Turmoil in the home of the Jewish people
Remarks on how Israel’s state crisis is connected with the success of its no-state solution for Palestine
a) For months now, a dispute has been raging in Israel that has been spoken of both at home and abroad as dividing the nation and throwing the state into crisis. It has seized both the political class democratically organized into parties, and large sections of the population. On the surface, the issue is a reform of certain aspects of Israel’s judicial system and, above all, the relation of the judicial to the executive and legislative “powers,” especially in terms of the reciprocal veto rights of the parliament and the Supreme Court.
The current national row was triggered by the current government under Benjamin Netanyahu, who has now been in office as long as the legendary founder of the state, Ben-Gurion. The umpteenth government led by him is generally regarded as the “most right-wing government Israel has ever had.” It is composed of the traditional right-wing Likud bloc with its strong voter base, likewise long-established but less powerful representatives of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and somewhat newer “religious Zionist” parties. The latter are the political organizers and parliamentary representatives of the religiously inspired settler movement, which is pursuing the agenda of seizing the land of the West Bank totally and exclusively as its divinely appointed real and sole owners. Opposing the government are in particular secularly oriented parties, some of which likewise belong to the right-wing spectrum and some of which are diverse remnants and products of the split of Israel’s traditional Labor movement, which led the country practically alone in the first decades after its founding. Together, they represent half of the Israeli population, who feel the current government is not only not representing them, but betraying them as Israelis.
It is in fact clear to all those involved in the national divide that the reform of the judiciary, while presenting a significant change to the separation of state powers, is as such merely a part and, above all, a symbol of a dispute that goes far beyond the question of how the state is organized. This is quite evident from the current clashes. The very fact that the mass protests, which sometimes involve violence, do not subside when the government makes headway with its resolutions as planned is rather unusual in a mature democracy. After all, sovereignly ignoring protests is a tried and tested way for a democratic government to silence them; protesters have to realize that their concerns must be subordinated to the common good as defined and executed by the government according to its office. That is what the Netanyahu government has explicitly counted on — only to find that the protesters will simply not accept the democratic faits accomplis. It is likewise atypical of democratic disputes for low-, high-, and highest-ranking representatives of the state’s armed forces to publicly object to their top superiors’ policy and even start refusing to serve — as have some members of the reserve officer corps, a body important for the army’s full combat strength, some intelligence service officers, and even the defense minister himself. The fact that the latter actually felt the need to issue two ultimatums to his own head of government sheds light on another peculiarity of this dispute that has been fought out within the bounds and on the fringes of democratic practice: the fronts obviously extend into the government camp itself. The coalition members, rather than closing ranks against the protests in a party truce, are evidently adopting quite hostile if not irreconcilable positions toward each other on some crucial issues, this characterizing above all the relationship between the ultra-Orthodox Jewry’s representatives and more secular right-wingers.
b) So what is it all about? This too is demonstrated quite clearly by the feuding camps in their own way, with the government members and coalition parties themselves again leading the way. Their judicial reform takes aim at the Supreme Court, which they describe and treat as a decisive institutional obstacle to their government program. No point asking whether it actually is or could become such an obstacle. The reformers are evidently not reassured by statistics showing that in the past the court has turned out to be no obstacle at all when it comes to legalizing illegal settlements for example — a central concern of Netanyahu's Likud and the settler parties — but has instead proven itself as the authority for legalizing all progress of this kind. The reformers obviously see their program as being so fundamental that they will by no means tolerate the mere possibility of some institution restricting their parliamentary freedom to act. Especially the religious right and settlers, who set the tone in the government and act and are perceived as the engines of government actions, see the Supreme Court as an elite ruling over the state, an elite that has lost sight of the state’s actual program and its actual people and is constantly betraying them. This in itself is nothing unusual, nothing at all specific to Israel, at a time when basically all democracies are seeing populist parties of varying strength gain a foothold, promising to return the state to the people. Elsewhere, too, this generally involves efforts to institutionally strengthen those representing the will of the people vis-à-vis the checks and balances that in all democratic nations are supposed to ensure that voters, by voting, accomplish exactly and only what the purpose of this crux and pinnacle of all democracy is. By exercising their right to vote, the people are supposed to periodically decide the parties’ competition to hold the offices of state power, a competition that is based on the reason of state having already been settled in principle, and that is aimed at committing all discontent among the people and every political alternative to this reason of state and incorporating them into it. Populists, as soon as they are in power — Israeli ones too — see all this as an undemocratic restriction of their sovereignty, which the rules of democracy entitle them to equate with the will of the people, after all, once they have won elections and formed a government.
