Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump’s America

Donald Trump’s America

by

Howard Adelman

There is an extreme irony in watching Barack Obama leave power and be succeeded by The Donald, who has graduated from being Trump Two Two to being Trump Three Three Three. His self-deceit is so great that he must now reassure himself by repeating his messages no longer just twice, but three times. Trump won the presidency in good part by appealing to identity politics, not the identity politics of minorities who feel discriminated against, but the identity politics of a majority at the cusp of becoming a minority at the same time as their sense of personal identity and identification with the major direction of their nation dissolved before their very eyes. Trump did produce a revolution. He turned the heads of those who were drowning in nostalgia from looking at the receding past to looking for a chimera in the future. At the same time, he made those who strived to bring about a new future, in the words of Michael Brenner, look backwards for comfort and consolation. In terms of nostalgia, the positions of the regressives and the progressives have been inverted.

After Election Day, President Barack Obama expressed the hope that once Donald Trump became President, he would moderate his behaviour. Hope can curse one with mindblindness. But Trump proves again and again that he is deeply ethically challenged with an, as yet, inexplicable admiration for the authoritarian, Vladimir Putin. A New Yorker columnist quipped that the Donald was an advocate of “Peronism on the Potomac” as well as being a “xenophobic populist.” He has appointed cabinet members demonstrably unqualified for their positions – Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a critic of public education and an ignorant one at that; Scott Pruitt, a climate-change denier charged with running the Environmental Protection Agency; Steven Mnuchin, one of five Goldman Sachs alumni appointed by Trump to the government coming from a company he once pointed to as a major source of the swamp in Washington. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is inexperienced, irrational, unstable, thin skinned, but with a deep conviction that he knows something better than anyone else, yet he shows little interest in reading or in the process of policy formation. And he often appears unhinged, as when he appeared before the American intelligence community yesterday. More and more, he presents himself as a clear and present danger to democratic government. ­

In yesterday’s Torah study group, as the rabbi pointed out, we had a rare confluence when the text being studied directly spoke to the contemporary situation, so I have an opportunity to marry biblical commentary to contemporary politics. The verse reads as follows:

וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8)

When the text reads, “a new king,” does it mean just a new person taking the throne of Egypt (Trump as a democratically elected monarch) or does it mean a king at the beginning of a new line of succession, neither Democrat or Republican at heart? Or perhaps it means a new kind of king. Or all three! In the biblical text, a new line of succession is at least suggested because of the omission of any reference to forebears. After all, a king’s legitimacy depended in good part on a long inheritance line. Most commentators suggest that what took place was a dynastic change, and, further, and even more importantly, a change that discarded old patterns of behaviour and initiated new and even revolutionary ones.

This is also suggested by the way the new Egyptian king took power. He arose over Egypt – עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם. It is one thing to rule over Egypt. It is quite another to rise to power “over” Egypt, which suggests a palace coup or a revolt. Third, one manifestation of this generic change is what the king does with his power. How does he spend the government treasury – on pyramids? Or on public works or on the military? This new king spent the Egyptian treasury on the military and used the Hebrews as slaves to build new cities for stores or supplies, miskenoth –מִסְכְּנוֹת֙.

וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־ רַעַמְסֵֽס: And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Ramses. (Exodus 1:11)

See also 1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chronicles 8:4, 8:6, 16:4 and 17:12. The last makes clear that a store “city” is a fortress.

There is a fourth factor defining the new character of a ruler – who the ruler points to as the enemies of the state. In this case, the text is explicitly clear. It is the Israelites who are defined not only as the Other, but the proliferating Other, the threatening Other, the Other which can act as a Fifth Column for Egypt’s external enemies. However, the major emphasis is a fifth factor. This king “knew not Joseph.” It could simply mean that the new king had not been acquainted with Egyptian history and with Joseph’s role in that history. Not a very plausible conclusion since the generation of Joseph had just died off.

There is a much more plausible account that can connect the different strands of legitimization together. Joseph was not only a Vizier who saved Egypt through a period of famine by developing a system for collecting and storing food in the good times and then a system for distributing that food in the bad times. But he did something else as well. First, he operated a welfare state collecting the wealth of society so that all could be fed. He then exchanged bread for the livestock of the inhabitants. (Genesis :47:17) The people lost their flocks and their herds. Then when the people ran out of animals, they exchanged their land for food. (47:19) Further, they then worked the land in return for a percentage of the produce giving Pharaoh a fifth of everything they produced. 20% of gross sales, not just 20% of profits went to Pharaoh. Joseph had either converted a country of freeholders into a feudal state or converted a decentralized feudal country into a centralized collectivist economy. Further, he moved the people into cities and lauded old Jewish values which gave priority to the city, to civilization, but, in the process, probably created a mass of discontented Egyptians who likely lived just above the poverty line in an alien environment they detested. They longed for the old Egypt rooted in the banks of the Nile where rituals were attuned with the annual floods.

It is hard to believe that the new king would not know what Joseph had done. It is far more likely that the new pharaoh (initially just a king) knew precisely what Joseph had done and had rallied the ex-Egyptian herders and shepherds and landowners to overthrow the old dynasty precisely because of resentment over their new status as serfs or urbanized poor. What then could “he knew not Joseph” mean? At the very least, it meant that the new king of Egypt created a competing narrative to the one in which Joseph saved Egypt, saved the state, saved the establishment in power, but, in the new version, did so for the benefit of those in power and at the cost of the traditional way of life of the Egyptians. In the new version, Joseph and his tribe could be blamed for destroying the old social order. Since they were foreigners, they were doubly suspect.

With the background of the biblical text, look more closely at Trump’s inaugural speech. Instead of a record and narrative of survival from the threat of drought, (from the Great Recession of 2008), Trump describes a state of carnage. Not in 2007, but in 2017, ten years later. And he began, not by acknowledging traditions, not by acknowledging past accomplishments, not even by pointing to the constitution of the United States as the source of legitimation for a new ruler. “The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans,” not to the constitution or even the flag.

The expression, “We the people,” is taken to its populist extreme. “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.” That promise was betrayed, not just by the previous Democratic regime, but by Republicans as well. These Washington politicians all betrayed their country and allowed it to fall into decay, into crime, into impoverishment of a whole swath of Americans. The promise, the covenant with the people of America, had been broken. It is time to restore power to the people preached Donald Trump.

As Trump said, inauguration day did not just mean the peaceful transition from one governing group to another. “We are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Can you not just hear the new king of Egypt standing on the balcony of his palace and asserting that for too long, a small group in Thebes reaped the rewards while the people bore the costs, bore the burdens. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.” The jobs left and the factories closed. The animal herds disappeared and you the people were forced to work the land, no longer for yourselves, but to enrich those in power with the taxes imposed upon you.

“Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.” Trump pronounced a new beginning. “All change starts right here and right now.” This is not 2017 of the Common Era, but year 1 of the Trump Era, “the likes of which the world has never seen before.” “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.” (my italics) That is Trump Two Two speaking in his inaugural address. When he says only America, he means only me, for he sees himself as the embodiment of the American spirit. Unfortunately, in the history of politics, the phenomenon of demagoguery has been seen too often before. “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

This is precisely the definition of a demagogue, “a leader championing the cause of the common people,” and doing so by distortions and outright lies, using false claims and even falser promises. One does not have to refer to Adolph Hitler and his promise to make Germany a great world power or Benito Mussolini’s promise to return Italy to the great and glorious days of the Roman Empire. Demagoguery is as much part of American tradition as the American constitution. Think of Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, Theodore Bilbo, twice Governor of Mississippi and later a U.S. Senator (“Listen Mr. Bilbo, listen to me, I’ll give you a lesson in history” – a camp song I learned as a kid), Father Coughlin with his radio sermons in the dirty thirties, Senator Joseph McCarthy in the fifties. The bogey men may shift, but the elites are usually controlled by and/or in service to an unworthy and threatening group –  Blacks, Jews, Reds. The enemy shifts and may be Mexicans and Muslims, but the construction of an enemy alien never does. James Fenimore Cooper, in his 1838 essay “On Demagogues,” recognized the danger rooted in the deep populist strain of American politics. “The peculiar office of a demagogue is to advance his own interests, by affecting (my italics) a deep devotion to the interests of the people.”

The elements are always the same. The enemy is an elite and the demagogue opposes the elite in the name of the people with whom he establishes a visceral rather than cognitive connection rooted in agreements over policies. A demagogue connects to the people by appealing to their fears and hatreds and by pointing to the dreams and hopes that they once had and claims that they had been dashed by a powerful cabal. The new deliverer is ostensibly opposed both to that elite and the collectivities it serves. But the motivation is always the same – the narcissistic urges of all demagogues, their own inflated sense of self, their own gargantuan ambitions, and their disrespect for the norms of truth, the norms of decency, the norms of conduct and, in the end, the norms established by the rule of law.  Donald Trump is a demagogue, not only because he is the best expression of all these characteristics, but because he even disdains his own party as an institution through which he connects with the people. His connection is direct. “What truly matters is not which party controls government, but whether the government is controlled by the people.”

It is one thing in a democracy to assert that a government must be responsible to and for the people and be accountable to them. It is quite another to (falsely) claim that government is controlled by the people. It is not. It never has been. It never will be. And demagogues are the only ones who utter such a blatant lie. Plato declared that any demagogue once he gains power cannot help but drift towards tyranny. Aristotle insisted that the most dangerous form of government was one in which the people and not the law have supreme power, a false claim always made by demagogues to seize power.

