Archive | Commentary RSS feed for this section

Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, Congress, and the Future of American Democracy

15 Mar

The Ilhan Omar Incident: A Zionist Witch Hunt?

[Prefatory Note: the post below is somewhat modified text of my responses to a series of questions posed by Daniel Falcone with whom I have done several prior online interview. This interview was published under a different title by CounterPunch on March 14, 2019. It addresses the attack upon the Somali born Ilhan Omar, elected from the 5thCongressional District to the U.S. House of Representative in the November 2018 midterm electios. Omar was sharply attacked, defamed, and threatened for making comments about Israeli influence on American lawmaking that were alleged to be anti-Semitic, or more precisely, ‘anti-Semitic tropes.’ The issues raised are important both to suggest continuing. Reliance by pro-Israeli militants on these kinds of tactics, and for the fact that there was an encouraging willingness of some mainstream refusal to acquiesce. The attack on Omar has been so far blunted in Congress, but the real test will come in 2020 when Omar runs for reelection. Falcone’s questions raise issues about the nature of anti-Semitism, the relevance of Islamophobia to this incident, and the complex and confusing relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism.]

1) Daniel Falcone: Going back to when this all started about a month ago, can you briefly remind readers of what your initial reactions were to Ilhan Omar’s tweets and to the course of events that quickly followed soon after? Did she misspeak? Isn’t the Lobby small potatoes compared to official US policy in the first place? 

 

Richard Falk: When I first heard these comments by Ilhan Omar I was glad that there was a new voice in Congress that would speak up on behalf of the Palestinian people so long subjected to a daily ordeal whether they are living under occupation, as a discriminated minority in Israel, or in refugee camps in occupied Palestine and neighboring countries, or existing in involuntary exile. My core reaction was to welcome such an expression of solidarity from a member of Congress that the Palestinian people need and deserve.

 

Although I agreed with her critical remarks on AIPAC, and later on the dual loyalty of some Americans when it comes to Israel, they struck me as familiar and so accurately descriptive as to have become almost innocuous truisms. How wrong I was!  On further consideration, it became clear to me that her remarks (of course, exaggerated in their intended meaning by being torn from the wider context of her full statements and then twisted to give the anti-Semitic spin plausibility) were treated as inflammatory not so much because of their content, but because of their source, a black-Muslim-American woman, and her statusas a newly elected member of Congress. The essence of what she had to say was unremarkable, hardly the stuff of fiery radicalism. Omar tried herself to quiet things down, quickly apologizing for what she was made to feel might have unintentionally been hurtful to Jews. Such a move convincingly distanced her from the charge of real anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews). Her offending message was true yet obvious, attaining importance only because she was a newly elected congressperson willing to so declare her concerns about the way Washington works in high visibility settings: “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.” And “I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is O.K. to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

 

 

 

The overblown response to these Omar tweets and public comments had the effect of mobilizing the liberal and Christian Zionist establishments in and out of Congress. These groups pressed Democrats in Congress to give concreteness to their allegations of anti-Semitism by their angry calls for apologies, retractions, and censure. Those outraged insisted that the home truths Rep. Ilhan Omar dared speak were nothing less than ‘familiar anti-Semitic tropes.’ This expansion of anti-Semitism from its base meaning, the hatred of Jews, is a tactic being used to spread the net of anti-Semitism much wider. This referral to ‘tropes’ is an insidious way of substituting ‘political correctness’ for the transparencies of truthfulness. Once this enlarged anti-Semitic card is on the table, the accuracy or inaccuracy of Omar’s statements becomes irrelevant, and any attempt by the person so accused to justify their assertions by pointing to the facts only aggravates the sin, and reinforces the allegation. In effect, freedom of expression takes a back seat when an irresponsible so-called ‘anti-Semitic trope’ is invoked by defaming critics.

 

There is a historical basis for this extension of Jew hatred to various allegations about Jewish power or conspiracies of which ‘Holocaust denial’ and ‘a Jewish conspiracy to run the world’ are prominent. Such allegations are usually made in bad faith with intention to frighten and anger the non-Jewish world, and are not supported by respectable evidence. The Holocaust did take place, although the exact number of Jews and others who lost their lives remains in some doubt, and could be responsibly discussed. Such allegations are different than suggesting issues of lobbying influence and dual loyalty where the evidence overwhelmingly supports the contention, and is fair comment in a democratic society that honors freedom of expression.

 

Discrediting a person by invoking the abstraction of anti-Semitic tropes is even more problematic when the speaker has a status that bestows prestige and is capable of wielding influence. It has been extremely helpful to Israel over the decades to have virtual unanimity in the U.S. Congress on any agenda item that touches its interests or assesses its behavior. It puts critics of Israel in the larger society on the defensive, and makes support for Israel seemed so entrenched and bipartisan as to become virtually untouchable. This makes opposition to any important pro-Israel initiative, for instance annual appropriations for military assistance, politically untenable, although there are many reasons to question such a commitment given Israel’s behavior and capabilities. This condition of unanimity in Congress has been highly effective in the past in suppressing doubts and criticisms. It has made anyone politically foolish enough to defy this disciplinary consensus exceedingly vulnerable to defeat in the next scheduled election. Such persons have been effectively targeted in the past, and yes, by AIPAC, rich Zionist donors, and pro-Israeli Christian lobbies. As well, the likely lucky opponent of such a candidate has trouble spending all the money pouring into his or her campaign coffers.

 

This pattern of ‘enforcing’ unanimity can be traced back at least as far as the experience of Paul Findley, a courageous, moderate, and humanly decent Congressman from Illinois, who was blacklisted and politically defeated after serving ten terms in the House of Representatives. He was targeted after raising his voice to decry the unbalanced approach relied on by the U.S. Government to manage the Israel/Palestine relationship. Ever since he lost his House seat in 1982 Findley has devoted himself to exposing and criticizing the role that AIPAC plays in national political life. His conclusions are similar to those reached by Omar. For Findley’s account of this pattern see his important book They Dare Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby (1985, 2003).

It is not only Findley that has been targeted over the years, but several others who fall afoul of AIPAC’s disciplinary code, including such distinguished figures as Charles Percy, Adlai Stevenson III, Pete McCloskey, and above all, Cynthia McKinney, the only woman and African American on this honor roll. To deny or obscure such a cause and effect relationship is tantamount to swallowing the Kool Aid of Zionist thought control. I can only wonder whether Congresswoman Omar was aware of this background when she decided to speak out forcefully, and if she did, it reinforces the impression that she is a fearless warrior for social and political justice.

 

Status matters in these campaigns to defame critics of Israel. When someone as globally prominent as Richard Goldstone associated his name with a UN factfinding inquiry into Israeli wrongdoing arising from its 2008-09 attack on Gaza he suffered mightily from the backlash. The Report reached conclusions critical of Israel that were fact-based, yet rather restrained given the incriminating evidence, and carefully documented. Impressions of fairness were further strengthened by coupling the accusations against Israel with harsh denunciations of Hamas’ unlawful acts of retaliation. Such characteristics of the Report did nothing to tone down the fury of Israeli reactions, which singled out Goldstone with vituperative rage. Although Goldstone was at the time a widely admired international figure who had won international acclaim for his anti-apartheid role in South Africa, neither his eminence nor his legal professionalism protected him from the slash-and-burn tactics of his detractors. Quite the contrary.

 

The heaviest available defamatory artillery was deployed by Israel’s top leaders to mount an intense attack on his person and reputation. Despite his lifelong Zionist connections, Goldstone was denounced, censured at the highest levels of government in Israel with the negative chorus joined by several leading political figures in the U.S. He was even accused of authoring ‘a blood libel’ against the Jewish people. It turned out that Goldstone couldn’t withstand these pressures and backed down in humiliating fashion without the support of any of the three other distinguished members of the UN commission team. With this retraction, Goldstone totally lost the respect of the human rights community without regaining respectability among Zionists. Goldstone’s turnaround demonstrates how effective these Israeli tactics can be in silencing much more vulnerable critics than Goldstone, evading truth, and shifting the policy conversation from the message (in his instance, the Report) to the messenger.

 

My own analogous experience at a much lower level of international visibility was rather similar. As long as I was a dissenting professor on Israel/Palestine, I was more or less ignored, but when I was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine all hell broke loose. I received death threats and hate mail calling me many names, but concentrating on depicting me as ‘a notorious anti-Semite’ and ‘a self-hating Jew.’ This campaign of defamation continued unabated during my six years holding this UN position, yet immediately after my term ended in 2014 the attacks subsided, although they were revived in 2017 when a UN report that I jointly authored was released. The report contained a carefully constructed argument that available evidence established that Israel was an apartheid state according to the criteria of international criminal law. Unlike Goldstone, I refused to back down or shut up, and for this stubbornness I paid a different kind of price.

 

The experience of Ilhan Omar is, of course, more extreme and revealing than mine. It is a grim reminder that whenever African Americans are allowed on the plantation, they are slapped down harshly if they become ‘uppity.’ Although born and raised in Somalia, Omar was nevertheless perceived as uppity in this homegrown American sense. There is a Jim Crow element present that has been extended, especially since 9/11, to Muslims as well as to African Americans. A large part of what is operating here is to portray Ilhan Omer as an anti-Semite because it is not politically correct to be overtly Islamophobic, but it is quite all right to be indirectly so beneath the banner of solidarity with Israel.

 

In effect, it is bad enough if Muslims are seen, and worse, if they are heard, and still worse if they somehow obtain an official platform from which to speak, and worst of all, if they use this platform to speak out in ways that expose truths long swept under the rug. To some degree the racist mentality directed previously at African Americans has shifted its center of gravity to Muslims, and reaches fever levels, when the perceived offender is not only Muslim but also African American, and not only a political dissenter, but a female critic of Israel.

