Part II: An Ironic Introduction to my Looming Inquiry into the ICC

The Looming Tower: A Review

The Syrian War is now ten years old. There is no ending in sight. The war has spilled over into surrounding countries, but particularly Lebanon. Yesterday I listened to a webinar on the situation in Lebanon. The three Lebanese reported on the terrible state of their country. Blackouts were recurrent. The government was at a standstill. The economy and the country’s currency have collapsed. The unemployment rate has soared. But worst of all have been the assassinations.

Since 2004, a series of bombings and assassinations have plagued Lebanon. The worst year was 2005 when scores were killed. An average of two very prominent officials, activists, intellectuals or journalist have been killed every year since then, not counting many publicly unknown figures. In February of this year, 58-year-old public intellectual and publisher, Lokman Slim, was gunned down as he was getting into his car outside his home. Hezbollah hoodlums were suspected. In 2020, Lebanese photographer Joe Bejjany was shot repeatedly by hooded men on a motorcycle as he prepared to take his children to school. Again, Hezbollah agents were suspected of the murder.

This wave of bombings began with the assassination attempt on Marwan Hmade, and initially peaked with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005. Last year, fifteen years after his murder, Salim Jamil Ayyash was found guilty in the Hague of being part of the “red cell phone network” that planned Hariri’s assassination. The other three defendants, Assad Sabra, Hassan Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merei, were found not guilty. It is very rare that an assassin is caught and held accountable.

The commentators, some like Rafiq prominent members of the Shi’ite community, in the discussion yesterday accused Hezbollah gangsters not only of responsibility for he many assassinations, but contended that Hezbollah was simply waiting for the total collapse of the Lebanese political system which the organization was facilitating. The experts told a tale of corruption, impunity, kidnappings, bombings and assassinations in which Hezbollah provided the cover for those “raping” the state. The courageous Lebanese commentators dubbed Hezbollah a non-state mafia that moves freely while protesters are arrested and tortured.

Hezbollah was also described admiring bin Laden. In the ten-part television series, The Looming Tower, Tahar Rahim plays Ali Soufan, a real-life Arabic-speaking and Lebanese-born FBI agent. He describes Al Qaeda that the FBI was trying to link to the explosion on the Cole that killed 12 American sailors and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in which 12 Americans and over 200 Kenyans were killed and over 4,000 wounded. Al Qaeda was a snake. You may cut its head off, you may kill bin Laden, you may destroy the whole leadership core, they just grow new heads and sire more snakes and adapt new organizational titles. For him, al Qaeda was just the best known multi-headed hydra at the time, but the problem was the recruitment of young men ignorant of the Koran to murder and maim without any creative program on their agenda. In a webinar yesterday, Katrina Mulligan, Christopher Costa and Matthew Levitt called for “rethinking US counterterrorism two decades after 9/11.”  

That is what the series, The leaning Tower, also suggests. To repeat what I wrote at the end of my last blog, thisdocudrama, based on an adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-winning 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. That book,in turn, was based on the 2004 9/11 inquiry and report in the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, formally named the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. That report offers a stellar example of a high-quality investigation into causes and failures.

It also juxtaposes the operations of two agencies in the United States, the FBI that operates on judicial premises and criminality concerns, and the CIA concerned with the defense of the United States and, where warranted, war against its enemies. Both agencies have very important and parallel investigative functions that clashed in their investigations of the activities of Al Qaeda. The series helps bring forth the differences between the two approaches to the sources and conduct of international affairs.

The 9/11 report offered the official American account of the events leading up to the terrorist attacks against The Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon and the failed attempt to have a civilian airliner strike The Capitol on 11 September 2011. The docudrama concentrates primarily on the end of Wright’s book, on the failure of the CIA to share information with the FBI rather than on the largest part of the volume covering the emergence of Al Qaeda.

Unlike either the IAEA or the ICC investigations, the final part of the 9/11 report was self-directed rather than an investigation of an “Other.” It was a self-critical study of the gaps in intelligence gathering, in communication between and among agencies and to policy makers, of bureaucratic office politics and personalities undermining the importance of defending the United States, and most of all, whether investigating agencies have a primary responsibility to find out the truth or to serve the biases of their political masters. The ending is quite cynical. For in the final scenes [viewer alert], the branch of the CIA, the agency primarily responsible for the communications failures, is doubled in size. Even more significantly, it is put back into the hands of the expert who also kept the information totally in-house that, if shared with the FBI, would have undoubtedly stopped the attack.

The reason allegedly was because, in the TV series, Martin Schmidt played by Peter Sarsgaard (the thinly disguised Michael Scheuer of the CIA, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism), distrusted the FBI. But the deeper reason is revealed in the opening episode when Schmidt (Scheuer) convinces his political masters to send Tomahawk cruise missiles into an Afghan town with a specialization in tanning leather because Scheuer had evidence that Osama bin Laden was holding a meeting there. (In actual history, one target was a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and not a tannery; the town shelled from above where bin Laden was believed to be meeting with his terrorist cohorts was a separate target in Afghanistan.)

However, bin Laden had already left. In the docudrama, the town was destroyed; hundreds of innocent women and children were killed. In actual history, on 20 August 1998, the military action against the town was undoubtedly a war crime: 1) because the US lacked actionable intelligence, intelligence that Osama bin Laden was in the town at the time of the attack, and 2) because the attack was so disproportionate to the need to eliminate those allegedly behind the attack on the US embassy in Nairobi on 7 August. (There was also an attack on the Tanzanian US embassy in Dar es Salam, but this was not part of the film series.]

But absolute proof was unnecessary as far as the head of the CIA branch was concerned. Nor was the protection of foreign civilians part of Scheuer’s mandate as he testified before the U.S. Commission of Inquiry. H did not believe that he was bound by international legal norms. The docudrama ended where it began [viewer alert], with the anticipation of another and much larger war crime, the military aggression against Saddam Hussein and Iraq because of the fraudulent accusations that the regime had weapons of mass destruction. As Donald Rumsfeld instructed the CIA, he wanted the agents to find evidence that incriminated Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attack and that tied him to Al Qaeda, though it was widely known that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were totally at odds.  

In the past, the U.S. had taken a law enforcement stance to terrorist attacks: the FBI attempts to uncover who was responsible and bring them to trial in the US. The attacks on the US embassies, however, were deemed acts of war against the US. The advisory group discussed a military response; it was recommended that the US attack bin Laden’s network and attempt to destroy his base of operations.   The advisors had a list of potential targets that had been developed by the CIA over many months of investigating bin Laden and his terrorist network, The “firm” eventually decided on two sites: 1) the camps in Afghanistan which they believed would be the site of a large meeting of terrorist leaders later that month; and

2) a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan where they believed bin Laden’s network had been producing chemical weapons.

As early as 13 August – five days after the embassy bombings – foreign policy advisers (National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Secretary of Defense William Cohen; Director of the CIA George Tenet; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton; and a high-ranking staff member, counter-terrorism czar, Dick Clarke) met with President Bill Clinton to advise that bin Laden and al Qaeda had been behind the embassy bombing. Most of them are portrayed in the film series.

On 20 August 1998, the US attempted to retaliate. That is when the Tomahawk cruise missiles destroyed the Afghan town. The responsibility for war crimes went right to the top. The criminality begun in 1998 came full circle under the Bush administration. When the CIA doubled the size of its counter-terrorism unit targeting bin Laden and put Martin Schmidt back in charge, he was also instructed by Don Rumsfeld to make sure that the evidence he turned up was tied to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, even though it was widely known already that, as bad a guy as Saddam Hussein was, he had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

The Looming Tower TV series goes beyond depicting what happened but, more compellingly, asks who saw it coming. Both agencies did, but the CIA did not share its information with the FBI because that would have only meant bringing the few perpetrators to justice when Schmidt believed all out war was required, what Bush later dubbed the War on Terror. But it is hard to win a war when your two main intelligence agencies are themselves at war. The interagency discord resulted in unheeded warnings.

There is one point in the series, in the third episode I believe, where Bill Camp as the FBI agent, Robert Chesney, brilliantly interrogates the perpetrator of the US embassy bombing in Nairobi. This provided the tie to al Qaeda that resulted in Operation Infinite Reach and the Americans’ controversial, retaliatory strikes in Khost and Khartoum. But that was a betrayal of Chesney’s work, the intention of which was to bring the perpetrators to justice before a US court. Rahim much later used his own interrogation techniques that were both empathetic but also intrepid (no torture again) to get an al Qaeda suspect to reveal crucial information on the hijacking of the planes and crashing them into symbolic icons of America.

The series is a tale of interagency squabbles and suspicions leading to critical oversights. This gripping counter-terrorism docudrama is made more powerful by ts roots in real historic events and by brilliant acting, not only by those mentioned above, but the main FBI boss, John O’Neill played superbly by Jeff Daniels, and Schmidt’s female hard-nosed sidekick, Diane Marsh, played ironically by Wrenn Schmidt.

The movie series suggests the politicians were even worse than the agents and senior officials in gumming up the works. For example, in the film Condaleesa Rice, Bush’s security adviser, when asked by the Commission of Inquiry why the government failed to anticipate what was happening, especially when Saudis arrived from the Middle East to take flight training but with little interest in learning to land a plane. Rice replied, “no one would have thought that someone would do that.” Of course, that simply stirs a response in the listener’s head, “Why would they think of that if they did not examine the evidence readily available to them?

Tomorrow, I want to review another docudrama, a legal one this time dealing with counter-terrorism, called The Mauritian in which the pursuit of justice is again displaced, this time by torturing an Arabic-speaking a prisoner who was held without charge in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years with not an ounce of solid evidence that he was a terrorist, though the American military finally did torture a confession out of him. Disproportionate bombing based on intelligence that was not actionable was not the only war crime committed by the US. Torture, holding a person without charge outside the jurisdiction of the American legal system, was also practiced. I will review The Mauritian next.

Part I: The International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Given last week’s focus on Iran, it might be insightful to view the problems of establishing war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in parallel to the attempts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to uncover and examine efforts to get around the nuclear non-proliferation regulations of the agency. After all, comparisons have long been considered one of the best recipes for gaining insights and knowledge. The role of the comparison is not to use one entity to assess the other, but rather to bring forth characteristics that otherwise might go unnoticed.

The IAEA has slipped in news coverage with the downgrading in importance of the Iran nuclear deal by the Biden foreign policy agenda. In headlines, coverage of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) dealing with Iran’s nuclear program were initially replaced by stories on and controversies over the International Criminal Court (ICC). The core issue for the IAEA has been the comprehensiveness and thoroughness of its monitoring and inspections functions specifically of Iran’s behaviour. The ICC is a court of last resort that is intended to complement, not replace, national Courts and is governed by an international treaty, the Rome Statute,

The ICC investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The IAEA investigates failures by countries to observe the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The ICC as the world’s first permanent international criminal court. has a world-wide mandate to focus on investigations to determine what happened and by whom with respect to charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression, but, most importantly, has a judicial function as well. The ICC determines individual cases of guilt or innocence, metes out and imposes penalties.  

The IAEA recently took soil at three sites in Iran that had shown traces of man-made uranium, an indication that illicit atomic weapons research had taken place at those sites. In contrast, it is virtually impossible for the ICC to gather forensic evidence from a site to determine whether a crime took place, though it certainly does so when illegal weapons, such as phosphorous gas bombs are used. It does interview witnesses, but it is difficult to consider them unbiased, a difficulty the IAEA faces except when examining expert witnesses. The IAEA often now has video evidence as well as witness testimony, but as every defense attorney and watcher of Law and Order knows, those two sources of evidence are themselves suspect.

At the same time, if the IAEA is faced with a country like Iran which allegedly deliberately razed buildings and removed equipment in an effort to sanitize suspect sites, what kind of cover-ups can the ICC suspect from countries in which its citizens/members are accused of war crimes? Rafael Grossi (IAEA’s director-general): “After 18 months, Iran has not provided the necessary, full and technically credible explanation for the presence of these particles.” Can and does the ICC claim that the country from which persons come who are suspected of war crimes failed to provide “the necessary, full and technically credible explanation” for the action taken? This seems to be an important difference.