The trajectory is horrific to watch. Traditions and norms that took centuries to build are destroyed in only a few years. As the opposition takes to the streets in larger and larger numbers, the new “leader” insists that order demands a sacrifice of a degree of freedom. Rule can only be exercised with a strong hand. And Trump has openly stated that he admires “order and strength” – and military parades. But, as Polybius once pointed out, the decay had set in much earlier, for without that decay, a demagogue could not have achieved power in the first place. But whatever the preparation, the demagogic storm seems to come out of the blue.  Like Cleon, who brought Athenian democracy to its knees, Donald Trump has entered the fray as a political tsunami. And what he says means precisely the opposite.

“We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” Translation – I am the only one that can take you to the promised land. “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” And attendees at the inaugural time and again applauded these words of pure demagoguery.

But the proof text came in one sentence, not the plethora of lies that rewrote history and misrepresented America’s past accomplishments and current success, though these seemed to be the preoccupation of most of the media. Donald Trump said, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” The Bible says no such thing. It is a tale of divisions. And there are divisions in interpreting those divisions. Take the text with which we started.

“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” The instant response of Jews in both the ancient and the modern world has been to pray for the welfare of the government of whatever country Jews lived in, even when the leadership of that country would turn out to be bad for the Jews as well as everyone else. In every prayer book of whatever denomination and whatever country, the Jews express loyalty to the country in which they live through a prayer, most often not in Hebrew, but in the language of that country.

When the new king arose over Egypt, one can imagine the Israelites praying for the new government, asking everyone to give him a chance and let him prove himself. But how they said it, what they said and why they said it varied. Jeremiah (29:4-7), who offered perhaps the first advice to pray for the welfare of the existing government, advised, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” But the advice was strictly qualified. “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie.”

Rabbi Chanina bar Chama of Babylon, one of the great Talmudic sages and interpreters of the Mishna who also, with Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, went in person to pledge loyalty to the Roman government in Caesarea, in his version of the prayer for the welfare of the government, included a Hobbesian reason: “if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live.” Without government, all would be anarchy and daily life would be a tooth-and-claw existence. This was the complement to the false prophet warning, the fear of the mob, of the populace, for without government (good or bad) and order, all would be chaos.

If Jeremiah feared false prophets as leaders, if he feared demagogues, and Chanina feared the irrationality of the masses, other prayers were far more circumspect, perhaps because they feared the wrath of the government turning against them. The fears are not explicitly expressed, but quotes are lifted from psalms which seem benign enough until you read the quote in the full context of the whole psalm. The allusion to the fears is located in those psalms rather than in the prayers themselves.

Many contemporary prayers for the welfare of the state leave out explicitly or even by implication any reference to fears. I would guess that just before the Inquisition, Jews did so as well. The prayer for the welfare of the government is unabashed. This is true of our prayer book in our synagogue which was our rabbi’s tweak of the older prayer in the siddur, The Gates of Prayer (1975). In Siddur Pirchei Kodesh (2011), our current Holy Blossom Temple Reform prayer book (in the U.S. Reform movement, Mishkan T’filah, 2007), the prayer for the welfare of the country is offered without either an allusion to or certainly any expression and recognition of a danger. Like most American prayers (our rabbi is from Chicago), the prayer is usually of the flavour that asks God to make those leaders the best that they can be. There is no expression that they may turn out to be the worst possible.

Should we pray for Donald Trump and his government, pray that God make him and his government the best that it can be? Or do we recognize the real dangers and pray for the collapse of that government sooner rather than later given its obvious inherent dangers?

I think readers know where I stand.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Barack Obama’s Farewell

Barack Obama’s Farewell

by

Howard Adelman

Nine days ago, Barack Obama delivered his farewell speech as President of the United States, not just to Americans, but to the world. But he began local. “Hello Chicago.” And then shifted to, “My Fellow Americans” after cracking a joke about how the unruly audience was proof that he was a lame duck. He then immediately pivoted to a populist beginning. Conversations [in contrast to public rallies or even town hall meetings] kept him honest, kept him inspired and kept him going. A conversation is an exchange of thoughts, not by writing essays and critiquing other ones. It is an oral exercise. And conversations only really work if you try to listen even more than you speak. The American people in the diners and farms, in the factories and fortresses abroad were, he claimed, his teachers. They gave him his energy to wake up every morning. They were also the instruments of change – “when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.”

This is a specific kind of populism. It is not the populism driven by economic insecurity and resentment of the rich à la Bernie Sanders that played its way in one town hall meeting after another across America last year. For that type of populism depended on a shared ideology and a shared and identified and identifiable enemy – the richest 1%. The latter populism participated in a common worldview, in ideas and ideals that were the foundation stones of their activity. It thrives when economic insecurity is pervasive in a fast-changing world in which the jobs and positions people held for years are under threat as they seem to be in our emerging post-industrial communications economy. Obama’s populism was of the more intimate kind, one in which differences were discussed rather than common passions and hatreds articulated. It is bottom-up as distinct from lateral populism, and it depends on a set of shared rules for discourse – a logic for exchanging ideas.

Nor was Obama’s logical populism of the top-down variety dependent on mass rallies and sloganeering rather than conversations or shared ideas and ideals. In this latter idiological rather than ideological populism, shared thoughts are not the basis for political action and certainly not conversations that require listening and coherence. The forces driving the idiological populist upsurge are NOT primarily economic, though that may be present, but cultural. That populism is driven by people who once saw themselves as the heart and paradigm of the polity, but now see themselves as looked down upon by a condescending elite – intellectual, professional, wealthy – reinforced when that same elite ignores rather than openly disdains them.

Idiological populism rests on the politics of resentment rather than articulating a political direction. It is the politics of anger driven by radical shifts in value far more than even economic challenges. It should be no surprise to learn that the average family income of a Trump supporter was evidently $70,000. It is this latter populism that was primarily the force behind the Arab Spring. It is the driving force of the populism sweeping across Europe. And it is this populism, not that of Bernie or Barack, that captured the White House when the opposing candidate lacked any instinct for any variety of populism whatsoever. Cultural much more than economic insecurity is its driving force.

Where Bernie saw pain, suffering and deprivation, where Donald saw unfulfilled dreams and fantasies, Barack saw, “the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.” As Michelle put it so succinctly, “When others go low, we go high,” and Hillary could only mimic those words without any deep faith behind them. Obama claimed that his view represented “the beating heart of our American idea.” If that is the beating heart, then it is suffering from both atrial fibrillation and, even more dangerously, ventricular premature contractions. The heart of America is in a profound state of double arrhythmia.

Of the three populists, Barack Obama was clearly and by far the most conservative. For he articulated the liberal idea of self-government in which all citizens are created equal with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Bernie was far more concerned with economic inequalities and the failure to live up to that ideal in economic terms than with primordial and abstract ideals of egalitarianism. Trump despised egalitarianism of any kind as he fed off the energy of the people at his rallies to insult Mexicans and women, the handicapped and everyone of his competitors. No political correctness for him in the face of what he called a rigged system that allowed each individual in a mass rally to fill in the balloon above the cartoon caricature with whatever bothered that man or woman.

What did Obama have to offer in contrast but the most “radical idea”? A great gift that our Founders gave to us: the freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, “to achieve a common good, a greater good.” Did Trump ever once cite the fundamental principles behind American democratic ideals? He never appealed to ideals at all, just fantasies to “make America great again,” whereas Barack insisted that America had been founded on the greatest and most radical premise ever. Greatness did not depend on abandoning that belief, but holding it even closer to one’s heart and mind. There was no common good, only an uncommon and ghostly bad that haunted the land.

If Barack saw his fellow Americans as citizens and Bernie saw them as subjects exploited by the economic power of the wealthy, Donald saw them as idolaters intensely enthralled by an entity that would be otherwise considered unworthy of worship. In fact, it was the unworthiness that was the attraction. And the fact that the unworthy displayed his wealth with garish and ostentatious enthusiasm, the fact that the calf was all glitter and gold, only added to its attraction. Trump offered the populace the fantasy of a new gold rush. Not hard work, not blood, sweat and tears, but a new beginning sui generis based on getting rid of the elites who traded American jobs for foreign deals, who created a porous border that allowed others to flow through the sieve and that lacked a defensive wall and a moat around the American castle. Mexicans, migrants, movers and shakers were all grist for his mill of grinding resentment.

Obama believed in the great God of progress, in two steps forward and one step back. Bernie believed in peaceful revolution, in up-ending the economic order and using politics to redistribute the enormous wealth accumulated by the few. If Obama believed in a zig-zag line than nevertheless always tended to move forward and up, and Bernie saw the line moving downwards and needing to be reversed, for The Donald, there was no line at all, only a direction of moving into the future by restoring an idealized pristine past created by the Hollywood films he saw in the late fifties when he was moving towards becoming his father’s son.

Obama offered evidence to back up his belief in progress. Under his watch, had not America reversed the great recession? Had it not rebooted the auto industry that was on its knees? Had it not unleashed the longest and largest job creation record in American history? Had it not reconciled America with Cuba with which the U.S. had been alienated for almost sixty tears with its music, with its rhythms, with its lust for happiness and joy? Reconciling America and Cuba was the icing on the cake of the American dream, more important for America’s dream life that the U.S. was for Cuba’s drab and deprived ordinary life. Had not the shadow of nuclear weapons now been dissipated once again in the nuclear deal with Iran as the proper follow-up to Ronald Reagan’s Reykjavik concord with Mikhail Gorbachev, and, once again, “without firing a shot”? Had Obama not taken out Bin Laden, the embodiment of evil in the modern world until displaced by the even greater evil of ISIL? Had not Obama allowed America to begin to catch up with the rest of the Western world by providing health insurance to twenty million more Americans?

We can. We should. And we did. This was Obama’s claimed record. We. Not I. In fact, not even we. But you. That is what you did. Obama never claimed that he made America great again, but that we together accomplished that task. Donald Trump boasted that he and he alone could make America great again. And Bernie promised not greatness but greater equality. Barack only held the tiller steady of the ship of state. The power driving the ship through the high seas belonged to the people.

