V. Myths that Need to Become Detritus

The future will barely, if at all, resemble the picture of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis that I drew. Even more improbable will be the stipulation of the conditions that will bring that peace about. But that is not why I wrote those two pieces. I am not a seer. I am not a diviner. I am not a futurologist. I am not a necromancer. I am not a time traveler from the future who has returned to tell you how everything unfolded. I am not a prophet. I am not a forecaster even as I engaged in prognostication. And I am definitely not a fantasist, even if my portraits may have seemed to come from an exercise in fabulism.

That is no accident. I believe that pious illusions are the catalysts of change. In fact, we will not survive without creating sacred illusions. The corollary is not that we recall the past, but that we create divine illusions that allow us to forget the past and the horrors we have passed through and literally studied to death. God is not He who is, but He who shall be. The real reason for studying the past is to become free of its suffocating embrace. Anyone who repeats the past over and over and over again is in a state of madness. However, time does heal. Or, at least, if it does not, we survive only as the living dead.

I did want to present an imaginary alternative to the despair and dispirited prevailing emotion that permeates virtually any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many believe that we study history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Hence, the slogan of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I believe that we study history precisely to see how much we do repeat the mistakes of the past. And this happens even though we immerse ourselves in that past.

We do need pious illusions to guide us into the future and away from a dysfunctional past. And we do so by exploring and exploding profane illusions. “To blindly and blithely parrot what one knows to be misguided is not to make oneself relevant. It is to make oneself redundant.” This was written by Robert Malley, President Joe Biden’s new special envoy to Iran. That saying is even more applicable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than to America’s dealing with Iran. What do we know to be misguided in considering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that makes what we say and claim sound hollow? They are propositions in common parlance, widely accepted beliefs which, upon any close critical examination, are easily seen to be unworthy of our time and energy defending let alone making them the foundation for our policies in the region.

What are some of these profane illusions?

Asserting that the two-state solution is dead. But it is not dead. It is very much alive. It breathes. It is the foundation of a resolution held by the majority of both Jews and Palestinians. What is alive is the belief that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will entail one predominately Jewish polity and at least one Palestinian polity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. What is dead is a two-state solution based on the Green armistice line that divided the parties at the end of the 1967 Six Day War. It would be very difficult to find a Jewish Israeli who believed that the Green Line has any relevance in resolving the conflict. Even Palestinians, who may insist on 1967 borders in negotiations, do not really believe that these will provide the dividing line between the polities. Otherwise, they would never have signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995.

Israel agreed to trade land for peace, not all land captured in the Six Day War. That land would go to one or two Palestinian political entities. Palestinians through the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed that there would be a predominately Jewish state abutting the Mediterranean Sea. The principle of partition had been accepted by both sides. But not by Hamas which became the ruling Palestinian authority in Gaza. The issue that remained entailed defining the eastern border between the two polities. The borders around Gaza had already been determined, but only by the Israelis. The governing authority in Gaza still rejected any recognition of Israel as a state, and, therefore, the borders around Gaza.  

What was also not resolved was whether there would be one or two Palestinian political entities between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, Gaza and another in the West Bank, either as a united, a federated or two separate polities. That would be for the Palestinians to decide. However, it became part of the profane illusion that, if they did not agree to a united polity, there could be no peace with Israel. This profane illusion was held by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Another profane illusion widely cited, especially by the peace camp, but by no less an authority than Wikipedia, was that UN Resolutions 242 and 338 called for Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. But that is not what Resolution 242 says. Paragraph One specifies two principles: a second one that promises an end to a state of belligerency. But the first refers to “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

As has been stated many times, the English and definitive version did not say “the” let alone “all the” territories occupied, but only from occupied territories. Clearly the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula were occupied territories since they were territories recognized as belonging to another state. However, since Syria would not and did not sign the armistice agreement, Israel, from its perspective, did not obligate itself to withdraw from the Golan. Further, other than the Sinai and the Golan Heights, not only was the rest of the territory not explicitly defined as occupied, but the reference was deliberately left murky. Hence, the use of equivocation to forge an agreement. Hence the use of that equivocation to perpetuate conflict into the future.

Occupied territory is territory of one state under military occupation by another. Further, by depicting the territory as occupied, the depiction explicitly implies that the authority over that territory will be temporary or provisional by the military of the ruling party. Occupied territory is not annexed territory, but territory held as a card in a negotiated peace agreement. These lands are not necessarily legally “occupied” territory.

The Oslo Accord (Oslo I), signed on 11 September 1993 by both Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, was the first stage in a peace process. It made reference to Resolutions 224 and 338 as the basis for a peace agreement. That meant an expectation that Israel would withdraw from territories it controlled in exchange for peace with the Palestinians. It did not entail that the Palestinians would have a state of their own in the territory from which Israel withdrew its troops. But Oslo II signed in Taba in 1995 explicitly provided for full Palestinian self-government in Area A of the West Bank, self-government in Area B of the West Bank with shared security arrangements, and continuation of Israeli military control in Area C constituting 60% of the West Bank. In return, the PLO promised to forego any resort to violence to settle outstanding issues, such as the status of East Jerusalem, the final border between the two polities, the one in the West Bank and Israel, the status of the Palestinian polity, and the return of refugees.

The resort to terrorism by Hamas in Gaza, the election of Benjamin Netanyahu who refused to be bound by the Oslo Accords and the resort to the terrorism of the Second Intifada by the Palestinians from 2000 or 2003, depending on when one dates its official start, to 2005, effectively ended support for the Oslo Accords as the basis for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Hence the three wars with Gaza and the long stalemate with the Palestinian Authority that followed.

As part of the detritus, disagreements over interpretations of the Oslo Accords became fossilized. Were Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338 operational under Chapter 25 of the United Nations charter as Chapter VI or Chapter VII resolutions. If Chapter VI, they were advisory. If Chapter VII, they wee binding on the parties to the agreement. But the wording of the resolution does not offer an answer.

Are both the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “occupied territories”? If they are, without a doubt no Israeli government would have acceded to such a binding commitment, especially since Israel had been the military victor in both the 1967 and the 1973 wars. However, both the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice have both referenced the West Bank as “occupied territory” under international law. UN Security Council Resolution 446 adopted on 22 March 1979 explicitly described “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The UNSC called upon Israel “as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.”

The problem is that the resolution does not say whether it is binding under Chapter VII or advisory under Chapter V!. Many interpret the absence of a reference to Chapter VII as, therefore, making it only advisory. Unfortunately, the reference to the Fourth Geneva Convention that deals with the protection of civilians in a war zone does not help. Did the Oslo Accords not redefine the West Bank and Gaza as non-belligerent zones?

All of the above is not intended to clarify the debates over the above and many other disputes over interpretations of binding or non-binding international positions. Rather, the discussion is only intended to make explicit how politics continues to provide the lens under which legal agreements are viewed and interpreted to leave a slew of spurious profane illusions in their wake. Clarification of these issues will not in the end be carried out by international law. Rather, international law will be summoned to support one set of beliefs versus another and will not help foster agreement but only discord and disagreement.

Thus, the need for pious illusions, the need for an imaginary in place of historical references that are used to reinforce one position versus another and become just a rhetorical part of the conflict. Law does not determine the status of a peace agreement. A true peace agreement determines the law agreed upon by both parties to a conflict.

Thus, the debate over the right of return of refugees. I co-authored a book with Elazar Barkan entitled, No Return, No Refuge: Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation to show that there is no right of return of minorities who are refugees in any conflict. Refugees return only by means of military force or by agreement of the power of the state in charge of the territory. Further, in the case of the Palestinians, the original resolutions did not even recognize a right of return, but those same resolutions over the years created fundamentalist beliefs as close to absolute propositions that insisted that Palestinian refugees had a right of return, not just to the territory form which they fled, but to their actual homes. Moral aspirations easily become converted to purported legal obligations and profane illusions.

