Archive | Israel/Palestine RSS feed for this section

Once More: Blog Gatekeeping Dilemmas

22 May

 

 

Whenever Palestinian grievances become prominent, as they have recently due to the U.S. embassy move and defiant opening in Jerusalem, which coincided in time and outrage with the massacre at the Gaza border, Zionist nerves grow frayed, insults fly, and nasty moves are made to shift the conversation as far away from both the grievances and Israeli brutality as possible. In the humble setting of my blog apologists for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity invite us to read their comments that blame Hamas for the shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Since Hamas, as everyone knows, is ‘a terrorist organization’ and that alone is supposed to end discussion. Of course, such tactics of closure take no notice of the fact that Hamas was encouraged by Washington to participate in the 2006 elections by Washington, and then was punished for winning internationally supervised elections.

 

After that Hamas quietly tried to urge Washington to take steps to avoid violence in and surrounding Gaza by diplomatic initiatives that would promote co-existence. Hamas put forward in subsequent years a number of long-term ceasefire proposals that Israel left unanswered. If Hamas ignored comparable Israeli initiatives it would be severely denigrated by governments and the media. When violence involving Gaza has erupted, it has usually been Israel that has not only initiated major attacks, but has done so in a one-sided manner inflicting massive death and devastation on the Palestinian civilian population by taking full advantage of their military dominance. For Israel it has obviously been useful to keep Hamas in a terrorist box, which has kept a bright green light shining in the IDF direction.

 

The second argument made by Israeli apologists is to contend that every country has a right to defend itself, and when Israel repeatedly shoots, kills, and maims large numbers of unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition it is within its rights–acting in lawful self-defense. Such an abstract argument is only possible by either ignoring the true nature of the conflict or pretending that Israel, with its vast experience in controlling hostile demonstrations, has no alternative better way to address these unruly Palestinians who have been locked in captivity for decades and denied the most elemental human rights. Such a line of argument should be shameful, yet isn’t treated as such by mainstream media. Imagine the public outcry if East German border guards has used IDF sniper tactics at the Berlin Wall to repel enraged West German demonstrators (with far less justification for desperate anger than the Palestinians), it could have meant war, and certainly would have produced widespread denunciations of Communist barbarism.

 

With reluctance I have blocked such comments, as unhelpfully detached from reality. My actions have elicited especially the anger of Fred Skolnik, Mike71, and some others who have left the website. Fred and Mike have been more persistent, hiding their contempt for me long enough from time to time so as to regain temporary access to the blog, pleading free speech and with comedic absurdity, claiming that I block or filter their comments because I fear that the truth that they have to tell will expose the lies I tell or to avoid their arguments that are so convincing to the objective mind as to make mincemeat of mine.

 

There are some well funded major websites that serve loyally as strident voices for the Zionist right, such as Gatestone Institute, a regular outlet for Alan Dershowitz, and the Middle East Forum, featuring the views of Daniel Pipes. These websites would no more dream of publishing my comments than would Nikki Haley invite me over for dinner. I should point out, in a burst of liberal self-righteousness, that I have also mostly excluded comments that do express extreme anti-Zionist, anti-Israel views that appear to me to cross the line of political criticism and enter with their language the domain of ‘killing fields.’ Exactly where that line should be drawn is not easy for me, although it is obvious for my critics who claim I am easy on those that hate Israel while harsh on its defenders. I can only respond by saying “not true.”

 

It is never congenial for me to play this filtering role. I would make a terrible censor. I waver from time to time, which lead to inconsistent decisions, and sometimes disappoint friends as much as other times I anger my worst adversaries. My liberal, Habermasian inclinations are toward discourse and dialogue, and I am aware that restrictions, even if taken responsibly are a slippery slope. I confess also that I resent spending time reaching decisions about whether comments that stray close to the line of what I would call ‘inhumane apologetics’ (as in defending Israel’s shoot to kill or maim policies at the Gaza border) or involve defamatory attacks on my character, competence, motivations. Except in the most extreme cases it strikes me as a Hobson’s Choice: respond and futile engage or ignore and leave behind a trail of suspicion.  This same dilemma applies to invective directed at comment writers that express views similar to mine.

 

I know I have written along these lines in the past, dueling with my frustration, with some anger, and the debilitating feeling of being trapped in a fruitless exercise, and yet when the volume of blocked comments pile up from time to time, silence does not seem a good option. I am tempted at such intervals to stop comments altogether, thereby sidestepping the issue. I have so far resisted this temptation because despite some acute discomfort, on balance, I find most of the comments supportive and of great interest, containing independent insights, and offering constructive criticisms that I do my best to take into account in the future.

 

 

 

There is no conversation possible, especially as those who disagree are branded as showing their alleged hatred for Israel. As the principal target of such defamatory comments, I am particularly sensitive to the issue.

Advertisements

GAZA: Grief, Horror, Outrage, Remembering

15 May

[Prefatory Note: Slightly revised at the end.]

 

GAZA: Grief, Horror, Outrage, Remembering

 

GRIEF

 

How can one not feel intense grief for the young Palestinians who out of despair and fury joined the Great March of Return, and so often found death and severe injury awaiting them as they approached the border unarmed!!?

 

This was not a gratuitous event, or something that happened spontaneously on eitherside. After 70 years of Palestinian suffering, with no end of torment in sight, to show the world and each other their passion was what would be seen as normal, even admirable, demonstrating a spirit of resistance that endured after decades of repression, violence, humiliation, and denial of the most fundamental of rights. After 70 years of Israeli statehood, this violent confirmation of our worst fears and perceptions, seals a negative destiny for Israel as far as the moral eye can see.

 

 

HORROR

 

When exposed to such visual images of resistance and sniper violence the scene expresses the horror of burning steel rubbing against raw flesh. There is no way to grasp this particular cartography of risk, vulnerability, and security than to have recourse the language and imagery of horror. Such a sad narrative of horror will linger on both sides to haunt both collective and individual memories, but one with tragic pride, the other with repressed shame.

 

The horror was magnified by coinciding with obscene celebratory events in Jerusalem where Americans representing the Trump presidency, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and the American Ambassador, David Friedman, brought infamy to the United States by this unseemly display of indifference to crimes against humanity being unabashedly committed as they spoke. Such moral and political insensitivity will not and should not be forgotten.

 

 

OUTRAGE

 

Words are all we have, but they will do. As Thomas Merton taught some crimes

are situated in the domain of the unspeakable.

 

The occasions for outrage about the treatment of the Palestinian people are many, but the Israeli reaction to this Palestinian march reaches a new level of moral, political, and legal wretchedness. It recalls the cry of religious leaders of conscience in the last stage of the Vietnam War, expressed by their dutiful compilation of criminal acts of American violence committed in relatively defenseless Vietnam bearing the telling title—NOT IN OUR NAME.

 

As Jews, as Americans, as human beings, isn’t it about time to take a similar stand, and at least create symbolic distance between the perpetrators of these crimes and ourselves?

 

The feeble Israeli claims of its right of self-defense or attributing Palestinian martyrdom to Hamas are so shallow and lacking in credibility as to discredit further rather than provide justifications for this exhibition of homicidal violence on a massive scale not as isolated incident but as a series of arrogant reenactments.

 

 

REMEMERING

 

Not with words or argument, but with tears, and tears will not do.

 

Certainly as the Martyrdom of Gaza, and quite possibly seen as a kind of silent bonding by the Palestinian people with the African victims of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960) or the civil rights marchers at Selma (1965) but far worse!

 

From this darkness will come an as yet undisclosed inspiration.  

Interview: Middle East Turmoil: Israeli Massacre, Palestinian Grievances

3 Apr

The Middle East is Heating Up — Again: An Interview with Richard Falk (with C.J. Polychroniou)

 

[Prefatory Note: This is a somewhat modified text of an interview of two weeks ago conducted by the Greek journalist and author, C.J Polychroniou. Since then several developments have occurred, none more significant than the Return Home Land Day demonstrations of March 30, 2018. The original interview appeared in several online publications. The format is altered to make somewhat more reader friendly.]

 

CJP: Richard, let’s start with Donald Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there by May of this year. First, is this legal from the standpoint of international law, and, second, what are likely to be the long-term effects of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on the region as a whole?

