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 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World: A Pre-Pandemic Perspective

7 May

[Prefatory Note: The text below is drawn from my presentation at the TRT World Forum, 21-22 October 2019. The conference theme was ‘Globalisation in Retreat: Risks and Opportunities.’ What strikes me now is how different the world seems only six months later due to the surreal impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on all aspects of perception and assessment, the totality of dislocating developments, and the heightening of an existential appreciation of the precariousness of individual and collective experience and of the radical uncertainty cloudinour expectations of the future. Surely my paper would read radically differently if rewritten in ways that took fuller account of intervening developments (the Trump/Kushner Plan) as well as the pandemic]

 

 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World

 

Points of Departure

 This paper considers some impacts of the retreat from globalization on the evolution of Israel/Palestine relations, giving special attention to the regressive character U.S. policy toward the unresolved conflict. This retreat is a complex ongoing phenomenon, generating both risks and opportunities, which are changing through time, and the present character of these threats and opportunities will be explored here. A central feature of world order in the course of this retreat from globalization is the rise of ultra-nationalist political leadership in many important countries that has resulted in a generalized withdrawal of support from cooperative responses to global problem-solving, relying instead on transactional bargains between governments as shaped by geopolitical disparities rather than by deference to considerations of international law, diplomatic compromise, and global justice.

 

Despite these recent negative developments, the politics, culture, and economics of globalization should not be romanticized (Falk, 1999), or more specifically not viewed as achieving positive results in relation to the century of struggle by the Palestinian people to address their legitimate grievances. Above all, the Palestinians have endured the denial of their inalienable right of national self-determination and been victimized by the imposition  of apartheid structures of control on the Palestinian people as a whole, that is, whether living under occupation or otherwise. (Falk & Tilley, 2017). The Palestinian people have been victimized by the primacy of geopolitics for more than a century, ever since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which has illustrated the limits of normative (legal and moral) globalization. The retreat from globalization seems to have accentuated the disregard of international law and the authority of the United Nations, highlighted in relation to Israel/Palestine by the release of the Trump/Kushner plan with the absurd claim to offer ‘the deal of the century.’(U.S. Government, 2020). Such a trend if allowed to continue does amount to a severe setback for Palestinian legitimate aspirations, but such a bleak prospect is being challenged by parallel developments.

 

Whether this retreat from globalization is cyclical, soon to be reversed, or a longer-term linear trend is difficult to discern at this time. Its trajectory is highly contingent on the impingement from unforeseeable political, economic, and ecological developments. It may depend on the outcome of such currently unpredictable developments as to whether the Democratic candidate selected to oppose Donald Trump will go on to win the November 2020 elections, and whether the COVID-19 virus can be contained without producing a global economic collapse. As well, it is important to interpret the depth and breadth of this retreat. It certainly reflects a populist reaction of angry frustration against various forms of inequality that led many people to feel disadvantaged by ‘neoliberal globalization,’ and a turn toward demagogic leaders who denounce such developments and point fingers at the imagined culprits, real and imagined. It has also given rise to an affirmation of nationalism as the most existentially relevant political and ideological alternative to globalism. This economistic mood of grassroots alienation also reflects hostile attitudes and disruptive adjustments that pertain to such historically conditioned challenges as global migration flows and trade tensions. Also relevant for achieving an understanding of these recent developments is whether the apparent re-bonding of peoples on the basis of nationalist, and even racist and civilizational conceptions of the outer limits of political community, is integral to the retreat or just a temporary shift in focus away from the global.

 

We need to keep in mind that despite these evident patterns of retreat, the world in many respects continues to be more interconnected and networked than at any time in human history, and these dynamics are continuing, perhaps even accelerating as technology advances, a largely unacknowledged new interconnections in this digitally driven form of ‘globalization-from-below.’ (Slaughter, 2004, 2019) As well, on ecological and health frontiers, climate change and the global spread of lethal disease, remind us that we cannot hope to address effectively the challenges of the contemporary world without strengthening mechanisms of global cooperation. The behavior of the United States Government in leading the retreat, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Nuclear Program Agreement with Iran (JCPOA, 2015) help us to appreciate how dysfunctional from a world order standpoint is a generalized retreat from globalization, and more concretely, what the loss of U.S. leadership in many global policy domains has meant. Such an endorsement of globalization should not, for instance, be understood as the approval of neoliberal globalization as it unfolded after the end of the Cold War. Indeed, this largely under regulated market driven approach to economic globalization greatly contributed to various types of inequality and alienation that led many peoples throughout the world to be receptive to the appeals advanced in favor of ultra-nationalism. In other words, the ultra-nationalism of the present should not be separated from a variety of disappointments brought about by predatory capitalism (Falk, 1999).

 

U.S. Retreat and Israel/Palestine

The reality of retreat bears crucially on the particular conflict between Israel and Palestine as reflected in the shift of the U.S. approach from its earlier pre-Trump role as partisan intermediary to its hyperbolic identity during the Trump presidency as super-partisan deal maker. Such a shift is fully in keeping with the broader pattern of retreat from globalization, but it has some additional distinguishing features. Above all, the personality and style of Trump, as reinforced by the influence of extreme Zionists donors and Evangelical Christians who constitute powerful elements of his political base. Translated into foreign policy this has meant that undisguised pro-Israeli unilateralism has replaced the earlier American diplomatic public stance of peacemaker, which uneasily coincided with the undisguised ‘special relationship’ with Israel. This special relationship meant concretely unconditional support in all security domains, although tempered by occasional murmurs of disapproval as by calling Israel’s periodic moves to accelerate the expansion of its unlawful settlements as ‘unhelpful.’ By way of contrast, in relation to the settlement movement, which struck an Israeli dagger into the heart of the two-states approach, the presidency of George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama, Trump’s Secretary of State, agreed to close his eyes on their unlawfulness, but only in the context of an agree peace arrangement. Mike Pompeo, abandons altogether the view that the establishment of settlements violates international law without the precondition of reaching an overall agreement(Pompeo, 2020). Beyond this, even before the release of the Trump/Kushner plan, U.S. foreign policy toward Israel after Trump assumed the presidency in early 2017 exhibited a blatant form of one-sided unilateralism with regard to previously unresolved issues: appointing as his principal advisors on Israel and Middle East policy only Zionist extremists (Kushner, Friedman, Greenblatt), moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that were widely assumed to be occupied Syrian territory, cutting U.S. funding for UN humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, and openly embracing Netanyahu’s racist leadership of Israel while turning his back on his Palestinian counterparts and their concerns.

 

Such a pattern of unilateralism is illustrative of the retreat hypothesis because it so directly undercuts not only the earlier somewhat more internationalist American approach, but also so bluntly departs from the global consensus at the UN that favored a negotiated solution that upheld Israel as a legitimate state but based its vision of peace on an agreed establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that would then be accepted as a full member of the UN. A major component of this consensus was the view that diplomacy would be relied upon to resolve the future of Jerusalem, settlements, the treatment of Palestinian refugees, the fixing of borders, and the overall arrangement of security guarantees. On all counts, Israel has recently moved with the apparent approval of Washington to resolve these issues on its own by completing its expansionist agenda. This coordinated Israel/U.S. provocative postures was dramatized by the movement of the American Embassy to Jerusalem in early 2019, an initiative overwhelmingly condemned to no avail by the UN General Assembly (UNGA Res., 2019). The Jerusalem provocation, in particular, was a direct assault on the earlier global consensus and strong Islamic that had insisted that such issues, and especially the status of Jerusalem, be settled by compromises achieved in a negotiating process so as to give both sides the sense of win/win outcomes.

 

In important respects, what this Trump turn represented beyond its affinity with other expressions of anti-globalization, was an assessment that the Oslo diplomacy had been tried and failed, and that it was an opportune time to make a shift toward a more muscular, less consensual, geopolitics.

 

Daniel Pipes, long a Zionist proponent best articulated this approach on his website, Middle East Forum, months before its adoption is slightly less crude form by Trump/Kushner (Pipes, 2017). Pipes insisted that diplomacy had been tried in good faith as the means to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict, but had failed, and it was time to try a different approach. In his view, conflicts of this sort that prove difficult to resolve by diplomacy are shown by history to be ended only through the victory of one side that then dictates the terms of peace, with the losing side being compelled to surrender its political objectives. Without a glimmer of surprise, it was Pipes’ view that objective analysis identified Israel as the winner, Palestine the loser.  Yet despite this, the conflict dragged on because the Palestinian leadership with its head in the clouds refused to accept this reality. The task of Israel, with U.S. backing, was to intensify coercion until Palestine sees the light and surrenders, and a new normal can be established. Trump/Kushner use a twisted language of ‘peace’ rather than the transparency ofa ‘victory’ to set forth their conception of the end-game in the long struggle. The substance of the plan legitimizes Israel’s territorial and security ambitions and offers the Palestinians what is called ‘a state,’ but is in fact ‘a statelet’ that is nothing more than ‘a Bantustan,’ a shorthand reference to South African way of setting up totally subordinates political entities subject to the rigors of its apartheid structures of control. To encourage the Palestinians to swallow the Kool Aid of the deal of the century, the Palestinians are threatened with unnamed dire consequences if they reject, and enticed with sugar-coated offers of economic development assistance if they accept.

 

It is too early to gauge whether Palestine’s immediate rejection of the Trump/Kushner/Netanyahu victory approach will prevail. This undoubtedly depends on whether such an outcome is endorsed by the Israeli and American election results in 2020, especially the latter. If Netanyahu and Trump both win, then the Palestinian Authority will likely  experience coercive pressures to give up their political ambitions, and opt for a more normalized economic and social life as the best result they can hope for. What is striking from the perspective of the globalization hypothesis is the willingness of the U.S. to depart so unconditionally from the global consensus to support Israel in a manner that seems not only anti-internationalist, but also in all likelihood works against its broader and longer term strategic national interests in the Middle East, which cannot count on the indefinite repression of fiercely pro-Palestinian sentiments among Arab populations. As such, this path to ‘peace’ compounds the retreat from globalization with a costly challenge to stability in the region. This imprudent posture is domestically driven by narrowly parochial interests as epitomized by AIPAC lobbying leverage and Zionist donor pressures on the American political process (Mearcheimer & Walt, 2003). Although these features of the American political scene antedated Trump, his presidency has accentuated their relevance.

 

With respect to the U.S. approach to Israel/Palestine it might not have assumed such an extreme form without the specificity of the Trump election. In other words, retreat from globalization would likely have been present whoever was the Republican nominee in 2016 and even likely, in the event that Hillary Clinton had been elected. Yet the anticipated retreat would have taken place in those circumstances of new American political leadership without breaking the continuity of approach to Israel and the conflict in the radical manner adopted by Trump. The American retreat might have emphasized anti-migrant, economic nationalism, and confrontation with Russia to a greater extent, and possibly less drastic withdrawals from globalist engagements in the security domain. That is even with American leaders other than Trump accepting the politics of retreat, it seems rather likely that policy toward Israel and Palestine would have displayed only minor changes from the Bush/Obama years, probably becoming even more reluctant to  criticize Israel on settlement expansion than was Obama’s willingness to break with his own practice by allowing the 2016 criticism of Israel by the Security Council to reach a decision, abstaining rather than as on prior occasions, using its veto to shield Israel from formal censure even if it stood alone in doing so. It is never possible to be very confident about ‘what if’ conjectures, but nevertheless it seems highly unlikely that had a different president been voted into office in 2016 the approach to Palestinian grievances would have abandoned diplomacy and opted so openly for coercion and unilateralism. (Falk, 2017)

  

What likely would have occurred with the Republican alternatives to Trump in 2016 but not so if Clinton had won is a retreat from what might be called ‘normative globalization,’ which is the most obvious common anti-globalization stance being taken across the globe. What this normative dimension of retreat entails is a general lessening of confidence in and respect for the UN and international law, and a declining reliance on global approaches to problem-solving, whether the subject-matter is trade relations, human rights, migrant flow, or climate change.

 

In such a transactional atmosphere, problem-solving with respect to international conflict resolution relies heavily on coercive diplomacy among states and the geopolitical priorities of dominant states. The effect could be to sharpen geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, U.S. and Russia, and possibly give rise to a new Cold War, with regional military confrontations and dangerous escalation dangers. In this set of circumstances, the emergence of autocratic and ultra-nationalist leadership would lead to more pragmatic relationships reflecting geopolitical priorities rather than normative affinities based on shared values and world order commitments.

 

Risks Associated with Trump’s Version of Retreat from Globalization

Superficially, and in the short run, Israel has been a beneficiary of this U.S. shift in diplomatic posture, but there are secondary effects and contingencies that may yet turn out to be favorable to the Palestinian struggle. More concretely, this means that the United States no longer seeks to act in general accord with the international consensus that has been shaped over the decades at the UN and elsewhere, which although reflecting a pro-Israel bias, endorsed the view that this conflict could only be resolved by some sort of negotiated accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians that set the terms and established a process for achieving a sustainable peace.