This at the same time has a special Israeli connection which is by no means new as an object of political discord in this country, this also applying to the positions now being advocated with government authority. Some party names — for example, “United Torah Judaism,” “Jewish Strength” and “Religious Zionism” — convey some very decisive standpoints in the perpetual Israeli dispute about what kind of state Israel really is, should be, or should become. The complementary question is, what kind of people have a right to the Israeli state for the Jews or the Jewish state of Israel, and thus have the rights in Israel that a national people has? This has been continuously under debate in Israel since it was founded, not as a mere ideological sideshow to the real life of the nation taking place in accordance with standards the state authority stipulates. It is instead a dispute about these standards themselves, i.e., a dispute about nothing less than the reason of state. While other nations are only faced with such a question in times of political crisis and upheaval when there are doubts about the national path to success, it is a permanent part of political life in Israel. That is because the Israeli reason of state is, and is supposed to be, decidedly ambiguous. On the one hand, Israel is a fully developed bourgeois state. It makes use of its citizens as servants to the nation’s capitalist wealth; provides them with a rule of law and a welfare system; also draws on them to staff the state’s monopoly on the use of force both domestically and abroad; and reproduces this relation using the methods of a bourgeois democracy by interesting them as voters in the troubles of ruling them, so that they constantly renew their will to be ruled. On the other hand, and in opposition to this, it is also part of the reason of this state that it has been unwilling to tie itself down — much less be tied down — to its territorial borders, and that it does not consider or treat the population it governs as essentially and exclusively its people. Also, this state defines its constituent people — not temporarily, but on principle — as much smaller and at the same time much larger than those present on the land it rules or dominates between the Mediterranean Sea, the Sinai Peninsula, the Jordan River and the eastern foothills of the Golan Heights. Arabs are there, but in the ‘occupied territories’ they are definitely not its people, and in the Israeli heartland not really. The Jews living all over the world, especially in the USA but also in West European nations and the large East European communities, are not there, but they are its people in the Diaspora and have the right to come to Israel and become citizens under the Israeli “Law of Return.”
For seventy-five years, this has meant that matters that elsewhere are only of interest in the higher spheres of national culture or in the limited circles of religious communities have a fundamental and practically relevant nature in Israel. How exclusive to non-Jews does Israel have to be, having defined itself as the homeland for Jews? How far can non-Jews be integrated as equals under such a definition? Conversely, how far do they have to be integrated under Israel’s definition as a bourgeois democratic society? And as far as the Jews themselves are concerned, how much does the state have to acknowledge the Lord, the Holy Scriptures and their rules for individual and community life if Israel is to be the state for Jews or actually the Jewish state? Is a confession of faith the sole qualification, only the sole sufficient qualification, or not even any qualification for being an Israeli citizen? And, apart from an individual’s religious confession or mindset, how important is his biological descent in this context, which according to the fundamental religious rule guarantees through the maternal line that he belongs to God’s chosen people, whose divine rights have been guarded on earth by UN member state Israel since May 14, 1948? Or is it actually an un-Jewish anticipation of what has been promised and is yet to come when this state cites Divine Right and God’s covenant with Abraham, as anti-Zionist religious Jews claim following a long-standing Orthodox position? Etcetera.
The “extreme” parties now forming the government are very decided about their respective positions within these undecidable disputes.
c) First there are the Orthodox Ultras. Their position is that Israel is not simply the state for the Jews — among others — but a Jewish state, and they mean this absolutely in the religious sense. Their holy scriptures tell them how Jewish people’s everyday life should be, which the state is supposed to protect and promote. They have been practicing it themselves as a — growing — community of pious Jews in Israel, who have their religious authorities tell them how to have breakfast, when to celebrate, who to work for and under what conditions, who to marry, when and when not to ride the streetcar, and how to dress for all this. They see the proof that they are right in their community practice itself. At the same time, they can only live this way because the state grants them the legal permission to do so as well as budgetary funds — that are likewise growing — that free them to a certain degree of the need to make money as normal bourgeois citizens. But this doesn’t interest them, or rather only in these terms: this is what the state owes them since it wants to be a Jewish state. This community’s parliamentary representatives try to make the state do what it is supposed to, and when it doesn’t, they feel justified and obligated to be disloyal. They bravely refuse to do military service when zealous Torah students are to be forced to do so against their will. They defend their Sabbath rest against attacks, if they have to, by throwing stones at street lamps and ambulances. Those who are soldiers despite being ultra-Orthodox will always attach more importance to their rabbi’s fatwa than to the service regulations their superiors issue. And if someone is not only Orthodox but a bus driver to boot, he has his rabbi’s blessing to boot short-skirted women out of the vehicle. For these people are not out to just live a nice quiet religious life, at least most of them. Their piety is the agenda for the whole state of Israel, a mission for implementing their religious commandments for everyone. So they do not embrace “tolerance” but fight it, and their parties strive not only to preserve and expand their own community’s civil rights and liberties, but to transform the whole nation into a religious one. Here, too, they see proof that they are right, again mainly since the state itself has laws that grant their religious authorities all kinds of deciding, validating, and vetoing rights in certain areas that expressly also affect non-Orthodox brothers and sisters of the faith or quite secular fellow citizens.