 

RF: There is no question, Chronis, that Trump’s Jerusalem policy relating to recognition and the move of the American embassy is regionally and religiously provocative and disruptive, underscoring the abandonment by Washington of even the pretense of being a trustworthy intermediary that can be relied upon by both sides to work for a sustainable peace between the two peoples. Some critics of the initiative are saying that the U.S. is free to situate its embassy in Jerusalem, but the whole of Jerusalem isn’t Israel. The status of this holy city remains to be determined and East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, which for the present is considered to be an ‘occupied territory’ in international humanitarian law.

 

Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, which rests on the central proposition that an occupied territory should not be altered in any way that changes its status and character without the consent of the occupied society. It also is a unilateral rejection of a near unanimous international consensus, endorsed by the United Nations, that the future of Jerusalem should be settled by negotiations between the parties as a part of a broader peacemaking process. Israel had much earlier violated both international law and breached this international consensus by unilaterally annexing an enlarged Jerusalem, and declared that the whole city, within expanded boundaries, would be the ‘undivided, eternal capital’ of Israel. It is notable that the General Assembly on December 21, 2017 approved by an overwhelming majority of 128-8 (35 abstentions) a strong condemnation of the U.S. move on Jerusalem, with even America’s closest allies joining in this vote of censure.

 

It is difficult to predict the long-term consequences of this diplomatic rupture. It depends, above all, on whether the U.S. Government acts convincily to restore its claim to act as a conflict-resolving intermediary. The Trump administration continues to insist that it is working on a peace plan that will require painful compromises by both Palestine and Israel. Of course, given the unconditional alignment of Washington with Netanyahu’s views of Israel and the Palestinian future, as well as the orientation of those entrusted with drafting the plan, it is highly unlikely that even Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, generally accommodationist will be inclined to enter a diplomatic process that is virtually certain to be weighted so heavily in favor of Israel. Yet as many have come to appreciate, nothing is harder to predict than the future of Middle Eastern politics.

At the same time, Jerusalem has an abiding significance for both Islam and Christianity that makes it almost certain for the indefinite future that there will be formidable regional and civilizational resistance to subsuming Jerusalem under Israeli sovereign control.

 

******************

 

CJP: Israel appears bent on restricting Iran’s rising influence as a regional power in the Middle East. How far do you think the US can go in assisting Israel to contain Tehran’s strategy for empowering Shia’s?

 

Richard Falk: Israel and Saudi Arabia are both for different reasons determined to confront Iran, and quite possibly, initiate a military encounter with potentially widespread ramifications for the entire region, if not the world. A quick glance at the Syrian conflict suggests how complex and dangerous is this effort to destabilize the Iranian governing process, with the dual objectives of destabilizing the governing process mixed with the more ambitious goal of causing civil strife of sufficient magnitude as to produce a civil war, and ideally from the perspectives of Iran’s adversaries, regime change.

 

The Israeli adherence to this recklessness seems partly motivated by its overall security policy of seeking to weaken any country in the region that is hostile to its presence and has the potential military capability to threaten Israeli security and regional role in a serious manner. Israel has been so far successful in neutralizing each of its credible adversaries in the region (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria) with the exception of Iran. In this sense, Iran stands out as the last large unfinished item on Israel’s post-1967 geopolitical agenda. Israel’s real intentions are difficult to pin down, shifting with context and perceived opportunity. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders frequently manipulate the alleged Iranian threat to cause fear among Israelis. Their goal seems to be the mobilization of domestic support for adhering to an aggressive foreign policy. This manipulation panics many Israeli security specialists who express are more alert to the risks of an actual military confrontation with Iran than are political leaders.

 

Saudi motivations are quite different, associated with a fierce regional rivalry that is articulated in terms of a sectarian clash between Shia and Sunni Islam, aggravated by a concern that Iran’s influence increased as a result of the Iraq and Syrian Wars, which both seem to have outcomes favorable to Tehran. The sectarian rationale of the conflict seems intended to disguise the more fundamental explanation, which is that there is a power struggle between these two sovereign states to determine which one will achieve regional ascendancy. The sectarian explanation was also somewhat undermined by the intensity with which the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies used their financial and diplomatic resources to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt despite its strong Sunni identity. From the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 Tehran looked upon the monarchy governing Saudi Arabia as corrupt and decadent in the same manner as it regarded the Shah’s dynastic rule in Iran as politically illegitimate.

 

Your focus on how far the U.S. can go in restricting Iran’s influence is difficult to assess at this point. Trump’s virtual repudiation of the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program seems to express a commitment to join with Israel and Saudi Arabia to engage in coercive diplomacy, consisting of intensifying sanctions, covert operations to encourage internal opposition, and a variety of military threats. Where this will lead, if indeed it goes forward in defiance of the other parties to the agreement and almost all UN members, is anybody’s guess, but it is a highly irresponsible diplomatic gambit that risks a deadly ‘war of choice.’

 

Trump’s regional diplomacy, such as it is, has been most notable for giving even greater emphasis to the ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia than earlier American leaders. Even previously, under Obama, George W. Bush, and prior presidents, the subordination of American strategic interests and national values to this posture of unquestioning support, which is the operational significance of designating these links as special relationships.

 

 

 

CJP: Syria’s civil war not only continues unabated but the country has become a battlefield for the spread of the influence of various powers in the region, including Turkey and Russia. Do you see a way out of this mess?

 

Richard Falk: The Syrian War is among the most complex conflict patterns in the history of warfare. Not only is there an internal struggle for control of the Syrian state that has been waged by not one, but by several insurgent movements that are not even compatible with one another. There is also a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar against Iran, with Turkey playing a confusing role that sometimes seems guided by anti-Damascus goals but at other times is preoccupied with curtailing the Kurdish challenge. The various national struggles of the Kurds for autonomous rights, possibly independent political communities, threatens the territorial integrity of several Middle Eastern states, as well as Syria. In addition to all of this there are major multi-faceted and fluid Russian and American involvements on opposite sides, although not even this opposition is clear cut and consistent. For a time there was an almost collaborative effort to defeat ISIS and obtain a Syrian ceasefire, although the basic involvement has been to put Russia on the side of the Damascus government and the U.S. as aligned with the insurgencies.

 

Because the anti-ISIS dimension of the conflict is at odds with the anti-Damascus dimension, depending on the priority accorded to one rather than the other, alignments are contradictory and shifted over time. Sometimes precedence has been given to achieving regime-change in Damascus by removing Assad from power, and in such contexts, it was acknowledged silently that ISIS was the most effective military challenge on the ground being mounted against the Syrian government. At other times, the counterterrorist campaign against ISIS was given uppermost prominence, and there was even high-level indications that Washington was willing to live with the Assad regime, a position given added credence recently due to the success of the Syrian government in quelling its opposition, making continued opposition futile politically and irresponsible ethically. Whenever pragmatism gained the upper hand, Russia and Iran were accepted as partners in these efforts to defeat and destroy ISIS.

 

All wars eventually come to an end, and I am sure Syria will not be an exception. Yet it difficult at present to project a solution that brings about more than a ceasefire, and even this kind of ending of what has become an orgy of senseless killing is highly elusive, as each of the many parties to the conflict jockeys violently for minor positional advantages to improve its bargaining leverage when the conflict enters some kind of negotiating phase. Although all wars end eventually, internal wars of this kind, especially with such complex regional and international aspects, can simmer for decades with no clear winner or loser as has been the case in the Philippines and Colombia. It seems as if at present the Syrian government believes it is on the verge of victory, and is pressing for an outcome in East Ghouta and Idlib such that it will not be expected to make significant concessions.

 

The best hope, which has been the case for several years, is that the various parties will recognize that the situation is indeed a mess that is causing mass suffering and widespread devastation without producing political gains. Yet translating that recognition into a formula that produces an end to the violence has so far proved futile and frustrating as each party sees the conflict from its partisan perspective of gain and loss.

 

 CJP: With the two-state solution having ceased long ago being a viable alternative, what are the most likely prospects for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations?

 

Richard Falk: The safest response is to anticipate a persistence of the present status quo, which involves continuing Israeli expansionism by way of the settlements and the persistence of the Palestinian ordeal, with some resistance in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and a growing global solidarity movement exerting pressure on Israel in the form of the BDS campaign. There may be some attention given to a variety of proposals to end the conflict by revived diplomacy. The Trump blustery promise of ‘a deal of the century’ has received skeptical attention, but its likely one-sidedness makes it almost certain to be a non-starter, especially as the Israeli government feels insufficient pressure to produce a peaceful solution based on a genuine political compromise and the Palestinian Authority remains unwilling to accept a demilitarized statelet as a token Palestine state, or even to participate in negotiations that are so obviously stacked against it. For public relations reasons, the international consensus clings to the two-state solution even though, as your question suggests, its viability has long been superseded by Israeli expansionist policies intended to fulfill the Zionist goal of making the boundaries of Israel coterminous with the whole of the Jewish biblical conception of the ‘promised land.’

