Israel-Palestine: Beyond The Liberal Imaginary

19 Jun


Prefatory Note: What follows is a letter to the NY Times responding to their editorial of June 6, 2014, which was not accepted for publication. I publish it here as a post because I believe it identifies some of the continuing ways in which public opinion on the relationship between Israel and Palestine continues to be distorted on Israel’s behalf in American media sources that have the undeserved reputation of being objective and trustworthy. The New York Times has long ranked high on this list, if not at its top!

This letter is particularly concerned with the misleading characterizations of Hamas, and the failure to pass judgment on the Netanyahu leadership as ‘extremist.’ Israeli security forces were guilty of extreme abuse of Hamas supporters in the aftermath of the June 2014 abduction of three settler teenagers in the vicinity of Hebron.




To the Editor:


            Re “Israeli-Palestinian Collision Course” (editorial, June 6, text reproduced below):


            You are correct that this is an opportune time to take account of Israel-Palestine peace prospects in light of failed direct negotiations and subsequent developments. It is misleading, however, to equate Israel’s accelerated expansion of settlements with the formation of the Fatah-Hamas unity government. Israeli action continues a pattern of flagrant violation of the 4th Geneva Convention while the Palestinian action is a constructive move that could finally make diplomacy on behalf of all Palestinians legitimate and effective.


            Even more regrettable is the editorial treatment of Hamas as “a violent, extremist organization committed to Israel’s destruction” and responsible for the violence on the border because “militants regularly fire rockets into Israel; in 2012 Hamas fought an eight-day war with Israel.” This kind of unqualified language distorts the realities of the last several years, and irresponsibly blocks any path to peace.


            It is prudent to be wary of Hamas, but not without some recognition that the situation is more nuanced. It is worth remembering that it was the United States that urged Hamas to compete politically in the 2006 elections, and when it unexpectedly won, reverted immediately to treating Hamas as a terrorist organization. Its administration of Gaza since 2007 has been orderly, despite intense difficulties caused by the Israeli blockade, an illegal form of collective punishment. During this period Israel itself negotiated several ceasefire arrangements with Hamas, relying on the good offices of Egypt, that reduced violence almost to zero; these ceasefires were broken by Israel. Let us recall that the Israeli attack on Gaza in November 2012 was initiated by the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jaberi, who was at that moment in the process of delivering a truce agreement to an Israeli interlocutor and had been the Hamas official leading the effort to suppress non-Hamas militias operating in Gaza that were firing many of the rockets into Israeli territory.


            In every conflict of this kind, when the dominant side is interested in peace it signals such an intention by abandoning its earlier refusal to deal with ‘terrorists’ and accepts its adversary as a political actor with genuine grievances and goals. This was true in Ireland in relation to the IRA, and indeed earlier when Israel decided to talk with Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was true also in South Africa when the apartheid government released Nelson Mandela, whom we should remember was at the time a convicted and imprisoned terrorist leader.


            It is not necessary to overlook Hamas’ past, but to move forward it would certainly be more responsible to take account of its leaders recent statements that call for long-term coexistence with Israel within its 1967 borders, up to 50 years rather than repeating sterile condemnations. Surely there are better diplomatic alternatives than for both sides to engage in the demonization of their opponent.


Richard Falk

June 9, 2014


The author served as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council, 2008-1014





Israeli-Palestinian Collision Course


The recent collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has sharpened tensions and put the two sides on a collision course. The feuding Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, formed a government this week, prompting Israel to retaliate with plans for hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians threatened unspecified countermeasures. It is clearly time for all sides to think hard about where this is headed.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has condemned the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, at one point accusing the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of saying “yes to terrorism and no to peace” and insisting that Israel will never negotiate with a government backed by Hamas.


Mr. Netanyahu is correct that Hamas, the Iran-backed group that took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, is a violent, extremist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. Gaza militants regularly fire rockets into Israel; in 2012, Hamas fought an eight-day war with Israel.

It is also true that Fatah has renounced violence, recognized Israel and cooperated for years in administering the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas has promised that the new government will abide by those principles, set out in 2006 by the United States and other major powers. To make it more palatable to Israel and the West, the new government, which is supposed to organize elections within six months, is composed of technocrats not affiliated with Hamas or other partisans.


