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Interview on Israel, Palestine, and Peace

14 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The interview below, conducted by C.J. Polychroniou and Lily Sage (bios at the end of the interview) was published in TruthOut on Sept. 10, 2016. It is republished here with a few stylistic modifications, but substantively unchanged. It is relevant, I suppose,to report that subsequent to the interview the U.S. Government and Israel have signed a military assistance agreement promising Israel $38 billion over the next ten years, the largest such commitment ever made. Such an excessive underwriting of Israel’s policies and practices should be shocking to taxpaying Americans but it passes almost noticed below the radar. It is being explained as a step taken to ensure that Obama’s legacy is not diminished by claims that he acted detrimentally toward Israel, but it is, pathetically, one of the few instances of genuine bipartisanship in recent U.S. foreign policy. Again, we should grieve over the extent to which ‘reality’ and morality is sacrificed for the sake of the ‘special relationship’ while looking the other way whenever the Palestinian ordeal is mentioned.

The initial question pertaining to Turkey is explained by my presence in that turbulent country when the interview was conducted.]

 

 

“A Continuous War Mentality”: Richard Falk on Israel’s Human Rights Abuses

Polychroniou & Sage: Israel’s treatment of Palestinians mirrors the abominable system of apartheid in South Africa, but many members of the “international community” who fueled the gradual delegitimization and eventual collapse of South Africa’s apartheid regime are failing to apply similar pressure against Israel. In fact, many nations are even strengthening their ties with the Israeli government.

 

Even Greece has established close ties to Israel under the opportunistic Syriza government, while Sultan Erdogan in Turkey has also begun a process of kissing up to Israel after a few years of pursuing an “antagonistic” relation with the US’s closest ally under the pretext of expressing solidarity towards the Palestinian cause. Meanwhile, the increased militarization of Israeli society continues to intensify the oppression and subjugation of Palestinians.

 

The Israeli government has recently suggested that a “normalization” process is underway with the Palestinians, but in reality Israel’s construction of illegal settlements continues unabated, and the right-wing politicians inside Israel who portray Palestinians as an “inferior race” are gaining ground. This is exactly what “normalization” has always meant in Israeli political jargon: continuing to commit abominable human rights violations against Palestinians while the world looks away. Indeed, apartheid, annexation, mass displacement and collective punishment have become core policies of the state of Israel.

 

 

After years of intense antagonism, the Erdoğan regime has begun making overtures once again to Israel. Why now?

 The normalization agreement with Israel needs to be appreciated as part of a broader foreign policy reset that started well before the failed coup attempt of July 15th. The basic Turkish motivation appears to be an effort to ease bilateral tensions throughout the region, and as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has expressed it, “make as many friends as possible, and as few enemies.” It is the second coming of what had earlier gained political traction for Turkey throughout the region in the first 10 years of AKP (Justice and Development Party) leadership with the slogan “zero problems with neighbors.”

 

The main reset by far is with Russia, which had become an adversary of Turkey in the context of the Syrian War, but Israel is a close second. [Israel’s relationship with Turkey] had been in freefall after Erdoğan harshly criticized Israel at the World Economic Forum in 2009, directly insulting the then-Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was present.

 

Then in 2010 came the Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, and directly challenging the Israeli blockade together with a group of smaller boats filled with peace activists in an initiative known as the Freedom Flotilla. The Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara resulted in nine Turkish deaths among the peace activists on the ship and pushed the Israeli-Turkish relationship close to the brink of war. For the past year or so both sides have shown an interest in de-escalating tensions and restoring diplomatic normalcy. And Turkey, now more than ever, would like to avoid having adversary relations with Israel, which is being given precedence over Turkey’s support of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said recently that he cares more about the Palestinians than their own leaders. Do you wish to offer a comment on this statement?

 

Netanyahu has a gift for exaggerated, bombastic, and misleading, often outrageous political language. This is a clear instance. There are plenty of reasons to question the adequacy of the Palestinian Authority as the representative of the Palestinian people in advancing their national struggle. But to leap from such an unremarkable acknowledgement to the absurd claim that Netanyahu cares more about the Palestinian future than do Palestinians themselves represents a grotesque and arrogant leap into the political unknown. It is Netanyahu who led the country to launch massive attacks against Gaza first in 2012, and then again in 2014. It is Netanyahu who has pushed settler expansion and the Judaizing of East Jerusalem. For Netanyahu to speak in such a vein is to show his monumental insensitivity to the daily ordeal endured by every Palestinian and to the agonies associated with living for so long under occupation, in refugee camps, and in exile.

 

What do you make of the “anti-normalization” campaign initiated by some Palestinian factions and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement?

 

I think the BDS campaign makes sense under present conditions. These conditions include the recognition that the Oslo “peace diplomacy” is a dead-end that for more than two decades gave Israel cover to expand settlements and the settler population. They also include the realization that geopolitical leverage of the United States at the UN blocks all efforts to exert meaningful political pressure on Israel to reach the sort of compromise on issues of land, refugees, borders, water, settlements and Jerusalem that is indispensable if sustainable peace arrangements are to be agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians.

 

Against this background, it is important to recognize that civil society is presently “the only game in town,” and that BDS is the way this game is being played at present with the benefit of Palestinian civil society guidance and enthusiasm. Whether this campaign can exert enough pressure on Israel and the United States to change the political climate sufficiently to induce recalculations of national interest — only the future can tell. Until it happens, if it does, it will be deprecated by Israel and its Zionist supporters. While being dismissed as futile and destructive of genuine peace initiatives its participants will be attacked. A major effort is underway in the United States and Europe to discredit BDS, and adopt punitive measures to discourage participation.

 

Israel’s pushback by way of an insistence that BDS is seeking to destroy Israel and represents a new virulent form of anti-Semitism suggests that BDS now poses a greater threat to Israel’s concept of an established order than armed struggle or Palestinian resistance activities. Major Zionist efforts in the United States and elsewhere are branding BDS activists as anti-Semites.

 

It seems clear that nearly the entirety of the population of Israel and Palestine are in a constant trauma-reification cycle that began when Israel largely became inhabited by traumatized Jewish refugees, post-WWII. Do you think it is possible to overcome this, and would it be possible to find a peaceful resolution if this didn’t occur?

 

This is an insightful way of conceiving of the toxic interactions that have taken place over the years being harmful, in my view, to both people. However, unless the assertion is seriously qualified, it suffers from a tendency to create impressions of symmetry and balance, when the reality of relations from the outset, especially since the Nakba [the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes and villages in 1948], has been one of oppressor and oppressed, invader and invaded, occupier and occupied. It is undoubtedly true that Israeli ideas about the use of force and security were reflections of their collective trauma and Holocaust memories, and Zionist ideology.

 

This Israeli narrative is further reinforced by biblical and ancient historical claims, but it is also the case that the Palestinians were invaded in their habitual place of residence, and then occupied, exploited, dispossessed and turned into refugees in their own country, while Israelis came to prosper, and to establish a regional military powerhouse that has enjoyed the geopolitical reinforcement of an unprecedented special relationship with United States. The early politics surrounding the establishment of Israel were also strongly influenced by the sense of guilt that existed in Western liberal democracies after World War II. Such guilt was epitomized by the shame associated with the refusal to use munitions to disrupt the Holocaust through air bombardment.

 

Under Netanyahu, Israel has moved dangerously closer to becoming a fundamentalist and neo-fascist state, although long-standing Israeli propaganda has it that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” In your view, what accounts for the transformation of Israel from a once-promising democracy to an apartheid-like state with no respect for international law and human rights?

 

I believe there always were major difficulties with Israel’s widely proclaimed and internationally endorsed early identity as a promising democracy guided by progressive ideals. This image overlooked the dispossession of several hundred thousand Palestinian residents, the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, and the long-term discriminatory regime of military administration imposed on the remaining Palestinian minority that coincided with the establishment of the newly established Israeli state. What is important to appreciate is that this 20th-century process of state-creation took place in an era that was increasingly imbued with anticolonial activism that was at odds with the project to establish Israel from its international genesis and given a colonialist certificate of approval by way of the Balfour Declaration in 1917). Even taking into the Holocaust into account as the culminating historic tragedy of the Jewish people there is no way evading the conclusion that the establishment of Israel amounted to a European colonialist imposition on the Arab world and the latest instance of settler colonialism, although abetted by the Zionist mobilization of world Jewry on behalf of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.

 

 

Against this background, Israel became embattled in various ways with internal Palestinian resistance and regional hostility that produced several wars. In that process, a series of developments moved Israel further and further toward the right. A continuous war mentality tends to erode democratic structures and values even under the best of circumstances. Military successes, especially after the 1967 War, created a triumphalist attitude that also solidified US geopolitical support and made it seem possible for Israel to achieve security while expanding its territorial reality (via settlements) at Palestinian expense. Israeli demographics over the years, involving large-scale immigration of Sephardic and Russian Jews and high fertility rates among Orthodox Jews, pushed the political compass ever further to the right. These key developments were reinforced by Israeli public opinion that came to believe that several proposals put forward by Israel to achieve a political compromise were irresponsibly rejected by the Palestinians. These negative outcomes were misleadingly interpreted as justifying the Israeli conclusion that they had no Palestinian partner for peace and that the Palestinians would settle for nothing less than the destruction of Israel as a state. These interpretations are gross misreadings of the Palestinian readiness to normalize relations with the Israel provided a sovereign Palestinian state were to be established within 1967 borders and some kind of arrangements were agreed upon for those displaced from their homes in 1948.

 

Additionally, the supposed need for Israel to remain aggressively vigilant after Gaza came under the control of Hamas in 2007 led Israelis to entrusting the government to rightest leadership and in the process, weakened the peace-oriented political constituencies remaining active in Israel. In part, here, memories of the Nazi experience were invoked to induce acute anxiety that Jews suffered such a horrible fate because they remained as a group too passive in face of mounting persecution, and failed to take Hitler at his word. Fear-mongering with respect to Iran accentuated Israeli security-consciousness, and undercut more moderate political approaches to the Palestinians.

 

Have you detected any changes in US foreign policy toward Israel under the Obama administration?

 

There has been no change of substance during the eight years of the Obama presidency. At the outset in 2009 it seemed that the US government under Obama’s leadership was ready to pursue a more balanced diplomacy toward Israel, at first insisting that Israel suspend settlement expansion to enable a restart of the Oslo peace process with a fresh cycle of negotiations. When Israel pushed back hard, abetted by the powerful Israeli lobby in the US, the Obama administration backed off, and never again, despite some diplomatic gestures, really challenged Israel, its policies and practices, and its overall unilateralism. It did call Israeli settlement moves “unhelpful” from time to time, but stopped objecting to such behavior as “unlawful.” Washington never seemed to question the relevance of a two-state solution, despite the realities of steady Israeli de facto annexation of prime land in the West Bank, making the prospect of a Palestinian state that was viable and truly sovereign less and less plausible. Although, for public relations credibility in the Middle East, the Obama presidency continued to claim it strongly backed “peace through negotiations,” it did nothing substantive to make Israel respect international law as applied to the occupation of Palestine, and consistently asserted that the Palestinians were as much to blame for the failure of past negotiations as were the Israelis, fostering a very distorted picture of the relative responsibility of the two sides, as well as who benefitted and who lost from the failure to resolve the conflict. Western media tended to accept this pro-Israeli picture, making it appear that both sides were equally unready to make the concessions necessary to achieve peace.

 

What could make Israel change course regarding its treatment toward Palestinians and the “Palestinian question?”

 

The easy answer to this question is a sea change in Israeli outlook as to its security, combined with an insistence by the US government that continued backing of Israel was contingent on its adherence to international law and its credible readiness to reach a fair political compromise, whether in the form of a two-state or one-state solution, but based on a recognition that sustainable peace depends on acknowledging Palestinian rights under international law and a concern for the equality of the two peoples when it comes to issues of security, resources, and sovereignty. Such a shift in Israeli elite opinion could conceivably come about through a reassessment of Israeli prospects in reaction to mounting international pressures and continued Palestinian resistance in various forms. This seems to have been what happened in South Africa, producing an abrupt and unexpected change of outlook by the governing white leadership in Pretoria that signaled a willingness to dismantle its apartheid regime and accept a constitutional order based on racial equality and procedural democracy. Such a development will be dismissed as irrelevant by Israeli leaders until it happens, if it ever does, so as to avoid encouraging those mounting the pressures.

 

You served for many years as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. Did that experience teach you anything about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that you were not aware of prior to this appointment?

 

In many ways, it was a fascinating experience, in almost equal measure dispiriting and inspiring. UN Watch, acting as an Israeli surrogate within the UN, repeatedly targeted me with vicious contentions that I was an anti-Semite and a proponent of a variety of extremist and irresponsible views that didn’t represent my actual views. UN Watch, along with other pro-Israeli NGOs, organized a variety of protests with the purpose of canceling my speaking invitations throughout the world, and threatening institutions with adverse funding implications if they went ahead with the events. Although no speaking invitation was withdrawn or event canceled, it shifted the conversation at the event and in the media — often from the substance of my presentation to whether or not the personal attacks were accurate. Also, I know of several invitations that were not issued because of these institutional concerns with controversy.

 

I also learned in ways that I only suspected prior to my six years as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Palestine, what a highly politicized atmosphere prevails at the UN, and how much leverage is exercised by the United States and Israel to impair UN effectiveness in relation to Israel/Palestine. At the same time, I realized that from the perspective of strengthening the legitimacy and awareness of Palestinian claims and grievances, the UN provided crucial venues that functioned as sites of struggle.

 

Are there Israeli organizations working on behalf of Palestinians and their ordeal, and, if so, what can we do from abroad to assist their efforts?

 

There are many Israeli and Palestinian NGOs within Israel and in Occupied Palestine that are working bravely to protect Palestinians from the worst abuses of the Israeli state, both in Occupied Palestine and in Israel (as defined by the 1949 “green line”). On the Israeli side, these initiatives, although having no present political relevance so far as elections and governing policy is concerned, are important ways of maintaining in Israel a certain kind of moral awareness.

 

If the political climate changes in Israel due to outside pressure and a general recognition that Israel needs to make peace to survive, then those that kept the flame of justice and peace flickering despite internal harassment will be regarded, if not revered, with long overdue appreciation as the custodians of Jewish collective dignity. In the meantime, it is a lonely battle, but one that we on the outside should strongly support.

It is also important to lend support to the various Palestinian efforts along the same lines and to the few initiatives that brings together Jews and Palestinians, such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, of which scholar-activist Jeff Halper was a cofounder and remains a leader. There are many Palestinian initiatives under the most difficult conditions, such as Human Rights Defenders working courageously in and around Hebron, and of course, in Gaza.

 

There is an unfortunate tendency by liberal Zionists to fill the moral space in the West by considering only the efforts of admirable Israeli organizations, such as B’Tselem or Peace Now, when presenting information on human rights resistance to Israeli oppressive policies and practices. This indirectly marginalizes the Palestinians as the subject of their own struggle and in my view unwittingly denigrates Palestinian national character.

 

What’s the best way to explain the conversion of an oppressed group of people into oppressors themselves, which is what today’s Israeli Jews have structurally become?