 

Of course, this shift in U.S. policy reflected several converging factors that resulted in the Trump presidency of which a retreat from the UN consensus and rule-governed global diplomacy was only one element. Other factors included the influence exerted by Zionist donors in American domestic politics and by Trump family members, the softening of the attitudes of Arab governments toward Israel, the reduced Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and the heightening of tensions with Iran. Yet the retreat from globalization is of the greatest importance as explaining the disregard of the international consensus exhibited at the UN that had somewhat constrained earlier U.S. policy, yet these limits should not be overstated as they did not prevent the continuous erosion of Palestinian rights and expectations as measured by the rules and principles of international law. That is, despite U.S. global leadership, and endorsement of globalization, in relation to Israel/Palestine an incremental coercive diplomacy that favored Israel was what led to a steady deterioration of the Palestinian position. In this respect the super-partisanship of the Trump presidency removed the pretenses and inconsistencies of normative globalization that had not materially helped the Palestinian side, while covering up the one-sided support of Israel’s political zero-sum agenda. Does this greater clarity give Palestinians new opportunities as well as pose more severe challenges?

 

The United States has for more than 25 years claimed the role of indispensable intermediary in working toward a negotiated peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine. Such a role reflected its global leadership status that was without challenge after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, as well as Israel’s insistence that if negotiations were ever to occur, they had to be conducted within a framework presided over by the United States. The U.S. status as global leader also corresponded with a renewed emphasis on the Middle East (and East Asia) given the altered historical circumstance. This meant replacing Europe as the strategic site of geopolitical struggle in a globalizing world. The importance of the Middle East for the United States reflected four interrelated concerns: access to the regional oil reserves at affordable prices; ensuring Israeli security; containing the spread of political Islam in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution (1979); avoiding any further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

 

Given these realities there existed a strong diplomatic incentive on the part of the United States to find a solution to the Palestinian struggle that would alleviate pro-Palestinian pressures without appearing to weaken the ideological and strategic special relationship between the United States and Israel. After years of frustration on the diplomatic terrain, the Oslo Framework of Principles, agreed upon in 1993, seemed to provide a credible path to compromise and peace, consisting of the regional normalization of Israel as a legitimate state within agreed borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states, the satisfaction of Israeli security concerns, some kind of compensation as a substitute for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and the legalization of most of Israel unlawful encroachments (separation wall, settlements, road network, security zones) on formerly occupied Palestine. This peace dynamic, although sharply favorable to Israel, was viewed as the most realistic political compromise that could be achieved. Its adoption by the most affected parties also silenced  most opposition in international arenas. This new dynamic was celebrated as a major breakthrough, launched with theatrical fanfare by the dramatic handshake on the White House lawn. The famous 1993 picture of the Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, shaking hands with the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, and a smiling U.S. President, Bill Clinton standing in between, was the iconic climax of choosing this delusionary path to peace. These delusions were challenged two years later by the assassination of Rabin, and even more by the rightward drift of Israeli politics and the growing influence of the settler movement, but the diplomacy dragged on and on, and even the Palestinians seemed lulled to inaction as the diplomacy continued wending its way through a labyrinth without an exit.  

 

What is most relevant to the focus adopted here is that this diplomatic approach under U.S. auspices was superficially respectful toward the international consensus on how to address the conflict—that is, by diplomacy that was framed as negotiations between the parties, and was understood to seek compromises on the main issues in contention (territory, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security).  This outlook, supported by bipartisanship in the United States, meaning overwhelming Congressional support and a continuity of approach whether the president was a Democrat or Republican. This Oslo peace process seemed consistent with American foreign policy of ‘liberal internationalism’ that persisted throughout the Cold War, and endured until 9/11 occurred, and being finally discarded by Trump. The Trump orientation may be described as militarist geopolitics and ultra-nationalist illiberalism. As applied to Israel/Palestine this means the Pipes victory scenario presented as diktat with scant interest in enticing Palestinian acceptance. As such, with irony, this most pro-Israeli of all American presidents has ironically fractured Jewish support for Israel, alienating not only progressive Jews but also many liberal Zionists who believed in a negotiated two-state peace agreement (Bishara, 2020).

 

However, to gain a proper attitude toward the Trump stance, it is necessary to avoid an unjustified embrace of this prior American peace diplomacy. it is crucial to identify the weaknesses of an approach that claimed fairness to the Palestinians while strongly slanting the process and its intended outcome toward Israel. As with Pipes, yet skillfully disguised as a compromise, Oslo diplomacy when deconstructed reveals a weaker version of an Israeli victory scenario (Baake & Omer, 20–). By failing to mention a Palestinian right of self-determination or affirm the equality of the two sides, the Oslo framework of principles set in motion a one-sided diplomacy that gave weight to power disparities, a bias further reinforced by having an overtly partisan intermediary. This imbalance was further accentuated by the insistence that Palestinian negotiators swallow all objections to Israeli violations of international law until the so-called ‘final status’ negotiations at the last stage of the process. Palestinians were told that objecting in the present context would jeopardize the negotiations. Israel never ceased building and expanding its network of unlawful settlements and further encroaching on the Palestinian territorial remnant by securitizing the settlements, including connections to Israel, which truly undercut the credibility of negotiations. Beyond this, what were called ‘negotiations’ were basically occasions for Israel to put forward self-serving proposals for conflict resolution on a take it or leave it basis, realizing Israeli goals and neglecting Palestinian priorities, and undoubtedly expecting the Palestinian side to reject. In this period, the two sides also sought agreement in direct secret negotiations that were similarly, yet more explicitly, weighted in Israel’s favor, and indicated that despite the willingness of the PLO to give Israel most of what it wanted by way of keeping its settlements and meeting its security concerns the their Israeli counterparts showed little interest (Palestine Papers, 2—). Even if the two sides somehow had signed such a one-sided peace agreement it might not have produced anything more substantial than a pause in the struggle, in effect, one more periodic ceasefire, and quite likely rejected by both the Israeli and Palestinian publics. Succeeding generations of Palestinians would not be likely to accept the validity such permanent subjugation in what purports to be a post-colonial world order. The wild fires of the ethics of nationalism and the politics of self-determination would almost certainly have doomed an arrangement that left Palestinians languishing in an entity called a state, but lacking in the most elemental aspect of sovereignty, control over its own security.   

 

Even on the Israeli side, the Oslo slant may not have satisfied the implicit Zionist agenda of recovering the whole of the promised land, the biblical entitlement on which Israel’s claims rest, but was temporarily and tactically acceptable as it improved overall prospects to reach such a goal. This helps explain Israeli contentment despite a diplomatic process that seemed a bridge to nowhere, and never acknowledged Jewish biblical entitlement. For Israel the Oslo process was a bridge to somewhere, allowing the country to accumulate many facts on the ground, while further structuring the kind of apartheid state needed to check Palestinian resistance, thereby ensuring the stability of an ethnically based hegemonic social, economic, and political order. For Palestine, Oslo diplomacy proved to be a political disaster despite its initial gift wrapping, as the noose of victimization tightened to the point that Palestinians became virtual strangers, or even captives, in their own homeland, slowly recognizing that when the wrappings were removed the package within was an empty box. Such a dual process of Israel’s gain and Palestine’s loss occurred while the globalization fever remained high, and this one-sided dynamic achieved its momentum years before deglobalization trends became evident.

 

When Trump arrived on the political scene in 2017, the de facto reality of an Israeli one-state solution coexisted with defunct governmental and UN continued adherence to a de jure vision of a two-state outcome. What Trump sought by dropping the pretense of negotiating the future for Israel and Palestine was a changed formula for ending the struggle over the sequel to the British Mandate. Even Trump did not overtly affirm the major Zionist premise of biblical entitlement, using the accepted international terminology of ‘the West Bank’ rather than the promised land language of ‘Judea and Samaria.’ The Trump/Kushner approach legitimized facts on the ground as of 2020, suspending all scrutiny of the lawlessness by which the facts were accumulated. Kushner expressed this outlook clearly in an interview the day after the White House finally released its peace plan: “I’m not looking at the world as it existed in 1967. I’m looking at the world as it exists in 2020.” As well, Trump/Kushner’s deal avoided an explicit endorsement of the analysis of Pipes based on using force to induce the Palestinian leadership to surrender its political goals and accept Israel’s victory in the long struggle between these two peoples to control the identity of the homeland in what had been a Palestinian entity during the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate.

 

The other distinctive feature of the Trump approach was the explicit disregard of Palestinian rights under international law. The American Secretary of State in language rather parallel to the sentiments expressed by Kushner articulated the view that it was time to abandon the earlier U.S. official stance of regarding Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as unlawful. In Mike Pompeo’s words of explanation, “..arguments about who is right and wrong in international law will not bring peace.” On behalf of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi articulated anger and frustration in a tone of understandable exasperation: “We cannot express horror and shock because this is a pattern, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific..total disregard of international law, what is right and just, and for peace.” Although Ashrawi’s words resonate with attitudes toward international law pre-Trump and pre-retreat, the discontinuity is not as great as liberal internationalists contend (ICJ, 2004). All through the post-1967 period of occupation, while the settlement process and related encroachments on Palestinian rights and aspirations occurred, the Palestinians were counseled to withhold their international law objections so that the peace process might go forward, and the Israelis were lightly scolded as their expansionist dreams became building projects. In this spirit violating international law was ‘unhelpful,’ but if sustained, could gain legal acceptance as they did in 2004 when the Bush/Sharon exchange of letters (Bush/Sharon, 2004) declared that the settlement blocs would become part of Israel’s sovereign territory in any future peace arrangement.

 

Rhetoric matters, and this overt show of disregard for international law is an integral aspect of this broader retreat from globalization.  Respect for and confidence in international law and procedures is a vital precondition for encouraging globally cooperative approaches to problems that affect the world as a whole. The proudest achievements of liberal internationalism along these lines were based on lawmaking treaties governing such disparate matters as the public order of the oceans, the development of Antarctica, and some aspects of military competition in the nuclear age. With the rise of ultra-nationalism and the decline of global leadership by the United States, world order is again reliant on the pre-1945 state-centric style of geopolitical rivalry, but facing the severe diverse challenges of global scope that threaten the world with catastrophe in the 2020s and beyond.

 

The main risks attributable to this interplay between the retreat from globalization and the super-partisanship of American policy toward Israel/Palestine can be summarized as follows:

–stabilizing Israel’s apartheid state, while denying the Palestinian people basic human rights, particularly, the right of self-determination;

–weakening respect for international law, the UN, and the authority of diplomatic resolution of international disputes;

–expressing the transition in the American global and regional leadership roles from a liberal internationalist perspective to that of rogue superpower;

–lending support to an outcome of the long struggle based on power rather than law or ethic, thereby establishing a very unfortunate precedent for conflict resolution in the 21st century.

 

 

Opportunities Resulting from the New Realities of Retreat and U.S. Hyper-Partisanship

At first glance, the situation following the release of the Trump/Kushner seems totally discouraging. It affirms the form and substance of Israel’s right-wing leadership, whether Likud or Blue/White, and reflects the dominant Zionist agenda reflecting ‘biblical entitlement’ to the whole of the promised land, either by direct or indirect sovereign control. As such it rejects a political compromise. It seems to confront Palestinians with the unhappy alternatives of political surrender or forcible resistance. Paths promising a political compromise, sovereign equality, and resting on international diplomacy seem indefinitely closed. Beyond this, the important Arab governments are silently siding with Israel, and Palestinians are without any realistic prospect of unified leadership. Given the recognition of this situation, it is difficult not to succumb to despair.

 

And yet, the Palestinians show no sign of regarding their struggle as ‘a lost cause.’ Resistance activity remains robust, and no element of the Palestinian leadership seems ready to sign on to the U.S. proposals, despite the temptations afforded by the offers of economic relief, which must be difficult to dismiss given the desperate plight of the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the diminishing sense of national territory in the West Bank, given Israeli accelerating encroachments and Washington bright green light given expansionist ambitions and cruel, coercive tactics.

 

Such an unfavorable context is reinforced by the retreat from globalization. This retreat as complemented by ultra-nationalism has resulted in reduced respect for the authority of the UN, as well as weakened pressures for a genuine two-state compromise at the UN, which is itself supplemented by less willingness to challenge Israeli defiance of international humanitarian law. The utter disregard of Israeli continual reliance on excessive violence at the Gaza border is emblematic of both disregard by the media, UN, and EU for Palestinian rights and Israeli lawlessness.

 

Yet these developments, as paradoxical as it may sound, also have the potential to improve Palestinian prospects. There are two broad explanations. First, the earlier posture in international society had not been helpful to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. As earlier suggested, Israel acted to undermine the core element in what was regarded as the international consensus, namely, the establishment of a viable sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. By allowing the settlement movement to go forward with subsidized government assistance and encouragement the Israeli government signaled its intention to never let go of control over ‘the promised land.’ Even if forced by geopolitical pressures to accept some kind of demilitarized Palestinian state, the obstacles involved in reversing the settlement dynamic in the West Bank and Jerusalem became more formidable with each passing month. Almost as tellingly, the internal Israeli reference points of ‘Judea and Samaria’ of the West Bank along with the unification and formal annexation of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people underscored the Zionist sense of biblical entitlement as the non-negotiable foundation of its claim rather than the mixture of legal, moral, and political considerations that formed the vision of both the consensus at the UN and the outlook project by ‘liberal Zionists’ in the Jewish diaspora (Khalidi, Brokers, 200-).

