Tag Archives: Kerry

Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy

27 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a revised text of an article published in AlJazeera America on July 26, 2014. Devastation and violence has continued in Gaza, with Palestinians deaths now numbering over 1000 (overwhelmingly civilians) and Israeli deaths latest reported at being 43 (almost all military personnel). Such casualty figures and disparities raise questions of state terrorism in a stark manner. Also, it should be appreciated that if Israel were to do what it is required by international law to do there would be no rockets directed at its population centers–lift the blockade, negotiate peace on the basis of the 2002 Arab proposals and Security Council 242. Yet this would require Israel to give up once and for all its expansionist vision embedded in the settlement phenomenon and the version of Zionism embraced by its leaders and reigning political parties. The best that the UN has been able to do is to call for an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; such an unseemly balancing act is not what the UN Charter had in mind by aligning the international community in opposition to states that break the peace and act aggressively in disregard of international law; a victimized people deserves protection, not some sort of display of deforming geopolitical symmetry.]

 

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, most recently with Israel’s cabinet rejecting a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. This attempt by Washington is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

 

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial if the proclaimed aim of ending the violence is the true objective of this exhibition of statecraft. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year a sincerity of commitment in pushing so hard for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet throughout the failed peace process the United States exhibited all along this discrediting extreme partisanship, never more blatantly than when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, to serve as the U.S. special envoy throughout the peace talks.

 

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a ceasefire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the initial attempt to bring about a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a unavoidable consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense in the midst of such carnage to handle diplomacy in such a reckless manner when lives were daily at stake. When Israel itself has wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

 

The basic facts seem so calculated to end in diplomatic failure that it is difficult to explain how they could have happened: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the approved text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, secreted endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then publicly announced on July 15 via the media as a ceasefire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas having been consulted, or even previously informed. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged responsibility for insurgent violence in the Sinai. Egypt destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world created to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Was there ever any reason for Hamas to accept such a humiliating ceasefire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. What Hass suggests is that Israel is seeking a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent, and seems to believe that such periodic shows of force will finally break once and for all the will to resist, symbolized by Hamas and its rockets, and now its tunnels. In this respect, the recent move to establish a unity government reconciling the Palestinian Authority with Hamas was a setback for the normalization policy, especially suggesting that even the PA could no longer be taken for granted as an acceptably compliant ‘partner,’ not for peace, but for occupation.

 

Whatever ambiguity might surround the Kerry diplomacy, the fact that the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, made the proposal a “take it or leave it” clearly designed to show the world that Hamas would never be treated as a political actor with grievances of its own. Such a way of proceeding also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included an unwavering insistence on ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign in the West Bank prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, was urging both sides to restore the cease-fire text that had been accepted in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza, but relevantly, had never been fully implemented producing continuous tensions.

 

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

 

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza, which has been flagrantly unlawful since it was first imposed in mid-2007? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is legally (and morally) unacceptable, a view almost universally shared in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly justified in complaining about the rockets, but the maintenance of an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza is an ongoing crime. And it should be appreciated that more often than not, Israel provokes the rockets by recourse to aggressive policies of one sort or another or that most primitive rockets are fired by breakaway militia groups that Hamas struggles to control. A full and unbiased account of the interaction of violence across the Gaza border would not find that Israel was innocent and only Hamas was at fault. The story is far more complicated, and not an occasion for judging which side is entitled to be seen as acting in self-defense.

 

In “Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror,” an insightful July 23 article in The New York Times, the influential Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol drew from the experience of his country in ending decades of violent struggle between the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state. Akyol “congratulated” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (while taking critical note of his “growing authoritarianism”) for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the “terrorist” label. Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.

 

Just as with the peace process itself, the time has surely come for a credible ceasefire to take account of the views and interests of both sides, and bring this sustained surge of barbaric violence to an end. International law and balanced diplomacy are available to do this if the political will were to emerge on the Israeli side, which seems all but impossible without the combination of continuing Palestinian resistance and mounting pressure from outside by way of the BDS campaign and the tactics of a militant, nonviolent global solidarity movement.

 

 

Zombie Ideas and the Presbyterian Divestment Decision

21 Jun

 

 

At this moment it is right to celebrate unreservedly  the outcome of the vote in Presbyterian General Assembly decreeing the divestment of $21 million worth of shares in Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, and Caterpillar, companies long and notoriously associated with implementing Israel’s unlawful occupation policies in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. This carries forward the momentum of the BDS Campaign and recent efforts emanating from the UN and the EU to induce governments, as well as corporations and financial institutions to become aware that it is increasingly viewed as problematic under international law to profit from dealings with Israel’s settlements and occupation security mechanisms.