 

This role reversal is part of the tragedy that Zionist maximalism has produced for the Jewish people living in Israel, and to some extent, for Jews worldwide. It has made the Nakba into a continuing process rather than an historical event that could have been addressed in a humane manner from the perspective of restorative justice as depicted so vividly and insistently by Edward Said, including in his influential 1993 book Culture and Imperialism. What has ensued has been a geopolitically conditioned unbalanced diplomacy that has served as a shield behind which Israel has been creating conditions for an imposed, unilateralist solution.

 

Israeli leaders, especially those on the right, have used the memories of the Holocaust, not as an occasion for empathy toward the Palestinians, but as a reminder that the well-being of Jews is based on strength and control, that Hitler succeed because Jewry was weak and passive. Further, that even the liberal West refused to lift a finger to protect Jews when threatened with genocidal persecution, which underscores the central Zionist message of Jewish self-reliance as an ethical and political imperative.

 

Psychologically, this general way of thinking is further reinforced by supposing that only the Israeli Defense Forces keeps Israel from befalling the fate of deadly Palestinian maximalism, a political delusion reinforced by images of a second Holocaust initiated by Iran or generated by the terrorist tactics attributed to Hamas. In effect, Israeli oppressiveness is swept under the rug of security, while the settlements expand, Gaza is squeezed harder, and the regional developments give Israel the political space to attempt an Israeli one-state solution.

 

The Interviewers

LILY SAGE

Lily Sage is a Montessori pedagogue who is interested in questions of symbiosis, intersectional feminism and anti-racist/fascist praxis. She has studied in the fields of herbalism, visual/performance art, anthropology and political theory in Germany, Mongolia and the US.

 

C.J. POLYCHRONIOU

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.

 

 

The Undisclosed Second Paradox in Michael Walzer’s The Paradox of Liberation

20 Jun

 

There is little doubt that several of Michael Walzer’s contributions to political theory will long remain influential (Revolution of the Saints (1965); Just and Unjust Wars (1977); Spheres of Justice (1983)). Although his work lacks the cumulative weight of a major philosophic presence, the ideas and issues Walzer has been exploring in the last several decades with great conceptual coherence and originality. His work exhibits a consistent practical relevance to the realities of the unfolding world around us. His writing is lucid, well informed, and is mainstream enough to be non-threatening. Walzer’s worldview is congruent with widely shared ethical presuppositions prevalent among liberals in Western society. Added to this, Walzer’s writings are tinged with a socialist nostalgic edge that imparts a now harmless progressive resonance. This is somewhat soothing for all those suffering varying degrees of guilty conscience as we go on as before, enjoying life in non-sustainable consumptive Western societies.

 

Aside from John Rawls, Jacques Derrida, Jürgens Habermas who enjoy preeminence, only Michel Foucault, Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty, and Amartya Sen have had a comparable contemporary influence to that of Walzer by way of philosophic commentary on major public issues. Apart from Walzer’s strong scholarly emphasis on Judaic Studies and ideological support for Israel, it is Rorty who seems closest to Walzer in ethos, philosophic stance, and intellectual style. As I read this latest extended essay by Walzer I kept thinking of the lines from Auden’s great poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”:

                        “Time with that with this strange excuse

                        Pardoned Kipling and his views

                        And will pardon Paul Claudell

                        Pardon him for writing well”

The point being that despite often finding Walzer’s views suspect, I never find his writing dull or his ideas without force and relevance, and that maybe in the end what flourishes through time is more style than substance.

 

Walzer has been a strong and consistent advocate of Israel and outspoken adherent of moderate Zionism throughout his career. Sometimes his eloquent partisanship has been hidden below the surface of his theorizing, giving his undisclosed messages the status of a sub-text, adored by the faithful and repudiated by the critical. Among critics this Walzer tendency to hide his political commitments beneath his theoretical generalization, creates an impression of a rather sneaky lack of forthrightness. For instance, his influential Just and Unjust Wars can be read (without any acknowledgement from Walzer) as a show of strong support for Israel’s approach to Palestinian armed resistance that is expressed in the abstract language of the ethics of counter-terrorism. Walzer’s tendency to be not straight forward about his ideological agenda is intriguingly relevant to his latest book, The Paradox of Liberation, which sets forth a bold and challenging general thesis—that the distinct secular movements that produced national liberation in Algeria, India, and Israel a few generations ago have each most unexpectedly and progressively yielded their identities to intense religious counter-revolutions. These counter-revolutions have each sought to restore tradition and religious observance in public spaces, including the governing process. This religious turn against the secular came as an unwelcome surprise to the founding generation of national liberation leaders whose successors find themselves pushed aside by more socially conservative elites.

 

These secularizing movements were rooted initially in the opposite belief that only by breaking with societal traditions can liberation be achieved for a national people that is being oppressed or acutely denied its true destiny. As Walzer summarizes: “The old ways must be repudiated and overcome totally. But the old ways are cherished by many of the men and women whose ways they are. That is the paradox of liberation.” (19) In the Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions (Yale University Press, 2015). Walzer is preoccupied by this paradox, and devotes himself to its explication. He contends that the paradox arises from the tension between the mobilization of a people around the negation of that which the majority society affirms (that is, religious values) and while this negation seems useful (even to many of the religiously oriented) during the struggle against alien oppression, it will itself be negated a generation or so after liberation, a phenomenon of negating the negation that can also be understood as the return of the repressed in the form of religious resurgence. The secularists enjoyed a temporary ascendancy because they were active resisters to oppressive circumstances rather than as was the case with religiously oriented leaderships, which tended to be passive and even deferential to the status quo.

 

This pattern of secularist victory giving way to religion is reproduced in a nationally distinctive form in each of these specific historical circumstances by the seemingly inexplicable rise and potency of religious zeal. In each of Walzer’s three cases, the political moment of successful liberation by secularists was soon to be superseded to varying degrees by the religious moment, an entirely unexpected sequel. The liberators whether led by Ben Bella, Jawaharlal Nehru, or David Ben Gurion were modernizers who strongly believed that religion was being and should be superseded by science and rationality. This meant that religion was largely a spent force with respect to cultural identity and public policy, and should in the future be confined in its role to state ritual occasions and private devotional practice. Walzer argument explains the central misunderstanding of these secular leaders, and expresses his own hope that the religious resurgence should not be viewed as the end of the national narrative. Also, Walzer would not welcome the Algerian phase three sequel to the religious challenge by way of bloody civil war, followed by military autocracy and renewed societal passivity.

 

What makes the book challenging is its main prescriptive argument that runs as follows. The secular nationalists made a crucial initial mistake, according to Walzer, by basing their movement on the negation of religion rather than byseeking its incorporation. If their secularist goal was sustainable liberation, which it certainly was, then the adoption of an either/or orientation toward religion and its practice was wrong from the start. Instead the attitude of the secular liberators toward religion should have one of constructive engagement, and not negation. What this means in the context of each movement is not spelled out by Walzer. The stress is placed on a recommended (re)incorporation of religious values into the reigning secular ideology combined with sensitivity to traditional values and practices. Walzer is fully aware that his proposed approach becomes problematic as soon as it is pursued unconditionally. As he recognizes, the traditions in each of these nations denies equality to women, often in cruel and unacceptable ways. Walzer does not want secularists to give up their commitment to gender equality for the sake of reconciliation with religiously oriented sectors of society. What he encourages is a sympathetic awareness of traditional attitudes toward gender while seeking to overcome their embedded biases. As is often the case, Walzer is more persuasive in diagnosis than prescription, delineating the problems far better than finding credible solutions.

 

One difficulty with the framework we are offered in the book is the failure to consider the discrediting relevance of the corruption and incompetence of the liberators, which amounted to a betrayal of their promises to lead a new and happy society of free people. Whether through corruption or the failure to deliver a better life to a large portion of the population, a post-liberation mood of disillusionment takes hold in different patterns, but they share in common the search for an alternative orientation.

 

In other words the excitement of liberation is hard to sustain during the state-building rigors of governance, and also in most cases, the personalities suitable for liberation are not well adapted to handle the routines and typical challenges of post-liberation existence. Israel, in particular, was an outlier from these perspectives, as its claims of liberation were at all stages shadowed by doubts as a result of fears, threats, uncertainties, and opposition to its underlying legitimacy claim from within its ethnic ranks and more so from those it sought to subdue by either displacement or subjugation. The anti-colonial liberations of India and Algeria never faced such basic challenges to its core identity.

 

There is for me a closely related yet more fundamental problem with the misleading comparisons relied upon by Walzer to develop his argument. India and Algeria were genuine liberation movements waged by indigenous nations to rid from the entire territorial space of their respective countries a deeply resented, exploitative, and domineering foreign presence. To place Israel in such a category is to foster several deep misunderstandings—there is the master presupposition that the Zionist movement is being properly treated as a case of ‘national liberation’ even if the Jewish nation was not engaged in reclaiming control over its residential territorial space. Jews were scattered in enclaves around the world when the Zionist movement was launched and most of its leaders relied on biblical claims to Palestine to ground its territorial claims. Although the early debate about whether a homeland in Uganda would fulfill Zionist goals illuminates the distinctiveness of the Zionist quest. Beyond this Zionists became legally dependent upon British colonialist support to carry forward their efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Zionism cannot be meaningfully regarded as a revolt against alien rulership, although in its last pre-state stage it did try to expel Britain from Palestine so as to compel an abandonment of its mandatory administration. Unlike standard anti-colonial movements, Zionism is more correctly perceived as an activist effort to overcome the realities of diaspora Judaism confronted by the persecution, discrimination, and assimilation in an array of national settings.

 

Given this background, it seems dubious, indeed polemical, to treat Israel’s establishment as an instance of ‘liberation,’ a terminology that obscures the centrality of the ‘dispossession’ experienced by the majority indigenous Palestinian Arab population in the course of Israel’s acquisition of statehood. In passing, Walzer does somewhat acknowledge some of these differences that distinguish Israel from India and Algeria, but regards them as inconsequential contextual issues that do not raise for him any serious doubts about the basic reasonableness of regarding Israel as coming into being as a result of national liberation led by the Zionist movement. Walzer’s focus is rather upon whether Israel fits the pattern of a secularist phase one giving way to a religious phase two, leaving us with a big question mark as to whether there will be a phase three, and if so, whether it will reflect Walzer’s hopes for a belated constructive engagement with religion rather than an Alegerian style relapse into civil strife and autocracy. Although Walzer expresses his personal wish for the Palestinians to have their own sovereign state (53) at some point, this wish is never contextualized or concretized by reference to criteria of equality between the two peoples. The Palestinian national liberation movement is discussed by Walzer as correlative to his main thesis. Walzer notes that even prior to achieving Palestinian statehood, the PLO’s secular leadership has been increasingly challenged and even discredited by a rising Islamist alternative. (53-55)

 

This reference to the Palestinian national movement is an interesting aside in relation to Walzer’s essential set of contentions relating to the paradox he is depicting, but it fails to engage the issue I find central, which is whether Israel’s establishment can qualify as an instance of national liberation. To be sure Zionism generated an extraordinary international movement that overcame many formidable obstacles that stood in its way, and none more formidable than an indigenous Palestinian Arab majority population that did its best to prevent Zionists from reaching their goal of statehood on behalf of the Jewish people. Although Walzer notes that the early secularist Zionist leaders stressed a commitment to equality when articulating their ideas about the preferred relationship between Jews and non-Jews in the Israeli state. In my view, it is questionable in the extreme whether this idealistic goal ever represented the actual intentions of Zionist leaders. It should be evident to all that such egalitarianism was never expressive of Israeli policies and practices on the ground from even before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

 

More problematic still, was the dispossession and displacement from the land of most of the indigenous Arab population that had been living in Palestine for many generations. Surely this Palestinian experience is profoundly different in character and consequence from the repudiation of exploitative rule of a country by a foreign, usually European, elite and its native collaborators. Again Walzer’s sub-text, whether consciously intended or not, seems to be the retroactive legitimation of Israel’s claim to be an example of national liberation of the sort achieved by Algeria and India, and hence to be situated in the highest echelon of 20th century state-building undertakings. As many of us realize this ‘liberation’ was for Palestinians a catastrophe, known by its Arabic word nakba.

 

Overall, this is a peculiar book, developing a general view of religious counter-revolutions against secular movements of national liberation, but due to the inclusion of Israel as a principal case despite not seeming to fit, there is an implicit polemical motivation that involves whitewashing the criminality of Israel’s emergence. Acknowledging such criminality is not meant to be a covert argument for delegitimizing the present state of Israel that has now been in existence for more than 67 years, and is a member state of the United Nations. My critique of Walzer, in other words, is not meant to lay the groundwork for a second Palestinian dispossession, this time directed toward Jews. I side with Edward Said in a commitment to fair future for both peoples based on their shared rights under international law and on diplomacy to negotiate compromises where rights overlap. I do agree with Said that such a jointly conceived future cannot be undertaken without a prior Israeli acknowledgement of the recent past as epitomized by the nakba, and such rituals of redress must include a formal apology to the Palestinian people for the suffering they have for so long endured.

 

In the end, the paradox that Walzer dwells upon is less consequential than the paradox he ignores: namely, that what is being represented as ‘national liberation’ of the Jewish people by Zionist ideologues is more objectively presented as the ‘national oppression’ of the Palestinian people. This oppression is experienced in different sets of circumstances: as a subjugated minority; as an occupied people; as a nation of refugees and exiles; as a community of resistance aspiring to Palestinian ‘national liberation’; as communities victimized by state terrorism. This second paradox is that what is portrayed as ‘liberation’ for one people serves at the same time as pretext and rationale for the ‘oppression’ of another people. In my view, the second paradox raised life or death questions for both peoples to a far greater extent than does the first paradox that seems to control Walzer’s own Zionist imagination.

 

Michael Ignatieff, whose political orientation resembles that of Michael Walzer, in the course of a mostly laudatory review of The Paradox of Liberation confirms my suspicion that the undisclosed intent of this book is to connect Israel’s fate with that of such exemplary liberation movements as those that took place in India and Algeria. Consider Igantieff’s revealing language innocently proclaiming this reading: “While Israel remains the central focus of The Paradox of Liberation, Walzer has made a major contribution to the question of what’s happening there simply by arguing that Israel may not be so special after all: the same kinds of problems may be occurring in other states created by national liberation movements. He compares what happened to Ben-Gurion’s vision with what befell Jawaharlal Nehru’s in India and Ahmed Ben Bella’s in Algeria.” [Michael Ignatieff, “The Religious Spector Haunting Revolution,” NY Review of Books, 19 June 2015] In a stunning instance of ‘benign neglect’ Ignatieff never once even mentions the relevance of Palestinian dispossession in his lengthy

assessment of Walzer’s version of Israel’s ‘national liberation’ story. Instead, he makes the opposite point, suggesting that Walzer in an indirect way diminishes Israel by his implicit denial of Israeli exceptionalism. As the language quoted above seems to suggest, Israel is upgraded by its similarities with (rather than differences from) other liberation narratives.