 

Recent events confirm that the orchestrated backlash becomes more vicious if the criticism of Israel issues forth from the mouth of a person of color who enjoys a high intellectual or cultural status. The Temple professor, Marc Lamont Hill, was almost instantly dismissed from his role as a commentator and consultant to CNN merely because he used the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ to describe Palestinian rights in the course of a judicious and humane speech on the conditions of a true peace between Israel and Palestine delivered at the UN a few months ago. Like Omar, Hill responded to the upsurge of hostile pressures by offering an explanatory apology for any misunderstanding he might have unintentionally caused. He eventually managed to survive demands that he be dismissed from his tenured professorship at Temple. Even so, the public pounding Hill endured surely sent a chilling message to others throughout the country who might be tempted to speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights. One suspects that even though his name has been formally cleared, Hill is likely to experience a sharp decline in the number of invitations he receives to speak at academic conferences at least for five years or so.

 

In other words, whether knowingly or not, Illhan Omar poked her head into this lion’s den, and it has had consequences that are probably beyond her imagining at the time she spoke out. Omar definitely touched a raw nerve by so defiantly challenging this bipartisan consensus and the Congressional ethos to refrain from public criticisms of Israel and its support system. Particularly when her comments seemed to be saying that it is impossible to reconcile such displays of loyalty to a foreign country with the obligations of an elected American official to give priority to national interests.

 

 

2) Daniel Falcone: On December 13, 2011 Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in reference to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to US Congress that the “ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.” He received some criticism for it, but no liberal called it an “anti-Semitic trope” either literally or in proportion to the reaction of Omar’s word choice. Can you unpack the difference between Friedman saying this and Omar, for I noticed a real difference in the reactions as did others.

 

Richard Falk: My prior remarks sets the stage for my response to this question. Friedman’s stature and generally supportive role for Israeli policies, although acutely critical of Netanyahu, led even most militant supporters of Israel to construe his comments as narrowly confined to the controversy surrounding the international agreement reached during the Obama presidency to regulate Iran’s nuclear program. The strong Israeli objections to the nuclear deal so scrupulously negotiated with Iran bothered many Jews, even including many Zionists. As suggested, Friedman although prominent and influential, did not have an official position in government or an international institution, and the defiant Netanyahu speech in the U.S. Congress on a question not primarily directly related to Israel was widely perceived as offensive, and viewed as a test of the outer limits of bipartisanship with respect to Israel. The whole episode seemed primarily intended by Netanyahu’s Republican hosts as a slap at the Obama presidency, and his nuclear diplomacy.

 

On the occasion of the Ilhan Omar controversy, Friedman was characteristically careful to couple his criticisms of the Israeli approach to security issues under Netanyahu with affirmations of a continuing belief in the sanctity of the Jewish state and an avowal of a two-state solution as still the only solution that could be feasible and might at some point be negotiable. [See his “Ilhan Omar, AIPAC, and me,” with the super-revealing and self-serving sub-head, “The congresswoman and I have a lot in common — but not her stance on Israel,”NY Times, March 6, 2019,] This continues to be the liberal Zionist line, but it is rather self-contradictory. Any close observer should realize that the broad spectrum of Israeli public opinion now is definitely opposed to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions.  The Likud has by way of legitimating and accelerating the settlement movement has acted to foreclose a two-state solution as a feasible political option. Friedman is neither a fool nor uninformed. He too must be aware of this. It prompts raising a question parallel to that suggested by the title of a Murakami work of fiction, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.My question: What is Friedman really talking about when he talks about the two-state solution?

 

Friedman’s earlier remarks were framed around the particular event of Netanyahu’s speech, and were not formulated to be heard as a general indictment of AIPAC or to call attention of his readers to the disproportionate influence exerted by pro-Israeli viewpoints on foreign policy. Some years ago when John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt published The Israel Lobbytheir book was sharply attacked as anti-Semitic because it mounted a general argument about the distortion of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The central contention of the book was that American foreign policy quite often was bent to accommodate Israel’s national interests at the expense of American regional interests in the Middle East. The authors were, of course, not members of Congress and the anti-Semitic slur of their accusers never became a matter of public debate. Mearsheimer and Walt possessed impeccable academic credentials backed up by senior appointments at leading universities. In their case, the Zionist pushback was not very severe or sustained, although it was serious enough to tarnish their mainstream media acceptability to some extent. Objectively, it was absurd to attack these academic experts, both known to me personally, who are above all prominent in the field of international relations as ‘political realists.’ As such, it should be evident that they were not motivated by any particular empathy for the Palestinians or hostility to Jews, but were acting on their consistently expressed belief that a rational foreign policy must be based on interests of the nationand not be shaped by pressures mounted by special interests of an ethnic minority, private sector actors, or a foreign government.

 

What is paramount to observe when comparing Friedman to Omar is the reality of double standards. Ilhan Omar became especially vulnerable because she is Muslim, African, and an immigrant, as well as being a newly elected member of Congress. If as a private citizen she had made these comments back in Minnesota with tweets or at a community meeting in her neighborhood, it might have produced some angry reactions from local Zionist activists, but no wider ripples. If she held a still higher public office in Washington than at present the attack on her would likely have been even more intense, as Jimmy Carter discovered when he titled his unwaveringly moderate book on Israel/Palestine ‘Peace or Apartheid’ The book was essentially a plea for peace and a prudent warning about the consequences of kicking the can further and further down the road.

 

 

3) Daniel Falcone: In this entire conversation, not many people are mentioning how anti-Semitic Zionism is, and it’s something sadly under discussed in educated US opinion. Can you unpack this for me?

 

Richard Falk: This is an entirely appropriate question that goes to the heart of what might be described as ‘the use and misuse of anti-Semitism’ in political discourse. The issues raised are complicated because there are variations based on place, time, and historical circumstances.

 

Of course, the shocking suggestion that Zionism can be responsibly accused of anti-Semitism is treated as an affront by almost every Zionists and most Jews. Jews have been brainwashed to an extent that they believe strongly that Zionism is unconditionally dedicated to providing sanctuary for Jews in a Jewish sovereign state, and to the practical necessity of achieving this goal combined with its biblical justifications and its anticipated success in restoring Jewish self-esteem individually and collectively. Yet there were some anti-Semitic sentiments (tropes if non-Zionists had so declared) in the writings of Herzl and Weizmann, the intellectual fathers of the Zionist movement, decrying the image and behavior of Jews in the diaspora, almost vindicating their non-acceptance by the hegemonic political cultures and social structures of Europe.

 

It is also true that Zionism has from its origins has been understandably preoccupied with the establishment and security of a Jewish state, and since 1948 fiercely defensive of Israel. Yet Zionism has always exhibited a pragmatic and opportunistic side that made it at all stages seem beneficial for the Zionist movement to work jointly, even collaboratively, with the most extreme anti-Semitic forces unleashed in Europe after World War I or in the regional neighborhood and global setting that Israel inhabits.

 

In this regard, the Zionist vision of a Jewish state in ‘the promised land’ of Palestine should be appreciated as an extreme utopian conception at its outset. We should remember that at the time the Zionist movement was formally launched in 1897 the Jewish population of Palestine was 8%, and when the Balfour Declaration pledging support for a Jewish homeland was issued in 1917, the Jewish population had only risen to 8.1%. How in the world could Zionists in an era of rising nationalism around the world hope to establish a Jewish state in what was clearly a non-Jewish society? This was the animating puzzle that has haunted the Zionism in the course of becoming a political project rather than a utopian phantasy. One might. contend that Israel would never have come into existence without this streak of Zionist opportunism, putting the need to increase the Jewish population of Palestine above all other considerations.

 

Without entering into the details of a complicated history, the grounds on which a kind of Zionist anti-Semitism was erected, involved persuading, and in some instances coercing Jews to emigrate to Palestine. In other words, only by making life in the diaspora unbearable for Jews could the Zionist project advance towards its goals in Palestine. In this sense, the rise of hatred of Jews throughout Europe, and especially Germany, in the period after World War I was a crucial contribution to making the Palestine option realistic. Beyond this, the anti-Semitic leadership in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, as well as Nazi Germany, had a common interest with Zionism in inducing Jewish emigration as they had a demographic motivation complementary to that of the Zionists, namely, reducing the number of Jews in their country to as low level as possible. This led the Polish Government to help train elite Zionist militias and supply weapons so that the Zionist penetration of Palestine would not meet with failure when it encountered Arab resistance. In other words, diaspora Jews were being manipulated, including after World War II, to choose Palestine rather than other destinations. Even those Jews who managed to survive the death camps of the Holocaust were manipulated after World War II to choose Palestine rather than other non-European destinations.

 

Since Israel was established it has struggled to gain acceptance as a legitimate state. It did gain entry into the UN, but it was subject to aggressive hostility from its Arab neighbors and from widespread

pro-Palestinians sentiments in the global South. Faced with such threats Israel embarked upon an opportunistic foreign policy inconsistent with its professed values. It made whatever foreign friends it could even bonding to the extent possible with anti-Semitic governments and civil society movements. Netanyahu has developed cordial relations with the unabashedly anti-Semitic leader, Viktor Orban of Hungary, and Israel supplies weapons and police training to many extreme rightest governments. Israel also courted the support of Christian Zionism, which while fanatically pro-Israeli is anti-Semitic in the prime sense of wanting Jews to leave America and elsewhere. Only when all Jews return to Israel will their evangelical reading of the Book of Revelations be vindicated because only then would the Second Coming of Jesus occur. Jews would then be given a rather humiliating choice of converting to Christianity or face damnation.

 

 

 

 

4) Daniel Falcone: Noam Chomsky mentioned this past summer how Israel was losing its support as the “darling of liberal America” as it moved more and more to support right-wing regimes in the era of Trump. At the time, it made much sense but this seems to be incredibly short lived. Does his type of observation reflect the purpose of the recent backlash?

 

Richard Falk: I believe these two divergent developments are occurring. simultaneously and are connected with one another. There are many confirmations of weakening public support for Israel due to many factors, and it would seem that the citizenry in America has been ready in recent years to accept as a positive initiative presidential moves toward a more balanced approach. Such an approach to be credible would have to confront several difficult issues. The U.S. would have to react against flagrant violations of international humanitarian law arising from Israeli reliance on excessive force in responding to the Palestinian demonstrations at the Gaza fence that have occurred every Friday throughout the entire year. Beyond this, a balanced approach would have to voice support for the Palestinian right of self-determination based on the equality of the two peoples. Even more ambitiously, if the objective of American diplomacy was to promote a sustainable peace rather than a ceasefire, Israel would have to be pressed to dismantle the apartheid structures it has relied upon to subjugate the Palestinian people and crush resistance over decades to the imposition of a Jewish state on an essentially non-Jewish society. If these steps were to be taken the foundation for an authentic peace process would finally have been laid. On such firm ground a political compromise is  imaginable relying on mechanisms for peaceful coexistence, human rights, and mutual respect. If this were to happen it could finally shape a benevolent future for both peoples.