 

Secondly, the combinaton of releasing the Trump/Kushner plan and its embrace not only by Netanyahu, and the Likud Party, but by Gantz and Blue and White, clarifies two aspect of the overall situation that had been previously somewhat obscure: (1) present prospects of any form of political compromise to resolve the conflict by diplomacy between the parties are dead for the foreseeable future; (2) advancing the Palestinian struggle at this stage depends on sustaining the legitimacy war that uses all means available to react against Israeli lawlessness and immorality, including international judicial tribunals and the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly (Falk, 2017), continuing various forms of Palestinian resistance to demonstrate that the struggle lives on within Palestinian society, and building momentum in global civil society by soft power means, currently most effectively expressed by the BDS Campaign.

 

In effect, the Palestinian struggle has shifted its center of gravity from its intergovernmental axes to that of the resistance and solidarity. In other words, the role of governments and international institutions, once dominant, is now discredited and subordinated. At some later stage of the conflict, if a balance more favorable to the protection of Palestinian rights is achieved or there is some kind of change of outlook in the United States and/or Israel, then there might again emerge a greater willingness to allow a diplomatic framework to help fashion a mutually acceptable political compromise, but with a major difference. The new diplomacy to have any chance of success in producing a sustainable peace arrangement, must proceed on the basis of the formal and existential equality of the parties, either relying on direct inter-governmental negotiations or by selecting a credibly neutral mediating framework.

 

This alternative more positive framework for conflict resolution not only depends on delegitimation, resistance, and solidarity, it also depends critically on a prior Israeli decision to dismantle the apartheid features of its state structures that now subordinate and victimize the Palestine people as a whole (including refugees, exiles, minority in pre-1967 Israel) on the basis of racial criteria (Falk & Tilley, 2017). Considering the similarities and dissimilarities with the South African experience is also illuminating. The changed balance achieved with respect to South African apartheid was largely achieved by resistance and solidarity initiatives, although unlike the Israel/Palestine conflict, aided by a globalized anti-apartheid campaign. It was a soft power triumph in the end, although that the threat and reality of armed struggle was never eliminated. In the end, the white leadership made a calculated decision that their interest would be better served by accepting what a decade earlier seemed a utopian impossibility—that is, a transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy, which the demographics made clear, would means that the long victimized African majority would control the political destiny of the country. The bargain, a kind of ‘genuine deal of the century’ was a tribute to the skills of Nelson Mandela and the leadership of de Klierk, that made the white minority take their chances based on guarantees of their economic and social rights. Mandela has been criticized for allowing the white to retain their privileged economic position and social status, but without such flexibility, any transition to post-apartheid South Africa would have been violent and bloody.

 

Although Israeli Zionists have genuine demographic concerns given the relative size and fertility rates of the two peoples, their prospects in a secular constitutional democracy for a large share of control over the institutions of governance would remain much more favorable to Jews, provided Jews would not abandon such a post-apartheid state and Palestinians would uphold the rights of the Jews if they were to gain control over the governing process. Undoubtedly, the situation would reflect the context, including geopolitical factors and the motivations, wisdom, and skills of the leadership on both sides.

 

What seems clear, whether the retreat from globalization deepens or is reversed, is that the preconditions of ending Israeli apartheid and accepting commitments to the substance and spirit of equality on both sides is essential to overcoming the present approach premised on a victory scenario combined with the spirit and substance of inequality, which will add to Palestinian suffering without achieving Israeli peace and security. In these circumstances, unlikely to be altered in the near future, the present pattern of control and encroachment will continue.

 

A Concluding Comment

The preceding analysis leads to the conclusion that the retreat from globalization is one factor in altering the nature of the Palestinian struggle, but may not in the end affect the outcome. In the immediate setting, it seems like a major setback for the Palestinians as the Israelis have unambiguous geopolitical support for their most extravagant claims, and there is no meaning countervailing power at either the regional or global levels. Yet in the post-colonial period, a long subjugated people do not give up their dreams of political independence and their grievances of rights denied, especially in the Palestinian as long endorsed by the UN and international public opinion. One development favoring the Palestinians, and evidently worrying the Israelis, is the increasing acceptance of the view that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people and that the Israel needs to be perceived as the last remaining significant settler colonial state. This chance of discourse has been countered by branding activists and critics as ‘anti-Semites’ although their opposition to Israel is nonviolent and unrelated to hostility to Jews as a people, but to the Israeli state as depriving the majority resident population of its rights of self-determination and its overall human rights.

 

Each struggle has its own features, and this is particularly true in the case of Israel/Palestine. A crucial such distinguishing feature is that Israel managed to impose its political will on Palestine with the help of British colonial support, yet able to come to independence as a powerful manifestation of anti-colonial struggle by coercing not only the Palestinians, but making life untenable for the British (Kaplan, 2019). Of course, the last stage of the struggle to establish Israel in the face of Palestinian and Arab opposition were a series of developments in Europe favorable to the Zionist project, especially the moral sympathy arising from Nazi genocidal behavior and the liberal guilt of Europe and North America arising from their failure to challenge German murderous racism. These factors led to the premature legitimation of Israel in 1948, reaching its climax by admission to the United Nations without first resolving Palestinian grievances in a satisfactory manner. Such an attempt might not have succeeded in any event as the Palestinian side refused the idea of partitioning its homeland, and the Zionist side, although outwardly ready to strike a pragmatic bargain never gave up its vision of restoring sovereignty over the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

 

Finally, the retreat from globalization is too new and contingent, to serve as a basis for anticipating the future as it impacts on the Israel/Palestine struggle. As suggested, present realities suggest that the situation seems to favor Israeli ambitions, but some factors could strengthen the Palestinian position overnight, such as the rejection of Trump in the 2020 American elections, the true unification of Palestinian leadership, or the shift toward democratic populism in the Arab world as foreshadowed by the 2011 uprisings. In the event of a restored spirit of globalization an early undertaking might be renewed attention to Palestinian grievances, and a resolve to take action to complete the policy agenda of decolonization and racial equality that dominated the last decades of the prior century .   

 

 

References

 

Abunimah, A.(2014) The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Chicago,Il: Haymarket Books.

 

Bauck, P. & Omer, M. (eds) (2013)  The Oslo Accords: A Critical Assessment 1993-2013. Cairo, Egypt, American University in Cairo Press

 

Bishara, M. (2020) “U.S. and Israel Vote: Two ‘Racist’ Incumbents and Two Proud Jews,” https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/israel-vote-racist-incumbents-proud-jews-200302062307608.html

 

 

“Exchange of Letters between PM Sharon and President Bush” (2004) <mfa.gov.il>

 

 

Falk, R.A. (1999) Predatory Globalization: A Critique. Cambridge, UK, Polity Press

 Falk, R. A. (2014) Humanitarian Intervention and Legitimacy Wars: Seeking Peace and Justice in the 21st Century. London, UK: Routledge

 

Falk. R.A. & Tilley, V.Q. 2017. “Israeli Practices and the Question of Apartheid.” Beiirut, Lebanon, Economic and Social Council for West Asia (ESCWA

 

Falk, R.A. (2017)  Palestine Horizon: Toward a Just Peace. London,UK: Pluto Press.

 

Falk, R. Blog on Security Council 2016 decision on settlements

 

“Legal Consequences of Constructing a Wall on Occupied Palestinian Territory,” International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion, 8 July 2004

 

Kaplan, A. (2018) Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. )

 

Kattan, V. (2003) From Coexistence to Conquest: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1871-1949. London, UK: Pluto Press.

 

Khalidi, R. (2013) Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Boston, MA: Beacon Press

 

Mearsheimer, J & S. Walt (2002) The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

 

Olson, P. (2011) Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland. Seal Press.

 

Pipes, D. (2018) “Achieving Peace Through Israeli Victory.” <www.danielpipes.org>

 

Said, E. W. (2000) The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After. New York: Pantheon.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2004) The New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2017) The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

 

Swisher, C.E. (2011) The Palestine Papers The End of the Road. Chatham, UK: Hesperus Press.

 

UN General Assembly, Res. ES-10/L.22.  (2017) On Moving American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

 

(2016)“Israel Settlements Without Legal Validity,” UN Security Council Res. 2334,

 

(2020) “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” Washington, D.C.: White House.

     

  

First Reactions to the Farce of the Century

28 Jan

Rodrigo Craviero Supplemental Interview Questions

 

Q: What kind of comments would you add?

 

The release of Trump’s plan seems to have generated far less interest and enthusiasm, except on Netanyahu’s, and likely majority opinion in Israel, than I expected. It may be too soon to be confident that this first impression will turn out to be accurate. What seems clear from the timing and mode of release is that the Trump/Kushner plan is intended to help Netanyahu prevail in the upcoming Israeli elections, and will also be useful to Trump with respect to Evangelical and hard-core Jewish support in the presidential election in November. There is some reason to believe, whether knowingly or not, the plan, and the pre-release one sidedness was designed to ensure a Palestinian rejection, allowing Israel to embrace the plan and claim to seek peace, as well as go forward with unilateral moves such as annexing the Jordan Valley.

 

Q: How do you see also fact return of Palestinian refugees will be impossible, as Netanyahu told, and Jerusalem will continue indivisible?

 

The failure to address the issue of Palestinian refugees in a responsible manner is both a deficiency in the proposal, and a tragic humanitarian evasion. Palestinian refugee population, estimated at over five million, have long languished in a variety of refugee camps, without rights or decent life conditions. There can be no peace as long as this situation persists.

 

.A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

22 Nov

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone on the theme of ‘The Renewal of Violence—Gaza/Israel’ in Jacobin, Nov. 2019. This latest cycle of transborder violence initiated by a targeted assassination of a well-known military commander in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, leading to a rocket barrage directed at southern and central Israel, followed by many air strikes and artillery shells fired at Gaza targets. Whether this latest cycle of violence has ended as of now is difficult to assess, and it should not be confused with the violence at the Gaza Fence as a result of weekly demonstrations of Palestinians at the Gaza fence in the course of the Great March of Return, a civil society initiative (later joined by Hamas as unarmed demonstrators) that has continued since March 30, 2018, a remarkable exhibition of sumud on the Palestinian side and of excessive lethal force—where no imminent threat existed—on the Israel side.]

 

A New Cycle of Gaza/Israel Violence

 

 

Q: how has the mainstream press been treating this renewed violence?

 

Mainstream media, as well as even the UN, is treating this renewal of violence in a highly misleading way as if the only truly valid issue is whether a sovereign state, in this case Israel, has the right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism. The events unfolding between Israel and Gaza are misrepresented in two principal ways: by treating Israel as defending itself without taking account of the deliberate surrounding provocations on Israel’s part; and by using language in media coverage to weight perceptions of readers to believe that Israel as a state is fully entitled to use force to uphold security as opposed to its terrorist adversary that has no rights whatsoever except to be hunted down. This is a perversion of law and justice as the Palestinians are treated as interlopers in their own homeland while the Israeli settler colonial authority is being regarded as the sole legitimate political authority in the whole of Palestine. In the case of Gaza, to resist sustained, severe, collective, and comprehensive punitive deprivations and lawlessness inflicted on the helpless, occupied Gaza people seems an intrinsic right, or at the very least a highly relevant circumstance that deserves to be taken into account. In the background is more than twelve years of blockade, condemned by many world leaders, and even the prior UN Secretary General.

 

The immediate context of this latest cycle of violence was the targeted killing of Baha Abu-Ata along with his wife, on November 12th while they were sleeping in their home in a Gaza apartment building. Abu-Ata was a member of Islamic Jihad, a military commander, alleged to have been responsible for past rocket attacks on Israel, and supposedly engaged in planning further launches. After the assassination 200 rockets were fired from Gaza as a response, causing no serious casualties. Israel immediately responded to the rockets with several days of drone missile strikes, air and military assaults, killing 34 Palestinians, wounding more than 80. As far as is known, no Israelis have so far killed or injured by the Palestinian rockets, although that by itself does not make their use ‘legal.’ Israel’s response raises many international law questions of proportionality with respect to the use of force, collective punishment, and as significantly, issues of provocation, the timing of the assassination of Abu-Ata and associated violence quite possibly a Netanyahu a final failed gesture designed to break the Israeli electoral impasse in his favor. The media utterly failed to connect the outbreak of violence with the underlying desperation and vulnerability of the Gazan population of about two million, with the domestic pressures in Israel to break the impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government, and the months of frustration with the Israeli killings at the Gaza border to demoralize the demonstrators taking part in The Great March of Return. This truly heroic, almost totally nonviolent phenomenon of Palestinian is where the msm should be if they were doing their job.

 

Jonathan Ofir, well known as an Israeli activist and musician living in Denmark, gives a radically different, and more humanly sensitive rendering of this Gaza violence that contrasts with what continues to be disseminated by TV and print: “What Israel reserves for itself is the right to conduct seasonal massacres in the uninhabitable concentration camp called Gaza, when it sees fit.” This is admittedly strongly emotive language that could be as misleading as the msm approach unless better contextualized. What is more to the point from a legal/moral/humanitarian perspective is that Gaza is a territory ‘occupied’ by Israel since 1967, and not a foreign country. Hence, Israel’s behavior is subject to the Geneva Conventions, especially Convention IV governing belligerent occupation. Israel rejects these international law constraints altogether, unilaterally invoking its right to defend itself by periodically launching massive attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. Israel also completely avoids the primary duty under Geneva IV to protect a civilian population living under its occupation, which renders its reliance on self-defense under international law an absurdity when the adversary is the occupied society itself.