And then the arrow that shattered that beam of shining light – the beauty of American democracy had been proven by the election and peaceful transition of power to a man like Donald Trump. Was it any surprise that his audience booed, that these citizens of Chicago whined “Noooo?” Barack Obama promised to be true to the highest and strongest premise of American democracy – the peaceful transfer of power to an incumbent who won in the Electoral College, though he lost by the greatest margin ever in the popular vote. Who could have ever imagined that the Electoral College, that had been designed in good part to protect America from the whims of the populace, would be the institution that put the gold seal of the republic on that whim! Had states surrendered to populism by surrendering to a popular vote the power state governments had to choose the electors of the Electoral College? That question was now moot. The very institution designed to prevent that outcome had become the vehicle to ensure it.

Trump had campaigned on the slogan of, “Make America Great Again.” Obama insisted that America remained “the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on earth,” even as its wealth was more maldistributed than almost anytime in its history, even as its power in the world was shrinking and even as respect for America had been on the decline ever since the Vietnam War. Sweden, Norway and Canada were each far more respected around the world than America even as everyone stood in awe of the power and creativity and accomplishments of the U.S. But a society that spent almost double its much higher Gross National Product to deliver health care that for a large minority rivalled Third World health systems did not earn or deserve respect in those areas. A country with the best and greatest universities, in most of them still reserved more spaces for the children of the 1% than the children of the bottom 20%. This was not a country to be respected, unless the obeisance given to an imperium is considered respect.

Barack Obama could say loudly and clearly that “for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one,” but the reining economic orthodoxy belied that claim for it celebrated an ethos of each man and woman for himself. When Obama helped pull the country in the great recession back from the brink of disaster, the economic power houses and banks and huge companies were restored to their place in the sun while millions lost their homes and little if anything was done to help them.

Barack recognized that growing inequality, but he was not a Bernie Sanders. His approach would be gradual and by the end of his term middle class incomes were finally showing real gains. He recognized the specter of terrorism and became the ghoulish controller who directed the drones that decapitated the leadership of ISIL, one or a few at a time. Only Donald Trump would promise their immediate incineration. Whereas Bernie preached greater economic equality, Barack preached greater economic opportunity. Whereas Barack saw all ships rising even as the luxury yachts rose even higher and faster than any of the other ships at sea, Bernie only saw those yachts becoming longer and more luxurious and more concerned with ostentatious display. Whereas Barack celebrated a stock market that was breaking all records, Bernie scowled at the billions more pouring into the pockets of the already super-rich. Whereas Barack pointed to unemployment at an all-time post WWII low, Bernie pointed out the low minimal wages, that were, in effect, half of what they were in 1970, the insecurity of jobs and the increased use of part time and independent members of the work force lacking both security and benefits.

Barack could promise that, “if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.” But, of course, a single payer universal health insurance plan would certainly do that. However, in the U.S. this was a non-starter so in that sense, Barack Obama was telling the absolute truth, though it would have been clearer if he inserted the phrase “politically feasible” alternative plan.

All three populists agreed that stark inequality is a bad thing, but they located the source of that distortion in very different locations and attributed the responsibility to very different agents. All three agreed that too many families in inner cities in the rust belt and in rural areas have been left behind. But Donald Trump, while glancing at this reality, really focused on how the values of the once great white middle class had been left in the dust as Barack Obama and his ilk pursued the god of progress. All three populists railed against government only serving the interests of the powerful and who would know that better than someone who had spent his life gaming the system and accumulating wealth while paying little if any taxes?

While Barack preached the need for a new social compact and Bernie preached the need for a radically improved contract between the middle class and those who held the levers of economic power, Donald did not even offer a glance towards either a compact or a contract, but only insisted that he and he alone could make a better deal. Deals were made piecemeal. Compacts and contracts undergird deals. But in the Trump world, they only get in the way; nothing could or should stand in the way of a deal, including the basic principles of American democracy.

Was Barack willing to put a bell on the cat? Was Barack at that point willing to confront the ideological heresy confronting Americans? No. In the name of respect for American democracy and the peaceful transition of power, his remarks could only offer subtle reminders of what was at stake. Though he celebrated the vision of a post-racial America, he pointed to the reality of an America that remained deeply racist without stating boldly that this was one of the lost values to which Trump was appealing, a time when the American white middle class lived in security in their suburbs. Barack might insist on upholding laws against discrimination, but given his marriage to civil discourse, he would not point out that the Donald had been a serial abuser of these laws when he managed his father’s apartment complexes in the Borough of Queens.

Barack could preach that we begin with the premise, “that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do,” he would not point out that different Americans have very different conceptions of the country they love. The myth of a basic true faith for America was as much a chimera as Trump’s whimsical fantasies and Sander’s dreams of a better world in the face of a neo-liberal America. Blunt confrontation and dissing were political sport for Donald Trump that broke the laws of civility that Barack Obama insisted Americans must live by. Barack Obama could complain about citizens creeping into their own bubbles, but he lived in an intellectual bubble common to many if not most educated North Americans, for our beliefs about secular society go as deep as any religious belief and are as immune to falsification as any of them. One must always remember that Barack Obama was a community organizer and not a street brawler.

Is Obama’s secular faith based on evidence as he contends or is it replete with beliefs immune to falsification? Is his belief that politics is “a battle of ideas” rather that of competing forces, as in Bernie’s world or of irresistible force, rather than Trump’s world which eschews ideas in favour of opinions and prejudices? While Barack favours “healthy debate,” his successor disregards the rules of debate altogether as he lurked and shadowed and interrupted and insulted Hillary when he was on a debating platform with her. The fact that Trump lost all three debates, but went on to win, could possibly throw some doubt on Obama’s contention that debate is the rock-solid foundation of American democracy. Is not Barack Obama guilty of the very self-selection he accuses others of, and in a more self-damning way precisely because Obama believes in evidence-based conclusions?

For Trump, selective sorting of facts is the least of his intellectual crimes. He could not care less about facts in the first place. What is real is what he believes in his own mind and he does not even trust that reality, a distrust that allows him to engage in intellectual shape-shifting all the time. Obama is not guilty of that sin, but he has his own mindblindness – ignoring, for example, the role of private capital fostering renewable energy even in the context of a polity like Texas led by two successive climate change deniers. Perhaps Trump in ignoring reality with respect to climate change might also avoid the constraints and heavy bureaucratic burden that states, so sensitive to climate change as California, have burdened those struggling to innovate.

Obama may cite his faith in the spirit of innovation displayed with Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral, American faith in reason and the primacy of right over might, but the winner of the last presidential election is a bully with no respect for reason at all but with an uncanny ability to innovate in what was considered a settled political order. When Trump brought the tools of entrepreneurship to the political process and first upended the Republican Party and ran a hostile takeover, and then the political process in America altogether, that is the spirit of innovation, that is the spirit of entrepreneurship, and that is what should make anyone wary about turning the polity over to the get-rich-quick boys.

You may not think, after these comments, that I do not hold Obama’s farewell speech in high esteem. In my mind, it was the greatest and best crafted political speech that I have ever heard. And it makes abundantly clear, in spite of the brilliant oratory and the rhetorical skills, how thoughtful Obama is. But he is far from perfect. And his political position has many shortcomings about which I have only hinted. In the next political blog, I will turn to the strengths and weakness of his past practices and claimed successes.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis Resolution 2334

Resolution 2334: Why America Abstained
Part B: A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis

by

Howard Adelman

On 28 December 2016, in the aftermath of the passsge of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, John Kerry shared his candid thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Did Kerry offer any analysis of this complicated and truly dialectical history in his speech? None at all! Simplistic and misleading dichotomous thinking framed his talk. There were also factual errors. The opinion polls in Palestine now indicate minority support for a two-State solution, contrary to Kerry’s claims, though his interpretation was valid in a poll conducted at the end of 2013, four years ago. Even in Israel, support for a two-State solution had slipped to a bare majority, 51%, by mid-year of 2015. Now support for a two-State solution has also fallen to a minority there as well. Though most Israelis still believe in a two-State solution as a desirable goal, most have given up believing in such a solution as a realistic one. I think this is what Kerry was really trying to get at, but which he never articulated adequately so crowded was his text with clichés about beliefs that held little correspondence with reality.

But the basic error of Kerry’s analysis is that Kerry believes the “status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation.” I do not believe this is accurate. The status quo is probably leading to the prospect of Israel consolidating its control over the Old City of Jerusalem and integrating Area C unilaterally into Israel without unilaterally transferring equivalent territory to the Palestinians. As an alternative, what chance is there that either side would accept Kerry’s Principle four, making Jerusalem “the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo”?

This is now the crunch point of the dispute. Is it better to propose a solution which both sides oppose? Or is it better to sidestep that issue and consolidate a peace in all other areas of dispute? Kerry believes that, “It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all [my italics] the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict.” I am not so sure. I am inclined to believe that since the Jerusalem issue appears to be the one insoluble one, it may be better to sidestep it. In any case, Kerry gave no arguments to justify why all issues had to be resolved. They rarely are in peace agreements.

Kerry may be correct on another point. “The U.S. and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of greater civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, “but has that been “consistent with the transition that was called for by Oslo?” Only in one interpretation. And even if that is accepted, it may now be obsolete given the new facts on the ground that are indeed now irreversible. Israel will continue to exercise protective military control over the settlements not in Area C, but integrating them within quasi-Israeli borders still seems decades away. In the meanwhile, there is no sign of any diminution of Palestinian governance over Gaza and over the rest of the West Bank. That is a terrible scenario as far as I can evaluate. But it is far more realistic than the picture Kerry paints of the present and immanent danger and one that has allowed him to opt for mistaken policies and very weak defences of those policies.