 

In closing, it is plausible, even morally, to argue that the Zionist cause was in keeping with a variety of attempts over the course of the last century by many nations and peoples to possess a state of their own that is defined by ethnic or religious boundaries that transcend in psycho-political relevance geographic boundaries, which incidentally have yet to be authoritatively drawn to delineate Israel’s territorial scope. Yet what is not plausible is to lump together the Israeli experience with that of India and Algeria just because the founding generation of leaders shared a secular ideology that was later subjected to a religious challenge once the state was established. For India and Algeria their respective anti-colonial struggles each possessed its originality, but without raising doubts about the delineation of the scope of territorial sovereignty and without needing to coercing the native population to submit or leave. This became integral to Zionism in the course of the struggle between opposed nationalisms, with expulsion necessary to ensure Jewish dominance over the development and governance of the country.

 

If Jewish biblical claims to territorial sovereignty are dismissed, as surely should be a major premise of secular thinking, then the Zionist project needs to be conceived of as essentially one of colonizing a foreign country. The presence of a deeply rooted Jewish minority, less than 5% when the Zionist movement got started in the late 19th century, does not make Palestine any less of a foreign country from the perspective of Jews who settled in Palestine in a spirit of missionizing zeal. As Walzer himself makes clear, Zionists were self-consciously opposed to the Judaism they had experienced in the diaspora that was premised on passivity and deference to the rulers of their country of residence and religiously expressed by the message of patience, the religious duty to wait for the Messiah, the only religiously acceptable experience of liberation. The founders of Zionism, and its current leaders, were determined to reconstitute Jewish life on the basis of assertiveness and even aggressiveness, overcoming the alleged diasporic legacy of passivity, and this feature of their movement has been transformative for even religious Jews. From this perspective, the historic triumphal event was undoubtedly Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, which became inspirational for diasporic Jewish communities identified more strongly than ever with the state of Israel, and questioned their own traditional postures of passivity.

 

My contention is that Walzer’s paradox dissolves as soon as the claim to categorize Zionism as a mode of ‘national liberation’ is deconstructed, while the second paradox remains to be explained. This second paradox dwells on the moral and political interplay of what transpires when the liberation of the self is organically linked to the dispossession of the other. In a postscript (134-146) Walzer explains why America does not belong with his three cases, which is because America’s original founding never truly embraced secularism. What he might have also said, but doesn’t, is that what the founding of America and Israel have most in common is the dispossession of the native populations, and it is this foundational fact that shapes the state-building experiences of both countries more than either has been willing to acknowledge. In this sense, we might invite Walzer to write a sequel on this second more consequential paradox, but realizing that such an invitation is certain to be refused. Its acceptance would implicitly repudiate the ideological benefits and normative authority of the first paradox that treats the establishment of Israel as if it is entitled to be regarded as one of the illustrious examples of 20th century anti-colonial struggles.

 

Pope Francis and Religious Cosmopolitanism

10 Jan

 

Points of Departure 

Perhaps, the most hopeful recent development in human affairs is the emergence of Pope Francis as the voice of global conscience. Although Francis speaks with papal authority to the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, he also increasingly speaks with human authority to the rest of us. How significantly this voice will resonate might be viewed as the ultimate test as to whether ‘soft power’ is overcoming the geopolitical death dance that imperils the human species as never before.

 

When visiting occupied Palestine in May of 2014 Francis prayed at the notorious Israeli separation wall in Palestine that the World Court had ordered dismantled as unlawful back in 2004. The pontiff chose to pray near a scrawled graffiti that read ‘Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice.’ While in the Holy Land Francis articulated what justice should mean in relation to the Palestinian reality: the pope called the existing situation ‘increasingly unacceptable,’ defied Israel by speaking of the ‘State of Palestine’ while touring the West Bank, and urged the establishment of a ‘sovereign homeland’ for the Palestinian people where there would be freedom of movement (so long denied). By this visit and declaration, Pope Francis indirectly underscored the ethical insight of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the great symbolic moral challenge directed at the conscience of humanity is the empowerment and liberation of the Palestinian people. Such an affirmation also confirms Francis’ credentials as an independent world leader who will not defer to Washington’s craven submission to Israel’s continuous trampling upon Palestinian rights.

 

More broadly, Pope Francis has made it repeatedly clear that he is a critic of global inequality and of a capitalist world economic system that has produced ‘plunder of nature,’ a ‘frenetic rhythm of consumption,’ and worship of ‘the god of money.’ Above all, according to the German cardinal, Walter Kasper, this is a pope who “wants to lead faith and morality back to their original center” in authentic religious experience. Such leadership is definitely taking a form that is responsive to the array of unmet global challenges that threaten future harm to all peoples in the world, as well as to those most marginalized and vulnerable due to their particular circumstances. The spirit and substance of Pope Francis’ pastoral ministry is clearly within the framework of the Roman Catholic tradition, but its outreach is essentially ecumenical, touching deeply all who care about spirituality, survival, and global justice.

 

The Failures of Secular Global Leadership

 

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 there was a hope throughout the world that he would provide the kind of inspirational leadership that could nurture political confidence in the human future. Surely, such expectations are the only conceivable explanation for awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize the following year while America was involved in two major wars of aggression (Afghanistan, Iraq) and was pursuing a militarized foreign policy of global scope involving navies in every ocean, hundreds of overseas bases, and the potential weaponization of space. It still seemed plausible in 2009 to suppose that only a charismatic American leader possessed the will and ability to forge cooperative solutions serving the human interest in response to global challenges. The United States at its best managed to combine the pursuit of its national interests with some sense of responsibility for upholding global interests. This role was played by the United States with varying degrees of success. It has been a characteristic of world order since 1945.

 

In the months after his inauguration as president, Obama seemed to share this sense of historic mission by making in the Spring of 2009 rather visionary speeches in Prague proclaiming a commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons and then in Cairo about turning a new page in the Middle East, including exerting pressure on Israel to create finally the political basis for resolving the conflict. Unfortunately, all too soon it became apparent to all who observed the scene that Obama was a president committed to the continuity of American global power and influence, and not at all ready to engage in battles against entrenched forces that would be required to achieve global justice. On both the Middle East and nuclear weapons Obama quickly yielded to those who insisted on the absoluteness of Washington’s support for Israel and gradually showed his willingness to appease the American political establishment that was far more interested in modernizing the nuclear weapons arsenal than considering prudent moves toward its abolition.

 

On a global scale, the failure of all efforts to heed the warnings of climate scientists to curb carbon emissions on an urgent basis or continue the trend toward global warming with dangerous intensifications of its attendant harms. Conference after conference each year under UN auspices have exhibited the inability of states to cooperate for the global common good to nearly the extent called for by a prudent response to what the scientists are saying about climate change. What prevails in these gatherings of over 190 states is the unwieldy interplay of national interests, and a grim recognition that the only practical way forward is to rely on the voluntary pledges of governments, and in doing so, abandoning the goal of imposing ‘common but differentiated’ legal obligations on all states. In effect, this shift to voluntary undertakings gives up any pretense of establishing an effective public order of climate protection. There is no doubt, as has been evident since the failure of the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the domestic political situation within the country makes it unrealistic to seek a responsible climate change treaty if it makes encroachments on national sovereignty, as it must, as well as likely on profit-making, economic growth, and employment. In effect, the structure of international society based on the interplay of sovereign states and market driven economic actors makes it politically impossible to reconcile patterns of global governance with upholding the human or global interest. This structural reality of statism has become more relevant given the inability of the United States to any longer possess credibility as the chief promoter of global interests of benefit to all peoples of the world.

 

There are also ideological resistances to acknowledging limits with respect to human activity, mainly associated with the persisting strength of nationalism as compared to competing transnational belief systems. As became evident as long ago as World War I, working class solidarity promoted by socialist values was no match nationalist sentiments supportive of European colonial interests overseas. In effect, political leaders of states, whether democratic or authoritarian, are products of political cultures that continue to be shaped by the predominance of nationalism. Such a reality underscores growing tension between the human exploitation of the natural environment and a variety of threats to ecological sustainability.

 

Pope Francis as an Agent of Global Revolution

 

It is precisely here that Pope Francis’ entry upon the scene has potential revolutionary consequences. In line with this, it seems entirely appropriate that his most concerted commitment to date is to awaken the world to the menace of global warming arising from unchecked climate change. The Vatican has announced the Pope’s intention to issue a major encyclical that will set forth an authoritative statement of the Catholic Church’s thinking on climate change. This will be followed by a speech to the UN General Assembly in the Fall and after that, by a Vatican call for a global summit of religious leaders drawn from around the world. What the Pope brings to the table is a meta-political promotion of the human interest that has so far been absent from all efforts, including those of the UN, to meet global challenges. In this sense, mobilizing the pope’s Catholic base and reaching out to other religions is the kind of global leadership needed to have any prospect of fashioning the sort of robust response to climate change that is needed with growing urgency.

 

I have long believed that within each of the great world religions there exists an ongoing struggle between sectarian and universalist tendencies. Both tendencies can draw on their respective traditions to support contradictory claims about the nature of the core religious message. What is exciting about Pope Francis is that he seems to be moving the most globally constituted and influential world religion in a distinctly universalist direction at an historical time when such an orientation is directly related to building a positive future for the peoples of the world, and even more generally, for the human species and its natural habitat. Whether he is able to attract other religions to exert their influence in similar directions remains to be seen. As has been already observed, there are some influential doubters within his own Catholic hierarchy, seemingly threatened by his assaults on their bureaucratic positions of prestige (he has notably accused the Vatican Curia of ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s and a ‘funereal face’) and privilege associated with its proper custodial role of administration and the protection of the traditions of the Church. Some forces within the Catholic hierarchy hostile to Pope Francis’ ministry are allied with predatory political and economic interests. It has also been reported, for instance, that the great majority of Christian evangelists are deeply suspicious of this pope’s emphasis on climate change as arising from human activities. They even accuse Francis of propagating a ‘false religion’ by undermining their religiously based belief that global warming and extreme weather are clear signs of an approaching apocalypse rather than being negative byproducts of a fossil fuel world economy.

 

There is a further concern. Even if the religious summit is a glowing success, it will not by itself exert a sufficient impact on the political system to get the job done, given the hegemony of the state structure of world order and its supportive nationalist ideology when it comes to the adoption of global policy norms. Overcoming statist resistance will only be brought about if religious pressures are backed up by a transnational mobilization of people, a popular movement that alters the political climate within which leaders of states act. We need to remember that even the most inspirational of religious leaders does not have access to the policy mechanisms at the disposal of sovereign governments that alone have the ability to solve problems through institutionalizing cooperative action. Only with a surge of bottom-up politics can there be mounted a sufficient challenge to status quo forces resistant to change.

 

Note should be taken of the relevance of the US-China Agreement (Novemeber 2014) to place certain modest limits on carbon emissions, less for the substance of what was agreed upon by these two governments that account for about 50% of the buildup of greenhouse gasses, then to illustrate that if a populist movement calls for change and is then reinforced by the top-down initiatives of the dominant geopolitical actors, it becomes much more likely that a prudent globally oriented policy on climate change will finally emerge. Most optimistically viewed, the US/China agreement could be a breakthrough if it heralds a recognition by these dominant political actors to combine their pursuit of national interests with assuming geopolitical leadership in defining and promoting the global interest, thereby merging 21st century humanism with geopolitics.

 

Of course, what makes Pope Francis’ presence on the global stage so welcome extends beyond climate change. It involves the entire gamut of global justice issues. It represents a dramatic move toward what might be described as ‘moral globalization.’ It challenges the statist character of world order, the nationalist hold on the political imagination, and the predatory manipulation by neoliberalism of our wants and desires. In the end, what is being offered is a spiritual and cosmopolitan alternative to human fulfillment and the meaning of life. Such a worldview is not presented through an exclusivist prism of Catholicism, but rather through a renewed nurturing of the deep roots of the human condition. These roots include a coevoultionary reenchantment of nature as the indispensable bio-political partner of humanity in the work of safeguarding this planet against the rising dangers of ecological implosion. Such a realignment of fundamental attitudes also involves subordinating the technocratic and calculative sides of modernity to more holistic cosmopolitanism. This will involve reestablishing contact with the deeper emotional and spiritual sides of our being mainly lost in the modern quest for a scientifically validated technocratic salvation.

 

At a time when there are many strident voices insisting that religion is irrelevant or worse, the example and messages of Pope Francis offer cosmopolitan hope. It has never been more important to counter the widely disseminated view that religion is inherently responsible for political extremism, and more destructively, to blame Islam as a religion for sociopathic violence when the culprits are Muslim. True, religious doctrine can be twisted to serve any values, however demonic, as can secularist thinking.

Human Rights Award to Shireen Issawi

18 Dec

Alkarama Human Rights Award to Shireen Issawi

 

[Prefatory Note: in this post I am presenting in the following order remarks that I made via Skype video recording at the 6th Annual Alkarama Award for Human Rights at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, December 14, 2014, a letter written from an Israeli prison by the recipient of the award, Shireen Issawi, and a press release prepared by the Alkarama Foundation describing the full event, including notable presentation by Norman Finkelstein and Alfred de Zayas. The Alkarama website describes itself as follows: “Alkarama is a Swiss-based, independent human rights organisation established in 2004 to assist all those in the Arab World subjected to, or at risk of, extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. Acting as a bridge between individual victims in the Arab world and international human rights mechanisms, Alkarama works towards an Arab world where all individuals live free, in dignity and protected by the rule of law. In Arabic, Alkarama means dignity.”]

 

 

 

Remarks of Richard Falk

 

I wish that I could have been present to take part in honoring Shireen Issawi as a brave, resolute, and inspiring human rights defender who has dedicated her professional career as a lawyer to the long Palestinian national struggle for freedom, human rights, and self-determination. Even more, I wish that Ms. Issawi could be present to receive this award in person rather than sitting alone in her jail cell day after day, facing trumped up charges of resisting arrest when the real criminal offense was committed by the arresting officers in carrying out an abusive arrest in a manner calculated to invoke fear and trembling. We realize that the political situation in Palestine is perverted when the real criminals are administering the law while the truly innocent are sitting in the dock awaiting a punishment meted out by a biased judicial process. Shireen’s life story, that of the whole Issawi family, and indeed that of the Palestinian people as a whole, is an embodiment of this prolonged perversion of justice, and as we honor her on this day we also are seeking to remind the world that it is past time to end the Palestinian ordeal.