 

The blog writer and regular contributor to The Electronic Intifada, Maureen Claire Murphy, assesses Israel’s violence in the larger context of the relationship between Israel and Palestine: “Abu-Ata and Palestinian fighters in Gaza like him are resisting a cruel and illegal siege, a half-century of military occupation, and more than 70 years of forced displacement and dispossession.” There is no indication that Murphy is defending the Gaza rocket responses, but is she rather relying on the relevance of context in correctly grasping the respective behavior of these antagonists. Until we have some awareness of this broader context, our understanding of the isolated incident cannot be properly interpreted, and feeds hegemonic constructions of political reality that produced one-sided commentary at the expense of a victimized people. In this regard, msm in relation to the Palestinian national struggle seems to act as if its main function was quite the opposite–to ignore on principle the context of Palestinian violence no matter how relevant. By so doing, Israel can be portrayed as the hapless victim of primitive rockets that are mainly symbolic Palestinian efforts to exhibit their spirit of resistance in frustrated response to a wider pattern of oppressive and unlawful governance. There is no reason to deny that the threat, however remote, posed by these rockets does produce great anxiety in Israeli communities living near the Gaza border, and is unacceptable because of its inherent indiscriminateness. Without minimizing Israel security concerns, it should be recognized that far worse anxiety is the continual reality experienced by the entire population of Gaza, and for many years. Until this wider pattern of Israeli dereliction of its duties under international humanitarian law is brought into view, we are reading thinly disguised propaganda, sophisticated fake news, that confers impunity on the militarily strong side in this struggle, and excessive accountability on the weaker side. Such a pattern is an obvious perversion of justice.

 

These concerns about media coverage vary from issue to issue and even context to context. The Israel/Palestine context is distinctive in several respects with regard to slanting the news in Israel’s favor. It is respectable in America to be an outspokenly pro-Zionist journalist, while being even neutral is viewed as sufficiently discrediting to keep you off the air, and daring to be critical of Israel sends often results in an intense professional pushback. Marc Lamont Hill discovered this when a rather balanced speech given at the UN was distorted by Zionist groups in ways that managed to induce his abrupt dismissal as a CNN consultant without even the courtesy of a right of response. This enveloping reality of bias exerts pressure to present the news as shaped by the Israeli and American governments, and an entourage of think tank and ‘expert’ apologists. Even an irresponsible Zionist extremist like Alan Dershowitz is welcomed as a respectable network guest on talk shows while a media appearance by Noam Chomsky is a rarity, and if it occurs it is treated as giving space to a dissenter, normally offset by a second guest who adheres to the party line. This informal mode of censorship is reinforced by the powerful and feared AIPAC lobby that has a watchdog reputation as ending the political careers of those few in Congress who over the years are perceived as somewhat critical of Israel or even cautiously supportive of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights.

 

When well-funded lobbies, think tanks, websites, and wealthy donors exist on one side of a national policy debate and there are no comparable countervailing forces that effectively represent the other side create a dangerous atmosphere with respect to public discourse. The side with the power and funding—as they say, ‘follow the money’—controls, marginalizes, and discredits other viewpoints, and punishes for all to observe those who get too far out of line. In regard to Israel, this has been reinforced, at least since 1967, by the consensus that the US ‘special relationship’ with Israel is a strategic alliance that is vital for upholding American strategic interests in the Middle East. The corporatized media of this era is almost as responsive to Pentagon briefings as it is reflective of pro-Israeli access and influence when it comes to this central symbolic conflict of the post-Cold War, post-apartheid era.     

 

Q:  From where is it possible to get reliable information on issues such as the legal status of Gaza violence?

 

There is no mainstream answer to such a question in the West, which is itself a rather remarkable breakdown of journalistic standards. This unhealthy state of affairs is reflected also in the one-sided political debate now dominating the American media during battle for the Democratic Party nomination. Without exception, the candidates seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party become shy, or worse, when it comes to criticizing Trump’s unabashedly pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian record. As the recent Gaza incident illustrates, even the most progressive among the candidates are silent or mindlessly repeat the mantra about Israel’s right to defend itself. None dare say ‘end the blockade,’ ‘treat Hamas as the elected government of Gaza,’ and ‘uphold the obligations of international humanitarian law’ if what is at stake is ending this Gaza violence, and in the process, actually making Israelis more secure, not less. If one among the candidates dared speak plainly, a blacklisting pushback would assuredly quickly follow, particularly if viewed as someone with current popular support such as Sanders or Warren.

 

When it comes to finding the best media coverage available, I would suggest reading the digitized media widely and selectively, as well as what is written by Al Jazeera and other regional media outlets in the Middle East, including even the Israeli press, which is far more open than the American. I receive a far better sense of the unfolding struggle between Israel and Palestine can be found in Haaretz, or even The Jerusalem Post, than from the New York Times or the Washington Post, and this by itself says a lot. Is there anyone in the msm as critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people than Gideon Levy or Amira Hass? There are occasional progressive treatments of these issues to be found in more obscure publications such as The Nation, London Review of Books, and Le Monde Diplomatique. I suppose the most independent analysis, but it is in the form of periodic reports, and not event oriented or lively reading, is to be found in the biennial reports of the UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, currently Michael Lynk.  

 

A selective reading of online journalism that gives a more informed and balanced picture of the violent interactions between Israel and Palestinian resistance, especially refraining from automatically equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism in the struggle by the Palestinian people to secure their rights. In contrast, Israel’s reliance on excessive and often indiscriminte force, especially in seeking to intimidate and humiliate the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza should properly be considered as state terrorism. This Israeli violence has over the years been responsible for immeasurably more suffering, death, and anxiety that has the armed aspects of Palestinian resistance. Israel’s refusal to act humanely and to minimize political violence is nowhere more evident than in its responses to The Great March of Return since March 30, 2018 where weekly largely nonviolent protests demanding implementation of the long denied and unambiguous Palestinian right to return to their places of family residence and national homeland have not been met by any Israeli effort to achieve an accommodation, but rather have encountered unabasheds reliance on lethal force in the form of live sniper ammunition, causing Palestinian deaths and injuries almost every Friday for more than 80 weeks. Even ‘reliable’ journalism has not given this remarkable societal initiative in Gaza and Israel’s response the commentary and attention it deserves. This, too, is part of the context that thoughtful and balanced media coverage should be informing its readers about.    

 

Q: Is the political end game for Israel domestically in this latest surge in killing related to election squabbling?

 

Of course, politicians never acknowledge political motivations for their military aggressiveness in election periods. The impasse in Israel at present is unprecedented, and accentuated by the seeming desperation of Netanyahu to retain the immunity of his office to avoid facing serious corruption and fraud charges. Against such a background, it seems reasonable to be suspicious of why Israel resorted to this high profile targeted killing at this time, knowing it would produce a violent response from the Palestinians, and that such a response would provide Israel with a political climate supportive of a more deadly and less focused Israeli assault on Gaza. This turn would lead to more Palestinian rockets being launched toward Israel from Gaza, and although most would likely be intercepted by the Iron Dome, and even when they get through,  without so far causing casualties, it would still be treated as an occasion on which to raise Israeli fears and swing public opinion in Netanyahu’s direction. After all, whatever else, Netanyahu is looked upon as the unwavering guardian of Israeli security interests over the last decade. His opponent in the rivalry to lead government, Benny Gantz, adds to the anti-Gaza frenzy by also invoking as a positive credential his own bloody past record as an IDF commander in earlier Gaza operations. It is an unfortunate reality that politicians in Israel regard such militarist reputations as adding to their qualifications for political leadership, and the public goes along. This also means that it is politically helpful to ignore international law and civilian innocence in the course of displaying Israeli ruthless dominance whenever dealing with Palestinian oppositional activities, even if they take a nonviolent form.  

 

 

Q: What is the political end game for Israel internationally and how does it relate to a simultaneous raid on Syria?

 

It is Israel’s apparent hope that with Trump in the White House, this is the time to push for an end to the conflict that achieves their main political goals. This means declaring an Israeli victory in the struggle, coupled ideally with an acknowledgement from the Palestinians of their decision to give up their struggle for rights. In exchange, an incentive of a better day to day life is given to the Palestinians, what is sometimes called ‘an economic peace.’ This is coupled with a warning of worse-to-come if the Palestinians refuse to bow down. As the Great March and robust global BDS Campaign demonstrate, such a wish for an Israeli one-state solution is highly unlikely to receive formal blessings even from the weak Palestinian international representation now provided by the Palestinian Authority. It is also evident that strenuous Zionist efforts to demonstrate  that criticism of Israel is ‘the new anti-Semitism’ exhibits a recognition in Israel and Zionist circles that such a moral/legal challenge from below (as compared to diplomacy from above) poses a threat to Israeli ambitions that has become more formidable in the last few. years than armed struggle or military confrontation.

 

What seems to be happening, although not widely noticed, is that the core of the struggle to achieve a political compromise based on the equality of Jews and Arabs will shift from intergovernmental diplomacy, including at the UN, to Palestinian resistance initiatives and global solidarity efforts, both political undertakings of people not governments or international institutions. The two-state solutions has surely died alongside Oslo diplomacy, except in the mouths of diplomats who need to keep saying something. And yet an authoritative one-state alternative that is reflective of Palestinian and Israeli rights has not been born. Until such a birth takes place there may be temporary ceasefires and pauses in the violence but nothing resembling genuine peace.

 

To establish peace, Israel will have to make a major decision to accept a coexistence of equals with the Palestinian people. This also means dismantling its apartheid matrix of control that has been fragmenting the Palestinian people (as occupied, as refugees and exiles, as discriminated minority in Israel) ever since 1948. This kind of solution can only occur if pressure from within and without mount to the point that Israelis recalculate their interests, coming to the unexpected conclusion that they are better off living in real peace with Palestinians rather than hoping to keep them permanently confined in a variety of iron cages. The South African managers of their apartheid regime came to such a startling conclusion 25 years ago. It has already taken Israeli leaders far longer, with no good end in sight. We should never foreclose a benign future achieved through resistance and solidarity. This more hopeful scenario might begin to unfold if more of the media began fulfilling its own claims of offering trustworthy and objective reportage, especially on controversial issues of war and peace. Not only would this help resolve the Israel/Palestine struggle, it would restore confidence that a responsibly informed society would more often take the side of peace and justice, and compel their leaders to do the same, or face short career horizons.

 

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

18 Aug

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

The decision to ban, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, disgraces the leaders of both the United States and Israel, confirms the illegitimacy of both political parties by their tepid responses, and confirms once more the unhealthy relationship that has evolved between Trump and Netanyahu, these two most reactionary of political figures, and badly reflects on the political atmosphere in the countries they represent.  For an American president to encourage a foreign government to deny entry to elected members of Congress is not only unprecedented, harmful to the quality of democratic life in America, and represents a wrongful and extremely distasteful use of his position to engage in nasty partisan reelection politics aimed at the 2020 elections. This outrageous display of further impeachable behavior by Trump is further accentuated by the defamatory, as well as maliciously and demonstrably false assertions in this notorious tweet that Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, hate Israel and all Jews, and nothing can alter their views.

 

For Netanyahu, the leader of Israel, to reverse an earlier decision to allow these U.S. officials to enter the country in response to Trump’s tweet has just the reverse effect of what is claimed. By seeming to forego Israel sovereign rights in response to an inappropriate interference in Israeli public policy by the American Head of State, Netanyahu reveals to the world Israel’s weakness, not its strength, and in the process casts a dark shadow over Israel own claims of political legitimacy. As well, to give way in this unseemly manner to Trump may also prove to be a tactical blunder in the Israeli context even if it contributes one more sordid chapter to their quid pro quo relationshiip. Such a craven move by Netanyahu miight turn off just enough Israeli voters to tip the balance against the Likud Party in the forthcoming September 17thelections. Not only was Trump’s tweet an effective assault on Israeli sovereign rights, but it also undermines the long absurd propaganda claims of Israel to be a democratic state that values and protects freedom of expression.

 

After further political turmoil, Israel appeared to relent, but by affixiing humiliating conditions, and then only with respect to Rashida Tlaib. The Israeli Minister of Interior, Aryeh Deri, agreeing to a ‘humanitarian’ visit provided the Congresswoman agreed not to promote boycotts of Israel while in the country, her visit restricted to the sole purpose of visiting her 90-year-old grandmother in a small Palestinian village not far from Ramallah. After initially accepting these constraints over the intense objections of her supporters and even her family back in Palestine, Rep. Tlaib reversed her own acceptance of the Israeli conditions, issuing a statement denouncing the constraints she earlier accepted, and refusing to restrict her time in her own Palestinian homeland to a personal visit. Of course, an Israeli rebuke followed from Deri, claiming that her rejection of Israel’s humanitarian gesture exhibits the Israeli-bashing intent that motivated the factfinding visit. Deri hammered one more nail in Tlaib’s already exposed flesh: “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for grandmother.” More understandably, Tlaib also was rebuked by many Palestinians for initially accepting Israel’s conditions intense objections to her face from supporters, alleging that she fell into Israel’s trap, “and accepted to demean herself and grovel.”

 

Seeking to thread this needle separating an ill-timed family ties from her high-profile political image, Tlaib chose these words, “Silencing me and treating me like a criminal is not what she [her grandmother] wants for me—it would kill a piece of me.” Although Tlaib used poor judgment by first agreeing to Israel’s acceptance, her statement explaining her reversal a short time later, had a redemptive effect. Perhaps, more disturbing, was Tlaib’s failure to sustain a posture of public solidarity with Ilhan Omar, whose relevance was ignored in Tlaib’s three-step dance movement.

