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Could The Domestic Social Protests in Israel Be The Greatest Impetus for Moving Towards a Two State Solution?

August 8, 2011 Comments off

Tent 48 - Named for 1948, the Year of the Declaration of Israel as a state

With all of the emphasis (and rightly so) on the domestic economic and political crises here in the U.S. , it may be lost on people that there are huge (and growing) demonstrations against Israeli government social policy going on in Israel virtually as we speak.  Reports are that Saturday night there were 300-350,000 people in the streets.  As Dimi Reider and Azziz Abu Sarah, wrote in an op-ed published last Wednesday,

The protests that are paralyzing Israel began on July 14, when a few professionals in their 20s decided they could no longer tolerate the city’s uncontrolled rents, and pitched six tents at the top of the city’s most elegant street, Rothschild Boulevard. Three weeks later, the six tents have swelled to over 400, and more than 40 similar encampments have spread across the country, forming unlikely alliances between gay activists and yeshiva students, corporate lawyers and the homeless and ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.

So far, the protesters have managed to remain apolitical, refusing to declare support for any leader or to be hijacked by any political party. But there is one issue conspicuously missing from the protests: Israel’s 44-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, [emphasis added] which exacts a heavy price on the state budget and is directly related to the lack of affordable housing within Israel proper…

Had the protesters begun by hoisting signs against the occupation, they would most likely still be just a few people in tents. By removing the single most divisive issue in Israeli politics, the protesters have created a safe space for Israelis of all ethnic, national and class identities to act together. And by decidedly placing the occupation outside of the debate, the protesters have neutralized much of the fear-mongering traditionally employed in Israel to silence discussions of social issues…

If the protests continue to stir more and more Israelis out of their political despondency, Mr. Netanyahu still holds two possible trump cards: a sudden breakthrough in the negotiations to free the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza, or a sudden escalation of armed conflict.

Moreover, the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September imposes a deadline of sorts on the protesters. If Palestinians react by marching on Israeli army checkpoints to demand freedom, Israeli protesters will have to choose between losing internal support by siding with the Palestinians, or abandoning any claim of a pro-democracy agenda by siding with the Israeli soldiers charged with suppressing them.

Interestingly, It didn’t get much press reporting here in the U.S., but the night after this op-ed was published, the Israel Air Force conducted several bombing raids in northern Gaza.  However, unless Bibi has some pull with Hamas that nobody is aware of, this was a legitimate (in Israeli terms) response to several rockets that had been launched at Ashkelon and Sderot the previous day.  Obviously, from Didi and Azziz’ point of view, whoever fired these rockets (not necessarily the Hamas government itself – there are various factions both within and outside of Hamas which hold varying degree of militancy) played directly into the hands of Netanyahu  by providing a pretext for this military action which could potentially take the spotlight off of the domestic protests.  For now, the raids have not the averted the attention of the demonstrators – as shown by the fact that the largest turnout yet was on Saturday night.

Bibi finally began to react to the protestors this week with new proposals for more government subsidies for housing and new building.  But the protestors don’t seem to be buying that and Bibi is trying desperately day-by-day to get the situation under control.  

So, we will just have to watch and see what happens.  Certainly, one eventual outcome could be the fall of the current government.  And that is what this post’s title refers to is just that.  If the government does fall – though it might be based solely on domestic issues - it might well be replaced with a new government that at the same time makes a significant change in Israel’s foreign policy.  They might really understand the dangers inherent in the status quo, and do everything possible to make a two state solution happen.

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