 

There are other outcomes that are possible. Daniel Pipes has been promoting what he dubbed ‘the victory caucus,’ which posits Israel as the victor in the struggle to establish a Jewish state and Palestine the loser. Pipes argues that diplomacy has failed to resolve the conflict after years of effort, and hence that the only alternative is for one side to win and the other to lose if peace is to be established. He encourages Israel to escalate pressure on the Palestinians to make them see the light, accept the reality of a Jewish state, and move on. Such an initiative is distasteful to those who support the Palestinian struggle, and it seems oblivious to the claims of international law and international morality as these are generally understood in the 21st century when colonialism and ethnic nationalism are illegitimate forms of political control and the right of self-determination has become universally accepted as an inalienable right of an oppressed people in the circumstances of the Palestinians.

 

In my view, neither the two-state nor a consensual one-state outcome of the struggle is currently within the realm of political feasibility. We are necessarily speculating about future political scenarios within the domain of ‘political impossibility.’ Yet the impossible sometimes happens. Colonialism was successfully challenged, the Soviet Union collapsed, South Africa renounced apartheid, the Arab Spring erupted. In none of these cases did such occurrences seem possible except in retrospect. After the events, as expected, experts appeared who explained why these impossible developments were, if closely considered, inevitable.

 

In this spirit, I think it useful to acknowledge the limits of rational assessment, and either remain silent, or offer for consideration, a solution that is ‘impossible,’ yet ‘desirable’ from the perspective of humane values, which in this case involves a secure, equitable, and sustainable peace for both peoples that is, above all, sensitive to their equality and to their distinct, yet legitimate, claims to self-determination. I find it unimaginable to realize such a peace within the current structure of the Middle East, which consists of a group of artificial and autocratic states held together by varying mixtures of coercion, corruption, and external military assistance. Israel/Palestine peace cannot unfold in a benevolent manner without a structural return to the Ottoman framework of regional unity and ethnic community, and possibly Islamic caliphate, adapted to post-colonial realities. Such a stateless Middle East would reverse the harm inflicted on the region by the imposition of European territorial states through the infamous Sykes-Picot diplomacy.

 

 CJP: South Africa’s former apartheid system has been employed analytically by many to describe the current status of the state of Israel with regard to it’s treatment towards Palestinians. Indeed, it is from such a comparison that the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement was borne, but to what extent are the two cases compatible? South Africa was pretty much isolated by the early 1980s, but the same cannot be said about Israel today. In fact, Israel has even managed to expand recently it’s network of allies with Greece and the Sunni states. So, what are your thoughts on the comparison between the former South African apartheid regime and Israel and the effectiveness of the strategy of BDS?

 

RF: Your question raises two distinct issues: Is Israel responsibly regarded as an ‘apartheid state’? If so, is Israeli apartheid similar to South African apartheid?

 

Prior to responding to these questions, it seems helpful to clarify the status of the international crime of apartheid as it has evolved in international law, taking particular note of the fact that although the name and core idea is based on the specific condemnation of South African racism, the international crime is detached from this precedent. The essence of the international crime is any form of discriminatory domination by one race over another that relies on ‘inhuman acts’ to sustain its purposes. In this important sense, Israeli forms of domination over the Palestinian people may be quite different than the domination of whites over blacks in South Africa and yet constitute the international crime of apartheid. Treating apartheid as an international crime is based both on the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and on the 2002 Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court that categorizes ‘apartheid’ in Article 7 as one of eleven types of Crime Against Humanity.

 

In a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission, Virginia Tilley and I concluded that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people as a whole satisfy the requirements of the international crime of apartheid. Our conclusion is based on the view that Israel, to maintain an expanding Jewish state has subjected the Palestinian people to structures of subjugation and victimization that are sustained by excessive violence and other inhuman means. It was our judgment that Jews and Palestinians are distinct ‘races’ as the term is understood in international law. The scope of Israeli apartheid is based on coherent strategies designed to subjugate the Palestinian people whether they are living under occupation, the most obvious case, or as a discriminated minority within Israel or as residents in refugee camps in neighboring countries or living is a global diaspora as involuntary exiles. Each of these domains is connected with the Israeli efforts to ensure not only the prevalence of a Jewish state, but also a secure Jewish majority population that could only be achieved by a process of dispossession, dispersion, and fragmentation, as well as by the denial of any right of return.

 

South African apartheid was very different in its operation as compared to Israeli apartheid. For one thing, white South Africa was a minority demographic in the country and critically dependent on black labor. For another, the South African concept of law, citizenship, and democracy was delineated along racial lines, while Israel claims to be an inclusive democracy, although is more accurately understood to be an ethnocracy. Despite these fundamental differences, the core reality of ‘inhuman acts’ and ‘discriminatory structures of domination’ are present, although distinctly enacted, in both national settings.

 

Finally, it should be understood that such allegations of Israeli apartheid are made on the basis of academic study, and while they may be persuasive morally and politically, it is also true that until a valid tribunal passes judgment on such allegations, the legal status of the allegations remains unresolved, and is of course feverishly contested by Israel and its supporters.

 

CJP: Overall, what are the prospects for restored stability and a positive future for the countries in the Middle East?

 

RF: Without the intervention of unanticipated developments, the prospects are poor. On one level, the extreme turmoil in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and neighboring Libya are likely to continue and could spread to additional states. On a second level, the regional rivalries between Iran and a Saudi led coalition on the one side and Israel on the other, seem likely to intensify. On a third level, there is no plausible scenario for establishing a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. On a fourth level, with the reassertion of Russian engagement and the U.S. pursuit of a strategic agenda related to Israel, oil, political Islam, Iran, and nuclear nonproliferation, the region has as in the Cold War become a site of dangerous geopolitical maneuver and confrontation. On a fifth level, perhaps less serious than the others, is the sort of intra-regional tensions that have given rise to the Gulf Crisis centered upon the relations of Qatar to other Gulf countries, and to the role of Turkey as partner and antagonist, especially in relation to the continuing search of the Kurdish peoples for self-determination. Finally, on a sixth level, there is almost certain to be new expressions of internal strife and various extremisms that strike against the West, inviting retaliation, which will probably be accompanied by further migratory flows that aggravate relations between the Middle East and Europe.

 

The drastic and prolonged victimization of the Middle East also exhibits the failure of the West to understand, much less address, the root causes of conflict and chaos that have produced mass suffering and material deprivations throughout the region. These root causes can be traced back at least a century to the imposition of European style states on the region, reflecting colonial ambitions, in the aftermath of World War I and by way of a colonial pledge to the world Zionist movement to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then inhabited by a Jewish minority not larger than 6%. The other principal root cause related to the abundance of oil in several parts of the Middle East, which created rentier mentalities in development contexts and provided strong strategic motivations for intervention and control by global political actors.

 

In the end, this complexity joining the historical past to the tormented past creates a dismal set of prospects for the future of the Middle East. At this point, only paradoxical, although unrealistic, hopes for prudence and moderation can make the portrayal of the situation less gloomy than the evidence and trajectory suggest.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

After the Interview: A Postscript on the Land Day Massacre (‘Great March of Return’)

 

The precise statistics remain inconclusive, although there exists general agreement that more than 15 Palestinians were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli snipers stationed at the border with Gaza, another estimated 750 Palestinians were injured by ammo and rubber bullets resulting in an estimated total of 1,500 injuries, including from tear gas dropped on the largely unarmed demonstration. Whether the Israeli behavior should be viewed as ‘excessive force’ or ‘collective punishment,’ or both, is a matter for debate, but there is no question that the killings and firepower were in direct conflict with Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power as specified in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005 did not end the occupation from the perspective of international humanitarian law, but rather rearranged its management, with control and deployments being concentrated on the borders rather than throughout Gaza, and reinforced by periodic massive military incursions causing large numbers of civilian casualties and widespread devastation.