The book proved that history was of no assistance in clearing up the debate. For profane illusions ensure that history is constructed to support a claim. And history becomes an important rhetorical tool in fighting the conflict. However, to escape the conflict requires pious illusions in which both sides can become invested. They may not be the pious illusions that I put on offer. Nor will they become pious rather than profane simply when and if both parties buy into them. That buy in generally requires avoiding debates over profane illusions that divide parties and perpetuate a conflict.

IV: Getting from Here to There

  1. Agreements arrived at between Israelis and Palestinians will be the result of direct negotiations between the parties.
  2. Those negotiations will be supported and helped by outside states committed to non-intervention with respect to substantive outcomes but very active programs in strengthening process mechanisms for resolving disputes and developing common interests.
  3. Ironically, the main facilitator will be Saudi Arabia and not the U.S., Canada or the Nordics.
  4. Whether under Republicans or Democrats, but with a loud voice by Republicans and a more subdued voice by Democrats, America will continue to support Israel and not hold Israel accountable for any expansion of its settlements in the West Bank.
  5. The cessation of creation of new settlements by Israel will be a direct result of pressure on Israel by Arab Gulf states to ensure such decisions cannot be made unilaterally.
  6. America will gradually become a support player in pushing the peace agenda, but will remain the main player in backstopping Israel’s security in spite of the divide between America and Israel over America’s rejoining the JCPOA.
  7. After the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided last week by a 2-1 vote giving the Chief Prosecutor jurisdiction in investigating claims against Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, even though Palestine is not recognized as an independent state under the Rome Statute and, therefore, capable of delegating to the ICC jurisdiction over criminal matters, and even though Israel has never signed onto the Rome Statute, the politicized ICC’s  actions do play an important role in pushing Israeli authorities to crack down severely on settler violence against Palestinians and stopping the creation of new settlements in Palestine.
  8. Israel will remain part of Central Command covering the Middle East, helping enhance Israel’s sense of security.
  9. Civil society initiatives will become the main initiators and pioneers in improving Israel-Palestine relations.
  10.  The focus will not be on trying to overcome substantive differences but on creating processes for ensuring differences are represented, allowed to be articulated, and that democratic processes for decision-making are strengthened in each polity.
  11.  Full and accurate information-sharing will be considered a primary foundational building block.
  12.  Whether on public opinion or on economic, cultural and political costs of alternatives, the emphasis will be on an effort to try to ensure public expectations do not outrun advances on the ground or too far behind and out os synch with innovative steps.
  13. The emphasis will be removed from the intractability of the conflict generally to a focus and resolution of problems that are tractable in the belief that success not only breeds success but trust as well.
  14.  Such an emphasis on cooperation, coordination and process efforts needs to be made close to the ground and with a good understanding of the stages in which the decision-making process works, especially the aftermath of decisions which require further victories; process does not end with consultation and decision-making, but has to include methods for encouraging acceptance, faith in the grounds for decision-making and accountable follow-throughs.
  15.  Civil society organizations that cooperate in this process will bracket their substantive convictions, not in their own programming, but in the cooperative horizontal networks of communication established to advance the process agenda.
  16. More overall organization will be required for such coordinated network cooperation without any hierarchy of leaders or procedural rules but, rather, the commitment by many to an open and honest and accountable process to provide the frame for cooperation.
  17.  Issues that are toxic will be avoided.
  18. Such substantive cooperation can begin focused on issues on which there is already a shared common interest, such as protection of the environment, ensuring public health and developing communications and technology suitable for the electronic age of communications.
  19.  The process system will also focus on how legislation in each jurisdiction, executive and administrative modes, and an independent judicial system can serve to strengthen such transparent and accountable processes.
  20.  More down to earth cooperation on strategies, tactics and logistics will need to be developed to enhance such civil society engagement and cooperation.
  21. Money will be needed to foster such a network and to channel funds to civil society agencies to advance such an agenda; an informal network of key agencies will be formed to advise funders on those agencies engaged in such efforts without pushing the claims of any one of them.
  22. More efforts will be used to attract domestic sources of funding from civil society economic organizations to complement the inflow of funds from abroad, not simply to broaden funding sources, but to strengthen the involvement of this crucial segment of civil society in such efforts.
  23.  Except for national identity within Israel, the second-class status of Israeli Palestinians will continue to improve at a steady rate,
  24. The funding of education, health and welfare needs of registered Palestinian refugees currently through UNRWA will be merged and donated funds will flow through the governments in Ramallah and Gaza.
  25. This will be especially important for improving the state school system as UNRWA schools continue to win awards for excellence, namely the International School Award of the British Council.
  26. A new Jewish-Palestinian party in Israel formed in the twenties began to grow, acquire voter support and eventually join part of a coalition government.
  27. The result of Palestinian Israeli increased involvement in mainstream politics will shift the balance in the Knesset from right to create the basis for a coalition in the centre and left-of-centre.
  28. Israel will eventually appoint a Palestinian as president.
  29.  China’s global ambition built on ports, highways and pipelines for the expansion of its supply chain and distribution empire, and the expanded use of advanced Chinese technology will help in forging links between Gaza and Israel as well as between both polities and China.
  30. Jews will cease establishing new settlements in Palestine.
  31. In the twenties, Israel discarded the policy of sacrificing peace in return for the acquisition of more land.
  32.  On the domestic scene, an agreement between the right and the left-of-centre in Israel will be made to cancel establishing new settlements and the policy of postponing peace to facilitate the acquisition of more land, in return of left-of-centre support for retaining East Jerusalem and annexing approximately half of Area C.
  33. After receding in its score on the International Democracy Index, Israel will reverse course and actively pursue policies to improve and enhance democratic behaviour.
  34. The whole process receives a kick start with systematic and focused  efforts to improve democratic index scores in each of the polities.
  35. Progress will be marked by an accelerating decline in violence from all sides and in all areas.

III: Israeli-Palestinian Prognostications

In this three-part series, I originally intended to wrap up my collection of givens and trends with possible alternative choices or prospects for the future. But that became too complicated. It is said that only a fool will speculate on the future. I found it clearer to play the fool and project the relationship of Israelis and Palestinians in that future. When in the future? Far enough away that it is not worth challenging the picture drawn, but near enough to see the portrait as a possible extension of what is and some positive trends underway so that I am not seen as engaging in science fiction.  I have asked myself one question: what do I expect the Israeli-Palestinian situation to look like when Israel is about to celebrate a century of being a state? Below, please find my answer.