Then there are actually two parties in the government that represent the religiously inspired settlers. They identify their Judaism with the right and the duty to conquer the land promised to their people by the Most High. And that is what they in turn identify the Israeli state with: it must be at the service of the true and sole owners of the Holy Land to militantly seize this land — from the Arab occupiers who continue to live and even multiply on it, denying the Jews not merely some of the land they are rightfully entitled to, but their right to life. For them, being a Jew means liberating the land from the occupiers by force and making it the material basis of life for the exclusively entitled Jewish people; or, conversely, to settle and work the soil and use force to secure the successes thus achieved. They have a state-building concept of man to match, which is propagated in official party programs and reflected in corresponding legislative initiatives: Israel is the movement of the Jewish soldier and farmer. It is their policy to uphold the model of the settling colonizer and proclaim, “Agriculture is Zionism in the fullest sense of the word. It is the epitome of being connected to the land and maintaining ownership of the land, in addition to ensuring food security and sustainability.” The settling Jewish farmer’s individual existence is the Zionist mission in the flesh, so his private property epitomizes the Jewish people’s dominion over its land, and when Arabs damage fields and plows this is “agricultural terror.” Just as the existence of this kind of people on Jewish soil is altogether unbearable on principle. It is therefore the purpose of the Zionist mission to fight them, to deny them the conditions of their existence. For this mission to succeed, the religious Zionists want to settle one million Jews in the Arab-occupied areas, mainly in the West Bank — this will decide their divinely justified struggle. Which needs to be secured by Jews in their capacity as soldiers, the religious Zionists’ second model. The soldier should finally be given by state and society the esteem he deserves. First of all, he should enjoy complete blanket immunity for everything he does as a soldier of his people, and secondly he should be given preferential treatment and a preferential price for becoming a settling Jewish farmer on his own blessed soil after finishing his military service.
Of course, these ultras’ sense of entitlement based on the other world lives off the fact that, in the Israel of this world, they are not fighting a lost cause but have an extremism that is anchored in the state they so clearly want to redefine and change to fit their version of Judaism. The state of Israel has used the superior force of its modern army to conquer the Arab territories where the settler movement operates. And on that basis, Israel has maintained and expanded its own freedom to consider all the domestically disputed alternatives when it comes to all the constantly undecided questions of nation and territory. These alternatives can be tossed back and forth between Israel’s politico-religious factions in such a fundamentalist, national-Jewish self-referential way because the state’s military machinery at the same time forces all the other communities in the area to accept this freedom, which necessarily puts Israel in a fundamentally antagonistic relationship to them. That is what gives the settlers their freedom to settle and ensconce themselves in ever larger parts of these territories, firmly determined never to give them up again. Here, the settlers’ Zionist mission coincides with what the modern state power of Israel needs. Israel definitely knows how to profit from the territorial expansion and per se unlimited size of its people scattered all over the world to increase the foundations and sources of its state power. This positions the Israeli state in its own way against the Arab inhabitants of the territories it occupies. For Israel, they not so much violate a religiously based claim to sole possession of the land by God’s chosen Jewish people, as embody the prospect of a second state on the territory between “the river and the sea,” something to be fought at all costs. This opposition of the Israeli state to a competing Arab project of the same nature in turn provides the settlers and their fundamentalism — which they regard as being completely unrelated or antecedent to any national policy — with their national political significance and practical usefulness, from which they keep drawing new and ever more legitimacy and practical resources. Their fundamentalism is confirmed and strengthened in a negative way by Israel’s combating the existence of the non-state Palestinian polity on Jewish-claimed soil. The contradictory division of labor between the Israeli occupation state and the Zionist settler movement thus matches the double character of what it is facing: an entity that is not a state but represents the claim to a state. The marginalized foreign population is hated and fought by non-state Zionist activism that the Israeli state endorses and supports because it sees and fights the Arab people due to their claim to have something like itself — a state.
So the success of the settler movement and its political representatives, who won government offices after the last election, and their vehemence in setting out to realize their version of Israel in a way that shocks their compatriots and provokes constant protests, are also — and above all — the proof and the consequence of how much progress the state and the movement, in their contradictory symbiosis, have made in fighting the Palestinian polity, with its couple of peculiarities.
a) In the famous Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which actually earned the Palestinians’ and Israel’s highest representatives a Nobel Peace Prize each, Israel agreed to the West Bank being partitioned into different zones where it had exclusive control or shared it with a Palestinian Authority. There was supposed to be a prospect of giving the land complete Palestinian autonomy some day some time, but Israel had the practical benefit, which it has taken full advantage of ever since, of having complete sovereignty over most of the occupied territory with the Palestinian side’s recognition. The ‘joint’ control over the rest of it, that was likewise legitimized by the Palestinian Authority (PA), boils down to a sovereignty that Israel only shares with the PA as it sees fit.
After three decades of the “Oslo process,” this has left its mark on every aspect of the Arabs’ economic and social life in the West Bank. Israel has not treated the West Bank simply as the basis of a hostile state project to be destroyed as thoroughly as possible. As a capitalist nation, it has also come up with ways of using the West Bank economically. Furthermore, for decades the elements of ‘native’ Palestinian economy have helped Israel secure the particular freedoms deemed necessary and appropriate for handling the occupation without treating the occupied people as its own.
What Israel got 46 years ago was a rather average economy of post-colonial Arab caliber: a lot of productive land cultivation in the naturally fertile Jordan Valley, irrigated agriculture and animal husbandry in the other areas, handicrafts, industry, and trade in the urban settlement centers — all in all, the West Bank economy accounted for about half of the volume of economic activity in the then Transjordan. Even before settling it further, Israel started utilizing this local economy in principle exclusively for itself. It appropriated its buying power mainly by largely cutting off imports from other states in the region, just as it gradually, and has today almost completely, isolated the two Palestinian areas from each other in their trading of goods. At the same time, it has flooded their markets with its own goods. At a time when Israel was not yet quite so wonderful as a high-tech wonderland, this was a good way of making use of its internationally uncompetitive goods to improve its national trade balance. Israel at the same time effectively shielded its own economy, in particular its agriculture, from Palestinian competition. Whenever it seems useful, however, Palestinian products and semi-finished goods get to contribute to lowering Israel’s production-cost level and thus to improving its international competitiveness.
