Tag Archives: Jerusalem

On Political Preconditions

15 May

 

 

            To the extent that diplomacy solves international problems it depends on the satisfaction of the political preconditions that must be met for negotiations betweensovereign states to reach sustainable and benevolent results. To clarify the point, in situations where there is a clear winner and loser, political preconditions are irrelevant, as the winner can dictate the terms, either imposing them as was done after World War II in response to the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, or offering proposals on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. This is what Israel has attempted to do over the course of the twenty years that the Oslo Framework, the Roadmap, and the Quartet, have provided the ground rules for diplomacy with respect to Israel/Palestine negotiations. Israel has performed as if the winner, and expected Palestine to act as if the loser, but so far this scenario has not produced the desired outcome, a ‘peace’ essentially framed in accordance with Israel’s priorities (retaining settlements by critical land swaps, annexing the whole of Jerusalem, maintaining access to West Bank aquifers, ignoring refugees, de-linking Gaza). Palestine although occupied, without a sympathetic intermediary, and despite many of its people living as refugees or in exile, has not given up the struggle for a fair outcome as defined by international law and international morality.

 

            My point here is conceptual in large part. It applies to various forms of advocacy, including the abolition of nuclear weapons or the establishment of world government. In neither instance, are the political conditions present for the realization of such goals, assuming that in some form such outcomes would be desirable. In relation to nuclear weapons, leading state actors are not willing to part with such weaponry, especially as its retention is strongly supported by entrenched bureaucratic and private sector interests, as well as being ideologically grounded in political realism, which continues to shape the worldview of most national elites. With respect to world government, there is no climate of opinion that is strong enough to challenge the nationalist orientation of every government and citizenry that exists in the world. Besides, trying to consolidate governmental authority in the presence of the degree of radical inequality that presently exists is more likely to produce global totalitarianism than a benevolent form of centralized humane global governance.

 

            The reason for addressing this subject at this time is the feverish efforts by the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, to stimulate the resumption of direct peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. On neither side are the political preconditions present. The Netanyahu led government is clearly committed to achieving the political embodiment of Greater Israel, and would not settle for anything less. It is seeking as much legitimation as possible for this expansionist objective, hopeful that adroit diplomacy with American help can yield such a result. For Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority, there is a lack of representational coherence and political unity, as the elected governing authorities of Gaza are not represented, nor is the wider Palestinian community of refugee communities in neighboring countries. Even if Palestinian negotiators were to accept under pressure some version of Israel’s Plan A, it is almost certain that it would not be accepted by the Palestinian people. Given this setting, political preconditions for direct negotiations do not exist, and any resumption of direct negotiations appears to be worth less than nothing.

 

            Why worse than nothing? If past efforts are any indication, the side with the weaker standing in the international community and the media, is likely to receive most of the blame for the almost certain breakdown at the site of negotiations, and this has been Palestine’s previous experience. Beyond this, both sides will probably react to diplomatic failure by pursuing with renewed unilateral vigor their respective conception of Plan B: Israel will complain about the absence of a partner for peace and proceed with accelerated expansion of settlements and related road construction, as well as continuing with its promotion of the unification of the city of Jerusalem; Palestine, on its side, will seek to intensify resistance, possibly emphasizing more its confidence in the global solidarity movement building around the BDS campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, highlighted recently by Stephen Hawking’s much heralded boycott of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ fifth annual conference of global notables on the theme of Facing Tomorrow.

 

            Time is not neutral in situations of gross disparity. The side with hard power control can encroach further on the prospects of the weaker side. If we look back at the developments of the past twenty years, we take note of the extraordinary growth in the number of Israeli settlers and the ethnographic and infrastructural changes in the city of Jerusalem, making it difficult to continue to lend credence to Palestinian self-determination being realized by a ‘two-state’ solution, which remains the American oft-repeated mantra. What might have seemed like a viable Palestinian state in 1967 when Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted, became less so, when the Oslo Framework was accepted on the White House lawn in 1993, and by 2013 it is a delusionary goal.

 

            Understanding the relevance of political preconditions is crucial to rational behavior in seeking solutions to long festering problems. Also where there are gross disparities of power and expectations a conflict is almost never ripe for resolution. Of course, the opposite is also true. When political conditions exist for a fair solution, then it is imperative to move forward, flexibly and with an eye on a win/win outcome. Given the perspectives of the two sides, if win/win does not seem realistic, then patience is preferable to a demoralizing charade of false consciousness.  