  1. Israelis, Palestinians and Bedouin, the main “ethnic” groups in the territory, will remain warm and very hospitable peoples.
  2. Their state of belligerency will have ended.
  3. Further, the sense of either existential or territorial threat to either Israel or Palestine will have dissolved as a major influential factor in establishing relations.
  4. Final status issues on certain topics will not have been resolved formally.
  5. Palestine will have come a long way in overcoming the vast economic gap between its citizens and those of Israel; in concrete terms, Palestine will have grown at the fastest rate of any country on earth in the previous two decades.
  6. There will be four independent states in the original territory that Britain administered immediately after WWI = Gaza, Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
  7. All four states will be democratic, but not one will come close to being a perfect democracy.
  8. Most important, what created a context for the significant diminution of violence was NOT agreement on divisive issues, but agreement on not permitting disagreements on divisive issue to spiral down into violence.
  9. This was backed by a complementary process of gradually building cross-cultural institutions to strengthen the system for allowing all the people to have a voice in the selection of their leaders AND for strengthening the institutions ensuring that leaders were accountable to the people.
  10. Though political culture and political participation will have become democratic not only in Palestine but in Gaza, there will still be serious problems with civil liberties, pluralism and even the functioning of the government in accord with democratic norms, especially in Gaza.
  11. Gaza will have a population of three million, virtually all Palestinian, and will occupy the same territory it has now and, therefore, will approach Singapore and even more so, Hong Kong, in population density, but still one-third that of Monaco and Macao.
  12. Israel will have a population of twelve million, 77% Jews, 2% Bedouin, 20% Palestinian and 1% other.
  13. Israel will include what is now Israel, Greater Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, approximately 60% of current Area C, less an equivalent area ceded to the Palestinian state from the Negev and Galilee.
  14. A majority of Palestinians in East Jerusalem will have acquired Israeli citizenship.
  15. Palestine will have a population of 3,500,000 of whom 50,000 will be Jews and 50,000 Bedouin.
  16. Jordan will occupy the same area as it has now with a population of twelve million, 7.2 million of whom will be Palestinian and 4.8 million of Bedouin descent.
  17. Israel, Palestine, and Gaza will not have concluded a peace treaty; instead, they will have concluded a series of separate agreements covering different issues.
  18. There will be a plethora of civil society institutions linking Bedouin, Jews and Palestinians in cooperative efforts to guarantee due process in fairness of decision-making rather than a primary focus on the substance of decisions.
  19. The one area of dispute, that over territory to be divided between Palestine and Israel, will not have been decided by treaty.
  20. Palestine will not accede formally to Israel’s retention of Greater Jerusalem.
  21. The boundary demarcation between Palestine (West Bank) and Israel will be decided by a series of de facto agreements on the ground covering different stretches of the border.  
  22.  There will be totally free movement of people in the areas of the four states to live and/or work.
  23.  The presence of checkpoints anywhere, except the external borders, will have been eliminated.
  24.  Each state will have its own legislative, executive and judicial system.
  25.  With the exception of Israel, the official language will be Arabic; for Israel, it will be Hebrew. For common administrative matters to all four countries, the lingua franca will be English.
  26. There will be a system to apply to change citizenship covering all four states to be used overwhelmingly for family unification.
  27. Many states, including the U.S. and the EU, will maintain embassies in all four states.
  28. Many states will have only one embassy located in East Jerusalem and engaging in diplomatic relations with all four political entities.
  29. All four states will share in a common fresh-water production and distribution system, the costs of which will be covered by users.
  30. All four states will share an energy production grid, overwhelmingly relying on solar energy, the costs of which will be borne by users.
  31.  All four states will share in an electronic communications system with access to different retail providers.
  32. There will be several competing high-speed internet service providers covering the territory of all four states.
  33. There will be a free trade zone in goods and services among all four states.
  34. There will be an overarching authority for ensuring school texts do not contain hate or discriminatory material.
  35. There will be an overarching authority for promoting tourism to the area.
  36. There will be an overarching authority to encourage innovation and technological development.
  37.  Religious extremism will remain a problem primarily in Gaza and Israel.
  38.  The whole of the fertile crescent, including Gaza, Israel, Jordan and Palestine as well as Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, will become the winter holiday destination for sun-starved northern Europeans, much as the Caribbean serves that purpose for northern, eastern and central North Americans.

This is not a utopian picture. It is the result when process trumps substance in decision-making, with the corollary that problems that remain intractable are held in abeyance until all sides become committed first to eliminating obstacles to a solution, including mindblindness, and enhancing proposals for positive sum solutions.

There is where: how we get there is where the process is leading.

Next: IV: Getting from Here to There

Parashah Yitro: Law versus the Worship of the Golden Calf

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is his commentary on this week’s Torah portion asked, “What happened at Sinai?” No wonder! For we are about half-way through the year’s readings of the entire Torah and we have arrived at the centre piece of the whole narrative that takes place at the base Mount Sinai – the receipt of the tablets of the law and the building of a golden calf. The climactic events are even more dramatic than God’s punishment of the Egyptians with the ten plagues and even the parting of the Reed Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army as they pursued the Israelites.

Some might argue this scene is not as cinematic as its predecessors. But what is at stake is certainly more important. For we no longer have the power of God in contention with the whole system of beliefs of the Egyptians and the power of that empire, but the way that conflict has evolved into the rule of law versus idolatry. The uprising in The Capitol in Washington on 6 January echoed what went on at Sinai. The same values were at stake. God instructed Moses to turn his attention away from Egypt to the House of Jacob and address the children of Israel directly.

ד  אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי.4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself.

The national symbol of America is a bald eagle, And it is the image of a bald eagle that repeats itself in Outlander when the Scottish heroine and hero are at sea and an eagle sweeps down and then rises again with a fish in its claws. And when they get to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it is as if they are guided there by an eagle which flies above and then perches on the top branch of a very tall tree. The eagle is a symbol of flight and the strength of immigrants arriving in America. It is also a symbol of sturm and drang, of the Nazi regime that carried out the Holocaust. It is no accident that the portrayal of the German immigrants in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is in such contrast with that of our heroic couple. For instead of being led by compassion and respect, by integrity and deep love, Herr German settler is in great fear of the indigenous Cherokee, misreads their actions and is haunted by fears and suspicions when his daughter and newborn grandchild are taken away by the measles.

President-elect Joe Biden quoted the hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” in his 7 November victory speech. While Herr German immigrant in the face of death in Outlander raged at the world and blamed others for the horror that befell his family, composer Father Jan Michael Joncas wrote a song and poem in Minnesota that was both prayerful and comforting. And it first became famous when, following the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by a white supremacist, Cathy Keating, the wife of the governor of Oklahoma, asked that “On Eagle’s Wings” be played at the memorial service for those killed. It was the song chosen to be sung, in an Italian version, at Luciano Pavarotti’s funeral.

Here are the lyrics.

ON EAGLE’S WINGS

Michael Joncas

You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,

who abide in His shadow for life,

say to the Lord: “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!”

        Refrain:  And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,

                      bear you on the breath of dawn,

                      make you to shine like the sun,

                      and hold you in the palm of His hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,

and famine will bring you no fear:

under His wings your refuge, His faithfulness your shield.

        Refrain:  And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,

                      bear you on the breath of dawn,

                      make you to shine like the sun,

                      and hold you in the palm of His hand.

You need not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day;

though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come.

        Refrain:  And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,

                      bear you on the breath of dawn,

                      make you to shine like the sun,

                      and hold you in the palm of His hand.

For to His angels He’s given a command

to guard you in all of your ways;

upon their hands they will bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Refrain:  And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,

                      bear you on the breath of dawn,

                      make you to shine like the sun,

                      and hold you in the palm of His hand.

In Exodus, after referring to how he brought the Israelites out from Egypt unto Himself, God says,

ה  וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי–וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.5 Now therefore, if ye will hearken unto My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine;
ו  וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ:  אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.6 and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.’

We are told to hearken to God’s voice, not the cacophony of liars and mythmakers and haters and rabble-rousers.  To do what? To keep the Covenant. To uphold the Constitution. To be a law-abiding people. To be an exceptional people, not just in America, not just to fulfill a dream of nationalism, but to be a witness for the whole world and to the whole world. Not to be an idolatrous nation that will turn a liar into an idol but so that the people themselves shall become a kingdom of priests, a kingdom in which everyone studies, knows and exemplifies the rule of law.

That way, you will not be captured by “the snare of the fowler,” Neither the terrors of the night nor the arrows of misfortune and hatred that fly by day will hurt you. You will go forth unafraid.  

He will raise you up on eagles’ wings,

                      bear you on the breath of dawn,

                      make you to shine like the sun,

                      and hold you in the palm of His hand.

What was God’s final instruction in chapter 19 of Exodus?

“Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.” (19:21) “Let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest He break forth upon them.” (19:24) The Capitol is a sacred place. It is not a place for roving mobs seeking revenge. There is a clash of civilizations over the soul of America, between those who uphold the rule of law, those who uphold standards and methods for determining the truth, those who in reality do threaten the way of life and the existential beliefs of the undesirables, the fear-mongers for whom Trump had become the idolatrous embodiment.

While a nation of priests witnesses the dawn of a new day, the first phase of the new moon, the haters, the bigots, the white supremacists, the antisemites, only look forward to an apocalypse, only anticipate the end of time. Instead of hope, they are driven by conspiracy theories. They are haunted by the ghosts of the Egyptians still pursuing them. The belief in the rule of law itself must be overthrown in favour of putting in place a leader who is an autocrat by temperament and conviction. Whether accelerationists, followers of Q’Anon or Proud Boys, they are driven by an existential fear rather than a life inspiring hope.