Since the Palestinian territories were subjugated to the restrictions of military occupation and for decades there was no political entity for maintaining and developing a West-Bank economy, it was a quasi-automatic consequence that the material reproduction of this local society increasingly became a mere appendage of the Israeli economy, which in turn achieved a fairly successful capitalist rise. It can increasingly make use of Palestinian labor — some 200,000 Palestinians now work in Israel or Israeli settlements, their incomes making a big contribution to their local buying power, which, however, is immediately recycled back to Israel to a large extent — see above. Half of these Palestinian workers work more or less “informally,” thereby making it even cheaper to utilize them. Israel also saves itself the usual state support measures for reproducing the cheap labor reservoir — they are foreigners, after all. Altogether, this means Israel has these additional hands at its disposal at an exemplarily cheap price, there being only one factor that potentially and periodically gets in the way. And then it really does. It is Israel itself, or rather its anti-terrorist security needs, which occasionally collide with the needs of its capitalist businesses. This wonderfully cheap labor force is replenished practically all by itself, from Israel’s point of view. It is looked after by the Palestinian Authority, so far as it is able, by traditional family and clan relationships that are now becoming more important again, and, last but not least, by the international organizations that step in to take care of about half of the Palestinians, who are dependent on foreign humanitarian aid. About half of the West Bank’s population is stowed away in an increasingly unproductive agriculture, which more and more produces only for the domestic market, yields hardly any surpluses, and thus in turn ends up producing (and at the same time at least partly absorbing) an economically superfluous population in peasant family groups.
Alongside this mixture of appropriating and drying up the internal Palestinian economy, Israel has made use of the payments flowing in from abroad. A great part used to be played by the remittances from the often better qualified Palestinians who, after the occupation, emigrated especially to the rich Arab Gulf states. And the (now continually decreasing) payments from foreign donors and aid organizations, as well as tourism to the many sites of religious interest in the West Bank, also all increase cash flow in the Israeli financial system. After all, any flow of payments to and from the occupied territories has to go through Israeli banks. And ultimately, a large part of this money ends up back in Israel, because it can only be used to buy what is on offer, and that mostly comes from Israel itself.
There is a group of Palestinian moneybags that can also profit from the colonized economy, by the way. It includes old landowning families as well as those who hold the few business licenses for legally importing and exporting goods of all kinds, for certain infrastructure services, construction, telecommunications — whatever forms of money accumulation exist on the fringes or outside of veritable capitalist accumulation, which are also known from other regions. More typical of this area are the brokers of work and residence permits for Palestinians in Israel: they earn a total of about $500 million from brokering the coveted permits for their compatriots, who have to hand over about a quarter of their income for this alone.
At the same time, this Palestinian economy is the decisive material basis for reproducing the will to found a Palestinian state which the PA represents. As far as it is able, the PA treats “its” territory and population as this basis of a state and tries to regulate their functioning and develop them. Whatever it can do, it can only do if Israel goes along with it. Occupation-based sovereignty over the land and the almost total dependence of its economy on Israel’s economy complement each other wonderfully from Israel’s point of view, whereas from the Palestinian Authority’s point of view they have developed into an ever less controllable contradiction that confronts it with nothing but unacceptable alternatives. These are based on the principle that any material way it has for maintaining its political will and existence depends entirely on coming to terms with the power that has declared this very will to found a state to be absolutely incompatible with its own existence.
Materially, the PA survives more and more only on tax revenues from the increasingly miserable economy of the West Bank and — even more — on import taxes on the products of all kinds that are increasingly needed due to the decline of the local economy. However, these taxes are not collected by the PA itself, but by the Israeli state on its behalf, which transfers them to it under the accords. Or not. Three years ago, the PA’s support of its fighters imprisoned in Israel, and their families, prompted Israel to pass a law to withhold part of the tax money it collects and holds in trust. What was once the second major source of funds for the PA’s budget — foreign donors’ money, which once totaled about $2 billion — has since been reduced to a mere $190 million, plus about $100 million earmarked for certain purposes. With its consistent policy of destroying any prospect of a Palestinian state, Israel has over the course of time also dampened the interest that foreign states had in sending money to influence any emerging state and its protagonists. The biggest former donors have used various legalities to withdraw from financing the PA more or less completely.
This is faced by growing necessities that have to be financed. The PA spends half of its budget on the salaries of its civilian and military employees. This applies not only to the West Bank, but also to the Gaza Strip, which is no longer under the PA’s control but under that of its enemy, Hamas. And although the Gaza Strip is no longer a source or basis of anything for the PA, one way it maintains its claim to found a state throughout ‘Palestine’ is to pay the salaries of some of the civilian employees there. The growth of the population also creates a growing need for support, which is becoming less and less on a per capita basis but is nevertheless growing in total. In addition, housing has to be built, and infrastructure maintained as well as possible since it is either rotting or has been destroyed by Israeli punitive actions, as recently in the city of Jenin, or by settlers. What is growing above all is the Authority’s need to enforce order, its security forces are correspondingly bloated, but it is hard to distinguish the boundaries between ensuring order and somehow providing the 30% unemployed population with income.