 

It is much too soon to suggest a cascading effect from recent moves in this direction, but the mainstreaming of the divestment and boycott campaigns in a major achievement of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement that is displacing the moribund ‘peace process’ that in recent months dramatized the extent to which the Israeli Government is not interested in a favorable negotiated solution even as mediated by partisan U.S. mediation mechanisms and in relation to a weak Palestinian Authority that seems readier to offer concessions than to seek compromises that incorporate Palestinian rights under international law.

 

The Presbyterian decision, itself vetted by an elaborate debate and producing a text crafted to narrow the distance between supporters and opponents of divestment did not address issues of context such as Israel’s formal approval of settlement expansion, the Knesset election of a new Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin*, who favors the annexation of the entire West Bank and Jerusalem, and the collapsed negotiations between the parties prompted a year ago by the Kerry diplomatic onslaught. In this regard the Presbyterian decision includes language affirming Israel’s right to exist, encouraging inter-faith dialogue and visits to the Holy Land, distancing the divestment move from BDS, urging a ‘positive investment’ in activities that improves the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, and endorsing the two-state solution should be understood mainly as expressions of intra-Presbyterian politics, and not be interpreted as serious substantive positions. Such an interpretation of what is significant and what is not about this outcome is reinforced by the reported feverish lobbying of pro-Israeli NGOs against the decision, including by the Anti-Defamation League and taking the form of an open letter to the Assembly signed by 1,700 rabbis from all 50 states that together constitute the United States. The most ardent backers of Israel may now pooh-pooh the decision, but this seems like sour grapes considering their all out effort made to avoid such a pro-divestment result, which is sure to have a variety of ripple effects.

 

  • Mr. Rivlin, a Likud Party member of the Knesset, is a follower of the rightest inspirational figure, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, an early Zionist leader who favored a Jewish state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine. At the same time Rivlin is a social and political liberal favoring equal rights for Jews and Palestinians, including giving Palestinians the vote and the chance to govern if they achieve electoral success. Netanyahu, also from Likud and a follower of Jabotinsky, has claimed since 2009 conditionally to support the establishment of some kind of Palestinian state, but acts as if this will never happen under his watch, and in the meantime is totally illiberal in his support for harsh rule in occupied Palestine.

 

 

Because it reflects false consciousness, it may not be too soon to challenge the Presbyterian text for its ‘endorsement’ of the two-state solution. It seems to me to illustrate what Paul Krugman in another context called ‘the Zombie doctrine,’ namely, the retention of an idea, thoroughly discredited by evidence and the realities of the situation, but somehow still affirmed because it serves useful political purposes. Here, it enables the church divestment move to be reconciled with signals that the Prsebyterian Church is not departing from the official consensus among Western governments and the Palestinian Authority as to how the conflict is to be finally resolved. What this overlooks is the utter disdain for such a solution that is evident in Israel’s recent behavior, as well as the situation created by a half million Israeli settlers and over 100 settlements.

 

Some suggest that the Palestinian Authority is equally responsible for the diplomatic breakdown because it acted like a state by signing on to some international conventions angering Israel and then establishing a technocratic interim government as part of a reconciliation agreement with Hamas that angered Israel even more. It seems clear enough that if Israel had been genuinely interested in a grand accommodation with the Palestinians it would welcome such moves as creating the political basis for a more sustainable peace. More significantly, these moves by the PA followed upon overtly provocative announcements by Israeli official sources about approving plans for major settlement expansions and were overtly linked to Israel’s failure to follow through with agreed arrangements for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Despite Kerry’s cajoling and pleading with the Israeli leadership to keep the diplomatic path open, Israel defied Washington. In this political atmosphere, to retain any credibility among the Palestinians, the PA also had to act as if there was nothing to be gained by keeping the negotiations on life support.

 

With all due respect to the Presbyterian drafters of the text, it is not helpful to Palestinians, Israelis, and even Americans to lengthen the half-life of the two-state solution. Zombie ideas block constructive thought and action. Israeli right-wing advocate of an Israeli one-state solution are coming out of the closet in a manner that expresses their new hopes for their preferred solution. Those who favor a just and sustainable peace should abandon the pretension that separate states are any longer feasible, if ever desirable. It has become important to derail two-state discourse, which is at best now diversionary. The only futures worth pondering under current conditions is whether there will emerge from the ruins of the present either a political community of the two peoples that becomes an Israeli governed apartheid state or somehow there arises a secular and democratic bi-national state with human rights for all ethnicities and religious identities each protected on the basis of equality. 

Whose ‘Two State’ Solution? End game or Intermission?