Whether in Oklahoma City or in Pittsburgh, whether in Charleston or in El Paso, they are driven by resentment and revenge, not hope and aspirations. They view laws and regulations as mechanisms of oppression rather than as the means by which peace is established among the people. In a world of sharp beak and even sharper claws, they use hate and fear and envy to recruit others into the worship of the golden calf.

It should be no surprise that Trump in his apartment in Trump Tower has toilets and faucets plated in gold. For the golden calf is the idol which unites the alt-right. A living cow is a symbol of fertility and renew, but one cast in gold is a symbol where accumulated wealth becomes the object of worship. It is no wonder that we associate “bovine” with stupidity, with being dull, with being stolid and inert, sluggish and prone to following a leader. A bull is then a symbol of rage and resentment, anger and destruction. White supremacists may have achieved educational levels and incomes above the average (contrary to popular belief that they are the lumpen proletariat), but they need violent reference points to engage them, to recruit others and to spread their message.

Elections, legislators, leaders who follow the rule of law become their targets.  Hence the hatred of the Jews as the symbols of that legal character of a polity. Hence the hatred and fear of Blacks who have escaped slavery to seek freedom and equality in the promised land. One would never believe this when we listen to supporters of Trump from Kansas and Oregon, from hard working citizens of small towns throughout rural America, but what they most fear is the machinations of urbanites and cosmopolitans, of liberals and believers in the Constitution, a constitution that has not been held hostage by the National Rifle Association.

Most of all, these insurrectionists, in the end, refuse to be accountable to the rule of law in fear of being attuned to the feelings of others. They trust in their own feelings and beliefs that, upon examination, reveal themselves to be the false preaching of a liar and autocrat, of someone who is not only or simply a serial liar, but someone who refuses to recognize truth when it smacks him in the face. He and his followers live in echo chambers where they continually listen only to their own voices rather than the words of God. They believe in secrecy rather than transparency and then project that conviction onto the rest of the world as a conspiratorial network that targets them.

And it does. They are not paranoid. Their enemies are the rule of law and the rule of law must and can be used to track and trap them. They are a true menace and a current and immanent danger. They must be captured and prosecuted rather than persecuted by the very law that they despise and reject. Their organizations must be dismantled, their silos and echo chambers must be opened up. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the U.S. has a H.E.A.T. map focused on hate crimes, extremism, antisemitism and terrorism. Rational thought and strategies can quash the irrationality of the alt-right. The golden cow can be turned on its back, the underbelly of America exposed, and the idol smashed to smithereens by applying the rule of law.

Instead of the ephemeral rule of a man and an autocrat, the choice is adherence to a Covenant for all time that entails a rejection of idolatry and an embrace of the rule of law. Instead of destruction, we marry tikkun olam, the obligation to repair and improve the world – not just our own lives. We need a continuous revelation to give new meanings and realistic appraisals of what can be done to make those improvements. We need rituals like the inauguration rather than the rites of cults. We need to re-enact continuously what happened at Sinai rather than engaging in acting out. The Covenant must remain a living force and not retire to become the dead letter of the law.

A respect for the accumulated inspiring figurines from the past is not idolatrous worship.  Making a figure into an idol is. Humans fear hearing the word of God directly. They prefer to listen to a man, especially if that man revels in fear, cultivates and nurtures it. This was true at Sinai. This was true in Washington. Though humans have heard the voice of God out of the fire and still live, in fact, thrive in life because we once heard that voice, we fear hearing that voice again for we then shall surely die. That means we must build upon what was once revealed, on the Covenant made at Sinai, on the constitution that men forged as the foundation for the United States of America. It is a living covenant that must be interpreted to answer the challenges of the day. This is the route we must choose rather than surrender to the voice of a man who preys on that fear.  

Even if we are Canadians. Especially if we are Canadians. For when we are in love, the whole world is Jewish.

Israeli-Palestinian Relations – Three Think Pieces

II: Geopolitical Trends and in the Relationships of Israelis and Palestinians

Propositions that are somewhat disputed are included in italics.