Mr. Netanyahu has scoffed at that distinction — and some skepticism is warranted. While Hamas cannot simply be wished away, the United States and other countries that consider Hamas a terrorist group may find it impossible to continue aiding the Palestinians if Hamas plays a more pronounced role.


The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is risky for Fatah, but Mr. Abbas apparently felt he had nothing to lose. Nine months of American-mediated peace talks with Israel produced no progress. Nearing retirement, at age 79, he saw value in trying to reunite the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after seven years of bitter division.


This is a long shot, since previous reconciliation efforts have quickly collapsed, and there are the inescapable facts of Hamas’s hatred of Israel and its heavily armed militia. Given that Mr. Abbas’s call for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza within six months could bring Hamas to power, this new government could also be Mr. Abbas’s way to make trouble for Mr. Netanyahu.

Israel’s position is not so clear-cut. Even as Mr. Netanyahu demanded that the United States cut off aid to the new government, Israel continued to send tax remittances to the Palestinian Authority. And Mr. Netanyahu is not above negotiating with Hamas himself. In 2011, he traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas for five years. In 2012, working through the United States and Egypt, he negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas that ended a brief war.

Mr. Netanyahu’s failure to persuade the international community not to recognize the new government reflects a growing breach between Israel and its most important allies. On Monday, the United States announced plans to work with and fund the unity government; it typically gives the Palestinians about $500 million annually. The European Union, another major donor, and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, also declared their support. China, India and Russia welcomed the unity government, despite Israel’s efforts to build closer ties with all three.

Many experts say that if there is ever to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, admittedly a distant dream at this point, the Palestinians must be united. But the United States has to be careful to somehow distinguish between its support for the new government and an endorsement of Hamas and its violent, hateful behavior. To have some hope of doing that, the United States and Europe must continue to insist that Mr. Abbas stick to his promises and not allow Hamas to get the upper hand.


7 Responses to “Israel-Palestine: Beyond The Liberal Imaginary”

  1. Gene Schulman June 19, 2014 at 8:47 am #


    I do not know if you have submitted this excellent letter to NYTX, but in case you haven’t, I have taken the liberty of forwarding it myself.

    • Dan Livni June 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Isn’t it sad, Mr Falk complains that the Times doesn’t put his response on, but Mr Falk bars all responses critical of his.
      Mr Falk needs to stop acting like a dictator.

      Mr Falk thinks these are moderates.
      Hamas leader vows never to recognize Israel
      Dec 8, 2012
      GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, making his first ever visit to the Gaza Strip, vowed on Saturday never to recognize Israel and said his Islamist group would never abandon its claim to all Israeli territory.
      Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas Foreign minister said this.

      Hamas would continue to struggle for the elimination of the State of Israel. “We are not willing to accept Israel as a legitimate state in this area. This is not our political attitude. This is a standing contradiction with Islam,” he said.
      Oct 3, 2011
      Hamas brags about eleven years of terrorism
      The Palestine Times website published an article today listing Hamas’ terrorist accomplishments since the beginning of the terror war that began in September 2000.

      They brag about three specific acts of terror:

      The massacre at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva killing 8 students
      The attack by a laser-guided anti-tank missile against a schoolbus, killing a child (that they claim was a “soldier”)

      The Park Hotel Passover massacre killing 30, mostly elderly, Jews. (Hamas inflates the number of victims to 36.)

      The article says that in the past eleven years Hamas has committed:

      4303 terror attacks
      61 suicide attacks
      24 attempts to capture Israelis
      423 bombings
      90 sniper attacks
      146 ambushes

      In addition, they claim 8085 projectiles fired from Gaza, of which 2627 were Qassam rockets and 303 were Grad rockets.

      They claim to have killed 910 “Zionists” in that time period, while losing 1697 of their members. Not civilians – 1697 dead Hamas terrorists. This doesn’t include members of other terror groups like Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

      It is clear from the article that Hamas considers the second intifada to still be going on.

