Tag Archives: Resistance

The Darkening Sky over Palestine: Storm Clouds or New Dawn?

28 May

The Darkening Sky over Palestine: Storm Clouds or New Dawn?


Looking upward, the sky above Palestine has darkened, but whether portending a storm or nightfall is uncertain.

If, de jure annexation will go forward, then the sky is likely to emit thunder and lightning. When the storm passes, nothing will seem changed. Annexation is being discussed as if a game changer yet ‘annexation’ has already taken place in the form of settlements, the separation wall, denial of building and residence permits to Palestinians living in Area C, and long-affirmed Israeli sentiments of biblical entitlement solidified by continued tradition of affirming the territory the British administered as ‘Palestine’ between the two world wars as ‘the promised land’ of the Jewish people. All that changes is retaining what has long been the palpable absurdity of a commitment a to a two-state solution that Israel never wanted in its only legitimate form of two sovereign states, equal in all respects, including security.

Retaining zombie versions of the two-state mantra allowed European governments, liberal Zionists, and the UN to claim that they had not renounced their commitment to peace based on a territorial compromise between the two peoples. ‘The land for peace’ formula never encompassed the breadth and depth of Palestinian justifiable grievances, virtually abandoning millions of refugees stranded for generation in refugee camps. Israel from the outset of the two-state consensus exhibited what can most generously be called ambivalence toward ever tolerating the establishment of even an ‘unequal’ Palestinian state, as distinct from welcoming as now, a Palestinian statelet, and being done with the complaints about the denial of the inalienable right of self-determination. Israel relentlessly created conditions on the ground by its promotion of the overtly unlawful settlement movement that even made the prospect of a statelet seem less like a micro-state such as Andorra, and more like a subjugated South African bantustan.

Increasingly over the years since 1967, it became plain for all but the willfully blind to take note of Israel’s defiant implementations of its unlawful territorial ambitions that made the prospect of a genuine Palestinian sovereignty delusional to the point of irrelevance. Any yet the Palestinian Authority and liberal Zionism in America continue to cling uncritically to the two-state goal by refusals to take proper account of the constantly accumulating facts on the ground and the significance of one-sided security demands in the Oslo negotiations. Long ago it was clear that the best that the Palestinians could hope for was a modified structure of Israeli hegemony, prefigured by the cruelties of Gaza ‘disengagement,’ which in effect would function as a minimal, quasi-sovereign state with juridical equality but existentially as subjugated as during the lengthy occupation of the West Bank. It remains uncertain whether Israel is seeking a hegemonic ceasefire in an agreement mislabeled as ‘peace’ or pursuing an end game that envisioned an Israeli one-state outcome. It was an open question whether in such a ‘solution’ Palestinians would be granted second-class citizenship similar to what has been conferred behind the green line or some sort of third-class variant designed to make sure that Israel never faces the demographic threat of no longer being a Jewish majority state.

Such Israeli ambitions proceeded behind a public relations smokescreen of sweet reasonableness that became no longer necessary when Trump added geopolitical muscle to an Israeli victory scenario, which was not quite explicitly affirmed but packaged as ‘the deal of the century.’ As preceded by U.S. giveaways to Israeli expansion as cutting of UNRWA funding for Gaza, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the American embassy, and endorsing the Israeli annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Trump’s hyper-partisanship fooled almost no one, not even the PA. It would be an insult to the political intelligence of the Palestinian people to except anything other than a rejection o this poisoned chalice was offered to the Palestinians. Israelis fully realized that what Washington was offering was no deal, but ‘the gift of the century,’ and there was no time to waste as Trump might disappear after the 2020 elections, requiring a return to the slow dance demanded by the American bipartisan consensus that has been the quiet enabler of Israeli expansionist moves ever since Israel was established in 1948, as distinct from the raucous cheerleading emanating from the West Wing of the Trump White House.

What is the nature of this gift so neatly wrapped by Kushner’s stealthy maneuvers? It is a strong-armed attempt to confer legitimacy on decades of unlawful Israeli expansionism and apartheid governance carried on while the U.S. winked in public, and its leaders smiled to Zionist donors in private. What failed as partisan diplomacy during the Clinton/Bush/Obama presidencies has been repudiated. In its place, with only the thinnest of disguises veiling the true nature of the Trump approach, is nothing other than a coercive geopolitical initiative with only a nominal pretense of diplomatic give and take. It is not only Trump + Netanyahu/Gantz that makes this an opportune moment for Israel to crush the Palestinian struggle once and for all. Such an initiative is also helped by the regional confrontation of the Arab Gulf countries with Iran, which leads the governing Arab regimes to throw the Palestinians under the nearest bus, and doing so despite the abiding solidarity of the Arab people with the Palestinian struggle to end their prolonged and insufferable ordeal as victims of Israeli settler colonialism sustained by apartheid structures of governance. For what ends do the Arab governments defy the wishes of their own publics? To please Washington and Tel Aviv, and by doing so, joining forces with Israel to crush the Iranian regional challenge, by inducing its withdrawal from any further active role in regional policies, or more ambitiously, by producing regime change in Tehran.