What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

24 Mar

 

 

            It was master-crafted as an ingratiating speech by the world’s most important leader and the government that has most consistently championed Israel’s cause over the decades. Enthusiastically received by the audience of Israeli youth, and especially by liberal Jews around the world. Despite the venue, President Obama’s words in Jerusalem on March 21st seemed primarily intended to clear the air somewhat in Washington. Obama may now have a slightly better chance to succeed in his second legacy-building presidential term despite a deeply polarized U.S. Congress, and a struggling American economy if assessed from the perspective of workers’ distress rather than on the basis of robust corporate profits. 

 

            As for the speech itself, it did possess several redeeming features. It did acknowledge that alongside Israeli security concerns “Palestinian people’s right of self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized.” This affirmation was followed by the strongest assertion of all: “..put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” To consider the realities of the conflict through Palestinian eyes is to confront the ugly realities of prolonged occupation, annexationist settlement projects, an unlawful separation wall, generations confined to the misery of refugee camps and exile, second-class citizenship in Israel, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and a myriad of regulations that make the daily life of Palestinians a narrative of humiliation and frustration. Of course, Obama did not dare to do this. None of these realities were specified, being left to the imagination of his audience of Israeli youth, but at least the general injunction to see the conflict through the eyes of the other pointed the way toward empathy and reconciliation.

 

            Obama also encouraged in a helpful way Israeli citizen activism on behalf of a just peace based on two states for two peoples. A bit strangely he urged that “for the moment, put aside the plans and process” by which this goal might be achieved, and “instead..build trust between people.” Is this not an odd bit of advice? It seems a stretch to stress trust when the structures and practice of occupation are for the Palestinians unremittingly cruel, exploitative, and whittle away day after day at the attainability of a viable Palestinian state. But this farfetched entreaty was coupled with a more plausible plea: “I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” There is some genuine hope to be found in these inspirational words, but to what end given the present situation.

 

            In my opinion the speech was deeply flawed in three fundamental respects:

                        –by speaking only to Israeli youth, and not arranging a parallel talk in Ramallah to Palestinian youth, the role of the United States as ‘dishonest broker’ was brazenly confirmed; it also signaled that the White House was more interested in appealing to the folks in Washington than to those Palestinians trapped in the West Bank and Gaza, an interpretation reinforced by laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl but refusing to do so at the tomb of Yasir Arafat. This disparity of concern was further exhibited when Obama spoke of the children of Sderot in southern Israel, “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.” To make such an observation without even mentioning the trauma-laden life of children on the other side of the border in Gaza who have been living for years under conditions of blockade, violent incursions, and total vulnerability year after year is to subscribe fully to the one-sided Israeli narrative as to the insecurity being experienced by the two peoples.

 

                        –by speaking about the possibility of peace based on the two state consensus, the old ideas, without mentioning developments that have made more and more people skeptical about Israeli intentions is to lend credence to what seems more and more to be a delusionary approach to resolving the conflict. Coupling this with Obama’s perverse injunction to the leaders of the Middle East that seems willfully oblivious to the present set of circumstances makes the whole appeal seem out of touch: “Now’s the time for the Arab world to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel.” How can now be the time, when just days earlier Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel, selecting a cabinet that is deeply dedicated to settlement expansion and resistant to the very idea of a genuine Palestinian state? It should never be forgotten that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization announced back in 1988 that it was prepared to make a sustained peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. By doing this, the Palestinians were making an extraordinary territorial concession that has never been reciprocated, and operationally repudiated by continuous settlement building. The move meant accepting a state limited to 22% of historic Palestine, or less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan contained in GA Resolution 181, which at the time was seen as grossly unfair to the Palestinians and a plan put forward without taking account of the wishes of the resident population. To expect the Palestinians to be willing now to accept significantly less land than enclosed by these 1967 borders to reach a resolution of the conflict seems highly unreasonable, and probably not sustainable if it should be imprudently accepted by the Palestinian Authority.

 

                        –by endorsing the formula two states for two peoples was consigning the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent second-class citizenship without even being worthy of mention as a human rights challenge facing the democratic Israel that Obama was celebrating. As David Bromwich has pointed out [“Tribalism in the Jerusalem speech,”] http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/tribalism-jerusalem-speech.html Obama was also endorsing a tribalist view of statehood that seem inconsistent with a globalizing world, and with secularist assumptions that a legitimate state should never be exclusivist in either its religious or ethnic character. Obama went out of his to affirm the core Zionist idea of a statist homeland where all Jews can most fully embrace their Jewishness: “Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” And with embedded irony no mention was made of the absence of any Palestinian right of return even for those who were coerced into fleeing from homes and villages that had been family residences for countless generations.

