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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 (, “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 (,7340,L-3972646,00.html) if supported by a consensus of the Palestinian people (,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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.   

Israel’s Claim tol be a Jewish State and a Democratic State: Legalism versus Justice

11 Feb

Israel Claim to be a Jewish State and a Democratic State: Legalism versus Justice



[Prefatory Note: This post is a somewhat revised version of a book review that was published by the Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 2 (Winter 2018), p. 81. The book is an important contribution to an understanding of two dimensions of the Palestinian experience within the state of Israel: first, the reliance on law to ‘legalize’ discrimination, and the accompanying denial of fundamental rights that has resulted; secondly, to develop a distinct Israeli jurisprudence that seeks to legitimize ‘ethnocracy,’ yet disguise this reality by claiming that the nationality laws and regulations distinguishing Jews and non-Jews do not invalidate Israeli claims to be a democracy.]



The Dynamic of Exclusionary Constitutionalism: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, by Mazen Masri. Oxford, UK & Portland, OR: Hart Publishing, 2017. 256 pages. $99.00 cloth.



This book is an odd scholarly achievement. It relies on a sophisticated analysis to reach conclusions long obvious to close observers of the manner in which Israeli judges and jurists manipulate law to maintain the Zionist claim that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state. The author explores the various ways by which Israel has kept this delicate balance between core goals in obvious tension, if not outright conflict. What makes Mazen Masri’s scholarship worthwhile is his scrupulous analysis of precisely how Israeli scholars and jurists have squared this legal circle. Mazri, a Senior Lecturer in Law at the City Law School, University of London, also demonstrates how members of the Knesset, jurists, and judges have adapted the rule of law so that it has become a sharp instrument of pervasive injustice at the expense of the Palestinian people.


Masri is more cautious than I would be in drawing broader policy conclusions. He asserts “[p]rimie facie, the Jewish and democratic elements are at odds, or at least at tension, with each other” (p.4). I would not hesitate to conclude these elements flagrantly contradict one another throughout the evolving Israeli narrative in practice as well as in theory. I would argue that the ideological role of Israeli law is to camouflage this contradiction to soothe the conscience of liberal Zionists and project an international image of democratic legitimacy. Up until recently, this Zionist enterprise has been largely successful, highlighted by the uncritical recitation of the mantra that ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.’


Although Masri acknowledges the relevance of the settler colonial origins of Israel, the focus of his book is limited to the internal workings of the Israeli legal system as a complex operational reality. The scope of Masri’s critique makes no effort to encompass the Palestinian national movement. It is confined to the juridical treatment of the Palestinian minority within the Israeli state. The book is at its best when depicting the legalistic acrobatics of Arahon Barak, former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, and Ruth Gavison, an influential professor, who do their utmost to resolve the contradictions in practice between sustaining the Jewish identity of the state and its central legitimating claim to be a democracy.’ This is not to say that the democratic torch should be handed to one of Israel’s Arab neighbors, but rather that it has become increasingly clear to anyone willing to look closely at the Israeli reality that it has long forfeited the democratic side of its defining identity, except as a figment of the public-relations imagination of the Zionist movement and its geopolitical support structure.


What the author skillfully shows, with an impressive exposition of Israeli legal rationalizations, is how Israeli demographic concerns exerted a structural influence on lawmaking, especially, with respect to the differential rights of return enjoyed by Jews and Palestinians, as expressed in immigration laws and interpretations of citizen rights. For instance, Masri shows how Gavison cleverly argues, and the courts follow along, that it is permissible for a democratic state to sustain the ethnographic identity of its existing political community by favoring one ethnicity over another. In practical terms this meant it was legally acceptable for the Knesset to discriminate between Jews and others in the context of immigration so as to maintain the Jewish identity of Israel. There is an Orwellian trope here. In order to preserve the Jewish state as ‘democratic’ it was necessary, and hence permissible, to discriminate against the Palestinian minority, thereby violating ‘the spirit of equality’ that has been understood as vital for true democracies since the time of the French Revolution.


This green light given to ethnic discrimination included a legal endorsement of an unlimited right of return for Jews anywhere in the world no matter how tenuous their connection with the land and its history of Israel. The demographic impacts of this dual treatment of immigration rights as between Jews and non-Jews was accentuated by intense efforts to induce Jewish immigration through a reliance on a variety of economic incentives and subsidies, as well as on appeals to diaspora Jews to fulfill their identity as Jews by emigrating to Israel. In contrast, Palestinians, even those with the deepest conceivable roots in the territory, now occupied by the Israeli state could be and were legally excluded, even if exclusion resulted in permanent family separation or other hardships. As Masri persuasively shows, it was vitally important to the Zionist Project that their discriminatory treatment of Palestinians be made to seem consistent with Israeli applications of the rule of law. It was also important to rely on law to identify who was entitled to be considered ‘a Jew.’ In effect, law was useful in implementing ethnocracy, especially its features that discriminated against non-Jews.


Masri has written an admirably scholarly account of the way Israeli legal thought and governmental institutions have produced this outcome by his meticulous examination of the internal workings of the Israeli legal system. He labels the overall phenomenon as “exclusionary constitutionalism.” This emphasis on constitutional foundational verities of Israel is important and persuasive, and is most authoritatively set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (14 May 1948), which not only prefigures the Jewish/democratic problematique that is the concern of Masri, but also helps us understand that an apartheid future for Israel seemed inevitable from the moment of its inception as a state. As Masri notes, “the logic of elimination” (p.125) virtually compels a settler colonial political community, which aspires to achieve sovereign statehood and international legitimacy, to suppress and discredit resistance challenges mounted by the natives. Although the point is not directly made, I finished Masri’s book with the realization from its Zionist origins in the late 19th century that the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine could never be credibly reconciled with achieving a democracy based on the substantive equality of its citizens unless their ethnicity were to be disregarded. An ethnocracy was within the realm of the Zionist attainability, and that is what Israel has always been from the day of its establishment, however much elaborate legal cosmetics were applied to hide the blemishes and nurture more benign visions of the Israeli reality.