  1. There will be no significant effort underway to push for a comprehensive peace deal by any of the parties over the next few years, either by the Israelis, the Palestinians or the Americans.
  2. American past efforts at high-profile diplomatic initiatives to achieve a permanent agreement will be set aside in favour of tangible steps on the ground to improve security, prosperity, freedom of movement, horizontally and vertically.
  3. The shift in the conflict underway from one which has been primarily existential (and, therefore, intractable) to one which is primarily territorial and subject to compromise will continue.
  4. Specifically, efforts can be made to reduce and smooth out the operation of checkpoints to reduce both long delays, impeding trade, subjecting Palestinians to repeated humiliations and even provoking a resort to violence.
  5. The Israeli-Palestine file will be downgraded in priority as the U.S. emphasis shifts to the Far East.
  6. Americans will cultivate conditions for a two-state solution “when the time is ready.”
  7. Americans under the Biden administration will retain its intimate support for Israeli security.
  8. This past Monday. Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commission chairman Hussein al-Sheikh spoke to U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr concerning re-establishing close relationships with the Palestinians through re-establishing a PLO office in Washington and one serving Palestine in Jerusalem or Ramallah.
  9. There is a general agreement that if there is to be progress on the peace front, it will be through a piece-by-piece process.
  10. Neither Europe nor Russia will replace America in its role as lead mediator.
  11. Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel recognized by the U.S.; Washington will not “make clear that it supports an outcome that enables both parties to have their capitals in Jerusalem and that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that must be resolved through negotiations.” (Cf. Ilan Goldenberg, Michael Koplov and Cofman Wittes, “A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Israel Policy Forum.)
  12.  The current Jewish population in what was once part of East Jerusalem will continue to expand and grow, increasing the Jewish population to 400,000.
  13.  Jerusalem will be cut off from any contiguity with any nearby Palestinian population centres by new Jewish residential areas.
  14.  Once tenders have been let (2,500 new settlements units have already been tendered in Givat HaMatos) it is very difficult to stop the construction in south Jerusalem and prevent East Jerusalem from being cut off from contiguous Palestinian areas in the West Bank, especially Bethlehem.
  15.  Israel will by and large ignore criticisms of its building of settlements not only in Givat HaMatos, but in E1, E2 and Atarot.
  16.  In the larger picture, Israelis will have to decide which is more important, land for peace or peace for land.
  17. Regional Arab involvement, in league with the Gulf countries’ increasing intelligence, security, technological and commercial partnerships with Israel, will increase the actual influence of Gulf states expanding on the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) entering into normalization, since it did so only on condition that the annexation process was stopped; however, there should be no expectation that Gulf states will perform more than a supportive role.
  18. About 130,000 Israelis visited the Emirates since the Abraham Accords were signed and Eitan Naih, Chargé d’Affaires in the Israeli diplomatic mission in the UAE, expects about 50,000 Israelis to visit the UAE monthly.
  19. The ambitious plans to turn East Jerusalem into a technological hub as well as a tourist destination for Arabs will progress.
  20. The Higher Planning Council (HPC) of the Civil Administration in the West Bank approved 780 new housing units for Area C.
  21.  Israel will continue its occupation, expansion and creeping annexation in parts of Area C of the West Bank. Together with East Jerusalem, the area has a population of 2,800,000+ Palestinian Arabs, 400,000 in East Jerusalem alone. There are almost 400,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, overwhelmingly Area C. [The National Union Party claims 476,000 live in Judea and Samaria and 325,000 in the Old City and East Jerusalem.]
  22.  The Palestinian Arab population in Area C continues to decline as Arabs relocate to Arab administered areas. Of the 300,000 claimed Palestinians still there of an original 500,000, some estimates claim the population is now really only about 125,000, including 27,500 Bedouin.
  23. Younger Palestinians generally will remain critical of the current Palestinian leadership.
  24. Younger Palestinian activists will continue to give up on a two-state solution and support a singular state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River with full individual rights, a right of return for both Jews and Palestinians and a recognition symbolically of the heritage of both nations.
  25.  Americans will continue to base their efforts on a land for peace formula.
  26. As Israeli Jews move increasingly to the right in the political spectrum, the gap between them and the Palestinians grows as, among Palestinians, increasing numbers favour a one-state solution.
  27. Jewish Israelis will overwhelmingly remain supportive of a Jewish dominated state.
  28. Israelis will maximize their existing territorial domination in Area C of the West Bank and put into a deep freeze a quest for a Jewish state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
  29. Palestinians in area C with substantial numbers of Arabs will not automatically be given the right to become full citizens of Israel if they choose to do so.
  30. On territory, for every area that Israel populates in preparation for annexation, there will be pressure on Israel to offer an equal area of land to the PA.
  31. Though the principle of a right of return will remain a basic principle from the Palestinian perspective, nothing will happen to advance the expression of this principle on the ground.
  32. Peace forces can be currently deployed in Areas A & B of the West Bank to protect Palestinians from settler violence, but this will not take place.
  33. There will be a move to remove Israeli legal authority over both Areas A & B.
  34. Jordan and Israel will negotiate a renewed compact on the Al Asqa Mosque and Dome of the Rock site to prevent the area and its buildings from further deterioration.
  35. Israel, Palestine and Jordan will move further along the path in creating a common communications, water and energy consortium for the whole area.
  36. Critics will consider this as but one further step in colonialist imperialism under the cover of modernization that began in 1919 with the first proposals of a hydro grid by Pinhas Rutenberg attached to the approval of the League of Nations mandate for Palestine. (Cf. Sara Reguer (1995) “Rutenberg and the Jordan River: A Revolution in Hydro-Electricity,” Middle East Studies, 31:4, 691-729; and Fredrik Meiton (2019) Electrical Palestine: Capital and Technology from Empire to Nation – Meiton analyzes the role of technology and materiality in creating a political imaginary determining boundaries and instantiating the imperial ideal of economic progress so that material power and political power become congruent; large scale technology shapes space and its boundaries.)
  37.  The principle that economic progress will yield social, political and moral progress conducive to peace (currently the outside-in approach) will once again become a stronger contender than the inside approach emphasizing the primacy of political and security negotiations between the parties.
  38. Palestinians will accede to American and Israeli pressures to end a “pay-to-slay” welfare system for martyrs or persons jailed for attacks on Israel or Israelis by shifting family support to a more general welfare program.
  39. In return, Biden will recommend removal of the terrorist designation for the PLO and the PA.
  40. The United States will not designate expansion of settlements as illegal and will reinstate the policy of citing such expansion as an obstacle to peace, but less noisily and without holding Israel accountable; the U.S. will not make a settlement freeze conditional on cooperation.
  41. The U.S. will continue to shield Israel from international legal action for its settlement activities.
  42. The inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war as a guiding principle for a peaceful resolution of the conflict will continue to fade, along with reference to the Green Line as a reference for border determination (subject to mutually agreed land swaps), as security arrangements for Israel (not Palestine) increasingly take priority to facilitate an exit of Israel from the West Bank, including possibly half of Area C; thus, patterns of population settlement, security barriers and transportation and energy network paths will count much more for settling borders between Israel and an independent Palestine state.
  43. In practice, the Trump Plan, though not by that name, rather than Resolution 242 will become the actual reference for moving towards peace.
  44. Jordan and Israel will negotiate a renewed compact on the Al Asqa Mosque and Dome of the Rock site to prevent the area and its buildings from further deterioration.
  45. Over the next few months, the PA and Hamas will continue their efforts to resolve their differences sufficiently to hold elections to overcome the deep divide, the short timeline, and the complexities of determining both process issues (conducting, conditions and monitoring elections) and substantive issues – will there be a peaceful transfer of power if one side loses and the other wins and the requirement that Hamas recognize the existence and legitimacy of Israel.
  46. Hussein Ibish (“Palestinian Reconciliation Remains a Pipe Dream,” 31 January 2021) thinks the chances are slim while Zafan Hussam rates the chances higher.
  47. Progress has been made in some areas but not in others under the pressure to develop a national strategy and a unified goal as well as credible institutions by Qatar and Turkey on Hamas and UAE and Saudi Arabia on the PA:
  48. There is an agreement of separate votes for the legislature, the presidency and the PNC, 22 May has been set for the election to the legislature, 31 July for the presidential vote, and 31 August for the reconstitution of the Palestinian National Council.
  49. A country-wide rather than constituency-based system will be used based on either a combined or competing lists.
  50. Hamas will be included.
  51. Restrictions on eligibility (age 28 +; resignation from existing jobs such as with NGOs, elimination of existing PA and Hamas executive and legislative members, inclusion of a woman in the top three on the list and at least one in four of each of the next sets of names.
  52. The inclusion of a Mustafa Barghouti and/or a Mohammed Dahlan list has not been resolved.
  53. Abbas will continue his efforts to present a united Fatah list.
  54. Possibility of voting by mail and even email, which may resolve issue of Jerusalem voting, is under consideration.
  55. Rules for campaigning, the role of courts to rule on disputes, remains in contention given Abbas’ control over court appointees.
  56. The question of voting in Jordan and in Jerusalem remain, though it is hoped that Israel will cooperate as it did in 2005.
  57. The question of what happens if Hamas wins given the characterization by both Israel and the U.S. of Hamas as a terrorist organization, remains. There are three alternatives under discussion: a) Hamas recognizing Israel’s legitimacy, forgoing a resort to violence and agreeing to a two-state solution; b) Hamas remaining out of the government; c) agreement on a technocratic government.
  58. The Israel Policy Report, A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (see 9 above) recommends that, “if progress is made and Palestinian factions do agree on holding elections, the United States should support them, make clear it will respect the outcome, and press Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem, as it did in 1996 and 2005; the IPR rejects managing the conflict in favour of an activist but alternative strategy path to work towards a resolution while many others believe that, at this time, managing the conflict is the only realistic option..
  59. The Israeli practice of house demolitions will once again become a point of tension between Washington and Jerusalem.
  60. Israel may gradually ease up on restrictions and regulations governing Palestinian trade.
  61. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, is confident that the sale of military equipment by the U.S. to the UAE (up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defence equipment in a deal worth $23 billion) would go through after a review – not a stoppage – by President Joe Biden’s administration, given the shared security interests of both states versus UAE reliance on Israeli intervention on behalf of the UAE with the U.S.
  62. Increasing emphasis will be made by all parties on increased people-to-people engagement and cooperation to enhance mutual knowledge and coexistence.
  63. There will also be an increased emphasis on equal rights for Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Israeli-Palestinian Relations – Three Think Pieces

I: Givens

To follow:

II: Geo-political Trends and in the Relationship of Israelis and Palestinians

III. Future Prospects

Currently, there is nothing going on in planning for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – at least on the surface. Part of the reason is the upcoming Israeli election in March and the new, though still slim, possibility of a Palestinian election. However, paradoxically, in think tanks around the world, there have been a mushroom of interest in the dispute, in good part arising as a by product of the Abraham Accords and the end-run they made around the stalemate in the Oslo process.  Further, there has been a plethora of webinars on various aspects of the issue. This is an effort to make a small contribution. Hopefully, in the end, it may try to influence Canada’s role in the Middle East.

The papers will be written in FOUR parts. The first three parts, as indicated above, are simply syntheses of conclusions and differences over the analysis of the conflict, surprisingly revealing a broad consensus. The fourth, hopefully, will undertake a focused analysis by a small group of Canadians versed in the issue with a view to drawing up some recommendations.

This paper focuses on generally accepted givens.

I: Assumptions re the Current Status of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Overall

  1. There is no significant effort underway to push for a comprehensive peace deal by the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans or the Arab states, and there is very little support anywhere for pursuing such an effort.
  2. The Oslo peace process is moribund.
  3. America retains its intimate support for Israel.
  4. The U.S. is completing the move of its embassy to Jerusalem.
  5. America is ending its completely one-sided involvement of the side of Israel.
  6. America is renewing its diplomatic ties with and humanitarian support for the Palestinians.

Note: a) Richard Mills at the UNSC “The Biden administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis.” There is no reference to those being diplomatic relations. Is this significant?

