The Oslo Accords must end. These were the words of former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin at this year’s United Nations Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, which took place in Kazakhstan last week. While his words might seem like a frank admission considering his background as an architect of the Oslo Accords and a leading member of the Israeli “peace camp”, the sentiment reveals the logical inconsistency of the liberal Zionist position.
Addressing the crowd of journalists, diplomats and ambassadors, Mr Beilin argued that Palestinians should “set a date” for progress on the peace process. Once that date is reached and no progress has been made, the Palestinians should dissolve the Palestinian Authority (PA), an organisation that he helped create in the course of the Oslo peace process, and force Israel to “directly” occupy the Palestinians of the West Bank.
Israel shouldn’t be given any excuse that there is an agreement in place when it comes to its occupation. The farce that Palestinians enjoy a degree of autonomy must end because they live under a suffocating military occupation with no semblance of autonomy. International donors should stop footing the bill for Israel’s occupation, and the occupier should be made to feel the full burden of its occupation.
To this end, the Oslo Accords must end, as they provide a smokescreen for any lasting peace agreement and, in essence, perpetuate the status quo.
These statements reflect a new tract of thinking for Israeli liberals. While a two-state solution is still the desired path forward, Mr Beilin floated the idea of a confederation on a par with the European Union as a possible solution. Having lost two elections to Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies, liberals like Mr Beilin are clearly out of touch with an Israeli society that is increasingly comfortable with accepting the colonial underpinnings of its relationship with the Palestinians.
Mr Beilin was joined in conversation by the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansor. As the Israeli attacked the PA, Mr Mansour asserted the continued Palestinian commitment to achieving statehood at the UN.
Mr Mansour passionately argued that Palestine’s friends in Europe believe that the United States could end its protection of Israel at the UN thanks to Israel’s stubborn relationship with the Obama administration. The French, Mr Mansour noted, are preparing a Palestine statehood resolution at the UN security council for around the time that the US will be pushing for a final deal with Iran concerning the country’s nuclear programme.
Absent from their remarks was the question of rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. The narrative put forward by both Mr Mansour and Mr Beilin is mired in a conception of the conflict as taking place between two relative equals vying for security on the basis of traditional state structures. We know this to be untrue.
While Mr Mansour noted the fight of Palestinian farmers to keep their farmland from being swallowed by Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and said that boycott calls were a part of Palestine’s non-violent arsenal of weapons, the discussion was divorced from the rhetoric of colonialism and how best to dismantle colonial regimes.
When asked about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, for example, Mr Beilin said he would join Benjamin Netanyahu in fighting boycott efforts because they fail to “differentiate between Israel and the Occupied Territories”.
Regardless of the fact that Israel itself does not make such a distinction, the venom reserved by Mr Beilin for BDS and his inability to even utter the term “Palestinian rights” in the course of his comments was the ultimate confirmation of the shallowness of Israel’s peace camp.
The rest of the conference was a departure from the ossified rhetoric of the senior diplomats at the opening session. From photo collectives documenting the everyday reality of Israel’s occupation to the creation of Palestine Remix, a website that allows users to build their own videos about the conflict, the seminar’s participants demonstrated the variety of media tools on the ground that are changing how people understand the conflict.
These media changes point to the increasingly warm embrace of a rights-based narrative rather than the security-based narrative, as the primary framework for unravelling Israel’s system of domination on the ground. As the indefatigable Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy noted at the conference, it is difficult to find another occupation in which the occupier believes that it is the sole victim.
Liberal Zionists have for decades lent a veneer of liberalism and democratic language to Israel’s brutal occupation. They have found many friends, especially in the US, to help them perpetuate a fairy tale conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Selling the logically inconsistent idea that Israel can be both a democracy and an ethnocratic colonial state has been one of their greatest triumphs. But all of this is coming to a slow and painful death.
As Israeli society lurches to the right and embraces its destiny as a modern colonial state, international pressure on Israelis is one option left to force change on the ground. The two-state solution is dead and along with it the last vestiges of intellectual honesty in liberal Zionism.
On Twitter: @ibnezra