Dissembling and white-washing have been patterns of behaviour for Iran. Have they also been for Israel, the Hamas regime in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA)? The IAEA puts international pressure on the US and other world powers to strengthen the inspection regime under the JCPOA. Negative results can culminate, not in criminal prosecution or jail, but in economic sanctions and war. In the case of the IAEA, the complement to inspections are diplomatic negotiations. Will Biden slip away from his determination to stress diplomatic engagement and resurrect Trump’s policy of maximum economic and diplomatic pressure and even introduce military pressure? In comparison, what are the international political implications of the ICC?

If the IAEA has met resistance from Tehran cooperating and even refusing to provide a full accounting of its nuclear materials and equipment, what kind of resistance can the ICC expect from Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza, even though the PA and the Gaza regime have promised to fully cooperate with the ICC? Unlike Iran, as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which accepts the jurisdiction of the IAEA, Jerusalem has not signed up to be a member of the ICC and denies the ICC has jurisdiction. Israel, unlike Iran, therefor, has different grounds for refusing cooperation. Tehran is by international law fully accountable to the IAEA. There is a serious question whether Jerusalem is accountable in any similar way to the ICC.

If Iran is found to be in breach of the rules governing the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or even just its obligations to be accountable, that necessarily creates a full-blown crisis for the UN Security Council. The ICC, in contrast, does not hold countries to be responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity, but only individuals. The presumption is that individuals, not states, are responsible, and will be charged, not with political deviance, but with actual crimes and be subject to prison terms. Yet it is the state or a political authority that determines cooperation, not individuals. Non-compliance with the ICC creates a political crisis, but less for the international political order and more for the effort to establish the rule of law internationally.

That is an irony, Where state behaviour is not on trial, but should be (as in war crimes), the crisis is legal; individuals, not the state, are prosecuted. Where state behaviour is on trial (in abuses of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty), the crisis becomes political not legal. Yet it is the political that drives the investigations of the ICC much more than the investigations of the IAEA which tend to be matters of technical evidence, suggesting misbehaviour rather than criminal activity. In addition to whether states or individuals are the subjects for examination, the different types of evidence to be gathered and the political implications of each investigation on a global level, there is also a difference between modes of covering-up non-compliance.

Iran tries to scrub the evidence from existence and then acts to put severe limits on the investigators. Tehran informed the IAEA last month that it will limit the ability of its inspectors to visit suspect sites and facilities even more than before. At what risk? The European powers – more specifically France, Germany, Great Britain – threaten to censure Iran. However, in the case of Israel, a country which has its own system of investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the issue then is whether its own investigations are conducted properly and thoroughly and whether the actions revealed are being measured by international laws, rules and standards.

There is another difference between the IAEA and the ICC that is procedural. The IAEA follows the tradition of English-speaking countries of separating the policing and investigative functions from the judicial ones, or, at least, their equivalent in the political arena. In contrast, the ICC is responsible for determining what situations should be investigated, for establishing evidence and for determining whether there is enough evidence to warrant prosecution and then proceeding with a prosecution if it deems one is warranted.  

Clearly in each case, the issue is the degree to which the agency can trust the country being investigated or the government investigating individuals accused of a crime. Of course, if a regime proves to be untrustworthy in the information it puts forth to the IAEA, then there is no doubt that such a country cannot be trusted to have nuclear weapons or to even have the capability of producing such weapons. There is not nearly so much at risk if a government’s system to investigate and try war crimes is inadequate. A program can be launched to improve the justice system in this regard. Clearly, this depends on the degree of seriousness of the crime, the degree the standards being used conform to international standards and whether the country implementing such laws is sincere.

In the IAEA case, the investigators search for and may find evidence to reinforce or undermine distrust. In the ICC case, it is only when the ICC already distrusts the state system of justice that the ICC steps in. Yet there is no investigative process for making such an assessment. Rather, the decision to investigate and conduct trials is usually driven by political factors. Clearly, past behaviour or misbehaviour is a clue to current behaviour. Yet there is no system of undertaking detached and objective historical studies by the ICC. In the case of the IAEA, Iran’s past record of deceit and efforts at nuclear weaponization were studied and, further, had to be resolved as a condition of the JCPOA going into effect. Iran was required to provide the IAEA access to documents, scientists, and military sites related, or possibly related, to any covert weaponization work. In other words, history is at the heart of the IAEA inquiry, but scholarly or scientific historical studies are absent from the ICC one.

However, history itself can be a form of coverup. The IAEA Report in 2015 found no evidence, at least, no credible evidence, supporting any claim that Iran was involved in a program of weaponization of nuclear material after 2015. However, there were reasons it found no evidence. Iran denied the IAEA investigators access to the relevant scientists. Any documents that were suspected of providing evidence for such a program were denounced as forgeries. And even when the evidence was unequivocal, such as the detection of nuclear material at the Parchin site, Iran bold-facedly insisted that it must have come from their conventional military program but without offering a credible account of how that could happen.

However, past sins may create suspicion of present sins. But such a record is not proof. The IAEA has to provide evidence that is current. However, in the case of the ICC, the evidence is not about a continuing program, but about a specific incident in the past. Thus, although past behaviour and history of the country’s behaviour is not the focus, the investigation is all about past behaviour.

What does an investigative agency do when the evidence uncovered is insufficient to conclude without a doubt that Iran is in breach of non-proliferation protocols? Does the agency disregard the evidence it does have? Or accept the reality that Iran is a dissembler? Or double down on future investigations? Or all of the above? The choices are very different in the case of an ICC investigation, for there must be a finding of guilt or innocence, innocence meaning that there is insufficient evidence to establish the guilt of the individual being tried. In other words, the ICC must arrive at a definitive conclusion. The IAEA need not do so. Assessing degrees of responsibility is part of its accountability exercise rather than stark either/or judgments. On the other hand, judicial proceedings are far less dangerous than military reprisals.

I just finished watching the ten-part series, The Looming Tower on Prime Time based on the 9/11 inquiry. In addition to its reference to the gold star of investigations, the docudrama brought together the two themes of this comparison, the comparison of the judicial approach of the ICC and the sanctions and military implications of the reports of the IAEC by examining the roles of the FBI as a criminal investigating agency in comparison to those of the CIA focused on political issues and their implications for reprisals and war..

In the docudrama, the FBI took the juridical approach. The CIA, that seemed to regard the FBI as a greater enemy than bin Laden, took the military route. A more detailed review of the ten-part series is warranted to clarify the two approaches.

Tomorrow: The Looming Tower: a movie review

Good Governance, Cancel Culture and Racism:

Parashat Prelude – Exodus 38:21 – 40:38

In this morning’s email, I received an invitation to attend a book launch (virtually, of course) on 21 March 2021. The book is called: Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting. It has seven authors: Nicholas Claxton, Denise Fong, Fran Morrison, Christine O’Bonsawin, Maryka Omatsu, John Price and Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra. It also has an illustrator, John Endo Greenaway. It is a book for anti-racist activists and educators.  If you want to read the book, it is a free and open access publication connecting racism of the past with its current strain. Download the booklet for free here. 

When I received the invitation, I thought that the book could have been titled, Challenging Racist “Britain”: 1,000 Years and Counting. Did you watch Oprah Winfrey interview Meghan Markle and Harry Windsor on CBS on Sunday, 8 March 2021? I confess I did.I even watched the following morning interview on CBS: This Morning at 7:00 a.m., just at the end of my sacred writing time. I was fascinated.

Why? For one, I had only seen and heard Oprah Winfrey conduct an interview once before. Listening and watching confirmed something which all of you probably already know. She was absolutely brilliant, the best interviewer that I have ever seen on television. She listens intently. She probes gently and sensitively. She listens to answers and her questions follow what the interviewee raises rather than a prior script. I had my own TV show for twelve years on which I conducted interviews. I wish I could have had a portion of Oprah’s talent and skills.

Of course, it was the interview itself that took front and centre stage. It was full of shockers. Why should I have been surprised that a close relative of Harry’s (his father? His brother?) had asked him about whether he was concerned about the shade of his coming child’s skin (Archie) would be. “How dark his skin might be when he is born!” What? Who is having that conversation? Oprah asked. What colour the baby’s skin will be!!!

Now the inquiry could have been made to elicit whether Harry felt comfortable with having a mixed-race child? The concern then would have been with his state of mind and attitudes. The question would then not have been a question about racism but about how one handled a social disease and whether the person being questioned had been infected.

But then Meghan would not have been shocked when Harry told her. Harry would not have been taken off guard. In any case, it is hard to imagine anyone in the royal family truly wanting to find out how Harry felt about the issue given the rest of the interview’s details about the absolute insensitivity and coldness to Meghan’s position in the family. It would not matter in any case. The query was absolutely insensitive, crass and ugly. No wonder Oprah Winfrey reacted with a “Wow!” Who would say that?”

But the undeniable charge of racism was, believe it or not, not the worst. One can live with racists who feel ashamed about their beliefs and attitudes. But when they bring a shameless posture to the couple at the same time as they are cold-shouldering Meghan, you want to scream, “How boorish, how churlish, how rude, how vulgar, how absolutely stupid could you be!” Curtsying may be required. But sensitivity seemingly was not.

Given the background of what had happened to Harry’s mother who, after all, was not a foreigner, was not of mixed race, and was herself a blueblood, why had the family not learned anything? When Meghan – who had her passport and her birth certificate taken from her when she joined the family –wanted to go out and see friends, she was told that it was not a good idea. She already had too much exposure. In four months, she had only two visits with friends. ”I am everywhere and nowhere…I could not have felt lonelier…I just did not want to be alive anymore.”

Talk about a bird in a gilded cage! Meghan was a bird in a toxic, suffocating one. “The firm” could only respond to her requests for professional psychological help when she felt she was suffocating, when she was suicidal, not only with indifference, but with an emphasis on “how it might look.”

The revelations of the combined cause and then non-response to being in a desperate state was even worse than the racism. And the role of the British media! That should have been no surprise given what happened to Diana, but had British journalists not learned anything? Apparently not given the response of Piers Morgan.

However, it was not only a tale of personal pain and family dysfunction. It was a narrative about an institution, an illustration of how The Firm functioned, of how it could modify rules on titles for Archie – without consultation, Meghan was told he would not be called a prince, contrary to past practice. He would not be given security protection. And even when the couple escaped the whole bag of worms to Canada, just over a year ago on 7 January 2020, The Firm cancelled an appointment for Harry to visit his grandmother, the Queen, informing him that the Queen was too busy.

Queen Elizabeth issued a formal statement. “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” Concerning! Concerning! How about the lack of any genuine concern all along? Concerning to whom? And for what reason? The bad publicity or the pain and grief of Meghan and Harry? What could it mean when the Queen insists that, “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members,” when her courtiers cancel a private family visit with her grandson who has traveled to Britain all the way from British Columbia? The queen and princes are prisoners in their own jail and the guardians run the roost.

But there was good news amidst all the blather of the family business. Meghan’s and Harry’s next child will be a girl.  As President Joe Biden said last night in his first public address since he took office, there is sunshine amidst all the darkness. “Everything stopped one year ago – 530,000 died. There was more stress and more loneliness, Everyone could recall their last holiday, their last meal with friends, but also the loss of living, the loss of life. The pandemic had isolated us. Hence the added significance of the Meghan and Harry interview on public TV in the US.

Meghan and Harry have been prime examples of cancel culture, of the practice of ostracism, of being thrust out of social, professional and even a family circle. They were victims of a political culture both in the social media and personally. And it stands in such stark contrast with this week’s Torah portion. The pomp and circumstance, especially in a desert setting, may have been the equivalent of that of the monarchy in London. Formal and formidable indeed! But the tabernacle is about a gilded object in which the precise value of everything is accounted for – the gold, the silver, the copper, the gems, the money. And the tabernacle is not a cage but a protective rather than imprisoning structure. It symbolizes inclusion rather than exclusion. It sits in the midst of the people, in the midst of the Tent of Meeting and not aloof separated from the people.  