Masri’s contribution extends beyond its immediate relevance to the Palestinian experience in Israel. It offers a frightening template for how law can serve the purposes of injustice if deployed even by individuals endowed with subjectivities of good will yet pursued for the sake of unworthy goals. In this regard, the creativity of the jurist becomes the subservient handmaiden of an oppressive state, and likely unknowingly assists in the dirty work of fashioning an apartheid state. Of course, the problems of the Palestinian minority is but the tip of the bloodied iceberg of Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole, an apartheid structure of ethnic victimization that extends to those living under occupation, in refugee camps and involuntary exile, as well as Gazan captivity. In effect, the torments of Palestinians in Israel, which Masri so usefully depicts, is a relatively small piece in the larger Israeli matrix of control that comprises the entire Palestinian ordeal.


In this respect, those that rally for peace beneath the slogan ‘End the Occupation’ are missing the point that the Zionist bottom line has always required the fragmentation and subjugation of the Palestinian people as a whole. To achieve peace, a precondition for constructive negotiations, must be a clear commitment by Israel to ‘End Apartheid’ as it now applied to the Palestinian people, whether they live under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as a subordinated minority in Israel. When Israel produced the Nabka in 1948, it dispossessed Palestinians so as to ensure a Jewish majority population in Israel, a coherent catastrophe afflicting all Palestinians. It has been a destructive tactic by Israel and its supporters to treat the Palestinian struggle as primarily about territory rather than about people. Shifting the discourse on peace and struggle to apartheid corrects this fundamental mistake of perception and peace strategy.



Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a Conversation

4 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified text of an interview conversation with Khourosh Ziabari, initially published on the website of the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence on February 4, 2018, <>] </>



Peace and Justice for the Palestinian People: a conversation


Khourosh Ziabari: Humanitarian crisis in Gaza has entered its 11th year as the crippling siege by Israel is making the living conditions of Palestinians more complicated with time. The blockade in what is popularly referred to as the world’s “largest open-air prison” means growing unemployment, people having intermittent access to pure water, the economy is almost dysfunctional and poor infrastructure and lack of funding make the two-million population vulnerable to heavy rains and extreme weather. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories believes Israel is not doing enough to make the living conditions of Gaza Palestinians better, and the United States is also failing to play a constructive role.


Richard Falk is a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, who has published and co-edited some 40 books on human rights, international humanitarian law and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an interview with the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Falk shared his views on the recent controversy surrounding President Trump’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the ongoing humanitarian emergency in the Palestinian territories.


Q: In a piece recently published on Foreign Policy Journal, you talked of Palestine as being a hugely discriminated against nation, which in the recent decades has undergone major hardships due to the inability or reluctance of the United Nations to take steps to balance the needs of the Palestinian people against the political leverage of Israel and its allies. The improvement of the living conditions of the Palestinians depends on a logical and justifiable way out being found to end the conflict. Is the international community really unable to come up with a sustainable and all-encompassing solution?


A: The failure of the international community with respect to the Palestinian people and their legitimate grievances is due to several special circumstances; most importantly, the underlying determination of the Zionist movement to control most of Palestine as delimited by the British mandate. In this respect, assertions by Israeli leaders of their desire for a political compromise should never been accepted at face value, and are patently insincere, public relations gestures seeking to influence international public opinion, and convey the false impression that Israel is seeking a political compromise with Palestine.


Secondly, this Zionist ambition is now strongly supported by the United States despite not being clearly articulated by the government of Israel. This obscurity, essentially a deception, allows the international community to act as if a peace process is capable of producing a solution for the conflict even though Israel’s actions on the ground point ever more clearly toward an imposed unilateral outcome, which essentially is a unilateral insistence that the conflict has been resolved in favor of Israel.


Thirdly, the ‘special relationship’ between Israel and the U.S. translates into a geopolitical protection arrangement encompassing security issues and even extending to insulating Israel from censure at the UN, especially by the Security Council, and making sanctions impossible to impose. In such a setting, the Israelis are able to pursue their goals, while ignoring Palestinian grievances, which results in tragedy and suffering for the Palestinian people. Given the balance of forces, there is no end in sight that might end the conflict in a fair way.


Q: President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to move the U.S. embassy to this city met a big resistance at the United Nations, both on the General Assembly and Security Council levels. Why do you think the international community and even the major U.S. allies didn’t say yes to this proposal?


A: Trump’s initiative on Jerusalem ruptured whatever fragile basis existed for seeking a diplomatic solution for relations between Israel and Palestine. There had been a clear understanding, respected by prior American leaders, that the disposition of Jerusalem was a matter that was to be settled only through negotiations between the parties. This understanding was broken by the Trump initiative for no apparent reasons beyond pleasing Netanyahu and some wealthy Zionist donors in the U.S. Beyond this, for Trump to side with Israel on such a sensitive issue, which deeply matters symbolically and substantively, not only for Palestinians, but for Muslims everywhere, and even for Christians, damaged beyond repair the credibility of the United States to act an acceptable intermediary in any future peace process.


American credibility was at a low level anyway, but this latest step relating to Jerusalem, removed, at least for the foreseeable future, any doubt about the American partisan approach, and more dramatically, made it evident that diplomacy based on the two-state solution had reached a point of no return.


