JERUSALEM - The nationwide movement for social justice that sent tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets on the weekend was seemingly oblivious to the fact that, concurrently, the Palestinians were officially announcing their bid for U.N.- endorsed recognition of statehood.
Sep. 20 is when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas will unilaterally seek full U.N. membership for Palestine at the General Assembly. Meanwhile in Israel, the protesters seek to prod Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a new social contract between the state and the people.
The end of the Israeli occupation, a sine qua non condition for Palestinian independence and sovereignty, is the great absent of the protesters' demands. Actually, it's a political taboo.
From the onset, it was obvious to Israeli protesters that for the movement to earn a prominent voice in the national discourse, demands for the just implementation of the Palestinians' human and national rights had to be voluntarily silenced.
The protest was sparked by a dire crisis in housing prices. Yet, the emerging activists – most belong to the Left – have been exceptionally cautious not to link the issue of settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories to the dearth of construction inside Israel proper, even if it made sense. Only last week, the Israeli government approved the construction of some 2,500 apartments in two settlement neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.
Rather than being a "cancer" that eats up the moral and social fabric of Israeli society as gloomily predicted over three decades ago by Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the 44-year occupation has, in practice, become the supreme justification that helps leaders dictate policies and agendas that have little to do with the daily economic plight of the Israelis, and much to do with the national predicament of the Palestinians.
'Occupation' is the great divider. Once the 'O' word is uttered, miraculously, die-hard political factionalism is resurrected. Instantly, political, social and ethnic classes – Right (for the perpetuation of the occupation) vs. Left (for an end to it), Mizrahi (Jews of oriental descent) vs. Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin), secular vs. ultra-religious, Jews vs. Arabs – and the glaring inequalities between them, all are pitted against one another.
Could the occupation be the opium of a nation increasingly unable to live with the Palestinians, or without them? If the occupation is so sustainable despite the enduring international censure, it's precisely because, somehow perversely, the word itself is the most potent electoral asset of Israel's democracy. It has preserved the political establishment, allowing its leaders to retain control over the national order of priorities and to remain in power while, like Netanyahu's rightist coalition, thriving on partisan, conflict-ridden, interests.
So far, the protest has escaped the old divide-and-rule ambush. For those who cannot make ends meet, occupation is a non-word, pure and simple. For the supporters of an all-Israel-united call for social justice, any hint of a potential community of thought that would bridge Israeli and Palestinian demands and force Israelis to grapple with invasive moral, social and transnational injustices, is suspicious, and must be purposefully severed.
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This is the great moment of the middle class after all, a movement imbued with a quest for a better quality of life – especially as security, for the time being, has ceased to constitute the primary preoccupation.
Throughout this odd Israeli summer, the Trinity, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", of the French revolution of 1789, has resounded in the local culture as independence from, equality within, the 'system', and popular cohesion. There's no room in the protest for the highly polarised watchwords of peace and solidarity (fraternity) with, and self-determination (liberty) of, the Palestinians.
The two-state solution (equality of national status) conjures up the all-too pervasive ideological-biblical credo, which has only served to further the intrinsic fractures of Israeli society under a veneer of so- called "national unity", and saved its leaders from popular retribution at the poll.
It may be clear to many that solving their century-old conflict with the Palestinians would improve not only their neighbours' existence, but also their own lives, albeit indirectly. But it's the absence of an all- encompassing social contract that has confirmed the need for solutions that address their own well- being head-on.
When years of neglect on the peace front engender huge defence spending and years of social neglect, no wonder that the tension that existed only a month ago between state and civil society about their respective roles vis-à-vis Palestinian aspirations, seems to have made way for a national sobering, both political and social. The domestic state-vs.-society, power-vs.-rights, paradigm has been readjusted.
Politicians now understand that they cannot appropriate the protest by absorbing, as they would usually do, structural social and cultural demands into some fresh political discourse solely aimed at deflecting the impact of such demands. Activist realise that, in order to fill the gap between state and people and assume significant responsibilities, they have to reduce their aspirations to socio-economic matters, and stay outside the fray of peace and security. For the time being, social peace takes precedence.
Indeed, the "Israeli summer" has been remarkably non-violent. As a result of the self-imposed censorship on issues pertaining to peace and to the fulfillment of Palestinian aspirations, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, secular and religious, Jews and Arab Israelis, even political leaders, all speak in one voice, and wish the protesters well.
The French revolution eventually produced the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The year was 1948. Coincidentally, that same year, following the U.N. General Assembly vote on the partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, Israel was born; Palestine was still- born, the unfulfilled sequence of two national dreams. Palestinians want to believe that the Sep. 20, 2011 U.N. General Assembly vote will ultimately correct a historical wrong.
But for the social protest to sustain itself beyond Sep. 20, and fulfill a welfare dream, the disconnection from a different, yet related, power-vs.-right paradigm, the one that refers to Israel and the Palestinians, seems to be an essential condition.