So new sources of taxation and debts are needed, and for lack of any other, the PA recently reached an agreement with Israel that Palestinians working in Israel should from now on have their wages transferred to the accounts of banks operating in the West Bank. Faced with protests from the Palestinians affected, assurances were given that there would be no double taxation, but this has not stopped some rather steep bank fees from being levied, which further reduce already over-stretched wages. In fact, the aim is to increase the financial base of the only banks that the PA can borrow from. For Israel, the agreement has the nice effect that, unlike before, when wages were largely paid in cash and very often under the table, it now has even bigger hold on the Palestinian economy at a rather sensitive point. And what this conversely means for the PA is that the price it pays for a fairly precarious expansion of its debt base is a very reliable deepening of its dependence on Israeli decisions.
On occasion the PA has tried to blackmail Israel into handing over the withheld taxes by refusing to accept the rest, so as not to recognize this Israeli practice by continuing the minimized payment flows, and calculating that Israel would be inconvenienced by a financial collapse of the PA. And this has not even been entirely unsuccessful. The previous Israeli government actually decided to grant the PA a ‘loan’ on the withheld tax amounts to save it from bankruptcy. And during a meeting in Jordan this past spring, even the current government under Netanyahu condescended, with some coalition members protesting of course, to let the PA have a bit of additional revenue from the cross-border movement of goods and people.
After all, Israel too has to pay a price for the erosion of the PA’s basis. As the Authority weakens, along with its tolerated right to maintain order in parts of the occupied territories and its crucial survival aid for people there, so do its effective power to maintain order and the population’s loyalty. The latter increasingly see the Authority only as a useless, corrupt gang whose officials swipe the few lucrative sources of money, collect taxes, fail to pay their employees the contractual salaries, and otherwise leave the needy population in the lurch, especially when it comes to protecting them from Israeli interference.
Since the PA was founded in the early 1990s, the Palestine Liberation Organization factions that determine its policy have spared Israel the organized terrorist resistance that the country faces from Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, and particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon. Equipped with Iranian armament, or short-range missile know-how inherited from Iran, such resistance periodically leads to considerable disruptions of civilian life in Israel’s heartland. Although Israel’s ever more sophisticated, globally unparalleled protection of its territory by means of a multi-layered and multi-stage missile defense can now intercept most launches, larger conflicts bring large sectors of everyday capitalist life to a standstill. And Israeli military experts still warn of the scenario of simultaneous bombardment from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and the West Bank with its long border with Israel’s heartland.
In the meantime, the PA has lost much of its authority to the traditional family clans and their structures. They were never quite gone, but now they are undergoing a revival in view of the population’s growing neediness. People are either trying to subsist in rural areas where they require some kind of protection from Israeli settlers, and a mediating authority for their internal disputes over dwindling resources, especially water, and get neither from the PA. Or they are trying to survive in the slums of the West Bank cities, where they likewise have to rely more on their family ties than on the bits of public welfare to be had. Competition for dwindling sources of income also makes the clans more important as they try to secure a hold on them. They are obviously less and less interested in the PA’s legal authority holding in certain zones of the West Bank, unless they are actually staffing its agencies themselves.
With its successful policy of denying and disempowering the PA, Israel now faces a new quality of resistance not only to the Authority, but also and increasingly to the occupying power itself, to its uniformed representatives and civilian Jews or borderline civilian Jewish settlers. This resistance now goes beyond individual operations. Mainly in the large refugee camps a resistance movement has formed, which is separate from the PA and takes its inspiration and also commandos from Fatah’s fanatically religious rivals, especially Islamic Jihad and Hamas. This has put an end to Israel’s comfortable separation between the West Bank and a ‘decoupled’ Gaza Strip with its radical religious militants.
In terms of the PA’s declared standpoint as well, Israel’s more radical appropriation of the West Bank has provoked attempts to achieve Palestinian unity among the Palestinians. For the time being, this unity is only defined negatively, consisting solely in the PA realizing that no matter how willing it is to compromise, it will not be spared the fate that Israel has in store for the Islamist rebels of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But it was still enough for a summit meeting in Egypt, and also for people in the West Bank to be more and more vociferous in demanding that the PA deploy its troops directly against the Israeli occupiers. The PA’s representatives are more and more often having to defend themselves publicly against the accusation of being an auxiliary force of the occupying power. In some areas, for example in Jenin, they now have to be as careful as if they were in enemy territory. But any hint of compromise with the radical factions is a reason for Israel to intensify its hostility to the PA, deprive it of funding or threaten to do so, and so on.