 

This latest interaction returned the Palestinian litany of grievances to the front pages of the world’s media often accompanied by gruesome pictures, but also revealed two kinds of gaps: between the Western and non-Western media and between the mainstream media response and that of civil society. The mainstream media worries that this is a public relations setback for Israel and urges restraint on both sides. In contrast, the activist segment of civil society condemns the Israeli tactics as constituting a massacre, and calls for an arms embargo. This distinction at the level of response is revealing, with the mainstream and almost every Western government pinning their public hopes on reviving negotiations aiming at a political solution based on the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestine. Engaged civil society has lost all faith in diplomacy under current conditions, believes only escalating nonviolent pressure can change the political climate sufficiently to make negotiations sufficiently promising to undertake, and then only if the two-state mantra is abandoned once and for all.

 

 

 

 

The Banality of Evil: Diverting the Palestinian Struggle

28 Mar

The Banality of Evil: Language Entrapment or Political Malevolence?

 

It seems a language game is being played. Or is it better understood as a political maneuver suffused with bad intentions?

 

Governments and international institutions with the wonders of modern information-gathering technology at their disposal continue to endorse the ‘two-state solution’ while civil society observers on all sides of the conflict mostly realize that as matters now stand Israel is adamant in its refusal to allow an independent Palestinian state to emerge and feels no pressure from the Trump White House to feel otherwise. Regardless of feelings, with an estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers living in unlawful settlements, the obstacles to creating the sort of Palestinian sovereign state that was supposed to emerge from Oslo diplomacy, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet Roadmap has long ago evaporated into thin air with hardly a whimper of outrage, or even disappointment, from even the Palestinian official representatives at the UN or the PLO directorate in Ramallah.

 

Daniel Pipes, always at the service of Zionist ambitions, has been beating the drums for an iron-fisted end game that resolves the conflict with the clarity of an acknowledged Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. As for the two-state solution, it is ironic that Pipes words ring truer than those that emanate from the capitals of the world, Speaking plainly, Pipes says “(t)he two-state solution, an absurdity at present (it means asking Israel to strengthen its mortal enemy) will make good sense after a Palestinian defeat.” One can only imagine the paltry reality of what Israeli ‘good sense’ will produce after a Palestinian surrender! But the question that interests me here is why Pipes can be clear eyed about a reality that the UN and inter-governmental discourse are unwilling to admit. Trump, forever the outlier, is so far forthright enough to refuse to endorse the two-state solution, thus breaking, at least implicitly, with the inter-governmental/UN consensus that other recent American presidents have all pledged to their utmost to implement. Of course, Trump’s defection is best explained as his docile readiness to take his marching orders from domestic Zionist maximalists who helped bankroll his campaign for the presidency.

 

On a recent visit to Israel for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, reaffirmed the zombie international consensus as if was an alive political option, declaring that the new German government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such an assertion can be better understood if decoded—the German government has no intention of exerting any pressure on Israel to reach a political compromise, and he seems to be urging the Palestinian leadership to adopt a similar line.

 

At the UN the harshest criticisms of Israel continue to be its tendency to hamper progress toward a two-state solution, which would be notable if anyone in the know believed it to be a viable political option. For instance, in the important Security Council censure of Israeli settlement behavior (SC 2334. 23 December 2016) the Preamble wrote these words of explanation: “Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.” “Dangerously imperiling,” as if the solution was not long since defunct. On what planet are these governmental representatives living? Or do these governments know better, but have secondary reasons for pretending differently?

 

In operative paragraph 3 of the General Assembly resolution (21 Deember 2017, A/ES-10/L.22) overwhelmingly condemning (128-9, with 35 abstentions) the provocative Trump move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to so relocate the American embassy, a similarly misleading assertion is made: the GA “Reiterates its call for reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.” I would be rude enough to say, ‘wake up, world,’ the two-state solution is not in the peace picture any longer, and maybe never really was.

 

The new call for peace that has real potential political traction, and is increasingly endorsed throughout civil society is ‘End Apartheid,” superseding the earlier effort to achieve by direct action an outcome that could be converted into a de facto Palestinian state: ‘End the Occupation.” For several reasons, this emphasis on withdrawal from occupied Palestine was always insufficiently responsive to the full reality of Palestinian suffering and struggle. It failed to emphasize the long-term plight of Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles, and omitted mention of the discriminatory and in many ways worsening daily reality of the Palestinian minority in Israel.

 

In some respects the most dismaying statement of all along these lines was issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in their rebuke of Trump’s Jerusalem initiative that was just now disseminated with the evident approval of the Palestinian National Council:  “The IPU noted that the resolution undermines the legal and political status of a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine and any hopes for a two-state solution. The IPU stressed that it would continue to pursue its efforts to promote dialogue and peace between the two parties, Israel and Palestine, and in the Middle East region. What is distressing about such a statement is that it seems to suppose that Israel is in the slightest degree interested in participating in a dialogue on the conditions of peace if that means walking a path leading to the emergence of a Palestinian state. The minimum requirement for dialogue is some degree of mutuality, which has not existed on the Israeli side for some years, and to pretend that it does is a way of sidestepping the real challenge—do nothing but watch while Israel moves ahead with its unilateral end game or join the struggle to prevent a culminating Palestinian tragedy by moving out of the diplomatic shadows and into the political arena of coercive politics.

This is not the time for dialogue and displays of good will. That time has long passed. Now is the time for engagement, for pressure, for boycott, and for sanctions. When governments are serious about pursuing elusive goals, whether these are benevolent or not, they choose sanctions, coercive diplomacy, and leave the military option on the table. I am only too glad to leave the military option off the table, while insisting upon a post-diplomatic posture of militant nonviolence. The Palestinian people have suffered long enough! They should not be further enticed to rely on tactics of futility. Not only is silence in the face of evil and suffering unacceptable, so is passivity, and even more, false consciousness.

Finally, we should ponder why the civil society focus on the BDS Campaign is so much more attuned to the Palestinian ordeal than is this nonsesnsical inter-governmental and UN two-state discourse. My reference to Hannah Arendt’s influential, if controversial, treatment of the Eichmann trial, was not lacking in forethought. Governments, and the UN as a global network of governments, is not inclined to confront seriously the suffering of others unless vital national interests and geopolitical priorities of its principal members so decree. Here, considering that Israel has become a regional powerhouse, backed unconditionally by the United States, conditionally by the West as a whole, and now opportunistically even by most Arab governments, the geopolitical realities favor an international posture of hands, given deceptive twists by moralizing rhetoric, occasional slaps on the Israeli wrist, and a garland of illusions in the ritual form of pledging a meaningless allegiance to the continuing vitality of the two-state solution. We need to muster clarity of will to declare that affirming the two-state solution under present conditions is proof that the banality of evil lives on in our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation

24 Mar

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation- On the Politics of Language

 

Controlling the Discourse

 

Israel has been brilliant over the years in shaping and misdirecting the public discourse on the future of Palestine. Among its earliest achievement along these lines was the crucial propaganda victory by having the 1948 War known internationally as the ‘War of Independence.’ Such a designation erases the Palestinians from political consciousness, and distorts the deeper human and political consequences of the war. Language matters, especially in vital circumstances where there are winners and losers, a reality that applies above all to a war of displacement.

 

It took decades for the Palestinians to elevate their experience of the 1948 war to even the consciousness of those on an international level who supported the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination. Even now more than 50 years after the war, the ‘Nakba’ by which the 1948 war is known to Palestinians remains internationally obscure. The word signifies ‘catastrophe,’ which is associated principally with the dispossession of at least 700,000 non-Jewish residents of Palestine, what became the state of Israel after 1948, and subsequently, with the denial by Israel of any right of return for those Palestinians who abandoned their homes and villages out of fear or as a result of Israeli coercion. This double process of dispossession and erasure was reinforced powerfully by the bulldozing and utter destruction of 400-600 Palestinian villages in the new state of Israel.

 

Even those who have this revisionist awareness rarely convey a sense of the Nakba as a process, not just a calamitous event. For those Palestinians dispossessed of home, property, community, employment, and dignity, their life, that of their families, and that of subsequent generations has been generally ‘a living hell’ as a consequence of either enduring the misery and humiliation of long-term residence in refugee camps or experiencing the various vulnerabilities and rootlessness of involuntary and permanent exile. In other words, the tragedy of the Nakba began and did not end with the traumas of dispossession, but rather continued in the ordeals that followed, which must be considered as inseparable from the originating catastrophe.