 

In my own experience as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine in the period 2008-2014 I had my own slight taste of how the wheels of Israeli injustice grind on while most of the world averts its gaze. Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in December 2008, with the intention of carrying out my mission of investigation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, I was detained for several hours at the airport before being transferred to a nearby makeshift prison where I remained overnight, expelled the following morning. The whole experience was not longer than 20 hours, but being confined with five other prisoners in a small cell that smelled of urine, was over lit and filthy, gave me an unforgettable glimpse of Israel prison life. It should be kept in mind that in my case Israel as a member of the UN had a treaty obligation to cooperate with the Organization so as to facilitate its official undertakings. Quite revealing as to the limits of international law, was the failure of the UN even to protest Israel’s breach of its duties as a UN member or my treatment as someone attempting to carry out a UN mission. An Israeli government spokesperson lied to the media by saying that I had been warned not to come to Israel as I would be denied entry. Contrary to this contention, the truth is otherwise. When we submitted our proposed itinerary of visits in Occupied Palestine to the Israeli mission in Geneva there was no objection or warning, and in fact, Israel issued visas to my two assistants knowing that they would be accompanying me. What is again emblematic is that the mainstream media wrote about the incident on the basis of the lies told by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and lacked the journalistic decency to check with me, and at least hear my side of the story or allow me to respond myself. One reason why this Alkarama event is so important is as counter to Israeli lies and hasbara (the systematic slanting of world news to support Israel’s claims), a bit of witnessing about real happenings.

 

My UN job was to assess Israel’s human rights record in its role as an occupying power governed by international humanitarian law, and specifically, the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is the principal treaty instrument for regulating belligerent occupation. In its general applicability, Geneva IV prohibits harming all those subject to the authority of an occupying power that are uninvolved in active resistance. This refers especially to the civilian population, but also extends to those detained in prisons and even to the treatment of wounded soldiers. Above all, it obliges the occupier to maintain human rights in territories under its administration, to provide decent living conditions for the occupied population, and not to change underlying conditions in a manner that allows the occupied society to resume its normal existence when the occupier leaves. As I became familiar with Israel’s policies and practices, I became more and more convinced that neither the letter nor the spirit of the Geneva Convention was being observed by Israel, which is a legalistic way of informing the world that the daily life of every Palestinian was nightmarish in myriad ways.

 

Overall, rather than maintaining a temporary occupation, Israel from the outset fundamentally encroached upon the future prospects of the Palestinian people to realize their rights in two fundamental ways: first, by building and expanding settlements for as many as 650,000 settlers, then by constructing a network of settler only roads to link the settlement blocs with Israel, and by building an ugly separation wall that turned out to be a thinly disguised land grabbing exercise. These developments were each flagrant violations of Article 49(6) of Geneva IV and in defiant disregard of the authoritative 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. Again the pattern observed is one of massive and severe Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights standards aggravated by a lack of political will within the UN or in international diplomacy to take any enforcement action designed to uphold Palestinian rights.

 

And secondly, by engaging in various forms of collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population, thereby violating Article 33 of Geneva IV that unconditionally prohibits all forms of collective punishment. I will mention two of the most notorious practices, although there are many others that contribute to the ordeal of ordinary Palestinian lives, including closures, curfews, checkpoints, restrictions on mobility. The blockade imposed on the entire civilian population of Gaza since mid-2007 is a comprehensive and cruel form of collective punishment imposed by Israel as soon as Hamas assumed governing authority, which has been gravely intensified in its adverse effects by three major Israeli military onslaughts in the last six years against an essentially defenseless population, and exhibit the deliberate reliance by Israel on excessive and disproportionate force producing heavy one-sided casualties on defenseless Palestinians who have no place to hide and are denied an option to leave the combat zone, and thus are unable to exercise the default escape option of becoming refugees.

 

A second form of unlawful collective punishment involves house demolitions carried out against the family residence of those Israel convicted of security crimes. Due to an international uproar this practice was abandoned by Israel for ten years, but has been revived and applied in some recent cases, cruelly depriving a family of their dwelling place so as to allow the Israeli state to avenge an alleged crime of resistance committed by a Palestinian who is often no longer even alive.

 

In the background is an occupation that has gone on far too long, and in the process has become something other than a holding operation until agreed arrangements for withdrawal can be implemented. It should be recalled that Israel was instructed to withdraw from occupied Palestine in Security Council Resolution 242 unanimously adopted back in 1967, incorporating the international law principle that territory could not be acquired by a state through the use of force. Not only has a failure to implement this principle, but a contradictory process has taken place over the course of more than four decades, which has transformed ‘occupation’ into de facto ‘annexation’ and has distorted the IHL duty to protect an occupied people into an oppressive administrative structure of systematic discrimination, a clear instance of apartheid that is defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a distinct crime against humanity.

 

The Palestinian people have struggled over the years, and have experienced many frustrations and defeats. Their early hopes of being liberated by their Arab neighbors were dashed in a series of failed wars. Their expectations that UN resolutions supporting their basic claims would be implemented were consistently disappointed. The energetic PLO efforts after the 1967 to gain freedom by armed resistance came to nothing so far as a lasting solution is concerned. And in the most recent period, the false optimism associated with the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles and the handshake on the White House lawn led to a growing disillusionment among Palestinians that such a diplomatic path would ever produce a just and sustainable peace.

 

With such an anguishing experience of frustration, disappointment, and defeat, it is not surprising that the Palestinians would seek other ways to achieve their rights. This search in recent years has centered on nonviolent militancy, involving various forms of non-cooperation at home and pressures brought to bear on Israel through a global solidarity movement. The roots of this turn to nonviolence can be traced to the first Intifada of 1987, a popular mobilization from below that expressed impatience with diplomacy from above and the tactics used by their own Palestinian PLO leadership. It is in the last decade that this turn to nonviolence has gathered momentum, official endorsement, and caught on internationally by way of the Palestinian led BDS Campaign and through various expressions of resistance to the occupation that has included ad hoc recourse to violence by individual Palestinians acting on their own seemingly in pursuit of some kind of remedial vengeance, having lost faith in any peaceful outcome and finding the daily ordeal of their situation unendurable.

 

One of the most vivid forms of nonviolent resistance is expressed by the hunger strikes of abused Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including the extraordinary strike of Samer Issawi, Shireen’s brother, who reportedly refused food for an incredible 266 days. As with other efforts of Palestine to achieve a just peace, this turn to nonviolence has fallen below the radar screen of mainstream Western media that remains ever vigilant in magnifying the occurrence of every terrorist incident while by and large ignoring Israeli state terrorism, which is far deadlier in its humanitarian impacts. By honoring Shireen Issawi we repudiate such indifference to nonviolent resistance and at the same time invoke our commitment to nonviolence as the path to peace based on rights and justice, and also on the inalienable equality of the two peoples. In the end, it is less significant to talk about one state or two than to encourage discussion of how might these two peoples live peaceably together in view of all that has happened, is happening.

 

Let me end with some words of Reem al-Nimer from her brave book Curse of the Achille Lauro: “..I was once an active member of the Palestinian resistance and the wife of a Palestinian commando..Both Arabs and Jews are human beings. Both are entitled to a dignified life. The time has come when this bloodshed must end. We all have lives..The end of occupation and the termination of hostilities means that Arabs and Jews will need to accept the idea of living alongside one another. We have done this before 1948, and we can do it again. This is the foundation. This is the basis of peace.”

 

 

 

Shireen Issawi’s letter from prison accepting the award

 

In the name of God the Merciful,

 

I thank you for having awarded me the Alkarama Award, which I would like to share with all human beings carrying the flag of justice to enlighten, by the light of freedom, the night of injustice, as well as with all people who have adopted the just Palestinian cause, participated in their own way to support the march of the Palestinian people towards freedom, and the cause of Palestinian detainees in the occupier’s prisons, especially those conducting a hunger strike.

 

I obviously share this Award with my brother, Samer Al Issawi, “Samer Dignity”, who led the battle for freedom with an empty stomach, through the longest hunger strike in the history of mankind, and who unified us to become a single hand and a single voice before the injustice of the occupation, through his just battle for his freedom and his right to live in dignity.

 

I share the prize with my father and my mother, who taught us, me and my brothers, the love of our homeland and of dignity to continue on the path of freedom. Thank goodness the Palestinian people are not alone; other people share this struggle with him — whether those seeking their freedom, or those carrying our voice throughout the world for a better future where we will live freely and in a dignified manner, and where love will reign without bloodshed.

 

Some believe that the Palestinian people are defeated because they lives under occupation. Such an assertion is far from the truth; the Palestinian people are one of the proudest people who breathe and they feed on the love of their homeland. They do not feel defeated, they are defending their right to freedom and dignity; on the contrary, however inhumane the occupation is with its ability to block, kill and destroy, we must sustain the strength and courage to continue until we achieve our freedom. And that’s why the free men and women of the world gather around the just cause of the Palestinians, and brought their flag of freedom to the world, becoming their voice in the face of injustice.

 

The combination of the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian resistance against the occupation, and of the supporters of justice and freedom has united us as human beings through the silent language of faith in a trinity of virtues, which gives strength to our people — that is, the trinity of dignity, freedom and hope.

 

Humanity is the interest that we bear for each other, and our defense of the oppressed. The sense of freedom and its value can be understood only by those whose hearts beat for dignity and whose eyes shine with the hope that the sun will rise despite the darkness of the night. Let’s preserve our unity and our humanity to live in a free world where people can live freely with dignity and hope.

 

Shireen Al Issawi

Hasharon Prison, Israel

 

6 November 2014

 

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16 December 2014 Item title

2014 Alkarama Award Honours Palestinian Lawyer’s Commitment to Non-Violence as the “Path to Peace”

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Geneva, 13 December 2014

On 11 December 2014, the Alkarama Foundation presented its 6th annual Award for Human Rights Defenders in the Arab world to Palestinian human rights lawyer and activist, Shireen Issawi, in recognition of her courage and bravery in defending Palestinian prisoners and advocating for their rights. The ceremony held at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva focused on the Palestinian people’s strategy of non-violent resistance, a story largely under-reported in the mainstream media.

 

Speaking at the event were UN and international law experts, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein and Alfred de Zayas, as well as Palestinian Member of the Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, and Swiss political personalities, Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold and Guy Mettan. In the absence of Shireen, arrested by the Israeli authorities on 6 March 2014 as part of a crackdown on lawyers defending Palestinian prisoners, the Award was presented to her parents, Layla and Tarek Issawi.

 

Opening the ceremony, Rachid Mesli, Alkarama‘s Legal Director said: “Thousands of Palestinians are arbitrarily detained by simple administrative decision, including numerous children. […] It is for denouncing these violations and having dedicated her life to justice and freedom for the Palestinian people that Shireen Issawi also finds herself in jail today, accused – like too many Arab activists in their respective countries – of supporting terrorism or terrorist organisations.”

“Shireen Issawi’s nonviolent resistance forms a link in the chain of a long, honourable tradition. It includes not only names familiar to all of us, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but also, and more significantly, the nameless Palestinians who waged a heroic mass nonviolent struggle against the Israeli occupation during the first intifada, that began 27 years ago, on 9 December 1987,” said expert of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Norman Finkelstein. “Shireen Issawi’s unbendable will in a righteous cause serves as a luminous example, not just for Palestinians, but also for everyone struggling to make the world a better place.”

 

“Shireen Issawi is a brave, resolute and inspiring human rights defender who has dedicated her professional career as a lawyer to the long Palestinian national struggle for freedom and self-determination,” added former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk. “By honouring Shireen Issawi we are expressing our commitment to nonviolence as the path to peace based on rights and justice, and on the equality of the two peoples. […] As we honour her, we are also seeking to remind the world that it is past time to end the ordeal of injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people as a whole.”

“Israel annexed the territory of East Jerusalem but not the Palestinians who were born and live there,” explained Haneen Zoabi, recently banned from all parliamentary activity for six months for having suggested that the Palestinian resistance was a legitimate struggle. “One third of the city’s residents are people without citizenship. They live in a country that views their territory as its own but does not view them as part of it.”

 

“In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall, we said ‘never again’ walls that separate peoples. Now there are walls everywhere, walls that not only separate two peoples and two cultures, but also make the building of a lasting peace impossible,” continued former member of the Swiss Parliament and the Council of Europe, Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold. In a moving speech, she recalled the many instances where the international community had said “never more” such as after the Shoah, which had led to the adoption of an international human rights system – a system which no one should ever take for granted. [In Switzerland] we are free; but it is from you [Shireen] that we learn how important it is to fight for the protection of human rights.”

 

In a letter written from her solitary cell on 6 November and read by her mother, Layla Issawi at the Alkarama Award ceremony, Shireen stated: “Some believe that the Palestinian people are defeated because they live under the occupation. Their hypothesis is far from the truth. Those who defend their inalienable right to freedom and dignity are not defeated. On the contrary, however inhumane the occupation and its ability to arrest, kill and destroy are, these men must have the strength and courage to continue until they get their freedom.” Thanking “all the free men around the world gathered around the just cause of the Palestinians,” Shireen pleaded for “a world in which people can live free, with dignity and hope.”

Speaking on behalf of his daughter, Tarek Issawi echoed his daughter’s words: “We, in Palestine, defend the dignity of our people, despite the injustice imposed on us by the colonisation. We are certain that our struggle is just, and thank all the free people of this world for their continuous support.”

 

Closing the ceremony, the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a democratic and international order, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas praised Shireen and her family’s “courage and perseverance” and emphasized the essential right of the Palestinian people to self-determination: “All international law experts have recognised the right to self-determination, a binding right, enshrined in the UN Charter, in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The UN General Assembly has recognised the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and this repeatedly. Alas, for the past 67 years, you have suffered expulsion, occupation, humiliation and injustice. But you have kept your honour, your identity and your will to live. Men and women of good will wish you a free and independent State where you will finally be able to exercise your rights and join all the other nations of the world in international solidarity. I hope you get justice and peace in a near future. You deserve it.”

 

The ceremony attracted over a hundred people at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva and watched by a further 150 people on Alkarama’s live webcast.

 

For more information on the award, please click here: http://bit.ly/1r46pdh

Or watch this 12min documentary here: http://bit.ly/16oeBgk

You can also watch the whole ceremony on the following link: http://youtu.be/wLKqde508L8

For photos, quotes or an interview with any of the speakers, please contact:

– Colombe Vergès, Media Coordinator on c.verges@alkarama.org / +41 79 129 79 15

– Hassan Nouhaili, Arabic Media Editor on h.nouhaili@alkarama.org / +41 22 734 10 06

 

 

 

 

 

Two Interviews on Palestine

14 Nov

(Prefatory Note: Two recent interviews seek to assess the Palestinian national movement as it is unfolding at this critical time.)

 

 

Interview with R. Falk by Chronis Polychroniou, published Truth Out, Nov 6, 2014

 

  1. With the collapse of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April there is increasing doubts about the diplomatic approach to resolving the conflict that is associated with the Oslo Approach. What is the Oslo Approach? Do these doubts lead us to believe that the Oslo approach is dead?

 

The Oslo Approach was initiated in 1993 when both Israel and the PLO accepted the Oslo Declaration of Principles as the diplomatic basis of resolving the conflict between the two peoples. It was iconically endorsed by the famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House Lawn. It was a flawed approach from the Palestinian perspective for several main reasons: it never confirmed the existence of the Palestinian right of self-determination; it excluded the relevance of international law from what came to be known as ‘the peace process,’ it designated the United States despite its alignment with Israel as the exclusive intermediary, and it fragmented the Palestinian territory under occupation in ways that made the day to day life of Palestinians an ordeal.