While Kerry went into far greater detail in depicting the violence perpetrated by Palestinians than Samantha Powers did in her UN speech on 23 December 2016, a speech directly lauded by the Palestinian Authority, Kerry’s speech, which was indirectly praised by the PA, did not explain why the Palestinian violence alone that he described, and that was not depicted in the Resolution, did not offer sufficient reason for the U.S. vetoing that Resolution. After all, the Resolution deliberately avoided pointing out an agent behind Palestinian violence. The PA, as Kerry himself noted, only paid lip service to non-violence and cooperating with the Israeli authorities in repressing political organizations behind that violence, while they feted and honoured terrorists.

Kerry in his speech said that, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes, effectively reversing the transitions to greater Palestinian civil authority that were called for by the Oslo Accords.” The first part of this assertion is accurate. The second part is not. The transition to greater Palestinian authority in Areas A and B, not to speak of Gaza, has not been reversed.

The Oslo Accords, as we have said, divided the West Bank into three areas, A, B and C. “Land in populated areas (Areas A and B), including government and Al Waqf land, will come under the jurisdiction of the Council during the first phase of redeployment” and was referred to as the “populated areas.” Area C consisting of the areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B. In Area A, the PA was responsible for both administration and internal security. It originally made up 3% of the whole area and now makes up 18% of the area under complete PA control. Area B consists of about 22% of the West Bank and is under Palestinian administrative jurisdiction, but joint Israeli-Palestinian internal security. There are NO Israeli settlements in Area B. Palestinian authority has been strengthened in Areas A and B, discounting the loss of legitimacy resulting from its own ineptness in governance.

Area C is the problem. It consists of just over 60% of the land area of the West Bank, but only 100,000-150,000 of the 2.75 million Palestinians living in the West Bank live there. The lower figure is closer to the number of Palestinians who now actually live there. The latter figure in the range refers to the number that lived there at the time the Accords were signed. Israeli policies have encouraged an out-movement. Israelis are notorious for NOT granting building permits to Palestinians in Area C. In contrast, the 110,000 Israelis who lived in Area C in 1993 has grown to almost 400,000. Demographics have been at odds with the requirement of Oslo that Area C “will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”

Thus, the numbers cited by Kerry re settlements are more or less accurate and correspond to the figures for settlements that I cited. Does the strengthening of the settlements east of the security barrier point to a trend to eliminate Palestinian control over that territory? How can one expect 80,000 or 90,000 or even double that number, 150,000 settlers in that territory ever offset the huge disproportion of a Palestinian population of 2.75 million? Whatever Israel does to thicken those settlements, the likelihood of their being incorporated into Israel is remote. The most that can be realistically expected is that they will remain in a sovereign Palestinian authority just as there are Palestinian towns, villages and neighborhoods within Israel. I simply disagree that these settlements make it “that much harder to separate,” that much harder to transfer sovereignty let alone to imagine such a transfer. It is quite easy to imagine and not that much more difficult to realize the transfer. Unless, of course, one accepts the principle that Palestine as a state should remain Judenrein.

There is a distinction between referring to the intentions of the Oslo Accords and the realization or failure in their realization. When we factor in two other elements, context, such as what followed the transfer of Gaza, and consequences, the huge increase in the number of settlers and the decline in the population of Palestinians, the explanation for what has happened over almost a quarter of a century can be attributed to either or both Palestinian malfeasance and Israeli bad faith in its failure to live up to its commitments, in different proportions depending on your information, point of view and ideology. But if we focus on consequences rather than argue about causes or commitments, we enter a reality whereby Israel will never transfer all of Area C and evacuate 400,000 Israelis. It was barely able to succeed in transferring 9,000 from Gaza. The most that can be realistically envisioned is a transfer of some of the territory in Area C along with land now in Israel to make up an equivalent total land previously in Area C.

Kerry stated that, “Now, you may hear from advocates that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers who don’t want to leave can just stay in Palestine, like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point, my friends. The Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel’s law. Does anyone here really believe that the settlers will agree to submit to Palestinian law in Palestine?” Well you may also hear it from critics of settlements such as myself and, as I have heard directly from a Fatah leader, we believe that some settlers would agree to submit to Palestinian law rather than return to Israel proper. In any case, the choice would be for them to make. As it should be, rather than a forced evacuation of those settlements.

Kerry is absolutely correct that those settlements cannot remain either as enclaves of Israel or as enclaves within a sovereign Palestine protected directly by the IDF. Kerry is wrong, however, that Palestinians do not have equivalent rights to build in the territories they control administratively, as all the cranes in cities such as Ramallah indicate. The problem is I Area C. Kerry is also correct that the land on the other side of the barrier cannot be broken up further if a viable Palestinian state is to be created. But does Kerry believe that this can only be accomplished by dismantling those settlements? How does he believe that this would be politically possible? At one time, it could have been. But it is far too late for such a possibility. There is no question that the settlements on the other side of the barrier pose a challenge in a peace agreement. But not an insurmountable one. Not a problem close to that of the Old City.

Further, Kerry is correct that Israel has openly discriminated against Palestinians building in Area C. Demolitions of Palestinian structures have increased. The only way this will be settled is through some kind of a peace agreement, but there is little prospect of that if the dismantling of settlements are made part of the equation. To repeat, it is just too late for that now.

There is the other matter of the illegal outposts under Israeli law, sometimes located on Palestinian owned land. Would the enforcement problem towards these outposts shift if there was international recognition that the main bulk of the settlements would be integrated into Israel in exchange for a land swap and that the other settlements on the other side of the barrier would be permitted to continue, but only if the settlers there recognized sovereign authority held by the Palestinians? If Israel domestic law is extended to the settlements in Area C inside the separation barrier, just as it has been to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on the other side of the Green line, why would that threaten the possibility of peace if that peace agreement as thus far articulated includes those areas within Israel?
If one focuses on the extremist one-state advocates who decry a Palestinian state and the Hamas extremists who deny the legitimacy of Israel, then is Kerry not parroting the same distortions that Samantha Powers lambasted the UN for? But if Kerry were truly both honest and fair,t, he would have to oppose the Resolution. But the Obama administration clearly supported it with qualifications about the wording around violence and the U.N.’s past positions on behalf of Israel.

Kerry argues that the danger is a unitary undemocratic Jewish state of Israel permanently ruling over an unequally-treated Palestinian population. Why is this suddenly an immanent danger? Surely the trends in 2007 when Obama first took office were almost as great then or greater. There has been a degree of quantitative difference since then, but nothing qualitative. Kerry is correct. There are no answers if Israel becomes a fascist apartheid state ruling over almost 3 million Palestinians. But does the de facto support for Resolution 2334 undercut that possibility or is it more likely to increase its probability, even if still improbable at this time?

Why does Kerry not plug for a realistic two-State solution based on previous agreements between Israelis and Palestinians? Why provide de facto support for a Resolution that makes the armistice lines prior to the 1967 Six Day War as the reference point for resolving the problem and does so without referring to “the mutually agreed swaps” referred to as a basic principle in Kerry’s principles at the end of his speech and even in the Arab Peace Initiative? Admittedly, the U.S. sits between a rock and a hard place. Did its defence of Israel in the past without the current pressure of Resolution 2334 possibly encourage and/or facilitate the growth of extremism? This is a possibility. But Kerry’s analysis does not answer that question or even ask it.

Instead, Kerry insisted that the Obama switch to allowing a de facto Resolution so one-sided criticism of Israel to pass was a last ditch effort to preserve a two-State solution. If he had analyzed the various possible two-State solutions and indicated which forces are in play reinforcing one rather than another and then concluding how such an analysis affected American policy, one might give him greater credit. But when he holds out the fear of an undemocratic Israelis state ruling over 2.75 million Palestinians in perpetuity instead of considering what elements need to be put in place to ensure this remote possibility never becomes an immanent one, then it s very difficult to take Kerry’s position as serious. Is it possible that all of the impotent efforts of the UN to put pressure on Israel on dismantling ALL the settlements has strengthened the right and the resistance to Palestinians having their own state?

I have opposed settlements for five decades. So has the U.S. So have the Europeans. John Kerry offers an alternative solution as if he has suddenly discovered that the settlements have reached the stage where the two-State solution has been undermined. But U.S. administrations have always opposed settlements as obstacles to peace. And, in my estimation, they were correct to do so. But just when the time has come to forge a realistic solution that takes account of both the settlements and Palestinian aspirations, a pile up on Israel takes place. Does anyone believe that this will encourage such a stubborn and stiff-backed people to back down, especially when Donald Trump is soon to assume power and the right controls the government of Israel?

Kerry argued that if the U.S. had not abstained but had vetoed the resolution, the U.S. would have given Israel “license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose.” Did the Obama administration give unfettered licence for Israel to expand settlements over the last eight years when it did not allow a U.N resolution selectively critical of Israeli settlements? U.S. Policy, as Kerry repeatedly said, always opposed settlements. Why would licenced be given now to support the growth of settlements but not before? Perhaps Kerry, without admitting it, wants to say that in vetoing and resisting previous UN resolutions in the past zeroing in on Israel and its settlement polices, the U.S. inadvertently gave a licence to expand settlement.

Obama has been a great president and a strong friend to Israel. John Kerry has been an excellent Secretary of State and one truly devoted to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. But his position recently has been ridden with inner contradictions. And his defence of his de facto support of the Resolution is weak and contradictory. If Resolution 2334 “simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades,” why is so much emphasis given to the 1949 armistice lines as a reference point? Why has the U.S. shifted from calling the settlements an impediment to peace to calling them illegitimate and then shifted once again to calling them illegal?

