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"Leaves" conversation with Omri Boehm, Shimon Stein and Moshe Zimmermann,
moderated by "Blätter" co-editor Micha Brumlik

by Omri Boehm, Shimon Stein, Moshe Zimmermann, Micha Brumlik

Micha Brumlik: The situation in the Middle East has moved: Israel has moved closer to former opponents in the region, above all Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just a few years ago this would have been almost unthinkable, and as a result the balance of power in the region is shifting. In addition, the new US President Joe Biden emphasized immediately after taking office that, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, he wants to stick to the two-state solution. This gives us cause to speak about Omri Boehm's sensational peace policy considerations for Israel and Palestine. But first we want to deal with the current political situation in Israel, where a parliamentary election will take place on March 23rd - for the fourth time in two years. What is your guess as to how this election will turn out, not least with Joe Biden taking office?

Moshe Zimmermann:The choice has apparently already been made. The nationalists will win big, with probably more than 60 percent of the vote. The only open question is whether Netanyahu can continue as before. Or whether someone from the right wing will replace him. That's what this election is about.

Omri Boehm:My guess is very similar. The point is whether Netanyahu will be re-elected or replaced by someone who is still to his right. But for liberal-Zionist parties a question arises, since not even the left-Zionist Meretz has clearly stated that they will not enter into a coalition with Gideon Sa'ar, Naftali Bennett or Avigdor Lieberman: [1] Would they be these right-wing extremist politicians support to prevent a Netanyahu government? Would they give legitimacy to such a policy of occupation and annexation and racist laws? I fear the reason they remain vague is because they are considering joining such a coalition. Most of their constituents would tolerate this if they didn't want to, because their agenda is only to get rid of Netanyahu.

Shimon stone:In view of the systemic crisis, which encompasses all facets of life - as a political, social and economic crisis - and which is now emerging through Corona, it is all the more regrettable that Israel has not had a left option for some time, but society in the By and large it is trending in the right direction.

The only hope is that the Meretz party, which was once so important historically - and this is almost unbelievable - could get five seats out of 120, according to surveys. But can Meretz actually act as a relevant political force - for example in the coalition described by Omri? Personally, I think it shouldn't do it. Instead, it should emphasize its core identity even more. In this respect, even if it is sad, we shouldn't have high hopes for a new morning on March 24th.

Carpenter:From my point of view, it doesn't matter how the left relates to the new coalition, to the new government. The left has become so small that it is practically non-existent. As Shimon said, what we can still call left is just the Meretz party. The Labor Party, for example, is only a left party to a limited extent. But even if we bundle everything together and talk about the fact that it is an Israeli left, one thing is clear: it is far too small, far too unimportant.

In fact, the left has only a choice between two evils: Either it votes for the other right-wing parties because they are against Netanyahu - that is, for a coalition with these parties. Or she decides to continue working with Netanyahu because she thinks he's just a soft right-wing nationalist. But these are all questions that are on the fringes of political events today and are insignificant for major decisions.

Boehm:As for the irrelevance of the Israeli left, I do not fully agree with that assessment. Not because I think they are very much alive or strong, but because I have to hold on to the hope that we can save a left-liberal position in Israel. I am convinced, however, that this cannot be achieved if one adheres to the old Zionist two-state policy, but only if this policy is fundamentally reviewed and renewed. However, there is still a relatively large group in Israel that would vote for non-nationalist parties, namely the Arab voters. That they are almost the only ones with whom one can still save Israel's democracy may be disappointing for many. At the same time, it is a reason for hope.

In the last election in March 2020, I had high hopes for the United List, the list connection of four mainly Arab parties, and for their possible cooperation with other forces. I almost flew to Israel from New York to vote for them. Even my father, a son of Holocaust survivors who was a liberal Zionist all his life, voted for the United List and not for Meretz. The latest developments around the United List do not make me very optimistic. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that a stronger opposition could emerge only from the cooperation of a real Israeli Jewish left, for example the left Meretz wing, with Arab politicians - a real opposition that does not just cling to old ideas, but new ones creates. I know that's still a long way off, but I don't want to give up all hope just yet. Where Moshe attaches little importance to the action of the left and Shimon recommends that the left strengthen its old identity, I say that Israel's left should and could reinvent itself as a genuinely post-ethnic left.