 

Because Israe is losing this base of unconditional support in the liberal sectors of American society, the. pushback by pro-Israeli militants has grown uglier, and more severe, verging on the desperate, mainly relying on defamation while foregoing appeals to reason, ethics, and law. From this perspective, to keep Congress on board with respect to Israel has become more important than ever as a means to insulate policymaking from a potentially threatening democratic turn that is more critical of Israel and its policies. As with gun control, taxation, and the legalization of marijuana, the preferences of the citizenry can be indefinitely blocked by money and lobbying. The Palestinian cause has been. heretofore at a particular disadvantage in Congress due to its inability to mobilize countervailing forces to challenge and fracture the pro-Israel consensus. This has created a mindlessly one-sided phenomenon, defying evidence and law, that can only be understood as ‘the deformation of democracy.’ For a person in Congress to express their true beliefs or to honor their conscience by opposing Israel has in the past amounted to political suicide, while covering up Israeli wrongdoing has no down side whatsoever for elected officials. This has never been healthy.

 

The most intriguing question posed by the Ilhan Omar incident is whether the pro-Israeli tide is finally turning in Washington. On the one side, are the vigorous AIPAC style enforcers punishing any member of Congress that seems to be challenging the bipartisan consensus. On the other side, is a recognition that there is growing sympathy for the Palestinian people, and that it is time to reset American policy on Israel/Palestine, and indeed toward the whole of the Middle East. In retrospect, it seems that pro-Israeli neocons helped push the United States to launch the disastrous Iraq War in 2003, and is now, with the full backing of the Trump White House edging toward an even more disastrous war initiated against Iran.  

 

The reformulation of a House resolution intended to condemn as anti-Semitism the sort of allegations of collective Jewish influence has been called ‘a political earthquake’ because it disclosed previously non-existent tensions within the ranks of the Democratic Party on how to respond to Omar’s controversial statements, which signals a definite weakening of the earlier consensus. As with the Angela Davis turnaround in Birmingham, there may now be expanded space and protection for criticism of Israel and less fear of the Zionist enforcers. Significantly, also, several Democratic presidential aspirants, including Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have spoken in defense of Ilhan Omar. The dust has yet to settle altogether, but even this degree of ferment may portend better times ahead.

 

 

 

 

5) Daniel Falcone: Lawrence Davidson recently pointed out how pro-Palestinian politicians will have to carefully craft their language to prevent the intentional distortion of their words. Since he wrote this however, it seems that no matter how careful their words are, Omar’s or others, rebukes will be commonplace as a result of political differences. It’s not really what she said, it’s the implications of how it can be utilized in redirecting American foreign policy beyond Netanyahu to extend to bipartisan policies overall. I’m reminded of Davidson’s additional takes on J-Street as contributing to ideological gatekeeping. What are your thoughts?

 

Richard Falk:  I almost always find Lawrence Davidson’s commentaries on important public issues to be incisive, developing morally coherent and politically progressive interpretations of complex and often controversial issues. Here, I feel that Davidson’s formulation is misleading. Those in the Zionist camp that seek to discredit a message critical of Israel are rather indifferent to whether the formulations are carefully crafted or not. Their primary objective is to discredit the messenger, which has the added benefit of shifting the conversation away from what was said to who said it. This shifting of the conversation is as important as the defamatory undertaking, and thus even if the person escapes with their reputation more or less undamaged, the discussion will be about whether the allegations were well founded or not, and the substantive concerns that prompted the statements being are buried beneath the unresolvable to and fro of ad hominem polemics. Such has been the choreography of the Omar experience.

 

Of course, if there are phrases that can be lifted from the offending statement or document that makes the work of defamation and distraction easier to accomplish, so much the better. But even if the message, tweet, or document was the work of heavenly scribes it would not deter defamation if the criticism of Israel has potential political traction. As before, the case of Goldstone and my own experience at the UN is instructive. The report of the Goldstone Commission was never subjected to substantive criticism by those who mounted their scathing attacks on Goldstone’s character. In my case, my twelve reports as Special Rapporteur received almost no substantive criticism from Israel or its puppet NGO, UN Watch, which trained all of its guns on my supposedly anti-Semitic character, or on my supposedly nutty views on issues not really relevant to Israel/Palestine such as the Iranian Revolution or my rather banal comments on the Boston Marathon massacre.

 

The crucial point here is what I have previously argued. These defenders of Israel are not trying to win an argument about disputed facts and rival interpretations of law. They are trying to make the author of what is objectionable to the Zionist outlook so disreputable that whether the analyses are true or false becomes irrelevant. I used to tell the official delegates at the UN in Geneva and New York that a person only had to be 10% objective to reach the same factual and legal conclusions that were set forth in my reports. In other words, if this is more or less correct about Israeli encroachments on human rights in the course of maintaining control of Occupied Palestine, then it would be a fool’s errand for diehard Israel defenders to engage in substantive debate.

 

The situation in Congress is quite special because unanimity on Israeli support has heretofore prevailed, and is itself seen as valuable for Israel, making any significant departure a risky course for a politician to take as the record of past encounters shows. The attack on Ilhan Omar may have gone too far, given who she is and what she actually said. Just as her status and identity make her especially vulnerable, it also makes those who support a pluralist, democratic country adopt her cause and fight back on her behalf. I am reminded of the Birmingham NGO that rescinded the human rights award to Angela Davis a few months ago because of her pro-Palestinian activism causing such a strong pushback on her behalf that Institute for Civil Rights in Birmingham had to reverse itself, and restore the award and speaking invitation. We have not yet reached the outcome of the Omar firestorm but it could be that the. attackers will back off, especially given the dark clouds forming over Israel in the shape of Netanyahu’s embrace of electoral support from the most extreme right and the rather weak presidential and congressional responses to White Supremacist language from within the ranks or from the White House.   

 

 

6) Daniel Falcone: Jeremy Corbyn is another decent person that faced heavy criticism and allegations for his word choices regarding the Holy State. It’s been pointed out by some progressives that the more progressive left tolerates or openly supports Corbyn and Omar’s “anti-Semitism” only because they want to emphasize their opposition to the illegal settlement expansion and to fend off the hard right. They argue, that’s no excuse to let the “trope” making off the hook. Meanwhile, since this sentiment has been expressed, the same people have not condemned the racist and demeaning Islamophobic depiction of Omar by the West Virginia GOP. Largely because, and cynically so, it was suspected that her own identity insulated her from her initial comments in the first place. My conclusion here is that calling out Omar initially was a form of doublespeak. Could you comment?

Richard Falk: The guns of liberal Zionism are booming. Bret Stephens, proud of his call for the resignation of Netanyahu due to corruption charges, was expressing his satisfaction that American Zionists no longer can be said to walk in lockstep submission to Israel and its strong prime minister. This seemed to be a kind of hunting licence making it fair game to condemn Omar for what he calls ‘Corbynism.’ [Bret Stephens, “Ilhan Omar Knows Exactly What She Is Doing,” NY Times, March 7, 2019] What this slur intends to convey is that a person can be personally free of anti-Semitic hatred of Jews, and yet because of their distaste for Zionism or Israel, still qualify as ‘anti-Semites’ because they invoke those nasty ‘tropes’ used to mobilize hatred of Jews through the ages. Her tweets about dual allegiance and Jewish money used to silence critics of Israel are regarded as sufficient evidence.

I do consider this kind of demeaning attack on Jeremy Corban and Ilhan Omar to be irresponsible to the point of generating the very feelings it purports to be condemning. For such morally sensitive and political progressive personalities to be so smeared because they point to features of reality associated with this unprecedented ‘special relationship’ or their willingness to befriend those that make such criticisms of the use of Jewish power to hide Israeli injustice. Such lines of attack are not only intended to narrow freedom of expression when it comes to Israel but also to rely on a dragnet sort of argument that rests on guilt by association. Once more I can illustrate the point from my own experience. A leading English tabloid carrying on their vendetta against Corbyn published a picture of Corbyn and myself at an event in London where we discussed the Palestinian ordeal, contending that Corbyn by appearing with an anti-Semite like myself was linking arms with anti-Semitism.

 

 

7) Daniel Falcone: There are journalists and liberal critics of Omar’s “tropes” that state that opposition to US/Israel policy on the one hand is fine, but reinforcing conspiracy theories are not. This is entirely understandable yet I don’t see J-Street type rhetoric translating into meaningful shifts in policy construction. Could you comment on the limitations of partisan criticism of Israel when it seems it should be bipartisan?

Richard Falk: I think that identifying and criticizing collective efforts to control debate on Israel/Palestine or to intimidate defections from bipartisan unity in the Congress and elsewhere that call attention.to the biasing of legislative scrutiny and procedures, is inherently regressive. By characterizing the defection as an anti-Semitic trope, which is supposed to establish taboos that if violated, generate a justifiable contention of anti-Semitism, is resorting to a blunt manipulative device. The plausibility of this use of ‘tropes’ is the purported link to the historical experience of conspiracy theories used by right wing movements to mobilize fear and hatred of Jews, fabricating Jewish plots to use Jewish money to penetrate and dominate the centers of power, and even to take over control of the whole world (for example, the notorious Protocols of Zion).

It is viciously false reasoning to merge criticisms of actual collective action that is fact-based with fabricated conspiracies designed to generate fear and hatred, and give rise to persecution or worse.

 

 

Advertisements

Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine?

28 Feb

 

 

Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine?

 

While waiting without even a glimmer of hope for the Trump ‘deal of the century’ the Palestinian ordeal unfolds day by day. Many Israelis would like us to believe that the Palestinian struggle to achieve self-determination has been defeated, and that it is time to admit that Israel is the victor and Palestine the loser. All that needs to be done is to force feed a bitter pill of defeat to the Palestinians, and all talk from Trump or otherwise about a deal will become irrelevant.

