenfranchised West Bank Palestinians is supposed to be temporary. But the increasingly entrenched settlement enterprise threatens to make the occupation permanent. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking immunity from corruption prosecution and limits to judicial power - anti-democratic efforts, to say the least.
2. The trend is towards annexation
Settlement building has increased dramatically over the 10 years Netanyahu has been in office and especially since President Trump came to power, giving the green light for growth of the Jewish presence in the West Bank. Settlements considered legal under Israeli law expanded. But the Netanyahu government also passed legislation that retroactively legalizes outposts previously considered illegal. This law has been put on hold by Israel's Supreme Court. However, right wingers are pushing for a new law to limit the Supreme Court's authority to intervene. The next step on the annexation road might be for Israel to formally annex all Jewish settlements (known as Area C of the West Bank). This would create, a "Swiss cheese" of Palestinian enclaves, cut off from one another (unless a very expensive network of infrastructure were built to connect them). This is very far from the contiguous territory that Palestinians would need to create a state of their own and enable the two-state solution.
3. Annexation would put Israel on an apartheid-like course
If Israel were to fully annex the West Bank, as some right-wingers want, the government would almost certainly not extend Israeli citizenship rights to the Palestinians. (Nor would the Palestinians necessarily want this.) Instead, Israel would formally create a huge, disenfranchised underclass and lose the right to call itself a democracy.
4. Settlers have disproportionate influence
Jewish settlers, who number about 400,000, represent 13% of the current West Bank population and less than 5% of Israeli citizens. But they receive a lion's share of resources - about $2.8 billion USD in investment over the last 10 years. West Bank land that the Israeli government confiscates for public use almost always goes to the benefit of settlers rather than Palestinians. Settlers have deep-pocket supporters in the U.S. They are a very effective lobby group.
5. But Israelis don't necessarily support them
Although Netanyahu is back in power, and the left lost seats in the last election, the composition of the new Israeli Knesset is not overwhelmingly hard right and in favour of annexation. The more centrist Blue and White party won 35 seats, exactly the same as Likud. The Zionist left parties and Arab parties (20 seats) certainly oppose annexation. The ultra-orthodox parties have a religious rather than a territorial agenda. This doesn't mean the new Knesset would pursue a peace agenda. It does show that Israelis voted for representatives that, under the right circumstances, might opt for a pragmatic agreement with the Palestinians.
6. It's not too late for two states
With brave leadership on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, a two-state solution - the only feasible solution - could move forward. The settler enterprise is a major, but not an insurmountable obstacle.
Even among the settlers, not all cling to the vision of Greater Israel from the Jordan to the sea. Many moved across the Green Line for the sake of cheaper housing and might be induced to move back to Israel proper with financial inducements. Moreover, according to model two-state peace plans that have wide international backing, Israel would get to keep large settlement blocs near the Green Line in exchange for giving land from its own territory for a Palestinian state. In effect, only 25% of settlers would have to move to accommodate a two-state solution.
7. The peace camp is fighting back
During the April election campaign, Peace Now released a well-crafted video about how the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement has held for 40 years, saved countless lives and was an example of how land-for-peace has been a success. The message: peace with Palestinians is also worth seeking. The video, featuring a popular Israeli actor, was viewed over one million times. (View the video here). It struck a chord with many Israelis. As well, Peace Now has been at the forefront of protests against the Nation-State Law and anti-occupation demonstrations. Its Settlement Watch Program continues to expose settlement expansion and warn of the dangers. The movement is bringing its message to youth with the help of Canadian Friends of Peace Now's Emil Grunzweig Fellowship program for young peace leaders, who reach out to other university students on peace and democracy issues.
In Shaqued 's own words
"We do have a presence in the streets, in the media, and among educators. We are invited to speak at universities and pre-military academies. I know that Israelis are willing to give up land to save lives. I am not giving up. Public opinion can change."
Some highlights from the question-and-answer session
Q. Is there a peace partner on the Palestinian side
A. We [Peace Now] met with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. He was very clear about his willingness to support a two-state solution. Can he do it? I don't know. Does he have support from his people? I don't know. My job is to win support from the Israeli people, and the Palestinians should do their job too. Is it worth trying again? Is war worth trying, over and over? I prefer trying peace, over and over.
Q What about the Palestinian refugee issue?
A. Mahmoud Abbas would like Israel to recognize the right of return, but that doesn't mean enacting the right. Abbas said he knows that the return of millions of refugees would put the State of Israel at risk and he doesn't expect that of Israel. There are different ways of recognizing the situation of the refugees and making their lives better. These measures could include monetary compensation, citizenship in the countries in which they currently reside, citizenship in a new Palestinian state and the return of a symbolic number to Israel.
A. Does Peace Now activity strengthen the BDS movement?
Q. The reason BDS exists is the occupation, not left-wing organizations like ours. If we stop talking, that won't stop BDS. We need a public discourse that is pro-Israel and pro-Zionist, but can be critical of Israel's current policies.