  • Linda Thomas Greenfield nominated U.S. UN ambassador at her Senate confirmation hearings: “The Biden administration will resume ties with the Palestinians ruptured by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.”

Public Opinion

Where once external military threats and military strength were the major determinants of the Israeli political and peace agenda, now domestic political opinion carries the greater weight, even on Iran. (For relevant polls, cf. The Jewish Virtual Library various polls on peace initiatives.)

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israeli-public-opinion-polls.

  • Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, overwhelmingly remain convinced of the importance of a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but only 15% see that as likely.
  • Yet half the Israeli population regarded the Trump Peace and Prosperity Plan favourably.
  • Interestingly enough, the Palestinian population of the West Bank is almost equally divided in its support for or opposition to the Trump Peace and Prosperity Plan (5% favourable – versus 5% Israelis – and 46% somewhat favourable among both groups) but on the unfavourable side, only 11% are very unfavourable.
  •  From the Palestinian side, over half of those who regard the Trump Plan favourably do so because they believe it is the best deal they can get, 31% because it is realistic and 19% because it is the quickest route to independence.
  • Those who are unfavourable give as reasons either the unacceptability of the plan to the Israelis and the rest because it will be unacceptable to Palestinians (48%) or Arab states. (7%).
  • For Israelis, what areas can Israel be expected to annex for a deal to go forward? 46% opposed annexation of any territory. Most areas have only one quarter support, except for the Jordan Valley where just over one-third believe Israel will annex territory.
Jordan Valley35%
Just settlement blocs along the Green Line23%
Settlement s in the interior of the West Bank23%
The Dead Sea27%
The entire area of Judea and Samaria23%
  1. Two-thirds of Israeli Jews still support a two-state solution and only 10% of Israeli Jews support annexation of Judea and Samaria, a percent that declines each year. 60% of Israeli Jews do not, however, believe this is a realistic prospect.
  2.  On the other hand, though less than 10% of Arab Israelis support some annexation (half of area C), over half of Israeli Jews do and only 28% are opposed.
  3.  Two-thirds of Israelis believe that Arabs only understand force and 81% believe in a shoot first policy, an enormous percentage given that Israeli Jews constitute 75% of the population.
  4.  If Israel annexes parts of Area C, about 39% of Arab Israelis and 20% of Jewish Israelis have no opinion on what should be done to Palestinians living in the annexed area. 47% of Israeli Arabs would grant them full citizenship rights, but only 20% of Jewish Israelis support such an offer. While 24% of Jewish Israelis would grant residency rights, some without the right to own land. 37% would simply continue the current status.
  5.  36% of Jewish Israelis support ethnic cleansing or “forcible transfer”.
  6.  Ironically, even if Israel annexes parts or all of Area C, Israeli Jews are almost equally divided on whether they would support or oppose an independent Palestinian state in the remaining West Bank and Gaza.
  7.  Israeli Jews maintain considerable confidence in their government’s ability to manage serious political problems (social polarization (71%), terrorist attacks (83%) and war in both Gaza and the West Bank (85%), while only two-thirds believe the government can manage corruption and 58% believe that Israel can contend with its problems without U.S. support.
  8. Though most Israeli Jews acknowledge Jerusalem is a divided city socially between Arabs and Jews, over 70% support a united city as the capital of Israel, though almost 20% without the Muslim Holy places.
  9.  Overwhelmingly, Jewish Israelis do not believe the Palestinian Authority is interested in pursuing a two-state solution while half of Arab Israelis believe the PA is.
  10.  Israelis are not that different than the Palestinians, 33% opposing any annexation and 25% unsure while 20% support limited annexation and 22% complete annexation.
  11.  A majority of Jewish Israelis support some annexation in Area C (assuming U.S. cooperation) – 52% – while only 9% of Israeli Arabs do.

Demography

  • Israel has a population of nine and a quarter million people, 74% of whom are Jewish and 21% Arab. Of the 5% of others, include Israelis not considered Jewish according to Jewish halachic strictures.

Economic Indicators (cf. https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Israel/Palestine/Economy)

  • Israel, including both Jewish and Arab Israelis, is ranked 16th in the human development index while Palestine is ranked 110th.
  •  Israel has a GDP of almost 140 billion dollars (American) compared to just over 10 billion for Palestine.
  •  Israel trades and exports 90.17 billion dollars in goods and services, about equal to its imports, versus 1.67 billion for the Palestine economy of exports and almost four times that amount in imports.
  •  Israel has an unemployment rate of less than 5% before and even during the pandemic versus Palestine’s 30% – 13% in the West Bank and 45% in Gaza.
  •  On the other hand, Palestine’s fixed capital formation (per $ of GDP) is almost twice that of Israel’s.
  •  Further, while the Israeli poverty and inequality index is 5.71 %, the Palestinian index is only 2% higher, 7.44%.
  •  Planning for and initial development of a common water resource system, renewable energy production and distribution system, and communication networks for Jordan, Palestine and Israel are well underway.

Discourse Frameworks

  • The vast majority of Palestinians believe that Israel is engaged in creeping annexation.
  • While not in general use, Palestinian activists and NGOs routinely refer to Israel as an apartheid state while the term is taboo in Israel, but a taboo recently broken by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, B’Tselem’s recent report labelled the system in Israel as unequivocally apartheid, that is, as a legal system explicitly treating people differently based on inherited characteristics – in this case ethnicity and religion – to create an unjust system.
  •  More generally, we find in Palestine the use of settler-colonialism, that is, Zionism as a tool of western imperialism, to depict Israel, but that depiction is even more strongly rejected in Israel than the apartheid depiction.
  •  In spite of Israel’s history of engaging in forcible expulsion on a large scale in 1948 (Benny Morris) and continues to do so on a small scale, Israelis generally reject Israel being depicted as engaged in ethnic cleansing while overwhelmingly, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs believe that to have been a fact.
  •  While genocide is included among Israel’s violation of human rights among international and even Palestinian human rights organizations, this depiction is not in general use in Palestine.
  •  The pattern of increasing numbers of Israelis upholding perpetual, institutionalized bigotry continues to grow, not simply because a majority of Israelis approved of Donald Trump, but because a majority oppose both a unitary state in which all individuals between the Jordan and the Mediterranean have equal rights, but a majority also oppose a separate state for Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza) where Palestinians can enjoy the full rights of self-determination, voting rights, mobility rights and equality under the law.
  •  On the other hand, most Israeli Jews do not believe that Palestinians have accepted Israel as a state for the Jewish people even if they reluctantly accede to the reality of its existence.
  •  In service to that rejectionism, Palestinians are believed to engage in or support terrorism against Israelis.
  •  While the belief is widespread among Jewish Israelis that, if they lost a war with the Arabs, they would be driven into the sea, this is neither part of the

part of most Palestinian discourse and possibly most Palestinian beliefs.

Politically

  •  The left in Irael continues to wither away while Israel moves to the right – Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennet are both to the right of Netanyahu.
  • Palestinians, particularly among the young, have been moving to support a unitary state with equal individual rights for all.

Key Peace Issues

  •  Water sharing is no longer the important issue it once was given the wider use of desalination.
  •  While there is widespread belief, especially among Jewish Israelis, that Arab refugee return to Israel remains a major issue, that conviction is not shared by Palestinians.
  •  Nevertheless, Palestinians continue to hold “the right of return” to be a sacred principle, often citing Article 13 (2) of the Geneva Convention, even though a right of return only applies to return “to one’s own country” and Palestine as a country did not exist in 1948.
  • Though the principle of a right of return will remain a basic principle from the Palestinian perspective, nothing will happen to advance the expression of this principle on the ground.
  • The issues of territory and borders remains a central issue.
  • The division of Jerusalem is not only a central issue, but has become an acute one with the approval just two days before Joe Biden took office of tenders for Givat Hamatos, the remaining strip of land in the south of the city that can connect Palestinian populations in the West Bank with East Jerusalem.
  • A main field of contention in the diaspora is the fight over BDS and antisemitism, but also include debates over the right of return and “illegal” settlements, but these make little difference on the ground.
  •  Establishment of new settlements and expansion of existing ones remain central issues of dispute. “Only 32 construction plans and permits were approved for Palestinians in Area C in 2019-2020, while over 18,000 plans and permits were approved for Israelis during the same period.”
  • Israel will continue to push instruments already in play to effect actual annexation, whether or not there is formal annexation in areas of the West Bank with 90% of the population being Jews.

