Gideon Levy on the Settlement Freeze

December 7, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Gideon Levy

Like every production, be it a flop or a hit, the future of this show will also be decided by the audience. In the meantime, as the first act shifts into high gear, the viewers are yawning.

The government and the settlers are proud to introduce “The Freeze,” a show in which both sides play – in quite unconvincing fashion – already scripted parts.

During the first act, no real, historic edict has been issued. Rather, these decrees are just props. Thus, nobody will evacuate one balcony in the final scene.
The audience is skeptical. It does not believe the prime minister, who speaks of two states and in the same breath vows that the freeze will soon end, as if it were just a temporary shortage of construction materials that caused it.

He pledges that the freeze will not include pergolas and synagogues. Most importantly, he promises that construction will resume in full force immediately after the halt.

The audience is even more skeptical of the shrill, ludicrous performance displayed by the settlers, who are staging a bogus protest over the temporary freeze and sounding the manufactured cry of a bully playing the victim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlers do not mean what they say. They freeze and they wink, for the show must go on. The settlers, as is their wont, scream to the high heavens in order to sow fear and warn of what awaits us in the future.

Every local council chief in the territories who rips up the orders to freeze building in front of television cameras knows full well that these edicts were issued “as if.” Meaning, as if there was a freeze, as if there were edicts, and as if there was resistance.

The inspectors apologize, the policemen push and shove a bit, but they also know the truth. The show must go on.

This is the reason the viewers – who know that this is another scene in the endless masquerade – are so bored and indifferent. And as long as they stick to their yawning and snoring, nothing will change.

Nothing will move so long as Tel Aviv and its inhabitants do not let their voice be heard. The future of the settlements will not be determined in Sha’arei Tikva but in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. A group of 300,000 cannot forever dictate to a country of seven million.

The real decision-makers sit in Rishon Letzion, Holon, Ashdod and Bat Yam. Together with the residents of Israel’s real capital, Tel Aviv, it is they who will decide whether the settlement enterprise comes to an end. They have yet to say their piece.

When former prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to put an end to the hopeless venture in Gaza, he garnered widespread support of a majority of Israelis. Thus he was able to implement his plan.

It is impossible to lend support to Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan as long as there is a heavy cloud of suspicion hovering over it, one which suggests that this is nothing more than a swindle, an act of deceit designed to appease U.S. President Barack Obama.

Nobody will take to the streets for Obama, though. So if Netanyahu is indeed bent on fomenting historic change, as his acolytes claim, he must first convince the audience of the sincerity of his intentions. He must tell the viewers that this is not just another maneuver. Rather, it is a real step which will be followed up not by the dismantling of settlements.

If this is not the case, then what purpose is served by this ridiculous freeze? If it is so, then Tel Aviv will have to rise from its coma and Holon will have to wake from its slumber.

In the meantime, the settlers are generating just a smidgen of revulsion through their brazen, outrageous and lawless behavior. Yet Holon and Bat Yam are still not showing genuine rage.

Even the settlers’ statements championing “human rights,” “humane living conditions,” “morality ” and “democracy” invite only mockery, seeing as they are uttered by the most serial violators of these principles.

In order for Tel Aviv and its denizens to react with the same fury – something which should have happened long ago – what is needed is a leader who is truly intent on putting an end to this behavior.

But between Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, we do not have such a leader at hand. When the real leader is found and when Tel Aviv really begins to get angry, we will be surprised to find out just how paved the road already is. Yet somebody needs to stand up and point the way.

If Netanyahu wants to follow Sharon’s footsteps, he must tell the truth, something which he struggles to do. If Tel Aviv seeks to move forward to a solution, it must say its piece. It must start to ostracize those who continue to exact this injustice against it (and, of course, the Palestinians). If this does not happen, we can skip the play and leave during the opening act.