In one respect, the Trump move on Jerusalem lifted the scales from the eyes of the world. It should have been clear for some years that the size of the settlement phenomenon and the influence of the settlers, now numbering about 800,000, had made it impractical to contemplate the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state. As well, the U.S. had long ceased to be an honest broker in the diplomatic settings that were described by reference to ‘the peace process,’ and probably never was partisan from the outset of the international search for an outcome that was a genuine political compromise. If there is to be an effective diplomacy with respect to the relations between the two peoples, it must, in any event, be preceded by dismantling the apartheid structures that were developed by Israel over the decades to subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole and the United States must be replaced by a credible third party intermediary. Israel feels no pressure to accept such changes, and so there is no current alternative to exerting pressure on this untenable status quo through support for militant nonviolent forms of Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement, with a special recognition of the contributions of the BDS campaign. It may be relevant to note that the BDS Campaign has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.


Q: In the recent years, many resolutions and statements have been issued in condemnation of the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied following the Six-Day War in 1967 by the UN General Assembly and its affiliated human rights bodies. Even the UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) declares Israel’s settlement activity a “flagrant violation” of international law. Is the publication of statements and condemning a state, while the state itself doesn’t recognize the demands and considers them invalid, a viable solution? If the international community is convinced that Israel should stop the illegal settlements, then how is it possible to make it happen?


A: The continued expansion of the settlements despite their flagrant violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention is both an expression of Israel’s contempt for international law and for world public opinion. It also reveals the impotence of the UN to do anything effective to impose its will that is any more consequential than the issuance of complaints. When geopolitical realities shield the behavior of a state from international pressures, the UN is helpless to implement its resolutions, and international law is put to one side. The UN is an organization of states, and limited in its capacity to shape behavior, especially by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As such, the UN was never expected to have the constitutional capacity to overcome the strongly held views and commitments of the five states given permanent membership and the right of veto in the Security Council in the UN Charter. The Security Council is the only organ of the UN System with clear authority to reach and implement decisions, as distinct from advisory opinions and recommendations. The Israel/Palestine conflict is an extreme version of the Faustian Bargain struck between the geopolitical power structure and global justice, which was written into the UN Charter and the constitutional framework of the UN, as well as exhibited in UN practice over the years.


Q: News reports and figures show that the living standards and the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip are getting worse as time goes by. The unemployment rate has climbed to 46%. Research organizations and local media say 65% of the population is grappling with poverty and the food insecurity rate is roughly 50%. How do you think the perturbing humanitarian crisis in Gaza can be alleviated?


A: It is difficult to comprehend accurately the Israeli approach to Gaza as its motivations are very different from its stated justifications. Israeli policy often appears cruel and vindictive, with security rationales sounding more like pretexts than explanations. Excessive force has been repeatedly used by Israel in Gaza, and little effort to achieve some kind of tolerable stability has been made.


Israel has rejected a series of proposals for long-term ceasefires put forward by Hamas during the past decade. Israel has periodically attacked Gaza, inflicting heavy damage on a helpless and impoverished civilian society in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014 while the international community condemned these excessive uses of force. Now that the economic squeeze is pushing Gaza once again toward the brink of a humanitarian disaster the ordeal of the nearly two million Palestinians entrapped and utterly vulnerable. The situation in Gaza is once again a matter of grave concern, with humanitarian alarms being sounded by those with knowledge of the precarious health and subsistence crisis facing the population.


It is unclear what Israel actually wants to have happen in Gaza. Unlike the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza is not part of the Zionist territorial game plan, and is not considered part of biblical Israel. To the extent that Israel is pursuing a one-state solution imposed on the Palestinians, Gaza would be likely excluded as adding its population to that of Israel would risk exploding ‘the demographic bomb’ that has for so long worried Israelis because of endangering the artificially generated Jewish majority population, and supposed ‘democratic’ control of this ethnocratic polity.


The Zionist project has long resorted to extreme measures to achieve and then sustain the democratic pretension of its governing process, initially dispossessing as many as 700,000 Palestinians from the territory that became Israel in 1948. This coerced dispossession during combat was combined with a post-conflict refusal to allow those who left their homes and villages during wartime any right of return. Such ethnic cleansing was reinforce by completely destroying hundreds of Palestinian villages with bulldozers. This pattern of controlling the population ratio between Jews and non-Jews has been a persistent issue ever since the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 when the Jewish population of Palestine was about 5%. In the early period, the Zionist effort was focused on overcoming the Jewish demographic minority status by stimulating and subsidizing Jewish immigration. Yet even after the surge in immigration prompted by the rise of Nazism and European anti-Semitism, the Jewish population of Palestine was only about 30% at the start of the 1947-48 War.


Israel would probably like to have Gaza disappear. If that is not going to happen, then the second best solution is to entrust Jordan or Egypt with administrative control, security responsibility, and sovereign authority. So far neither Arab government wants to assume control over Gaza. With these considerations in mind, Israel seems determined to maintain instense pressure on Gaza, allowing the population to hover around the subsistence threshold, and to signal Israeli aggressiveness to the rest of the region, asserting a military presence from time to time that seems both punitive and designed to remind Gazans that resistance on their part would be met with overwhelming lethal force causing devastation and heavy casualties, including imposing a condition of enduring despair on the civilian population.





