The pro-Palestinians who welcomed Netanyahu’s re-election

19 Mar

There has been quite a bit of media and social media commentary from the Left that has welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel. The notion immediately seems jarring and counter intuitive, but there is a logic to it. The following argument has been made: Israel is a racist state committed to the subjugation of Palestinians and there is no point in pretending that it can be ‘reformed’ or encouraged to enter into a meaningful negotiation process with Palestinians at this time. This thinking continues that Netanyahu’s re-election at least makes it clear that the racist and aggressive intentions of the Israeli state are clear and that the sooner that those who want change face up to that, the better. If the Israeli opposition had won the election, the argument continues further, then it might have given up a few concessions but half measures are of no use.

To a certain extent this argument is a loose reworking of the I. William Zartman idea of ripe moments and a hurting stalemate. Zartman’s ideas are much more subtle than many of those who have interpreted him suggest. But in simple terms, the notion is that combatants will have few incentives to investigate negotiated outcomes if they are winning on the battlefield. If there is a hurting stalemate, however, they may see the incentive of investigating ways of lowering the costs of the conflict. In other words, negotiations may become worthwhile during certain ripe moments. The arguments from Netanyahu’s external opponents are a variation on this theme: an anti-apartheid coalition can reach critical mass if the true scale of Israeli barbarity becomes more apparent.

One can see the logic here, yet the implication is deeply troubling in practical and ethical terms. It is essentially saying that Palestinian suffering, immiseration and systematic subjugation (which is bad enough anyway) must continue (and possibly intensify) in order to result in a qualitative shift in the conflict. Such thinking condemns Palestinians to suffering. It says that there must be an acceptable level of pain (and fatalities) in order for the greater good of effective mobilisation. Such an argument brings us to a very troubling place – especially if it is made by those outside of the occupied territories. It takes quite a lot of moral certainty for academics and columnists safely ensconced behind desks in London and New York to advocate pain and suffering to be endured by others.

So what’s the alternative? Obviously in relation to Israel-Palestine, we are strapped for viable alternatives that can alter strategic realities. But it seems, to me at any rate, that we have to deal with the situation that we have, not the one that we have hoped for. The best critique of Zartman’s arguments on ripe moments have come from John Paul Lederach. Continuing the horticultural theme, he argued that the key is not waiting for ripe moments (the end point of the growing process). He thought it unrealistic to wait for the fruit to mature. Instead, he argued that we have to work on the soil – a long term process that does not have immediate consequences, but those consequences – once the come – should have long-term consequences. So the unfortunately slow approach of education, re-education, lobbying, BDS etc. seems best. Preparing the ground seems better than condemning more Palestinians to be buried in it.


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