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Besieged from the inside?

By Antony Loewenstein - posted Thursday, 9 October 2008

In mid-September, during the dying days of his leadership, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boldly stated that the idea of "greater Israel is over. There is no such thing. Anyone who talks that way is deluding themselves ... I arrived at the conclusion that we must share with those we live with, if we don't want to be a bi-national state."

It was a brave comment, albeit one by a discredited man. Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorialised on his departure that, "it is doubtful whether it [Israel] has ever known a worse [leadership] than that of Ehud Olmert ... Its balance sheet, after two years and nine months, comes very close to zero".

Although Olmert's failures were massive - not least the futile 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah - he at least acknowledged the reality of the Jewish state's precariousness in relation to the Palestinians. In late November 2007, Olmert admitted - for arguably cynical reasons - that "if the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished".


The tragic reality, however, is that the Jewish state is already on the path to self-inflicted destruction. Although Olmert sometimes said the right things, his government's actions merely entrenched the ever-expanding occupation and indulged the radical settler movement.

There will be little that incoming Prime Minister Tzipi Livni will do to eradicate this internal existential threat. As the famous Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote last weekend: "Israeli fascism is alive and kicking." The evidence for that is everywhere. Yet, the international community only expresses concern over Palestinian "terrorism".

The New York Times last week revealed the depth of the problem in a rare exposé:

There have been bouts of settler violence for years, notably during the transfer of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005. Now, though, the militants seem to have spawned a broader, more defined strategy of resistance designed to intimidate the state ... Hard-core right-wing settlers have responded to limited army operations in recent weeks by blocking roads, rioting spontaneously, throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles and burning Palestinian orchards and fields all over the West Bank, a territory that Israel has occupied since 1967. They have also vandalised Israeli Army positions, equipment and cars.

The aim of these extremists is to establish a Taliban-style, rabbinical state to replace the current "secular" Israel. It may seem like a pipedream to most - not least the vast majority of Israelis who oppose the occupation project - but the attempt to uproot any major settlement blocs will incur a vicious response. A civil war between the state and radical Zionists is not unlikely in the years to come; and Israel will only have itself to blame.

On the political front, a group of leading NGOs last week released a report accusing global powers of failing to gain any tangible benefits for the Palestinians. Roadblocks, checkpoints, expanding colonies, settler violence and strangulation of Gaza are just some of the issues raised in the report. No wonder then, as Haaretz noted, that "the motivation to carry out terrorist attacks is increasing". Arab radicalisation is guaranteed unless the lives of citizens drastically improve.


The answer is not co-opting the weakened Fatah-led Palestinian Authority into policing the occupation in a town such as Jenin (a strategy which was praised in a recent The New York Times story). President Mahmoud Abbas is already perceived by many Palestinians, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, as engaging for years with the Israelis and having nothing to show for it.

Abbas recently told Haaretz, in an interview clearly designed to please his Israeli and American backers, that his forces were "restoring order to the West Bank cities [and] taking steps against anyone who tries to undermine security and stability"

Fine sentiments, except that the relationship remains one of colonial dependency. The Palestinians have to "prove" their seriousness to the Israelis and then one day, years down the track, the Jewish state may talk about withdrawing its forces and settlers from occupied territories. I've long argued that the facts on the ground in Palestine now make a full Israeli withdrawal a virtual impossibility. Therefore, the two-state "dream" is long dead and buried.

The future is one nation, well articulated by Ghada Karmi in The Guardian last week, amid the growing international calls for its implementation. Uncertainty in Israel is likely to continue long after a new Prime Minister is elected and the Americans select Barack Obama or John McCain in November.

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First published in New Matilda on September 29, 2008.  

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About the Author

Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, The Guardian, Washington Post, Znet, Counterpunch and many other publications. He contributed a major chapter in the 2004 best seller, Not Happy, John!. He is author of the best-selling book My Israel Question, released in August 2006 by Melbourne University Publishing and re-published in 2009 in an updated edition. The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. His 2008 book is The Blogging Revolution on the internet in repressive regimes. His website is at and he can be contacted at

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