b) The settlers are involved in all this in their own way. They are settling in ever increasing numbers and in ever new settlements, this involving exclusive rights to use land, water, roads, and other infrastructure. In order to ensure their personal safety as well as these exclusive rights, there is more and more military being deployed whose presence and freedom of action must also be secured, which in turn involves more and more interruptions in the economic dealings of the Arabs in the occupied territories and between them and Israel. And this, see above, undermines the Palestinian economy and the relationship between the Palestinian population and the PA in such a wonderfully automatic way and much more effectively and lastingly than the — by no means superfluous — acts of destruction by Jewish soldier-farmers against Arab fields and groves. Thus, the settlers, with their activism protected and sanctioned by the state, help demonstrate on the Palestinians what the Zionist standpoint already is: the Palestinians do not belong to the land on which they are being less and less productive, because they are being more and more held back. The incidents involving direct, seemingly archaic confrontation between Jewish newcomers and established Palestinian farmers, between Jewish farmers and Palestinian shepherds, create the enforcement cases, the legal precedents, and the moral visuals to confirm that Palestinians are enemies of the Jews and have to be fought as such. Or vice versa, they confirm that Jews can only live by fighting the Palestinians. This is quite apt insofar as it is the whole starting point and engine of the Jewish soldier-farmer movement. This movement has now also been expressly granted the exclusive right to take and settle land throughout the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan by the second highest authority there is, i.e., the highest state authority — “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel” (Netanyahu when the government took office). And that is another way of declaring the Arabs living there to be intruders who have no business being there.
Due to these escalating conflicts between the settlers, who are present in growing numbers on more and more land, and the Arab population, who are likewise growing but have less and less means to live by, the occupying Israeli state is finding it increasingly difficult to handle the form of rule it has established on the West Bank, which is being attacked more and more from both sides. Not that the Israeli state has any doubt that increasing settler violence is to be treated — perhaps not in every case, but in principle — as a reaction to Arab violence. So ‘separating’ the two sides follows a clear tendency: there simply cannot be any more zones of recognized partial Palestinian autonomy, since the Palestinian Authority obviously cannot stop its people’s terror, and might not even want to. Even in the parts of the West Bank that the Oslo accords put under PA administration, the Israeli military more and more often demonstratively ignores the PA’s jurisdiction. In the course of its hunt for terrorists, it lays siege to entire towns for hours, days, or even longer if it has to. With heavy equipment and now also the air force, it transforms them into urban war theaters, and thus everyone who lives there into a real or potential combatant in the conflict. So the forms this conflict takes on in the West Bank show its actual essence, as they already have in the Gaza Strip for some time: war is being waged against a people who are a nuisance in the end because they are there, no matter what their political will is like and which political actors represent it. When the PA not only makes powerless attempts to blackmail Israel — for example, by refusing tax transfers (as mentioned above) or repeatedly announcing it will dissolve itself — but also makes moves to reconcile with Hamas and other radical groups, it confirms, conversely, what Israeli policy has been all along: there are no ‘moderates’ among Palestinians. When the Palestinian president politely asks the UN for the international community’s solidarity and invokes international law, the Israeli government responds with the novel accusation of “diplomatic terrorism.” And when he — not so much politely as desperately — begs for support abroad by making dramatic Holocaust comparisons, Israel has him right where it wants him: pigeonholed as an anti-Semite, who is automatically in the wrong without any need to actually consider his accusations. In perfect keeping with its agenda, Israel is thus also (negatively) identifying the West Bank Arabs with their leadership just as it has been doing for some time with the Gaza Arabs: civilian and military action to punish the PA will obviously always hit those people — who else? — who live under its claim to political control, regardless of whether or not they affirm it. And conversely, Israel blames the PA for every act of violence as it sees fit, even when the PA and its armed apparatus are not responsible but rather resistance groups or desperados outside its control.
c) All this proves the settlers right in their eccentric (although traditional Israeli) position of total ethno-religious refusal to compromise when it comes to Arabs having any right to live on Jewish soil. But it proves them right in a whole new way: it ‘moves’ their standpoint further and further ‘to the center’ of the political spectrum. As the election results show, the settler parties have made gains beyond their actual settler base. The majority of Israelis now see Palestinians as potential terrorists, or at any rate a collective security risk, even those Israelis not planning to burn down a Palestinian olive grove in the West Bank, much less till the soil themselves there, but who have enough to do just going about their everyday bourgeois lives in the capitalist heartland. ‘Security’ in this sense is therefore not only the highest imperative of all Israeli politics, it is above all the yardstick by which the competing political parties in Israel want to be measured and are measured by the voters they have primed. This accounts for the increasing democratic popularity of the populism embodied by Likud leader Netanyahu. He and his Likud are open to any ethno-religiously inspired sense of entitlement when it comes to anti-Arab violence for the purpose of strengthening Israel’s grip on Eretz Yisrael, without being tied down to a definitely religious interpretation of Israel’s mission. They advocate fighting every Arab claim to land, curbing the Arab population’s freedom of movement and action, and ultimately also displacing them in numbers by increasing the presence of Jews, all this falling within the very wide intersection area of religious Zionist zealotry, political reason of state, and the quasi-tactical need for security that every peaceful Israeli citizen can expect his government to fulfill. So the citizens basically agree with whatever Netanyahu says is required or definitely not required. This also applies to the freedoms that Netanyahu — without any impulse or fit of extremism, so quite the statesman — wants to extend contrary to the current state of Israel’s separation of powers. This is supported by about half of Israelis, who buy into the democratic argument that the will of the people, that is, their will, is represented by parliament and the government it has sworn in and by nothing and no one else. They too go along with agitating against an establishment that obviously sees and handles this differently. After all, the mixture of economic hardship and unending need for government protection from Arab terror gives rise to enough discontent among them that they subscribe to the hate Netanyahu and Co fuel against an effete left-wing establishment and its ‘agenda’ that will ultimately betray the security of the country and its citizens. This predestines “Bibi” to be an alliance partner and the actual backbone of the coalition with the smaller ultra-Orthodox and activist settler parties, whose concerns get their due under his leadership and at the same time are incorporated into what he defines as the reason of state. Together, they enjoy the support of only one half of the Israeli population but the rules of democracy make that enough for them to represent the people as a whole and thus govern them.