6 Jun

 

            From many sources there is a widespread effort to resume a peace process that has in the past led to failure, frustration, and anger, and often to renewed violence. The newly appointed American Secretary of State, John Kerry, is about to make his fifth trip to Israel since the beginning of 2013, insisting that the two sides try once more to seek peace, and warning if this doesn’t happen very soon, the prospects for an agreed upon solution will be postponed not for just a year or two, but for decades. Kerry says if this current effort does not succeed, he will turn his attention elsewhere, and that the United States will make no further effort. So far, aside from logging the air miles, seems perversely to be responsive to Tel Aviv’s demands for land swaps to allow settlement blocs to be incorporated into Israel and to promote further Palestinian concessions in relation to security arrangements, and totally unresponsive to Ramallah’s demands for some tangible signs from the Israeli government that resumed negotiations will not be another slammed door. In this vein, Kerry’s most ardent recent plea was at the Global Forum, an annual event organized under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee. Kerry told this audience that they possessed the influence to make the peace talks happen.

 

            Somewhat surprisingly, even Marwan Barghouti writing from prison, has seemingly endorsed this Washington activism, and seemed to go further, calling upon the United States Government to use its leverage with Israel to resolve the conflict in a manner that recognizes Palestinian rights, and at the same time serves the broader American interest of stability in the Middle East. If Barghouti’s response to written questions submitted by Adnan Abu Amer of Al-Monitor, and published on May 28, 2013, is read carefully, it reinforces an extremely pessimistic assessment of current prospects for peace. Barghouti is urging the U.S. Government that it must make a 180 degree turn away from its posture of unconditional support for Israel if it wants to be credible with Palestinians in the search for a solution to the conflict that accords with natural justice. The United States would need, above all, to insist that Palestine becomes a fully sovereign state within the 1967 borders, have East Jerusalem as its capital, while supporting the full implementation of UN Resolution 194 that affirms the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the removal of the settlements without noting any exceptions. These are all reasonable positions to take, each in furtherance of the relevant standards of international law. Yet it must be observed, and I am sure this is not news to Mr. Barghouti, Palestinian reasonableness in the context of the Israel/Palestine struggle means choosing not to be politically relevant.

 

            It is from precisely this perspective that Barghouti words should be carefully and respectfully pondered. He calls the two-state solution “the only possible solution” and adds that it “must not be abandoned.” It is a vision of a two-state solution that comes superficially close to what the Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, advocates, but seems light years away from the kind of ‘solution’ that Israel might consider or Kerry advocate. In other words, there are two radically different two-state solutions that are often not being carefully distinguished: what might be called ‘the American conception,’ originally detailed in Barack Obama’s May 21, 2011 speech delivered at the U.S. State Department, which at the time of its utterance seemed to look toward Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders, with minor border adjusments, but included a general acceptance of Israel’s refusal to implement the Palestinian right of return behind the green line and its expectation that the main settlements would be incorporated into Israel sovereign territory . As so often has happened suring the Obama presidency, what seemed initially forthcoming, was soon altered by backpedaling in a manner that has severely damaged American credibility as a fair-minded third party. The U.S. Government in this instance has gradually come to acquiesce in, even if does not openly avow, these Israel’s unyielding demands, which makes Washington approach to the idea of two states for two peoples radically different than the Barghouti/Avnery conception of Palestinian statehood and self-determination. This latter conception is premised on the establishment of a genuinely sovereign and independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a genuine equality of the two states on matters bearing on security, resources, and refugee identity. There are, to be sure, important differences between Barghouti and Avnery with respect to the right of return, with Avnery opting for a more territorial view of the conflict consistent with the more moderate and humane Zionist views about limiting rights of Palestinian refugees and of the second-class status of the Palestinian minority living in Israel, but still rather far from the Barghouti position on these crucial matters so often ignored by the Western media.

 

            In the background is the persisting unwillingness of the Netanyahu government, despite the overall backing it receives from Washington, to make Kerry’s life easier by undertaking some obvious confidence-building gestures: a settlement freeze and the release of some Palestinian political prisoners. Netanyahu insists on no preconditions for resumed negotiations, which means no letup in settlement expansion, no lifting of the Gaza blockade, and the continuing abusive treatment of the West Bank population. Kerry was probably hoping that his remarks at the AJC event would generate some pressure on Netanyahu to be somewhat more forthcoming. It is clear that if the Palestinian Authority are to enter direct negotiations while settlement expansion continued unchecked, it would likely be extremely detrimental to the claims of Mahmoud Abbas to be the sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people, a view that Barghouti rejects despite his Fatah affiliation.

