After I sent out my Responsa to my review of Nguyen’s book, I received another comment on the original review. The individual had read the book and believed that, instead of the extensive examination on Nguyen’s rhetorical comments on American culture, I should have attended to the two scenes that bracket the book, the American desertion of Vietnam at the beginning of the novel and the Communist interrogation of our hero at the end to reveal something about actual behaviour of both the US and Vietnam rather than just one character’s personal depictions of a culture. Branding America as imperialist is insufficient since that is not what the novel describes. What is depicted is America’s abandonment not its involvement in and conduct of the war. Further, the Vietnamese at the end seems far more ruthless than America ever behaved in Vietnam, so to see the worst traits of Vietnamese simply as imitations of or influences by American culture seems misplaced.
The comment is relevant; focusing on the brackets seems a good idea. Since it ties in with the war that I so unalterably opposed when I grew into my political maturity, it was even closer to me heart and mind even than the issue of refugees. But I cannot begin with America’s war in Vietnam and the abandonment of the country. This blog will zero in on the formation of my view of America even before I became an anti-Vietnam War activist in the sixties.
Let me tell you my starting point that is really my end point. Three of my six children are now American citizens. Some of my grandchildren raised in the United States do not think of themselves as dual citizens; they are Americans period. Further, I love the US – its geography, its energy, its vitality, its creativity, its p. I love the warmth, the friendliness and the generosity of Americans. But I do not love American militarism and American imperialism that Nguyen skewers so strongly in his book.
That perspective goes deep. I was indoctrinated to be anti-American in high school. Not because the US hung Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, though I unfairly judged that to be a witch trial at the time. My education of American history was slim, but I did learn about the War of 1812. The bottom line was simple. The US saw its manifest destiny as including Canada. It was the first war the Americans lost. It was the second war after the War of Independence in which America won the peace.
Britain was involved in the imperative of finishing off Napoleon, a victory that would set the foundation for the largest empire ever known. (I do not know if it really was.) So even though the Canadians with their Six Nations allies beat the Americans, in the 1814 peace deal, America set the precedent as Britain surrendered the forts it held running from Detroit to the Mississippi in return for securing the US as a trading partner. The precedent was also set for a division between British North America and the US along the 49th parallel. At the same time, Britain had sold out its First Nations allies that had been so crucial to the American defeat. At least this was the version of the War of 1812 that I was taught and that I retained. Americans were land hungry. Americans were ruthless Yankee bargainers.
Of course, this was not the “truth.” I would learn of a much more nuanced narrative when I began reading |Canadian history on my own, but it was usually at the further expense of British honour rather than Canadian glory. The general impression of Americans remained. Whatever the causes, whatever the history of the British blockade in response to Napoleon’s (the Berlin Decree) and the effort to recapture British sailors who had deserted and enlisted in the American navy, whatever the record of Britain even impressing American sailors and forcing them to serve the British navy, however the boarding of the Chesapeake by the Brits to recapture deserters that roused the nationalism and anti-British feelings across the US, the war with Canada was initiated by President James Madison and his cohort of war hawks in Congress to seize Upper Canada and guarantee the expansion of America to the Pacific. This was undertaken even though a very large number of Americans opposed the war.
We used to ride our bikes to Fort York at the foot of Bathurst Street when we were kids. We learned that the Americans had sacked Fort York, not once but twice. However, the American invading forces had been defeated in between at Fort Detroit and again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Unfortunately, a Canadian hero, the Governor of Upper Canada, Major-General Sir Isaac |Brock, died. Americans were once again defeated at Beaver Dams, largely because of First Nations forces and because of a Canadian heroine Laura Secord, who alerted the British army, the Canadian militias and the main striking force of First Nations.
In these battles, two American armies were lost. The effort to capture Montreal also failed.
However, given the feckless support of Britain, Tecumseh’s Confederacy was defeated and one of the greatest warriors killed. Further, to the consternation of the Brits so proud of their naval power, the British navy was defeated on Lake Erie, though the story on the Atlantic was much different. Washington was burned. Maine was controlled by the British and New York was under threat, but a hapless British general lost that opportunity.