The wealth accumulated there is fully transparent and accounted for. The money was freely given and was not a byproduct of acquisitive greed. There is gold. There is silver. There is copper. The treasure trove is vast, but every ounce is accounted for. The institution is not only accountable, it is transparent. Even though Moses was the leader chosen by God, he was required to provide a detailed accounting to the people. The whole portrait is one of good governance in contrast to bad manners hidden by a highly mannered court. The openness was stressed so much that the priest entered the sanctuary wearing a garment without either pockets or cuffs. Leaders must not only be unblemished but revealed as unblemished. Accountability was sacred.

The problem with the British monarchy, with the Head of the Commonwealth is not the fact that it is royal, but that it exemplified the royalty of hiddenness, of secrecy, of pretense, of insensitivity. It is a sick institution rather than the exemplification of the best in our society. Malfeasance is hidden and repression is viewed as a virtue. Distrust and disillusion permeate its skin and bones. The court has not learned that free will is not a gift to be abused and denied, but something to offer fulfillment. Feelings cannot be suppressed, Quite the reverse. On the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, we are commanded to open up our hearts. Integrity and truthfulness, not indirection, discrimination and shunning, are esteemed.

Finally, power must be checked, even the remnants and shadows of a once powerful institution that exercises its power in minute and suffocating ways over individuals. That system needs to be challenged and drastically reformed. Where in Britain or in the Commonwealth are the prophets, the critics, to reign in royal power that is no longer capable of ordering troops to ravage other lands, but which as a leftover political body spends its best efforts on ravaging the spirit of individuals that dare to darken its doors. The monarchy may be an old and dramatic institution, but it is not nearly as old as the Tabernacle and it needs to see itself and be seen from a different perspective.

Where is the wisdom in the monarchy when it cannot even be exercised on the inter-personal level? Where does it demonstrate the strength to repair itself? Where is the esteem earned that they should first bestow on and not deny to others, When will what should and must be repressed – inherited propensities to racism – be trashed?  Where is the respect the members should be offering rather than demanding?

Many decades ago, when I was a guest of Birkbeck College at the University of London and when the late Queen mother was he chancellor, I attended a function in which I was seated at her round table. She sat opposite but too far away to engage her in conversation. But I was assured that she was personable and approachable, a good and considerate conversationalist, though not a teeming intellect.

However, I never had the chance to check out the truths of such claims. It might have helped me better understand the crisis that the British monarchy is going through and how Humpty Dumpty can be put together again. I doubt if the royal family and the firm has enough elasticity and creativity, however. As Ezekiel reminds us in this week’s haftorah, And so shall you do on seven [days] in the month, because of mistaken and simple-minded men, and expiate the House (of Windsor). (Ezekiel 20)

Settlements and East Jerusalem

This is my topic. At least it is my advertised topic. In fact, I will be writing only about the West Bank. And even then, only about the region conceptually rather than empirically. I will really be writing about whether conceptual disputes contribute to or impede the forging  of a peace agreement.

With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there has been an oft-quoted saying.: “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to prevent a peace agreement when they had the possibility of achieving peace.” That is not the correct wording, but my mind is totally fuzzy this morning and I cannot recall the precise words. But it does not matter. For it is equally true that when the Israelis had a real opportunity to achieve peace, with the time lapse between the last negotiations and next, they never missed an opportunity to reject the peace that was available based on the last negotiations. Instead, they insisted on a peace agreement that took the new realities into account. And, thereby, shifted the goal posts.

I wrote that the two assertions were equally true. They are also both equally false. For the Israelis and Palestinians have never been so aligned that they could make peace, even if the time gap had been eliminated. Peace has never been around the next corner and was never around the corner just passed.  I am not going to defend such an assertion. Because each of them deals with possible worlds and subjunctive conditionals. Until a deal is made, we do not know what conditions would be necessary to forge a deal. And blaming one side or another, as both assertions do alternatively, is itself a major obstacle to peace.

Speculation about what could have been or what could be is of no help. Commentators write that the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the controversies over Jerusalem have been the two major obstacles to a peace agreement.  But they were not in 1948 after the war. And there was no peace, They were obstacles in the 1920s when the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the desire of Zionists to settle anywhere in the land.  What is possibly true is that the Palestinian leadership has always rejected the implication of the Zionist program of settlement and the Zionist program of settlement has always been at the heart of Zionism even when there were divisions between the left and the right over the meaning of this claim.

Settlements are without a doubt a major obstacle to peace. Settlements are also about the right of Jews to buy land and live anywhere in their historical homeland. The two propositions have always been at war. They continue to be at the present time. And I can write from now to time immemorial and I do not think I can reconcile the two positions. At least, until they are reconciled. That is, until the Jews in historic Palestine say enough is enough. And the Palestinians concur and agree that enough is enough but no more.  

But is this even true? I have always opposed Jewish settlements being planted in the midst of the Palestinian population. This was not only true in the post-1967 period, but in the period of the 1920s to the 1940s. For though I was not a responsible adult even during the very end of that period, in retrospect I had been an anti-Zionist. It was not until just before the Six Day War in 1967 that I began to question my views.  And it was only in the 1970s, after I first took my family to visit Israel before the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, that I became a Zionist sympathizer.

But even then, I was a dove. I was willing to have Israel go back to the 1967 armistice lines if that would have meant a peace agreement. What chutzpah!  I lived in Canada. I had no real input into Israeli policy. And I did not have to live with the consequences of my position. But my position remained dovish even when I moved to Israel with my family for a year. However, could it not be said from one perspective that such an attitude itself contributed to reinforcing the intractability of the Palestinians? On the other hand, I am pretty sure that my attitude had virtually no influence on either the Jews or the Palestinians in Israel even though I had written a great deal on the matter.

Over the past five decades, the dovish position has shrunk to irrelevancy. Even Merav Michaeli, the new leader of the Labor Party running in the current election, agrees that the large settlement blocs will have to be incorporated into Israel for there to be a peace agreement. Israelis will not tolerate uprooting 600,000 Jews from their homes in the West Bank. During the last five decades, the Israeli voters have shifted decidedly to the right. Two-thirds of the Knesset members in the coming election will be on the right. The majority of the rest of the representatives will be centrists opposed to expanding the settlements, but not in favour of leaving them behind following a peace   agreement. And even the majority of the small rump of the left has finally acceded and publicly admitted that no peace agreement can be made based on uprooting the vast majority of settlements. 

In other words, that is the will of the vast majority of Jewish Israelis. Is it not a fact, is it not a reality, that those on the left who insist that the Green Line be the reference for the drawing of a line between Israel and the State of Palestine, is it not true that they help reinforce this position and make it, rather than the settlements, the major obstacle to a peace agreement? Holding out the chimera of an armistice line following a war as the reference line for a political border seems now to be totally unreal. Yet it is the official position of most of the international community, an international community that has itself proven over the last century to have been impotent in resolving the problem.

So where and how can we identify the obstacles to peace? In the settlements? Or in those who have rejected settlements even after they have become solid facts on the ground?  Or must the doves not finally concede that, in terms of reality, the right has won? The real issue is whether the extreme right will now eventually win because there is insufficient support among the Jews in Israel, among the Palestinians, and in the international community for drawing a line through Area C in the West Bank and conjoining the large expanse of Jewish settlements to Israel in return for recognizing a Palestinian state with perhaps other territory given to that state in exchange for the land annexed to Israel?

However, is that not the problem in itself? The rump of the left in Israel and the much larger rump of Jews in the diaspora are unwilling to concede that the right won? Certainly, the Palestinians have not made that concession. Understandably. And a good part of the international community now sympathizes with the Palestinians. But even though those two are now aligned, Palestinian resistance and international sentiment, even working in concert, are in no position to deliver a peace agreement.

Israel is now too powerful diplomatically, too successful economically, too proficient even diplomatically when it counts in dealing with Arab states, to be pushed into a position where it does not wish to go. How does it help to bring about a peace agreement if one bases one’s position in favour of a peace agreement on a line drawn between the parties over half a century ago? Are we leftists, are we sympathizers with the continuous squeeze on the Palestinians, not a significant part of the difficulty in forging a peace agreement?  

Personally, I do not think so. I do not think it is any more helpful to blame peaceniks or blame Palestinians any more than blaming hawks. The blame game itself is a major obstacle to peace. And all the words thrown in accusation by one side against the other are useless in getting a peace agreement.

However, is the Biden administration not correct in its assessment that the time is not ripe for such an agreement? But if one adopts such a posture, does not than mean favouring the creeping annexationists? Not if your position is against the founding of new settlements. Not if one’s position favours steps that move in the direction of peace even while those steps do not in themselves result in peace.

But is this not a cop out? No, I suggest that it is now the only realistic position that will prevent total victory by the hawks. Now that total victory is in sight as a real possibility, one can expect the hard right to grow more adamant, more assertive, more stubborn and less likely to be amenable to compromise? Then in the face of such resistance and the anticipated increased strength of such a position, would it not be wiser for Palestinians to offer maximum resistance – peaceful, of course, given the asymmetry at the present time?

Such questions will be behind my explorations and probes next week into the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the issue of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Are there steps that can be taken towards a peace agreement even if a peace agreement is not in sight? Or must peaceniks fall back on shibboleths or slip into silence on the sidelines as history marches ahead?

I hope my sight, that is so fuzzy this morning that I am relying on a larger font and bold typeface on the screen to read, and my insight as well will clear up sufficiently to make a small contribution.

Biden, Israel and Palestine

Yesterday, the Israel Policy Forum had as its guest on its regular 2:00 p.m. Tuesday Webinar, David E. Shapiro. In January, President Biden reappointed Shapiro as the “Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.” However, Biden quickly shifted course and removed the addition of the West Bank and Gaza in his title after the title was greeted by outrage from both sides of the aisle. Susie Gelman, the host of the Israel Policy Forum webinar, did not ask Shapiro for an interpretation of this brief eruption, perhaps because she recognized that, as a diplomat, he could not give an answer.

Was it inadvertent? Or was it a carry over of the title Donald Trump had, unknowingly to Americans in general, assigned his ambassador? It is hard to believe that it was simply a technical glitch. The controversy had two very different reactions. From one point of view, there was resentment at bundling the responsibilities in dealing with two enemies together for the same ambassador. From another opposite side, there was the complaint of assigning an ambassador to territories not recognized as part of a state – either Israel or Palestine.

During the Obama administration, David E. Shapiro was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. That is his title now. There is no indication that he personally expected any other title. Nevertheless, the slip up was at the very least symbolic, indicating more continuity with the Trump administration than discontinuities, in spite of Biden’s expressed intent to restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA as well as allow the PLO to open an office in Washington and the U.S. to provide direct liaison relations with Palestinians that do not have to go through the embassy in Jerusalem. On the other hand, Biden has also vowed not to reverse the embassy decision nor, by implication, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. However, will Biden shift American policy on settlements, on Iran or on peace negotiations?

There has been a great deal of speculation that Biden would place a renewed emphasis on peace talks, but that can only be wishful thinking since officials in the Biden administration have clearly stated that peace negotiations will remain on the back burner as the time was not ripe for such discussions. Further, it will be important to assess the results of the election in Israel and, possibly (likely?) in Palestine. In the meanwhile, the Biden administration will continue both the Trump and Obama administration policy of favouring a two-state solution and refusing to go down the rabbit hole of a one-state solution.

However, it is a very different two-state solution than the one outlined in great detail in Jared Kushner’s Peace and Prosperity Plan (PPP) in which there would be over 40 islands of Palestinians surrounded by Israeli settlements. Neither, on the other hand, would it be a peace plan using the 1967 Green Line as the reference for determining a border. Rather, the border will most likely follow the path of the existing security barrier that would place the major settlement blocs within Israel.  Even Michaeli, leader of the Labor Party, is campaigning on that basis – that is, the major settlement blocks would be incorporated into Israel in a peace agreement.   

Such a stand frustrates those in the left of the Democratic Party who want an outright condemnation of all settlements on the other side of the 1967 Green Line as illegal, even if those politicians also admit that many of those settlements will be traded to Israel in return for land of an equal size elsewhere. Whatever the boundaries, whatever the divisions of the West Bank, whatever the legal status of the various settlements left on the “wrong” side of any divide, there is a consensus in successive administrations that a two-state solution is the ONLY way to resolve the problem. One-state solutions, from either the right or the left, are beyond the pale.