 

From the Israeli perspective Oslo was highly advantageous: it gave Israel over 20 years to continue the unlawful settlement building and expansion process; by excluding international law, it produced a diplomacy based on bargaining and power disparities in which Israel possessed decisive advantages; it delegated to the Palestinian Authority responsibility for many of the security functions previously the responsibility of Israel; and it contained no commitment to respect Palestinian rights under international law; as time never neutral, it allowed Israel to create abundant ‘facts on the ground’ (better interpreted as a series of unlawful acts) that could be later validated by diplomatic ratification.

 

Doubts about the Oslo Approach have grown in recent years, and have been reflected in indications that even the patience of the Palestinian Authority has begun to be exhausted. The last effort at direct negotiations within the Oslo framework collapsed last April despite strong American efforts to seek some progress toward an agreement. Israel’s behavior indicated a disinterest in negotiations, and a disposition toward imposing a unilateral solution to the conflict. The PA has introduced the text of a propose Security Council resolution that calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank by November 2016, and although it is expected to be blocked by the United States, it suggests a new direction of Palestinian diplomacy. The flaws of the Oslo Approach are becoming more widely recognized in Europe and by world public opinion.

 

  1. After the 50 day Israel military operation in Gaza of this past summer, given           the name Protective Edge by the IDF, has anything changed in relation to the       underlying conflict?

 

The fundamentals on the ground remain the same, although some of the psycho-political dimensions have changed in important ways. On the Israeli side, there were contradictory indications of both incitements to genocide, destroying the civilian population of Gaza in the belief that this was the only way to overcome the resistance of Hamas, and a sense that Israel had lost its way in the world by engaging in such a military campaign that had devastating impacts upon both the civilian population and its infrastructure. The new Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, spoke of Israel ‘as a sick society’ that needed to recover a willingness to treat diverse ethnicities and religions with dignity.

 

From a Palestinian point of view, Protective Edge also had important effects. From the Palestinian activist public mounting pressure to join the International Criminal Court and press charges against Israel. Also, the effect of the military operation was the opposite of what was intended as it increased the popularity of Hamas, at least temporarily, especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser extent in Gaza. In effect, the resistance and resilience of Hamas was contrasted with the quasi-collaborationist postures so often struck by the Palestinian Authority. The casualties on both sides also destabilized the notion of ‘terrorism’ as solely attributable to Hamas: of the 70 Israelis killed, 65 were IDF soldiers, while of the more than 2100 Palestinians killed, more than 70% were civilians. It would seemthat ‘state terrorism’ is the main culprit in such a conflict.

 

At the same time more informed commentators recognized that Hamas wanted to perform as a political actor rather than to act as an armed resistance group treated by Israel and the United States as a terrorist entity excluded from diplomatic venues. Hamas has been making it clear ever since it won elections in 2006 that it was prepared to co-exist peacefully with Israel on a long-term basis, and has observed ceasefire agreements along its border, which were on each occasion broken by Israeli violent provocations. There was formed a few months ago a technocratic unity government that overcame the divisions between the Fatah and Hamas, and was bitterly opposed by Israel, perhaps the real explanation of the July attacks on Gaza as an expression of this opposition.

 

  1. There has been discussion as to whether the Palestinian Authority, now recognized as a state by the UN, should seek to join the International Criminal Court, and bring its grievances before this tribunal. Is this a good idea? What will it accomplish?

 

There is much discussion as to the pros and cons of seeking to adhere to the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court by Palestine now that its statehood has been confirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. Palestine now has the UN status of being ‘a non-member observer state.’ It has joined UNESCO as a member and adhered to several international treaties.

 

The ‘cons’ of recourse to the ICC can be summarized: provoking hostile reactions from Israel, and possibly the United States; threatening the fragile unity arrangements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, especially if the ICC chooses to focus on allegations of war crimes against Hamas; inability to secure Israeli cooperation with the proceedings, and hence an absence of any way to make those accused accountable due to the absence of enforcement capabilities.

 

The ‘pros’ of going to the ICC are the effects on world public opinion, raising the morale of the Palestinians seeking to make use of their soft power advantages in the conflict, and above all the opportunity to reinforce the Palestinian narrative that challenges Israel’s occupation policies (especially reliance on excessive force and the settlement phenomenon) as violations of international criminal law.

 

On balance, it would seem advantageous for Palestine to seek an investigation of allegations by recourse to the ICC, and the failure to do so would confirm those who attack the PA as lacking credibility to represent the Palestinian people in their quest for a just and sustainable peace.

 

  1. Recently Sweden pledged to recognize Palestinian statehood and the British House of Commons also urged the government to extend recognition. Are such diplomatic gestures of any importance and relevance to the Palestinian struggle?

 

It is too soon to assess the importance of these diplomatic gestures, which I would interpret as an indication of dissatisfaction with any further reliance on the Oslo Approach, especially its reliance on the role of the United States as exclusively entitled to serve as a diplomatic third party. The Swedish pledge to recognize Palestinian statehood is also important because it is accompanied by a call for resumed negotiations in accord with international law. To inject international law into the diplomatic process would be of utmost significance, offsetting Israeli hard power dominance, and allowing for Palestine to press forward in asserting their rights under international law.

 

If additional countries follow Sweden and the House of Commons, it will create a trend that might produce a greater role for Europe or the EU to act as a successor intermediary to the U.S. in the search for a solution. In this sense these European moves, which were greeted antagonistically in Tel Aviv and Washington, exhibit an impatience with the evident futility of pretending that Oslo still provided the best path to peace.

 

  1. If armed struggle has failed the Palestinians, international law has been ignored, and diplomacy has not worked, what is left for the Palestinians to do so as to carry on their struggle?

 

For several years, the Palestinian national movement has moved its center from the formal leadership provided by the PA and Hamas, to Palestinian civil society initiatives that seem to represent the real aspirations of the Palestinian people. The call for a BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society actors has been gaining momentum throughout the world, including the United States, in recent years. This civil society coalition also puts forward a three-part political program of greater relevance to a solution than anything that has emerged from the Oslo Approach: 1) withdrawal of Israel from all occupied Arab lands (including Golan Heights, fragment of Lebanon); 2) human rights based on full equality for the Palestinian minority living within Israel; 3) right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in accordance with international law as set forth in General Assembly Resolution 194 .

 

In this period of international relations, increasingly it is evident that states can no longer monopolize diplomacy. Not only are non-state actors such as the Taliban, Hamas, and others formidable participants indispensable to overcome conflict, but also civil society initiatives provide ways to achieve justice and peace with greater flexibility and legitimacy than state actors in a growing number of conflict situations.

 

  1. Some analysts have noted a change in public opinion on the conflict in the United States, but not reflected in Congress or U.S. policy of unconditional support. Why is this?

 

This mismatch between an American public that would welcome a more balanced approach to Israel and the conflict and the U.S. Congress that is uncritically and unconditionally supportive of Israel has become a dark shadow cast over the democratic process in the United States. It reflects in part the strength of the Israeli lobby and also the military prowess of Israel both as a strategic partner in the region but also as a valued arms supplier of an increasing number of countries. It also results from the inability of Palestinian constituencies in the United States to mobilize support sufficient to create countervailing influence in Washington. This one-sided political atmosphere makes members of Congress realize that any lessening of support for Israel will be disastrous for the political career and of no real policy significance in relation to the government approach. Despite this unfortunate mismatch, an upsurge of civil society activism, especially on university campuses and among mainstream religious organizations, is again an indication that politics is being made informally within civil society, and is more expressive of democratic sentiments and ethical principles, than are the activities of formal governmental institutions.

 

  1. In light of developments can Europe play a bigger role in shifting the balance of diplomatic forces bearing on the conflict?

 

Europe has an opportunity to play a much more active role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and has begun to do so by way of its recent moves to recognize Palestinian statehood and by governmental pronouncements that remind corporations and financial institutions that commercial dealings with Israeli settlements is ‘problematic under international law.’

 

Israel seems to be moving toward a unilateral resolution of the conflict by taking substantial control over the West Bank and Jerusalem, and leaving Gaza as a hostile alien territory, which may make international diplomacy useless at this stage. In any event, Israel and the United States will use all the leverage at their disposal to prevent any move away from the Oslo Approach that continues to serve their somewhat divergent purposes. The US Government is primarily interested in keeping ‘the game’ of Oslo going to uphold their claim that a viable peace process continues to exist. For Israel, retaining Oslo is also helpful as part of a favorable scenario of delay that serves expansionist purposes until Tel Aviv explicitly declares ‘game over,’ and converts the occupation of Palestine into a full-scale or partial annexation of what is called by Israeli law experts ‘disputed sovereignty.’

 

  1. Why did the Arab neighbors of Israel, especially Saudi Arabia, seem to support Israel during the recent attack on Gaza?

 

The regional situation in the Arab world has changed dramatically since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. The Iraqi occupation tactics of the United States rested on regime change with a sectarian orientation, shifting leadership of the country from its Sunni identity in the Saddam Hussein period to that of Shiite dominance. This shift, including the purge of the Iraqi armed forces of its Sunni corps, leading indirectly also to Islamic extremism in the region, especially the emergence in 2014 of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria that is partially staffed by former Iraqi military officers dismissed as a result of American occupation policy.

 

The Arab Spring upheavals had a second effect, which was to overthrow authoritarian leadership that had long suppressed political Islam as powerful domestic presences. Especially in Egypt, but also in several other countries, the anti-authoritarian movements, resulted in a political situation where in the new political setting, the strongest national political presence was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, were deeply threatened by these changes, and despite their own Islamic orientation, preferred secular leadership in the region to political Islam that emerged democratically. In this sense, Israel’s effort to crush Hamas, viewed by the threatened monarchies as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, corresponded with the priorities of most Arab governments in the region. Israel was the enemy of their primary enemy, and hence ‘a friend,’ at least temporarily.

 

Whether this situation persists is uncertain. What seems clear at present is that two separate strands of transnational tension exist in the region: first, the Sunni-Shiite divide; and secondly, the tensions between established governments and political Islam that is based on a societal movement. Surprisingly, the second concerns outweighs the first. Saudi Arabia supported strongly the 2013 coup led by General Sisi against the elected Sunni oriented leadership of Mohammed Morsi.

 

 

Süreç Analiz (Süreç Research Centter in Istanbul)

In Dubious Battle: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Interview Questions for R. Falk

 

  • How do you assess the essential dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Which forces of internal and external nature did make the conflict more problematic and enigmatic?

I think it is important to appreciate that the conflict has reached a new stage with two important developments. First, the Oslo Approach based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the United States as the exclusive intermediary, after more than 20 years of futile diplomacy has lost its relevance; secondly, both sides are taking unilateral steps to attain their goals, Israel by continuing to expand the settlements and consolidating control over the whole of Jerusalem, and the PA by moving toward establishing Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, with the symbolic endorsement of the international community.

 

  • Do you think a great opportunity for the resolution of Palestinian- Israeli conflict was missed as the Oslo peace process remained inconclusive?

Israel for some years uses the Oslo peace process as a delaying tactic while it pursues the maximal version of the Zionist Project. As such, it harms the Palestinians, and helps the Israelis. Time is not neutral. Israel poses unrealistic demands that if accepted would leave the Palestinians with a Bantustan that would not satisfy even minimal claims for Palestinian self-determination, which depend on a viable sovereign state with 1967 borders and some acknowledgement the right of refugees to return to their homes.

 

  • After the end of Oslo peace process, we see greater influence of Hamas in Palestinian politics. How do you explain the growing influence of Hamas in the Palestinian political scene?

The surge of Hamas popularity is partly a reflection of the failures of PA quasi-collaborationist diplomacy and partly an expression of solidarity with Hamas because of their impressive posture of resistance during the Israeli attacks of July and August. In actuality, the leadership of the Palestinian national struggle has been moving toward recognition of Palestinian civil society, and building support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

 

  • This summer’s war between Israel and Hamas is the third violent conflict between them since 2008. How do you explain these frequent cycles of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas?

Israel has provoked tensions in relation to each of these three military operations, and has maintained for the past seven years a regime of sustained collective punishment that has cruelly locked the civilian population of Gaza into the combat zone. When the periodic massacres of the sort that occurred this past summer take place even women and children are denied the default option of becoming refugees or seeking a sanctuary outside the combat zone. When they took shelter in UN buildings these structures were attacked. Israeli justifications for such action purport to be ‘defensive,’ but such claims overlook the refusal of Israel to abide by ceasefire arrangements or to offer responses to Hamas proposals for long-term peaceful coexistence. Israel relies on keeping its own people in a constant state of fear and of projecting their force disproportionately as a deterrent to other political actors that might at some future time contemplate an attack.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Around 75% of the casualties of the latest conflict were civilians according to UN data. As Hamas blames Israel for directly targeting civilians, Israel blames Hamas for using civilians as human shields. What is your opinion about this issue?

The facts are difficult to obtain as there are conflicting contentions. As far as I can tell both sides made some use of human shields in combat situations, but Israel did so more frequently. The casualty ratio of civilians to military personnel is more objective, and illuminating. Not only were 75% of Palestinian casualties civilians, with over 500 children killed, but Israeli casualties of 70 killed were composed of 65 IDF soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians. If the essence of terrorism is violence against civilians, then it raises the question as to why Israeli state terrorism receives so little attention. In this recent military confrontation the terrorist tactics of Israel were far more lethal than those of Hamas.

 

  • After the ceasefire was achieved via the mediation of Egypt, both Israel and Hamas declared that they were ‘victorious’. Who do you think has won the war and what do you think the reason is behind both sides declaring victory?

Each side uses different measures to evaluate the outcome. Israel uses its capability to inflict death and destruction, and stop Hamas from firing rockets. Hamas uses more symbolic criteria such as world public opinion and its own political stature associated with refusing to give in and obtaining a ceasefire agreement that appears to be favorable to its claims, and avoids Israel’s demands for the demilitarization of Hamas.

 

  • How do you evaluate the ceasefire conditions?

Israel is supposed to lift the blockade and loosen restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast, as well as shrink the buffer zone on the Gazan side of the border. Whether it will comply is doubtful, given its failure to uphold similar commitments after the 2012 ceasefire. It seems that Israeli policy continues to be based on ‘mowing the lawn’ every couple of years, a grotesque metaphor to describe military massacres inflicted on a totally vulnerable population.

  • Do you think the unity government formed by Hamas and Fatah will be successful and sustainable? Why?

It is difficult to tell. It seemed to withstand Israeli pressure. One interpretation of the Protective Edge attack is as a reprisal for the PA defiance of Israel’s opposition to such a unity government and all moves to incorporate Hamas into the Palestinian governing process. At the same time, strains persist. Hamas leadership neither trust nor agree with the American oriented approach favored by Ramallah, and reject passivity in the face of Israeli provocations.

 

  • How do you evaluate the response of the international organizations and Arab and Muslim countries response towards the latest round of conflict?

This realignment of the Arab world is problematic from the Palestinian perspective. It expresses the political priority given by the Gulf monarchies and Egypt, in particular, to the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force. In this sense, Arab countries seem to make regime stability for themselves a higher policy priority than solidarity with the Palestinian struggle or the wellbeing of Muslim political entities. The monarchies, although Islamic in orientation, are deeply opposed to political Islam that bases its claims on grassroots or popular support. Only Islam from above is acceptable.