Will this storm, if it materializes, alter the present play of forces? It seems doubtful. Palestinians, may be discouraged by these dark clouds hovering over their collective destiny, but their perseverance, resilience, and resistance has been demonstrated over and over again for more than a hundred years. Of course, nothing should be taken for granted. If Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans in the West Bank, the Palestinian response will be watched closely as an indicator of the intensity with which la lucha continua. It is possible that Israel will somewhat back down on annexation, at least temporarily, because outsiders, including Jordan, the EU, the UN, liberal Zionism in the diaspora do not want to legalize the facts on the ground almost as much as they do not want to challenge them in any credible manner. Legalization will make the two-state delusion even less tenable than now, and then what? A reluctant acceptance of the lost cause scenario, acknowledging that the Trump/Israel game plan has prevailed, and that the long effort to find a compromise has failed. But will legality confer legitimacy? Or quell resistance? Not for long, if at all.

Here is where the split between the top down perspective of political elites will again diverge further from the bottom up approach of transnational movement politics. The top down approach will grimace, but cave in, implicitly accepting ‘the new normal’ of annexation. The bottom up approach is likely to be enraged and energized, insisting that these moves coordinated between Washington and Jerusalem have no relevance to the status of Palestinian grievances, and merely underscore the criminalization of this move to acquire sovereign rights over occupied Palestinian territory taken by force in the 1967 War. Such a land-grabbing territorial claim was unanimously rejected even in the midst of the Cold War by UN Security Council in Resolution 242, which was repeatedly reaffirmed as the basis for peace in numerous subsequent resolutions, as well as mandating a diplomatic path to peace in Resolution 338 by a 14-0 vote.

Yet might it be nightfall, a long prelude to a new dawn. The sheer injustice of such arrogant geopolitics may be a red line, which when crossed, results in real changes in the balances of forces that will turn out to be helpful for the Palestinian struggle. It is this prospect that has led some stalwarts of the Israeli security establishment and several of the most militant Zionists to break ranks, opposing annexation, at least now for a series of tactical reasons—provoking Jordan, troubling liberal Zionists, alienating Europe, arousing the Arab street, weakening bipartisan support in the U.S., strengthening the BDS Campaign, discrediting the 2018 IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of ‘anti-Semitism,’ ending collaborative relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, promoting Palestinian unity efforts, weakening the anti-Iran coalition, and generating a Third Intifada. If some of these reactions occur it will produce a new stage of struggle, which could even lead toward increasing boycotts directed at Israel, and greater mainstream advocacy of sanctions, especially in Europe, which could mean a loss of Israeli expansionist legitimacy rather than its gain, and in time lead to an Israeli search for a better alternative for its own future than annexation sustained by apartheid.

And what is a better alternative? This question can only be answered by the Palestinian people through their authentic representatives. Even so, there are certain preconditions that must be met if the lessons from the past are to have been learned by the mapmakers of the future. The most important lesson involves the recognition that Israel’s security has long presupposed an apartheid framework of Israeli Jewish domination of the Palestinian people as a whole. This means that Israeli apartheid extends beyond occupation to encompass refugees, involuntary exiles, and the non-Jewish minority in Israel. It resembles South African apartheid as resting on the subjugation of one race by another for purposes of sustaining domination in a manner violating international criminal law. This authoritative understanding is set forth in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973), and listed as a Crime Against Humanity in Article 7(j) of the Statute governing the International Criminal Court.

By ‘a new dawn’ is meant an Israeli change of view as to identity and national security in response to a changed perception of how to improve their overall situation domestically and internationally. There was no moral awakening among the Afrikaner leadership in the early 1990s that led to the previously unthinkable release of Nelson Mandela from prison as preparatory to negotiating the dismantling of the apartheid regime of control established to control the majority African population. It was a recalculation of interests on the part of the white elite governing the country, which went against the assumptions prevailing at the time that the only way for the white domination to persist was by maintaining apartheid and the only way to create peace within and without was by ending apartheid. Israel’s situation is different, reflecting the Zionist imperative to maintain permanently a Jewish demographic majority, the façade of a democratic political structure, and a hegemonic ethnic identity that is coupled with a universal and exclusive right of return. These policy priorities meant that direct control needed to be combined with periodic episodes of ethnic cleansing and a politics of fragmentation. Israel’s early challenges were formidable, maintaining such control and dispersion at a time when European colonialism was under successful attack throughout Asia and Africa, and collapsing despite superior battlefield capabilities. In this respect, Israel has so far succeeded in establishing a settler colonial state of the Jewish people, and has been able to gain diplomatic legitimacy outside its region and through admission to international institutions, including the United Nations.