 

Recent events paint a different picture than this premature Israel triumphalism. Every Friday since the end of March 2018 the Great March of Return has confronted Israel at the Gaza fence. Israel has responded with lethal force killing more than 250 Palestinians and injuring over 18,000, repeatedly using grossly excessive force to deal with almost completely nonviolent demonstrations protesting the denial by Israel of fundamental human rights belonging to the Palestinian people. 

 

 The political organs of the UN have remained awkwardly silent for a year. Yet finally on February 28, 2019 the report of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza Protests was released. The Commission established by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to examine allegations of excessive force used by Israel in response to the Gaza weekly demonstrations of the Great March initiative during 2018. The Report based on extensive factual documentation reached the principal conclusion that Israel had “no justification to shoot protesters with live ammunition.” The implication of such a finding is that criminal violations of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, had been massively, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated by Israel’s response to the Gaza protests.

 

It is unlikely that prosecutions will follow either in Israel or internationally, but it is at the very least a major victory for the Palestinians in the ongoing Legitimacy War to gain the high moral and legal ground with respect to world public opinion. Whether the Report causes enough of a public stir to prompt the UN to take some further action in the General Assembly or the Security Council remains to be seen. As the Great March protests have continued on Fridays so far in 2019, increasing the casualty levels, there are already calls for an extension of the Commission’s mandate so at least a complete documentary record of the continuing Israeli abuses will be available.

 

It would seem that there is a feeling in international circles that nothing much can be done to bring about a peaceful and just solution at this stage. Such a conclusion might explain the various recent moves in the Arab world toward an acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, which has included steps toward diplomatic normalization. Beyond these developments, Israel has joined with Saudi Arabia and the United States in a war mongering dangerous escalation of an already unwarranted and provocative confrontation with Iran. In addition, Israel and Egypt are collaborating on security issues at the border and in the Sinai, as well as in the joint development of off shore oil and gas projects. It should be noted that this warming of the Arab world to Israel has been occurring at the very time during which abuses of the Palestinian people has achieved their highest level of harshness ever.

 

This puzzling recent background make this an opportune moment for stocktaking with respect to this conflict that has gone on for more than a century, and assessing what would be the best way forward. The assumption here is that the only acceptable objective remains what it has long been—namely, a sustainable and just peaceful coexistence between the two peoples.

 

The most daunting challenge given present realities, is how peace might be made in a manner that realizes the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to achieve self-determination in a territorial space that was for centuries their place of residence, their own homeland. The prevailing international consensus had been that a solution would be achieved by geopolitically framed negotiations between Israel and accepted governmental representatives of the Palestinian people. The authoritative framing of such an approach was entrusted to the United States, which itself unavoidably insinuated a fatal flaw into the diplomatic process if the goal was to achieve a peaceful compromise that was fair to both sides and juridically sensitive to Palestinian claims of right under international law. It is reasonable to ask, ‘How possibly could such a compromise emerge if the stronger party had the unconditional backing of the geopolitical intermediary and the weaker party was not even clearly the legitimate representative of large sectors of the Palestinian people?’ Another unacknowledged obstacles to this Oslo approach was the degree to which its presuppositions collided with the true agenda of the Zionist Project, which was to gain sovereign control of all of the biblically promised land, a goal that was glaringly inconsistent with maintaining political space for some reasonable expression of the Palestinian right of self-determination.

 

Additionally, this already flawed framework was further abused by subordinating the so-called peace process to Zionist expansionist goals, expressed by annexing Jerusalem, denying refugee rights of return, and expanding unlawful settlements in occupied Palestine. These anomalies were accentuated by the American insistence that Palestinian objections to such unlawful Israeli moves be deferred until the last stage of negotiations on the supposed grounds that such objections would disrupt the peace process. In retrospect, it is clear that these patterns of violation by Israel were, on the contrary, themselves intended to prevent the peace process from ever reaching ‘final status negotiations,’ much less actually achieving a negotiated peace. This disrupted diplomacy is exactly what transpired, perhaps disappointed some naïve Palestinians, but not at all surprising the Likud leadership, which always expected, and worked to achieve, such an outcome.

 

This geopolitical framework, as resulted from the faulty implementation of the Oslo Framework of Principles, as adopted in 1993, has by now been widely discredited by most objective observers as well as by the participating governments. This abandonment of Oslo did not occur, however, before Israel had used the past 25 years to pursue unimpeded their expansionist goals. In this process, Israel succeeded in making the establishment of an independent Palestinian state a political impossibility, with the secondary desired effect of putting the Palestinians in a far weaker position than before the Oslo approach was adopted.

 

The perverse failure of the top down approach to reach a sustainable outcome has led to a public attitude of defeatism when it comes to achieving a peaceful compromise. The residual post-Oslo top down option is the coercive imposition of ‘peace’ by declaring an Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. In other words, if diplomacy fails, the winner/loser calculus of war is all that is left over other than an indefinite continuation of a simmering status quo.

 

 

Peace from Above versus Peace from Below

 

Such thinking, although prevalent in elite circles, overlooks the historical agency of people, both those resisting injustice and those mobilized throughout the world in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. It is these bottom up kinds of political dynamics that were responsible for the most momentous changes in the history of the last century. It was national mass movements that challenged successfully, although at heavy human costs, the unjust structures of colonialism and South African apartheid, and eventually prevailed despite their military inferiority and the fierce geopolitical resistance they encountered. In other words, people manifested and exercised superior historical agency despite inferior capabilities on the battlefield and diplomatically. This potency of popular movements is a reality with a potential to subvert the established order and for this very reason is treated as irrelevant by mainstream thinking and policy planners.

 

It is precisely on the basis of this deconstruction of power and change that hope for a brighter Palestinian future lies. The strength of the Palestinian national movement is, and always has been, on the level of people as fortified by the growing international moral consensus that Israeli apartheid colonialism is wrong, indeed a crime against humanity according to international criminal law [see Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court and the International Apartheid Convention of 1973 on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid] It is this bottom up process of struggle, spearheaded by Palestinian resistance and given leverage by global solidarity initiatives such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] Campaign as it gains momentum and heightens pressure. Historical outcomes are never certain, but the flow of history has been against this Israeli/Zionist combination of colonial appropriation of Palestine and the apartheid structures relied upon to ensure the subjugation of the Palestinian people.

 

On this basis, some general observations follow.

 

 

The Two State Solution should be pronounced ‘Dead.’ For several years, at least since the de facto abandonment of the Oslo diplomacy in 2014, the two-state solution cannot reasonably be continued to be put forward internationally and in liberal Zionist circles as a viable political option. Yet it continues to be affirmed by many governments and at the UN. This is not because there is any informed belief that it might finally happen, but rather because every other outcome seemed impossible, too horrible to contemplate, or calls upon Israel to give up its claim to be an exclusivist Jewish state. In other words, many leading political figures and opinion leaders hold onto the two-state approach as an alternative to what they viewed to be zero. This reflects an impoverishment of the political and moral imagination, only capable of conceiving a solution to prolonged struggle of this type as deriving from top down approaches; bottom up approaches are not even considered, and if mentioned, are derided as irrelevant.

 

It seems far more realistic, and hence honest, to admit the defeat of two-state diplomacy and take account of the existing situation confronting Palestinians and Israelis so as to consider alternatives. To come to this point, it might be helpful to explain why the two-state solution has become so irrelevant. Above all, it seems evident that the Likud, which has been long in political control of Israeli never wanted an independent Palestinian state to be established, yet recognized the public relations advantages of not acknowledging this in public or even in private diplomatic communication. Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag when he pledged during his 2015 electoral campaign in Israel that a Palestinian state would never come into existence as long as he was Israel’s leader. This pledge ratified for those Israelis in doubt what was in any event Israeli policy, hoping that making if official only in Hebrew internal discourse would minimize any international backlash. This enabled Netanyahu after the 2015 election to reiterate cynically his receptivity to negotiations within the two-state mantra while continuing to engage in behavior that confirmed for Israelis that such an outcome would never occur.

 

Perhaps, more fundamental, the settler movement has long passed a point of no return. There are currently in excess of 600,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 130 settlements spread all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settler leaders believe that the settlements have so changed the map of Israel to exclude any possibility of an independent Palestine. Their leaders are now so confident that they openly envisage the settler population becoming 2,000,000. This should finally drive the point home to Palestinian two-staters as well as to world that Israel no longer pretends to be willing to allow a Palestinian state to be established.

 

True, the Palestinian Authority has long seemed ready to accept even a territorially abridged state, ceding sovereignty over the settlement blocs near the border, although continuing to insist that a the capital of a Palestinian state must be located within Jerusalem. A broad spectrum of Israeli political leaders agree that the future of Jerusalem is non-negotiable, and that the city will remain forever unified under sole Israeli sovereignty and administration. Under these conditions it can be safely concluded that it is no longer plausible for even the PA to continue to support the position that the two-state path to peace between the two peoples can somehow still be revived as the basis of a negotiated resolution of the conflict.

 

 

The Arab Accommodation is Tenuous. Israel feels little pressure to seek a political compromise given present conditions. With Trump in the White House and Arab governments scrambling toward normalization and accommodation, Israeli leaders and public opinion seem ill-disposed to make concessions for the sake of peace. As such keeping the two-state non-solution alive as a Zombie scenario is a way to proceed with Israel’s continuing efforts to expand further the settlements while in actuality implementing its coercive version of a one-state solution.

 

There are strong reasons to feel that this Israeli confidence that the Palestinian demand for rights can be indefinitely ignored is premature and likely to be undermined by events in the near future. For one thing, the Arab moves toward normalization are unstable as is the entire region. If there is a renewal of Arab uprisings, in the spirit of 2011, it is quite possible that support for Palestinian self-determination would abruptly surge to the top of the regional political agenda, likely in a more militant form than ever before. The Arab people, as distinct from the governments, continue to feel deep bonds of solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters, and at some point are almost certain to make their weight felt. As argued earlier, it is people and soft power, not governments, elites, and hard power, that have eventually prevailed since 1945, especially in struggles against colonialism. The Palestinian struggle is the one remaining unfinished colonial war, and there is no reason to believe that it will contradict the pattern of victory for the anti-colonial movement of national empowerment.