Why the United Nations Matters (even for the Palestinians)

18 Jan


There are many reasons for persons with very different worldviews to feel disillusioned by, if not angry at, the United Nations. These negative feelings arise usually because the UN stands idly by the sidelines while terrible national and human tragedies unfold as the world media visually narrates horrific events in real time. At other times the hostile feelings toward the UN arise because the Organization is seen as a plaything of geopolitics, as bowing to crude leverage wielded by major funding governments, and in the process violating the letter and spirit of the UN Charter. Such behavior undermines the UN’s constitutional foundations and casts doubt on the central claim that the Organization is dedicated to the cause of war prevention.


No people have more reason to be disappointed with the UN, international law, and the precepts of international morality than do the people of Palestine. From the moment the UN was established up until the present moment, the Palestinians have been victimized either by the use of the UN to pursue geopolitical goals or by the inability of the UN to implement its own decisions and assessments that are responsive to Palestinian grievances or supportive of Palestinian aspirations.


Obviously, there is present a world order puzzle that needs solving. Many believe, especially here in the United States, that it is Israel that is the victim of UN bashing and bias, being singled out at the UN for continuous censure and criticism, and it is the Palestinians that have over the years received aid and comfort in the halls of the UN for their contentions, however inflammatory. For our dualistic Western minds, incapable of reconciling opposites, something must be wrong. It seems impossible for both the Palestinians and Israelis to be both victimized at the UN.


Yet this is precisely the case. The Palestinians are victimized because the UN doesn’t mean what is says, at least not on the plane of action. The UN gives the Palestinians the pabulum of words, while refraining from the reality of deeds, which over time gives rise to resentment and cynicism summarized by the sentiment: ‘what good are words, if nothing happens, and the situation on the ground even deteriorates.


At the same time, partly in reaction to this sense of impotence when it comes to imposing its views effectively on behavior, the UN slaps, sometimes strongly, the defiant Israelis. And the Israelis, never above playing the anti-Semitic card, keep telling the world that they are singled out for bashing even though their wrongs are far less bad than that of others. Of course, never far in the background is the weight of geopolitics, with the United States wielding a punitive stick on Israel’s behalf.


History needs to be taken into account in sifting through the complexities of argument and counter-argument carried on now for decades about the performance of the UN in relation to Palestinians and Israelis. With respect to the geopolitical explanation of Palestinian disillusionment, the UN already in 1946 accepted the responsibility to supersede the United Kingdom, which had been administering Palestine on behalf of the international community since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I., in working out a solution on behalf of the two peoples. Yet instead of consulting the resident population of Palestine on its wishes with respect to the implementation of the right of self-determination, the UN on its own initiative proposed an Orientalizing solution that gave Israel 55% of Palestine despite less than 33% of the population being Jewish. This demographic disparity existed despite several decades of Jewish immigration spurred by energetic Zionist efforts around the world as well as by the British, eager for strategic reasons of their own to carry out the Balfour pledge of 1917. Jewish immigration was also greatly encouraged by the rise of Nazism, which intensified the search for a sanctuary that could protect Jews, especially those fleeing Hitler’s Germany.


Then to compound this imposition of a settler colonialist outcome, repugnant from the outset to the majority Arab population, the UN proceeded in 1948 to accept Israel as a member of the UN without first making obligatory provision to ensure an equitable future for the Palestinian people. This flawed UN response to the end of the British mandate has been compounded by years of Israeli expansionism, especially since 1967. Such an internationally tilted outcome reflected intense liberal guilt toward Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust combined with the skill and tactics of the Zionist movement in influencing the Jewish diaspora as well as government policy in Europe and North America. It was an early demonstration of geopolitics triumphing over international law and global justice within the UN. It should not be forgotten that the UN was established in ways that gave leading states a geopolitical comfort zone, more familiarly known as ‘the veto,’ a blunt instrument for opting out of responsibilities, and useful to protect friends and batter enemies.


Turning to the impotence of the UN when it comes to its resolutions and decisions that encounter geopolitical resistance, the pattern has been evident all along. After the outcome of the 1967 War, the international community by way of the UN acquiesced with hardly a whimper to the extension of Israeli territorial claims from 55% to 78% of mandate Palestine. Ever since, this enlargement of Israeli territorial expectations has formed the basis for the two-state consensus, and was even accepted by the Palestinians as the realistic territorial baseline for a compromise solution.


Beyond this central issue of territorial allocation, the UN General Assembly affirmed the right of return of Palestinians forced to leave their homes in the 1947-48 War in General Assembly Resolution 194, and a second wave dispossessed in the 1967 War. The resolution has been pointedly rejected by Israel without any adverse consequences.


In similar fashion, the expansion and annexation of Jerusalem has been strongly condemned, most canonically, by the UN Security Council in Resolution 478 (1980), a unanimous vote except for the U.S. abstention. Finally, despite this, and the periodic Security Council denunciations of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestine territory, Israel has continued year upon year to build and increase the settler population. Against this background, it is to be expected that the Palestinians feel that having their rights affirmed at the UN is a worthless exercise, if not a feeble way to obscure UN impotence, given that the Palestinian ordeal has worsened year after year, decade after decade.


And yet despite all this the Jerusalem resolution of last December (passed by a vote of 128-9 with 35 abstentions and 21 absences) repudiating the Trump initiative is significant, partly because symbols are of great, if indirect, importance in international life. Symbolic victories at the UN do on occasion have subtle, yet real, behavioral impacts. The UN for all its weaknesses has long been the primary source for authoritative determinations of the legitimacy and illegitimacy of internationally recognized claims and grievances. This resolution is illustrative, supported by every important country in the world including the closest allies of the United States, with the symbolic and unequivocal rejection of the Trump diplomatic gesture of recognition being clear and consequential.


