Interview Questions

07.08.13

What Salon Forgets to Ask Settler Activist Dani Dayan

Almost exactly a year after his op-ed in the New York Times, settler activist Dani Dayan is getting a new round of airtime with his vision for peace in the Middle East, this time via a softball interview in Salon. In it, Dayan insists that instead of maintaining a wasteful and expectation-raising peace process, there should be no Palestinian state. The settlers should stay where they are, the checkpoints should be removed, the security barrier should be dismantled, and Palestinian refugee camps should be “revamped” with the living conditions of their residents improved.

The authors of the Salon piece, Alex Halperin and Andrew O’Hehir, would likely not see their piece as soft. After all, it contains phrases like, “That’s not what I said,” after Dayan tried to deflect a question. But there’s a key question that these—and many other—journalists are refraining from asking Dayan. Neither are editors at flagship media outlets pushing him to address it—as when Dayan published the New York Times op-ed last summer, a proposal that was similarly oblique.

The question is this: under Dayan’s proposal, what would be the political status of these millions of individual Palestinian West Bank residents?

Nowhere is Dayan suggesting that these Palestinians be granted Israeli citizenship. To do so would be to suddenly and radically shift the Israeli electorate away from the Jewish character that has defined the State of Israel, a character and collective identity that Dayan holds dear. “We came to this specific land and not to any other to establish a homeland because we have the land—the roots that are given by Jewish history, by Jewish civilization, by Jewish tradition.” These aren’t the words of someone who is welcoming the addition of another 2.5 million voters who very likely would not seek to structure their country around a commitment to Jewish history and Jewish tradition.

On its face, Dayan’s proposal appears both pragmatic and humane. He calls himself a “liberal,” after all. Dismantle checkpoints, facilitate freedom of movement, and encourage a respectful sense of co-existence among ethnic enclaves. As Dayan puts it, “I have no problem living near the Palestinian community of Azun. I don’t see why the Palestinian guy from Azun has to be bothered by the fact that I am his neighbor. I think that there is ample room for many, many Jews and many, many Palestinians and coexistence between them.”

Beautiful words, aren’t they?

But these lovely sentiments obscure the ultimate reality of this plan, a reality that is defined by another word, a word much uglier than these poetic phrases.

What’s it called when one ethnic group is permanently controlled by a foreign military, when its citizens are tried in military court while the citizens of the neighborhood down the road are tried in civil courts with all the due process that their democratic system demands and allows? What’s it called when one ethnic group is granted voting rights while another has those same rights denied?

Darn it. I forget the word. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but with Dayan’s exquisite ideals swirling in my head I just can’t bring it to mind.