 

Beyond this, should the Trump presidency be defeated in 2020, there is likely to be an Israeli reevaluation of their interests. Such a prospect is heightened by signs that Jewish unconditional support for Israel is dramatically weakening, including in the United States. Furthermore, the global solidarity movement supportive of the Palestinian national movement is spreading, deepening, and growing. It is becoming more militant, engaging moderate global public opinion, and has the symbolic benefit of strong backing in South Africa, which sees the fight for Palestinian rights as analogous to, and even in some ways a continuation of their own anti-apartheid campaign.

 

What Next?. Two conclusions emerge from this analysis: first, a continued reliance on the two-state diplomacy within a framework that relies on the United States as an intermediary or peace broker is long overdue to being regarded as irrelevant and discredited. Its continued endorsement serves only as a distraction from what might be both possible and desirable. Secondly, despite Israel’s recent gains in acceptance within the Middle East and its absurdly one-sided support in Trump’s Washington, the Palestinian national movement persists, and under certain conditions, could mount a serious challenge to Israel’s colonialism and apartheid structures of governance.

 

In light of these conclusions, what Is the best course of action? It would seem that only a democratic and secular single state could uphold self-determination for both peoples, holding out a promise of sustainable peace. It would need to be carefully envisioned and promoted with international safeguards along the path toward realization. It does not seem a practical possibility at present, but putting it forward as a reasonable and responsible outcome that can be regarded as just avoids despair and holds out hopes for a humane peace when the time is right. It is helpful to recall that opinion was united in South Africa that the governing elites would never voluntarily abandon their reliance on apartheid, until they did. For such an outcome to happen presupposes a major modification of Israeli identity, above all the acceptance of a secular state implying the abandonment of the statist dimension of the Zionist project.

 

In such a binational (one state, two nations) situation, the newly created single state could offer national homelands to Jews and Palestinians, while finding a name for the new state that is congenial to both peoples. Maybe this will never happen, but it is the most just and sustainable vision of a peaceful future that responds to decades of diplomatic failure, massive Palestinian suffering and abuse. Above all, such a solution recognizes that is people that possess the moral authority and fulfill political promise of national resistance and global solidarity. Such an understanding would be tantamount to a legislative victory by that still unacknowledged, yet powerful, Parliament of Humanity.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise of Tulsi Gabbard: A Partial Response to Skeptics

25 Feb

[Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified text of my responses to questions put to me by Daniel Falcone, published on Feb. 19, 2019 in Counterpunch with the title, “Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard.”

I use a more positive title here that better captures my sense of her candidacy. Since the interview Tulsi Gabbard made a strong and encouraging statement condemning Monsanto for trying to hide the evidence of the harmful impacts on human health arising from the continued merchandising and use of its highly profitable pesticide, Roundup. I think Gabbard has adopted an admirable stand. It is consistent with the willingness of Gabbard to give concrete meaning to her attacks on Wall Street and income/wealth inequalities. As my title suggests, I find Gabbard a promising candidate despite some false past steps, and believe she currently deserves the benefit of the doubt from all of us.]

 

The Promise of Tulsi Gabbard: A Partial Response to Skeptics

 

  1. The left seems to be divided on the candidacy of tulsi gabbard for president. What are your thoughts on this split?

 

I find it premature to pass judgment on Tulsi Gabbard either for her past socially conservative positions or her controversial political visits to autocratic foreign leaders. She twice went to Damascus to meet with Bashar al-Assad of Syria and to Delhi to meet with Narendra Modi. I find her explanation of these meetings, especially with Assad, acceptable, at least for now. She adopts a position, with which I agree, that meetings with foreign political leaders, including those that are viewed most negatively as essential initiatives for those who seek peace, and abhor war. She has compared her initiatives in this regard with her endorsement of Trump’s meetings with Kim Jung Un of North Korea to achieve a breakthrough on denuclearization and demilitarization of the Korean peninsula.

 

Her meeting with Modi did seem to involve an indirect endorsement of this political leader who has encroached upon the freedoms and democratic rights of the Indian people, especially the Muslim minority and progressive intellectuals. In her defense, she was brought up during childhood as a serious Hindu and remains observant, the first ever Hindu to be elected to the U.S. Congress, and it is humanly natural that she would welcome the opportunity to meet with the moat important Hindu leader in the world.

 

What I find attractive about her political profile is that she has evolved in progressive directions during her political career, and along the way has shown an unusual degree of political independence. Her resignation as Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) so as to support Bernie Sanders seems to me a strong and impressive signal as to where her heart and mind is situated. It was a bold principled act for a young and ambitious political figure. I also find her assertions that the war/peace agenda is the most important issue confronting the American people to be a further indication that she thinks and feels for herself, and is willing to ignore the taboos of mainstream American politics. I know from a common friend that she was deeply shaken personally by experiencing some months ago the supposed imminent nuclear attack that was aimed at Hawaii. Although, fortunately the attack turned out to be a false alarm yet not until after giving Hawaiians, including Gabbard, a horrifying existential appreciation of what is deeply wrong about basing national security on a nuclear capability. As a country, we desperately need candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination who are sufficiently aware of the menace of nuclear weaponry, and seem ready to do something about it, which means confronting the nuclear establishment that has killed every effort to get rid of nuclear weapons, most recently Obama’s 2009 Prague speech committing himself to working toward a world without nuclear weapons. None of the declared candidates seems to me nearly as motivated to do this as does Tulsi Gabbard. She can be viewed as a ‘Sanders Plus’ candidate, that is, Walll Street plus the Pentagon (a shorthand for global militarism).

 

Gabbard brings political skills, wide ranging experience, and a winning personality to her candidacy. She has engaged in electoral politics since the age of 21, is a genuine and attractive TV presence, and exhibits an engaging combination of composure, commitment, humility, and humor when explaining her worldview. The fact that she volunteered for combat duty in Iraq and yet emerged as critical of war making, and regime changing interventions and the coercive diplomacy that accompanies it, is a further encouraging feature of her political persona. It contributes credibility and depth to her anti-war stands on foreign policy. She connects her commitment to seeking peaceful ways of achieving foreign policy goals with the impact of her direct exposure to the ugly realities of war: “I have seen war first-hand is why I fight so hard for peace.” How many of the presidential candidates can match either half of this claim? Given the US role in the world, we cannot be content with presidential candidates that are progressive on domestic issues but evade or are mainstream on foreign policy litmus test issues.

 

I agree that we do need to look at the dark sides of aspiring politicians, but we should do so in a discerning and empathetic manner. There are no absolutes when it comes to evaluating political profiles. I believe we should generally be more attentive to the trajectory of political and personal behavior, and not hold to account a person’s coming of age beliefs, indiscretions, including long ago misguided views of acceptable partying behavior. In other words, it is not only what they did or are accused of doing back then, but far more significantly, what they have done since then. Have they convincingly changed course, and taken with conviction enlightened and progressive policies on race, sexual harassment, and sensitivity to those who are marginalized and vulnerable minorities.

 

We should also give political figures the benefit of the doubt when they exercise the freedom to depart from conventional orthodoxies. In this regard, no matter how much we might abhor many aspects of the Trump presidency, the fact that Gabbard withheld judgment on his foreign policy in the Middle East or Korea, and in relation to global militarism is understandable, even commendable. To be confident about such a positive assessment, we have to await further clarification of her positions on these and other issues before reaching a judgment. The question we should ask ourselves in  whether on balance Gabbard deserves to wave a banner

before the American people proclaiming her commitment to a progressive political future.

 

  1. How closely does gabbard criticism and support correlate to criticism and support for Assad?

 

I regard it as a mistake to merge criticism of Gabbard from the left with attitudes toward the situation In Syria, including the Assad leadership. Gabbard was seemingly naïve when she spoke after her meeting favorably of Assad’s apparent willingness to give assurances of his democratic intentions for the country. Yet at the same time no one has spoken with any moral and political authority about how to respond constructively to the Syrian disaster since its inception in 2011, including the wizards of the Belt Way, the voices of the national security establishment, as well as the most strident civil society activists pro and con military intervention by the US.

 

As I understand Gabbard’s mission, it was to work toward the end of violence in Syria and the restoration of political normalcy, enabling the withdrawal of American troops. She was reported as concerned about the perverse peculiarity of the US Government teaming with al-Nusra and even ISIS so as to promote the insurgency against the legitimate government, however tarnished, of Syria. Supposedly, the first priority of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11 is counterterrorism, so it is only Pentagon ideologues who overlook the contradictions between what American leaders want us to believce and what we do when it comes to Syria, and elsewhere. We may criticize Gabbard for seeming to take Assad’s words at face value, but we should note the context in which all approaches by Washington to Syria have failed. The old Nightingale dictum fits: “first, do no harm.” I think that Gabbard passes this test better than most, including those that mount criticism of her Syrian initiatives.

3. Is gabbard a “progressive” in your view both domestically and foreign policy wise?

 

I believe that Gabbard has exhibited many strong progressive tendencies, but the whole picture of her outlook, especially on foreign policy remains cloudy. Her strong backing of Sanders in 2016 is weighty evidence of a progressive approach, but we need more specifics with respect to health, education, taxation, immigration before feeling confident about supporting her ideas on domestic policy. With respect to foreign policy, there are now more blanks to fill in than clear indications of where she stands on critical issues and her broader worldview relating especially to such global challenges as climate change and global migration. It would be helpful, and revealing, if Gabbard can free herself from the AIPAC core of the Israeli lobby and its powerful donor community. She would win many adherents, and lose some, if she adopted a position if she crafted a more balance US approach to relations with Israel and with regard to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. It would also be reassuring if Gabbard were to demonstrate support for the UN, international cooperation on issues of global scope, issue a call for nuclear disarmament negotiations, and express some understanding of why it has become so critical to anchor American foreign policy on the basis of respect for international law.

4. The hard left is taking gabbard criticism very hard and accusing social democrats and marxists of engaging in “identity politics” and support for “neoliberalism.” How did these terms (important in accurate application) become so vague on the left?