On the basis of this understanding, it is obvious that ending the occupation would not bring a sustainable peace because its formula of ‘land for peace’ ignores, or at best marginalizes more than five million Palestinian refugees and exiles. Even if that large elephant in the room was to be politely ignored, or minimized, as it was during the Oslo ‘peace process’ or by the UN ‘roadmap,’ it would not be possible to actualize a lasting peace so long as the settlers and their armed settlements retained the best land in the territory that had been set aside for an independent Palestinian state. It is supremely unlikely that settlements on this scale could be dismantled or remain but demilitarized and entrust their fate to the vagaries of Palestinian security control.

Ending apartheid is the only way to end Palestinian resistance, and given the psycho-political realities of the post-colonial world, the fierceness of such resistance will occasion cycles of intensifying harshness of Israeli oppressive control. This has been the meta-narrative of the conflict since Israel established statehood despite anti-colonial historical circumstances, and the Palestine endured the Nakba, as event and process. And if apartheid is ended, transition to a peaceful future would require some formula for a shared destiny based on equality and a reckoning with the past to heal wounds. It is difficult, verging on impossibility, to envisage such a future. Yet anything else dooms both peoples to an unjust social, political, and legal order that can only be sustained or challenged by continued modalities of violent control and resolute resistance. The Palestinian and Jewish peoples deserve more humane prospects, and let us hope that the annexation debacle will force an opening of this gate to a better future that has been kept locked far too long.

Reflections for the New Year: 2019

31 Dec

Reflections for the New Year: 2019



Ending a Lamentable Year


At a party for friends a few days after Christmas, as people left our home, their parting greeting was a series of variations on a single theme—“let’s hope that the year ahead will be better than this year.” Of course, such words are partly a reaction to the dark shadow tossed across our lives, whether directly affected or only appalled by the media show, by the Trump presidency. Never has such an unabashed loutish leader with an unquenchable appetite for media dominance and public attention, and an incomparable ability to achieve these egotistical goals, so shaped the political consciousness of American society, and quite remarkably for his base of support, exemplified the most admirable characteristics of what made American great in the past. Such contrasting perceptions of what is admirable and what is disgusting explains the polarizing cleavages that mark the country in this period with or without Trump.


Yet polarization may not be worse than the bipartisan consensus that is the repugnant legacy of the Cold War period, and characterizing by accepting three shared verities: that minimally regulated capitalism is the only legitimate basis of economic wellbeing and political legitimacy; that American-led global militarism is in the national interest and serves the wellbeing of humanity; that Israel and Saudi Arabia are unconditional allies, one a repository of democratic values, and the other the site of the world’s largest oil reserves, and each behaving in a manner guided by reasonable security concerns that correspond with Western wellbeing. I find each of these presumed verities to be deeply flawed, and largely responsible for American decline internationally and at home.


As aggravating this posture toward political reality was the impact of ending the Cold War in a disastrous uncritical manner for several reasons: failure to construct a stronger normative order by strengthening the commitments to the UN and international law, as well as by seeking in a determined way, nuclear disarmament; failure to incorporate socialist aspirations into the regulatory framework governing economic globalization, and instead allowing neoliberal approaches to economic policies to displace more humane Keynesian precepts that had built a strong floor of political support for social democracy in leading Western societies; failure to restore and enhance the infrastructure of America.






Avoiding Despair


What set this year of 2018 apart was the looking back with regret. My past experience, even during wars and economic downturns, has been to look ahead with hope, and forget the ending the past year. Now the measure of expectations is much diminished by hoping that 2019 will at the very least be better than 2018. My inner pessimist has a different wish—that 2019 will not be worse, possibly far worse. My inner realist is all about commitment, which means resisting, and most strategically in the American setting, rejecting the pragmatic pleas of the political center that wants reforms but without challenging the bipartisan consensus associated with capitalism, militarism, and ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East. I find vindication of these concerns in the angry response of the liberal segment of the center to Trump’s sensible decision to pull combat troops from Syria as decried by the resignation letter of Jim Mattes, and strongly reinforced by the liberal media– CNN, MSNBC, and the NY Times/Washington Post, and their nightly parade of ‘experts’ and retired generals and top intelligence officials.