I believe they are illegal according to most interpretations of international law. But why this shift so late in the Obama presidency and with so one-sided a resolution? Further, there was not just the reference to Eastern Jerusalem that includes the Old City that was problematic, it was the reference to eastern Jerusalem including the Old City as Palestinian territory. Does not this prejudge an outcome if the premise is self-determination of the largest community in an area? Why is that not the premise for Area C?

Further, Kerry’s second principle for a peace agreement required withdrawal for territory occupied in the Six Day War. He did not say “all” territory. But he also did not say that that clause of Resolution 242 also deliberately omitted the reference to ALL the territory. Why did John Kerry not make that clarification in his speech?

Kerry, to his credit, did spell out the terms now generally acknowledged by both sides to deal with the refugee issue that at one time appeared to be the most intractable problem. Return was omitted. “As part of a comprehensive resolution, they [the refugees] must be provided with compensation, their suffering must be acknowledged, and there will be a need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes.”

Of course, the U.S. was not the manipulator behind the scenes in drafting the Resolution and pushing support for it. Such an interpretation is but part of a post-fact world. But this does not require an assertion, also made by Samantha Power, that “we [the U.S.] could not in good conscience veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement and reiterates what has been for a long time the overwhelming consensus and international view on settlements and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground.” As I have written, the condemnation of violence was pro tem and had none of the specificity re agency or persistence contained in Kerry’s speech. The Resolution was not “about actions that Israelis and Palestinians are taking that are increasingly rendering a two-state solution impossible.” It was barely about Palestinian actions. And it never adequately demonstrated why those actions – by Israel or the Palestinians – made a solution not just difficult, but impossible.
“Further, to reiterate, if that Resolution was reasonable enough to allow de facto passage, why were not numerous other previous ones that differed very little from this one? The problem is that Kerry’s defence of the new American position rested on quicksand.

The real reason for the switch, I believe, emerges in one paragraph in reference to “the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed towards this Administration.” This was quid pro quo for an irrational Netanyahu and partisan treatment of the Obama administration that destroyed bipartisanship in the policy towards Israel and had given every ground for America to desert its ally.
But more on that in the next blog on Israeli policy in dealing with the Resolution.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Samantha Power and John Kerry – Resolution 2334

Resolution 2334: Why America Abstained
Part A: Samantha Power and John Kerry

by

Howard Adelman

At the meeting on Friday 23 December when the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334, Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, gave a speech explaining why the U.S. abstained on the motion. She began with a 1982 quote from Ronald Reagan. “The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”

In doing so, she set the stage for an argument that the U.S. position on Resolution 2334 was consistent with bi-partisan American policy on Israel for 35 years. In fact, she said it had been American policy for fifty years. That position is simple: there should be a freeze on settlement activity, and that freeze would be the most important condition for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. Further, she added that Barack Obama thus far had been “the only president who had not had at least one Israeli-Palestinian-related Security Council resolution pass during his tenure.”

She then segued to explaining Obama’s exceptionalism. The reason the U.S. did not support the Resolution, was not because of what it said, but because it was taking place at the United Nations, which had a record of distorted criticism of Israel. In 2016 alone, 18 resolutions critical of Israel had been passed in the Security Council and 12 in the Human Rights Council. Israel for the last fifty years has been treated differently than any other member. The U.S. has repeatedly fought for the right of Israel to be given the same treatment as any other state. Thus, though the Resolution was both justified and necessary, the venue had to be taken into account. In other words, the U.S. was not supporting the Resolution because of United Nations double standards.

Two additional reasons were offered for abstaining. “It is because this forum too often continues to be biased against Israel; because there are important issues that are not sufficiently addressed in this resolution; and because the United States does not agree with every word in this text, that the United States did not vote in favor of the resolution.” [my italics] On the other hand, “because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground – and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administration throughout the history of the State of Israel – that the United States did not veto it.”

In other word, the U.S. agreed with the thrust of the Resolution and it reflected U.S. policy over decades. We agree, but we have a few quibbles. If the Resolution does not impose a solution nor threaten Israel’s security, why even consider a veto? Since Kerry suggested that security was the fundamental issue for Israel, but Resolution 2334 did not properly address the security problem, why not veto the Resolution? Further, although security is a fundamental issue, in my estimation, it is not the fundamental issue since Israel is now the predominant military power in the region.

There were other factors for not vetoing the Resolution. “The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the very viability of that two-state solution,” an argument that would be expanded upon by John Kerry a few days later. The numbers of units have increased. There are now 90,000 (my figure was 80,000) settlers living outside Area C. A program of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations has been underway. New plans are in process for additional units. There is even a proposed law in the Knesset to legalize outposts and it was that factor that the U.S. claimed was the catalyst for bringing Res. 2334 forward.

And then the nub of the case for the Resolution. “One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One has to make a choice between settlements and separation.” I have tried to argue that this disjunction is incorrect. As much as one might oppose settlements as an impediment to peace, it is not correct that thickening existing settlements stands in the way of a two-State solution. It just means that the two-State solution that might emerge would be unacceptable to the Palestinians. But as I have tried to demonstrate, any two-State solution that does not transfer the Old City to the Palestinians is unacceptable to them. Freezing settlements would not cut that Gordian knot.

Why then did the U.S. not veto the resolution as it did in 2011 that focused on settlements as the main impediment to a two-State solution? The reasons offered were that this Resolution was more balanced pointing to the threat of violence as well. Only, as I indicated before, the agents of violence were not identified in the Resolution but were in Samantha’s address. “The most recent wave of Palestinian violence has seen terrorists commit hundreds of attacks – including driving cars into crowds of innocent civilians and stabbing mothers in front of their children. Yet rather than condemn these attacks, Hamas, other radical factions, and even certain members of Fatah have held up the terrorists as heroes, and used social media to incite others to follow in their murderous footsteps. And while President Abbas and his party’s leaders have made clear their opposition to violence, terrorism, and extremism, they have too often failed to condemn specific attacks or condemn the praised heaped upon the perpetrators.”

It is clear that the general clause about violence was introduced so that the Americans would not veto the Resolution, even though everyone understood the thrust of the Resolution to be the same as the 2011 effort. Samantha never explained why the wording about violence in the Resolution was considered sufficient to restrain from exercising a veto, especially in light of her remarks that identified the main, though not exclusive, source of the violence.

Power reiterated, and Kerry would later stress, that Israel could not remain both a democracy and a Jewish state if it continued on its present course. But this is a distortion. If Israel were to incorporate Area C into Israel as well as the Old City, and if the new state of Palestine were to allow the 80-90,000 resident to stay as citizens of Palestine, while possibly also allowing them dual citizenship, Israel could remain both democratic and a Jewish state. It is only if the extremists in the Israeli cabinet push through their one state option that being a Jewish state and being a democratic state become, at one and the same time, though not impossible, very improbable.

Power offered one final argument for not vetoing the Resolution. The U.S. was absolutely committed to Israel’s security. However, “continued settlement building seriously undermines Israel’s security.” Power and the State Department were not claiming the buildings themselves threatened Israel’s security, or even the increased population in the settlements actually did. It was sufficient that these initiatives on the ground provided an excuse or rationale at the very least for undermining the peace process and the vision of a two-State solution. And perception in politics is almost everything.

On 28 December 2016 at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, John Kerry offered his own remarks, not just on Resolution 2334, but on Middle East Peace as the title indicated– note, not Israeli-Palestinian peace. Yet his opening statement stated, “Today, I want to share candid thoughts about an issue which for decades has animated the foreign policy dialogue here and around the world – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Was this a Freudian slip? Was John Kerry of the opinion that the key to peace in the Middle East – after what has happened in Iraq, in Syria and Turkey – is the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

After this, Kerry offered some truisms, the first identical to one offered by Samantha – Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security – a proposition right wing supporters of Israel not only question but insist is false. He then cited a premise rather than a truism, a premise based on futurology rather than a record of fact and history. It happens to be one I share: “the two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” That is because I believe that a single state with equal rights and opportunities for both Jews and non-Jewish Palestinians is a complete delusion, though if I am incorrect, it would ensure just and lasting peace. No other one state solution would be either just or lasting.

But as I have written earlier, there are many two-State solutions, not just one. To which was he referring? He never explained at this point, but went on to put forth his conviction that such an outcome of an Israel as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace and security beside a Palestinian state that offered its citizens freedom and dignity was “now [my italics] in jeopardy.” Not earlier! Not next year! But now. If this did not take place, it would be bad for Israelis, bad for Palestinians and bad for U.S. interests in the region. “Both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace,” Kerry intoned. That set out one objective of the speech – explaining why that possibility of peace was now in jeopardy.
The second and related objective was to explain why the U.S. had abstained from voting on the Resolution. For it had become clear that Samantha’s remarks had not done the job. None of the reasons offered by Samantha either explained why the U.S. did not support the Resolution, for the reasons for not doing so seemed mundane. And if they were given any significant importance, then the U.S. should have vetoed the Resolution. Further, the question of “Why now?” needed to be answered. With Samantha’s emphasis on continuity in policy over five decades, the puzzlement over why America did not veto the Resolution grew rather than diminished. Further, the reasons for abstaining – mainly the UN’s double standards – seemed to indicate that this was precisely a time when the U.S. should not permit any anti-Israel UN resolution to pass since, as she had herself documented, that double standard seemed to have gotten much worse in 2016.

Kerry now openly declared that the U.S. abstained so that the resolution could pass. The U.S. not only favoured the Resolution but viewed it as a crucial step to getting both parties back on the road to resolving their differences. That could only be done, he indicated, if he filled in the details of how those differences could be resolved. And he was propelled to do that because vital American interests and values were at stake. Further, those values now made it imperative that the U.S. stand aside and allow the Resolution to pass. He could not allow a “dangerous dynamic to take hold.” Now? Suddenly? Had not the trends in settlement policies by the Israelis been even worse in the past?