      • Gene Schulman June 20, 2014 at 2:14 am #


        This one is really tempting, but I shall abide by your request 😉

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin June 20, 2014 at 5:07 am #

        To: Dan Livni


        We’ve never met and I know nothing about you other than your strong commitment to Israel and Zionism. As we are on the same side of this conflict, I hope I can write to you in a straightforward manner.

        I won’t claim that Prof. Falk always applies his standards of decency even-handedly. Supporters at times are allowed to post statements that cross the line, while dissenters like us are sometimes censored although our posts are well within the lines of acceptability. On the other hand, one finds on almost every controversial thread posts that take sharp issue with the views of Prof. Falk and his supporters.

        This being said, I must add that some of your posts are well beyond the standards of decency, as is your habit of serial posting. Because two wrongs don’t make a right, I believe that Prof. Falk is right in censoring these.

        Dan, you have important things to say, and deserve the right to say them. Toward this end, I suggest that you carefully read your posts before sending them, with an eye toward editing out incendiary language and imagery. Hostility adds nothing to your message. Conversely, it only builds resistance in the minds of those you wish to influence. With this modification, you will assuredly strengthen Israel’s position on this blog.

        Rabbi Ira Youdovin

      • Kata Fisher June 20, 2014 at 8:11 am #

        I have a reflection:

        I am in agreement with Rabbi on many of his points, and I like to add few things on that, as well.

        I believe that each case in position, law, occurrence, structure in government/s (many different issues) in Holy Land that are core causes for the conflict in Holy Land has to be evaluated.

        From OD (Organizational) point of view everything has to be turned upside down and evaluated, if you really want to have a good look at the problem in order to achieve valid solutions that will last.

        Also, it cannot be turned up-side down by anyone—one has to be equipped and qualified, and have a valid spiritual and natural authority to go about that.

        Meaning, this is a quite a bit to worry when going about it, just in order not to mess up.

        Can someone evaluate everything based on spiritual and natural Laws, any without any partiality? I believe that is possible – but is it possible for an individual? Perhaps, but based on human capability and limitations; it is impossible for an individual.

        With that, all issues that are can be evaluated by many individuals, and problems have to be strong held, so that is possible to attain harvested solutions — If any solutions for Holy Land?

        We have to start focusing on Holy Land because it is Holy Land and people in the Land. Meaning, evaluate all things that are taking place in Holy Land? What are external influences, then, likewise?

        What are problems?
        What are solutions?
        Are the solutions acceptable and doable?

        If acceptable implement immediately – if not, then sit on those solutions, and wait/work on them.

        How many solutions will take, and can you get them right, so that you get a budge in Holy Land? Get as many as you can.

        A Note: I think that this is what is taking place here, but we are all humans and not God — we have our limitations, and we have to stick to that if we want to remain valid and effective.

        I will warn (a warning in positive reality) to everyone that every time you step out of your appointed areas you will be ineffective. Now, you can overlap with others in an appointed area – but do not kick them out of their areas of appointing because you just can’t keep your limitations. This is just a spiritual reality that is relevant to be effective.

        Another thing: If a term or imaginary that you want apply in order spiritually to offend someone is not in the Scripture – you should not use it! If is in the Scripture, you may spiritually offend someone, intentionally. This is right and just.

        However, when you intend to use spiritual offence, you make sure that you are doing in a complete understanding and sound conscience.

        Now, I do understand that some will have difficulty to wrap their mind around this, but it is a valid fact.

        If you are not too much in the Scripture – then just do not use that which is unethical to offend one.

        So, you have to be discerning based on what is best cause and effect on another individual and/or their understanding .

  2. wingsprd June 19, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Gene; I echo your remark about Richard’s excellent letter. I think the ‘terrorist label’ could also apply to the IDF and its treatment of the Palestinians. The world is tired of a situation that is so one-sided, in spite of the rockets fired by Hamas. Cf. the military might of Israel with n. arms etc. Such violence and antipathy when the planet requires co-operation in the face of huge problems is ill-placed.


  1. I$raHell-Palestine: Beyond The Liberal Imaginary |  SHOAH - June 26, 2014

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