 

 

The UN Partition Resolution

 

For many reflective Palestinians, the decades since 1948 have intensified the ordeal that followed from the struggle for control of territory and elemental rights that followed from GA Resolution 181 adopted by a vote of 33-13 (with ten abstentions, one absent), in November 29, 1947. The Israeli mastery of the public international discourse was expressed by dramatizing the Zionist acceptance (as represented by the Jewish Agency for Palestine) of the proposed partition of historic Palestine while the Palestinians, their Arab neighbors, as well as India and Pakistan, rejected it declaring above all that partition without the consent of the inhabitants of Palestine was a flagrant violation of the UN Charter promise of the right of self-determination, entailing peoples choosing their own political destiny.

 

This clash of attitudes was then interpreted in the West as demonstrating the reasonableness of the Zionist approach to the complexities associated with two contradictory claims of right regarding self-determination and territorial sovereignty. The Zionist/Israeli spin claimed a readiness to resolve the conflict by way of political compromise while contrasting and denigrating the Palestinian approach to the future of the country as exclusivist and rejectionist, even as genocidal, implying an alleged Arab resolve to throw Jews into the sea, a contention that naturally agitated an extremely sensitive post-Holocaust Western liberal political consciousness. A more objective rendering of the opposed viewpoints of the two sides supports a set of conclusions almost totally the opposite of what has been sold to the world by an Israeli narrative of the UN partition initiative and its aftermath that despite these contrary considerations remains dominant.

 

After an understandable initial Palestinian reflex to repel Jewish intruders intent on occupying and dividing their homeland of centuries, it has been the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have been proposing a comprensive compromise and it is the Israelis who, by and large, subscribe to the view that the Jewish ‘promised land’ incorporates the West Bank and the unified city of Jerusalem, and any dilution of these goals would be a fundamental betrayal of the Zionist project to restore fully a mythic ‘biblical Israel’ in the form of a sovereign state. The more ideological Israelis, including Menachem Begin, (commander of the Zvai Leumi Irgun, 6th prime minister of Israel, 1977-83) were outspoken critics of partition in 1947, anticipating correctly that it would produce violence, and believing that Israel would only achieve its security and complete the Zionist Project by engaging in military operations with the object of territorial expansion. David Ben-Gurion, the master Zionist tactician and the first and foremost Israeli leader, shared Begin’s skepticism about partition, but favored it for pragmatic reasons as a step toward the fulfillment of the Zionist Project, but not the end of it. Partition was provisional, to be followed by seeking to complete the Zionist agenda, which is precisely what unfolded ever since 1947.

 

Partition was a familiar British colonial tactic that complemented their ‘divide and rule’ strategy of occupation was proposed for Palestine as early as 1937 in the report of the Peel Commission, but in view of the desire for Arab cooperation in World War II, the UK uncharacteristically backed away from their advocacy of partition for Palestine. In a later white paper the British declared partition to be ‘impractical’ as applied to Palestine, and somewhat surprisingly abstained from the vote on GA Res. 181.

 

Prolonging the Palestinian Ordeal

 At least since the PLO decision in 1988 to accept Israel as a legitimate state and offer normalization of relations if Israel followed the prescriptive provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242, that is, withdrawing to the 1967 green line borders and agreeing on arrangements for an effective resolution of the refugee issue. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 added regional inducements to the PLO offer of political compromise, and this too was met by Israeli silence and a lackluster response in the West. The Oslo diplomacy was a one-sided failure. It never produced proposals on the disputed issues in ways that contained any reasonable prospect of bringing the conflict to a sustainable end while allowing Israel valuable time to keep expanding their network of unlawful settlements, a form of creeping annexation that served, as well, to make the two-state mantra more and more of a cruel chimera, useful to pacify international public opinion that sought a sustainable peace for both peoples and an end to the conflict..

 

More objectively considered, these dual reactions to the partition solution can be deconstructed. The Zionist movement at every stage took what it could get, and then went about creating conditions on the ground and diplomatically for getting more, by expanding their political demands and expectations, or as sometimes observed, ‘shifting the goalposts.’ Reliance on such ‘salami tactics’ can be traced back at least as far as the Balfour Declaration when Zionists accepted the terminology of ’national home’ despite their aspirations from the outset to establish a Jewish state that disregarded Palestinian moral, legal, and political rights. Recent archival research has made it increasingly clear that the real Zionist goal all along was the imagined Israel of biblical tradition, ‘the promised land’ that deemed to encompass all of the city of Jerusalem, as well as the area known internationally as ‘the West Bank’ and in Israel as ‘Judea and Samaria.’

 

And with respect to the Palestinian response, initially ardently supported by the entire Arab world, as well as most countries with majority Muslim populations, rejection of the UN approach was based on the extent to which partition bisected Palestine without any process of consent by, or even consultation with, the majority resident population. It was an arrogant effort by the UN, then under Western control, to dictate a solution that was not sensitive to Palestinian concerns or in keeping with the spirit or letter of its own Charter. To treat Palestinian rejection of GA Res. 181 as indicative of anti-Semitism or even rejectionism is to accept an explanation of the disastrous legacy of partition that conforms to the Israeli narrative that misses the real dynamic at work that has kept the conflict alive all these decades. To this day Israel continues to create conditions that diminish Palestinian prospects while subtly depicting the Zionist Project as in reasonable pursuit of previously undisclosed ambitions with greater clarity.

 

This leads to the central question that also includes reasons why the Israelis did also not want partition, but felt correctly that its provisional and temporary acceptance was a way of gaining more political space both for maneuvering and for showing the world its reasonable face that included a commitment to peace. In contract, the Palestinians felt shut out and humiliated by the way the future of their society was treated by the UN and the West, and yet didn’t want to alienate the international community, especially Washington. This kind of attitude meant lending credence to the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles, and acting as if the ‘peace process’ had something to do with ‘peace.’ This accommodationist mode of diplomacy practiced by the Palestinian Authority over the course of the last 25 years while Israel annexed and Judaized East Jerusalem and penetrated more and deeply into the West Bank created the impression in many circles, including Palestinian and others, that the Palestinian Authority was not nearly rejectionist enough, and either naively playing a losing hand or completely failing to understand the real Zionist game plan.

 

 

‘The Partition War’

 

To circle back to the contention that language is itself a site of struggle, it become desirable, even now, more than 70 years later, to call the 1948 War by a name that reveals more clearly its essential and flawed character, and this name is The Partition War. Only by such a linguistic move can we begin to understand the extent to which the international community, as embodied in the UN, was guilty of original sin with respect to the Palestinian people, and their natural rights, as well as their legal entitlements and reasonable political expectations. Endorsing the partition of Palestine was what I would describe as a ‘geopolitical crime.’

 

 

A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid

9 Mar

A Debate on Peacemaking: Ending Occupation or Apartheid

 

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of an exchange of views prompted by my talk at a United Methodist Church in Culver City (Los Angeles) published by Tikkun’s online magazine, March 6, 2018. The core disagreement is whether to retain the emphasis on ending occupation as still the best, and some say, the only path to peace, and my view that a sustainable peace can only be obtained by a process of eliminating the apartheid structure by which Israel currently subjugates the Palestinian people as a whole (that is, including those living as a minority in pre-1967 Israel or in refugee camps spread across neighboring countries or as involuntary exiles in the Palestinian global diaspora). I regard this difference of views as of analytical, political, and normative importance, but as always, defer to authoritative Palestinian views as to the attainment of peace and self-determination.]

 

 

 

Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace

By Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen, Feb. 27, 2017, Revised & submitted to Tikkun

Peace has alluded the parties in Israel-Palestine for decades. Israel, the stronger party economically, militarily, and diplomatically, has effectively prevented peace from emerging. That sad fact has not changed, even though Palestinian nationalism is stronger than ever and the Palestinian cause is gaining international recognition. In frustration, some Palestinian solidarity advocates are pursuing desperate but futile paths.

An example was promulgated by Richard Falk in a public speech in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, while discussing his well-researched U.N. report on Israeli apartheid. Falk said that to end the occupation is not good enough; the proper goal should be to end the structure of apartheid.