With the freedom to wield governmental power that they have thus acquired, the religiously inspired protagonists of perpetually establishing and expanding an anti-Arab Zionist state are now pushing their agenda forward in the West Bank with the rights and resources of public office holders. Consistently making good on their election campaign promises, they are now pursuing the program of going as far as they can to eradicate the legal and administrative differences that still give the region its special position vis-à-vis the Israeli heartland: being subject to Israeli sovereignty but not belonging to the official national territory. The zones that have been under Israeli sovereignty since the Oslo Accords have now been officially put under the authority of the Ministry of Finance. This is not only a decisive step toward legally and administratively annexing the land, but also gives the finance minister, who heads one of the radical settler parties, the freedom to reallocate funds under his ministry’s control for promoting the Jewish land grab from the Palestinians in the West Bank. The equivalent of a cool $840 million has been earmarked for expanding the Jewish presence in annexed East Jerusalem alone. This is a step that deepens and reinforces the legal difference between Jewish and Arab inhabitants of the West Bank. And even if the moral accusation of apartheid does not apply here, the step — quite apart from the regulations for the Arabs that are also being enacted alongside — fittingly perpetuates their status as people who the land does not really belong to, i.e., who do not belong to and in the land.
The practical successes that the religious Zionist movement is achieving in reconquering Jewish land from its Arab occupants, the political and moral justification being granted to its point of view that its Jewish polity is an ongoing state-founding action against the resident Arabs, and, last but not least, the offices of power it has won — all this finally also reinforces the way the religious Zionists look at civilian everyday life. They consistently view life administered by the state and directed economically by capital from the standpoint of militant land seizure, the standpoint that actually determines things in the West Bank. And so they see civilian life in the Israeli heartland as one big outrageous concession to the Arabs living there, who even have citizenship rights. It looks to them like aberrantly coexisting with those people who have no business being there and whose presence intrudes on the Jewish community and will likely ruin it, if only in view of their notoriously high birth rates. This they now want to fight.
a) They can draw on the multifaceted legal practice of distinguishing officially recognized religious and ethnic minorities, the principle of this being to grant Jewish people automatic citizenship combined with a “right to return,” but at the same time to give the non-Jewish communities present in the country citizenship rights and certain special rights under civil law as well. From the radical-Zionist point of view, this amounts to a criminal inconsistency in terms of discrimination, violating Jews’ prior right to Israel.
This anti-Arab racism finds all it needs to know and fight in the existence of the Arab minority in Israel. They reproduce themselves as an ethnic group ‘by nature,’ so to speak, under the legal and economic conditions they face. The promotion of Jewish immigration and settlement led the Arabs who remained after Israel was founded in 1948 to aggregate mainly in cities and towns in the north, where about 90% of the 1948 Arabs live. There they are systematically discriminated against when funds are allocated for urban development, infrastructure, economic support, etc. A second group of Arabs live a more or less settled existence in the Negev desert, where they generally have little or no access to public funds simply because their settlements are not recognized as proper municipalities. Arabs are accordingly overrepresented on the lower levels of the job hierarchy, so that their urban and village communities reproduce themselves as poorhouses of Israeli capitalism. Together with the few particularities of religious civil self-administration, and the role of family clans that likewise arise ‘by nature’ under the prevailing conditions of systematically marginal poverty, and see about the more or less legal sources of income, the result is the collective existence of people who are economically debased, legally to a large extent on the fringes or in the center of organized clan crime, morally poorly integrated, and politically either indifferent or hostile.
The government attends to these people accordingly: their economic and social disadvantage is intensified by its new measures and guidelines for supporting Jews and, conversely, by its eliminating or reducing analogous support funds for Arab communities. It has provided these funds in its budget up till now due to its calculation that marginalizing and discriminating against the Arabs according to the Zionist agenda is a waste of national resources and a social burden from the point of view of managing a capitalist business location, which Israel of course also is, and this burden must be reduced by developing the country in a capitalistically useful way.[*]
It proves to be advantageous for the governing promoters of a genuinely and solely Jewish Israel that they can legitimize their new practice of budgetary discrimination by citing the Nation-State Bill already passed before their term of office. They have added the legal innovation that religious-national considerations may now be explicitly brought to bear in economic dealings with land even for private individuals. In the Negev, Arab settlements are being cleared away in favor of Jewish projects with new rigor. The new Minister of National Security takes on the problem of the organized crime rampant in the Arab communities, along with a sharp rise in murder rates, by putting the internal security service Shin Bet on it. This is intended to do away with the distinction between civil criminality of Arabs and illegal activities of Arab nationalists: Arabs are in everything they do an attack on the Jewish polity of Israel and those who belong to it. The law denying naturalization to spouses and children of Arab Israelis, which is not new as such, has previously always been justified by security concerns and renewed as a temporary order. In its latest form, it now explicitly and permanently gives legal force to the definition of Arabs as an ethnic demographic danger to the Jewish supremacy that has become a state in Israel. And for illegal political statements and actions, a law is in the works that is intended to allow ‘disloyal Arabs’ to be punished by withdrawal of citizenship and deportation from the country.[†] The real and practiced ‘disloyalty’ among some Israeli Arabs that is spreading in the face of such a policy, especially their solidarity with the Arabs in the occupied territories, is, for their Jewish-Israeli adversaries (those governing and those governed), just more confirmation of what they already knew.
