Israel-Palestine Or Is It Palestine-Israel?

In the early 1980s, Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School, where I was an undergraduate student, held an international conference in Amman, Jordan. The theme was the Arab world and the US.

Professor Jack Rudy, who taught at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, gave a very interesting talk at the conference. Unusually for that period, his presentation was data driven, centering on American public opinion on Israel and Palestine. In a sea of percentages that confirmed overwhelming pro-Israel attitudes, Rudy saw very subtle nuances here and there that suggested undercurrents. He proposed that the needle might be, if ever so slowly, inching in the Palestinians’ direction.

I recall thinking to myself that, perhaps, the problem for Israel is that its score was perfect everywhere that mattered in the US: Congress, the presidency, the press, Hollywood, the Judeo-Christian culture… And as we all know, nothing in life, especially perfection itself, is permanent.

For most in the audience, Rudy’s findings seemed curious and daring. Palestine then was the loneliest foreign cause in the US. The day when it could compete with Israel for America’s heart was simply unimaginable.

I remember the way my brother Fadi and I sat mesmerized the first time we heard Edward Said defend the Arab case at an event in D.C. He had recently published The Question of Palestine. Only in such moments, in the presence of gladiators like Said, did we feel less solitary.

When I read, two weeks ago, Gallup’s latest US poll on Palestine and Israel, showing more democrats leaning Palestinian (48% to 39% ), I remembered Jack Rudy. It took 40 years of a hellish history for his forecasts to find mild comfort in numbers.

But in fact it is younger democrats and independents that are voicing these intriguing sentiments. For older democrats and republicans, it’s as if we are back in the 20th century. If there are cracks in Israel’s narrative, it’s largely due to millennials, Jews among them.

And yet, these numbers, would be nothing more than interesting were it not for converging trends on home turf. It has always been a good guess, if not a sure bet, that root changes in the Israeli-Palestinian space will coalesce into an inflection point. Suddenly, it feels as if we might be upon one.

Only five years ago, even mentioning the one-state reality in Israel-Palestine (or is it Palestine-Israel?) was sheer madness. Now it’s madness not to, especially for Israel’s supporters.

Pointing to the fundamental frictions between Israel’s Jewish identity and its democratic character was like whistling in the wind until recently. Today, as Israeli demographers confirm that Palestinians outnumber Jewish Israelis between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a Jewish and democratic state is finally in oxymoronic territory.

When Jimmy Carter warned of Israeli Apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2007, he was shamed and vilified. In the last two years, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have joined the chorus.

A few months ago, you couldn’t persuade even the most moderate Israeli that the separations the state has erected between their world and that of the Palestinians, subjects outside the Green Line and citizens within, are made out of a mixture of willful blindness and wishful thinking.  Days into Netanyahu’s unabashedly bigoted government the separations were all but gone.

It was soon after the Likud Bloc’s 1977 “earthquake” electoral win that we began talking about the inevitable blowup between Israel’s many selves, between its secular and fundamentalist polarities? It’s here!

Bezalel Smotrich (The Religious Zionist Party) & Itamar Ben Gvir (Jewish Power)

The occupation appears also at a tipping point. We are before a new post-ideological Palestinian generation unafraid of violence in an arena emptied from every prospect or hope. And we are before a settler community emboldened to harass and terrorize encircled Palestinians whose life is already one of torment.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank

It is far from clear whether these intersecting trends bode well or ill.

When I interviewed, last month, Raja Shehadeh, “the Chronicler of Palestine” whose memoir, We Could have Been Friends, My Father and I, has recently been published, I asked him towards the end of our conversation to give me worst-case and best-case scenarios.

Worst-case, he said, is a new Palestinian Nakba, and he didn’t think it farfetched. The new fundamentalist government has crystalized the degree to which Israel has become firmly wedded to annexing the rest of Palestine and spitting out its Palestinian inhabitants. It could well be a question of how now, rather than if.

Best-case, Raja hoped, would be such overreach by an Israel so arrogant and capricious and heedless that its own citizens and Western allies, finally, force a game-changing retreat.

The irony in all this is that if Israel had been less successful in having it all, with hardly a tangible consequence, it wouldn’t be struggling through its worst existential crisis yet. Had it been less spoiled by its closest allies and friends; less well served by the Palestinian Authority; less able to gobble up Palestinian resources and land and property; less forgiven by Arab countries; less indulged by the international press, it might have felt compelled to control its voracious appetites and recognize with humility the pitfalls of its intoxicating victories.

But the question remains: have we reached an inflection point?


On Another Note

So, who sabotaged the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline? Seymour Hersh has dedicated several of his Substack newsletters to the subject, the first pointing the finger at the US and this last one debunking the CIA’s cover story, which itself was put out to debunk Hersh’s. Get it? All fascinating, of course. I can’t wait for the movie.

“None of these questions is asked by the media. So you have six people on the yacht—two divers, two helpers, a doctor and a captain leasing the boat. One thing is missing—who is going to crew the yacht? Or cook? What about the logbook that the leasing company must keep for legal reasons?

“None of this happened,” the expert told me. “Stop trying to link this to reality. It’s a parody.”

Scroll to Top