Palestine is at boiling point. It is only early February but Israeli gunfire has already killed 35 Palestinians this year, nine of them in a single incursion into Jenin, including a 61-year-old woman. Seven Israelis were killed in violent incidents in East Jerusalem. As tensions soar, attacks by settlers against local Palestinians have multiplied.
Amid this violence, security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir led a baying mob chanting “death to the terrorists,” in scenes reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany. Ben-Gvir is also lobbying to accelerate the collective-punishment policy of demolishing the family homes of Palestinians implicated in violent attacks, including a 13-year-old accused of injuring two people in Jerusalem. There have been 75 home demolitions since 2014. Expect this number to increase rapidly. But there is a fundamental asymmetry in global reactions – noisy outrage whenever Jews are victims of Palestinian “terrorism,” compared with lethargic responses as the Palestinian death toll mounts. This double standard has created a climate of impunity on the Israeli side, where increasingly extremist administrations believe they can get away with anything.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses the deluded belief that he can go “around” the Palestinians to make peace, as if there can be any definitive settlement without them. He boasts of deals with various Arab states. But Israel has never been at war with Sudan, or Bahrain, or the UAE, and has never stolen an inch of their territory – so how do these deals represent meaningful steps toward peace? America bribing Morocco and Sudan into “normalization” deals with concessions on Western Sahara and debt forgiveness is hardly the basis for a meaningful and far-reaching thawing of relations. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan recently emphasised the fundamental necessity of a just peace with the Palestinians as Israel’s first step to real peace with the Arab world: “True normalization and true stability will only come through giving the Palestinians hope – through giving the Palestinians dignity,” he said.
Israel’s artificial peace deals with Egypt and Jordan demonstrate that actual peace is achieved not between leaders, but between peoples. Egyptian and Jordanian citizens are no more reconciled toward Israel than they were in the 1980s. Without justice for Palestinians there is no appetite from any peace-loving peoples for joint ventures, cultural exchange, or tourism. Netanyahu doesn’t have an “Arab” problem, he has a “civilization” problem. The civilized world doesn’t passively accept apartheid, brutality and ethnic cleansing. The US Congress and media were once rubber stamps for legitimizing Israel, but this has not been the case for some time. Netanyahu’s lengthy tenures as prime minister mark Israel’s decisive transition to pariah-state status.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s vision for the Palestinians looks remarkably benevolent when compared with that of his swivel-eyed, extreme-right Cabinet allies, who see the entirety of Palestine as granted to them by God, and therefore it should be entirely emptied of Palestinians by any means necessary. Netanyahu’s assault on democracy is most conspicuous in his ambitions for gutting Israel’s judiciary. For Palestinians, Israel’s courts have never offered a level playing field, but they at least represented a glimmer of hope that the most egregious violations – home demolitions, evictions, land theft, and wrongful arrest -could be delayed or overturned. By giving politicians the right to flood the judiciary with their appointees, and allowing Knesset deputies to overturn any court ruling, Netanyahu and his allies aim to turn the judiciary into a mere appendage of Israel’s gerrymandered, quasi-fascist political elites.
Indeed, they want to go further – exploiting these judicial powers to ban Arab political parties from standing in elections, shutting down civil society organizations, narrowing the definition of who enjoys citizenship rights, and green-lighting ever more brutal pogroms against Palestinian cities. Mass protests throughout Israel have justifiably denounced these measures as a threat to world peace. A Tel Aviv academic argued in a Financial Times article that Israel as an “illiberal, non-democratic, religious state is a danger to the Western world.” Standing beside Netanyahu last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – himself the stepson of a Holocaust survivor – was uncharacteristically blunt, stressing “our support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society.”
With a two-state solution all but dead, the question becomes what sort of one-state solution can emerge. A single state in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and freedoms could set a global example as a model of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, we look set to acquire its polar opposite: an apartheid state where Arabs and minorities become non-citizens whose every expression of discontent is met with murderous force. Across the entirety of Palestine, Arabs likely now slightly outnumber Jews, and the Palestinian population is increasing at a faster rate. As Netanyahu’s regime accelerates away from any pretence of democratic values, naked force becomes the only means for a minority to impose itself on an oppressed majority. As Arab Israelis trend toward being a quarter of Israel’s population, if they are to be divested of their democratic and legal rights, the prospects for Israel’s civil stability look dim.
One could argue that Israel is at a turning point. However, Netanyahu’s neo-fascist coalition has already resolutely slammed its foot down on the accelerator and is speeding inexorably toward the point of no return. For the Palestinians, this makes matters remarkably simple: There is no partner for peace. There is no two-state solution on the table. They can regain their lands and rights only through civil uprising.
However, as Netanyahu and his cronies take a sledgehammer to Israel’s democratic pretentions, Palestinians should make their own land grab for the moral high ground. The prolonged conflict has fueled a dehumanizing disregard for life on both sides. Ben-Gvir’s extreme-right settler movement has created a climate in which Palestinians can be brutalized and killed, which in turn has cultivated hatred and the desire for vengeance and a new intifada among Palestinians. The absence of capable leaders on the Palestinian side facilitates a moral leadership vacuum. If Palestine’s Arabs capitalize on their demographic strength to embark on a far-reaching campaign of peaceful civil disobedience – as in Iran – this would compel Netanyahu’s regime to display its ugly, brutal face ever more clearly, permanently delegitimizing Israel’s far-right consensus before the eyes of the world.
Enough of double standards, regarding Arabs as somehow less human than Jews, and the world’s feeble non-position toward the Palestine issue. If it’s a choice between Netanyahu’s vision for apartheid autocracy, or the Palestinians’ 75-year quest for justice, it becomes increasingly clear which cause is most deserving of global support and solidarity.