The Falk-Tilley Report

“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley was published by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in 2017. The report examines the lives of Palestinians who live under four legal domains, and shows that each constitutes apartheid, a crime against humanity, according to the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In summarizing the report in The Nation, Falk wrote (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-inside-story-on-our-un-report-calling-israel-an-apartheid-state/), “that Israel has deliberately fragmented the Palestinian people in relation to these four demographic domains, relying on systematic discrimination, including ‘inhuman acts,’ to maintain its control, while continuing to expand territorially at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

In discussing the report in the above cited speech, Falk went beyond the report’s conclusion that Israel has imposed apartheid on the Palestinian people to discus how, in light of the report’s conclusion, peace must be pursued. He said that the Palestinian side could not fairly negotiate with Israel [when] it was under apartheid. He said that the path to peace starts with ending the structure of apartheid.

That is an idealistic goal, but it is impossible. The only path to end apartheid is through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Falk did not suggest how to end apartheid without negotiations. South Africa provides a counter example—the ANC and the government negotiated while the blacks, who the ANC represented, were still under apartheid [clarify the reference to ending apartheid in SA; it was the signal sent by the release of Mandela from prison that indicated the readiness of the SA elite to give up racist political rule, while receiving reassurances as to rights, including property rights]

When questioned, Falk said that just ending the occupation is not good enough because we (civil society) cannot allow Israel to fragment the Palestinian people.[as Israel divided the Palestinians to impose a structure of subjugation, it must reverse this reality to establish a lasting peace] To understand what Falk meant, we turn to the Falk-Tilley report that examines the condition of the Palestinian people in four demographic groups, each living under a different legal domain: The domains are:

  1. [Israeli] civil law with special restrictions [discrimination] applies to (~1.8 million) Palestinian Israelis.
  2. Permanent residency laws apply to (~320 thousand) Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
  3. Military law applies to (~4.5 million) Palestinian living under belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including those living in refugee camps in those areas.
  4. [Israeli] policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside of Israel control applies to (~3 million) Palestinians mostly in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and others in the world-wide diaspora.

Falk seems to worry that ending the occupation will focus solely on Palestinians living under direct occupation (domain 3), while abandoning the majority of the Palestinians people living under other domains. [‘seems to worry’ it is a near certainty that Israel will deem its security and promised land requirements as limiting its ‘concessions’ to w/drawal from parts of the WB]

The Way Forward

By advocating that position, Falk is rejecting the stated positions of almost all major Palestinian political organizations which is to end the occupation and seek a Palestinian state alongside Israel. These include the PLO (the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people), the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Israeli Joint List (representing 87% of Palestinian Israelis in the Knesset), and likely even Hamas (https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/1,7340,L-3972646,00.html) if supported by a consensus of the Palestinian people (https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/1,7340,L-3972646,00.html). Falk is abandoning the international consensus to end the occupation which includes almost every state in the United Nations and international organizations including the Arab league, the United Nations, and the European Union. Even after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the United States is still part of this international consensus.

While the international consensus has not stopped Israel from deepening its apartheid control over the Palestinian people, it has stopped Israel from annexing large sections of the West Bank. More important, the international consensus, through government sanctions, will surely be the agent that eventually pressures Israel to make peace.

Falk did not specify or even hint at what is required to end the structure of apartheid. Maybe because it is fairly obvious. For Palestinian Israelis (domain 1), it means ending the de jure and de facto discrimination. For Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (domain 2), it means citizenship. For Palestinians under direct occupation (domain 3), it means ending the occupation. And for diaspora Palestinians, mostly refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan (domain 4), it means the right of return.

The most straightforward of the above is ending the occupation. We suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation. [not at all clear, probably the reverse is true]

When the occupation eventually ends, it will be via a formal, bilateral agreement between Israel and the PLO that creates a Palestinian state alongside Israel (2SS). The agreement will be based on the 1967 Green line likely modified by land-swaps. It will specify the pace and extent of the withdrawal of the Israeli army and police, and the future of the Israeli settlements and settlers that will end up in the Palestinian state.

Proponents of a single democratic or bi-nation state (1SS) suggest the occupation would end with an agreement that specifies the characteristics of the unitary government and the pace and character of a transition from separate to unified security and other civic services.

If we thought any of these 1SS were possible, we would work hard to make it happen because they will promote Jewish-Arab cooperation. But considering the strong nationalism of Israelis and Palestinians, the lack of any significant political support for a single democratic state among Palestinians (except in the far diaspora), and the fierce opposition of Israelis (likely even with a guaranteed Jewish homeland rule), a 1SS seems less likely to emerge than a viable Palestinian state.

Michael Lerner proposed (https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/still-immoral-still-stupid-lets-end-50-years-of-israels-occupation-of-the-west-bank-one-personone-vote) a type of 1SS he calls the One Person/One Vote strategy (1P/1V). He sees it as a temporary transition from the present intransigent Israel to a 2SS. 1P/1V is similar to the Scottish situation in which Scots are voting citizens of the United Kingdom, up to the time they vote for separation. This has been discussed in the Israel-Palestine context by Tony Klug (https://read.dukeupress.edu/tikkun/article-abstract/32/2/41/129722/It-s-the-Occupation-Stupid-If-that-is-the-answer). Lerner’s version is based on a constitution that that guarantees the 1P/1V state will be a homeland for any Jew who is under anti-Semitic threat.

1P/1V would require a Knesset vote to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the occupied territory, and that seems impossible given the political positions of the several parties. The Jewish parties, from Meretz on the left to Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu on the right, are Zionist and committed to a Jewish state; the Joint List Arab coalition opposes anything that would promote the occupation of annexation. [what is ‘impossible’ now is not a guide to what is ‘necessary’ for real peace to result; without a fundamental recalculation of Israeli mainstream interests, there will only be frustration]

The 2001 Israel-PLO Taba summit (http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=32) is instructive in anticipating that an end of occupation agreement will include all aspects of the Israel-Palestine issue, including:

  • Creation of a Palestinian state that will end the structure of apartheid for Palestinians living under direct occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
  • Right of return for Palestinian refugees (who constitute the bulk of the Palestinian diaspora) to the Palestinian state or generous monetary compensation, with a modest to symbolic qualifying for return to their original land now in Israel.
  • Citizenship for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem by incorporating much of East Jerusalem into the Palestinian state.

Such an end of occupation agreement would end apartheid for all Palestinians except Palestinian Israelis. [true, if implemented]

Palestinian Israelis will still have their lives constrained by tens of laws that discriminate against them—what Falk calls apartheid. But the Palestinian Israelis are not abandoned. The Joint List (the united Palestinian political parties that were supported by about 87% of the Palestinian Israeli electorate in the last election) support a 2SS as the first step to a more egalitarian Israeli society. They believe that once there is peace, Palestinian Israelis will no longer be seen as a potential fifth column that is sympathetic to the enemy. They believe that peace will create a different environment in Israel where reforms will be easier to enact. [yes, if real peace, no if a peace that is one-sided in Israel’s favor, including settlers and Jerusalem]

We understand that eliminating the 50 plus Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israelis will take many years. That said, we note that Palestinian Israelis, even under discrimination, are integrating themselves into Israeli’s academic, medical, commercial, technical, and entertainment life, and anticipate that as integration expands, repealing discrimination laws will be easier. [adapting to second-class status is not an assurance that deep discrimination will ever happen]

Can it Happen?

Some might say that assuming that an agreement will be as comprehensive as outlined here is unrealistic. They would say that Palestinian leaders will capitulate to Israeli dictates under pressure from the United States. But the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is that Palestinian leaders have not agreed to sub-standard agreements. Two examples are the 2000 Camp David and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas talks. In neither case, or any other, has a Palestinian leader sold-out the Palestinian people.

Others might say that Israel will act unilaterally, withdrawing its army and police with no coordination with the Palestinians. This is what happened during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza when Israel removed its settlers and army and essentially threw the keys on the ground. [not really; borders hardened, incursions frequent]

But Israel will not unilateral withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem without making arrangements for its 550,000 settlers. Even if Israel annexes the land between the 1967 Green Line and the separation wall, it must still make arrangements for 100,000 settlers living east of the wall, many of whom may want to remain living in the biblical West Bank. [legalizing the settlements is incompatible with real peace; settlements unlawful, and their persistence must not intrude on a Palestinian state]

Another factor is that even though many Israelis blame the post disengagement unrest with Gaza completely on Hamas, there are key Israelis who understand that it was withdrawing from Gaza without coordination, opened the door for Hamas’ takeover. [written from a very Israeli point of view; the corruption & collaboration of Fatah is closer to the explanation of the rise of Hamas  

We think Richard Falk created a strawman when he said that ending the occupation is not enough. In fact, ending the occupation goes a long way to ending the structure of apartheid. By saying ending the occupation is not enough, Falk is destroying the international political movement that unifies world-wide opinion to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians by ending the occupation and promoting a Palestinian state alongside Israel. [we can debate who has created ‘a strawman’; I believe the kind of ss2 that the authors propose is as remote from present credibility as is the kind of integrated dismantling of apartheid that I believe to be the necessary and desirable prelude to a sustainable peace] [I welcome this exchange of views as it helps clarifies the obstacles to real peace and how to overcome them]

 

Author bios:

Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator for LA Jews for Peace; he visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of four humanitarian missions, most recently the 2017 Jewish Center for Nonviolence 9-day mission to Bethlehem and Hebron.