 

  • Do you think a just and peaceful solution can be achieved for the Palestinian- Israeli conflict in the future? What kind of a solution do you think can be accepted by the both sides?

A political solution is not presently apparent on the political horizon. Both sides are moving in unilateral and contradictory directions, especially in relation to territory, with Israel seeking to annex substantial portions of the West Bank and the PA seeking to expel Israel from the West Bank and establish a state of their own. It may be that the best solution will be fashioned by Palestinian civil society activism that is leaning toward the establishment of a bi-national secular state based on the equality of the two peoples. I have outlined my belief that the only solution that can be envisioned must be preceded by a recalculation of interests on the part of the Israeli leadership, a dynamic that took place unexpectedly in South Africa to make possible a peaceful transformation from apartheid to constitutional democracy. Each situation is different, but it would appear that Israel will not budge until the global solidarity movement together with Palestinian resilience imposes unacceptable costs on Zionist maximalism. In the end, the Zionist insistence on ‘a Jewish state’ will have to be abandoned, and replaced by homelands of equal receptivity to Jews and Palestinians wherever they may fine themselves.

***

 

 

Tormenting Gaza

15 Jul

(Prefatory Note: the Israeli military operation, code name Operation Protective Edge by Israel, being carried out in the Gaza Strip continues, and seems poised to mount a ground attack that will further intensify the suffering of the Palestinian people, and lend additional credibility to the accusation of ‘collective punishment,’ both a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a crime against humanity. The post below is a somewhat edited republication of an opinion piece published in AlJazeera English several days ago at the start of Operation Protective Edge.]

 

For the third time in the last six years Israel has cruelly unleashed the full fury of its military machine against the defenseless 1.7 million people of Gaza, inflicting heavy civilian casualties and further devastation on the long besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip. With cynical disregard of the realities of this latest one-sided confrontation between Israel and Palestine, instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as ‘aggression’ that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of Western diplomats and mainstream media has so far perversely sided with Israel, citing the bland rationalization repeatedly stressed by Netanyahu that ‘every nation has the right to defend itself.’ And so it does, but not by way of aggression! From the UN Secretary General to the President of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas stop must all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show “maximum restraint.”

 

Up to now, the Israeli attacks have caused some two hundred deaths (more than half of whom are women and children; 80% civilians) and more than a thousand physical injuries (plus countless more injuries to mental health). In this period hundreds of rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, but have yet to cause a single death. The only reported serious injury to Israelis has been suffered by a person on his way to a shelter, making one aware that there are no shelters for Gazans subjected to much more lethal forms of firepower. Granted that such rocket attacks, indiscriminate in nature, are unlawful forms of resistance, to single out this lesser type of violence out and overlook the greater violence distorts the context in biased and unacceptable ways, and helps explain the distorted discourse in Western diplomacy. Surely, the greater occasion of terror is that being inflicted on the hapless Gazans as disclosed by comparing the casualty disparity, and surely the political condemnation by responsible governments and even more so by the UN should be directed at the aggressor, who also happens to be the only political actor with the means to end the escalating violence, yet defiantly lacks the will. This international reaction to this latest crisis confirms for all with eyes to see that geopolitical alignments, not law or justice, dominates the diplomacy of leading Western states and the UN, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially if it concerns Israel-Palestine, and never more so than in relation to Gaza.

 

After several days of the Israel attack, self-servingly code-named Protective Edge by Israel, President Obama made a low profile offer to mediate a return to the 2012 ceasefire that had been arranged through the good offices of Egypt after this earlier onslaught on Gaza. Whether the U.S. Government, the undisguised patron and unconditional supporter of Israel, has the credibility to play such a mediating role rather doubtful, but in any event, Israel showed no interest. It is possible that Hamas, weakened by developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, and facing the desperation of a terrorized and totally vulnerable people entrapped in the Gaza Strip, with a health system on the verge of collapse, might accept such a move even if excluded from participating directly in the negotiations, which would mean depending on the Palestinian Authority to represent Gaza’s interests. After all, Hamas, although prevailing in fair elections back in 2006, remains ‘a terrorist organization’ according to the Western diplomatic establishment, even though it has been in recent years mostly on the receiving end of Israeli state terrorism, and should be allowed to act diplomatically on behalf of Gaza and enhance its credentials as a political actor. At present, the issue may be moot as Netanyahu belligerently insists that no amount of international pressure will lead Israel to stop its attack until the ambitious political goals of the military operation have been attained. These goals include as a priority the elimination of Hamas influence in the West Bank, which is the prize that the current Israeli leadership covets in its quest to complete the Likud maximalist version of the Zionist Project.

 

An aspect of the distorted approach to responsibility for the violence in Gaza is the refusal of the West to take note of the connection between Protective Edge and the June 12th kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli settler teenage children and the surge of public and private sector revenge violence culminating in the grisly murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 17 year old Arab boy a few days later in the Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem. Without ever disclosing evidence linking Hamas to such an atrocious crime the Netanyahu government and Israeli media reacted hysterically, immediately inciting a vicious campaign against suspected Hamas militants throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including air strikes in Gaza. In this atmosphere many Israeli officials and media stalwarts were provocatively calling upon the Israeli citizenry to strike back at the Palestinians. It was in this inflamed atmosphere that the Israeli government undertook a massive campaign of collective punishment, itself a war crime: hundreds of Palestinians thought to be associated with Hamas were arrested and detained; house demolitions of the homes of suspects; killings of at least six Palestinians; lockdowns of entire cities; air strikes against Gaza.

 

All this was done despite the mounting belief of independent observers that the crime against the Israeli youths was carried out by two Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas, perhaps with an initial plan to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners in an exchange. Never has it been asserted in high profile diplomatic circles of the West that the horrible crime provided Netanyahu with a pretext for unleashing an anti-Hamas campaign to complete the process of de facto annexation of most of the West Bank. This campaign seems far less motivated by a response to the kidnapping/murder than by the political objective of punishing the Palestinians leadership for defying the Netanyahu government for recently achieving a measure of reconciliation as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Further in the background, but part of the context, is the Israeli interest in shifting responsibility away from themselves for the failure of the Kerry direct negotiations that collapsed at the end of April. And in the foreground, are the settlers and the settlements with their avowed intention of incorporating Samaria and Judea into the state of Israel once and for all, whatever the consequences.

 

So far, Israel has met calls for restraint and a ceasefire with contempt. Rumors of Hamas’s receptivity to a ceasefire have not been tested. Israel’s leaders have responded defiantly, suggesting that Protective Edge will not cease until the Hamas’ infrastructure is destroyed, whatever it takes, supposedly to ensure that no rockets will ever again be fired from Gaza, which would imply that Gaza was totally subjugated and completely helpless. When Palestinian civilians are killed and terrorized in the process of pursuing such an elusive goal, this is rationalized by Israeli officials as a regrettable side effect of what Israeli leaders are claiming to be a legitimate military undertaking. In a characteristic warped statement Netanyahu declared: “We are not eager for battle, but the security of our citizens and children takes precedence over all else.” Some Israeli top officials were clearer about Israel’s objectives than was the prime minister. The Defense Minister, Moshe Yalon, called for the total destruction of Hamas, which is tantamount to seeking a genocidal hunting license in relation to the entrapped people of Gaza and the oppressed population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Deputy Minister of Defense, Danny Dayon, publically urged Israel to cut off fuel and electricity to Gaza. If such a policy is implemented it would virtually guaranty a grotesque humanitarian crisis; he was later dismissed by Netanyahu for publicly declaring that Israel was humiliated because it allowed Hamas to set the terms for a ceasefire, an allegation that is obviously false as Hamas, so far as we know was excluded from the negotiations that led to the announcement that Israel had accepted a ceasefire. As it turned out, this unilateral ceasefire, rejected by Hamas, only lasted for six hours, and has been followed by intensified Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially targeting the residences of Hamas leaders. 

 

While Gaza burns, the fiddlers at the UN content themselves by worrying about the text of a proposed Security Council resolution, which never materialized. Israel and the United States were reported to be using all the leverage at their disposal to avoid condemnations of the Israeli air strikes on civilian targets in Gaza and even hoping that the final text of a resolution, if any, will include their preferred language about every sovereign state having a right to protect itself. It now seems that there will be no resolution as the United States is refusing to accept the language of the drafters, and only a rather innocuous non-binding Security Council ‘statement.’

 

On the basis of this disillusioning global response to Israeli aggression, it should become clear that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and justice needs to be waged worldwide primarily at the grassroots level. It has never seemed more reasonable and morally necessary for persons of good will to lend maximum support to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign that has been in any event growing rapidly. It is also time to demand that governments adopt sanctions seeking Israeli withdrawal from the occupation of Palestine. An appropriate furtheresponse would be for the UN General Assembly to recommend imposing an arms embargo on Israel, as well as a boycott on Israel’s arms exports. This would be, at first, a largely symbolic gesture as Israel has become a major weapons maker, exporting arms to many countries with a tasteless sales pitch that stress the benefits of Israeli weaponry because it is ‘field-tested.’ There is a special challenge to American governmental institutions and its taxpaying citizenry that have been providing more than $3 billion of military assistance aid, coupled with special arrangements beneficial to Israel, for many years.

 

It is painfully evident that state-to-state diplomacy and the UN have failed to produce a just peace despite decades of fruitless talks. It is time acknowledge that these talks have been carried on in bad faith: while the diplomats sat around the table, Israeli settlements relentlessly expanded, apartheid structures deepened their hold on the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Gaza was cordoned off as a hostage enclave to be attacked by Israel at will whenever a bloody sacrifice seemed useful from the perspective of national interests.

 

At least, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil ElAraby, condemned the “dangerous Israeli escalation,” urged the Security Council to “adopt measures to stop Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip,” and warned of the humanitarian consequences. Turkish and Iranian issued official statements along similar lines. There is so much regional turbulence at present that it is unlikely to hope for anything more than scattered verbal denunciations from authorities in the region preoccupied with other concerns, but given the gravity of the situation, attention needs to be refocused on the Palestinian ordeal. Pressure on Israel is urgently needed to protect the Palestinian people from further tragedy, and the Arab neighbors of Israel and the European states that long held sway in the region, are challenged as never before to do the right thing, but it is doubtful that any constructive action will be taken unless regional and global public opinion becomes sufficiently enraged to exert real pressure on these governments, and hence on Israel itself. To pursue this goal now should be made a top priority of the Palestinian global solidarity movement.

 

Remembering Fouad Ajami

9 Jul

 

 

 

Christopher Hitchens and Fouad Ajami are probably the two foremost once progressive intellectuals who turned right in their later years, and reaped rich career rewards for doing so. I was an acquaintance of Hitchens, who died in 2011. We participated on a couple of occasions in the same event and he publicly ridiculed me. I was appalled by his contemptuous dismissal of those who disagreed with him or whom he regarded as lesser beings, that is, not less than 99% of humanity. His informed brilliance made him always worth reading or listening to even if his views were dogmatically uncongenial, never more so than in his self-righteous championing of the Iraq War as a humanitarian rescue mission undertaken on behalf of the Iraqi people. When Hitchens died I was impressed by his brave struggle against cancer, but he was never a friend, and his death never tempted me to mourn.

 

Fouad Ajami was at one time a dear friend, a close colleague, and someone whose worldview I once shared. I had been partly responsible for bringing Fouad to Princeton where I was on the faculty, and was deeply impressed by his incisive mind, deep reading of difficult scholarly texts, and ethical/political engagement with the world that seemed to express intellectual independence. In this time of friendship we shared a critical outlook on the follies of the American imperial role and felt a deep sympathy for the Palestinian struggles for their place in the sun. I introduced Fouad to Edward Said and Eqbal Ahmad, believing them to be kindred spirits in a shared commitment to justice in all its manifestations with a focus on the deep processes of decolonization being pursued in the countries of the South. At first my social impulse was affirmed as there occurred a rapid bonding of these three extraordinary intellectuals, but before too long, Fouad’s unexpected welcoming of the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon, and then a more intense fight among three as to whether or not to attend a CIA-sponsored conference on the Middle East at Harvard led to an open break, with Fouad not only deciding to attend but to write a letter to Edward and Eqbal declaring that he wished no further contact with either of them.

 

In the process, without any such dramatic break, my friendship with Fouad lapsed without ever ending either formally or psychologically. I continued to read his journalistic and scholarly writing, admiring his stylistic gifts and literary sensibility despite my disappointment with the kind of beltway, Israeli-oriented sophisticated polemics he had cast his lot with in the manner of Naipaul, but worse because overtly political. He was warmly welcomed into the establishment, first by the Council on Foreign Relations, and then later an influential participant in the inner sanctum of neocon retreats, ending his career and life, as a senior scholar attached to the notorious Hoover Institution, where even Donald Rumsfeld found sanctuary after his disastrous tenure as Secretary of Defense.

 

In reacting to his death, commentators were sharply polarized as might be expected. In the Wall Street Journal Bret Stephens called Ajami “..the most honest and honorable and generous of American intellectuals,” [June 23, 2014] and went on to explain why. In contrast, Shakir Husain dismisses Ajami as an opportunistic fraud who will be mostly remembered for his enthusiastic and very public endorsement of the 2003 Iraq War and as a high profile apologist for the worst Israeli excesses, a classic example of Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘good Muslim.’ [Daily Sabah, July 8, 2014] Prior to the war Ajami had promised American on TV and his neocon friends, notably Paul Wolfowitz, that Iraqis would celebrate their liberation from the clutches of Saddam Hussein with flowers and dances, and should expect Iraqi crowds welcoming American troops and tanks in the streets of Baghdad and Basra. Ajami seemed so excited by the shock and awe aggression against Iraq that began the war ‘an amazing performance,’ an initial expression of his unflagging endorsement of the Bush-Cheney criminal foreign policy from which he never retreated. [CBS News, March 22, 2003] Adam Shatz constructed a devastating portrait of Ajami’s rightward swing, portraying him as a lethal combination of ‘native informant’ and ‘a cheerleader for American empire,’ dismissing his claim of ‘intellectual independence as a clever fiction.’ [The Nation, April 10, 2003]

 

Despite all this, Fouad was still in my mind and heart a friend with whom I had shared many intimate times, who had cared for my two sons while traveling abroad, who was both affectionate and stimulating, and who seemed to hold my views as to what it meant to be on ‘the right side of history.’ After his disturbing political ‘awakening’ to the realities of the world, we met one time by chance in the 1990s while walking on the streets of the nation’s capital; we stopped and had a friendly coffee together, almost avoiding politics while reminiscing mainly about common friends and his days at Princeton. I remember he was then worried by some comments critical of his role that Edward Said had apparently made to an Arab audience, Fouad telling me that such criticism amounted to ‘a death sentence’ given the high tide of emotions in the region. I can’t recall my response beyond expressing an opinion that Edward would never knowingly encourage violence toward someone with whose views he disagreed, however deeply. We never met again, although I saw Fouad from time to time on TV, and to my surprise, did not disagree with much of his early CNN commentary in seeming support of the Tahrir Square uprising against the Mubarak regime in late January 2011.

