Between a Knife and a Hard Place

The past two weeks have brought home the stark reality of daily life in Israel where two peoples, who don’t want to live together, are jumbled together in one land. We are also catching a glimpse of what the future holds if the status quo continues. A divorce is assuredly long overdue — and if the current unrest continues for several months I believe most Israelis will come to this conclusion as well.

Ironically, the impetus behind the infamous “Plan Dalet” of 1948-49 was Ben Gurion’s belief that the animosity between Arabs and Jews was so great that they could not possibly live together peacefully, and that, if they were condemned to living together, “the front would be everywhere.” Sadly, as Settlement has followed upon Occupation, since 1967, Israel has effectively reproduced the very situation its founders sought to guard against by means of the expulsions and induced flight of Palestinians in 1948 and 1949.

The epitome of this misguided recrudescence is the current reality of East Jerusalem where 250 – 300,000 Palestinians live, largely surrounded by Jewish suburbs built since 1967. How then does Israel disgorge itself of a benighted policy and hostile population that is now stuck in its throat, like a knife millimeters away from the aorta. It is what seems to be a textbook definition of an impossible situation. Expulsion is unthinkable. Separation appears impossible. Moreover, the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that the deadly ferment will spread in a significant way to the Israeli Arabs in the North and in the Little Triangle.

Perhaps the chickens are coming home to roost. For more than 45 years, Israeli policy has treated the issue of borders as if it were in Israeli hands to create new facts on the ground. So now the Palestinians are taking it upon themselves to do the same. Not with bulldozers, hundreds of millions of dollars and army troops, but with knives, screw drivers and scissors, each of which are more than effective when it comes to shredding maps and creating new and bloody realities.

My point is not to suggest that the situation is hopeless. But after two weeks in which 80% of the attackers have been Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem must be regarded as now in question. In the end, if Jerusalem is destined to remain the eternal and undivided capital, then Israelis will be destined to carrying pepper spray and more potent sidearms in their handbags eternally.

Reversing the annexation of East Jerusalem will not be a simple thing, for the reasons alluded to above. But it is not impossible. And a first step toward resolving the current situation must be to begin a process that will move in the direction of ending Israeli sovereignty over the thickly populated areas of Arab East Jerusalem, and over the areas of undeveloped land that have been claimed for future Israeli settlement (Area E-1) that would effectively cut East Jerusalem off from the Palestinian Territories.

The sooner this process begins, the better. Indeed, the Israelis should see what is happening now as a wake-up call. Best to act now before it is too late.

About the Author
Trained as a political theorist at Columbia University and in Religious Studies at Harvard, Michael Gottsegen (Ph.D., 1989) has worked in and out of academia since the early 1990s, having taught at Columbia and Brandeis before coming to Brown. A book based on his thesis, "The Political Thought of Hannah Arendt," was published in 1994.