The Jerusalem resolution seems likely to produce a series of consequences: it greatly weakens, if not terminates, the central role that the United States has played as the only recognized third party mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, thereby creating an opportunity for the EU and individual European states to fill the diplomatic vacuum that seems to have formed; besides this, demonstrations around the world opposing the U.S. recognition initiative are translating support throughout the world for the Palestinian global solidarity movement that is likely to be expressed in several ways, especially by way of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign. And at least for the moment, the Palestinian Authority, and its leadership, has moved away from adopting a quasi-collaborative stance in its relations with Israel, insisting that Trump’s move caused a damaging rupture. In effect, if diplomacy is to go forward in the future, it will have to proceed under new auspices, possibly Europe, maybe even China or the UN. Such radical expectations, while expressing a welcome refusal to be coopted by the Tel Aviv/Washington charade carried on for so long within the Oslo framework, is totally unrealistic in the near term. Israel would much rather be a pariah state than to submit its fate to Chinese or UN diplomacy, or for that matter, any intermediary that would seem fair to the Palestinians rather than partisan as in the past in favor of Israel. For so long Israel has

been coddled by American leaders that it became a hardened expectation with little wiggle room as Barack Obama found out early in his presidency when he dared to take baby steps in search of a middle ground.


It is worth recalling the anti-apartheid campaign against the South African racist regime that achieved prominence in the decades after 1945. The UN played a crucial role by its authoritative condemnation of apartheid as a crime against humanity and by its indirect encouragement of nonviolent resistance to South Africa racism throughout the world. This anti-apartheid experience is an instructive precedent, raising hope for the eventual success of the Palestinian national struggle, although the South African leadership had been far less creative and effective than the Israelis in insulating their governing process from external pressures.


What is analyzed with reference to Palestine and the Jerusalem resolution can be understood as a template for a general appreciation of both what the UN can and cannot do. The UN has this central role to play in either confirming or dismissing symbolic claims associated with the grievances and rights of subjugated peoples in the world. It is for this reason that governments fight so hard to have their policies accepted at the UN, or at least not criticized, censured, or punished, none more so than the government of Israel. Israel’s vicious attacks on the UN should be understood as disclosing the Israeli appreciation that, despite everything, the UN is a crucial site of struggle in the contemporary world order. Its findings of legitimacy and illegitimacy, especially if they resonate with feelings of justice around the world, impact strongly on civil society and often exert a strong influence on international public opinion and media coverage.


At the same time even if there is intense support for a symbolic outcome, it will rarely be self-enforcing, and it will be almost impossible to enforce at all absent a rare supportive geopolitical consensus. For instance, with respect to imposing sanctions on North Korea given its provocative nuclear program and accompanying diplomacy, it has been possible for all 15 members of the Security Council to agree sometimes on a common course of action, although as worried by Trump’s blustering belligerence that increases the danger of a universally unwanted and feared war. The geopolitical divergencies that were present at the UN were temporarily overcome by compromises. In this instance, the shared goal of avoiding a war on the Korean Peninsula encouraged governments to find some common ground.


The role of the UN in the Middle East has been particularly lamentable, First, the legacies of colonialism have left artificial political communities throughout the region. The Middle East also suffered from the geopolitical ambitions of the U.S., including its Cold War containment policy, strategic priorities accorded Gulf oil reserves and the security of Israel, and since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, its resolve to limit the spread of Islamic influence and political extremism. In effect, when the geopolitical stakes are high and associated with the policy priorities of dominant states, then the UN becomes marginalized, playing only trivial roles as in the long international civil wars that have caused such massive suffering in Syria and Yemen.


The conclusion to be reached is to view the UN realistically, affirming its central role with regard to symbols of legitimacy and its relative impotence if geopolitical forces are mobilized against any UN calls for action. Sometimes, arguably, the UN can be too effective, as when geopolitical forces turn a blind eye to issues of sovereignty and justice in a weaker country. This happened when in 2011 the Security Council was hoodwinked into endorsing a NATO regime-changing intervention in Libya undertaken in the name of freedom and democracy, but resulting in chaos, violent strife, and ethnic tensions.


The prospects for a stronger UN presence in international life involve tethering geopolitics by taking steps that now seem politically impractical: abolishing the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council, making resolutions of the General Assembly binding if supported by ¾ of UN members, basing UN funding on an independent tax base tied to international civil aviation or transnational financial transactions, and removing the selection of the Secretary General from the filter of P-5 approval. These steps have been long advocated by those seeking a more effective UN, but have been blocked by states that do not want to diminish their international status or their geopolitical leverage.


Until the international system experiences a shock or intense stress, it is hard to imagine such steps being taken. In fact, given Trump’s regressive approach to global policy and thinly disguised hostility to the UN, it is more likely that the UN will be even more constrained in the near future as to what it can do to make the world more peaceful, prosperous, sustainable, and just. The diplomatic rebuff of the U.S. after its irresponsible Jerusalem unilateralism, including the failure of its bullying tactics, has undoubtedly made the Trump presidency realize that the UN will not be a venue in which to push its regressive version of ultra-nationalist militarism.


Despite understandable degrees of disillusionment, people of good will dedicated to UN ideals should not give up on the Organization or its potentiality, but work harder to make the UN come closer to fulfilling its original promise, needed now more than ever. Justice for the Palestinian people, however long deferred, remains the defining moral prism by which to assess the shifting balance between achieving global justice and bowing to the whims of geopolitics at the UN and elsewhere.