On Moral Authority: The American Black Church as a Harbinger

Formal authority comes by virtue of an office and position in which one is placed. Authentic authority emerges from what humans do with their powers of agency. It may be an intellectual authority. It may mean an aesthetic authority. And it certainly means a moral authority. Sometimes office holders not only possess formal authority but authentic authority as well. In some offices, the moral authority is far more important than any formal authority that goes with a position. In that case, any sudden loss of moral authority means the office holder must leave. Thus, when an independent report was scathing about Canada’s Governor General’s mistreatment of the staff at Rideau Hall, Julie Payette almost immediately submitted her resignation.

If Blacks, particularly Black Churches, are now in the lead as sources of moral authority in America, how do Jews align with Black Lives Matter (BLM) when, on Israel, BLM, to say the least, offers little support, especially the radical left in the movement? Further, that critique extends well beyond the expansion of settlements to include structural criticisms of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which BLM complains has been complicit if the destruction of olive trees owned by Palestinians and their eviction from land now claimed to be part of a national park. What is or should be the relationship between Blacks, Black movements and Jews? This is a critical question for Jews to ask at the beginning of Black History Month and which I will turn to in a subsequent blog after a closer analysis of the Jewish-Palestinian divide..

BLM embraces the concept of intersectionality, namely Black struggles for justice connect the Black community to larger, interdependent struggles and oppose the supremacy of one group over another, whether Whites over Blacks or Jews over Palestinians. Because of this confusion and identification of white supremacy with Jewish supremacy in Israel-Palestine, it is more helpful to start with an analysis of the moral thrust of the Black movement within Black churches independent of the question of Zionism and Israel.

On 21 January, the morning after the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President respectively of the United States, William J. Barber, a Black pastor, offered the inauguration breakfast prayer at a ceremony in Washington. He is the President and Senior Lecturer at Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. In the homily offered at the official inaugural prayer service, he took his theme from Isaiah 58, more specifically, verse 12.

And [those coming] from you shall build ancient ruins, foundations of generations you shall erect, and you shall be called the repairer of the breaches, restorer of the paths, to dwell in. יבוּבָנ֚וּ מִמְּךָ֙ חָרְב֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם מֽוֹסְדֵ֥י דוֹר־וָד֖וֹר תְּקוֹמֵ֑ם וְקֹרָ֚א לְךָ֙ גֹּדֵ֣ר פֶּ֔רֶץ מְשׁוֹבֵ֥ב נְתִיב֖וֹת לָשָֽׁבֶת:

His sermon was called “Repairers of the Breach.” Listen to his sermon. Read his interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker Radio Hour (https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/tnyradiohour/episodes/william-barber-and-question-faith-and-politics)

and his discussion of faith and politics, a politics guided by faith and morality. Barber posited that “evan gel” entails preaching “the good news.” The term has been misappropriated by white evangelical churches to teach that if you are good you are wealthy and healthy in a strange form of Calvinism wherein the bad go to hell in the next life and live in poverty in this one, and where Jesus is a signed up member of the NRA. Instead, a true evangelical brings a critique of systems of injustice and conveys the good new of the spirit for the poor, the sick and the stranger.

Chapter 58 of Isaiah opens:

Call with a [full] throat, do not spare, like a shofar raise your voice, and relate to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins.   אקְרָ֚א בְגָרוֹן֙ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֔ךְ כַּשּׁוֹפָ֖ר הָרֵ֣ם קוֹלֶ֑ךָ וְהַגֵּ֚ד לְעַמִּי֙ פִּשְׁעָ֔ם וּלְבֵ֥ית יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב חַטֹּאתָֽם:

You cannot be quiet. You cannot be quiescent. You must raise your voices without restraint. In the face of injustice, you must cry out. You must raise the shofar and summon the people and ask that they look into their own hearts and their own shortcomings, You must call out to the House of Jacob. You must oppose people calling to be cultists and committing murder. You must decry those ‘who pursue their own ends,” who “remain indifferent,” who are hypocrites who ignore strife and contention and their sources (verses 3 & 4).

My people is the House of Jacob. Not the House of Israel. Jacob has not yet become Israel. Jacob has not yet become a nation that went through the baptism of slavery and escaped into freedom in the process of forging a nation. They are those who must collectively renew their covenant with God and welcome the strangers to join with them in such rejoicing.

As we progress towards healing the breach according to Barber, overcoming the deep schisms and fault lines in society, the breach first must grow wider between the righteous, who become more righteous, and the wicked who become more wicked. (Chapter 57 versus 56).

To become more righteous, we must learn and teach how to overcome breaches – breaches between the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor, the foreigner and the native-born, the black and the white, the Asian and the indigenous. We must recognize the breaches caused by the wicked by recognizing what we must not become – hypocrites and robbers in the night, spoilers and despoilers, those who created the jam we are in versus those who would lift us out of that sticky mess.

In that homily, Barber said that, “Isaiah asked the Israelites to choose between what is and how God wants things to be, between a current existential stress test and a moral ideal. The breach is when we say. ‘One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all’ with our lips while we see the rich and the poor living in two very different Americas. The breach would be in knowing that the only way to destroy your nested tranquility is to establish justice. It is pretending that we can address the nation’s wounds with simplistic calls for unity. That is not how we can close the breach. The breach is telling lies when we need truth, expressing greed when we need compassion, fighting one another when we need to find common ground, and hating when we ought to be loving.”

As Barber joked in his New Yorker interview, the one thing Jesus did do is set up free health care clinics. Trump taught fear rather than love, enhanced strife rather than mutual caring. Renewal requires opening a moral conversation by exposing hypocrisy and blowing the shofar to call for a moral revival. Behind the political and social agenda there must be a higher moral agenda with a deep moral foundation. It should be no surprise that when Barber met with Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Jews, Hindus and atheists to move his moral campaign forward, they all met in a Birmingham synagogue.

The way forward requires the breach and its source be recognized and the breach be repaired by rejecting the immorality that is the foundation of that breach. “What we saw happen at The Capitol two weeks ago is the result of a long history of a politics of division that was cynically named positive polarization by those who thought they could use it for their own political advantage. This strategy of feeding and seeding intentional racial class divisions into the body politic spilled over into the inevitable violence that ideas of supremacy always produce. If we want to come out of this jam and move forward together, we cannot accept the racial disparities and racial violence and breaches that impact Black, brown, Asian and native Americans.”

The interlocking injustices that must be attacked include systemic racism, the health care crisis, poverty, natural degradation and a worldwide pandemic. Instead of patience, we must become impatient for justice. Instead of rest, we must become restless for change. We may wail and mourn over an insurrection, but in the morning after, light and loving will burst through. In our night of discontent, we must not surrender to resignation. Perverseness must be eliminated. Then, and only then, will “light shine in the darkness and your darkness shall be like noon.” (58:10) You shall become, “foundations of generations; you shall erect, and you shall be called the repairer of the breaches, restorer of the paths.” (58:12)

Moral authority is premised on principles and fundamental truths independent of written laws. Moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Truth however changes and alters with time. It grows and becomes more encompassing as it corresponds closer to experience. Lies and falsities are revealed more clearly. Frozen truth is but an embalmed moth in amber that presents itself as living but is in truth dead and not truth at all. Moral authority consists of the fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world and our actions based on those perceptions.

God’s Role

On our Shabat morning Torah study that focused on the exodus from Egypt, we were offered four different views of God as the all-powerful in relationship to the freedom granted to human beings. This is the second time in the Tanach where the tale directly deals with God’s power. The first is the creation story at the beginning of Genesis. However, that deals with God as a creator, not as a source of power competitive with other sources. In the different interpretations of the Exodus tale, the four alternative interpretations on offer of the basic premise of an all-powerful God in relationship to human freedom can be characterized and arranged as follows, all premised on a conception of God with unlimited and boundless power and omnipotence.