            Such a regressive approach to identity and statehood was also by implication attributed to the Palestinians, also affirmed as a a lesser entitlement. But this is highly misleading, a false symmetry. The Palestinians have no guiding ethno-religious ideology that is comparable to Zionism. Their quest has been to recover rights under international law in the lands of their habitual residence, above all, the exercise of their inalienable right of self-determination in such a manner as to roll back the wider claims of settler colonialism that have been so grandiosely integral to the Greater Israel vision and practice of the Netanyahu government. And what of the 20% of the current population of Israel that lives under a legal regime that discriminates against them and almost by definition is a permanent consignment to second-class citizenship. Indeed, Obama’s speech was also an affront to many Israeli post-Zionists and secularists who do not affirm the idea of living under in a hyper-nationalist state with pretensions of religious endowments.

 

            In my view, there are two conclusions to be drawn. (1) Until the rhetoric of seeing the realities of the situation through Palestinian eyes is matched by a consideration of the specifics, there is created a misleading impression that both sides hold equally the keys to peace, and both being at fault to the same extent for being unwilling to use them.  (2) It is a cruel distraction to urge a resumption of negotiations when Israel clearly lacks the political will to establish a viable and independent sovereign Palestinian state within 1967 borders and in circumstances in which the West Bank has been altered by continuous settlement expansion, settler only roads, the separation wall, and all the signs are suggesting that there is more of the same to come. Making matters even worse, Israel is taking many steps to ensure that Jerusalem never becomes the capital of whatever Palestinian entity eventually emerges, which is a severe affront not only to Palestinians and Arabs, but to the 1.4 billion Muslims the world over.

 

            In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such the visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the outrageous continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence, not to mention the non-representation and collective punishment of the Gazan population of 1.5 million. Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on armed struggle.  It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier, ignore nonviolent tactics of Palestinian resistance and the surge of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and then hypocritically call on both peoples to move forward toward peace by building relations of trust with one another. On what planet has Mr. Obama been living? 

 

            

Short Addendum to the Open Letter to My Blog

6 Sep

 

            As I should have anticipated the responses to my effort to set some rules of the road for my blog produced considerable feedback, which was equally divided between those who welcomed such monitoring to sustain a civility of tone and useful substantive debate and those who believed that debate should go forth without such constraints, and that it was my moral failure, even alleged cowardice, to control the comment section in this way. Some contended that there were benefits from even uncivil exchanges, a position I understand, but do not share. Several of the responses were, as earlier, accusatory toward my character, repeating old charges, some demeaned the character of others who submitted comments, and some derisive in their attitude toward the Palestinian and/or Arab or the Jewish people.

 

            I want to restate ever so briefly that I will not in the future give my approval to comments that dwell on character failings of myself or other contributors to the blog or show no respect for the dignity of the Palestinian or Jewish people. Ethnic hatred and prejudice is the source of much suffering in our world and throughout history, and never heals wounds.

 

            I acknowledge a special interest in the quest for a sustainable peace in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict, however remote its achievement currently appears to be. Let me also be forthright in admitting that I feel no responsibility to respond to comments that do not accept as a political premise the relevance of the structure of oppression and disparity of circumstance that separates the Israeli reality from that of Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as second-class citizens in Israel. As well, I am not inclined to respond to those comment writers who question the inalienable and elemental Palestinian right of self-determination in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, claiming that sovereignty is either ‘disputed’ or inheres by biblical or historical claim to Israel. Those who hold such position have many outlets for such views within the blogosphere and elsewhere, but for my purposes, such positions are outside the boundaries of responsible debate.

 

            Finally, I realize that many blogs and online media comment sections operate with much more permissive rules of the road, or virtually none. I tried this, but feel it engendered, especially recently, an atmosphere of acrimony.Such a tone and spirit of intemperance is the very opposite of my goal in establishing and continuing the blog. This new more constrictive approach is one more experiment of mine undertaken in the hope of finding a workable arrangement consistent with my values.

 

            With thanks and feelings of gratitude for all those who have participated in these discussions of my posts over the past couple of years in good faith whether in agreement or not with the positions being set forth. I hope to continue to discuss sensitive issues in ways that will undoubtedly infuriate some of those who visit the blog, but I hope if you choose to participate actively you will embrace this ethos of civility, which in my mind is inseparable from an affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of every person, as well as being a show of respect for the diversities of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender that currently constitute the human species.