Stone:That Meretz could form an alliance with the Arab List is indeed more wishful thinking than reality. However, a change in power can only take place if one breaks the taboo of the majority of the Israeli parties, according to which one must under no circumstances form a coalition with the Arab party list. This is still a problem for the Israeli majority and it will inevitably have to be dealt with.

New Hope from Joe Biden?

Brumlik:May I ask an even more speculative question, that of recent international developments? Israel is and was critically dependent on the United States. Now there is a new president who apparently does not support Trump's previous support policy. Will that affect Israeli politics?

Boehm: As for Joe Biden, I think two things are crucial. First, will he try to revert to the old and what I find meaningless Obama-Kerry rhetoric? I don't know for how many years they said the window of opportunity for a rescue of the two-state solution was closing. So if Biden now leads the US back to international law and international agreements, as he has announced, will he continue with these mere warnings? Or will he try to make real progress and consider another alternative to the two-state solution? And second, the Biden government is under considerable pressure - including from Israel - because of the nuclear agreement with Iran that Trump has terminated.

Stone: The new US president is not a blank slate. We know him well and he also represents the mainstream within the very diverse Democratic Party. He has already explained his position on Israel. So that promises a certain continuity - with nuances.

One must not forget, however, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on Biden's list of priorities at all. As we all know, he also has other pressing issues to deal with; by whom he will be measured in the end. These differences in interests are particularly evident in the Iran issue: Israel feels directly threatened by Iran's nuclear potential. The Americans, on the other hand, take a global view and view this threat differently. The Biden administration has therefore also decided to return to the Iran deal. With regard to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, I am not assuming that there will be a new beginning with Biden. So far, everyone in the new US administration has stuck to the formulation of the two-state solution. At least it is clear that Biden will put the "Deal of the Century", the so-called Trump Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine, on file. And that in itself is a very positive decision.

Carpenter:The question of the alleged new beginning under Biden and the question of the attitude of the Israeli-Arab parties can certainly be linked. In both cases it is a question of priorities. What has been happening for a long time is the decoupling of the Iran question from the Palestine-Israel question. This is also important for Netanyahu: he is betting everything on the conflict with Iran to avoid a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

If Biden now wants to start a new policy in the Middle East, his first priority, as Shimon rightly says, is a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue with Iran. That is also the relevant question for the Arab parties in Israel. So you are no longer primarily interested in the Palestine-Israel question, and for the first time you are no longer clearly on the side of the Palestinians. The united front of the Arab parties has come to an end, also due to the recent treaties of numerous Arab states with Israel and against Iran. The Arab parties are no longer clearly left-wing and are no longer the classic allies of the left-wing Jewish-Israeli parties. The whole scene has changed fundamentally and in view of this, Israeli right-wing politics has clearly triumphed.

Stone:I think the idea that one could link the Iranian to the Palestinian cause - sorry - nonsense! In fact, one has nothing to do with the other. The Iranian cause has a regional, even global significance, while the Palestinian cause is a dispute between two communities, and at the moment it does not threaten to escalate. Biden would be happy not to have to deal with the Palestinian cause at all. In this respect, we can count on a kind of rapid crisis management from Washington, but not on a comprehensive conflict resolution.

And something else is remarkable: the Palestinian question is now off the table for Israeli society as well. In the last election it didn't matter at all. We continue to live in a wayself denial: We think that if we don't deal with this, this problem will - as they say in English -somehowtake care of itself, somehow resolve themselves. So it has nothing to do with the Americans, but primarily with us. That's why I always reproach ourselves in this waydeus ex machina to hope. In fact, we have been waiting for the world to save us for decades. But the world won't save us.

