TAU Dr. Alon Liel
Published: 2012/06/25 06:55:29 AM
IN THE 1990s, we believed in peace. There was an excitement in Israel and among the Palestinians about the potential of peace. This is definitely not the mood among Israelis and Palestinians today.
The temporarily outstretched hands have recoiled into fists. The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians, the expansion of Israeli settlements and the rockets on Israeli cities, have created a very different mood.
The fervent belief in peace was not without its own myopia. In his classic account, The Israelis: Founders and Sons, historian Amos Elon explained the self-centered nature of the Israeli desire for peace. Because this hope belittled the sense of outrage Arabs felt about what they considered a foreign intrusion, it remained a utopian one.
Nevertheless, it was a far more productive period than the present. It was a period of contact between Israelis and Palestinians. It seems as if Israel has managed since to keep a lid on Palestinian freedom aspirations that smoulder beneath the daily dismemberment of Palestinian society.
Israelis have now come to the conclusion that they don’t need peace. The Israeli government is not planning on withdrawing. Behind the wall, and with the army’s might, Israel is more or less kept safe without peace. The economy is growing and Tel Aviv is booming. The occupation is not a source of great moral discomfort to Israelis. Except for the minority who do combat military service, the oppression of Palestinians is out of sight and out of mind. Many Israelis tend to believe that the conflict can be managed and, as such, Israel does not have a "Palestinian problem" any more.
I can understand the desire, by people of conscience, to reassert an agenda of justice, to remind Israelis that Palestinians exist. I can understand small but symbolic acts of protest that hold a mirror up to Israeli society. As such, I cannot condemn the move to prevent goods made in the occupied Palestinian territory from being falsely classified as "Made in Israel". I support the South African government’s insistence on this distinction between Israel and its occupation.
Having served as Israel’s ambassador to SA, I feel able to venture a view on the differences between the respective conflicts. A "South African-style" solution for Israel-Palestine is, in my view, an end to the Jewish state — our old-time Jewish dream. The two-state model remains the only way to fulfil the dream of at least the past four Jewish generations. Unlike in SA, where urbanisation brought black people to the cities in such numbers that they eventually became the majority, in Israel there is substantial territorial separation and significant replacement of Palestinian labour by foreign workers, especially from Asia. Whereas in SA, almost every white child was cared for in infancy by a black "nanny", in Israel there is little contact at all. This difference must be reckoned with.
Those interested in advancing Palestinian rights must begin by stopping the Israeli settlement enterprise. Every day, Palestine is being gobbled up by settlement expansion. Vagueness over borders strengthens the opposition to the two-state solution. And this is the strength of the act of marking a product as either "Made in Israel" or "Made in Occupied Palestinian Territory". Although this doesn’t create the reality of independence, it defines the principle in clear terms.
Through your choice as a consumer, the border along the internationally recognised pre-1967 line — the realistic basis for peace — is redrawn. This simple act reminds us that settlements are a violation of international law and a tool in a project of de-facto annexation. By defining the task along this line, we confirm that the goal is Palestinian independence, not an Israeli apartheid state.
The simple act of marking settlement products differently to Israeli products pulls the rug from under the refusal to declare a border. It has provoked Zionist outrage because it says: to here and no further. It causes embarrassment because those who claim to want two states cannot morally justify why products from the future Palestine should be marked as "made in Israel".
I buy Israeli products every day and do my best not to buy Israeli products from the occupied territories. I don’t see why you, living outside Israel, shouldn’t have the same choice.
• Liel is a former director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry and was the Israeli ambassador to SA from 1992 to 1994.