Let the Two-State Solution Die a Natural Death

7 Jan



[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified version of an article published in Middle East Eye on Jan. 1, 2018. It contends that the proper priority for genuine advocates of peace between Israelis and Palestinians should be centered around apartheid rather than be devoted to reviving an Oslo style ‘peace process’ (always a sham) or proclaiming the goal of an independent and sovereign Palestine as attainable without first dismantling the apartheid structures that subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole so as to maintain the Zionist insistence on Israel as the state of the Jewish people (rather than providing a homeland within a normal and legitiamt state based on ethnic and religious equality, human rights, and secular principles.]


Let the Two-State Solution Die a Natural Death


Despite all appearances to the contrary, those in the West who do not want to join the premature and ill-considered Israeli victory party, are clinging firmly to the Two-State Solution amid calls to renew direct diplomatic negotiations between the parties so as to reach, in the extravagant language of Donald Trump, ‘the ultimate deal.’


Israel has increasingly indicated by deeds and words, including those of Netanyahu, an unconditional opposition to the establishment of a genuinely independent and sovereign Palestine. The settlement expansion project is accelerating with pledges made by a range of Israel political figures that no settler would ever be ejected from a settlement even if the unlawful dwelling units inhabited by Jews were not located in a settlement bloc that have been conceded as annexable by Israel in the event that agreement is reached on other issues. What is more Netanyahu, although sometimes talking to the West as if he favors a resumption of peace negotiations seems far more authentic when he demands the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for any resumption of talks with the Palestinians or joins in welcoming American pro-Israeli zealots who insist that the conflict is over, and that Israel deserves to be anointed as victor. To top it all off, the Trump decision of December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to follow this up by soon relocating the U.S. Embassy, effectively withdraws from future negotiations one of the most sensitive issues—the status and sharing of Jerusalem—despite the language accompanying Trump’s statement on recognition that purports to leave to the future, permanent Jerusalem borders and disposition of the city on a permanent basis that is misleadingly declared to remain open for an agreement between the parties to be achieved at a later date of their choosing.


All in all, it seems time to recognize three related conclusions:

         –first, the leadership of Israel has rejected the Two-State Solution as the path to conflict resolution;

         –secondly, Israel has created conditions, almost impossible to reverse, that make totally unrealistic to expect the establishment of an independent Palestinian state;

         –thirdly, Trump even more than prior presidents has weighted American diplomacy heavily and visibly in favor of whatever Israel’s leaders seek as the endgame for this struggle of decades between these two peoples.


Despite these obstacles, which seem conclusive, many people of good will who are dedicated to peace and political compromises, cling to the Two State Solution as the most realistic approach to peace. The words of Amos Oz, celebrated Israeli novelist, expressed recently this widely shared sentiment among liberal supporters of a Zionist Israel: “..despite the setbacks, we must continue to work for a two-state solution. It remains the only pragmatic, practical solution to our conflict that has brought so much bloodshed and heartbreak to this land.” It is also significant that Oz made this statement in the course of a yearend funding appeal on behalf of J-Street in 2017, the strongest voice of moderate Zionism in the United States.


What Oz says, and is widely believed, is that there is no solution available to Palestine unless there is a sovereign independent Jewish state along 1967 borders as the essential core of any credible diplomatic package. All alternatives would, in other words, not be ‘pragmatic, practical’ according to Oz and many others. Why this is so is rarely articulated, but appears to rest on the proposition that the Zionist movement, from its inception, sought a homeland for the Jewish people that could only be secured and properly proclaimed if under the protection of a Jewish state that was permanently, as a matter of constitutional framework, under Jewish control.


For many years the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership has shared this view, and has given its formal blessings in its 1988 PNC/PLO declaration that looked toward the acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, if the occupation were ended, Israeli forces withdrawn, and Palestinian sovereignty established within the 1967 borders. It is notable that this Palestinian conditional recognition of Israeli statehood accepted a territorial delimitation that was significantly larger than what the UN had proposed by way of partition in GA Resolution 181(that is, Israel would have 78% rather than 55% of the overall territory comprised by the British Mandate, leaving the Palestinian with the remaining 22% for their state). This type of outcome was also endorsed by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and was confidently depicted as the solution during the Obama presidency, and even adapted to meet Israel’s security demands in ways designed to make such a solution appeal to Israel. Even Hamas endorsed the spirit of the two-state approach by proposing over the course of the last decade a long-term ceasefire, up to 50 years, if Israel were to end the occupation of the East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. If Israel were to agree, the resulting situation would materialize the Two-State Solution in the form of two de facto states: Israel and Palestine. It differs from the two-state approach only to the extent that it refuses to grant Israel de jure legitimacy or to renounce formally Palestinian claims to Palestine as a whole. Among the deficiencies of such territorially oriented approaches to peace is the marginalization of the grievances of up to seven million Palestinians living for generations as refugees or involuntary exiles.


There are at least four problems, conveniently swept under the nearest rug by two-state advocates, any one of which is sufficiently serious to raise severe doubts about the viability and desirability of the Two-State Solution: (1) Liberal Zionism expressed an outlook toward a diplomatic settlement that was not shared by the Likud-led rightest Israeli governments that have dominated Israeli politics throughout the 21st century; the Israeli goal involved territorial expansion, especially with respect to an enlarged and annexed Jerusalem, and by way of an extensive network of settlements and transport links in the West Bank, underpinned by the fundamental belief that Israel should not establish permanent borders until the whole of ‘the promised land’ as depicted in the Bible was deemed part of Israel. In effect, despite some coyness about engaging with a diplomatic process, Israel never credibly endorsed a commitment to a Palestinian state within 1967 borders that was based on the equality of the two peoples.