 

The distractions caused by this secondary development involving Tlaib should not be allowed to divert attention from the primary outrage resulting from the Trump tweet and Israeli gag order imposed on nonviolent advocates of the BDS Campaign, which in this instance meant banning entry to elected U.S. government officials, supposedly a super-ally.

 

In my view Israel’s decision to ban these two members of Congress can at best be considered ‘an unfriendly act’ by Israel toward its unconditional ally. This alone should persuade a self-respecting U.S. Congress to react with much more than a few empty words of disapproval. At the very least, a message of censure should be formally endorsed by the House of Representatives, and delivered to the Israeli government, which strongly discourages further visits to Israel by members of Congress until Israel announces a policy of allowing entry any American official to visit Israel without restrictions. Perhaps, a more suitable alternative would be to urge banning members of the Knesset until Israel welcomes as visitors any and all members of the UN Congress without conditions. A further appropriate step would be to condition any approval of future military or economic assistance to Israel on lifting the ban on future visits by government officials, but also ideally by all American citizens regardless of political views; After all, American taxpayers have long paid their share of the annual aid package of at least $3.8 billion, the greatest per capita amount given to any country in the world.

I believe that by singling these two members of Congress, who happen to be the first two Muslim women ever elected to the House of Representatives, in the manner of Trump’s tweet is a clear instance of racism and hate speech, especially considered in light of his past hostile statements directed at prominent women of color who dare enter political life and oppose his presidency, including his past slanders of these two brave individuals. The language of Trump’s tweet also sought successfully to interfere with their effort to engage in a legitimate legislative undertaking in a discriminatory manner, and included this inflammatory and false allegation: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” The tweet ends with this shocking expression of hostility that demeans Trump and the Office of the Presidency rather than its intended targets, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Trump’s final tweeted words– “They are a disgrace!” It is best understood as “You are disgraced.”

 

The media at least gave major attention to this unfolding political drama, although more in the spirit of narrating a human interest story than offering a damning commentary on the anti-democratic moves of these two ‘illiberal democrats.’ Tom Friedman, never foregoing a chance to deliver fence-setting know-it-all lectures to whomever would listen, managed staked out some liberal territory by condemning the tactical damage to their own countries and especially to the ‘special relationship’ between them as a result of making the Republicans the true friends of Israel, and the Democrats not so clear, hence fraying the edges of bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel. Friedman also took the opportunity to make it clear that in his view Tlaib and Omar were not better due to their ill-considered support for BDS, which he argued dooms to two-state liberalism, and implies that by their criticism of Israel, the excluded officials are widening Jewish/Islamic cleavages rather than building bridges. [See Friedman, “If You Think Trump is Helping Israel, You’re a Fool,” Aug. 16, 2019]

Such misleading pontificating, which we should know is the standard offering of Friedman in his opinion pieces that reek of vanity and pro-establishment moralizing. It is part and parcel of the overall Zionist strategy of diverting attention from Israeli wrongdoing and criminality by discrediting the victim while airbrushing the oppressor. Here, those in genuine solidarity with sustained peace for the two peoples will not be distracted by such prevarications from the underlying encroachments on freedom of expression and the rights of an ethnically cleansed people to return to their homeland as a matter of right.

.

 

 

Jerusalem Is (Is Not) the Capital of Israel

10 Dec

[Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified version of an article published in the global edition of the Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto, on December 8, 2017.]

 Jerusalem Is (Is Not) the Capital of Israel

 Those who speak on behalf of Israel like to defend Donald Trump’s provocative decision of December 6th to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with this contention: “Israel is the only state in the world that is not allowed to locate its capital in a national city of its choice.” It seems like an innocent enough proclamation, and even accurate pushback against global double standards, until one considers the political, moral, and legal dimensions of the actual situation.

 

With the benefit of just a moment’s reflection, a more thoughtful formulation of the issue would be: “Israel is the only state in the world whose government dares to locate its capital in a city located beyond its sovereign borders and subject to superior competing claims.” Granted, Israel has declined to date to define its borders for purposes of international law, presumably to leave room for its own further territorial expansion until the whole of the promised land as understood to comprise biblical Israel is effectively made subject to Israeli sovereign control. At stake, in particular, is the West Bank, which is known within Israel by its biblical names of Judea and Samaria, signifying Israel’s outlier belief that the ethnic and religious heritage of the Jewish people takes precedence over modern international law.

 

Further reflection casts additional doubt on this Trump/Netanyahu approach to the status of Jerusalem. It is helpful to go back at least 70 years to the controversial UN partition proposals set forth in General Assembly Resolution 181. Israel over the years has often congratulated itself on its acceptance of 181, which it contrasts with the Palestinian rejection. Palestinians suffered massive dispossession and expulsion in the war that ensued in 1947, known as the Nakba among Palestinians. Israel has argued over the years that its acceptance of 181 overrides the grievances attributable to the Nakba, including the denial to Palestinians of any right to return to their homes or place of habitation however deep and authentic their connections with the land and regardless of how persuasive their claims of Palestinian identity happen to be. What Israelis want the world to forget in the present setting is the UN treatment of Jerusalem that was integral to the 181 approach. Instead, Israel has sold the false story to the world that 181 was exclusively about the division of territory, and thus the bits about Jerusalem contained in the resolution can be ignored without comment, and deserve to be long forgotten.

 

What the UN actually proposed in GA Res. 181, and what Israel ‘accepted’ in 1947 was that the city of Jerusalem, in deference to its connections with Palestinians and Jewish national identity, should not be under the sovereign control of either people, but internationalized and subject to UN administration. Beyond the difficulty of reconciling Jewish and Palestinian claims to the city, the symbolic and religious significance of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions provided a parallel strong rationale for internationalization that has, if anything, further vindicated with the passage of time.

 

It can be argued by proponents of Trump’s recognition that even the Palestinians and the Arab World (by virtue of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative) have silently replaced the internationalization of Jerusalem with the so-called ‘two-state solution’ in which the common assumption of both sides is that Jerusalem would be shared in ways that allowed both Israel and Palestine to establish their respective capital within the city limits. Most two-state plans called for the Palestinian capital to be located in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied for the past 50 years, that is, ever since the 1967 War. The clarity of this conviction is what explains the view that the thorny question of the relationship of both Israel and Palestine to the disposition of Jerusalem should be addressed at the last stage of peace negotiations. But suppose that the prospect of genuine peace negotiations is postponed indefinitely, then what? The geopolitical effort to fill this vacuum is undertaken at the expense of UN authority, as well as international law and international morality.

 

Here again we encounter an awkward split between what Israel claims (as reinforced by U.S. foreign policy) and what international law allows. Israel after the war ended in 1967 immediately asserted that the whole of Jerusalem was ‘the eternal capital’ of the Jewish people. Tel Aviv went even further. It expanded by Israeli legal decree the area encompassed by the city of Jerusalem, almost doubling its size and incorporating a series of Palestinian communities in the process. Israel acted unilaterally and unlawfully, against unified opposition within the UN, in defiance of world public opinion, and even in the face of rebuke by such a widely respected moral authority figure as Pope Francis.

 

East Jerusalem, at least, is ‘Occupied Territory’ according to international humanitarian law, and as such is subject to the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth Geneva Convention governs ‘belligerent occupation,’ and rests on the basic legal norm that an Occupying Power should take no steps, other than those justified by imperative security considerations, to diminish the rights and prospects of a civilian population living under occupation. In this regard, it is hardly surprising that Israel’s actions designed to obliterate East Jerusalem as a distinct ‘occupied’ territory have met with universal legal and political condemnation within the UN. For Trump to depart from this international consensus is not only striking heavy blows against the U.S. role as intermediary in any future peace process, but also mindlessly scrapping the two-state approach as the agreed basis of peace without offering an alternative, leaving the impression that whatever reality Israel imposes the United States will accept, giving scant attention to international concerns or Palestinian rights.

 

Returning to the burning question as to why Israel should be denied the right to locate its capital wherever it wishes, as other states do, it is clarifying to reformulate the Israeli claim: “Does any state have the right to establish its capital in a city that is ‘occupied’ rather than under the exclusive sovereign authority of the territorial government?” This is especially relevant in this instance, given the general agreement within the international community that the Palestinian right of self-determination includes the right to have its national capital both within its territory and in Jerusalem.

 

Trump’s initiative tries to ease the pain by the confusing accompanying assertion that the final disposition of Jerusalem’s borders is something for the parties to decide as part of final status negotiations, that is, at the end of the diplomatic endgame. Aside from Israel’s belief that it need not make further concessions for the sake of peace, a geopolitical assertion of support for Israel’s approach to Jerusalem, especially without the backing of the Arab League, the UN, and the European Union is worse than an empty gesture. It uses an iron fist on behalf of the stronger party, where a minimal respect for law, morality, and justice would counsel giving support for the well-grounded claims of the weaker side, or at least staying neutral.

 

The harm done by the Trump initiative on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and declared intention to start the process of moving the embassy is impossible to assess fully at this time. Whether there will be an upsurge in resistance violence, political extremism, anti-American terrorism, and wider warfare is now essentially unknowable, although the stage has been recklessly arranged so that these developments seem more likely to occur than earlier, and if they do, will be treated as outcomes of Trump’s faulty diplomacy.

 

What is already evident on the basis of the decision itself is the severe damage done to the global and regional leadership reputation of the United States. As well, the authority of the United Nations has been shown to be no match for geopolitical resolve, and international law and world public opinion have been pushed aside. For the Trump presidency the special relationship with Israel has been enlarged beyond previous outer limits and the part of the Trump base that wanted these policies has been appeased for the moment. Prospects for a diplomacy based on the equality of rights of Palestinians and Israelis have been reduced to zero, and thus no just end of the Palestinian ordeal can be foreseen. Overall, it is not a pleasant balance sheet of gains and losses if evaluated from the perspective of American grand strategy in the Middle East, and if the wider regional setting of Iran’s spreading influence is taken into account, the situation looks even worse.

Geopolitical Dirty Dreams: Israel’s ‘Victory Caucus’

29 Jul

 

 

The word hubris is far too kind in describing Donald Trump’s approach to the Middle East cauldron of conflict, with his response to the Palestinian struggle being more revealing of his absurd braggadocio brand than of malice, although its impact is malicious. Insisting that he has the will and capacity to strike an Israel/Palestine deal while simultaneously intimating that he plans to fulfill his inflammatory campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Worse, he appoints David Friedman as ambassador, an ardent American supporter of settler extremists whose politics is to the right of Netanyahu on the Israeli spectrum. This bankruptcy lawyer turned diplomat has compared the liberal Zionists of J Street to the Nazi kapos (Jews who collaborated with Nazis in death camps). Here as elsewhere Trump’s errant behavior would prompt the darkest laughter if the blood of many innocents were not daily being spilled on the streets of Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza.

 

It seems likely that Trump, assuming against all reason and evidence that his presidency survives and settles down, will likely do what Netanyahu and his son in law tell him to do: leave Israel free to maintain, and as necessary, intensify its policies of oppression toward the Palestinian people as a whole that are cruelly subjugated beneath an overarching structure of apartheid. At the same time the U.S. Government will continue to give credence to the big lie that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israeli apartheid as an operative system of control, subjugates not only those Palestinians living under occupation but also extends its reach to refugees in neighboring countries, involuntary exiles around the world, and the discriminated minority living in Israel.

 

The main Trump assignment within the United States will likely be to lend full support to the Congressional and state-by-state pushback against the BDS campaign, slandering this nonviolent civil society movement of militant solidarity and human rights by castigating it as ‘the anti-Semitism of our time.’

 

On an international level Trump will be expected by Zionist forces to translate the UN-bashing of Nikki Haley into concrete reality by defunding any organ of the UN (e.g. Human Rights Council, UNESCO) that dares document and censure Israeli wrongdoing under international law. And regionally, Trump seems determined to champion the dangerous Saudi/Israel agenda of anti-Iran war mongering, a posture that threatens to convert the entire region into a war zone.

 

Trump’s clumsy touch was also evident during his much heralded May visit to Riyadh where he gave his blessings to the anti-Qatar, anti-Iran Gulf + Egypt coalitions headed by Saudi Arabia. The occasion offered the Saudis an opportunity to exert collective pressure on their tiny neighbor, insisting that Qatar curtain its sovereignty and endured a misguided hit for supposedly being the country most supportive of terrorism and extremism in the region. To lend American backing to such a hypocritical initiative is perverse and strange for several reasons obvious to almost anyone not totally oblivious to the rather blatant realities of the Middle East: Qatar is the site of the largest American military facility in the entire region, the Al Udeid Air Base, staffed by 11,000 U.S. military personnel, and serving as the counter-terrorist hub for regional military operations. Secondly, the obvious fact that Qatar’s slightly more open domestic political scene, including its sponsorship of Al Jazeera, was far closer to the supposed American political ideal than are the overtly anti-democratic governments ganging up against Qatar. And thirdly, as almost anyone following the rise of Islamic extremism knows, it is Saudi Arabia that has a long record of being the primary funding source, as well as providing much of the ideological inspiration and engaging in anti-democratic and sectarian interventions throughout the region. The Saudi government extends its baneful influence far afield by heavily subsidizing the madrassas in the Muslim countries of Asia, and doing its best to promote fundamentalist versions of Islam everywhere in the world.