That is because, for both Biden and Shapiro, Israel must remain both a democratic as well as a Jewish state consistent with Biden’s goal of making the expansion and strengthening of democratic regimes a central plank in American foreign (and domestic!) policy. As Antony Blinken, Biden’s new Secretary of State, put the matter unequivocally, “We will incentivize democratic behavior, but we will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force. We tried these tactics in the past. …they haven’t worked. They have given democracy promotion a bad name and they have lost the confidence of the American people. We will do things differently.”

One implication is that if Marwan Barghouti, now spending five consecutive terms in an Israeli prison, runs at the head of a Palestinian  separate Fatah list, the Biden administration will be caught between the legendary rock and a hard place. Barghouti is a convicted terrorist. Biden, given his commitment to the democratic process, will not easily be able to ignore Barghouti’s election. But neither will Biden be interested in making Barghouti a negotiating partner. What will the United States do? I have no idea.

Each step or move in foreign policy must advance that goal. As Shapiro stated it, “Democracy is the organizing principle of the Biden regime.” “Does an action promote or impede democratic development?” will be a front and centre in analyzing any foreign policy initiative. There may be no near-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but that does not mean there cannot be progress, that meaningful steps forward cannot be taken, that the cause of democracy cannot be advanced. Democratic norms can be given greater depth. Belief in them can be broadened. Conditions can be put in place for encouraging the growth of democracy.

Thus, the Biden administration will pursue a two-state solution in coordination with both parties and not unilaterally with the Israelis. Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett may be leading Israeli political parties to the right of Netanyahu on a platform of one Jewish dominated state, with possible autonomy for Palestinians, but Biden has signalled that if either becomes Prime Minister of Israel, they will not only not have cooperation from America, they will be met with strong resistance. The Abraham Accords, which the Biden administration has endorsed, proved that incentives can induce Israel to put annexation on the back burner. That may not resolve the problem of creeping annexation, but it will avoid a crisis at the very least between the US and Israel when the US is committed to full military and intelligence cooperation with Israel.  

What about America’s dealings with the Palestinians? The US will remain committed to institutionalizing democracy for Palestine and may not be so ready to dump both Hamas and democracy if Hamas gets significant support. Instead, a much more subtle game of diplomacy will come into play to offer a combination of incentives and pressures to strengthen democracy as well as to get Hamas to sign on to non-violence and to recognizing the legitimacy of Israel.

Iran is another potential bone of contention between Israel and the Biden administration, but is an issue that only affects the Palestinians peripherally. Both Israel and the US have sworn that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. But for Israel, the issue is an existential question whereas for America it is only a strategic one. At the same time, on the issue of Iran, more particularly on the question of America rejoining the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, there has been more misunderstanding of the Biden administration policy than on any other matter.

As part of his election campaign, Biden had pledged to rejoin the JCPOA from which Trump had withdrawn America in 2018. But there was no indication of what the conditions might be for re-entry or the timetable. There was only the promise that Biden would seek to rejoin the accord as soon as he gained the office of the presidency. Last summer, the Democratic Party platform raised progressive hopes that Biden would swiftly and unambiguously renounce Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal: The policy described “returning to mutual compliance with the agreement” as an “urgent” priority. However, it is clear from the top officials that he has appointed, Antony Blinken as his Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as his foreign policy adviser, have articulated that the US will not be rejoining the JCPOA any time soon and not without conditions.

Blinken: “Iran is restarting dangerous elements of its nuclear program that JCPOA stopped. It is acting more provocatively in the region, endangering US forces. We’re alienated from our allies.” The new administration has already made clear that it will not risk driving Saudi Arabia into China or Russia’s arms by ignoring the concerns of the Saudis with respect to Iran.

Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, along with Tony Blinken, had played an important role in negotiating the JCPOA in the Obama administration. They declared that the Biden administration would not lift any of the sanctions that Trump imposed on Iran until Iran proved it was in full compliance. Nevertheless, the US was committed to a diplomatic path.

However, both Blinken and Sullivan have added other conditions which Ambassador Shapiro repeated in his webinar yesterday;

  • Reconsideration of the sunset clauses now that Iran is six years closer to than when Blinken and Sullivan had negotiated the deal
  • A better inspections regime
  • Inclusion of provisions dealing with Iran’s missile program
  • Some pledge and action by Iran to reverse its program of meddling in the affairs of its neighbours.

Biden, Blinken and Sullivan are not just pushing re-entry. They effectively want a new deal, but they are unwilling to spend political capital to achieve one. Biden and his team have already disappointed those in the Democratic Party peace camp. They have fallen well short on expectations on the signal policy with respect to Iran.  Instead of following the progressives’ push to resuming compliance with the deal as quickly as possible, Biden’s team has diddled and dawdled.  Tehran must take the first steps and become fully compliant. Further, Biden’s folks have signalled that even this would be insufficient. And the pledge to follow the diplomatic route seems to have been betrayed by the US government’s reprisal air attacks on Iranian facilities in Syria in response to an Iranian-backed attack on an American position in Iraq. Two days later, Iran rejected the EU offer to resume direct negotiations with the US over rejoining the JCPOA.

The Biden administration has inherited the Trump conviction that sanctions are effective in getting Iran to change course, especially if diplomacy is backed by carrying a big stick. Robert Malley, Biden’s special envoy to Iran, may support a more dovish approach, but the weight is on the side of Blinken, Sullivan and Shapiro, especially when staffing in the State Department had been so depleted under Trump giving the Pentagon and the National Security Council a greater influence. It does not help that Robert Menendez, the new Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed even the original Iran deal.

What is also clear is that a replay of the spat with Israel over Iran is not in the cards. Benny Gantz may engage in sabre rattling against Iran, but America is now committed to much closer cooperation and coordination with Israel in both its diplomatic and military dealings with Iran. That also means that Iran will not be high up on Biden’s agenda.

Iran, in supporting militias that directly clash with US forces in Iraq, and in its regional adventurism, in its push on missile technology added on top of its resumption of its nuclear program, makes it a more formidable challenge for US diplomats. Pressure from close US allies, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, now seem to ensure that the peace camp in the Democratic Party will remain frustrated. Given Iran’s presidential elections in June and the prospect of a more hardline government, the window for Biden to re-enter the JCPOA and adopt a more conciliatory approach to dealing with Iran has most likely been closed for now.

There are other issues with a more direct impact on relations with the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the forefront of these is the conflict over the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to launch investigations into both Israeli and Palestinian behaviour. I will deal with this issue in a separate blog. My next blog will zero in on the most divisive issue dividing Israelis and Palestinians – East Jerusalem and the settlements.

Israeli Elections 2021

Israelis go to the polls even before the Palestinians do – in two weeks on 23 March. Unlike the Palestinian elections that have not been held for fifteen years, this will be the fourth election in Israel in two years. That is but one of many differences in the political lives of the two nations. As indicated in the previous blog, though the progress of planning for the Palestinian camp has become more positive, it is still perilous. In contrast, the Israeli election is a certainty. The conduct of the Palestinian elections, especially for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, depends on Israeli cooperation. Israeli election will go ahead independent of any policies or practices of the Palestinian Authority or the government in Gaza.

The main problem facing Palestinians is the number of lists that will run. The existing Palestinian authorities want to reduce those lists to a minimum, ideally one so they can have a unity government to face the Israelis. However, we now know there will be at least two main lists and probably more, including a split in Fatah. In contrast, the Israelis have multiple lists already and their problem will not be how many parties run for election but how to form a coalition after the election. The Palestinian dilemma is a problem of forming coalitions before the election.

The 14 Israeli parties running for election on 23 March in alphabetical order are:

  • Blue and White                        (13)                                12
  • Joint List                                 (12)                                  8
  • Labor                                      (15)                                 2
  • Likud                                      (51)                               36
  • Meretz                                     (10)                                    4
  • New Economic Party               (11)
  • New Hope                               (20)
  • Religious Zionists                    (10)
  • Shas                                        (12)                                  9
  • United Arab List                     (5)
  • United Torah Judaism              (14)
  • Yamina                                   (16)                                 3
  • Yesh Atid                                (30)                                19
  • Yisrael Beiteinu                       (10)                                  7               100

The number in brackets after the name of the party indicates the number of names on that respective list and provide some indication of the electoral prospects, or, more accurately, electoral hopes for that party. The actual number of seats held in the current Knesset is indicated in the number not in brackets in the last column. Note that the number of parties for this election has actually declined from 16 to 14.  

Agudat Yisrael                                            3

Blue and White

Dagei Hatorah                                                5

Derech Eretz                                               2

Gesher                                                        1

Habayit Hayehudi                                       1

Israel Labor

Joint List

Meretz

National Union                                           2

Ra’am – United Arab List                            4

Shas

Ya’al – Arab Movement for Renewal           3                           21

Yamina                                                      

Yesh Atid

Yisrael Beiteinu

One might believe that the party system is very fluid in Israel with new parties being created and old parties disappearing, disintegrating or combining. That indeed has happened, but an overall picture reveals a much greater continuity and constancy. However, there have been some significant shifts and innovations. First, the Labor Party, the once grand old party of Israeli politics that had declined to only two seats in the last Knesset, has shown signs of a minor revival under the leadership of the only female leader of a party, Merav Michaeli. She is expected to win about 7 seats. However, the left in Israeli politics has been in a precipitous decline over the last two decades and this election is unlikely to restore the left as a major force. In fact, there is a read danger that Meretz, the party of the furthest left among the Jewish parties, will be wiped out in this lection. The members of Meretz may regret their failure to merge with Labor and present only a single party on the left.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of hope that Michaeli will lead a resurgence and restore Labor’s relevance and importance in Israeli politics. Although that may be a stretch, given her successful career in the media, she does provide a clear and concise progressive voice on the left pushing not only women’s rights but Arab Israeli citizens’ rights as well as the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. However, in spite of her attractiveness as a leader and candidate, there seems to be no prospect of a left government in Israel in the foreseeable future. (For an introduction to Merav Michaeli, Americans for Peace Now held a webinar with her on 25 February that was very informative.)

As with the Arab parties in Palestine, the lists are largely on the right – assuming that right and left still have some meaning in politics. But they mean something somewhat different in Israel than in Palestine. In both nations, there are extreme right and religious factions – Hamas among the Palestinians and a number of right-wing religious parties in Israel. The far right Otzma Yehudit, a progeny of the fascist Kahanist Party, was induced to join forces with the even more radical Noam faction by Bibi Netanyahu. The ultra-Orthodox Noam group is anti-gay and anti-Reform. The two parties agreed to run as a single list in order to cross the minimum threshold of 3.5% of the votes cast in order to take a place in the Knesset. Even then, there is a danger that the merger will be insufficient to achieve that goal and, if they fail, their votes will be lost to the right. That is why Netanyahu pushed them together, to try to get them over the threshold so that they could be part of the right that backed his selection as Prime Minister after this coming election.

The other ultra-Orthodox parties are not so extreme. But collectively they have held enough seats to ensure a right-wing government in Israel and thereby punch above their real weight in the Knesset. They have traditionally in past parliaments had a powerful influence over issues of state and religion as well ass education and budgets and particularly obligatory military service. The parties are, however, not necessarily anti-Arab, as is the case with Noam.

United Torah Judaism is itself a union formed in 1992 as an alliance between Degel HaTorah formed in 1980 and Agudat Israel, the first of the two Ashkenazi Haredi political parties which traces its roots to the beginning of the Zionist movement. For this election, in light of the Supreme Court ruling recognizing Reform movement conversions, it is running on an explicit anti-Reform and anti-Supreme Court platform, hoping, thereby, to stimulate its base to turn out and vote. Shas, in comparison, is a Sephardic and Mizrachi ultra-Orthodox and traditionalist party and somewhat more moderate than the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties. Its numbers have held relatively steady over the last number of elections.