                                      The Four Quadrants of Freedom

                                                              #1                                         #2

 Freedom as ChoiceFreedom as Surrender
Individual freedom acquired – only by identification with GodThrough God’s Grace God is so powerful that He, using His mercy and grace, can save humans from sinning and radically transform a human so that he or she will freely choose what is good and right.Through Intimacy w. God God moves in mysterious ways but, through “true” knowledge and understanding of that inner, mysterious process, the greatest intimacy with God can be attained – the Kabbalah
Individual freedom given and inherent in humans.As Real As Maimonides claims, God limits His power to make room for human freedom. Man can choose to exercise freedom as an ally of GodAs an Illusion God is all powerful and knows all things, including what is about to be; the individual sense of freedom is then an illusion.

                                                                             #3                                  #4

These are all efforts to reconcile a conception of God as an all-powerful and all-knowing entity with the limited knowledge and capacity of humans. In the fourth quadrant (#4) characteristic of classical rabbinic views, the theological God of theism allows humans only one choice – whether to submit or not to submit to God’s will. The individual is then an object of absolute knowledge and absolute control with no real agency. Righteousness equals conformity. Service to the Lord and compliance with His norms is the only true freedom.

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, God has the ability to foresee the future. If God has foreknowledge of our actions, then these actions are predetermined before any choices even present themselves. However, in quadrant #2, God is considered “so great that we cannot know him” [Job 36:26]) There exists negative and positive freedom, not in the modern sense of “freedom from” and “freedom to,” that is, freedom from oppression and freedom to perform as an agent in the world. Rather, negative freedom is privation. “All evils are privations” constituted by the lack of perfection, by an absence of a degree of an attribute of God. Positive freedom entails the acquisition of those attributes and virtues that are akin to God’s.

In Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed (the answer offered in #3), God’s wisdom was not transparent to finite minds. The resolution to the problem of determinism and freedom is not found in a form of superior access. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why then is there injustice? Why do humans misbehave and choose evil over good? Because humans surrender themselves to their material being and neglect the perfection of the soul. In addition to the infirmities with which we are born, and the evils inflicted on ourselves by bullies and tyrants, there also those evil actions an individual commits on his own against others and his or herself, from the profound to the relatively trivial – lying and overeating, In the final accounting, we are responsible for what happens to ourselves. There are two paths to enhancing freedom – expand one’s horizons and look into your own soul. Why is there any evil in a world created by a wise, benevolent and all-powerful God? Because we are not sufficiently farsighted and not sufficiently knowledgeable of ourselves.

Finally, we have the first quadrant familiar to evangelicals in white churches. The gospel is powerful. The power of God can save and radically change humans. (Romans 1:16). The Holy Spirit is the power of God, but humans must be open to receiving that spirit. In two forms. As holy water that informs our actions (John 7:37-39) and as sacred oil that soothes and heals our souls. There is both a nourishing and a healing power that belongs to God.

The problem is that the Exodus story is not about any one of the four conflicts depicted above. There is no mention of an all-powerful God. There is no mention of an omniscient Being. God is a source of strength, of my strength. God is a jealous God, intolerant of other gods. Humans shall not worship idols. God is the God of my ancestors with whom He made a covenant. God is a healer. God loves and is faithful in that love. Further, the most holy day, shabat, is when God rests, when humans rest, when neither uses their strengths. However, God is also a source of violence. And the Israelites only gain their freedom as a result of violence. There are no Gandhian non-violent marches and resistance.

In the ten plagues, a singular powerful God is in a slugfest with the whole hierarchy of divine beings in the Egyptian cosmology. God is vengeful. God emerges victorious. There was a clear power struggle. God emerges as indubitably the most powerful. But not all-powerful. Otherwise, He would simply get Pharaoh to submit. The children of Israel remain bystanders and witnesses to the event. Other than Moses serving as a messenger boy, victory required none of their initiative, ingenuity or wisdom to defeat the enemy. And that is the problem – freedom from oppression has been removed from their heads but not from their souls. The latter will take 40 years – two generations to cleanse them from the sense of slavery that is deep in their spirits. For they were born into that system. They were conditioned by it.

God parts the Reed Sea and the Israelites march across on dry land. There is nothing there to nourish their souls. Further, one huge wave represents the power and might of the Egyptian system they are leaving behind and that has infused their very being. The other huge wave represents the enormous attractions of the life of the Philistines imbued with a Greek culture. Instead of oppressive power, the Israelites will be faced with soft power, with the influences of a culturally cultivated world that celebrates autonomy and freedom of the individual and will act as a magnet to attract the Israelites. Swamped by their own power structures, the story also adumbrates how a battle between two mighty forces will not be the essence of the coming struggle, although such battles will continue. Rather, the battle will be over what replaces the empty void when the values of a slave culture are expelled from within a people.

The Israelites are not initially ready to handle those temptations of a new and very powerful worldview. Instead of traveling the 150 miles or so along the Mediterranean coast, they are taken on a roundabout 40-year journey through the wilderness. In slavery, the Israelites were oppressed. But they did not have the burden of agency, of choice. In Egypt, they may have not been physically free, but they were free of responsibility and accountability. That slave mind-set must be expunged. A sense of agency and accountability must be developed and nurtured.

In that worldview, God has the power to offer a path towards freedom. God does not govern individual choice. God is not a perfect Being, but One who is Becoming, One who develops, revealing Himself in partnership with man. The choices made will be critical. They will determine the way the world unfolds to the extent that there is any control whatsoever.

In the current era, we were saved – barely – from the horrors of fascism and Nazism and the Shoah. From 1948 to 1988, for forty years, we wandered in the wilderness preparing ourselves for the discipline and the skills necessary to enter the Promised Land of the Information Age and the successor and beneficiaries of the industrial and financial revolutions. But when we last crossed the Jordan River, when the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union imploded, we seemed to blow it.

Not initially. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, we believed we had made it. We had escaped the scourge and threat of totalitarianism. We had escaped the threat of nuclear war. Never were so many exposed to so much. The American economy grew by an average of 4%, the Chinese economy by an average of 9%. Never before were so many lifted up so fast and so much over such a relatively short period. The numbers in poverty In Canada and the United States reached their lowest levels. Unemployment rates dropped to their lowest levels. Even violent crime declined. Apartheid South Africa collapsed. Israel and Palestine forged the Oslo Accords.

There were still horror shows – the destructive ethnic cleansing and slaughters in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide of 800,0000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 100 days in 1994. Saddam Hussein was driven out of Kuwait. But overall, the prospects for peace seemed to be improving. By the end of the decade, the new digital age was clearly underway. And Y2K, the apocalypse at the end of the century when it was feared that all our computers would crash, turned out to be a non-event.

But there was real danger on the horizon as scientists still debated the dangers of climate change. And Bill Clinton, by softening financial regulations, put in place the conditions for a financial collapse in 2008 once a new form of financing mortgage debt emerged with the creation of a new algorithm in 1999. Then 9/11. Then the absolutely misguided Iraq War from anyone’s point of view. Obama, as I tried to show, attempted to reverse the direction of the first decade, but by 2016, he had only succeeded in creating the context for the worst four years in American political history after the Civil War. Trumpism emerged triumphant culminating in the insurrection of 6 January 2021 and the occupation of The Capitol.

When we only have a decade left to reverse the forces that are carrying humanity towards the edge of a suicidal cliff, when we are faced with a worldwide viral plague and an even greater plague of untruth, there is now so little time and so much to do and accomplish. The path before us has been laid down by the past. Fortunately, with the help of some manna from heaven – a bit of luck and an enormous amount of effort – it may be possible to come out the other side and cross the next River Jordan.

God offers a path, one with travails and opportunities. But it is up to us to traverse it.

Tomorrow: The American Black Church as a Harbinger