 

Reflecting now, I wonder if I can and should separate in my mind the man from his reactionary views and career choices, which will always remain an anathema for me. I wonder also if I was blinded by Fouad’s wit and brilliance and warmth, and failed to detect character flaws that surfaced politically later in his life. Or are political orientations inherently so subjective that what seemed to me an unforgivable ‘betrayal’ was for Fouad a genuine ‘epiphany,’ a swerve of conscience that just happened to land him in the gilded lap of the winners, that is, on the uppermost platforms of elite pampering? It is a whimsical moment that inhibits mourning such a loss, but not the sadness that always accompanies losing a once cherished and trusted friend. To be sure, thinking along these lines recalls Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ I firmly believe that I chose the better road, but it will take decades for history to decide.

 

For me Fouad Ajami’s legacy is that of ‘sleeping with the enemy.’ And it is an enemy that is politically, morally, and legally responsible for millions of deaths, displacements, and devastating losses. In a just world such a responsibility would lead to criminal accountability, but such a prospect is for now situated in what Derrida called the ‘democracy to come,’ a polity in which there would be no impunity for crimes against humanity.

Five Palestine Futures

24 Jun

 

Background and Foreground      

 

 

For years, perhaps going back as far as the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, influential international debate on the future of Palestine has almost exclusively considered variations on the theme of a two-state solution. The American Secretary of State, John Kerry, stampeded the Palestinian Authority and Israel into negotiations that ‘failed’ even before they started a year ago. At least Kerry was prudent enough to warn both sides that this was their do or die moment for resolving the conflict. It was presumed without dissent in high places anywhere that this two-state outcome was the one and only solution that could bring peace. Besides the parties themselves, the EU, the Arab League, the UN all wagered that a resolution of the conflict required the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even Benjamin Netanyahu became a reluctant subscriber to this mantra in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, although always in a halfhearted spirit.

 

The reasoning that underlay this consensus went along these lines: a viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict could not challenge the Israeli commitment and the essential Zionist Project to create a homeland for Jews worldwide; this meant that self-determination for the Palestinian people would have to be addressed separately, and the only way to do this was by way of a partition of historic Palestine. The British had come to this conclusion as early as 1936 in the Peel Commission Report (a British Royal Commission that concluded that the British mandate as applied to the whole of historic Palestine was unworkable because of the tensions between the two ethnic communities, and proposed that partition be imposed), which became the basis for the solution proposed in 1947 by the UN in General Assembly Resolution 181. It was reaffirmed in Security Council Resolution 242 unanimously adopted after the 1967 War that reduced the portion of Palestine assigned to the Palestinian from 45% to 22%, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory occupied as a result and reaffirming the principle of international law that territory could not be validly acquired by force of arms.

 

Underneath the partition consensus there is an intriguing puzzle to solve: why has the consensus persisted despite the leadership of neither Israel nor Palestine seeming to have opted for partition except as a second best outcome. The Palestinians made their dislike of partition manifest from the outset of large scale Jewish immigration in the decades after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, believing that imposing a Jewish homeland, much less a Jewish state, was an unacceptable colonial encroachment. In the late 1980s the Palestinians, as represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, adjusting to the realities of Israel’s presence, accepted the idea of partition in the historic decision in 1988 of the Palestine National Council. In its essence, the Palestinians endorsed the vision embedded in SC Res. 242, envisioning a Palestinian reality based on an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-war green line borders, an expectation that, of course, never materialized.

 

More subtly, the Zionist leadership was at best ambivalent about partition, appreciating it initially as a path leading to sovereignty, which exceeded ‘homeland’ as a political outcome, and represented more than they could have hoped for earlier in their movement, yet decisively less than the biblical vision of Israel as encompassing the whole of historic Israel. As the situation evolved since Israeli independence, Israel has continuously revised its sense of a favorable balance of forces making it seem realistic to seek a fuller realization of the Zionist dream. In recent years, the Israeli one-staters have started to gain the upper hand, based partly on what has been happening on the ground, partly by the rightward drift of the governing coalition, and partly from the absence of real incentives to compromise territorially due to the falling away of Palestinian armed resistance and the absence of meaningful pressure from Washington. There is a renewed reliance in Israel on the contention that the ‘Palestinians’ do not really have a distinct ethnicity, and hence are not a ‘people’ entitled to self-determination under international law. Palestinians are and should be viewed as ‘Arabs.’ As such, they have no need for another state as already 22 Arab states exist. In my experience, within Israel, almost no Israelis refer to Palestinians as other than as Arabs, except of course the Palestinians.

  

Of course, what a Palestinian state meant to the Palestinians was different than what it meant to the Israelis. Additionally, what it meant for the Palestinian Authority was also far apart from what the Palestinians overseas dispersed communities and the refugee camps believed to be the necessary components of peace. Almost necessarily, the focus on Palestine as a state rather than Palestine as the communal recipient of rights reduced the conflict to a territorial dispute supposedly susceptible to solution by a ‘land for peace’ formula. This approach marginalized other Palestinian grievances, above all, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, creating tensions between Palestinians living under occupation and Palestinians living in refugee camps and in exile. It also situated issues relating to Jerusalem in some indeterminate zone that was neither territorial nor distinct from territorial claims.

 

On the Israeli side, too, there were big variations. The dominant Israeli position in recent years has been one in which the dimensions of a Palestinian state must be subordinated to the imperatives of Israeli security as defined by the Israeli government. In effect, that would mean confiscating all of Occupied Palestine to the West of the separation wall and the settlement blocs as well as controlling the borders and maintaining for an indefinite period Israeli security forces in the Jordan Valley. In addition, Palestinians must renounce all their claims as part of a final status agreement, which would seem also to imply the end of any assertion of a right of return for 1948 and 1967 Palestinian refugees. More maximalist versions involve even larger annexationist features and treat the city of Jerusalem as exclusively belonging in perpetuity to Israel. On top of all these demands is the insistence by Netanyahu that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which both relegates the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent subjugation and effectively renounces any Palestinian right of return.

 

The Israeli government having in recent years become virtually inseparable from the settler movement has long appreciated that the function of endorsing a Palestinian state was little more than a way of appeasing, and thereby neutralizing, world public opinion, given its insistence that a political solution was possible and necessary, and could only happen if the Palestinian got their state, satisfying at the very least, the territorial core of self-determination. Even now the Palestinian Authority continues to sing the same lyrics, although the melody is more solemn. The Palestinian governmental representatives in recent years have lost even the ability to say ‘no’ to international negotiations despite having nothing to gain from the recurrent charade of such American orchestrated gatherings and quite a bit to lose by way of expanding settlements, the altered makeup of Jerusalem, and a gradual shifting international mood in the direction of accepting Israeli maximalism as unassailable, if regrettable. Ironically, Israeli media influence and the supportive voice of the U.S. Government also blames the Palestinians for each round of failed peace talks, although for the first time, the Israel obstructionist role was so evident, Washington blamed both sides.

 

 

There is no light at the end of this particular tunnel. With what appears to be the death throes of a failed peace process is being acknowledged in the form of an eerie silence in high places. There is an absence of conjecture or advocacy as to how the conflict might end abetted by the recent focus on the turmoil in the region, especially the renewed chaos in Iraq and intensifying strife in Syria that has shifted public and media attention away from the Israel-Palestine agenda. This evasive silence has for the present replaced earlier false hopes invested in futile diplomatic negotiations. In retrospect, it is easy to conclude that political preconditions for conflict-resolving negotiations premised on a viable Palestinian sovereign state never truly existed on the Israeli side, assuredly after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. This is mainly because the expansionist vision of the right-wing settlers became more and more accepted as official state policy in Tel Aviv, and there was no longer pressures being mounted by Palestinian armed struggle. On the Palestinian governmental side, in contrast, there was an eagerness to end the occupation and attain the status and rituals associated with being a sovereign state. Confusion surrounded the practicalities of what such an arrangement would yield. It always seemed doubtful as to whether a deal like this could be sold to the Palestinian people if it left the several million Palestinians living in refugee camps and overseas out in the cold. This assessment is especially true since the death of Arafat in 2004, which has led to a virtual leadership vacuum on the Palestinian side.

 

The security logic of the Israeli right is that Israel will only be able to maintain its security over time if it continues to control all or most of the West Bank. This image of security reflects the view that real threat to Israel no longer comes from Palestinian armed resistance. It comes from the surrounding Arab world that is moving toward more advanced weaponry, and at some point is almost sure to again turn its guns and missiles in an Israeli direction. Additionally, pushing toward a similar understanding, is the view that the full realization of Zionism involves the incorporation of the West Bank, always referred to in internal Israeli discourse by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria.

 

Peace through bilateral negotiations presided over by the United States has long seemed moribund to many close observers, but after the recent collapse of the talks this top down diplomatic approach seems discredited even among governments and at the UN, at least for now. Yet it is impossible for most of the world to accept the finality of such a stalemate that favors Israel, in effect, ratifying land grabs and apartheid structures, while consigning the Palestinians to regimes of misery of for the indefinite future, which translates into the rigors of permanent denial of rights, oppression, refugee camps, and involuntary exile. This bleak assessment raises the question ‘What Now?’

 

           

Constructing a New Box

 

 

In situations of this sort, where differences seem irreconcilable, the common call is ‘to think outside the box.’ The old box was the consensus associated with the two-state mantra, which appeared to have a solidity that never truly existed. Now appearances are more reliable. At present there is not even a box to think within. Yet silence and despair is not an option while Palestine suffering and denial of rights endures. Future alternatives need to be imagined and appraised. Five seem worth pondering, and each has some plausibility.

(1)  Israeli One-State: Such an end game involves extending Israel’s border to incorporate most of the West Bank, keeping the settlements except, perhaps, relinquishing control over a few isolated outposts. This vision of Palestine’s future takes on heightened political relevance considering that Reuven Rivlin, the newly elected Israeli President, is an open advocate of a supposedly humane version of an Israeli one-state outcome, a position that directly contradicts Netanyahu’s endorsement of an eventual Palesinian state. This benevolent version, spelled out in some detail by an influential settler advocate, Dani Dayan, calls for a radical easing of Palestinian life in relation to day to day humiliations, ranging from the numerous checkpoints, restrictions on mobility, and anticipates and supports the dismantling of the separation wall. [See Dayan, “Peaceful Nonreconciliation Now,” NY Times, June 9, 2014]

 

Dayan proposes that the Israeli government take a series of steps to raise the Palestinian standard of living significantly. He admits that this type of ‘economic peace’ will never satisfy Palestinian political/legal grievances relating to territory, independence, and the right of return. Such a proposal is essentially offering the Palestinians a Faustian Bargain in which Palestinians give up their rights of resistance in waging a political struggle for self-determination in exchange for the tangible psychological and economic advantages of living better lives materially and enjoying some measure of dignity within an Israeli structure of governance. The obstacle here is that the authentic voices representing the Palestinian people seem united in refusing to renounce their political ambitions and their right of resistance. The acceptance of such an arrangement would be widely understood, including among the Palestinian people, as a political surrender to the de facto realities of Israeli settler colonialism carried to its maximalist endpoint. It is relevant to note that the Dayan proposal is coupled with the expectation that the Palestinians would renounce in principle and practice any right of violent resistance, while the Israeli state would be entitled to engage in violence whenever the perceived imperatives of security so demanded.

 

 

(2)  Binational One-State: The more idealistic version of the one-state solution presupposes a secular state that encompasses the whole of historic Palestine, establishes a unified government with democracy and human rights for all, and creates semi-autonomous regions where Jews and Palestinians can exercise self-administration and freely express their separate national and ethnic identities. In effect, the two dominant peoples in Palestine would agree to live together within a single sovereign state on the basis of equality and democracy, but with agreed provisions creating separate national communities preserving culture, tradition, ethnicity, and religious affiliation. There are several obstacles: given the realities on the ground and the attachment of an overwhelming majority of Israelis to the Zionist Project of a Jewish State with its unlimited right of return for Jews worldwide, the proposal seems utopian, lacking political traction. Furthermore, the disparities in wealth and education would likely lead to Israeli hierarchy, if not dominance and continued exploitation, in any process that purported to unify the country on a non-Zionist basis.

 

 

(3)  Israeli Withdrawal from Occupation: In this proposal, there would be no explicit shift in the structures of governance. In a manner similar to the 2005 Sharon Disengagement Plan for Gaza, this new initiative would apply to those portions of Palestine that Israel seeks to incorporate within its final international borders. This arrangement would leave the Palestinian Authority in charge of the remnant of the West Bank, as well as Gaza. It would maintain the actuality of the occupation regime, but without the presence of Israeli security forces and keep the separation wall, imposing rigid border controls and continue repression, effectively depriving Palestinians of the enjoyment of their most basic human rights. This approach                          rests on the assumption that Israeli military control is able to implement such a solution as well as to deal with external threats mounted from hostile forces in the region. The main obstacle is that Palestinians would have no incentive to accept such an outcome, it would be denounced in most international settings, including the United Nations, and it would have the likely political consequence of further isolating Israel in global settings.

 

(4)  Palestinian Self-Determination: There is some new thinking in the Palestinian camp, most articulately formulated by Ali Abunimah in his important book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. The emphasis is on civil society activism and nonviolent Palestinian resistance as building global support for a solution that is responsive to the Palestinian right of self-determination. What form self-determination eventually assumes is a matter, above all, for Palestinians to decide for themselves. The realization of self-determination presupposes leadership that is accepted by authentic representatives of the whole of the Palestinian people, including those living as a minority within Israel, those living under occupation, and those in refugee camps and involuntary exile. The contours of the territorial division or unity that emerges would be the outcome of negotiations, but its embodiment would address the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people as defined by international law and international human rights and include a formal acknowledgement by Israel of past injustices done to the Palestinian people. The main obstacle here is one of hard power disparities and rigidities, as well as the continuing, although weakening, Jewish worldwide engagement with the Zionist Project. The way around such an obstacle is to gain worldwide support that mounts sufficient pressure on Israel, the United States, and Europe so as to induce a recalculation of interests by Israeli leaders and citizens based on a new realism associated with the increasing leverage of growing Palestinian soft power capabilities.

 

(5)  Peaceful Co-Existence: In recent years, Hamas, strangely seems to be the last holdout for a version of the two-state solution, although in its maximalist form. Israel would need to withdraw to the 1967 borders, end its blockade of Gaza, and give Palestine control over East Jerusalem. The main obstacle here is that Israel would have to abandon its expansionist goals and dismantle the settlements, although it could retain the Zionist Project in its more limited territorial applications to Israel as it existed in 1967. The secondary obstacle is that the Hamas Charter calls for the total removal of the entire Jewish presence from historic Palestine, making the proposal seem tactical and untrustworthy, and at most intended to serve as an interim arrangement, an uneasy truce and unsustainable peace. Hamas officials have indicated a willingness to commit to 50 years of coexistence, a period in which much could change, including even the primacy of the statist framing of political community. It is impossible to imagine Israel accepting such a blurry outcome that rolled back the factual realities of expansion that have been created by Israel over the course of several decades. Besides, whatever its content the very fact that Hamas was the source of such a proposal would alone be sufficient to produce an Israel rejection.