Yossi Khen is an Israeli-born, long-time citizen of the United States. He was a Refusenik in the 1970s to avoid serving in the occupied territories and has consistently worked for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, first in Israel and for almost 35 years in the United States.

 

 

Response to “Ending the Occupation is the Path to Peace” by Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen” (5 March 2018)

 

Richard Falk

 

Jeff Warner and Yossi Khen have written a sharp critique of a talk that I gave at a United Methodist Church in Los Angeles on February 7, 2018, sponsored by several groups including the LA Branch of The Jewish Voice for Peace. They object most strongly to my insistence that the only path to peace between Israel and Palestine involved ‘ending apartheid’ as imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole. It particularly disturbed Warner and Khen that an acceptance of my line of advocacy meant abandoning the international consensus to the effect that the only key to peace remains ending the occupation as the essential feature of any realistic prospect of peace, consisting of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

 

Let me say at the outset of my response that debate and discussion of these fundamental issues of peacemaking is constructive, even vital, considering that the Palestinian search for some kind of just and sustainable peace has been stymied for decades, and in fact has lost ground due to settlement expansion, construction of the separation wall, the consolidation of Israeli control over Jerusalem, adverse shifts in regional politics, and the advent of Trump and Trumpism. Despite these developments, Warner and Khen continue to believe that the international two-state consensus on peace diplomacy remains the only realistic approach, offering cogent criticisms of my support for an alternative understanding of a peaceful future based on ending apartheid.

 

As I read their critique, it does not challenge the allegations of apartheid contained in our controversial ESCWA Report to the effect that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people appear to be a criminal violation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) and an instance of a Crime Against Humanity as delimited in the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court. Their main contention is rather that my views are politically impossible to implement, and for this reason alone, are irrelevant, and hence, an irresponsible from any serious effort to end the conflict.

 

Warner/Khen believe it fanciful to think that Israel would ever dismantle its apartheid regime prior to engaging in a comprehensive diplomatic process that established peace between these long embattled peoples. In their view, if I understand them correctly, the gradual elimination of apartheid by Israel will occur, if at all, in the aftermath of a carefully coordinated process of ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine in a manner that raises Israeli confidence in their future security as well as their trust in the good faith of Palestine in following through on their acceptance of Israeli sovereignty and legitimacy. Their criticism of my approach also suggests that I misinterpret the way in which apartheid was ended in South Africa, not as a precondition preceding diplomacy, but as the core of what was being negotiated between the two sides.

 

 

 

 

Acknowledging Political Impossibility

 

On the issues of ‘political impossibility’ I essentially agree with Warner and Khen, but I would also suggest that their analysis applies as strongly to ending the occupation, a position that they endorse as the best way forward. Ever since 1967, despite the existence of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Israel has given every indication of a deeply embedded refusal to follow the central imperative of withdrawal from the territories occupied. It is hardly news that the settlement phenomenon initiated almost at soon as the occupation began 51 years ago sent a clear message of Israel’s intention to pursue expansionist territorial and security goals that could not be convincingly reconciled with 242. Beyond this, the West Bank and Jerusalem were treated in Zionist ideology as forming an essential part of the promised land, a biblical mandate as to the enlarged scope of Israel that took precedence over contemporary international law for many Israelis and in Zionist thought, and was reflected in the internal discourse in Israel that invariably refers to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria.’ Israel’s political will to withdraw even partially has never been really tested, despite some intimations to the contrary in the course of the peace diplomacy associated with the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles.

 

My point is this—that political impossibility applies across the board when it comes to peacemaking between Israel and Palestine. But additional to this, I believe that even should conditions drastically change in the future, ending the occupation would not produce peace, but would be much more likely to initiate a new cycle of Palestinian frustration and disappointment. With such a mood, renewed violence and oppositional politics would return, producing a total disillusionment on both sides as to achieving peace. I believe that peace cannot come to either Israelis or Palestinians without dismantling the existing structures of subjugation, and repudiating their ideological infrastructure, that currently affect, and afflict, those Palestinians living in refugee camps, as a minority in Israel, and enduring involuntary exile, as well as those who have endured an oppressive occupation since 1967.

 

Here, I do have an analytical disagreement with Warner and Khen, assuming that I have understood their position correctly. I read them as arguing that the best way to eliminate the discriminatory structures affecting those Palestinians not living under occupation is to first end the occupation, and then work and hope for a gradual softening of other forms of Israeli control. In their words, “[w]e suggest that ending the occupation is key to bringing relief to the groups of Palestinians not under direct occupation.” Their underlying belief seems to be that as peace between the two peoples becomes more firmly grounded it will dissipate Israeli fears, and create an atmosphere more conducive to creating conditions of equality and peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians. I find this line of reasoning to be unconvincing for two major reasons: first, any peace diplomacy that achieves an Israeli withdrawal (even if partial) will almost certainly be accompanied by an unconditional Israeli demand that the Palestinians explicitly pledge to give up any further claims as to grievances or rights, that the peace agreement is the absolute end of the conflict, and no subsequent or unresolved grievances will be admissible; secondly, if Israel retains its identity, as would certainly be the case, of being ‘a Jewish state’ it would, in effect, reaffirm the basis for discriminatory laws designed to ensure a permanent Jewish majority population and a dualist regime that grants Jews an unrestricted ‘right of return’ while denying the Palestinians any such right.

 

What I am arguing is that given the political impossibility of any path to peace at the present time, it is desirable to opt for a solution that is at least capable of removing fundamental grievances. In this regard, ending the occupation does not even pretend to do this. It basically ignores the plight of those millions of Palestinians who are not living under occupation, and thus almost certainly sows the seeds of future conflict. Ending apartheid is, of course, not a guaranteed solution, but at least it purports to address the entire agenda of Palestinian grievances, and is premised on the resolve to reach political outcomes that give expression to the formal and existential equality of the two peoples.

 

Warner and Khen criticize me for supposing that Israel would ever agree to eliminating apartheid structures as a precondition to peace, and point to the fact that the even ANC in South Africa was forced to negotiate the dismantling of apartheid in the course of their peace diplomacy. I admit to being unclear on this point in my oral presentation. I agree that ending Israeli apartheid, unless undertaken unilaterally, would almost certainly, require extensive negotiations and a phased plan of implementation. To the extent that I implied that ending apartheid was a precondition for credible peace negotiations, I acknowledge that such a formulation is misleading. Nevertheless, I would assert that the question of ending apartheid must be understood by both parties to be at the center of any future credible diplomatic effort that seeks a sustainable peace, likely constituting the most challenging aspect of such a peacemaking process as undertaken by Israelis and Palestinians.

 

By unexpectedly releasing Nelson Mandela in 1990, the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement led by the ANC, the white governing elite of South Africa sent a clear signal of their readiness to negotiate the end of legalized racism. This is instructive, suggesting that Israel must also signal its change of heart toward the subjugation of the Palestinian people before a real ‘peace process’ can go forward. In this sense, returning to the Warner/Khen criticism, it is the signal of Israel’s altered outlook on peace, not the dissolution of apartheid, which should be regarded as a precondition for an authentic peace process.

 

A final question seems to be whether ‘ending apartheid’ is more ‘politically impossible’ than ‘ending occupation.’ I believe the honest answer is that we cannot know. Given this circumstance of radical uncertainty my view is that it is preferable to be committed to a path to peace that both ends the conflict and embodies relevant precepts of international law and morality. As should be obvious, I believe ending the occupation would be, at best, nothing more than a somewhat more politically acceptable and inevitably temporary reframing of subjugation and victimization, while ending apartheid would be a decisive move toward adopting a law-based solution to the conflict responsive to contemporary standards of international human rights and consistent with the expectations of global justice.