(2) Israel created extensive facts on the ground that have definitively contradicted its professes intention to seek a sustainable peace based on the Two-State Solution; these developments associated with the settlements, road network linking settlement blocs to Israel, references with Israel to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria,’ that is, as belonging to biblical or historical Israel.


(3) The Two-State Solution as envisioned by its supporters effectively overlooked the plight of the Palestinian minority in Israel, which amounts to 20% of the population, or about 1.5 million persons. To expect such a large non-Jewish minority to accept the ethnic hegemony and discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli state is unrealistic, as well as being contrary to international human rights standards. In this fundamental sense, an ethnic state that is exclusively associated with a particular people, is by its own proclamations and legal constructions, an ‘illegitimate state’ from the perspective of international law.


(4) Beyond this, to sustain Israel in relation to the dispossessed and oppressed Palestinian people has depended on establishing structures of ethnic domination over the Palestinian people as a whole that constitute the crime of apartheid. As in South Africa, there can be no peace with the Palestinians until these apartheid structures used to subjugate the Palestinian people are renounced and dismantled (including those imposed on Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles); this will not happen until the Israeli leadership and public give up their insistence that Israel is exclusively the state of the Jewish people, with includes an unlimited and exclusive right of return for Jews and other privileges based on Jewish ethnic identity; in effect, the core of the struggle is about people rather than as in two-state thinking, about territory.


If we discard the Two-State Solution as unwanted by Israel, normatively unacceptable for the Palestinians, not diplomatically attainable, and inconsistent with modern international law, then what? It should be understood that even if a strong political will unexpectedly emerged that was genuinely dedicated to the balanced implementation of the Two-State Solution it would be highly unlikely to be achieveable. Against this critical background, we are obliged to do our best to answer this haunting question: ‘Is there a solution that is both desirable and attainable, even if not presently visible on the political horizon?’


Following the lines prefigured 20 years ago by Edward Said two overriding principles must be served if a sustainable and honorable peace is to be achieved: Israelis must be given a Jewish homeland within a reconfigured, and possibly neutrally renamed Palestine and the two people must allocate constitutional authority in ways that uphold the cardinal principles of collective equality and individual human dignity. Operationalizing such a vision would seem to necessitate the establishment of a secular unified state maybe with two flags and two names, which would have a certain resemblance to a bi-national state. There are many variations, provided there is strong existential respect for the equality of the two peoples in the constitutional and institutional structures of governance. Said also believed that there must be some kind of formal acknowledgement of Israel’s past crimes against the Palestinian people, possibly taking the form of a commission of peace and reconciliation with a mandate to review the entire history of the conflict.


If the liberal Zionist approach seems impractical and unacceptable, is not this conception prescribed as a preferred alternative ‘an irrelevant utopia’ that should be put aside because it would be a source of false hopes? If the Palestinians were to propose such a solution in the present political atmosphere, Israel would undoubtedly either ignore or react dismissively, and much of the rest of the international community would scoff, believing that the Palestinian are living in a dreamland of their own devising.


This seems like an accurate expectation, despite my insistence that what is being proposed here is a relevant utopia, the only realistic path to a sustainable and just peace. There is no doubt that the present constellation of forces is such that an initial dismissal is to be expected. Although if the Palestinian Authority were to put such a vision forward in the form of a carefully worked out proposal, it would constitute fresh ground for a debate more responsive to the actual circumstances faced by Israelis, as well as Palestinians. It would also be a step toward unity, overcoming the current political fragmentation that has weakened the Palestinians as a political force.


The primary political and ethical question is how to create political traction for a secular state shared equally by Israelis and Palestinians. It is my view that this can only happen in this context if the global solidarity movement presently supportive of the Palestinian national struggle mounts sufficient pressure on Israel so that the Israeli leadership recalculates its interests. The South African precedent, while differing in many aspects, is still instructive. Few imagined a peaceful transition from apartheid South Africa to a constitutional democracy based on racial equality to be remotely possible until after it happened.


I envisage a comparable potentiality with respect to Israel/Palestine, although undoubtedly there would also be present a series of factors that established the originality of this latter sequence of development. In politics, if political will and requisite capabilities are present and mobilized, the impossible can and does happen, as it did in South Africa and in struggles against the European colonial regimes in the latter half of the 20th century.


Further, without such a politics of impossibility there is no path to genuine peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, massive suffering will persist, and the normalcy of an existential peace based on living together on the basis of mutual respect and under a mature, humane, and democratic version of the rule of law, underpinned by checks and balances, and upholding constitutionally anchored fundamental rights. Only then, could we as citizen pilgrims dedicated to the construction of human-centered world order give our blessings to a peace that is legitimate and existentially balanced as between ethical values and political realities.



Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem

31 Dec


Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem


[Prefatory Note: This post is the modified text of an interview on behalf of the Tasnim News Agency in Iran as conducted by Mohammed Hassani. It tries to assess the wider implications of the UN reaction to Trump’s December 6th decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to follow this by relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.]


Q1: As you know, nearly 130 countries recently voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem (al-Quds) as the capital of the Israeli regime. What message does the vote signal to the world’ public opinion?

The main message of this overwhelming rejection of the Trump recognition of al-Quds as the capital of Israel by the UN General Assembly is to disclose that the Palestinian national movement continues to enjoy strong support from each and every important country in the world, thereby rejecting the current Israeli approach, supported by the United States, to impose unilaterally a solution of the long struggle over land and rights on the Palestinian people. Such a solution would foreclose both a sovereign Palestine, deny the Palestinian people the most fundamental of all rights, that of self-determination, and preclude any fair and just arrangement of shared sovereignty between the two people.