 

            If Netanyahu was more adroit he could yield on these confidence-building prerequisites, and put Abbas in a bind. What has the Palestinian Authority to gain by entering into negotiations with an unabashedly expansionist and settler oriented Israeli government? Perhaps, it would win momentary favor in Washington. But for what benefit in relation to the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just solution? There are no signs whatsoever that Israel would even consider an outcome for negotiations that remotely resembled the Barghouti/Avnery two-state conception even if their differences are set aside for the moment. What would likely happen is that the negotiations would breakdown, as in the past, with the Palestinians receiving the lion’s share of the blame. Israel has much more spin control in the world media, especially if its narrative is backed by the United States, as has been the case in the past and would almost certainly be in the future. The likely hasbara assault would put the Palestinians in the position of once more being seen as rejecting what would be put forward to the world as generous Israeli proposals for a two-state solution that if looked at closely offered a statelet instead of a state, and even then subject to a humiliating and intrusive Israeli regime of control, all in the name of security, which should recall the disingenusous Israeli claim that its ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005 put an end to the ‘occupation’ of the Gaza Strip.

 

            Barghouti distance from what Kerry is trying to broker was also underscored by his expression of anger directed at the recent acceptance by the Arab League of modifications of its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative made in response to pressures exerted by Kerry. Barghouti’s comment on this aspect of Kerry’s diplomacy is worth reproducing: “The Arab Peace Initiative is the lowest the Arabs have gone in terms of a historical settlement with Israel. The statements of the Arab ministerial delegation to Washington in regards to amending the 1967 borders and accepting the land-swap inflict great damage on the Arab stance and Palestinian rights, and stimulate the appetite of Israel for more concessions. No one is entitled to amend borders or swap land; the Palestinian people insist on Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, in addition to removing the settlements.” In effect, what Kerry put forward as a diplomatic coup, Barghouti denounced as an Arab betrayal. It all goes to show that there are many contradictory understandings cohabiting within the two-state tent.

 

            It is notable that Barghouti also warns Israel and the United States that reliance on the status quo, which seems so comfortable from Tel Aviv’s perspective in recent years, is dangerously shortsighted: “security cannot be achieved without peace.” And further by implication, although not expressed in these words, “peace cannot be achieved without justice.” In this spirit of defiant nationalism, Barghouti also affirms that a right of resistance belongs to the Palestinian people, but its exercise should be sensitive to the limits of international law—“The tortured and oppressed Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves by all means approved by the UN Charter and international law. Total resistance is the most effective.” Barghouti in his responses strongly stresses the importance of moving to fulfill the tentative agreement between Fatah and Hamas to achieve Palestinian unity, while restating his awareness that resolving the refugee issue is central to a just solution while reaffirming his faith in an eventual Palestinian victory.

 

            Both Kerry and Barghouti reject a one-state solution as not of any political interest, unfortunately leaving the peace process where it currently belongs—in an undurable limbo of indefinite extension. Netanyahu and Kerry have a Plan B that might really be their Plan A. It involves what Netanyahu shamelessly calls an ‘economic peace,’ a persistence of the occupation and status quo, but in a manner that makes life materially somewhat better for West Bank Palestinians (Gazans are no where to be found on this most dubious ‘map of conscience.’). It cannot be a coincidence that at this time Kerry is peddling a scheme to induce $4 billion of investment in the West Bank, presumably to convert the occupation and Palestinian statelessness into a new kind of ‘golden arch.’ The moment may have arrived to chase the moneychangers from the temple!

 

            In pondering this dismal landscape of peace talk without peace, one wonders what became of ‘the roadmap’ and ‘the Quartet.’ It may be a small blessing that their irrelevance is being tacitly acknowledged. These creations never seemed more than a thin and deceitful veil thrown over a one sided American control over Israel/Palestine diplomacy. [For compelling documentation see Rashid Khalidi’s Broker of Deceit (2013)] In this sense the boldness of Kerry’s statecraft and Barghouti’s implicit recognition that the peace ball is in America’s court at least moves in the direction of ‘eyes wide open.’ For Kerry this means another set of grand gestures, for Netanyahu it means remaining immobile in the comfort zone created by the Palestinian shift away from the tactics of violent resistance,  for Barghouti it means a call for resistance, a plea for  more  solidarity, and a kind of longing for an Israeli, or even an American, France’s DeGaulle or South Africa’s De Klerk who bothdramatically ruptured prior expectations by replacing confrontation with accommodation. Until something as drastic as this occurs, although not necessarily the work of a charismatic counter-hero, we need at least to have the honesty to admit that the end of the tunnel is dark except for occasional flickers of light. I discern such a flicker in the undertakings of those engaged in a legitimacy war against Israel, step by step gaining the high moral and legal ground, which may soon uncover political tipping points that will abruptly alter the relations of forces in support of Palestinian justice claims. The Palestinian Legitimacy War combines Palestinian resistance with a global solidarity campaign that is being waged on a global battlefield.