It may be the case that “friends need to tell each other hard truths,” so the question rose as one listened to his speech whether it would deal with those hard truths. Would John Kerry admit that the settlement policies had gone too far and for too long to reverse and dissolve most of the settlements, that attempting to do so would destroy Israel, that reversing the settlements would instigate a civil war in Israel that would of necessity impact on the Palestinians, that a two-State solution was available that would not involve dissolving the vast majority of the settlements, that such a solution was available if only Israel would surrender its claims on the Old City and that the vast majority of Jewish Israelis were united on not surrendering such a claim, and that the Palestinians would not agree to accept the continuity of the vast majority of the settlements, with different clusters of settlements having different solutions, unless the Old City fell under Palestinian sovereignty?

Well certainly not before Kerry created a number of defensive barriers against criticisms. It was certainly true, contrary to the delusions of the Israeli and American right, that Obama has extended himself enormously on behalf of Israel’s military security through intelligence cooperation, through joint military exercises, through American assistance to the Iron Dome defensive system, through a consistent opposition to the BDS campaign, and through a memorandum of understanding that offered Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next ten years, a commitment that counted for 50% of America’s Foreign Military Financing. Nor should there be any doubt about John Kerry’s sincere commitment both to the security of Israel and the dignity of Palestinians.

Kerry then repeated:” the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy.” And as we know from Torah studies and the study of Shakespeare, repetition signals a profound message. He cited violence, terrorism, incitement on the one hand, without connecting it with a specific agent or agency, and, on the other hand, settlement expansion and seemingly endless occupation where the agency was unequivocally clear as responsible for the clear and present danger. There was no mention that violence was now under greater control than perhaps at any time in Israel’s history and that the puffball of the so-called Third Intifada of stabbings and rammings was but a symptom. There was also no mention that the multiplication of numbers and locations of settlements had been on a severe decline as the thickening of settlements had accelerated. It was not very clear why current levels of violence and current levels of settlement building were now posing such an extraordinary danger to peace when both had much more clearly done so in the past.

Trends on the ground are combining “to destroy hoped for peace”? That is a self-evident truth? The problem really is that Israel has grown more physically secure as it has consolidated its occupation, but grown much more politically insecure as Israel has been losing the international diplomatic war to the Palestinians. Has Obama’s unqualified support for Israel’s military security contributed to that situation? Kerry not only never answered that question, he never asked it.

And this was his riposte to the idealist dream of a single unitary state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both.” Oh, but he was not speaking of a unitary state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. He was speaking of a Jewish state that established permanent rule over Palestinians and relegated them to an inferior status. That is a theoretical possibility, but believing that it is an imminent threat ignores the trends of facts on the ground.

Palestinians have come far too far in the process of self-government to put up with any such political rule over them. Nor would the world allow it. If the extremists in Netanyahu’s cabinet win, highly unlikely, then Israel would lose. The prospect of a Jewish state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is almost as delusionary as the prospect of a unitary democratic state. Neither is a realistic option. One is an idealist impossible dream and the other is a fascist nightmare with only a slightly greater chance of coming into being. Kerry poses a false dichotomy as well one with each of the poles highly unlikely while leaving out the more realistic various options of two-State solutions.

Bad arguments often start with false dichotomies. Kerry’s argument falls into that category. Nor does Kerry have a very good grasp of history. He made his first trip to Israel in 1986. When he claims that, “After decades of conflict, many no longer see the other side as people, only as threats and enemies,” as if this perception of the other emerged and consolidated itself only recently. The reality s that both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians deserve more respect. Both sides have viewed the other as enemies, but to different degrees by different factions. Both sides have recognized that the other are people, but with many interests and objectives at odds with their own, even as both groups demonstrated a number of shared interests and values.

Has the situation become worse? In many ways it has. Hamas is in power in Gaza and Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist. If a fair election were held in the West Bank today, polls indicate that Hamas would emerge the victor. On the Israeli side, it has the most extreme cabinet in the history of Israel, one with a strong faction totally opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel. On the other hand, even in Gaza, the Palestinians have developed many of the instruments and institutions of self-government. Israel and Palestine are the closest trading partners with the other. There are efforts at cooperation and joint projects in many areas. However, the trend lines are worrisome.

But are settlements the reason for those trend lines? The Israeli cabinet has grown more extreme, I venture to say, in part in answer to those who focus most of their attention on the alleged threat the settlements pose to a viable peace agreement. I personally concur that an agreement might have been much easier if most of the settlements in Area C and the settlements on the other side of the Protection Barrier had not been built. But that fact might also have removed any pressure from the Palestinians to make peace. Historical counterfactuals are so difficult to calculate.

On the other hand, historical realities are not. Never before have you had a government in power in parts of Palestine and with the imminent possibility of acquiring power over all of Palestine that is dedicated to the eradication of Israel. When Fatah held that view, it lacked any power. Only in dealing with the realities of power and the need for compromise has Fatah accommodated itself to the reality of Israel. But not without a cost – a cost in support that cannot simply be traced to its unaccountable and poor governance.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution: Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution:
Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

by

Howard Adelman

Following the war in 1948, the borders recommended by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, shifted. Beginning with the United States, many countries recognized the new state of Israel. This was before the war broke out. After the war, these states, and the numbers increased, which recognized Israel, did not differentiate between the borders approved by the UN and the territory between those borders and the new armistice line. The latter was not referred to as “occupied territory” within the enlarged borders of the armistice agreement. It is more than noteworthy that the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) which defined the rights of a victor over territory and the treatment of local inhabitants, as well as the right to move or give permission to move its own population into those territories captured in that war, was not adopted until August 1949.

The inclusion of Jerusalem and the West Bank within Jordan was not generally recognized. Nevertheless, Jordan’s control and administration of Jerusalem and the West Bank and its subsequent annexation into Jordan became the de facto reality until 1967. In that year, UNSC Res. 242 set up a new framework for recognition. Israel was required to withdraw from occupied territories, and explicitly not the occupied territories. The drafters of that resolution explicitly did not recognize the 1948 armistice lines as borders. The big change was that Israel was now the occupying power of the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the generally established, but not universally accepted, interpretations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a power that exercises military occupation of a territory following a war – and it does not matter whether that territory was the sovereign territory of another state or territory occupied by another power or legal state or whether the territory was captured in a defensive or an aggressive war – that power was not allowed to alter the demography of that territory by moving its population into that territory or even allowing its citizens to move in to occupy parts of that territory.

The left in Israel took advantage of the clauses that allowed changes “for military purposes.” The right in Israel claimed, that under the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, that territory was to be a homeland where Jewish people could settle. Others claimed that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumped those allowances of the 1920s. But the point became moot because international treaties between the parties in contention would trump both the Geneva Convention and the exercise of de facto coercive power and administrative control on the ground.
Which brings us to Resolution 2334. Resolution 2334 alters previous arrangements and does so in fundamental ways. It reaffirms, as I have previously explained, a general principle, but one only applied to Israel after 1967, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. It reaffirms the Fourth Geneva Convention about the transfer of populations and defines the creation of the barrier/wall/fence as a breach of that Convention and not justified by military or security needs, at least where it is located on territory administered by Israel. Israel’s actions were once again determined to be in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Resolution 2334 explicitly condemns altering the demographic makeup of the territory, more significantly, biases any negotiations by calling the occupied territory Palestinian territory and not simply the West Bank, and specifically includes East Jerusalem which encompasses the Old City in its nomenclature.

Resolution 2334 adds to these old assertions, now somewhat modified in language, a “grave concern” that the continuous construction of settlements threatens the two-State solution. The Resolution explicitly adds, “based on the 1967 lines,” and leaves out any reference to land swaps. In this Resolution, the 1967 lines now acquire a status as a border reference. The Resolution goes even further to point to the settlements as THE obstacle, that is the major, though not exclusive, barrier to concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And it is, if you accept the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. And that is what the UN Security Council did in passing that Resolution. It effectively trumped Resolution 242 which had only required withdrawal from some territory and not all territory. Resolution 2334 effectively trumped OSLO by setting the 1967 armistice borders as the reference point rather than any swap of territories already agreed to between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In effect, the weight of international recognition of what was Palestinian territory was added to the weight of the dominant interpretation of international law to offset the weight of coercive power and administrative Israeli authority over parts of that territory. In the near term, the Resolution seems to have had a stimulant effect, spurring the formalization of settlements and outposts underway or in the planning stage, as occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century when another UN Security Council Resolution was passed. UNSC Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously on 19 November 2003, endorsed the Road Map proposed by the Quartet envisaging an exchange of territories to satisfy Israeli security concerns and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The threat of terrorism featured prominently. In that phase, the establishment of new settlements, at least legally, by and large effectively ceased.

The focus of Israel became “natural” expansion. This is precisely and explicitly what Resolution 2334 mentioned. Did Resolution 1515 passed in 2003 indirectly accept the settlements built before 31 March 2001? Was their legality reinforced in distinguishing between settlements after 2002 from those authorized before 2001? Resolution 2334 seemed to state that this was not the case. The only changes to the 1967 lines that will be recognized are those made between the two parties. Does that mean that Resolution 2334 recognizes the lines between areas A, B and C? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning them, they are given no international imprimatur. Does that mean Resolution 2334 recognizes the tentative agreement on the territorial swap? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning that swap agreement, it is given no international imprimatur. These may be incorporated into a final negotiated agreement, but the diplomatic trading hand of the Palestinians has been greatly strengthened.