Because of Israel’s system of proportional representation as distinct from a constituency-based electorate, small parties can hold the balance of power, especially when there were two large blocs rivaling for power – Labor and the Likud. They used to form parts of a Labor-led coalition at one time. However, in the last several decades, they have supported the right.

In fact, the right has grown such that it now has a super-majority, even excluding the Arab parties. It is estimated that 80 out of 120 seats in the next Knesset will be held by right-wingers. The only issue is whether enough of them will be elected who refuse to join a coalition on the right led by Netanyahu. After all, the main issue in this election is a referendum on Netanyahu. The New Hope Party is led by Gideon Sa’ar, a once prominent member of the Likud government and a defector from Likud expected to win a significant number of seats, thereby depriving Netanyahu of the possibility of leading a coalition.

As an alternate to Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett as the leader of Yamina might equivocally include Netanyahu in his possible coalition. However, he initially plans to approach others in the anti-Netanyahu bloc – Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Lieberman, Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz – to try to convince them to support himself as the leader of the coalition, otherwise he threatens to join with Netanyahu. His pitch – “restore the country to sanity” and “enable the next election to revolve around competing ideologies rather than one man.”

The other possible choice is Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atiid who is a middle-of-the-road anyone-but-Netanyahu pragmatist. Of course, that was the hope when Benny Gantz was elected as head of the Blue and White with a significant number of seats. But his prospects have diminished enormously as he has been treated as a combination of traitor for joining Netanyahu’s coalition and a naïve sap who was used, manipulated and then discarded by Netanyahu. He and his party are expected to suffer severe losses and Lapid is expected to gain at Blue and White’s expense and expects to grow from 18 to 23 or 24 seats.

Lapid supported the Israeli Supreme Court ruling that accepted Reform conversions. He is known as an individual who opposes the imbalance of influence that religious parties have in Israeli governments. So does Aviqdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, another party on the right rooted in secular migrants from the Soviet Union. Lieberman is running on an explicitly pro-secular platform and promises to join any coalition that excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties. He has also made a special appeal to the youth vote to broaden his solid Russian-voter base, Thus, in addition to Netanyahu’s leadership as a major issue, the relation of religion and state has once again come to the fore in influencing the election results.

Then there is the interesting role of the Joint Arab List. The Arab Israeli parties formed a Joint List out of four parties and mounted a major breakthrough winning 15 seats in the last Knesset. However, Netanyahu of all people managed to convince Mansour Abbas, who is himself a religious Muslim, ironically more aligned with Hamas than any other ideology, to run as the head of a separate United Arab list. As a result, the Arab Joint List based on three Arab parties (Balad, Ta’al and Hadash) is expected not to do as well as when they ran on a combined platform.

So where does that leave us? I have never observed an Israeli election where there is so much consensus. The agreement is that no one has any idea how things will turn out. There are just too many moving parts. Minor shifts will make a tremendous difference in the type of coalition that can be formed and who can be the prospective leader. There is a uniform agreement also that the right will hold the most seats but, depending on the results and the number of seats Lapid wins, it is possible to imagine him forming a secular government of both the right and left but excluding the religious parties.

In other words, who knows! We do know that the Palestinian issue is not first and foremost in the minds of Israeli voters in this election. Bread and butter issues are, but perhaps more importantly in this election, other than Netanyahu’s leadership, is the much broader debate over the ultra-Orthodox, particularly in their general lack of compliance with public health norms in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of these and the uncertain fate of many of the smaller parties, we are unlikely to even know on 23 March for coalition building tends to be a long, protracted exercise. In that sense, what is taking place among the Palestinians leading up to their elections will take place after the Israeli elections.

We do know that the Israeli right will win a clear majority of seats. We also, unfortunately, know from surveys that anti-Arab racism is on the rise in Israel. On 8 March, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media published the results of a survey showing an increase in violent discourse against Palestinians and Arabs by 16% compared to 2019. Due to the Corona pandemic, racist discourse towards Palestinians and Arabs increased by 21%, with hate speech constituting 29%, and incitement 7% of these posts.

The other stat that seems relevant relates to the increasing importance of turnout. At present, only 62% of Israelis currently plan to vote. Magaar Mochet polling has projected a record low turnout, especially among Arab-Israeli voters. However, based on the compilation of polls thus far, of 23 polls, only two showed Netanyahu’s bloc, including Yamina, winning the necessary 61 seats. 20 polls predicted that the anti-Netanyahu bloc – including Yamina but excluding the Arab Joint List – would win a Knesset majority. On all counts, the exercise in coalition building is too close to call.

Palestinian Elections – Hope or Futility

After a fifteen-year hiatus, on 15 January 2021, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazan), the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the State of Palestine, issued a decree. There would be elections in 2021:

  • general legislative elections on 22 May 2021
  • presidential elections on 31 July 2021
  • elections to the National Council of the PLO representing Palestinians in Palestine as well as the diaspora on 31 August 2021.

Cynicism about the possibility of such elections will not help. Understanding the obstacles and challenges will.

The commitment to elections was a direct response to the election of the Biden administration, which, after the experience with Trump, now has more leverage with the Palestinians than heretofore. There is also a recognition that the next two years will probably offer a last chance to achieve a two-state solution under the auspices of the Oslo Accords. Joe Biden has offered his commitment to a two-state solution.

Of course, there will remain a radical asymmetry by the two sides with the Palestinians continuing to depend on international intervention through lawfare and economic boycotts to advance their position. On the other hand, given the persistence and growth of the right in Israel, Palestinians remain largely pessimistic about the prospect of any breakthrough, especially given the 710,000 settlers now living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They suffer from chronic political fatigue. The Abraham Accords did not help with their morale. They recognize that, although the EU and international community can exert pressure on their behalf, only Israel can make peace with the Palestinians. A majority of youth now support a one-state solution.

To run the elections and ensure they will be fair, back in October 2002 a Central Election Commission (CEC) authorized setting up an election in accordance with the General Elections Law of 1995. The CEC will be responsible for the preparation, organization, management and supervision of the elections and, more generally, ensure their integrity and that the freedom to vote is respected and protected.

On 24 January, the CEC under the chair, Hanna Nasser, invited the European Parliament and the EU to appoint observers. However, in past elections, the real significant problem has not been the actual conduct of elections, but the selection of those who can run. Dr. Dalal Iriqat, a weekly columnist for AlQuds since 2016, who advised the Strategic Communications at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during 2017-18 and served as the senior policy consultant for the UNDP Human Development Report for Palestine in 2015, is the daughter of the late Saeb Erekat, the perennial veteran peace negotiator who died from COVID-19 on 10 November 2020. She commented that the real issue for Palestinians is not fair elections per se, but whether there will be enough women, enough new and young faces (everyone seems at least united in recognizing the generational divide), or will the election be a re-run of the old boys network that has dominated Palestinian politics for such a long time?

Hamas has its own problems. Hamas is no longer the revered cheerleader in opposition as it was in 2006. Hamas continues to refuse to reject violence, except as an interim tactic, to insist on a unified state in all of Palestine controlled by Palestinians and to govern as a theocracy. Given the unending siege, an unemployment record of over 50% and three futile wars with Israel, Hamas was in danger of collapsing two years ago, but managed to recover, according to a Fatah spokesman, only because it diverted internal opposition towards a “peaceful protest” at the Israeli fence separating Gaza, with drastic results. Hamas has agreed to participate in the elections, accepting a number of restrictions, but has refused to surrender its weapons,

Observers who arrive during the week of an election cannot do anything about the choice of candidates. They really only observe the technicalities and not the whole process of making a democratic system work. Nevertheless, the EU observers, and other invited democratic government representatives, will at least be invited to be accredited observers to ensure that the norms of democracy and good governance are observed and remain transparent when it comes to the elections themselves. Since the election decree was issued, there have been doubts about whether there would be any elections at all. Most observers, including myself, were sceptical. Nevertheless, very recently, optimism has displaced pessimism and there now seems to be a reasonable chance that elections will go ahead.

On 10 February in Cairo, various Palestinian factions met and agreed to hold the elections and that all parties would abide by the presidential decree, that the elections would be held not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but in East Jerusalem as well, and that the various parties would abide by the results. Judges from Jerusalem (1), the West Bank (4) and the Gaza Strip (4) would constitute an Electoral Cases Court to both monitor the election and adjudicate disputes. Uniformed police from the West Bank would secure polling stations there, but the method of doing so in Gaza was no settled..

On 21 February, Abbas issued a decree ensuring Christians would have a minimum of seven seats in the next parliament. The secretary-general of Fatah’s Central Committee, Jibril Rajoub, and the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, Saleh Al-Arouri, on 28 February 2021 met in Cairo and agreed to the list of nominated judges. Another important step had been taken to enhance optimism.

In addition to Hamas and Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) will submit a list and contest the elections on a resistance but nevertheless non-violent platform. So will the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) and the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) but not Islamic Jihad which resolved to boycott any election conducted under the umbrella of the Oslo accords. Bassam Salihi, secretary-general of the PPP, called on left-wing popular and democratic forces to run a unified democratic and popular bloc ticket, but that seems unlikely at present.

Perhaps most importantly, the various factions agreed that freedom of expression in the run-up to the election would be guaranteed and protected. Hamas and Fatah detainees held by the other side would be released from prison. On 22 February, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh charged Hamas with holding Fatah prisoners and demanded the release of 85 political detainees. On 25 February, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza released 45 Fatah members from prison being held on security charges but denied holding any additional political prisoners; “all prisoners in Gaza are either jailed or convicted in criminal or security cases.” Shtayyeh denied that there were any political detainees in Palestinian Authority prisons. Accusations criss-crossed even though there had been an agreement that there would be a cessation of political prosecutions “in order to provide an appropriate environment for free and fair elections.” Given the relatively small numbers, however, this dispute is not likely to impede the holding of the elections. If plans fall apart, these charges will be resurrected. The coming meeting in Cairo this week will review the preparations for the elections as well as take up the contentious issue of how to conduct elections in East Jerusalem.

By 1 March, the Electoral Commission had registered 2.622 million voters, or 93% of the 2.809 million eligible and is now open to hearing claims and objections, begins March 1. Though there have been a few reported cases of electoral list and polling booth tampering, particularly in one district of Hebron by Hamas supporters, this phase has progressed generally without incident. Other issues have yet to be settled. As listed by Hani al-Masri the director of the Ramallah-based Masarat think tank, they include:

  • lowering the age of candidates
  • raising the percentage of women’s participation [currently a 26% minimum)
  • regulating the resignations of public employees
  • lowering the fees for participating lists (now $20,000)
  • resolving which police force will guard election booths in Gaza 
  • determining whether the presidential election is for the president of Palestine as well as for the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

However, past progress and resolutions on issues in dispute have increased the belief that elections will actually be held. The idea of a joint Hamas-Fatah list seems to have been dropped, but it has yet to be seen whether Hamas will retain its commitment not to run a candidate for president not to take the positions of the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister in any national unity government.

However, other very serious issues remain. One relates to negotiations with Israel over elections in East Jerusalem, But even before then, both Hamas and Fatah have to iron out internal divisions within each organization. Hamas has evidently resolved or is on the verge of resolving its internal divisions by agreeing to divide the presidency of the party within versus outside Palestine, with the former head of Hamas’ politburo, Khaled Meshaal, becoming Hamas’ leader outside of Palestine and Ismael Haniyeh retaining his leadership of the Hamas politburo within Palestine.

However, the divisions within Fatah go much deeper. There are fourteen Palestinian parties competing. In reality, there are four main groups in competition which have to decide whether they will run as a joint list or whether they will run as separate lists, thereby weakening their position in competing with Hamas. Abbas has been adamant in insisting that no one affiliated with Fatah can run of a separate list.

Those main factions other than the main Fatah group under Abbas include:

  • one led by Marwan Barghouti who is now serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison;
  • Nasser al-Qudwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Fatah Central Committee member, a former Palestinian Foreign Minister and the long-term head of the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations, backs Barghouti if he decides to run, but promises to run on a separate list of his own if Barghouti decides not to run and has organized a list under the banner of the Palestinian National Democratic Forum, against the powerful threats of Abbas;
  • a list under the banner of the Democratic Reformist Current led by renegade Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In addition to the major obstacle to holding elections, internal Palestinian divisions, Israel, which has its own elections scheduled in May, is a problem. In advance of those Israeli elections, the Israeli government has been resistant to putting forth its own position, especially with respect to allowing residents of East Jerusalem to vote. Israel permitted votes in the 2006 elections, but under very restrictive conditions.