 

Extreme as are these geopolitical missteps taken during Trump’s first few months in the White House, they are less calculated and more expressive of dysfunctional spontaneity than anything more malevolent, more bumbling than rumbling (with the notable exception of Iran). There is another more sinister civil society initiative underway that rests its claim to attention on a geopolitical fantasy that deserves notice and commentary. It is the brainchild of Daniel Pipes, the notorious founder of Campus Watch, an NGO doing its very best for many years to intimidate and, if possible, punish faculty members who are critical of Israel or appear friendly to Islam. Pipes is also the dominant figure in a strongly pro-Zionist, Islamophobic think tank in Washington misleadingly named the Middle East Forum (MEF). Much more an organ of hasbara musings on Israel/Palestine and promoter of hostility toward Islam than informed analysis and discussion, MEF is now fully behind an idea so absurd that it may gain political traction in today’s Washington. This MEF initiative is called Israel Victory Caucus in the U.S. Congress and Israeli Knesset.

 

In explaining the Victory Caucus Pipes at the opening of a recent hearing in the U.S. Congress to launch the project, now backed by 20 members of the House of Representatives, made an almost plausible introductory statement. Pipes told the assembled members of Congress that he had been for months racking his brain for what he called an “alternative to endless negotiations which nobody believes in.” Pipes is right to pronounce the Oslo diplomatic track a dead end with no future and a sorry past. His ‘Eureka Moment’ consisted of abandoning this failed diplomacy and replacing it by bringing Israel’s military superiority “to convince the Palestinian they have lost,” thereby awakening them to the true realities of the situation. In effect, this awareness of Israeli victory causing Palestinian defeat was the way to move forward, arguing that long wars can end only when one side wins, the other loses. Pipes personally made a parallel effort in Israel, including at the Knesset, being the lead performer in a conference in Tel Aviv dedicated to the ‘victory’ theme, and holding a highly publicized meeting with Netanyahu intending to promote the Victory Caucus. In effect, since the diplomatic track leads no where, and Israel possesses the capacity to increase Palestinian suffering at any stage, it should use this leverage to compel those representing Palestinian interests to face up to reality as Israel sees it. Part of the background is the self-serving insistence that the reason that diplomacy doesn’t work is because the Palestinians are unwilling to accept the permanent presence of a Jewish state in their midst, and until they do so, the war will go on. From this perspective, the diplomatic track could not get the Palestinians to yield in this manner, and so Israel should shift its efforts from persuasion to coercion, with the implicit false assumption that Israel was too nice in the past.

 

What Israel wants from the official representatives of the Palestinian people is a formal acknowledgement that their effort to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine has failed, and that they should formally express their acceptance of this outcome, not only in international languages, but also in Arabic. Victory Caucus also expects the Palestinians to affirm officially a right of self-determination in Palestine that belongs to the Jewish people. Also, the Palestinians are advised to be ‘realistic,’ and drop their dreams of a right of return to be exercised by Palestinian refugees. [for explication of the Victory Caucus approach consult the website of Middle East Forum, especially the many articles and presentations by Daniel Pipes; also helpful is Efraim Inbar, “Victory Requires Patience,” July 19, 2017] Again, there is an implicit assumption that Israel has been realistic over the years despite ignoring the guidelines of international law relevant to ‘belligerent occupation,’ including prohibitions on collective punishment and population transfer/settlements.

 

Pipes is very clear that the implications of victory, what he terms the details, should be left to the Israelis to decide upon. With a turn of phrase that seems an extreme version of wishful thinking to make himself sound reasonable and less partisan, Pipes insists that once this central fact of an Israeli victory is accepted, it will “be more beneficial to the Palestinians” than the present road to nowhere. The fine print may be the most disturbing and consequential aspect of the Victory Caucus arising from its realization that whatever Zionists and their most ardent supporters know to be true is not what most Palestinians believe to be the case.

 

Thus, for the Pipes’ logic what needs to happen, is to make the Palestinians see this particular light, and given the MEF convenient (yet deeply misleading) view of Arab mentality, this awareness can only be brought about by raising the costs to the Palestinians of continuing their struggle. Efraim Inbar frames the present situation as follows: “The Palestinian reluctance to adopt realistic foreign policy goals and the Israeli hesitation to use its military superiority to exact a much higher cost from the Palestinians are the defining features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Although what would be realistic for the Palestinians is not specified, but from the context of the argument and overall Pipes’s outlook, it would be pretty much an acceptance of the entire Israeli agenda: the settlements, including their infrastructure of roads and the wall, retention of Galilee and Jordan Valley for security, and a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control that serves as its capital.

 

When Inbar premises his policy proposals on overcoming “Israeli hesitation to use its military superiority” to get the Palestinians to accept reality, one can only shudder at what this writer has in mind. Pipes assures his audience that whatever is done along these lines to convince the Palestinians should respect “legal, moral, and political limits” but by explicitly leaving it up to Israel to determine what this might mean, these limits lack all credibility, especially given Israel’s past behavior, which flagrantly and repeatedly ignores these limits in enacting policies that produced massive and acute suffering for the Palestinians over a period of decades. Against such a background I find these lines of MEF advocacy to be irresponsibly provocative in their formulation, and frightening if ever relied upon as the basis of action.

 

What is left out of this Pipes’ proposal seems far more significant than what is included. The justification for the Victory Caucus is based on a supposed posture of Palestinian rejectionism explains far less about the unfolding of the conflict over the course of the last hundred years than would referencing Zionist expansionism, combined with the salami tactics of always disguising more ambitious goals during the process of achieving their proximate objectives. In recent years, particularly, the Palestinian side has badly wanted a deal, signaling even their willingness to accept a bad deal, so as to end the occupation, and establish a state of their own. Any objective approach to this question of why the Oslo diplomacy reached a dead end would attribute the lion’s share of responsibility to the Israeli side with its practice of putting forward ever escalating demands that it knows in advance that the Palestinians must reject, not because they are unrealistic, but because Israel’s demands for ‘peace’ are the permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people.

 

Most disturbing of all is without doubt this image of Israeli hesitation to use the force at its disposal as if implying that Israel have been gentle occupiers and benign oppressors for these past 70 years since the UN proposed partition of Palestine. The evidence is overwhelming that Israel consistently relies on disproportionate excessive force, as well as collective punishment, in response any violent act of Palestinian resistance, and even to nonviolent Palestinian initiatives, for instance, the first intifada (1987), demonstrations against the unlawful wall, and the reaction to the recent restrictions on entry to Al Aqsa were met with violence. One of the most striking conclusions of the Goldstone Report on the Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 was its referencing of the Dahiya Doctrine, referring to the Israeli rationalization for destroying civilian neighborhoods in south Beirut assumed to be pro-Hezbollah as part of a strategy of disproportionate response to Hezbollah’s acts of violence in the course of the 2006 Lebanon War. Israeli military commanders gave two complementary explanations: the civilian population is part of the enemy infrastructure, thereby abolishing the distinction between civilians and military personnel; it is helpful for actual and potential enemies to perceive Israel as madly overreacting in response to even a minor provocation.

 

With more than a touch of irony, as of this writing, it is the Palestinians who are with greater credibility claiming ‘victory’ given the apparent resolution of the Al Aqsa crisis, which induced Israel to back down by agreeing to remove metal detectors and surveillance camera from two of the entrances to the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount esplanade leading to the mosque, and what is equally relevant, Israel appears for now to accept the continuing Wafq role as the only legitimate administrative authority in relation to this sacred Muslim religious site. Whether this is indeed more than a tactical retreat by Israel remains to be seen, and will be determined by how the recurrent battle for the governance of Al Aqsa proceeds in the future.

 

Similarly, whether the Victory Caucus is viewed in the future as a sinister display of Zionist arrogance or a step toward closure in the Israeli end game

in Palestine will depend, not on the positing of grandiose claims, but what happens in the future with respect to Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement. Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, recently warned Israelis that the BDS campaign poses “a strategic threat’ to Israel. Such a sentiment makes more than a little odd, and absurdly premature, for American and Israeli legislators to step forward to call upon Israel to up the ante by increasing their pressure on the Palestinians so that they are forced to admit in public what they now refuse to say even in private, what MEF wants us all to believe, that Israel has won, Palestine lost.    

 

  

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

23 Feb

Should the Palestinians Seek Justice NOW at the International Criminal Court?

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified version of an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on February 20, 2017. It calls particular attention to the punitive treatment of recourse to international law tribunals to address perceived grievances that is meant to discourage Palestinians from seeking relief at the International Criminal Court. On one level this form of lawfare underscores the weakness and vulnerability of Israel when the conflict is shifted from the battlefield to the courtroom. On another level it is meant to deny the Palestinian people, and their representatives, all legitimate amd moderate options by which to pursue their claims and address their grievances. It signals that the ‘enforcers’ of world order repudiate their own accountability with regard to the rule of law, while purporting to hold others to account, for instance, by criminalizing all forms of violent resistance to prolonged and abusive occupation as ‘terrorism.’]

 

 

Weakening the Two-State Consensus

 There is little doubt that the mid-February Netanyahu/Trump love fest at the White House further dampened already dim Palestinian hopes for a sustainable peace based on a political compromise. The biggest blow was Trump’s casual abandonment of the two-state solution coupled with an endorsement of a one-state outcome provided the parties agree to such an outcome, which as so expressed is a result almost impossible to suppose ever happening in the real world. Israel would never agree to a secular one-state that effectively abandons the Zionist insistence on a Jewish state with deep historical roots and biblical validation. The Palestinians would never agree to live in such a Jewish one-state that essentially abandoned their long struggle to achieve national self-determination, thereby gaining liberation from the last major remnant of the colonial era.

 

With geopolitical bravado suitable for the real estate magnate that he remains, despite the presidential trappings of his formal role, Trump also vaguely promised to negotiate a grand deal for the region that evidently reached beyond the contested territory of Palestine so long locked in conflict, and thus encompassed neighboring countries or possibly the whole region. It is easy to speculate that such murmurings by Trump were not welcomed in either Jordan or Egypt, long favored by rightest Israelis as dumping grounds for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such added ‘political space’ is attractive from an Israeli perspective, both to ensure that Israel maintains a comfortable Jewish majority if the one-state solution were ever forcibly implemented by Israel. At the same time the prospect of population transfer would allow Israel to achieve a higher degree of racial purity, a feature of the dominant Zionist imaginary long before Israel became internationally recognized as a state.

 

An inflammatory part of this new political environment is the accelerated expansion of the existing network of unlawful Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestine. Although near unanimously condemned in Security Council Resolution 2334 last December, Israel responded by defiantly announcing approval of thousands more settlement units, endorsing plans for an entirely new settlement, and by way of a Knesset initiative provocatively legalized settlement ‘outposts,’ 50 of which are distributed throughout the West Bank in direct violation of even Israeli law. It is possible that the Israeli Supreme Court will heed anticipated judicial challenges to this latest move, and eventually void this Knesset law, but even if this happens, the passage of such a law sends a clear message of iron resolve by the political forces currently steering Israeli policy never to permit the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

 

In these circumstances, it becomes incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to show the world that it is still alive, and it currently has few ways of doing this. Given these realities it would seem a no brainer for the PA to light up the skies of public awareness of the Palestinian plight by vigorously demanding justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC). After all there is a wide consensus on the global stage that all the settlements, and not just the outposts, are in violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These settlements have for decades served as a major obstacle in the search for a satisfactory diplomatic solution of the conflict. Of course, it would be naïve to expect Israel to comply with an adverse judgment of the ICC, or to participate in such a proceeding in ways other than by challenging the competence of the tribunal, but a favorable outcome would still be of great value for the Palestinians. It would cast Israel in an unfavorable light in relation to the UN, international law, and world public opinion, and undoubtedly encourage the further development of the already robust global solidarity movement.

 

Yet, despite these circumstances that makes the ICC seem such an attractive option, a PA decision to take this path is far from obvious. The former Foreign Minister of the PA and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Nasser al-Kidwa, effectively dismissed the ICC option by calling it ‘complicated’ without any further explanation, leaving the impression that the costs of taking such a step were too high. However, the issue is not yet settled as mixed signals are emanating from Palestinian leadership circles. For instance, the PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, in contrast to Kidwa, minced no words in his insistence that the ICC investigate “the colonial settlement regime.”

 

It seems useful to speculate on why there should be this ambivalence among Palestinian leaders. After all, international law, international public opinion, and even most European governments are all supportive of Palestinian claims with regard to the settlements. Israel remains more defiant than ever, and shows every sign of further expansion, possibly with an eye toward soon unilaterally declaring an end to the conflict, a move that Washington might find temporarily awkward, but in the end, acceptable. At the core of this debate about recourse to the ICC is the tricky question as to whether deference to the muscular vagaries of geopolitics serves Palestinian interests at this time.