In the last eight years under the Obama administration, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem neighbourhoods, has grown to about 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000 largely through the “thickening” of existing settlements. The number of “settlers” in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, only 15,000 more than when Obama took office. The emphasis in policy of Israel has been on strengthening the West Bank settlements. Almost 13,000 new settlement units were initiated or completed in the West Bank. What Israel has lost in diplomatic leverage in the international arena it has tried to offset by facts on the ground and de facto coercive and administrative control.

Unlike the efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the 2016 Resolution called on reversing the situation. Further, contrary to the contention of that Resolution, there is little evidence suggesting that efforts to grow and expand existing settlements entrench a one-State reality as claimed in Resolution 2334. But the clinkers come in the clauses much more than in the preamble. Those clauses reiterate that the settlements established anywhere in the occupied territories after 1967 are illegal., a flagrant violation of international law and impediment to a two-State solution and a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Resolution 2334 demands cessation of all settlement activities.

And what is a settlement activity. Expanding buildings? Repairing buildings, Working? Eating? Driving? Or is it just the collective initiatives such as providing for infrastructure and administration? The real substantive elements are the repeated references to the 1967 borders as the fundamental reference, the repeated reference to East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as falling within that reference point as not only occupied territory but occupied Palestinian territory, the call for reversal of trends that have significantly fallen off since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the call for other states to differentiate, not only in trade, but in all dealings between what happens in the occupied territories and what happens within the 1967 lines recognized as sovereign Israel. The supplementary clauses denouncing violence on all sides appear pro tem, especially because the resolution explicitly excludes reference to activities which reinforce or encourage terrorism (such as treating terrorists as heroes and martyrs) while the targeting of demolitions is spelled out and focused solely on Israel.

In August of 2016, following a denunciation of settlement thickening expansion plans by 200 American rabbis, the U.S. sent Israel an unequivocal message that if demolitions proceeded in the Palestinian village of Sussia, a red line would be crossed. This echoed protests made by EU foreign ministers on 20 July 2016 following warnings General Mordechai delivered to the Bedouins. 340 of them live in the village. The fact that these disputes, so badly handled by Israel, may have virtually nothing to do with Israeli settlement activities and everything to do with Bedouin resistance to Israeli urban development strictures, whether in Israel proper or the West bank, seem to have had no influence on the wording of the resolution.
Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, a lawyer dealing with this issue on behalf of the villagers, claimed that Israel simply wanted to move the village to or near Area B and out of Area C, an area in which 400,000 Israeli live and only 100,0000 Palestinians do. The fact that the villagers were forced to move in 1986 and the homes they built on their agricultural land were demolished in 2001, rebuilt and demolished again in 2011, was not considered as part of the analysis. This demolition would be the third time since the village was built thirty years ago. Nor did the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government in 2015 seem to count. Nor, finally, did it seem to matter that this was a new village built during occupation.

All of this must be understood also within the context of diplomacy conducted over the last six years. The Americans refused to declare the settlements illegal in 2011 when the Palestinians attempted to declare their status as a state at the United Nations in the Palestine 191 initiative. How did Israel respond? It doubled down and announced the building of additional settlement units in response to the Palestinian diplomatic initiative. The Europeans resisted. Germany moved to stop delivery of submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Israel. The following year, if some European states previously abstained, they then supported Palestinian statehood. If they previously opposed, they abstained in 2012 voting. The diplomatic war was running against Israel and criticisms mounted against home demolitions, expropriation of land and the refusal to grant construction permits to Palestinians.
These countries and their diplomats contended that Israeli actions and initiatives in the West Bank were completely contradictory to the stated and agreed aim of arriving at a two-State solution. But as I tried to demonstrate in my previous analysis, that depends on what you define as the two-State solution since there are many variations. If the plan is simply to incorporate Area C along with the accepted Jerusalem neighbourhoods into Israel, and to transfer equivalent Israeli land to the new Palestinian state, such thickening activities do not undermine a two-State solution. But if the reference point is the 1967 armistice lines, then such activities do conflict with a very different two-State solution. More importantly, by making the 1967 lines the reference point and by defining the occupied territory as Palestinian territory, the diplomatic hand of the Palestinians is significantly strengthened.

The situation, to say the least, has not been helped by the way Bibi Netanyahu conducts diplomacy in terms of domestic politics. He has bragged that his government is more committed to settlements than any Israeli government in history, in spite of the evidence to the contrary when comparing the expansion of the number of settlements under Arik Sharon’s government compared to Bibi’s. Further, Naftali Bennett and others in Bibi’s cabinet openly declare the two-State solution in any form dead. Donald Trump has appointed an ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who dubs the two-State solution in any form an illusion. All of these responses of the Israeli government stimulate an equal and powerful reaction from Western governments sympathetic to some kind of a Palestinian state being created side-by-side Israel.
As more Israeli politicians not only believe in but advocate implementing a one state solution unilaterally, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved to advocate a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean attracting idealist support and that of many European nations. But those efforts are NOT identified as a threat to the two-State solution because they ostensibly emanate from idealist principles rather than what is perceived to be a crass power grab.
In one interpretation of Resolution 2334, the world is trying to save Israel from its worst propensities, propensities likely to be reinforced by the new Trump government. In a very different interpretation of the very same international diplomatic initiatives, a sustained effort has been mounted to strengthen the Palestinian hand in negotiations and to keep the threat of terrorism at bay. As Israeli settlers marched from Ma’aleh Adumim to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on territory captured in the Six Day War (February 2014), when in 2016 Bennett openly advocated formally annexing those territories, the counter-movement strengthened.

Those who argue that settling people to mark territory is illegal under the dominant interpretation of international law, and, further, that such efforts are unsustainable, in turn, strengthen the hands of Israeli extremists demanding total annexation. The extremes are enhanced and the most reasonable compromises are undermined from both sides. This is especially true when the idealists and opponents charge Israel with creating an apartheid state – which is not outside the realm of possibilities. Certainly, hatred of Jews has been increasing among Palestinians. Suspicion and fear of Arabs, reinforced by extremist Islamic actors in the Muslim world, has increased among Israelis.

In response to my last blog, one reader wrote and asked, “To whom does the land belong?” I quipped back as if I were writing a Donald Trump tweet, “To God. We are merely the custodians.” The reader wrote back, “Well, that may be theological, but I’d like a more practical answer.” I offered a more serious response as follows:
“You are right to do so [object to my terse response]. In part, but only in part, this was written tongue in cheek. The reality is that the borders of a territory and the country that controls that territory are products of coercive power, administrative legal authority, legal treaties between and among nations and recognition by others. Is Taiwan part of China? Is Tibet part of China? According to the first two criteria above, the answer in both cases is yes. Over the last seventy years, the answer to the 3rd and 4th criteria has also increasingly been “yes,” even though there is often a distinction made between de facto and de jure recognition.”

Are the settlements illegal and does that mean they should all be condemned and torn down? Illegal means unlawful, but does not entail that what took place is a criminal act. Civil disobedience is illegal in many countries. Trespassing is illegal but not a criminal offence. Further, some practices are illegal, but the laws against them are not enforced. Some acts are considered illegal but the requisite authority lacks any enforcement mechanism. Most international legal experts in humanitarian law deem it illegal to transfer a conqueror’s population into the territory under occupation. Many Israeli experts in humanitarian law argue that if the territory is taken in a defensive war AND if the territory was never the possession of a sovereign state, settling the population of the new occupier in the conquered territory is not illegal and many even regard the territory as not occupied.

Since the International Court in The Hague has sided with the first set of interpreters, and those interpreters are in the majority, I simply take it as a descriptive fact that, currently, international law deems the settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. However, I myself believe that law is not the only determinant and often not the main factor in international affairs. The removal of such a large number of people would be immoral and politically catastrophic and those ethical and political considerations far outweigh the considered legal opinions of most international humanitarian legal scholars and even the interpretations of The Hague court.

Further who gives the recognition is critical. If it is a major power, that is one thing. If it is Honduras, that is quite another. Sometimes occupied territory is recognized as part of a state passively – namely by muting criticism of that occupation. This happened with the territory Israel won in the 1948 war. It has not happened with the territory won in the 1967 war. In fact, the vocal and legal opposition to the ownership by Israel of the “occupied territories” has grown. At the same time, the control via power and demography of some of that territory has increased. The next two decades will set the direction of the resolution of the recognition of new borders based on an admixture of these factors, but the determination will not be unilateral determined by Israel’s coercive power or formal administrative authority alone.

Those other factors will be significantly affected by influence, the growing role of Israel in wealth and in the world economy and the other kind of influence that is non-material, the respect Israeli politicians and friends earn for Israel on the international stage. The latter is usually called diplomacy.

It is in this context that I want to move on and examine the American approach to Resolution 2334 compared to the Israeli one.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Fourth Geneva Convention and the Wall

The Occupation, Acquisition and Annexation: The Fourth Geneva Convention and the 9 July 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice

by

Howard Adelman

Before I deal with why the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice has been included in the preamble of a resolution focused on the illegality of building settlements, I want to clarify the difference between the “acquisition” of territory versus mere occupation, on the one hand, or the much more radical step of annexation. The last blog dealt with the issue of acquisition of territory. I perhaps should have started by explaining at least the difference between occupation and acquisition and between acquisition and annexation.

The issue of acquisition of territory under international law goes back to the competition among Western colonial powers dating back to the fifteenth century and the competition for colonial territories in disputes between Spain and Portugal and then between those two powers, backed by the interpretations of international law by the Pope, and the refusal of the other powers, most specifically the Netherlands, Britain and France, to comply with those international rulings. In a future blog I will discuss when an international authority in determining international law – currently a political entity like the UN or a legal entity like the International Court – loses respect for its jurisdictional authority.

