So here’s where all you sophisticated cynics get to tell me I’m being naïve, and yesterday’s UN recognition of Palestine as a non-voting member state is merely symbolic, and it makes no difference to what’s actually happening etc etc.
To which my reply is: Never underestimate the power of symbolism. Or the sense of an alternate historical inevitability strengthened by this move.
Historical inevitability is exactly what Israel has been trying to create since 1967 with “facts on the ground,” aka “settlements” — a totally misleading term since it calls up images of small outposts, while the bulk of the Israeli settlement project in the West Bank is by now huge swathes of urban and suburban housing. As if to underline this, today’s Israeli reaction to the UN move was to formally announce yet another urban expansion, this one intended to cut off Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
The New York Times seems to imagine that this is in retaliation for the UN vote, but they’re wrong. It’s part of Israel’s long-term plan, which has been, since the late 1960s, to create an “irreversible” pattern of Israeli settlement in Palestine — I reported on this way back in the 1970s — and to make daily existence so burdensome for Palestinians in so many ways that they will up and leave “of their own accord” (a kind of ethnic cleansing lite.)
But history is nothing if not a long pattern of reversals. And it now looks very much like both Israel and the United States (along with Palau, Panama, Micronesia, Canada, and the Czech Republic — the less-than-impressive array of countries voting against acceptance of heightened status for Palestine) are on the wrong side of history.
I have absolutely no idea how this might work out in the long run. In fact when I try to imagine it, I find myself in despair. The hard truth is that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is in all probability economically, geographically, and politically non-viable — a “two-state solution” that solves nothing at all. And while the “one-state solution” thus seems the only logical outcome, logic has nothing to do with the politics of identity. One state would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, since it would then have a non-Jewish majority; whether you support the idea of a Jewish state or not, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that Israel will never agree to dissolve its foundational raison d’être.
Which leaves us where?
Without a vision of a positive outcome, the all-or-nothing hardliners are in the ascendance, promising nothing but more violence. So could the rest of us be suffering from a dismaying lack of imagination? Is there a third way? Or a fourth or a fifth? I have no answers, just the stubborn faith that there has to be. For the first time in over a decade, the UN decision gives me a sense of forward movement. If that’s illusory, I’ll take it for now.