Carpenter:Of course, you're right, these are two separate questions. From Netanyahu's point of view, that is his great success, one could marginalize the question of Palestine through the Iran question. Inthis Senses, and this is how I meant it, both questions are connected, linked to one another. The real issue is Iran, Palestine is uninteresting. This means that Netanyahu can continue his settlement policy without being disturbed - not even by the Americans.

Alternatives to the two-state solution

Brumlik:Now let's go deeper into the subject of Israel-Palestine. This summer, if I count correctly, it will be 54 years since the State of Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. As far as my knowledge of the politics of the late 19th and 20th centuries goes, there has never been such a long period of occupation. And the question is - this is being discussed both here and in Israel - whether the so-calleddevelopments on the grounds, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank still allow something like a two-state solution at all, or whether that is not just empty rhetorical talk. I would like to remind you that the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh called for years ago: annex us at last! In this context, Omri Boehm recently published a remarkable book: "Israel - a Utopia". In it, he revived a demand that Martin Buber already made in a contemporary way: "One country, one state and two peoples". Would you, dear Omri, please explain the main features of your program to us?

Boehm:Since Shimon has just accused me of wishful thinking, I would like to start off with the following ...

Stone:Please don't take it personally!

Boehm:No, by no means! I'm only saying this because it's important to understand my approach: wishful thinking is not just wishful thinking. To be rational, we must allow ourselves to tell the truth and speak clearly about possibilities, even if they are far-fetched. When wishful thinking is mentioned, it often refers less to reality than to mere positions of power - that is, to cling to solutions that appear comfortable to the powerful, even if they are ultimately not solutions at all. That is exactly what liberal Zionists do when they call alternatives to the two-state solution "wishful thinking".

In this sense, my first thesis is that the concept of a Jewish and democratic state is a contradiction in terms. The idea of ​​Jewish democracy stems from a desire to establish a Jewish state after the Holocaust and was completely understandable in the late 1940s. But according to the current understanding of a liberal democracy, even according to a minimal definition, this is a contradiction. The reason for this is, simply put, that democracies enforce the sovereignty of their citizens, while the Jewish state enforces the sovereignty of the Jewish people. So if we want to establish and legitimize a democratic Zionist policy in the 21st century, we have to change the concept of Jewish democracy. Shimon spoke earlier about the fact that the Jewish majority - and even Meretz - are not happy about the idea of ​​cooperating with the Arab Israelis. This is precisely because of how the concept of Jewish sovereignty is understood - and shows why we need to go beyond it.

In this context we have to make the following clear: The two-state solution is obsolete. This is not only due, as is often wrongly assumed, to the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Rather, this solution is obsolete, because there is a Palestinian majority of around 53 percent in this geographical unit between the Jordan and the sea, which, however, offers even the "most generous" two-state solution only around 20 percent of the country. It's not even a contiguous territory. And I haven't even spoken about the hundreds of thousands of settlers who live in the heart of this area and who, if we're honest, will certainly not be relocated anymore. So what we call a compromise, which we then accuse the Palestinians of rejecting, is, in the words of the philosopher Avishai Margalit, a rotten compromise that more than 50 percent of the population can hardly accept. Hence there is an obligation and a need to think beyond the two-state solution. That's the only onerealistic Alternative, even if it seems far-fetched. Our reality is very complex.

Brumlik:In your view, is the Israeli left trying to do this?

Boehm: One reason the Israeli left is weak is that it lacks a viable political program. Voters know that the two-state solution is obsolete, but the left does not offer them an alternative concept of citizenship or peace. But the right does this. It is systematically moving towards a policy of annexation, apartheid and even displacement. Trump's “deal of the century” also spoke of the expatriation of Arab Israelis and received support from Israel's political center. We see this kind of politics return to the mainstream of Israeli politics. This will be the right alternative to the two-state solution.