 

Recourse to the ICC: Pros and Cons

 

The argument favoring recourse to the ICC is almost too obvious to put forward. It would back Israel into a corner. The Netanyahu government is certain to react with anger and concrete expressions of hostility to any such move by the PA. Such a reaction would be widely seen as a convincing confirmation of Israel’s vulnerability to any impartial test as to whether its settlement policies meet the minimum requirements of international law. And most importantly for the PA it would demonstrate that despite recent political disappointments the Ramallah leadership was prepared to embark upon a controversial course of action that displayed political courage, including a willingness to endure expected vindictive acts of retaliation. Recourse to the ICC would play well with the Palestinian people, especially those living under occupation. They experience daily tensions with violent settler groups and see no future for themselves absent confrontation with Israel. If the PA chooses such a course, it would help restore support for the flagging claims of the PA to serve as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the global level. This is turn could lead finally to durable arrangements of unity as between Hamas and Fatah, which would raise confidence levels that the Palestinians were prepared for this latest, difficult stage of their national movement.

 

The arguments against going to the ICC are somewhat more elusive. There is no doubt that Palestine, recognized by the UN as a state now enjoys the jurisdictional qualifications to participate in ICC proceedings. What is less clear is whether the ICC would be responsive, and able to circumvent technical obstacles, such as finding suitable Israeli defendants. During its 15 years of operation the ICC has been very reluctant to be pro-active except in Africa, and even there it has been recently stung by an intense pushback by African governments and the African Union. The ICC has been reluctant to stir up political opposition in the West, which would certainly occur as soon as the ICC launched a full investigation of Palestinian criminal grievances against Israel.

 

There is also the reverse problem of ICC action that might disappoint the PA. To appear balanced, the ICC would probably extend its investigation to include allegations relating to indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. It could then decide that a strong case of probable criminal responsibility attributable to Hamas existed, while allegations against Israel failed because of the inability to establish criminal intent. Although a setback for the PA, such an outcome at the ICC would be internationally criticized as contrary to reasonable interpretations of international law, and be widely regarded as a reflection of political pressures exerted by Washington.

 

Likely, the PA is most inhibited by the ‘lawfare’ campaign being waged by Israel and the United States. Already during the Obama presidency there was Congressional legislation terminating financial assistance to the PA in the event of any recourse to the ICC. Since Trump these warnings have escalated, including the total suspension of financial aid, the closing of the PLO offices in Washington, and threats to put the PLO and Fatah back on the US list of terrorist organizations. It is evident that the PA is taking these unseemly threats seriously.

 

There are also PA fears that any ICC initiative would induce Israel to move more quickly toward closure with respect to the underlying conflict, annexing most or all of the West Bank. Such a reaction would both be in keeping with Israel’s tendency to respond disproportionately to any formal action directed at the legality of its policies and practices. Israel is particularly sensitive about war crimes charges, and vows extraordinary measures should any of its citizens be so charged. Now that Netanyahu can count on unconditional support in the White House and the US Congress it would not be surprising to see him use the occasion of an ICC initiative to proclaim Israeli sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine.

 

Conclusion

 

In light of the above, it seems almost certain that the PA will not act take advantage of the ICC option any time soon. The PA is likely to adopt a posture of neither/nor, that is, neither explicitly ruling out recourse to the ICC, nor activating the option. This reflects the reality that the PA is caught between the rock of US/Israel bullying tactics and the hard place of an increasingly restive Palestinian population, being acutely reminded of its ordeal by the grim realization that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation.

 

The United States posture, although somewhat more belligerently pro-Israel as a result of the Trump presidency, is really nothing new except in style. Even during the Obama presidency the US opposed every attempt by the PA to rely on international law or the UN to advance its national struggle. Instead of welcoming the use of law rather than weapons, the US Government castigated efforts of Palestine to gain membership in the UN System or to seek even symbolic relief for its grievances in international venues. This turn against international law, as well as against the UN, is clearly a signature issue for the Trump presidency, and not just in relation to Palestine, and this is not good news for the world.

Israel’s Legalizes Settlement Options as a Prelude to the Netanyahu Visit to Trumpland

13 Feb

Responses to four questions posed by Rodrigo Craveiro, a journalist from the Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense

 

1- How do you see the decision of the Knesset taken last night about legalizing settlement outposts and what are the likely consequences of this legislative initiative? 

It is one more act of defiance by Israel that is both a repudiation of international law relating to settlements in Occupied Palestine and of the UNSC, which in December passed Resolution 2334 condemning settlement expansion and reaffirming their illegality. Whether Israel experiences adverse consequences depends especially on the reaction of European governments and of civil society. Israel expects that Trump’s presidency will insulate the country from any show of real pressure at the UN or via sanctions, but there are mixed signals as usual emanating from the White House. The Knesset’s provocative move of legalizing the 50 or so settlement ‘outposts’ that were previously illegal even under Israeli law, an internationally controversial move that may in due course be nullified by Israel’s judiciary. Actually, the move was not so radical as the Israel state had long accommodated the outposts by providing them with subsidies and security, and overlooking their formally unlawful status in domestic law.

 

2– Do you believe Israel is interested in annexing West Bank? Why?

Israel’s leadership and public seems split on this. The most vocal leaders of the settler movement and the extreme right in Israel favor annexation, and always have and always will. Netanyahu and the Israeli center right prefer to keep their true intentions ambiguous, that is, proceeding with de facto annexation while continuing to maintain an international diplomatic posture that claims a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions implying an eventual willingness to accept at some point the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Some in Israel favor annexation for historical/biblical reasons associated with their convictions that Israel should embrace the whole of ancient Palestine, with the West Bank known as Samaria and Judea. Other Israelis favor annexation as the fulfillment of the project of secular Zionism, and also contend that a greater Israel will enhance the security of the state of Israel. The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has long favored annexation of the entire West Bank to complete the Zionist project, and couples this forthright rejection of a two-state solution with a controversial commitment to treat Palestinians as fully equal citizens in such an expanded Jewish state, accepting even the possibility that Palestinians become at some point a demographic majority, and manage to achieve an electoral mandate for  a Palestinian political party to govern the country.

 

3– In what ways do you believe Netanyahu is taking advantage of the fact that Trump is in the presidency of US for taking polemical measures?

It would appear that Netanyahu is proceeding on the basis that whatever Israel chooses to do, even if in the Obama years it might have produced disapproval, will in the Trump presidency be fully supported. Netanyahu may be testing how far he can go with such an approach without generating a costly diplomatic backlash by Arab neighbors, a new cycle of violent resistance by Palestinians, and an escalation of global civil society pressures taking the form of a more robust Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign. In my view, Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game, and for the sake of Israeli expansionism and one-statism, maybe overstepping prudent limits. Perhaps, the biggest and most dangerous test of all is Netanyahu apparent desire to heighten tensions with Iran, leading possibly to the repudiation of P5 + 1 Nuclear Agreement negotiated by Obama presidency in 2014 and to a military confrontation. Trump called for the repudiation of the agreement during his campaign, but has been urged not to carry out the pledge by many, including senior former Israeli security experts and government officials. It will be of the greatest importance that this agreement with Iran maintained, and not undermined by any ratcheting up sanctions and an increased confrontational diplomacy.

 

4– Do you believe Trump could be seen as a source of influence in favor of Israel, due to his adherence to conservative positions that are the same as those favored by Netanyahu?

 There appears to be a natural affinity between these two leaders based both on their autocratic approach toward governance and reactionary substantive positions. I would not call their ideological outlook genuinely ‘conservative’ as it seeks to create ruptures with prior political, social, and cultural values. Although both leaders are demagogues and ideologues, they also act in opportunistic and impetuous ways. Both are swayed by considerations of expediency, and so their apparent marriage of convenience to one another could easily be broken. Perhaps, after their meeting this week, it will be clearer as to whether their personal chemistry is sufficiently positive to sustain their relationship over time. For the sake of peace and justice, I would hope that tension rather than harmony develops as they come to know each other better. It is certainly time for the US Government to realize how much damage its ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia have contributed to the tensions and turmoil that currently beset the region.

 

 

The Geopolitics of Shimon Peres’ Legacy

6 Oct

 

 

The recent death of Shimon Peres is notable in several respects that are additional to his salient, contradictory, and ambiguous legacy, which may help explain why there has been such an effort to clarify how best to remember the man. Basically, the question posed is whether to celebrate Peres’ death as that of a man dedicated to peace and reconciliation or to portray him as a wily opportunist, a skillful image-maker, and in the end, a harsh Zionist and ambitious Israeli leader. My contention is that the way Peres is being perceived and presented at the time of his death serves as a litmus test of how those on opposite sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide experienced Peres and beyond this, how various prominent personalities for their own purposes position themselves by either championing the well orchestrated ‘Peres myth’ or seeking to depict the ‘Peres reality.’ This rich obscurity of perceptual interpretation is part of what led the death of Shimon Peres to be taken so much more seriously than that of Ariel Sharon or Moshe Dayan, who were both much more instrumental figures in the history of the Zionist project and the evolution of the state of Israel. As Shakespeare taught us, especially in Julius Caesar, it is the quality of opaqueness that creates heightened dramatic tension in reaction to an historically significant death.

 

These divergent assessments of the life of Shimon Peres can be roughly divided into three categories, although there are overlaps and variations within each. What can we learn from these divergences? (1) the rich, famous, and politically powerful in the West who have been bewitched by Peres’s formidable charms; (2) the rich, famous, and politically influential who know better the moral and complexity of Peres, but put on blinders while walking the path of politically correctness, which overlooks, or at least minimizes, his blemishes; (3) the marginalized, often embittered, whose self-appointed mission it is to be witnesses to what is deemed the truth behind the myth, and especially those on the Palestinian side of the fence.

 

 

Peres is unique among those recently active in Israel as his long life spans the entire Zionist experience, but more than longevity is the credibility associated with the claim that Peres should be set apart from other Israeli politicians as someone genuinely dedicated to establishing peaceful relations with the Palestinians via the realization of the two-state solution, and achieving more generally, good relations with the wider Arab world. Peres’ own presentation of self along these lines, especially in his latter years during which he served as President of Israel, provided international personalities with an excellent opportunity to exhibit the quality of attachment not only to the man, but to Israel as a country and Zionism as a movement. Allowing Peres’ idealist persona to epitomize the true nature of Israel created the political space needed to affirm contemporary Israel without being forced to admit that Israel as a political player was behaving in a manner that defied law and morality.

 

As already suggested, those praising Peres without any reservations fall into two of the categories set forth above. There are those like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who seem to believe that Peres is truly a heroic embodiment of everything they hoped Israel would become, and to some extent is; in effect, the embodiment of the better angels of the Israeli experience. As well, displaying unreserved admiration and affection for Peres present Western leaders with a subtle opportunity to express indirectly their displeasure with Netanyahu and their concerns about the recent drift of Israeli diplomacy in the direction of a de facto foreclosure of Palestinian aspirations and rights.

 

Of course, such politicians are also eager to be seen at the same time as unconditionally pro-Israeli. Obama made this abundantly clear in his fawning and demeaning farewell meeting with Netanyahu at the UN, which Israel reciprocated by a provocative approval of a controversial settlement expansion, basically one more slap in Obama’s face.

 

Clinton, as well, seems understandably eager to make sure that no daylight appears between his solidarity with Israel and that of his presidential candidate spouse who has topped all American politicians, which says a lot, by tightening her embrace of everything Netanyahu’s Israel currently hopes for in Washington, including even an explicit commitment to join the fight against BDS. By so doing, Hilary Clinton has committed her presidency to favor what appear to be unconstitutional encroachments on freedom of expression that should be an occasion to vent public outrage, but has so far survived the gaze of the gatekeepers without eliciting the slightest critical comments from her opponents and even the media.

 

In the second category of fulsome praise for the departed Peres a variety of private motives is evident. There are those self-important braggarts like Tom Friedman, who clearly knows all about the complexity of the Peres story, but pretends to be gazing wide eyed at the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky as he describes his supposedly idyllic friendship with Peres over a period of 35 years. Friedman is definitely informed and intelligent enough not to be taken in by the Peres myth, and despite his signature demeanor of fearless candor, his views tend to be in total alignment with the liberal pro-Jewish mainstream, whether the topic is assessing Peres’s life or for that matter, assessing America’s global role or the current race for the presidency. He is as anti-Trump and as he is pro-Peres, exhibiting his mentoring stature as the guru of centrist political correctness, which is slightly disguised to the unwary by his brash tone that purports to be telling it like it is even when it isn’t.

 

And then in this same category, strange bedfellows to be sure, are quasi-collaborationist Palestinian leaders, most notably, Mahmoud Abbas who showed up in Jerusalem at the Peres funeral, described in the media as a rare visit to Israel, and seized the opportunity of Peres’ death to demonstrate that the Palestinian leadership is not hostile to Israeli leaders who the world recognizes as committed to peace based on the two-state solution. Abbas was presumably seeking, as well, to enhance his image as a reasonable, moderate, and trustworthy partner in the search for peace, which of course understandably infuriated not only Hamas but all those Palestinians who know better, given the daily ordeal that Palestinians are enduring as a result of policies that Peres never opposed, and in some instances, as with settlements and occupation, helped to establish. The portrayal of Peres by the respected Israeli historian, Tom Segev can hardly be news to Abbas who has endured first hand the long Palestinian ordeal: “Mr. Peres would certainly liked to enter history as a peacemaker, but that’s not how he should be remembered: indeed his greatest contributions were to Israel’s military might and victories.”