 

I am not sufficiently conversant with this line of debate to have strong opinions, yet I share the sense that criticisms of Gabbard from several ideological perspectives has been exaggerated, dogmatic, and unbalanced. She deserves the chance to present herself as a presidential candidate without political smears. There are enough positive features of her candidacy and background to make me conditionally favorable, but this could change if she takes a hard line on ‘Islamic radicalism’ or Iran that some of her critics condemn her for. At this point only a wait and see attitude is constructive. In a search for much needed unity, looking back to the failures of 2016, the Democratic Party would do well not to adopt hostile attitudes towards any candidate who seriously challenges Trump’s hateful national chauvinism and the Cold War hangover that I label ‘the bipartisan consensus’ (that is, neoliberalism plus global militarism plus special relationships with Middle Eastern autocrats). Gabbard mounts such a challenge to a degree that compares favorably to her Democratic rivals for the nominations

5. Which group of politicians and sets of voters identify more with Gabbard in your view, sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party or Rand Paul and advocates of libertarianism. I fear the latter.

 

It is too soon to tell, although you raise a troublesome possibility. In my view, at this stage, I regard Gabbard as similar in appeal to that of Sanders with a more troubling mixture of positions offset or balanced by her war/peace emphasis, and her readiness to learn from experience and to give voice to independent views. These positions may collide with both the current liberal outlook and with the national security consensus, which although anti-Trump, has kept the Cold War mentality alive and well as the operative worldview of both of the two established political parties as well as of the deep bureaucratic state. In this latter sense, there is some resemblance to the positions taken by Rand Paul, his willingness to stand alone and his ad hoc anti-militarism, but her attitude toward social issues seems distinctly anti-libertarian to me, making such comparisons misleading and unfair.

 

In general, I remain sympathetic with the Gabbard candidacy. I find it refreshing that a young and energetic woman from Hawaii who is a practicing Hindu is running for the presidency at this time. To be sure she has baggage, not least of which is her apparent uncritical reaction to Modi, the autocratic leader of India. Before judging Gabbard we should keep in mind that the other more promising candidates each have serious blemishes with respect to their past or their current policy posture. I think at this early stage of the political campaign it is well to let many flowers bloom, and observe closely which wilt. My guess is that Tulsi Gabbard will fare well as the candidates come before the public to state their arguments for gaining support of the American voting public, but less well with the monied special interests. If this is so, it exposes the plutocratic character of American national politics more than it does the strength or weakness of a given political figure.

 

Some say Gabbard is too young, too far from the American mainstream, and too exotic in background to become a credible candidate, that she has faded from view even before ever being fully seen. Let’s hope this sort of judgment is overridden by a surge of appreciation for Tulsi Gabbard’s promise and potential.

 

 

 

Worrying About Huawei: Is China Winning the G5 Race?

20 Feb

[Prefatory Note:The following post contains my responses to questions posed by Sputnik News Agency a few days ago. The effort to warn European countries not to use equipment from the Chinese telecom giant, Huawei, is part warning and part threat. It claims to be a matter of security, but seems like an effort to avoid the competitive challenge posed by the superior technology of Huawei by claiming a threat to the security of European countries because China will be able to engage in unauthorized data surveillance. Waiting for American counterpart technology is a way of saying our surveillance will be less of a problem in the future than would a comparable Chinese capability. Underneath, one wonders whether this is a matter of protecting American business interests. In any event,

It is, at best, unusual for an American Secretary of State to warn foreign governments in a public speech about a specific foreign company.]

 

 

Worrying About Huawei: Is China Winning the G5 Race?

 

Sputnik: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned European countries on Monday that using technology from Huawei could hurt their relationship with the United States. Speaking in Hungary, the first stop in a five-nation European tour, Pompeo said the United States has an obligation to alert other governments to the risks of building networks with equipment from the Chinese telecommunications giant.

1. What is your response such statements? Do you consider such steps diplomatically appropriate?

 

We cannot take Mr. Pompeo’s statements at face value, and must consider several lines of possible explanation.

First of all, what is the basic motivation for such warnings to European countries with respect to Huawei? Is it primarily economic or political? If economic, it is a matter of gaining leverage for American and maybe European competitors of Huawei. It should be realized in this connection that Huawei mobile phones have been almost totally excluded from the American market on the basis of what is probably a specious argument, namely, that it gives China a backdoor entry to private communications among Americans. In this sense, the issue is really about economic competition with regard to the lucrative 5G network being currently constructed on a country by country basis, with the American complaint being disguised as one of security. Highly relevant is the fact that U.S. companies are reported to be one or two years behind Huawei’s 5G technological capabilities.

Even if it is political, in part, endangering privacy, encroaching on national sovereignty, and giving China some potential geopolitical advantages, the argument is slanted and disingenuous.

 

Even if it is political, in part, endangering privacy, encroaching on national sovereignty, and giving China some potential geopolitical advantages, the strong impression is that Pompeo is worried about China gaining influence in Europe at the expense of the United States. Pompeo’s argument is, at best, slanted and disingenuous.

The US, as the Snowden disclosures showed several years ago, is engaged in by far the largest mega-data collection operation going on in the world, and there is no reason to think that it has abandoned such efforts to control global surveillance capabilities.

 

I believe Pompeo’s warning that if Hungary and other governments in Europe do business with Huawei on the 5G network it would become “more difficult for us to partner with you” is both a political and economic attempt to discourage normal dealing with this Chinese company. It also tells the peoples and governments of Europe that are better off being vulnerable to American 5G penetration than to Chinese pernetration.

 

This kind of threat diplomacy is rather normal in international relations, at least behind closed doors, although it is not consistent with seeking friendly overall international relations. During the Trump presidency what has usually been discussed discreetly and non-provocatively in the past is now shouted from the rooftops. Such a crude diplomacy naturally raises global tensions, and gives rise to retaliatory threats and countermoves. It is not surprising, then, to learn that there are rumors of Chinese responses, threatening the operations of American companies doing business in China.

 

As for the alleged American concerns about the privacy rights of Europeans and the sanctity of national sovereignty, an element of hypocrisy is present. Surely, the United States has for decades engaged in extensive surveillance operations globally that pose grave threats to privacy and sovereign rights of all countries, including its friends and allies. To complain about China is to give the false impression that other political actors in the West have not pushed the boundaries of technology precisely to gain intelligence advantages and possible leverage for intervention in the internal affairs of other countries to the extent that they possess the technological capacity to do so. As with recent complaints about influencing foreign elections, the U.S. Government objects to practices that it has long and extensively relied upon to spread its influence in violation of the sovereign rights of foreign nations. Such habitual practice does not make it justifiable, but it does undercut a posture of outrage and innocence.

 

These considerations should be understood in any adequate evaluation of Pompeo’s warning about Huawei.

 

 

  1. How are the EU states likely to react? Will they shun away from using Huawei technology?

 

It is very difficult to anticipate how the states in Europe will react, and whether this reaction will be a unified EU response or depend on economic and political assessments made by each European government. There are current indications, for instance, of an internal conflict in the Czech Republic as between its intelligence agency that has conveyed warnings similar to those of Pompeo and with the Czech president, Milos Zeman, who seeks to avoid trouble with China over such concerns because he fears it might spoil present positive commercial and diplomatic relations.

 

On a geopolitical plane, especially in an EU or NATO context, this competitive view of 5G as between China and the United States, creates a situation of fundamental choice for Europe. In view of Trump’s rather dismissive approach to the traditional core alliance relations, the EU and the main governments in Europe are given an opportunity to send Washington two crucial messages: first, ‘the Cold War is over, we will seek greater national and regional independence in pursuing our interests;” secondly, “don’t take our friendship and solidarity for granted any loner or we will go elsewhere, and there are places to go.”

 

There is finally the underlying question of technology. Is Huawei ahead of the game, and likely to stay there, making it advantageous for Europe to be linked with this Chinese company rather than waiting around for an uncertain equivalent development by American companies? Are there European potential competitors for the supply of this technology that would be more reliable and beneficial with respect to maximizing Europe’s future private and public sector interests. Such European capabilities with regard to G5 network, repairs, and supplies might also give the EU and its members an option of equidistance diplomacy, being neither dependent upon or vulnerable to pressure exerted. by either Beijing or Washington.

 

In effect, there are many issues that remain to be interpreted and commented upon in relation to Pompeo’s rather unusual statements in Hungary. His remarks need also to be connected with the recent detention of Chief Financial Officer of Huawei and daughter of the CEO, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada on several charges, including stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies leading to an American formal request for extradition.

 

 

 

 

A Response to Heikki Patomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

16 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The following post is my commentary on an essay by Heikki Patomiki, a leading Finnish scholar who has devoted his career to working on the normative frontiers of international relations: especially the struggle for global democracy. Here he explores and cautiously advocates a civil society global effort to establish a world political party in a form appropriate to global conditions and with the overriding goal of the enhancement of the individual and collective wellbeing of humanity. Professsor Patomaki’s essay and the range of comments, including mine, can be read by clicking this link  https://www.greattransition.org/publication/roundtable-world-party

This interaction was sponsored by the Great Transition Initiative of the Tellus Institute, which is notable for its emphasis on the crucial nexus between praxis and theory. My comment is below, but the others develop a variety of responses, pro and con, the proposed undertaking of establishing a world political party.]

 

 

A Response to Heikki Paomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

 

I have long admired the “visionary realism” that has been at the core of Heikki Patomäki’s scholarly contributions to the struggle for a peaceful, democratic, sustainable, and just world order. It is “visionary” because Patomäki depicts a future for humanity that exceeds the limits of the feasible, and seems guided by what is necessary(in responses to challenges) and what is desirable(with respect to values and opportunities). In addition, he writes with lucidity, considers impediments, and takes seriously skeptical objections to what he proposes. It is a form of “realism” because Patomäki takes account of what is real by way of threats to human wellbeing, and makes use of experience with other radical global reformist projects as a basis for assessing the plausibility of his own conjectures and proposals. All of these positive qualities are present in this essay putting forward the case for taking steps now to establish the first ever world political party.