Until the Israeli elections are held, Israel sees no advantage in declaring its position both within Israel and with respect to its relations with Palestine since the plans for an election may fall apart without any intervention by Israel. Nevertheless, Israel must take a stand soon after the 23 March elections since the internal Palestinian divisions are compounded due to the lack of any position from the Israelis. “The record shows Israeli restrictions in past elections. And we expect that it will be more difficult this time around. Intimidation and false information might discourage Palestinians from participating.”

Will Israel allow the use of post offices for the previously approved number of approximately 5,500 people from Jerusalem in 2006? More than 18,000 voters officially participated in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections in East Jerusalem, but Dr. Galul Iriqat, if I heard and recorded her correctly, claimed that actually only 600 votes were cast in post offices and only another 6,000 voted elsewhere, considerably less than the 18,000 claimed voters. Elected lawmakers from East Jerusalem were ejected from the city after the election.

At most, post offices in East Jerusalem have a capacity for 6.300 voters on one election day. The rest of Palestinian East Jerusalemites will have to vote in 14 suburban polling stations. Israel permitted East Jerusalemite Palestinians to vote in 2005 and in 1996. Will Israel intimidate East Jerusalem voters by taking photos of them, with the implicit threat that they could lose their residency in Jerusalem?

“We referred to signed agreements that allow Jerusalemites to vote and run for Palestinian elections. We reminded them of international law and human rights conventions and principles, particularly the right to self-determination, and asked them to bear their responsibilities accordingly.” Abbas has insisted that the election will not be held unless Palestinian East Jerusalemites are permitted to vote. Even if a vote is held, a large turnout is not expected since Palestinian Jerusalemites are especially pessimistic about the ability of the PA to do anything about their status. It is estimated that most want to remain as permanent residents of Israel but also be full citizens of an independent Palestine.

In the West Bank, Israel has already arrested top Hamas cadres and leaders and intimidated other potential Hamas candidates so they will not run in the upcoming elections, including former Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Aziz Dweik,  council member Nayef Rajoub and others. In sum, the prospect of a completely democratic election is questionable even if the elections go ahead as now seems likely, but relatively speaking they are expected to be as democratic as possible under the circumstances.

Tribalism, Nationalism and Civilization

On Giving, Receiving and Taking: Parashat Ki Tisa

The Hebrews in flight from Egypt and from slavery were in flight from one dominant idea of a civilization to another. The first was a given. The latter had to be created. But from what? From tribes and tribalism. By means of what? By forging tribes into a nation. But the goal was not nationalism per se, but a new form of civilization. The idea of a Jewish nation was an interim stepping stone between a form of tribalism and a new civilization, a new way of organizing the affairs of men.

In a recent webinar featuring Martin Kramer and Fouad Ajami, they discussed Bernard Lewis’ idea of a clash of civilizations which he adopted from Arnold Toynbee in the nineteen fifties and bequeathed to Samuel P. Huntington, the concept itself shape shifting along the way. In a 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, Huntington wrote an essay called, “The Clash of Civilizations” after Bernard Lewis had resurrected the idea from his earlier writings to articulate the concept of a civilization as the basic system for ordering the affairs of humans.

In September of 1990, Lewis had written an essay in The Atlantic Monthly entitled, “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” In it, he adumbrated and interpreted what would happen just over a decade later on 9/11 when four passenger planes were crashed, two into the Twin Towers in New York, one into the Pentagon and a fourth before hitting the Capitol. That prime symbol of American civilization and democracy was preserved from damage because of the bravery of the passengers on the fourth flight. They revolted against the hijackers and crashed the plane before it could reach the building, the same Capitol that would be so desecrated two decades later on 6 January of this year by enraged American insurrectionists.

America, and the West in general, is caught up in a new stage of the struggle over a new organization of peoples based on a global order, based on international law, based on humanitarian values using American nationalism as either a stepping stone forward into this emerging world order or backwards into a revival of tribalism. James Reston Jr. just published a novel ten years in the writing called, The 19th Hijacker: A Novel that takes us into the mind of one of the hijackers who almost dropped out of the whole destructive enterprise but did not.

Through his internal turmoil, through the tension he felt between his love for his girlfriend and his tribalistic oath of fealty to Osama bin Laden, he eventually surrendered to the tribalist idea of honour among men and went on to be the nineteenth hijacker to sacrifice his life for the cause which he had begun to doubt, but from which he had been unable to extricate himself. Reston takes us into his mind by means of tape recordings made by that same girlfriend, Karina Ilgun. It is a brilliant exploration not simply of radical Islam as an ideology, but of rabid tribalism itself and a code that makes men surrender their loyalties to follow other men to whom they have sworn an oath of allegiance.

Bernard Lewis had first used “civilization” as a category of thought back in 1957 as a way of comprehending the re-emergence of Islamic thought as a powerful idea to hold human loyalties in Turkey in the twentieth century in a clash with Ataturk’s agenda of modernization and remaking the Ottoman Empire into service to a revived Turkish nationalism and modernism. The clash was not between civilizations, but within a civilization from its old form back to its deeper tribal roots to be reborn in a new vision of civilization. It was a clash within the historical development of a system for ordering the affairs of humanity.

Arnold Toynbee had conceived of history as a story of clashing tectonic plates grinding against one another and creating eruptions and upheavals. Lewis inherited, adopted and adapted the Toynbee perspective which focused on a politics that wove law, culture, economics, social organization and religion into a coherent system – such as the idea of the West. The story of recent decades has been in good part a tale of a war of a classical form of Islam in rivalry with a modernizing form, a battle through which Christianity and Judaism had already traveled, though the voyage through the looking glass remained incomplete in both.

There are and have been many books now written about the rebirth of tribalism and identity politics, of ideas that are transferred in silos cut off from external influences and of populism and a politics based on a tribalist pledged loyalty to an individual seen as representing and espousing the views and values of a tribe, a tribe built on honour and loyalty rather than the rule of law and a common pledge to uphold an economic system built on the breastplate of a material distribution system pledged ultimately, not to the personal acquisition of property per se, but to concern for others, to creating a welfare civilization committed to the well-being of all.

Beshalach, the portion of the Torah we read a month ago, began in the wilderness of Sin and the emergence of the Israelites through stages into a higher loyalty, one to God. But it begins at the basic level with a cry and a thirst for water and a revolt against the leadership of Moses. Moses asks his followers: “why cry out to me? I am not your provider. I am not your old-fashioned tribal leader. Call out to God.” (Exodus 171-2) Moses is then taught by God his first lesson in peace, order and good governance. You begin by coopting other leaders, other tribal chiefs respected by their followers, and teach them how to supply the people’s basic collective needs, the core infrastructure that allows a society to function. Unless a polity can accomplish this, it will not survive.

Then the clash. In the Torah it is not fundamentally between civilizations, though it is that. It is not fundamentally within a civilization, though it is that. It is a clash between God and Amalek, between good and evil. It is a clash of values. (Exodus 17:8)

As a clash between civilizations, the old Egyptian order of gods that cattle to be sacred. Hathor was the cow goddess. She was the mother of both heaven and earth, of the sky god, Horus, and the sun god, Ra responsible for everything that grows on earth and through whom order was created out of chaos. Ancient Egyptian cattle came to be considered so sacred that many Egyptian gods were given the form of cattle, not only Hathor, but Ptah (the Apis Bull), Menthu (the Bukha bull), and Atum-Ra (the Mnevis Bull). Gods each had functions and, in general, it was a functionalist system. What animals serve more functions for humans than cattle? The Israelite insurrectionists in this Torah portion rvert to worshipping a cow, but not a functioning bull, a beast of burden, but a useless cow crafted of gold – real idol if there ever was one.

Israelites commanded to reject idolatry were keen innovators in creating as pure an example as one could, a calf rather than a cow, and one made of an inert metal. The Israelites’ creation of a golden calf harked back to the civilization they were escaping by creating their own version that would not be the ancient Egyptian goddess, but an idolatrous form of their new God and, therefore, a wrong path. But one they were creating and choosing. Nevertheless, a wrong path. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The God of the Israelites upset that ruling Egyptian order and reduced that civilization to chaos as the God of the Hebrews led the Israelites towards a new idea of civilization, one built on freedom and not on slavery, one built on humans endowed with agency rather than ones bred to blindly obey, like a powerful bull pulling a plow.

But freedom is an ideal. A shortage of water is a reality. Freedom is an abstraction. An escape from one pandemic after another is the reality through which we must live. God had to teach the Israelites how to construct a very different civilization that would be based on the rule of law and not the cult of personality, that would be built on a common order of money and, therefore, economics rather than a pluralistic form of barter with no abstract representation of wealth to which the community could refer. The new civilization had to have a central bank that served as the guarantor of the value of money and overcame the arbitrariness of a barter system.

It would be a civilization built not on fate, not on a lottery, nor on divination in which one man claimed exclusive access to revelation, but on a rule of law known to all and written for all, and an order of economics, evident to all and for the benefit of all. The West would be well to remember what its mission is, what kind of civilization it is dedicated to building.

And it is a choice – a radical choice. It is about not holding property in other humans in perpetuity, whether though a form of slavery or indenture. How we escape from the grasp of that horrific system has a differential history for different peoples. But whatever stages it goes through and however the new vision is to be realized, one must keep one’s eye on the goal, a goal of freedom versus slavery, a system in which men no longer swear oaths to other individual men in a tribal system of honour but where humans serve a common sense of values and a common order of the rule of law applicable to all.

In such a system, leaders are not self-chosen based on their charisma and ability to attract a following. They are chosen because they are struggling to help their people find a way forward. We know and learn the way not be means of fate and a lottery, not by means of divination revealed only to the leader, but through respect for following a leader, a conditional respect dependent on whether that leader can find and forge the way, and to do so through caring, through sorge, through a commitment to the well-being of the people.

At the beginning of the parshat Ki Tisa, literally about taking rather than either giving or receiving, Moses remains the chosen, leader though he is in absentia on top of a mountain and no longer among the people in the tent of meeting where the people stood in awe of him. How does God reveal the truth and the way to Moses?  

Not by directions from on high. But in a conversation, face-to-face, informed by grace and compassion not power and coercion. (Exodus 33:19) The latter may be required to fight off enemies. But in governing your own people, people, persuasion is the means of communication. Moses must be persuaded by God and in turn persuade his people. And that value system created will be one by which the Israelites will be distinguished from every other people on the face of the earth. (Exodus 33:16) The narrative is about creating a civilization by building a nation and escaping tribalism.

Moses will then face forward and lead his people while God turns his face away where we only see God’s back. For we understand the self-revelation of God only by looking backwards, looking at history as it has unfolded. This is neither a lottery system of making choices in a form of fatalism nor making choices through divination and divine revelation to a single leader.

Let us start again. Carve two more tablets of the laws, replicas of those you shattered. For the rule of law will be the foundation of this new civilization delivered by a God that is not a jealous god any longer, for the gods of the dying civilization of Egypt have been wasted. God will be concerned with domestic order rather than a warrior god, a God compassionate and gracious, abounding in kindness and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) How then is the compassion exhibited? Initially, only domestically. Not in foreign affairs.

Do not compromise with other competing civilizations. “No, you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts.” (Exodus 34:13)

What does this civilization teach? It is harder to receive than to give, but it is wrong to take. It is very difficult to build a nation out of tribalism, but without wrapping the nation in a civilizational mission, it will be too easy to revert to tribalism, to populism, to charismatic authoritarian (and dishonest) leadership.