 

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian who has had important positions with the PLO for many years, and has long worked for a real peace in a spirit of dedication, but without succumbing to the deceptions surrounding the Oslo diplomacy. Ashrawi has managed to keep her eyes open to the reality of Palestinian suffering, making her inevitably more critical of Peres and suspicious of those who would whitewash is life story. She writes of Peres after his death, as follows: “Palestinians’ faith in Mr. Peres had been tested before. Not forgotten by Palestinians and others in the region is the role that he played arming the Israeli forces that expelled some 750,000 Palestinians during the establishment of Israel in 1948; the regional nuclear arms race he incited by initiating Israel’s secret atomic weapons program in the 1950s and ’60s; his responsibility for establishing some of the first Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the ’70s; his public discourse as a minister in Likud-led coalitions, justifying Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and extremist ideology; and his final role in Israeli politics as president, serving as a fig leaf for the radically pro-settler government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” [NY Times (international edition, Oct 3, 2016)]

 

 

 

Above all, this overly elaborate observance of Peres’ death serves as an informal litmus test useful for determining degrees of devotion to Israel and its policies without bothering to weigh in the balance the country’s obligations under international law or the cruel reality being imposed on the Palestinian people year after year. Those who praise Peres unreservedly are deemed trustworthy within the Beltway, scoring high marks from AIPAC, and those who point to his shortcomings or to policies that went awry are viewed as unredeemably hostile to Israel. They are correctly assumed to be critics of the Special Relationship and of the over the top flows of U.S. military assistance (at least $3.8 billion over the next ten years), or worse, identified as sympathizers with the Palestinian struggle. This description fits such respected and influential critics of the Peres myth as Robert Fisk (British journalist), Uri Avnery (Israeli peace activist, former Knesset member), Gideon Levy (Israeli journalist), and Ilan Pappé (noted Israeli revisionist historian living in Britain).

 

 

 

In my view only those who see the dark sides of Shimon Peres are to be trusted, although it is excusable to be an innocent devotee in the manner of Obama. In this regard the knowledgeable liberal enthusiast is the least acceptable of the three categories because of the willful deception involved in painting a picture of Peres that is known to feed a misleading myth that is itself part of the Israeli hasbara manipulating international public awareness of the Palestinian ordeal, and thus encouraging a false public belief that the leadership in Israel, even the Netanyahu crowd, is sincere in their off again on again advocacy of a two-state solution or of the establishment of a truly independent Palestinian state. Remember that even Netanyahu joined the chorus at the funeral by treating Peres with a moral deference that should be reserved for the gods.

 

There is another aspect of what was signified by the ardent eulogies delivered by Western leaders at the Peres funeral that was dramatically underlined by the renowned Israeli columnist, Gideon Levy, yet entirely overlooked in the extensive commentary: “Anti-Semitism died on Friday — or at least, its use as an excuse by Israel. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5777, the world proved that while anti-Semitism remains in certain limited circles, it can no longer frame most of the world’s governments. Also, hatred of Israel is not what it is said to be, or what Israel says it is.” Levy’s observation is timely and relevant. It goes beyond an expression of the view that Peres was partly lauded because he was ‘not Netanyahu.’ Far deeper is Levy’s understanding that the Peres funeral gave the West an opportunity to express their affection and admiration for a prominent Jew being celebrated because he fashioned for himself and others the image of a ‘man of peace.’ Independent of whether or not this is a true appreciation, it allows a distinction to be sharply drawn between rejecting Jews as a people and criticizing Israel and its leaders for their practices and policies. In effect, if Israel were to embody the supposed worldview of Peres, and bring peace, then Israel would be welcomed into the community of states without any resistance arising from the Jewish identity of its majority population.

 

We in the United States are particularly grateful to Gideon Levy for making this point so clearly. We are faced with the opposite syndrome. Namely, criticisms of Israel’s policies and practices with respect to the Palestinian people are being deliberately treated as ‘hate speech’ and worse, as a new virulent form of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism. Such attacks have been recently mounted with hurtful fury against pro-Palestinian activists and supporters of the BDS Campaign.

 

May Shimon Peres rest in peace, and may the Palestinian people through their representatives intensify their struggle to achieve a real peace with Israel based on law, justice, and mutual empathy.

 

 

 

The Enigma that was Shimon Peres

29 Sep

Responses to Interview Questions on Shimon Peres

(from Rodrigo Craveiro of Correio Braziliense, Brasilia)

 

[Prefatory Note: the text that follows is derived from an interview yesterday with an important Brazilian newspaper. I have retained the questions posed by the journalist, but expanded and reframed my responses. The death of Shimon Peres is the last surviving member of Israel’s founding figures, and in many ways a fascinating political personality, generating wildly contradictory appraisals. My own experience of the man was direct, although rather superficial, but it did give me greater confidence to trust my reservations about his impact and influence, which collides with the adulation that he has inspired among American liberals, in particular.]

 

  • 1) What is the main legacy of president Shimon Peres, in your point of view?

Shimon Peres leaves behind a legacy of a long public life of commitment to making Israel a success story, economically, politically, diplomatically, and even psychologically. He is being celebrated around the world for his intelligence, perseverance, and in recent decades for his public advocacy of a realistic peace with the Palestinians. I believe he lived an impressive and significant life, but one that was also flawed in many ways. He does not deserve, in my opinion, the unconditional admiration he is receiving, especially from the high and mighty in Europe and North America. Underneath his idealistic rhetoric was a tough-minded and mainstream commitment to Zionist goals coupled with an expectation that the Palestinians, if sensible, would submit graciously to this reality, and if not, deservedly suffer the consequences of abuse and harm. He was never, contrary to his image, a supporter of an idealistic peace based on recognizing the equality of the Palestinian people, acknowledging the wrongs of the nakba and the Palestinian ordeal that followed, and in creating a sustainable peace that included realizing Palestinian rights as defined by international law.

* 2) Do you believe Peres was ever close to obtaining a definitive peace deal with Palestinians? What did it get wrong?

In my view, Peres never even wanted to reach a sustainable peace agreement with the Palestinians, but he fooled many people, including the committee in Oslo that selects the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unyielding in his refusal to grant Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 any right of return. He early favored, in fact helped initiate, and never really confronted the settlement movement as it encroached upon the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He consistently pretended to be more peace-oriented than he was except when it served his purposes to seem war-like. I share the assessment made by Marc H. Ellis, the highly respected and influential dissident Jewish thinker, that aside from the exaggerated praise he is receiving, Peres will be more accurately remembered, especially by Palestinians, as an enabler of “a narrative of Jewish innocence and redemption that was always much more sinister from the beginning.” When Peres’ political ambitions made it opportune for him to be militarist, he had little difficulty putting ‘peace’ to one side and embarking on hawkish policies of destructive fury such as the infamous attack on Qana (Lebanon) in April 1996, apparently with the design of improving his electoral prospects, which in any event turned out badly. What seems generally accurate is the view that Peres believed the Israel would evolve in a more secure and tranquil manner if it achieved some kind of peace with Palestine, thereby the conflict to a negotiated end. Yet the peace that Peres favored was always filtered through a distorting Zionist optic, which meant that it was neither fair nor balanced, and was unlikely to last even if some such arrangement were to be swallowed in despair at some point by Palestinian leaders. To date, despite many attempted entrapments, the Palestinians have avoided political surrender beneath such banners of ‘false peace’ that have adorned the diplomatic stage from time to time. The Oslo diplomacy came close to achieving a diplomatic seduction, yet its ‘peace process’ while helpful for Israel’s expansionist designs never was able to deliver, as it promised, an end to the conflict in a form that met Israel’s unspoken priorities for territorial gains, a legitimated Jewish state, and a permanently subordinated Palestinian existence.

 

 

  • 3) Have you ever had chance of talking directly with him? If yes, what could you tell us on his personality?

I had small dinners with Peres on two separate occasions, and attended a couple of larger events where he was the guest of honor. Both of these dinners took place in New York City more than twenty years ago. I was impressed by Peres’ intelligence and social skills, but also by his arrogant and insensitive Israeli nationalism and his unanticipated interest at the time in promoting a strategic alignment with US global and regional policies in the Middle East, which he expressed in think tank militarist terms when he regarded himself as among friends. I remember, in particular, his advocacy, then way ahead of unfolding events, of the feasibility of achieving close strategic partnerships among Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. His premise, which has proved correct, was that these three political actors shared common interests in regional security and the political established order that would take precedence over supposedly antagonistic ideological goals and ethical values. Peres believed that these countries were natural allies bound by mutual interests, an outlook that exhibited his geopolitically driven political mentality. Peres also seemed always to make it clear in private settings that he was not seen as naïve, and frequently made the point that the Middle East was not Scandinavia. I heard him speak in 1993 one time at Princeton shortly after the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Rabin and Arafat. On that occasion he made it clear that the ‘Palestinians’ were ‘Arabs,’ and accordingly it would be appropriate for the 22 Arab countries to absorb the Palestinian refugees rather than expect this burden to fall on Israel’s shoulders. Beyond this, he indicated his hopes for normalization in the Middle East that would benefit both Israel and the Arab countries, which he visualized by a metaphor I found racist at the time: Israel would supply the brains, while the Arab would supply the brawn, and the combination would be a productive regional body politic.

 

 

* 4) Do you think Shimon Peres was one of the most dedicated Israeli leaders to achieving a two state solution? Why?

 

I am not sure about the true nature of Peres’ commitment to a two state solution, although I felt his public offerings were often manipulative toward the Palestinians and were put forward in a disarming manner as if responsive to reasonable Palestinian expectations. Underneath the visionary rhetoric, Peres acted as if Israel’s diplomatic muscle gave it the opportunity to offer the Palestinians a constrained state that would end the conflict while leaving Israel with indirect and no longer contested control of a disproportionate share of historic Palestine. As is typical for political realists, Peres exaggerated the capacity of military might to prevail over political resolve. He has been so far wrong about attaining Israel’s goal of a controlled peace ever being achievable, underestimating Palestinian nationalism and its insistence that peace be based on the equality of the two peoples. Part of why Peres was so appreciated internationally is that his language and vision tended to be outwardly humanistic, and thus contrasted with the far blunter approaches associated with many recent politicians in Israel, and most notably with Bibi Netanyahu. Only by such a comparison can Peres be genuinely considered as ‘a man of peace.’ But this image, however much polished, does not capture the essence of this complicated, contradictory, and talented political personality. As suggested earlier, Peres is probably best understood as a geopolitical realist who believed in maximizing Israeli military power, and not only for defensive purposes, but to give the country the capacity to impose its will on the outcome of the conflict, and to exert unchallenged influence over the entire region. It should not be forgotten that Peres initially became prominent decades ago as a leading overseas procurer of weapons for Israel and later as the political entrepreneur of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, which included persuading France to give assistance that violated its commitments as a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty. As well, on occasion, for the sake of his political ambitions when in or aspiring to high office, Peres supported and was responsible for very aggressive military retaliatory strikes against Palestinian communities that caused heavy casualties among innocent civilians.

Peres was always very useful for the West: an ally and someone who presented a hopeful, moderate, and peace-oriented outer look that was presented as exhibiting the soul of Israel, a moral energy trying forever to free the country from the birth pains of its violent emergence. The Economist unintentionally illustrated Peres’ witty cynicism that also came across in personal encounters: “There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes, love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere.” The august magazine offered this to show off Peres’ wisdom, but I take it as summarizing his deeply suspect view of real peace, or for that matter, of real love.

 

It is not surprising, yet still symbolically disappointing, that President Barack Obama unreservingly exalts Shimon Peres, and is making the symbolic pilgrimage to Israel to take part in the funeral service honoring his life. If Peres’actual political impact is taken into account, his words of excessive tribute to Peres should haunt Obama if he were exposed to the other side of Peres, the so-called ‘father of the settlement movement,’ ‘the butcher of Qana,’ ‘the man behind Israeli nuclear weapons’: “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever. Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves – to the very end of our time on Earth and to the legacy that we leave to others.”

 

 

As with Obama’s recent disturbingly positive public statement of farewell to Netanyahu at the UN, the departing president seems overly eager to create a final, formal impression of unconditional solidarity with Israel, an attitude reinforced in these instances by showing only the most nominal concern for the ongoing Palestinian ordeal. One can only wonder what became of the outlook contained in Obama’s much heralded 2009 speech in Cairo that viewed Israel/Palestine in a more balanced way and promised to turn a new page in relations between the United States and the Middle East. It does not require a historian to remind ourselves that Israel wasted little time in mobilizing its lobbying forces to pour scorn on such a revisioning of policy inducing Obama to back down in an awkward and politically costly manner. Perhaps, this ‘reset’ can be justified as a practical move by Obama in the interest of governing, but why now when the tides of political pressure have relented and after so much experience of Netanyahu, does Obama want to be regarded more than ever as Israel’s staunch friend rather than as someone who was so often obstructed by the Israeli leadership?

 

Such a posture is distressing, in part, because it overlooks the outrageous and undisguised effort by Netanyahu to favor Romney for president in the 2012 American elections and his later belligerent circumvention of White House protocol by speaking directly to the U.S. Congress to register intense opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. If Obama behaves in this craven way, what might we expect from a Clinton presidency? Clinton has already committed her likely forthcoming administration to the absurd goal of raising even higher the level of friendship and solidarity between the two countries higher than it was during the Obama years. She has provided tangible evidence that this pledge is genuine by making gratuitous and unacceptable avowals of intense opposition to the BDS Campaign, and hence of subordinating the constitutional rights of American citizens to the whims of pro-Israeli extremists.