As I read Patomäki, his point of departure is to affirm as a world order imperative the urgent need for “a fundamental shift from the dominant national mythos to a global worldview.” Without quibbling about choice of words, I think what he has in mind is less a “shift” than the emergence of a global worldview with the political traction needed to address the global-scale problems that he enunciates. The existential point of departure is the interconnectedness of every individual on the planet, no matter how diversely situated in relation to class, race, occupation, and political milieu in the face of such mounting global risks as are associated with “ecological crises and weapons of mass destruction.” Patomäki attributes the dysfunctional response patterns to these shared risks to the prevailing national mythos and its political manifestations in a world order system dominated by territorial sovereign states. A world political party, generated by activist initiatives of civil society, could in Patomäki’s view become the vehicle to facilitate a global transformation that would offer the peoples of the world a path toward risk reduction resulting from a more appropriate administration of planetary activity in all policy domains. Such a transformative process would become manifest in a more functionally and normatively appropriate institutionalization of political life than the present reliance on the zombie national mythos, that is, a system that persists long after its functionality has deteriorated. Patomäki believes that a world political party would become a vital force in giving credibility to a global mythos responsive to the challenges and opportunities of planetary interconnectedness.

Even taking account of the limits of coverage in a short essay, I have some problems with the way in which the world political party is situated in the historical present. I would have liked to see some greater diagnostic emphasis on geopolitics and neoliberal capitalism as obstacles to global transformation and as oppositional to the formation of a politically relevant world political party. Geopolitics is important because hierarchies of power and wealth embedded in the established order suppress any realist risk assessment process, as well as make inequalities of benefits and burdens override the commonalities of human interconnectedness. Similarly, neoliberal capitalism operates according to a transnational logic that accentuates many dimensions of inequality, and is oriented in ways at odds with both the national and global mythic landscapes that understandably preoccupy Patomäki.

A further question I have is a matter of resonance and receptivity. I have the sense that Patomäki’s version of visionary realism is at once too late and too early. It is too late in the sense that there existed greater fluidity with respect to world order arrangements either in 1945 at the end of World War II or in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War. In 1945, there was a heightened sense of world risk due to the recent atomic attacks on Japanese cities and what that prefigured for future warfare. Civil society would have been receptive to bold initiatives by national governments, but it was dormant with respect to envisioning shaping the future by forming a world political party that embraced an agenda based on the survivability of the species and the benefits of a cooperative world order reflecting a global ethos. After the Cold War, there was a sigh of relief, but the absence of any relevant kind of transformative energy directed at dramatic risk reduction and globally oriented problem-solving. Political leaders missed this golden opportunity, and the multitudes were pacified by consumerism and materialist aspirations.

We are now experiencing a set of global realities that seems devoid of the missed opportunities of these two occasions in recent international history when the stars of destiny seemed more favorably aligned for the promotion of visionary realist undertakings, including the formation and rapid support for a grassroots type of world political party. What the present conjuncture of forces most offers to those who share, as I do, Patomäki’s insistence that we need a fundamental shift toward globality of consciousness and action is as yet difficult to grasp, let alone endow with transformative agency. I would emphasize two unheralded features of our global circumstance, perhaps in accord with “Big History” that Patomäki calls to our attention: First, the ease of communication and networking associated with the digital age where globally constituted projects of this sort can be interactively shaped without requiring physical face-to-face meetings; secondly, the very adversity of circumstances and the severity of global risks is giving rise to a radical populist consciousness, which while still at the margins, contains the ingredients of a political platform that does justice to the needs and values that should inform a world political party from its inception. This radical consciousness can be thought of as an acknowledgement of the first bioethical crisis in human history, which raises questions about whether the species has a collectivewill to survive.

I find these kinds of general considerations of our human circumstances more illuminating than the sort of encouragement that is derived from the successful movement for the establishment of the International Criminal Court or the ongoing efforts of the Democracy in Europe Movement. It is true that these projects show that transnational political undertakings can work to some extent even in the face of resurgent nationalism, but I do not find such undertaking as having relevant transformative agency or potential.

I would like to end with an aside associated with the failures of the Arab Spring in 2011. Having been in Cairo just after the extraordinary mass nonviolent uprising that led to the downfall of a cruel, autocratic regime in Egypt, I witnessed the excitement and hope of the people at the time. I also witnessed the consequences of not having a clear agreed-upon vision of what needs to be done, a political platform that sets forth a program. My fear associated with promoting a world political party at this time is that it is ideologically premature. This is not a call for a blueprint, as I agree with Patomäki that such specificity would be shaped as the party took form, and in response to inputs from participants around the world. Yet there is a need for more concreteness regarding capitalism, geopolitics, international law, human rights, climate change, nuclear disarmament, and the UN than is contained either in Patomäki’s fine essay or, more significantly, in the climate of progressive world opinion. Until that degree of clarification and consensus is present, I fear that disillusionment would be the likely outcome of any present effort to move forward with the formation of a world political party. Our time can be better spent otherwise to satisfy the urgent challenges of a transformative global agenda, although putting the ideaof a world political party in the progressive imaginary is a constructive contribution. What I find questionable at this point is any serious effort, given present realities around the world, to actualize the idea.

 

 

Denouncing Socialism, Practicing Fascism

8 Feb

Denouncing Socialism, Practicing Fascism

 

With Trump the silences are usually as expressive of his intentions as the incoherent dogmas. Indeed, his Second State of the Union Address (delivered in Congress on February 5, 2019) gives a clear insight into the political mentality of tormentor in chief when it comes to the human condition. The speech contains many tensions, but none more illuminating than his denunciation of socialism and his silence about the resurgence of fascist tendencies throughout the world, and not least in his own country, which he several times anointed that night as the best the world has ever known. He not the first leader to make such a claim, of course, but he is undoubtedly the least qualified, and his own two years of faulty leadership has contributed to making America far less admired, and far more feared, than previously.

 

His diatribe against socialism had at least two targets: First, the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party now personified by the more radical recently elected women in the House of Representatives, especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the declared female presidential aspirants, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Tulsi Gabbard. And secondly, the Madura elected government in Venezuela, which he alleged failed because of its ‘socialist policies.’ Trump contends that these policies transformed Venezuela from being a wealthy example to the rest of Latin America into a society of ‘abject poverty and despair.’

 

 

When it comes to the United States, to contend that there is an incipient ideological war between the Democrats as the party of socialism and the Repuiblicans as the party of capitalism, Trump seems to be launching a more virulent version of the Cold War than what existed during the period of rivalry with the Soviet Union. It also overlooks the persistence of the toxic ‘bipartisan consensus,’ that owes its zombie-like persistence to the Faustian Bargains struck with both political parties that merge support for global militarism with that of capitalism as reinforced by the dysfunctional ‘special relationship’ to Israel. There is no current intimations that the Democratic Party will field a ticket for the 2020 elections that will challenge this consensus.

 

The media liberal mainstream, as might be expected, ignores the bipartisan consensus that has by now inscribed anti-socialism in its digital DNA. A typical reaction is that of Chris Cuomo, the unabashedly anti-Trump CNN news program host who warns the Democrats not to fall into the supposed trap set by Trump. Cuomo advises the Democrats that they would be making a potentially fatal mistake if they would be so foolish as to try to defend ‘socialism’ as a desirable option for American voters.

 

Of course, the more progressive views articulated by these Democratic presidential hopefuls, as well as by Stacey Adams who the DNC wisely chose for a formal response to Trump’s speech, is not socialism in any meaningful sense. It does not propose shrinking the private sector by shifting the ownership of the mainsprings of production and services to the public sector, that is, to government control. Trump, knowingly or more likely unknowingly, confused ‘socialism’ with a politics of empathy for the American people. Empathy under current conditions means such humane policies as affordable health care for all, highly subsidized higher education and student debt relief, equitable taxation, environmental and climate change sanity, drastically reduced military spending, and vastly increased infrastructure investment. I would add to this list an end to regime change geopolitics, a reduced global military profile, and an upgrading of respect for international law and international institutions, especially the United Nations.

 

 

To denounce socialism as unamerican is something never done even during the ideological hysteria of McCarthyism that disgraced the nation at the height of the Cold War. Trump’s language seems intended to brand those who espouse socialism by name or even by their platforms as subversive adherents of a faith alien to American values and traditions: “..we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.”

It may be helpful to recall that during the Great Depression the Socialist Party under the leadership of Norman Thomas was a respected and formidable presence on the American political landscape, widely praised by many non-socialist for pushing New Deal Democrats to adopt more compassionate policies toward the poor and unemployed precisely to weaken the appeal of socialist alternatives. For those of us old enough to remember, there are few active in American political life then or now more imbued with American values and our better angels than Normal Thomas. To assert, as Trump did, that socialism is unamerican is to insult the memory of this great American.

 

Perhaps, most serious of all, was the seemingly deliberate misidentification of the ideological threat actively undermining authentic American political, economic, social, and cultural traditions, institutions, reputation, and morale. It is the fascist threat that is real, and the socialist alternative that is contrived by Trump for inflammatory and insidious purposes. The celebration of militarism, bonding with autocratic oppressors around the world, the demonizing of immigrants and asylum seekers, war mongering toward Iran, challenging the rule of law, and ultra-nationalist versions of patriotism that are threatening the future of America, not fascism. The perversion of values and the neglect of the real interest of the American people was notably symbolized by several striking silences in Trump’s long speech: he found no time to include a sentence about climate change, gun violence, and predatory warfare in Yemen.

 

If we are to restore humane republicanism in America it will require not only a repudiation of Trump and Trumpism but also a rejection of the bipartisan consensus and deep state geopolitics. This means we must hope that the next American president will be a truly progressive female candidate who breaks free of the consensus and is not embarrassed by an ardent embrace of social and political justice for allAmericans and a global outlook that is responsive to urgent long-term challenges (climate change, nuclear disarmament topping the list) and to the immediate crises calling for international cooperation of an unprecedented scale, a move in the direction of moral globalization(migration, famine, crimes against humanity).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future of statehood: Israel & Palestine

3 Feb

[Prefatory Note: Interview Questions of a Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Craveiro on behalf of Correio Braziliense: (Jan. 30, 2019) on current prospects of Palestinian national movement.]