In order to give due political and practical importance to Israeli Jews’ struggle to survive against their Arab occupiers, as the government sees it, it is reforming the competencies of state security bodies with the aim of making the special regulations for the occupied territories the norm within the heartland as well. At the same time, and quite in keeping with this, it is making it easier for Jewish Israelis to own private weapons. Furthermore, it is creating a new security force, the National Guard, which is entirely geared to the anti-Arab fight the government sees its beloved land and people in and urges them to join.
b) By now it must be clear that this government program is attacking and intended to attack more than the Jewish-Arab coexistence customary within Israeli civil society up to now. This happens to be an element of the civic make-up of the Israeli nation and its state apparatus. So even without fraternizing much — or at all — with their Arab compatriots, let alone with Palestinians from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the other half of Israelis see this civic character of their country in danger. They are certain that that is the actual target of the ruling coalition and its base, which is active as a movement, as an organized religious fundamentalist community, or only as voters. Whatever the standpoint (not under analysis here) of the opponents protesting the current reform and reorganization program aimed at a militantly reconstituted Israel, these opponents fighting the government line on the streets or in parliament see in every point that Netanyahu and his coalition members “want a different Israel.” No matter if they are alarmed that anti-Palestinian counterinsurgency methods and technologies are now being applied against their demonstrations and other actions, too; or they are worried that the current government’s anti-Palestinian furor is weakening Israel’s strike capability against the other Arab adversaries in surrounding states; or they are imagining what outrageous things the government might feel free to commit once it has thrown off the shackles of the old separation of powers; or they fear for Israel’s standing and support in Jewish communities abroad; or they reject the overtly racist justification while approving of the Israeli military and civilian authorities’ actions against the Arabs in the occupied territories and the heartland — they too are fundamentalists, disparate but united in their anti-government stance. That is why some of them feel entitled to practice disloyalty beyond the limits of democratically permitted criticism and protest. After all, they definitely want to save what they consider Jewish or Israeli too.
For the time being, Netanyahu can continue his course as steadily as possible, i.e., shun no conflict with his domestic adversaries. And at the same time he can place himself above the dispute that he has done everything to help promote, which is definitely not limited to the question of Israel and the the Arabs, and which some observers meanwhile view as heading toward civil war. He orients this dispute — if necessary, in a relativized way — to a still higher point of view. It arises from the imperialist stature that the home of all Jews has also acquired in the meantime, and this stature makes it possible and necessary to fight the ultimate fight against the threat that Netanyahu places above all claims to the Holy Land in terms of population or the Arab will for a state. It is the regional power Iran — according to Netanyahu “responsible for 95% of all threats to our security” — that is challenging Israel’s nuclear-underpinned regional superpower status. Against Iran, Israel under Netanyahu has long been at war in various forms. It has finished planning another armed encounter in Lebanon, and is no longer shying away from direct military intervention but resolutely and meticulously preparing for it. But that is another topic…
[*] To expand on this: Excluding the Arabs means sacrificing economic growth and the share of the national budget that the Arab population living in Israel or the West Bank could and would deliver. Its poverty and helplessness is in fact also a burden to the occupying nation. A local economy that would allow them to make a better living would even benefit Israel’s security, albeit at the cost of providing means to the political ambitions of the Palestinian people.
[†] Passed into law February 15, 2023
 Insofar as Israel is one case of the worldwide rise of what is known as populism, the relevant foundational article to read is “Populism — Six remarks on an alternative way of exercising democratic rule,” which appeared in issue 4‑2019 of this journal. As for the special case of Israel, the same issue has the very detailed article “Israel 2019 — An exemplary imperialist democracy with a Zionist mission,” which provides a comprehensive analysis and also explains in detail the considerations summarized below on the contradiction inherent in Israel’s political constitution.
 The Oslo Agreement defined three zones for the West Bank pending the creation of a Palestinian state and its peace treaty with Israel. In the blocks of Zone A, where the majority of West Bank Palestinians live, the Palestinian Authority was already allowed to exercise full civil and police control during the transitional phase; Zone B was to be jointly administered and controlled; and in Zone C everything remained under Israeli sovereignty, exercised by the Israel Defense Forces. This Zone C accounts for approximately 60% of the territory. It didn’t take the subsequent governments long to define these divisions to mean that Zone C would remain under Israeli sovereignty forever and if a Palestinian state were ever to be founded it could only include Zone A and parts of Zone B.
© GegenStandpunkt 2023