The tribe of Dan, and, hence, Oholiav Ahisamakh from that tribe, was the epitome of tribalism. The tribe of Judah, and Betzalel ben Uri of that tribe, represents nationalism, the best qualities of the Israelites as a nation. The two boys for their bar mitzvahs are selected to forge the vessels and utensils of the Mishkan.. But the ideal of civilization, of one who can identify with and serve all of humanity without discrimination, that for which the Mishkan is dedicated, is Yosef. Yosef or Joseph grew from a self-centred narcissist into the glory of civilization. It is the mission of Israel to become a nation that can and will serve civilization and not worship a golden calf.

IV Concluding Comments on an Iran Nuclear Deal

The US wants to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has already signaled that the US will also be resuming a central role in the international community by a renewed emphasis on diplomacy, particularly with respect to Iran. The E-3 have been active in attempting to facilitate the creation of conditions for such a renewal. Some observers expect this shift to lead to new tensions between the US and Israel, especially given the strong critique of the JCPOA offered by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on 26 January 2021. There have been prophecies that, “Israel must choose between a return to a head-on confrontation with the US administration, with consequences likely to be more severe than those that resulted from the disagreement between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, and an attempt to include as many as possible number of Israeli demands in the negotiations to be conducted with Iran.” I think this choice is misguided and the prophecy is mistaken.

The events of this week add to the evidence that the path of negotiations with Iran will not be readily at hand, at the very least until the Iranian May election. A reinvigorated and regenerated Iran nuclear deal is impossible in the first six months of 2021 and likely impossible anytime in 2021. There are too many issues and integrating them is too complicated to allow for an easy resolution. That does not mean that there cannot be progress towards a deal.

The issue on how to restart negotiations and who takes the first step is moot since neither has to take an initiative or will before the other acts. Breakthroughs will be dialogical, not written edicts and scripts. Further, containment must be directed both at Iran’s nuclear as well as its expansionary conventional program. The two can no longer be regarded sequentially. Further, any agreement will involve more than Iran with the P5+1, but must include the relevant regional actors, either at the table or more likely behind the scenes in cooperation with Europe and the US.

After all, this week Iran rejected the EU offer to mediate a restart of talks with America. Nevertheless, U.S. officials, though disappointed, evidently remain upbeat in spite of this rejection. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, tweeted, “Considering US/E3 positions & actions, time isn’t ripe for the proposed informal meeting.” Further, he insisted on batting down an EU invitation and added that sanctions relief would be essential for any return to negotiations.

Nevertheless, Americans remain optimistic since the time frame for rejection was signaled as temporary. More specifically, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the present juncture is not a suitable time for holding an unofficial meeting with the European Union and American officials on the landmark nuclear deal that Iran clinched with world powers in 2015, “In view of the recent stances and measures taken by the United States and the three European countries [who are signatories to the JCPOA], the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that this is not a good time for holding an unofficial meeting on the accord as proposed by the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.”

The Wall Street Journal had already quoted two senior Western diplomats saying that Iran had rejected the EU offer to arrange direct nuclear talks with the US because Iran wanted a guarantee that the US would lift some sanctions immediately after the meeting. Khatibzadeh said that, “Implementation of commitments by all parties [to the JCPOA] is not a matter of negotiation and give-and-take, because all options for give-and-take were exhausted five years ago. The way forward is quite clear. The US must end its illegal and unilateral sanctions and return to its JCPOA commitments. This issue neither needs negotiation, nor a resolution by the Board of Governors [of the International Atomic Energy Agency]. The Islamic Republic of Iran will respond to actions with action and just in the same way that it will return to its JCPOA commitments as sanctions are removed, it will also answer in kind to all hostile measures and behaviors.”

If “maximum resistance” was Tehran’s response to Trump’s “maximum pressure,” “measured resistance’ is its current revised response to Biden’s measured probes. Iran has also implicated the Europeans for their failures, insisting that the E-3 have been wimps and not stood up to US bullying, paying only lip service to Tehran’s calls to safeguard Iran’s rights and interests against the United States’ under the agreement.

However, Iran has not been satisfied with practicing rhetorical tit-for-tat. It has speeded up production of a new generation of IR2M, IR6 centrifuges to be installed at the Fordow and Natanz facilities according to the briefing on Sunday to the Iranian parliament by the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Selahi on the installation of the centrifuges. Abolfazl Amoui, the spokesman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Iranian parliament, quoted Salehi as planning to install the waterfalls while the centrifuges are gasified while repeating the perquisite of US removal of sanctions as a precondition as required by Iran’s Strategic Action Law. Article 6 of the law requires suspension of voluntary compliance with the Additional Protocol.

The problem concerns not only more and much faster centrifuges. Iran has already produced 25 kg of 20% uranium and is within sight of producing 120 kg. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors this week will consider a U.S.-led resolution to condemn Iran’s recent decision to block certain nuclear inspections.

In the meanwhile, the Biden administration has made no moves to reverse Trump’s decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization as well as conscripts recruited for it as part of their compulsory service. No one in any way associated with the Revolutionary Guard is eligible to travel to or reside in the US. Biden has not acted to retract or revise the terrorist IRGC designation.

At the same time, the Iranians have been more active than ever and have become more provocative. They attacked an American base in Iraq killing at least one American contractor. Netanyahu also accused Iran of being behind the explosion on an Israeli-owned bulk carrier in the Gulf of Oman last week. The Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray Bahamian-flagged cargo ship was hit on 25 February above the water line forcing it to dock at Dubai’s Port Rashid for repairs. The Israeli ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, levelled the same charge. “It was no secret that the Iranians are trying to harm Israeli targets.” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi pointed to Iran as one of the greatest threats in the region. Iran is not “only is a nuclear threat, but it spreads and carries out terror and operations against civilian targets.”.

However, though Israel indicated that it would respond in an appropriate manner on its own time frame, there was no sabre rattling. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that though the evidence pointed to Iran since the ship was located relatively close to the Iranian coast. But Gantz was unwilling to unequivocally blame Iran, noting that an investigation into the incident had not yet been completed. “We need to continue investigating. The Iranians are looking to harm Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran leads to the assessment that there is a likelihood that this is an Iranian initiative. We are committed to continuing to check,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denied that Iran was behind an attack.

Further, yesterday Israel accused Iran of being deliberately responsible for the worst environmental disaster to hit Israel, the oil spill on Israeli Mediterranean beaches. A Libyan-owned tanker registered in the Marshall Islands as of December, The Emerald, was suspected of smuggling oil from Iran to Syria in breach of international sanctions. It was identified as responsible for deliberately dumping tons of crude oil into the eastern Mediterranean 70 km. off the Israeli coast early last month.  90% of Israel’s 195 kilometer (120-mile) Mediterranean coastline was covered in more than 1,000 tons of black tar, closing the beaches to recreation and the sea to fishing.

“Now that President Biden has launched an attack directed toward Iran in a sovereign country without permission, I wonder if @SpeakerPelosi will be consistent and offer a similar resolution to assert the Constitutional authority of Congress to decide when we go to war?” Some Democrats, such as Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York and Rep. Ro Khanna of California took an even more critical stance. The latter tweeted, “We ran on ending wars, not escalating conflicts in the Middle East.” Biden was bombing Syria in his first fifty days in office. Donald Trump famously only attacked once in 2017 to punish the Syrians themselves for a chemical attack on civilians.

These messages in only one week are clear. Reconstructing a nuclear deal will neither be quick nor easy. Secondly, the deal cannot simply be a resurrected JCPOA. Third, at the same time, the US will not abjure from the use of US forces to attack Iranian expeditionary forces that threaten the U.S. position in the Middle East. Biden is no wilting flower. Both Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have characterized Iran’s foreign policy as “destabilizing” requiring a continuation of non-nuclear sanctions. For the US, it does not matter that Iran spends less on its military than either Israel or Saudi Arabia or even Turkey. It is the way it spends that money and for what purpose. Iran under the current regime is considered a subversive and destabilizing presence in the Middle East.

There is a radically different perspective adopted by a writer like Peter Beinart, editor of Jewish Currents, who has been a leader in Jewish support for a one-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. “To help negotiate peace in ravaged nations like Syria and Yemen, the Biden administration must negotiate with Iran. It must treat the country not as a pariah but as one of the several ruthless, interventionist regimes whose interests must be accommodated if the proxy wars that have devastated the Middle East are to end. It must stop pretending that America’s friends are any less aggressive than its foes.”

This is an argument for equivalence. However, the role of Iran as an existential threat to Israel is entirely ignored in his analysis and Iran is transformed into a typical state in the region, but one with less money. Iran has purportedly supplied Hezbollah with 150,000 missiles and Gaza’s Hamas with 50,000.  But Iran also runs a vast media and cyber network throughout the Middle East. In 2007, Iran established IRTVU with 210 affiliates in 35 countries specifically to broadcast anti-American (the Great Satan) and anti-Israel (the Great Satan’s sidekick) propaganda, insisting that Israel must be eliminated as a state in the region. Iran is the unequivocal leader of the “axis of resistance.” Iran is and must be labeled as a pariah.

If the growing regional and geopolitical stakes were not sufficiently acute, Iran’s and Syria’s oppression of their respective populations would normally be sufficient for ostracism. Their international illegitimacy and criminality provide an impetus for America being wary of restarting the nuclear deal, certainly on the old terms.

There is another front of contention which I will explore in greater depth on Monday, the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open investigations into both Israeli and Palestinian criminal conduct in terms of international criminal law. Yet:the Iranian regime, but especially Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have been unequivocally criminal regimes for a long time. Stephen Rapp, Obama’s former ambassador-at-large for war crimes, in a recent 60 Minutes segment claimed that, “We’ve got better evidence against Assad and his clique than we had against Milosevic in Yugoslavia…Even better than we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg.” But it is Israel and the Palestinians that the ICC is investigating.

The Assad’s regime’s criminality has continued and expanded under the COVID-19 pandemic. Iran has been complicit. Aside from Syria’s deliberate targeting of hospitals, the widescale murder of healthcare workers (cf. Physicians for Human Rights), Assad, by not opening Syrian portals at the borders to UN humanitarian agencies, has prevented the UN from delivering badly needed humanitarian aid, including anti-COVID vaccines. Contrary to the 2 March claim by Assad that Syria has had only 15,696 COVID cases and 1,039 deaths. according to Syria Direct, only 1.5 percent of deaths are reported. Of the vaccines being imported, the small amount will be reserved for the regime hierarchy and its supporters. In the meanwhile, an environmental disaster has become chronic as Syria is being stripped of its forests and wildfires are multiplying.

The Biden administration is very conscious of mistakes made in the past. As President Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, acknowledged “we failed on Syria and Iran. “It’s something that I will take with me for the rest of my days. It’s something that I feel very strongly.” Syria policy cannot be subsumed under and made secondary to Iran nuclear negotiations. Washington is pursuing a more active and adroit policy towards Iran and the “axis of resistance” more generally. In the meanwhile, Netanyahu reiterated that, it will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons under any circumstances. “The Iranians will not have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement. I said that to my friend [US President Joe] Biden as well.” Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE agree.

Do not expect a reconstructed nuclear deal anytime soon.

III Regenerating the Iran Nuclear Deal

I know something about resurrection. After all, almost a year ago, my heart stopped. I effectively died. I was resurrected by a passing stranger who gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The latter is possible only in the very few minutes after your heart stops. Otherwise, you die. That is why the survival rate following a heart stoppage is less than 10%. However, I was regenerated or given a new opportunity to live by means of a three-and-a-half hour operation that rewired my heart that is now run by a pacemaker and defibrillator in tandem. Res9rrection would have been insufficient. Regeneration was required.

There are two problems with resurrection of the Iran nuclear deal. First, it is not dead, only very badly wounded. Second, even if it were dead, there is no passer-by ready to intervene and resuscitate the deal. No one, and I mean, no one, wants the deal as it previously existed. The Americans do not want to resuscitate the old deal because it proved too simple to get around inspections and resume progress towards the production of nuclear weapons if things went awry. The Iranians do not want a deal where the Americans can drop out on a whim with no consequences to them but enormous consequences to themselves when sanctions were re-introduced at a level not operative before.

