What you see is what you get

Everything in the Holy Land is as good as it’s going to be, so why do anything that might change the holy status quo?

In June 2011, almost 100,000 people show up for the gay pride festivities in Tel Aviv – an amazing achievement after years of struggle. Six thousand showed up for a peace demonstration a few nights before. In the West Bank, more than 20,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements, and only a few hundred participate in the Friday demonstrations against the occupation.
In Israel, peace activists who stand with Palestinians peacefully, without provocation and without stones, suffer from tear gas inhalation every week, and come home to be called traitors. Palestinian activists in Nilin, Nebi Saleh, Walaja and other places feel disdain toward their leaders, and abandoned by their people, and so continue to absorb the wrath of the occupation army without any sense of success. As local leaders in Nebi Saleh and Nilin expressed to me directly: “our so-called leaders don’t leave their comfortable offices in Ramallah to be with the people on the ground.”
Israel’s international diplomatic status might feel like it’s on the decline, but in reality Israel is a more-than-welcome member of the international community.
The US will oppose any serious Palestinian attempt to bypass negotiations via the UN, and will probably have the support of the wealthy, important states of Europe, including those perceived as friends of Palestine, such as Sweden.
Recently I participated in a seminar in Sweden with their minister for international development, Gunilla Carlsson, the minister with the most responsibility for the Palestinians, who stated that Sweden will consider recognizing Palestine only “when the time was right,” whatever that means.
Clearly, that time is not now.
IN ISRAEL in June 2011, Israelis are hedonistically pleased and comfortable. Netanyahu’s government is stable, and no real opposition exists to its policies. The Israeli economy is growing, and even labor disputes that once rocked the country, such as the doctors’ strike, go on almost unnoticed. Israelis are preparing for their summer holidays, and even though Turkey is off the dockets there are plenty of other venues to choose from for tourists with pockets full of cash.
Palestinians in the West Bank are also busy at work and enjoying the economic growth fostered by the state-building process of the past two years, and have created a tolerable reality that at least for the time being seems secure. Even with high unemployment among the educated youth, the cafés, restaurants and bars of Ramallah and Bethlehem are full. The PA is busy trying to create a workable government, which should be the outcome of national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Until then, the current PA government of Salam Fayyad is pushing forward with the management of the daily affairs of 90% of the Palestinians in the West Bank on less than 40% of the land, while the government of Ismail Haniyeh is doing the same in Gaza. The Arab Spring has not yet blossomed in Palestine.
There is no Palestinian national strategy for a civil uprising against the occupation, and no apparent leadership taking to the streets to foster its growth.
The Palestinians have accepted President Barack Obama’s parameters for new negotiations, and now Washington is waiting for Israel’s answer. There is no real pressure on Israel to say yes, and there will be no real negative repercussions if Israel declines Obama’s request. Senator George Mitchell waited for two years to receive Israel’s response to Palestinian positions, and resigned before Israel even indicated that it intended to provide answers. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said “the current status quo is not sustainable,” but at the same time the US peace-process mantra remains “the parties have to want it more than us.”
SO WHETHER or not the status quo is sustainable, only time will tell. None of the parties seems particularly motivated to change it, and the Israeli and Palestinian people do not demonstrate any real desire to do anything about it. Palestinian society doesn’t seem to have the energy to generate a non-violent popular struggle for freedom and Israelis are just too comfortable today to worry about tomorrow.
Tomorrow doesn’t seem to be too threatening anyway.
The threat that a twostate solution will not be viable for much longer doesn’t seem to shake anyone in Israel. The one-state “threat” of the Palestinians and the warnings of a nondemocratic Israel from within Israel’s diminishing left wing seem like distant shouts in a desert. Israeli rule over the West Bank and East Jerusalem have lasted 43 years. Oslo enabled Israel to relinquish direct responsibility for the Palestinian people’s daily needs while control over land, water, sky, radio and telephone frequencies, borders and security remain in its full control. The Palestinians have their own elections, their own government, their own income tax system, their own symbols and national identity. They even have their own police force.
If they behave well, Israel will remove more checkpoints and allow them to move within their territory more freely. If they don’t, they will pay the price. The equation is well known. And quite frankly, who really cares? Europe, the US and some Arab countries provide enough money to keep the whole thing afloat, while the World Bank and the IMF continue to process impressive reports about double-digit economic growth in “Palestine.” International consultants, diplomats and “concerned” business people will continue to come with their five-star hotels and per diems and write reports that no one really cares about.
For the time being, the uprisings in the Arab Middle East are creating a new regional order, but it is too early to know if that will encourage Israel to reach out or build higher walls. So for the time being, it seems that Israelis can continue to revel in their narcissism; no change is needed. Everything in the Holy Land is as good as it’s going to get, so why do anything that might change the holy status quo? In the Promised Land, the only promise that can be made is that what you see is what you get, and apparently, it ain’t so bad.
The writer is co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), and founder of the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).