 

A Concluding Comment

 

It is obvious that none of these five approaches seems either attractive enough to challenge the status quo or politically persuasive enough to shift the balance of forces bearing on the conflict. Yet, there are signs indicating both that the Israelis are moving toward a unilaterally imposed option and the Palestinians are becoming more inclined to combine nonviolent resistance with support for militant global solidarity. On the one side, the Israeli settler movement is on the front line, and on the other, the Palestinian BDS campaign is gathering momentum as the leading expression of the Palestine National Movement. In both instances, at this time the relevant governmental entities have been marginalized as political actors in relation to the struggle. This is itself an extraordinary development, but where it will lead remains obscure. Two images of the near future seem most relevant. From an Israeli perspective: the consummation of the Zionist project by the incorporation of all or most of the West Bank, the further ethnic consolidation of control over the whole of Jerusalem, and the rejection of any humanitarian responsibility or political ambition with regard to the Gaza Strip. From a Palestinian perspective: the growth of the global solidarity movement to a point where an increasing number of governments impose sanctions on Israel, reinforced societal initiatives associated with the BDS campaign, giving rise to new thinking in Israel and the United States about how best to engage in damage control. If such a point is reached, the experience of transforming apartheid South Africa into a multi-racial constitutional democracy is almost certain to intrigue the political imagination.

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

By THE EDITORIAL BOARDJUNE 6, 2014

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.

 

Preparing the Path to a Just Peace for Palestine/Israel

14 Jun

 

 

After several past failures to reconcile Fatah and Hamas under the single Palestinian umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a unity government was formed and its ministers sworn in on June 2nd in Ramallah. This supposedly interim government of ‘technocrats’ without party affiliations will be presided over by the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah.. Hamas was reported unhappy until with the composition of the government, withholding its approval until the last minute, but in the end went along. Additional to the diplomatic and long-term benefits of Palestinian unity, the people of Gaza could stand to gain in the short-term, especially if Egypt can now be persuaded to open its border for the passage of fuel and other necessities. Cairo’s aversion to Hamas’ Brotherhood past would be diluted in view of the PA, not Hamas, having become the legitimated governing authority for all Palestinians, including those living in Gaza. The urgent needs of the Gazans may help explain why the two Palestinian factions finally set aside the bitterness of the past, at least for now.

It is too soon to assess the wider implications of this political move that angers the Israeli government and has been greeted with hostile caution in Washington and Europe. For the first time since Hamas won the Gaza elections in 2006, and forcibly displacing a corrupt and abusive Fatah from its governing role a year later, the Palestinians are represented by a leadership that is inclusive of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The governmental machinery is presently presided over by Mahmoud Abbas who is Chair of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority, which has promised elections of a new leadership within six months. Many Palestinians hope that the stage is now set to reduce the ‘leadership deficit’ that has hampered diplomacy at least since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. Arafat in the years leading up to his death lost the respect of many Palestinians, partly because he seemed too ready to please Washington in his search for a solution and partly because he lost his grip on corrupting elements within his own entourage. Unfortunately, the only Palestinian that has both the stature and a political appeal that stretches from one end of the spectrum of political opinion to the other is Marwan Barghouti, and he is serving a long-term prison sentence in an Israeli jail.

 

Israel’s Response

 

For the moment Palestinian diplomatic unity has been achieved, and seems to be unnerving Israel. Its highest officials and main media have not questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu truculent insistence that Israel will never negotiate with any Palestinian government that is “backed by Hamas,” and threatens a variety of hostile reactions ranging from accelerating the expansion of settlements to withholding customs transfer payments that the PA needs to meet its big public sector employment payroll of 150,000. Perversely, disavowing as illegitimate any Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas endows the organization with a ‘make or break’ political influence, or put differently, gives Israel a foolproof pretext for doing whatever it wants in occupied Palestine without encountering much adverse reaction. Such an unconditional posture confirms for me Israel’s disinterest in a diplomatic approach to real peace, and serves as an excuse for going forward with settlement expansion, ethnic consolidation of East Jerusalem, and continuing the punitive blockade and isolation of Gaza. This pattern was already present a few years ago when Al Jazeera published a series of documents associated with secret negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in which the PA offered major concessions, and Israel reacted with disinterest and the absence of any counter-offers. [See Clayton Swisher, ed., The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road (Chatham, UK, 2011)]

 

The Israeli rejection of this move toward Palestinian reconciliation is rationalized by the contention that Hamas was and remains a terrorist organization, and is unacceptable as a political actor because it refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and renounce violence as a tactic of struggle. The United States and the EU share this assessment as a formal matter, but in a slightly more nuanced way although it continues to view Hamas as a terrorist organization, and hence an illegitimate interlocutor. Yet, to the openly declared disgust of Tel Aviv, the White House has announced that it will for the present continue to work with the PA, including keeping the aid flowing. It announced that it intends to closely monitor the role of Hamas in the unity government as the aid to the PA (worth $440 million this year) has been conditioned by the U.S. Congress on the absence of ‘undue influence’ on the part of Hamas. What constitutes undue influence is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Israel can be counted on do its part, exerting pressure via its lobbying allies on Israel’s many Congressional friends in Washington, to show that Hamas is indeed influencing PA policies at this point despite the absence of any Hamas officials in the formal leadership of the new PA government announced in Ramallah. If Israeli lobbying succeeds it could trigger a break in the flow of aid, and cause fiscal troubles for the PA, but maybe with political side benefits by providing Palestinians with badly needed increased room for diplomatic maneuver free from an overall subservience to the partisan wishes of Washington.

 

Whether this will happen is uncertain. There is sure to be a pushback in the United States by Republicans always eager to score points against the Obama presidency by claiming that Israel is not being supported in the manner that such a key ally deserves. As well, playing the anti-terrorist card still seems to be effective in agitating the American public. Even if Congress does force Obama’s hand, the effects are uncertain. For one thing, the Arab League has pledged $100 million per month to the PA to offset any shortfall arising from a suspension of aid, and several Arab governments have expressed their willingness to provide Ramallah with the equivalent of any funds withheld by Israel and the United States. If such a pledge is fulfilled, no sure thing given Arab past failures to deliver on similar pledges, it means that if aid is cut to the PA, the main effect will be political rather than economic. In this event, Tel Aviv and Washington would likely lose influence, while Cairo, Riyadh, and possibly Tehran seem poised to gain leverage not only with the Palestinians but throughout the Middle East.

 

 

Tentative Assessment

 

It is only possible at this stage to reach tentative conclusions. The move to unity comes after utter failure of the direct negotiations that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed so hard to get started last year. For most observers, especially in light of the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, there seems no longer any credible prospect of a two-state solution in a form acceptable to the people of Palestine or with the possibility of creating a viable and fully sovereign Palestinian state. Beyond this, Palestine has started to act more and more as a state, a status dramatically affirmed by Pope Francis in his recent visit to the holy land. In this regard, it should be appreciated that Israel broke off negotiating with Palestine prior to the formation of the unity government, and not because of Hamas. The break occurred because the governing authority in Ramallah decided to sign 15 international conventions as a state party, a seemingly responsible step for Palestine to take if it wanted to be perceived as a state. Such an effort by the PA to confirm Palestine as a state without the endorsement of Israel and Washington is a direct result of the disillusionment by the PA with the ridiculous inter-governmental diplomacy that is still being championed by the U.S. Government as the only path to peace. The Palestinians have been living without rights under Israeli occupation for more than four and a half decades, and many Palestinian families have been languishing in refugee camps in and around Palestine ever since 1948. Besides this, the deferral of a resolution of Palestinian claims is not a neutral reality. It helps Israel expand, while diminishing Palestinian expectations in relation to their own territorial and national destiny.

 

I believe the bottom line importance of the unity government is the Palestinian realization that no solution to the overall conflict is even conceivable without the participation of Hamas. Beyond this, allowing Hamas to become an active part of the political equation strikes a body blow against Israel’s strategy of keeping the Palestinians as divided and subdued as possible. Hamas has taken a series of important steps to be accepted as a political actor, and thereby overcome its reputation as a terrorist organization associated with its earlier embrace of indiscriminate political violence, especially extensive suicide bombing directed at civilian targets within Israel. After entering and winning Gaza elections in 2006, Hamas went on to exercise effective governing authority in the Gaza Strip since 2007. It has been governing under extremely difficult circumstances arising from Israeli blockade and hostility. It has managed to negotiate and comply with ceasefire agreements via Egypt. Most relevantly, by way of statements of and interviews with its leaders indicating a readiness to enter into long-term co-existence agreements with Israel for up to 50 years if Israel withdraws to the 1967 ‘green line’ borders and ends its blockade of Gaza. The firing of rockets that can be directly attributed to Hamas in this period are almost always launched in a retaliatory mode after an unlawful Israeli violent provocation; most of the rockets launched are primitive in design and capability, and have caused little damage on the Israeli side of the border and often seem to be the work of extremist militias in Gaza that act independently and in violation of Hamas. Despite the low number of Israeli casualties, the threats posed by these rockets should not be minimized as they do induce fear in Israeli communities with their range. It should be recognized, also, that Hamas is known to possess more sophisticated rockets that could cause serious casualties and damage, yet has refrained from using them except in the course of defending Gaza in response to the massive attack launched by Israel in November 2012.

 

This profile of Hamas in recent years appears to represent a dramatic departure from its earlier positions calling for the destruction of the Israeli state in its entirety. It is fair to ask whether this more moderate line can be trusted, which cannot be fully known until it is tested by a positive engagement by Israel and the United States. So far Israel has made no reciprocal gestures even to the extent of taking some cautious note of these changes in Hamas’ approach. Israel has continued to repeat its demands that Hamas unilaterally renounce political violence, recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and indicate its acceptance of all past agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Even if Hamas were to take these steps it seems highly doubtful that Israel would alter its defiant position, continue to claim that such acts could not be trusted until further evidence of good faith are available, including amending the Hamas Charter. Doubts about Hamas’ trustworthiness seem a typically misleading distraction put forward by Tel Aviv. As whatever Hamas were to do, or even the PA, Israel would be sure to make its future security depend on its military capabilities, and place no reliance whatsoever on whether Palestinian political actors were true to their word. In the abstract, it does seem unreasonable to expect the Hamas to make these unilateral commitments demanded by Israel so long as the unlawful collective punishment of the people of Gaza in the form of the blockade continues.

At this point Hamas could and probably should do more to establish the bona fides of its abandonment of terror as a mode of armed struggle and its readiness to have peaceful relations with Israel for long periods of time. It could and should revise the Hamas Charter of 1987 by removing those passages that suggest that the Jews as a people are evil and provide jihadists with suitable targets that deserve to be stuck dead. It could also draft a new charter taking account of intervening developments and its current thinking on how best to wage the Palestinian liberation struggle. It may also be time for Hamas to make explicit a qualified commitment to a nonviolent path in pursuit of a just peace. In circumstances of prolonged occupation and state terrorism, Hamas is entitled to claim rights of resistance, although their precise contours are not clearly established by international law. Hamas is certainly entitled to act in self-defense within the constraints of international humanitarian law, and hence can condition any tactical renunciation of armed struggle by reserving these rights.

 

The one side of the Israeli rigidity that is rooted in psychological plausibility is the reality of fear, and Hamas if it wants to make progress toward a sustainable and just peace, would be well advised to do its best to recognize this obstacle. Ari Shavit starts his important, although not entirely persuasive book, in a revealing way: “For as long as I can remember, I remember fear. Existential fear…I always felt that beyond the well-to-do houses and upper-middle-class lawns of my hometown lay a dark ocean. One day, I dreaded, that dark ocean would rise and drown us all. A mythological tsunami would strike our shores and sweep my Israel away.” (My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013), ix.

 

I am not intending to suggest that such feelings in any way mitigate the injustices imposed on the Palestinian people for almost a century. I am saying that these feelings among Israeli are real and widespread among the Jewish population living in Israel, and that the process of inducing more Israelis to seek a genuine peace depend on sensitivity by Hamas to this reality. Such a call does not mean at all that Israel should not have done more in this period, especially to allay the strong suspicion that the excessive demands of the Israeli government issued in the name of security and the invocation of fear and loathing, whether toward Hamas or Iran, is not being manipulated by a cynical leadership in Tel Aviv with not the slightest interest in peace and accommodation on reasonable terms, but is primarily seeking to proceed toward the control of virtually the whole of historic Palestine and the exploitation of all its resources. In other words Israeli ‘fears’ are at once authentic and offer a useful dilatory tactic. I would also emphasize the relevance of the situation on the ground: Israel as a prosperous powerhouse and fully sovereign state as contrasted to Hamas, which is the governing authority of the tiny, blockaded, and totally vulnerable Gaza Strip whose impoverished population has been deliberately kept by Israel at a subsistence level and continuously subjected to Israeli state terror at least since 1967.

 

A salient issue in this context is whether it is reasonable and desirable to insist that Hamas adopt a new covenant as a precondition to its acceptance as a legitimate political actor. On the one side, as mentioned above, Israel if so motivated, could explore accommodation options without taking additional security risks because of its total military dominance, and thus without either trusting Hamas or making a renunciation of the 1987 Hamas Charter a precondition. On the other side, the fact that Hamas would be willing to amend its Charter or adopt a new one that would provide some tangible indication that it no longer is calling for the killing of Jews (Article 7) and the insistence that a sacred and violent struggle is mandated by Islam to persist until every inch of Palestine falls under Muslim rule (Articles 13 & 14). If the public declarations by Hamas leaders in the last several years are to be taken seriously, then Hamas owes it to itself and those acting in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to clarify its current political vision of peace and justice. Such clarification is consistent with reaffirming the responsibility of Israel and the Zionist movement for past injustices and the accompanying denial of fundamental and inalienable rights to the Palestinian people, above all, the right of self-determination.

 

From the positions set forth here, it seems clear that at this point the officialIsraeli leadership is not inclined to seek a diplomatic outcome to the struggle that includes addressing legitimate Palestinian grievances. For this reason alone, it is fair to conclude that the 1993 Oslo framing of diplomacy, as most recently exhibited in the Kerry negotiations, is a snare and delusion so far as Palestinians are concerned. It not only freezes the status quo, it shifts the realities on the ground in the direction of Israeli expansionism via annexation, and moves toward the final stage of Zionist thinking, incorporating Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) into an Israeli version of the one-state solution. These moves, in effect, normalize the apartheid structure of relations between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents, and shed the pretense of agreeing to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Against such a background, the incentive to change the Hamas Charter it should be understood is not to appease the Israeli government, but to manifest its own altered vision and strategy and to exert some influence upon the Israeli citizenry and world public opinion. It needs to be appreciated that whatever Hamas were to do to please Israel, it would make no essential difference. What is relevant to the present stage of the Palestinian national movement is to mobilize nonviolent militant resistance and solidarity support. It is on this symbolic battlefield of legitimacy that Palestinian hopes now rest.