 

 

Debating Solutions

 

Warner and Khen suggest their own view of political prospects and preferences by their strong endorsement of a two-state solution, and corresponding rejection of a one-state solution. In effect, Zionism can live, in theory at least, with an independent Palestinian sovereign state as a neighbor, but would lose its ideological birthright as a biblically entitled state beholden to the Jewish people, if it accepted to become a single binational state based on the equality of Jews and non-Jews. I appreciate the coherence of their position, but feel that it inscribes an inherently unjust solution based on an unwarranted deference to the underlying Zionist project. The claim to be a Jewish state, however justly and understandably motivated by the Jewish experience, was flawed from the outset due to its disregard of the rights and wellbeing of the majority non-Jewish population residing in Palestine up to the time of the Partition War in 1947-48.

 

What kind of polity can we expect to emerge if Israel were to dismantle the apartheid structures that now oppress the Palestinian people? It is here that Warner and Khen assume that the outcome would be a single, secular, binational state, and are critical of my failure to offer a clear idea of what such a post-apartheid Palestine and Israel would be.

 

While we are in the domain of the impossible, it seems more useful to imagine the unimaginable than to project what seems obvious. In this regard, I would not prejudge the political sequel to a process that effectively dismantled Israeli apartheid structures of control. Such a context would be so different than what seems presently plausible that we should indulge visions of the desirable rather than be confined to what seems from the outlook of the moment to be most plausible, which is a single secular state that reestablished Palestine as a state with the borders possessed before the British mandate, although possibly with a new, neutral name.

 

What if we are daring enough to envision and propose ‘a stateless Middle East’ that involved a reversal of the Sykes/Picot imposition of Westphalian territorial states on the region a hundred years ago to satisfy the anachronistic colonial ambitions of Britain and France? Instead of European style states with arbitrary and artificial boundaries held together by a strongman, the new political framework of the region would be constructed of political communities that better reflect natural ethnic, religious, and historical affinities, resembling in some ways the Ottoman system of governance based on the millet system, in other ways, the idea of ethnic self-determination as envisioned by Woodrow Wilson, and in still other ways the unified Arab nation that the British misled Arab leaders to believe would be allowed to happen in exchange for their support in opposing the Ottoman Empire in World .

 

The Ottoman political framework was discarded after World War I, Wilson’s vision overridden by European colonial maneuvers, and the wartime pledge to the Arabs cynically broken. As a result the peoples of the region have endured conflict, corruption, chaos, and coercion over the course of the last century, and have been a site of geopolitical rivalry and neoliberal exploitation since 1945. I realize that it must be strain credulity to place any hope whatsoever in a political process that yielded a stateless Middle East.

 

In contrast, I would suggest that only the articulation of utopian aspirations offer the only constructive refusal to accept the strictures imposed on creative thought when speculating about the future of the politically impossible. That is, we are trapped in the vortex of the impossible, but to yield to its logic is to give up the quest for true peace altogether.

 

Why the Experience of Ahed Tamimi Matters

13 Feb

 

It is now known by virtually everyone who follows the Palestinian struggle that a 16 year old girl, now 17, named Ahed Tamimi, confronted Israeli soldiers on her family’s land shortly after her cousin, Mohammed, was shot in the face with a rubber bullet, causing a coma. The video of her actions has gone viral, showing the world a courageous young woman engaging in nonviolent acts of resistance, and then a day later in the middle of the night being arrested in her home and then charged with a series of crimes; as is standard Israeli practice in the arrest of children, Ahen was hauled off to an Israeli prison facility out of reach of her family and then denied bail.

 

As has been widely noted, Ahed Tamimi is a heroic victim for those in Palestine and elsewhere who approve of the Palestinian national struggle, and commend such symbolic acts of nonviolent resistance. Ahed has also been often called ‘iconic’ because her story, now and before, is so emblematic of the extraordinary perseverance of the Palestinian people who having endured fifty years of occupation, and seventy years since the mass dispossession of 1948 known to Palestinians as the Nakba. This prolonged ordeal continues to unfold without a decent ending in sight. The fact that Ahed is a child and a girl reinforces the double image of courage, stubborn resistance, and victimization. It is also notable that as early as 2013 Ahed gained prominence when given The Handala Courage Award by a Turkish municipality in Istanbul, an occurrence given great attention due to a breakfast in her honor arranged by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While only 13, Ahed opened an art exhibit in Istanbul aptly titled “Being a Child in Palestine.”

 

The Israeli reaction, as might be expected, was as negative and denigrating as the Palestinian response was affirmative, maybe more so. Israel’s Minister of Culture, no less, Mira Regev referred to Ahed this way: “She is not a little girl, she is a terrorist. It about time they will understand that people like her have to be in jail and not allowed to incite racism and subversion against the state of Israel.” The internationally known Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, was more precise in describing the punishment that fit Ahed’s supposed crime: “Ahed Tamimi should serve a life sentence for her crime.” More luridly, Ben Caspit, a prominent journalist, made a rather shocking assertion of how Ahed’s type of defiant behavior shockingly deserves to be addressed outside the framework of law: “In the case of girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark without witnesses or cameras.” Some critics have read this statement as advocacy of sexual abuse, even rape, but whatever its intention, the fact that such language can be used openly at the higher levels of Israeli discourse, without arousing an Israeli backlash is suggestive of a terroristic style of governance relied upon to break the will of Palestinian resistance.

 

Mira Regev’s reaction to the Tamimi video clip situates the Israeli reaction to Ahed Tamimi’s in ways that seem to reflect the dominant mood in the country that perversely reverses the realities of oppressor and oppressed, victimizers and victims: “When I watched that I felt humiliated. I felt crushed,” finding the incident “damaging to the honor of the military and the state of Israel.” It is this strange sense that it is Israelis, not Palestinians, that experience humiliation in the current situation, despite Israel being in total control of every aspect of the Palestinian life experience, which for Palestinians involves a daily encounter with oppressive policies designed to frighten, humiliate, and subjugate. In contrast, Israelis enjoy the benefit of urban freedom and prosperity in an atmosphere of normalcy with relatively high levels of security in recent years that has greatly diminished the security threat, and in the process, effectively erased Palestinian grievances and aspirations from public consciousness. When Palestinians are noticed, as in this incident, it tends to be with derision, and expressions of a domineering Israeli political will that considers it entirely fitting to impose punishments on Palestinian children of a severity totally disproportionate to the gravity of the supposed crime. It is this disparity between the reality of Palestinian resistance and the rhetoric of Israeli oppressive options that gives Ahed Tamimi’s story such symbolic poignancy.

 

Of course, there are more sophisticated Israeli responses to Ahed’s challenge. Some commentators claim that what is disproportionate is the global attention devoted to the incident, even suggesting that it was a cynical ploy meant to distract world public opinion due to the failure of Hamas to deliver on its call for a third intifada in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and so move the U.S. Embassy.

 

Other critics insist that the incident was staged by the Palestinians, with cameras at the ready, and not as spontaneous as the video wants us to believe. Such a contention seems irrelevant, even if correct, as Ahed’s defiance was prompted by the shooting and wounding of her cousin a short time before, which was certainly not staged, but rather a reflection of oppressive and violent Israeli responses to Palestinian demonstrations of resistance. To belittle her acts as instruments of ‘infowar’ is also to ignore the uncertainty she faced when so strongly confronting Israeli soldiers and challenging their authority. She could not have known that these soldiers would not violently retaliate, as indeed some Israelis wished had happened to avoid ‘humiliation’ on the Israeli side. Ahed’s bravery and dignified reaction seem to be authentic given the wider context, as does the resistance of the Tamimi family in the town of Nabi Saleh that undoubtedly socialized Ahed into a culture of nonviolent practice.

 

I think these polarized responses to the incident offer a defining metaphor for the current phase of Israel/Palestine relations. The metaphor is given a special vividness because Ahed Tamimi as a child epitomizes the mentality and tactics of an oppressive state. The prospect of Ahed’s case being heard by a military court that finds that more than 99% of defendants are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. This is reminiscent of South African administration of criminal justice at the height of apartheid racism.

Beyond the legal fate of Ahed’s case is the unspeakable inhumanity of holding a civilian population captive generation after generation. Ahed Tamimi’s act and fate should matter greatly to all of us, and inspire increased commitment to solidarity with the Palestinian national struggle.