 

Fatah, Hamas, the Future of Statehood and Peace Prospects

 

1. With the dissolution of government do you see any risk for unity among all Palestinian factions? Why? 

 

It is difficult at this stage to interpret the significance of the recent dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which serves as the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank and enjoys formal recognition as the representive of the Palestinian people internationally. The PLO continues to exist as an umbrella framework to facilitate coordination among Palestinian political factions aside from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have never been associated with the PLO. It seems that dissolution of the PLC is related to the prospect of new leadership of the Palestinian Authority, especially the speculation that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas will soon retire, and be replaced. It is also possible that this move is an attempt by the PA to create a stronger basis for creating an actual Palestinian state in an atmosphere in which the Oslo diplomatic framework has been superseded.

 

Without the prospect of a diplomatic resolution of the conflict by negotiation between the parties, the Abbas leadership is trying to establish for Palestine the status of an international state by way of its own unilateral moves. Israel on its side it trying by its unilateral initiatives to create its own expanded state that extends Israeli sovereignty over all or most of the West Bank, which remains legally ‘occupied’ despite a variety of fundamental encroachments on Palestinian autonomy. In other words we are witnessing contradictory moves by both Israel and Palestine to achieve their goals by unilateral political moves rather than through international diplomacy under U.S. auspices based on a negotiated agreement reflecting compromise. In the process both the PA and Israel are in the process abandoning earlier pretensions of democratic governance. This move by Abbas to dissolve the PLC is most accurately interpreted as the further de-democratization of Palestine, and the establishment of a more robust autocratic governing structure that does not inspire trust among many Palestinians and their supporters throughout the world. The failure, for instance, of the PA to back BDS is indicative of the gap between global solidarity initiatives and the timid leaders provided the Palestinian national movements by Abbas leadership in Ramallah.

 

2. How do you analyze the role of Hamas inside the political life of Palestinian people? 

 

It is again difficult to be too definite about the role of Hamas at this time. This is partly because Hamas is likely affected by the changes in the tactics and leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which continues to be internationally regarded as the sole representative of Palestinian interests while being subject to criticism and rejection by large segments of the Palestinian people, especially those spread about the world by being refugees, exiles, and displaced persons., For some time, Hamas has indicated its willingness to agree to a long-term truce (or hudna)with Israel lasting up to 50 years, but only on condition that Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza, and ends the blockade that has been used to deny the entry and exit of goods and people to Gaza ever since 2007. It is possible that a different leadership in Israel as a result of the April elections will produce a new Israeli approach to Gaza, which could include some kind of grant of autonomy or even independence as one type of alternative policy or intensified coercion that sought to destroy Hamas and its military capabilities as another.

 

What remains clear is that Hamas, as opposed to the PA, has been a consistent source of resistance to Israeli occupation and expansionism, although evidently willing to pursue its goals by political tactics rather than armed struggle. It is Israel that has insisted that Hamas is a terrorist organization, refusing even to consider establishing a ceasefire regime of indefinite length. It is also the case that Hamas is rooted in Islamic beliefs and practices, which are resented by secularized Muslims and non-Muslim Palestinians. This tension has erupted at various times in the course of the decade of Hamas governance in Gaza. Nevertheless, Hamas has popular support throughout occupied Palestine, and one explanation for the failure of the PA to hold elections is the anticipation that Hamas would likely be the winner, or at least make a strong showing.

 

3. Do you consider Hamas a danger for peace efforts building by Palestinian factions with Israel in future? Why?

There is no doubt that if the Palestinian Authority persists in excluding Hamas from participation in shaping the future of the national movement that the friction of recent years will continue, if not intensify. It is also possible that any new, post-Abbas PA leadership will try with increased motivation to find an embracing political framework that brings together the secular factions with those of religious persuasion, and especially Hamas. If the Trump ‘deal of the century’ is made public in coming months, and is treated as a serious proposal that is accepted as a basis of negotiation by the Palestinian Authority, then it would test whether the Palestinian people will be represented in a manner that joins in a single political actor secular and religious forces. The people of Gaza have suffered for many years, the conditions of poverty and environmental hazards are becoming more severe, with shortages of medical supplies, health hazards from polluted drinking water, astronomical levels of unemployment, and the absence of nutritious food creating emergency conditions for the entire civilian population of Gaza of about two million. Given these realities it is almost certain that Hamas will seek to pursue a more viable future for Gaza, but as the Great March of Return has demonstrated in recent months, the population, despite years of demoralization, retains a strong will to resist oppressive conditions of Israel domination.

 

      4-Until now all efforts to overcome the division between Hamas and Fatah didn’t work. Why? Why is it difficult to achieve a common sense?

I believe the principal reasons that all attempts to achieve a sustainable accommodation tween Hamas and Fatah have failed relate to both ideology and questions of trust. This failure has also been a consequence of Israel’s overt and covert feverish efforts to promote Palestinian disunity and fragmentation. Israel’s emphasis on a politics of fragmentation in addressing the Palestinian challenge is expressed in many ways, including establishing separate governance regimes for the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, as well as for the Palestinian minority living in Israel and the refugees in neighboring countries.

 

On ideology there are two main sources of division between Fatah and Hamas—the secular/religious divide, and the greater readiness of Fatah to accept and legitimate the permanence of the Israeli state than is Hamas. For Hamas Israel remains a usurper of Palestine, and such a illegitimate state that can never be formally accommodated, although as suggested, Hamas is prepared to accept a truce of long duration without altering its underlying claims to exercise sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine. If such a truce was to be agreed upon by Israel it would amount to a de facto acceptance of Israel, and vice versa. If the truce held, it could lead to some kind of indefinite extension that would allow both governing leaderships to feel that they achieved their primary goals, in other words, a win/win outcome.

 

Fatah, at least since 1988, as well as the PLO, has been willing to normalize relations with Israel and to agree to a territorial division of Palestine along the 1967 boundaries, provided that the arrangement provided for the retention of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. As matters now stand, it is almost unimaginable that Israel would accept the Hamas approach to a future relationship, and given the continuing expansion of the settlements it seems unlikely that Israel would agree to the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions, that is, even if Hamas did not exist.

 

It is quite likely that Israel would seek to impose a one-state solution by annexing the West Bank in a manner similar to their annexation of the city of Jerusalem. The unresolved tensions between Fatah and Hamas are in my judgment less fundamental than is Israel’s increasing clarity about rejecting any negotiated compromise on such core issues as territory, refugees, and Jerusalem. Israel seems to regard the present situation as one in which it feels almost no pressure to compromise, and instead that it is possible for Tel Aviv to push forward toward an end of the conflict by claiming victory, a view endorsed by Zionist extremists and seemingly supported by the Trump diplomacy to date. I find these perspectives to be shortsighted and unsustainable. Even should the Palestinian leadership is forced given present realities to accept a political surrender, such an induced outcome will produce a ceasefire not a lasting peace. In this post-colonial age denying the Palestinian people their fundamental right of self-determination is almost certain to be unable to withstand the tests of time.

 

 

 

        5- In your opinion what is the recipe or formula to make all Palestinians join together in pursuing common goal, which is the establishment of Palestine State?

 

I have partially given my answer to this question in earlier responses to your questions. In essence, I am arguing that given the present outlook in Israel, as well as regional and global considerations,

It is not possible to envision the establishment of a Palestinian state even if Palestinians were able to achieve unity and went on to accept the 1967 boundaries excluding the Israeli settlement blocs along the border. Israel no longer hides its intention to expand its state boundaries to encompass the whole of ‘the promised land,’ considered a biblical entitlement within the dominant view of the Zionist project.

 

As earlier suggested, Israel will do its best to disrupt Palestinian efforts to overcome the cleavages in their movement so as to keep the Palestinian movement as fragmented as possible. As long as the United States continues its unconditional support Israel seems able to ignore the adverse character of international public opinion, as exhibited at the UN and elsewhere. Israel makes little secret of the absence of any  pressure to seek a political compromise. Ever since the 1990s a political compromised has been assumed to mean an independent  Palestinian state. Only recently, as Israel’s expansionism has made a Palestinian state a diplomatic non-starter and even a political impossibility has the idea of a single state embracing both peoples gained traction.

 

This shift to a one-state approach has taken to two forms: a single democratic secular state in which the expansionist goals of Zionism are renounced, and no longer would a Jewish state as such exist. Jews would have to accept equality of treatment within such a non-ethnic state, although the establishment of a Jewish homeland might be possible. The alternative single statehood model would be to absorb all Palestinians into a single Jewish state of Israel, perhaps conferring full or more likely partial citizenship rights to Palestinians. Both of these statehood models are post-diplomatic, as is the PA effort to establish a state of its own while enduring a prolonged occupation.

 

The Israeli version of a single state outcome of the struggle is more in keeping with present realities than is the Palestinian version. Such as assessment also gains strength by noting that the main Arab neighbors of Israel, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn support for Palestinian national aspirations, and are actively cooperating with Israel, giving an Arab priority to the containment of extremist threats to their governments and to their sectarian rivalry with Iran. All in all, the regional and global geopolitical trends of late remove almost all incentives on the Israeli side to do anything other than to manage the favorable status quo until the moment arrives when it seems right to declare and claim that the boundaries of New Israel encompass of the entire territory managed between the two world wars as the British Mandate of Palestine.

 

As matters now stand it is utopian to anticipate a Palestinian state or a single secular democratic state, but these conditions that seem currently so favorable to Israel are unstable and deceptive, and unlikely to last. There are signs that a position of balanced support as between  Israel and Palestine is gaining strength in the West, especially among the American public. Account should also be taken of a growing global solidarity movement that has become more militant, and exerts greater pressure on Israel, especially by way of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS). In this respect, conditions could change rapidly as happened in South Africa in the early 1990s against all expectations and expert opinion at the time. Israel is increasing regarded as an apartheid state, which the Knesset itself virtually acknowledged by enacting in 2018 the Basic Law of the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Finally, it should be appreciated that by virtue of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid is classified as a crime against humanity. The experience of South Africa, although very different in its particular, is instructive with respect to the untenability over time of apartheid structures of control over a resisting ethnicity. Whatever the governance arrangement, Palestinian resistance will produce a cycle of insurgent and repressive violence, and this can provide stability for Israel only so long as its apartheid regime remains in place. If the apartheid regime is dismantled it would be accompanied by the end of any claim to impose a Jewish state on the Palestinian people.