I also ask myself ‘was 2018 really as bad as it seems?’ ‘are there not some glimpses of a better future?’ It will turn out even worse than it seems if Trump pulls down some pillars of the temple on his own head, and ours, if he finds his adversaries at home closing in for a final kill. He would likely opt for confrontations, a trade war with China or an attack on Iran, closed borders, dismissal of the Special Counsel. These are the only the most obvious regressive scenarios. But will the return to the White House of an anointed representative of the national security establishment offer the world any fundamentalimprovement with respect to the three basic explanations of structural constraint? Such centrist and practical leadership would certainly be more humane toward immigrants and asylum seekers, more responsible international actors on environmental and social issues, and far more moderate in their judicial appointments. Still, this is not sufficient given the challenges facing this country and the entire world.


And if we look at the world through a less nationalist world, then truly 2018 was a disaster for the people of Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Rakhine, parts of Africa. And there are leaders who are making their own people even more miserable than Trump, including Duterte, Orban, maybe Putin, Modi, and the recently elected Bolsonaro seems determined to saddle the Brazilian people with a fascist agenda.


So as 2018 draws to an end a more modest, and realistic hope, is that things will not get worse, that famine will not consume millions in Yemen, that fires will not sweep across the planet, that a recession will not become a lethal depression, that refugees will be treated more humanely, that a new geopolitical rivalry does not accelerate an arms race containing an array of hyper war technologies, that global warming does not intensify a multiplicity of hazards, and that out of desperation migrants do not become global insurgents.


Normative Marginalization


In all this, those who run the world have lost faith what little faith they had in international law, human rights, and the United Nations as being instruments for realizing a better human future and a less dangerous world. Even those of us who have advocated a more cosmopolitan approach to global challenges now doubt that the UN possesses enough creative agency, due to a paucity of will and capabilities, to contribute to the construction of a hopeful future. I avoid despair by discounting these rational expectations of worse to come by resorting to an insistence on ‘a politics of impossibility’ and ‘a necessary utopia.’ Denialism and escapism also function to defend ourselves against despair if we are lucky enough to be spared dire harm from present circumstances. These ways of seeing can be otherwise understood as confessions in the form of failures of imagination thinly disguised by an admission that what we do know is leading us toward cliffs of devastation and catastrophe, and so we are inclined to take refuge in a kind of non-religious faith in the unseen, including the possibility that a second axial age is emerging in ways that prefigure an ecological civilization that will soon become more evident as a response to the ravages of climate change and the spiritual desecration associated with cynicism and oppression.


Perhaps, the future looks better from certain different sites of observation. I was impressed by the speech given by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on the 40thanniversary of economic reforms that led to the remarkable achievement in development that China has experienced over the course of the last four decades, achieving astounding material results by its approach to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ China’s rise in the face of many obstacles exhibited an extraordinary master of soft power instruments. There have also been notable failures, a lack of environmental protection and an intolerance of dissent and diversity, especially toward the Uygh                  ers, and a kind of consolidation of political power that hides abuses and brings unhappiness. Yet Xi Jinping’s at least imparts a vision of a human-centered future that he proclaims as the guiding aspiration of China’s governing authorities.


Yet the experience of China is worth heeding in the West as an antidote to the lingering remnant of hubris.  The capitalist triumphalist claims that socialism and authoritarian controls squeezes the mind, and makes the society lose its creative energy, has been dramatically refuted. While China explores the technological frontiers of the future with unsurpassed energy and resources, the West stagnates, and places its main bet on military capabilities, including even its capacity to threaten and wage nuclear wars. There is no reason to do our best to reproduce the Chinese path, or to devote ourselves to blocking and discrediting it, but there is the need to bow our heads low enough to listen and learn.


My private commitment for 2019 is to nurture humility, while trusting the formation of identities that link a progressive vision for our nation to a cosmopolitan embrace of humanity, with a major infusion of empathy. And as citizens, we need to be rooted in our particular personal and public experiences, while reaching out to the world and to the future. The becoming of citizen pilgrims is to be engaged with the entire world, but also to acknowledge that before we can claim to be world citizens we must create a world community. Genuine world citizenship is not a matter only of spatial outreach to the far corners of the planet, but depends on creating a sense of community based on values, norms, procedures, and institutions that ground political practice in experience rather than merely in sentiment. Too often world citizenship exhibits a sentimental wish rather than a recognition that to feel and act as part of humanity depends on building community, a commitment to time as well as to space.