A secondary message was the consensus in the General Assembly that on this issue of Jerusalem matters of global justice take precedence over geopolitical maneuvers. There can also be read into the vote the growing erosion of global leadership that had been exercised by Washington since the end of World War II. This erosion reflects the rise of China, and its advocacy, along with that of Russia, and maybe also even leading countries in Europe, of a multipolar approach to the formation and implementation of global policy with respect to security issues, environmental policies, and economic governance. The fact that America’s closest allies, including France, United Kingdom, and Japan voted for the resolution condemning the effort of the U.S. Government to legitimize the establishment of Jerusalem (al-Quds) as Israel’s capital is also of considerable significance. What remains to be seen is how the future of Jerusalem will unfold in light of these dramatic developments. There are currently visible two tendencies—first, the handful of negative votes by tiny island countries and a few minor and dependent Central American countries to follow the lead of the U.S. and move their embassy to Jerusalem; secondly, the counter-initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, given concrete expression by the Turkish decision to establish its embassy for Palestine in East Jerusalem.

What remains to be seen is whether the Trump presidency softens its stand on these issues or doubles or even triples down by defiantly moving its embassy to Jerusalem, withholding economic assistance from countries that voted for the resolution, and reducing its financial contributions to the UN in a vindictive display of hostility at the various actors viewed as responsible for humiliating the U.S. Government, thereby pleasing those pro-Israeli forces that insist that the UN is primarily a venue for Israel-bashing.

Q2: Prior to the UN vote on Jerusalem, US President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution. It seems that his warning has been ineffective. What do you think?

Yes, the ineffectiveness of such an unprecedented overt threat at the UN, abetted by back channel pressures, is definitely a sign that U.S. soft power leadership in the world is experiencing a sharp decline if measured against its reality in the years after World War II, and extending throughout the Cold War Era. More generally, the failure of Haley’s threats to influence the vote of a single country of stature in the world is also indicative of a parallel decline of geopolitical capabilities to control global policy at least on the key issue of the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the context of Jerusalem, which has a strong symbolic significance for many countries. What is unclear is whether this vote exhibits a broader trend among states to pursue foreign policies that exhibit their sovereign independence and distinct views of global policy, rather than as in the past, displaying a strong tendency to defer to the views of a globally dominant state(s). In this context, the radical character of Trump’s presidency may be having the effect of fracturing hegemonic structures of control in contemporary world order that were in any event faced with accumulating skepticism since the end of the Cold War, and the breakdown of the bipolar structure that had shaped much of global policy between 1945 and 1992. What Trump has done is to intensify pre-existing pressures for global restructuring, a dynamic also reinforced by the rejectionist approach taken by the United States on other key issues of global concern, including climate change, the Iran Nuclear Program (5 + 1) Agreement, global migration, ad international trade. The Trump slogan of ‘America, First’ has to be coupled with ‘World, Last,’ to grasp the extent to which the United States invites by its own initiatives a reaction against its outlier policies at odds with strong countervailing views of the international community of states as to desirable forms of global cooperation for the public good. At the very historical moment when the future of humanity depends on unprecedented action on behalf of human, habitat, and global wellbeing, the leading political actor not only withdraws from the effort, but does its best to obstruct constructive behavior. It is as if the United States Government has become a deadly virus attacking the fabric of the global body politic.



Q3: In a speech at the White House on December 6, Trump said his administration would also begin a years-long process of moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem. Do you see any chance that Trump would press ahead with his plan to relocate the embassy given the widespread international opposition? 


My guess at this point is that the U.S. Government will definitely implement its decision to relocate the embassy, but will probably do so in a gradual manner that does not provoke a major subsequent reaction, especially if implementation is entrusted to the State Department. Of course, any steps taken to relocate the American Embassy in Jerusalem will be correctly perceived as a defiant and provocative rejection of the conclusions set forth in the GA Resolution. In this sense, the quality and impact of reactions will depend on the political will of the Palestinian Authority, the OIC, the UN, and world public opinion. At stake, is whether the United States further produces an adverse international reaction to its behavior and whether governments seek to engage further on the issue to preserve the rights of the Palestinian people with respect to Jerusalem. The future interaction with respect to Jerusalem will be very revealing as to both the responsiveness of the United States to the rejection of its approach to the recognition of the Israeli capital at this time and as to the energy of those that supported the resolution to take further steps in the direction of achieving compliance. There is little doubt that a test of wills is likely to emerge in the months ahead that will reveal whether the Jerusalem resolution was a mere gesture or a tipping point.


The fact that the al-Quds resolution was itself based on The Uniting for Peace Resolution (GA Res. 377 A (V), 1950) gives its text a special status, both as the outcome of a rare Emergency Session of the General Assembly and as a truly responsible reaction on behalf of peace and security to an irresponsible use of the veto in the Security Council to block its decision of condemnation backed by a 14-1 vote, that is, all other members. This status gives the General Assembly response on Jerusalem an authoritativeness that should extend far beyond its normal recommendatory capabilities, but as earlier indicated there are few guidelines as to how such an initiative will be implemented if defied.

At stake is the larger issue of whether this path taken to circumvent a P-5 veto in the Security Council might produce a shift in UN authority to the more representative General Assembly.


In any event, it may well be that whatever course of action ensues will exert an important influence on how well the UN in the future can serve the human and global interest, as well as take account of distinct and aggregate national interests as opportunities present themselves. The Trump phenomenon gives a pointedness to fundamental issues of world order viability, especially a capacity to address challenges of global scope in the course of the first biopolitical moment, confronting humanity as such with a prospect of its own mortality.