There were two relevant mechanisms for acquiring new territories – so-called “discovery” of the territory and, second, conquest. Discovery has long been irrelevant, whether or not it was ever really just, but conquest has remained an issue. As I tried to point out in my first blog in this series, international law has attempted to prohibit the acquisition of territory by force of arms, particularly since the end of WWII, but this effort is most notable for the frequency of the breaches rather than the universality of its application either in time or space.

Given the hypocrisy with respect to acquisition, there exists a tension between occupation, the temporary control and jurisdiction over a territory, and annexation of such territory that ends an occupation, not by ceding the territory back to another power, but by making that territory an extension of the territory already under the governance of a power. Annexation by means of prescription, cession and accretion are not relevant here and, in any case, are now considered obsolete. The two modes of asserting sovereignty have been by occupation and by conquest. A main thrust of international law over the last century, but particularly since WWII, has been to deny the right of powers to acquire permanent jurisdiction over a territory and extend sovereignty by either conquest, occupation, or both.

Currently, international law overwhelmingly protects the rights of an existing population in a territory to determine the sovereignty over that territory. It also deems illegal the transfer of populations into that territory under the auspices of military conquest in order to change the demographic makeup such that the resident population and demographic shifts effect sovereignty claims. Yet, as I tried to show, in Crimea, Tibet, Kuwait, East Timor, Cyprus, the Western Sahara, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Kosovo (I dealt with this case in a number of articles and a book), as well as other areas that I did not discuss, sovereignty was determined in fact by power politics – sometimes one way and sometimes the other, but virtually never by international law. Thus, there is a real tension between international law and military force. In that tension, international law has won a number of rhetorical victories, but in virtually no case has it determined outcomes. Further, because of this failure, many would contend that international law has been placed in disrepute and the “law” that might is right has been reinforced.

The issue may be when an occupied territory or parts thereof can legally be transferred to the sovereignty of an occupying power. Note that a country can be in occupation of a territory even if the reasons for that occupation are totally legitimate under the laws of war. The ethics of conduct applicable to an occupying power under the rules of jus ad bellum are relevant solely on the ground of whether humanitarian international law is applicable. A “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

It does not matter whether the occupying power has or does not have legal rights or claims on the territory in question. If the political and/or military power did not have administrative control of the territory before the belligerency and does so after, it is an occupying power and in occupation of the territory in question. Further, the reasons for calling it an occupying power relate to humanitarian considerations with respect to the treatment of the local population and not with regard either to the justice of such occupation or the legal rights to ownership of the territory in question. As we shall see, the two issues, while distinguishable, are related.

This, the politicians on the right in Israel may and do refer to the territory of the West Bank as Judea and Samaria to press forward a legal claim to the West Bank territory, but that is of no relevance for determining whether the West Bank is occupied territory or whether Israel is an occupying power. Simply put, Israel is an occupying power; the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Old City, are occupied territories under international law. That situation of occupation continues until there is recognition of the party having legal jurisdiction AND that legal party also exercises de facto control over that territory. It is the latter point that gives rise to claims, whether valid or not, that Gaza remains occupied territory even though governance is now under the jurisdiction of Hamas. As long as a territory is under the control of foreign troops without the consent of local authorities or the local population, the territory is considered under occupation.

Thus, occupation says absolutely nothing about sovereign rights. Further, occupation is regarded as temporary even when, as in the case of the West Bank, it has lasted for almost fifty years. The occupying power must respect local laws already in place with two exceptions: a) if the local law undercuts international humanitarian law, and b) local law threatens the security of the occupying power. It is the latter tension between the responsibilities to humanitarian law, on the one hand, and to the security of the occupying power that are critical.

It is understandable why a reader might find it strange that the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning humanitarian law and, in particular, the protection of persons in time of war, may seem odd in a document concerned with halting and even reversing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. For, bracketing the issue of settlements for the moment, under any reasonably objective standards, Israel is exemplary by and large in adhering to humanitarian norms with respect to protection of the civilian population. That civilian population is guaranteed protection as long as the majority of individuals there do not become nationals of the Occupying Power. This is a major reason why East Jerusalamites, by and large, never took up the offer of citizenship in Israel when Israel annexed that territory and extended the boundaries of Jerusalem.

In addition to its own security, an occupying power has a responsibility for ensuring public order and safety while, at the same time, respecting the rights of all civilians under its jurisdiction, including not deporting, ethnically or religiously cleansing that population (article 49 Fourth Geneva Convention – henceforth I will cite only the relevant article). The Convention prohibits forced labour, (art. 51) and insists that the occupying power, offer workers protection (art. 52), respects municipal laws and the administration thereof (art. 54), ensures health services (arts. 55-57), protects the local religions (art. 58), provides welfare as needed (arts. 60-63), and ensures the administration of criminal law (arts. 64-78).

However, there are articles which Israel has been charged with abusing, such as prohibitions against confiscation and the destruction of property (art. 53) owned privately, cooperatively or collectively. The problem has not been the property of municipalities and of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences. To the greatest extent, these have been respected. However, property seized for security purposes or taken over for the construction of settlements for Israeli Jews under the guise of security concerns have been viewed as breeches of international humanitarian law. The seizure of such property is allowed only if the property is absolutely required for security purposes and, even then, only during the conduct of hostilities.

There is this reservation. Confiscation of property is permitted when “absolutely necessary for military purposes” and imperative military requirements demand such confiscation. It is up to the military occupying power to make such a determination. However, international humanitarian law does NOT permit the occupying power to simply cite such military considerations. The latter must be demonstrated and cannot be used as a cover for clearly other purposes, such as the transfer of Israelis into the territory in question. That would be a bad faith application of the exemption provision. The criteria of reasonableness and proportionality apply.

A second area concerns the internment of locals because of security concerns (most of the remaining 159 articles), but comparatively speaking, Israel has treated individuals interned for security purposes well and has never exercised the use of capital punishment which is permitted under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has never subjected the domestic population to forced labour for the occupying authority and certainly never subjected the civilian population to military conscription.
The most relevant of the articles of occupation that Israel has been found to breach is the prohibition against the transfer of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory. It does not matter whether that population is transferred there by the state or individuals and families move voluntarily on their own. It does not even matter whether that population moves to retake ownership of property once held, whether in the Old City or in parts of the West Bank. Under the Fourth Geneva Contention, the general principle is that such movements of peoples are not permitted. This is a key relevant element with respect to a Security Council motion against settlements and a reason for inclusion of this reference.

If the reference to the Fourth Geneva Convention helps clarify the areas of dispute and contention, why is there a reference to the 9 July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court concerning the construction of a wall (though along most of its length it is a fence) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories? The answer is in the title. The territories are by the fact of the make-up of the existing population “Palestinian.” Hence, under the law, the Court deemed hat the construction of the wall (fence) was contrary to international law.

Israel denied the jurisdiction of the Court on this issue because the occupying power had not consented to its jurisdiction according to the rules of the Court. In so doing, the Israeli case for military necessity was never made and there is no reference in the considerations as to whether the construction of the wall/fence served a military purpose in protecting both the civilian populations of the territory under occupation and/or the territory under the sovereign authority of Israel. Rather, the advisory opinion has been written in the context of the efforts of twentieth century international law to reverse centuries of practice in which settlement activity and annexation were used to determine sovereignty and convert an occupied territory into a legal extension of existing territory under the sovereign authority of the occupying power.

Further, the Court claimed jurisdiction because the General Assembly, which requested the opinion by resolution ES 10/14 of 8 December 2003, was authorized to do so by Article 96, paragraph 1, of the Charter. The Court did not explain why the UN Charter provision trumped the rules of the court requiring consent by both contending parties, except to assert that its opinion was only advisory and not determinate. “The lack of consent by a State to its contentious jurisdiction has no bearing on its jurisdiction to give an advisory opinion.” The Court did attend to the prohibition against the General Assembly acting on its own and not fulfilling the requirement that the Security Council first authorize such a request by determining that the Security Council had failed to fulfill its responsibilities to maintain international peace and security in this case.

The Court ruled in an advisory capacity to the UN General Assembly, which had referred the question with respect to the issue of legality of the activity, that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.” With respect to continuing action, “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto, in accordance with paragraph 151 of this Opinion.”

Third, with respect to remedial action, the Court ruled that “Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.” Fourth, with respect to the obligations of other states, “All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.” Fifth, with respect to the continuing obligations of the UN and specifically the Security Council, “The United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated régime, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.”
The nub of the issue was that the wall was perceived, not primarily as a security measure, though no consideration was given to the extent to which the wall-fence significantly reduced acts of sabotage and terror in Israel proper. Rather, the wall was perceived as a de facto instrument of annexation, especially since the wall included a number of Israeli settlements within an enlarged Israel.

The route of the wall as fixed by the Israeli Government includes within the Closed Area (between the wall and the Green Line) some 80 percent of the settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Recalling that the Security Council described Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in that territory as a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Court finds that those settlements have been established in breach of international law. It further considers certain fears expressed to it that the route of the wall will prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine; it considers that the construction of the wall and its associated régime create a fait accompli on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case . . . [the construction of the wall] would be tantamount to annexation. The Court notes that the route chosen for the wall gives expression in loco to the illegal measures taken by Israel, and deplored by the Security Council, with regard to Jerusalem and the settlements, and that it entails further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It finds that the construction [of the wall], along with measures taken previously, . . severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self determination, and is therefore a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right.

The inclusion of the reference to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Court’s advisory opinion on the wall/fence were not just rhetorical gestures to repeat past claims and determinations, but were directly relevant to the core diplomatic, political and legal debate on settlements and, in particular, whether an enlarged Jerusalem annexed by Israel and other territories with large settlement properties could be traded for land elsewhere without the full consent of the Palestinians.

With the help of Alex Zisman