That is why, although the Iranians have called for restoration of all the terms of the deal once the Americans lift the sanctions imposed and restore the deal to the status quo ante, this is not what the Iranians really mean. They do not want to be subject to a recurrence of the same policy whiplash ever again. Though the Americans do not use the term as far as I have read, what they do want is a regeneration of the deal. They recognize that the limbs of the agreement have been badly mauled. One arm may even have been severed. The deal must be restored as a functioning agreement in which both sides gain. In other words, it will not be the same agreement as the old one, but it should look and feel the same but actually improve as a normal functioning peace agreement rather than just a nuclear deal. Physiology not anatomy will be the measure of success of a regenerative process.

It will also offer a better understanding of what went wrong.

There had to be something wrong with the existing deal, if only because it failed to function as intended, that is to secure stability with respect to the conflict over Iran acquiring nuclear arms. Part of the reason is that the agreement failed to address the central conflictual areas. That was readily granted. However, it was argued, including by myself, that ignoring the key areas of conflict was a precondition of getting a nuclear deal. And bracketing the nuclear component of the options for conflict would offer a significant gain even if, as many expected, conflict increased in non-nuclear spheres.

But the situation was even worse than we generally acknowledged. The missile danger was far greater. The use of disruptive militant proxies by Iran in neighboring states was far more consequential. And the sword of Damocles that America held over the Iranian economy was far more threatening to the well-being of Iranian society that anyone, including those who held out the sword, had predicted.

In that general sense, though not in the specifics, the Iran deal was of a piece with most peace agreements over the last three decades. Instead of peace, we have had war after war after war – the Yugoslav disintegration, the Rwanda genocide, the multifaceted Somalian civil war, the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, the Sudan secessionist movement and the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, the continuation of the Rwandan war in the DRC, the post-Oslo intifada and the three Israeli-Gaza wars. In addition, in the Middle East, we have had the war in Yemen, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and, of course, the ten-year war in Stria. In fact, it is difficult to find a peace agreement that did help establish a long-term secure peace that did not pre-date the end of the Cold War. The number of wars has increased. Even though they are mostly dubbed low-intensity conflicts, millions have been killed and maimed. In Syria alone, an estimated one million people died in or as a result of the conflict.

Thus, in Iran, the issue is not whether the nuclear deal produced sustained peace but whether it was on route to such a result. And events have shown that not to be the case. So why resurrect what proved to be a failure? However, that would not mean abandoning the effort to renovate the deal so that it can both bracket the prospect of nuclear war and, at the same time, forge a pathway to a more durable and wide-ranging peace. Therefore, begin at the beginning. Try to characterize what is needed for a truly functioning agreement that enhances stability and does not, in the name of peace, actually contribute to instability.

I suggest that an effective agreement must possess four characteristics;

  1. It must be legitimate in the eyes of both sides, that is, not just acceptable to peace-seeking Democrats but satisfactory to security-minded Republicans, not just satisfactory to “moderate” Iranians, but satisfactory to the Revolutionary Guards intent on protecting and expanding the revolutionary ideals of Iran.
  2. It must be inclusive rather than exclusively focused on nuclear weapons and rely on compellence as well as deterrence..
  3. It must be effective; the deal cannot appear to tick all the requisite boxes; it must actually have evidence that the deal will effectively move both sides forward towards peaceful relations. Appearances will be insufficient. The agreement must be a substantive peace and not just a nuclear peace deal.
  4. The deal must be rule-based so that the norms are written and understood by all parties.

Legitimate

Inclusionary

Efficacious

Rule-based,  

I have dubbed this regenerated deal the Iran LIER agreement.[1]

Let me explain.

The Trump maximum pressure campaign was illegitimate. It ran counter to UN Security Council directives. It was out of synch with America’s European allies as well as Russia and China. Whatever the weaknesses of the JCPOA. Iran was largely in compliance.  Therefore, there were no legitimate grounds for withdrawal. The reality is that, in international affairs, governments are not the only entities that are legitimate or illegitimate. Government actions are as well.

The classical Chinese political and military theorist, Mencius, wrote that, “He who mutilates benevolence is a mutilator; he who cripples rightness is a crippler; and a man who is both mutilator and a crippler is an ‘outcast’.” The first requirement in characterizing a regime as illegitimate is casting its actions as illegitimate and, thereby, painting the regime as a rogue entity. The Iranian regime is a mutilator of benevolence in its domestic policies and is a crippler regime in its foreign policy. However, neither Israel nor the United States have managed to paint Iran as a rogue state, not only in the realm of world public opinion, but even in domestic opinion in the United States. Further, neither is the US in a position to do so.

In contrast, Canada does occupy such a position. Canada has been a leading country defending human rights. And it could be a lead in battling the military interventions of states, most specifically Iran, into the domestic affairs of neighbouring states. Further, Canada has the motivation to do so; after all, the Iranian Republican Guard shot down a civilian air carrier with mostly Canadian citizens and residents as passengers. Canada has also been a nuclear power for a long time but has eschewed the acquisition of nuclear weapons and has been a strong supporter of non-proliferation. Canada is in an excellent position to serve as the leader of a campaign to brand Iran as a rogue state, but to do so, not in order to “defeat” Iran, but in order to move the region of the Middle East from conflict to sustained peace with Iran playing a major role in that endeavour.

Canada is not-a participant in the JCPOA and will be free of its long shadow. At the same time, Canada is a country respected by its European allies but, more importantly, knows a great deal and has had decades of experience in establishing legitimacy in governance by creating institutions of governance that are legitimate because they are inclusive, effective, and deliver on the vision and goals of the various people in the region. It has NO record of imposing order on other states but has an impressive record of influencing other states to aspire towards full legitimacy.

However, legitimacy that comes from a mastery of general statecraft, whether in politics, economics, sociology, or psychology, is insufficient. The teacher must be an authentic authority in how to adapt general standards and practices to particular situations. Canada requires an intellectual research centre on the Middle East where linguistic expertise, the geography, politics, economics, social classes, religious beliefs and deep history of the region are known and can be researched in greater depth. It would have to be a centre in which Arabic, Turkish, Farsi and Hebrew would have to be mastered.

The closest resemblance to such a research centre in Canada is The Institute for Middle East Studies in London Ontario, but it is only a sliver of what is required. It has a journal, the CJMES, The Canadian Journal for Middle East Studies. Another alternative is The Institute for Islamic Studies at McGill University. But it too is a shadow of what is required. What is needed is an effort to build such an institution, or its equivalent, or create a regional branch of, for example, The Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington either at McGill or the University of Western Ontario or starting from scratch.

 

What is clear is that Canada currently lacks an intellectual capacity to play such a role in the Middle East region, or in virtually any region except perhaps Asia. In contrast, the United States has at least several dozen such centres scattered across the country. However, wherever Canada decides to play a regional role, and to do so with great expertise and depth, will mean an investment over years in building intellectual capacity. This has to entail a long-term project and commitment, perhaps carried out as a partnership of regional academic institutions with an integrated centre located at a Canadian University such as Carleton or the University of Ottawa. Ironically, a small liberal college in Minnesota named Carleton College probably has a better capacity for research in this area than any university in Canada. An independent study would be required to establish where and how such a research centre might be established to make up for the Canadian paucity. For without it, Canada could only offer a glancing service to assist in establishing stable and prosperous states in the region.

 

In order to be effective in establishing and encouraging inclusivity, such a centre would have to be inclusive itself with a capacity to study the role of minorities, either connected with majorities, such as Israeli Palestinians, or minorities within a number of states, such as the Kurds. It would have to be inclusive in the broad range of its expertise and in the depth of its knowledge which is only possible in the contemporary world through establishing networks of contacts with research centres elsewhere. Canada understands inclusiveness perhaps better than any other state in the region but has little capacity to apply its lessons to other states and regions.

 

There are two other areas in which Canadian governance has excelled, at least relatively. Canadian governance is generally both honest and efficacious. It is also well-ordered. Canadians believe in good governance as part of their DNA. They may not always live up to their own image of themselves, but they are very disappointed when they do not. It is noteworthy what is not part of that DNA -. enterprising, creative, risk-taking, entrepreneurial. Canadians believe in peace and good government but seem unwilling to take any significant risks.

The experience with COVID-19 vaccines is a case in point. Canada spread its risk by ordering from every single possible supplier so that we had more vaccines on order for every citizen than any other country. But we were a long time getting up to scratch in being able to deliver those vaccines because we had not ordered sufficient supplies for the two suppliers first off the mark – Pfizer and Moderna..In contrast, Israel bet the house and concentrated its order only from Pfizer. As a result, it was able to vaccinate half its population when Canada had only vaccinated 4.6% of its citizens, helped, of course, by an excellent health infrastructure and enormous experience with militarily organed methods of handling communal emergencies.

 

However, peace requires mastering stability. Peace requires inclusiveness. Peace requires efficacious governance that is based on widely accepted rules. That is the way to create a peaceable kingdom even if such a kingdom may have deficiencies in other areas. The rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, can use Canada’s expertise. Canada needs to acquire regional expertise in order to spread it success in good governance. Canada has that duty towards the rest of the world.

 

 

 

The closest resemblance to such a research centre in Canada is The Institute for Middle East Studies in London Ontario, but it is only a sliver of what is required. It has a journal, the CJMES, The Canadian Journal for Middle East Studies. Another alternative is The Institute for Islamic Studies at McGill University. But it too is a shadow of what is required. What is needed is an effort to build such an institution, or its equivalent, or create a regional branch of, for example, The Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington either at McGill or the University of Western Ontario or starting from scratch.

What is clear is that Canada currently lacks an intellectual capacity to play such a role in the Middle East region, or in virtually any region except perhaps Asia. In contrast, the United States has at least several dozen such centres scattered across the country. However, wherever Canada decides to play a regional role, and to do so with great expertise and depth, will mean an investment over years in building intellectual capacity. This has to entail a long-term project and commitment, perhaps carried out as a partnership of regional academic institutions with an integrated centre located at a Canadian University such as Carleton or the University of Ottawa. Ironically, a small liberal college in Minnesota named Carleton College probably has a better capacity for research in this area than any university in Canada. An independent study would be required to establish where and how such a research centre might be established to make up for the Canadian paucity. For without it, Canada could only offer a glancing service to assist in establishing stable and prosperous states in the region.

In order to be effective in establishing and encouraging inclusivity, such a centre would have to be inclusive itself with a capacity to study the role of minorities, either connected with majorities, such as Israeli Palestinians, or minorities within a number of states, such as the Kurds. It would have to be inclusive in the broad range of its expertise and in the depth of its knowledge which is only possible in the contemporary world through establishing networks of contacts with research centres elsewhere. Canada understands inclusiveness perhaps better than any other state in the region but has little capacity to apply its lessons to other states and regions.

There are two other areas in which Canadian governance has excelled, at least relatively. Canadian governance is generally both honest and efficacious. It is also well-ordered. Canadians believe in good governance as part of their DNA. They may not always live up to their own image of themselves, but they are very disappointed when they do not. It is noteworthy what is not part of that DNA -. enterprising, creative, risk-taking, entrepreneurial. Canadians believe in peace and good government but seem unwilling to take any significant risks.

The experience with COVID-19 vaccines is a case in point. Canada spread its risk by ordering from every single possible supplier so that we had more vaccines on order for every citizen than any other country. But we were a long time getting up to scratch in being able to deliver those vaccines because we had not ordered sufficient supplies for the two suppliers first off the mark – Pfizer and Moderna..In contrast, Israel bet the house and concentrated its order only from Pfizer. As a result, it was able to vaccinate half its population when Canada had only vaccinated 4.6% of its citizens, helped, of course, by an excellent health infrastructure and enormous experience with militarily organed methods of handling communal emergencies.

However, peace requires mastering stability. Peace requires inclusiveness. Peace requires efficacious governance that is based on widely accepted rules. That is the way to create a peaceable kingdom even if such a kingdom may have deficiencies in other areas. The rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, can use Canada’s expertise. Canada needs to acquire regional expertise in order to spread it success in good governance. Canada has that duty towards the rest of the world.


[1] For an overview study of a large number of peace agreements, see Clare Lockhart and Aleks Sladojevic (2021) “Securing Stability through Peace Agreements.”