Idealists Or Realists? Sadly, the BDS Movement is a work of idealism, not realism. Its demand that the Israelis concede the Palestinians’ so called “Right of Return” is particularly unrealistic. Only an idealist could make such a demand. Because only an idealist could believe that Israel would ever accede to its own dissolution.
THE GREATEST ENEMY of the peoples of the Middle East is idealism. It was the idealism of the Zionists that led them to Palestine. Likewise, the idealism of the American Neo-Conservatives that led them to Iraq. The young idealists who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square wished for a democratic Egypt – only to reject it in favour of military intervention when their wish came true. Idealism is hard to please. It does not compromise. Neither does it surrender. Idealists cry – “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!” – though very few of them are to be found living in the ruins. That’s because idealists are very good at lighting fires, and notoriously bad at putting them out. Why else does Syria continue to burn?
As their starting point, those who call themselves “realists” do not judge the world according to how it should be, but as it is. Unlike the idealists, they are always willing to compromise. In the ears of the realist, “surrender” is not a dirty word. They understand that to secure peace, it is sometimes necessary for one side to give up the fight. Realists understand that the cry for perfect justice is all-too-often a cry for perpetual war.
Peace in Northern Ireland was not negotiated by idealists, but by realists. Peace in Palestine will, likewise, be the achievement of those who begin with the situation as it is, not as it should be, or, as it was.
The Zionists have been in Palestine since the end of the nineteenth century. For more than 100 years, they have waged an unceasing – and largely successful – struggle to transform Palestine into Israel. Since November 1917, their staunchest allies in this endeavour have been the world’s pre-eminent powers: first Great Britain and then the United States.
In these circumstances the restoration of the status quo ante is simply not a realistic option. Nor is a recourse to force majeure. Three times that has been attempted (1948, 1967, 1973) and three times it has failed. What’s more, if threatened with imminent destruction, the State of Israel now possesses sufficient nuclear firepower to turn the entire Middle East into a radioactive wasteland. No one would be found living in those ruins.
All of which raises the question: Is the current Palestinian-initiated campaign to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions on Israel (the BDS Movement) the work of idealists or realists?
Sadly, the BDS Movement is a work of idealism, not realism. While it is not inconceivable that the Golan Heights may one day be returned to Syria (or whatever entities succeed that tragic state) as part of a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel, it is very difficult to conceive of a situation in which the Israeli Government would agree to empty the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Any attempt to do so would be politically suicidal.
The BDS Movement’s final demand: that the Israelis concede the Palestinians’ so called “Right of Return” is even less likely to be met. Only an idealist could make such a demand. Because only an idealist could believe that Israel would ever accede to its own dissolution.
The “Right of Return” is the supreme example of the Palestinians’ belief that a return to the status quo ante (i.e. the legal situation that prevailed before the outbreak of full-scale war between Israelis and Arabs in 1948) is possible.
Elderly Palestinians who fled their farms and villages in 1948 speak openly of reclaiming their property from its Israeli possessors. Many still keep the keys to the houses they abandoned at the outbreak of the war. Even though the vast majority of Palestinians living today were not born in 1948, the “Right of Return” remains non-negotiable. Palestine is their home – and they will settle for nothing less.
From the perspective of the Israelis, however, the “Right of Return” is regarded as code for the destruction of the State of Israel. Not all Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948, say the Zionists, many left voluntarily – confident of reclaiming their property the moment the invading armies of Israel’s Arab neighbours had driven the Jews into the sea. Fortunately for the Jews, say the Zionists, the Palestinians lost their bet. Israel won the war and Palestine ceased to exist as anything other than a geographical/historical expression.
The Palestinians reject this description utterly. In their eyes, the geographical/historical entity known as Israel has erected a racist state comparable to Apartheid South Africa, which must be given no legitimacy while the territory’s original, Palestinian, inhabitants remain dispossessed of both their land and their rights.
While the “Right of Return” remains non-negotiable, the Realists’ “Two State Solution” (in which an independent Palestinian State is erected on the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip) remains dead in the water. While the Palestinians refuse to accept that the status quo prevailing within the British Mandate of Palestine’s 1948 borders can never be restored, the Israeli settlers on the West Bank will never be persuaded to dismantle their communities.
Which also means that while the BDS Movement continues to demand the Palestinians’ “Right of Return” its chances of success remain slim. Already Israel’s allies in the USA, the UK and the EU are mobilising their considerable political and media resources to thwart its divestment campaign and to brand its leading activists and supporters anti-Semites.
Within Israel itself, the sense of being isolated and “persecuted” by individuals, organisations and nation states hell-bent on its destruction has already driven its domestic politics sharply to the right. Far from weakening the power of Zionism over Israeli society, the BDS Movement is strengthening its grip.
How ironic it would be if the actions of the BDS Movement, and other like-minded NGOs, succeeded in transforming the 93-year-old proposal of Zionism’s most extreme advocate, Vladimir Jabotinsky, into the only “realistic” alternative.
In 1923, Jabotinsky wrote:
Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.
The Israeli Government has already constructed a concrete wall to both contain and constrain the lives of the Palestinians within the territory it occupies. How long can it be before an unrepentent Zionism pushes every last member of Palestine’s “native population” beyond an all-encompassing “iron wall” that cannot be broken through?
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Saturday, 11 June 2016.