The war left a residue that set the stage for America’s rise in the nineteenth century. Britain had betrayed its First Nation allies and the defeat of the Tecumseh confederacy opened the west, at least in the northern US, to American expansion. The Treaty of Ghent restored the territories gained by the British to the Americans. Perhaps more significantly, the aftermath of the war in the Battle of Louisiana with the British secured the reputation of Andrew Jackson who would feed off populism to become president and ethnically cleanse the Eastern and Central United States of its native population.
I am now in Mexico. My eldest son, a Latin American historian at Princeton, several years ago gave me a volume by Enrique Krauze, Mexico – Biography of Power: A History of Modern Mexico 1810-1996. What I know of Mexican history I absorbed from this volume.
Mexico and Canada are currently bargaining with the U.S. over NAFTA. It is not the first time. Mexico became independent in 1821, Canada not until 1867. Britain continued to negotiate with the US through the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1845, though Britain legally shared the territory north of the Columbia River, known as the Oregon territory, with the US, Britain, with its First Nation allies, exercised de facto control. At the same time, Mexico included what is now California, Nevada Utah, Arizona New Mexico, and part of Colorado. Mexico was fighting a war in Texas with American expansionists; the American Congress had passed legislation to annex Texas in 1845. American westward expansion had been stymied behind the Arkansas River that cut through the south-west of Kansas and the southern border of Oklahoma.
President James Knox Polk was the warrior president of the United States who, through lies and manipulation, initiated the war with Mexico. But his success depended in good part on whether he could bluff and defeat Britain in peace talks. Through skillful negotiations and deceit (I am not sure whether he was as mendacious as Donald Trump, but the two belong in the same camp), he managed to separate Great Britain from Mexico. In return for peace with the US, Britain ceded the territory that is now Oregon and Washington State and abandoned Mexico to its own fate. The 49th parallel became the major dividing line between Canada and the US. The 54:40 American hawks, who dreamed of expanding the US up to the border with Russia in Alaska, thought Polk had betrayed them.
Polk had greater ambitions. With Britain out of the way, facing a dispirited, economically weak and divided Mexico with a political system that mixed “monarchical” leadership with populism, with a relatively smaller population, most of whom were Amero-Indian and resentful of |Mexico City, Polk seized the opportunity open for American expansion in the south-west. He knew that American power, backed up by its initial industrial might, its far superior armaments and its much better communications and transportation systems, could defeat a politically divided Mexico. Even its allied ruling elite were divided. General Santa Anna was a despot. Lucas Alamán, his political partner, was not. He wanted a republican state governed by the rule of law. His proposal, to cede Texas that had declared independence in 1836 to prevent a larger war that he foresaw Mexico was bound to lose, was rejected.
The Americans invaded Texas in 1947. The excoriations thrown at him by John Quincy Adams had no effect. Neither did the denunciations of the young Abe Lincoln or his demand that Polk provide evidence that Mexico had invaded the US. Mexico was blockaded at sea. Though the people of Mexico were united and rallied against the American invaders, they were no military match, though the Mexicans put up a far more spirited defence that Polk had expected. Though their sacrifices had been enormous, they eventually lost. The American flag in September of 1847 flew over the National Palace. Nine days after the peace treaty was signed in 1848, Americans struck gold in California.
Victory arrived, but not without the Mexicans resorting to guerilla warfare. The US responded, as imperialists do, with war crimes, with beating civilians wans hanging alleged insurrectionist leaders in public squares. The precedent of atrocities was multiplied in the destruction of the Comanche Empire that followed. Americans set a precedent for genocide in the nineteenth century. This does not mean that all Americans misbehaved. A number were generous to the civilians, for America is by and large constituted by a generous people. After the war, Mexicans in the territories ceded to the US were offered citizenship and freedom of worship in spite of the pervasive racism of America, particularly coming from its militaristic side. Blacks were not the only victims. First Nations were treated even worse.
America is a divided nation. It always has been from the time it expelled the United Empire Loyalists. Those who threatened the empire were evicted or forced to submit or both. The US ended the nineteenth century with the ten-week Spanish-American War, the long occupation of Cuba, the acquisition of Puerto Rico and Guam and the reduction of the Philippines to a satrap.
Anti-Semitism, Jews and the Alt-Right
The torch-bearing men in Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally screaming, “Jews will not replace us,” provide an indicator of the core belief of White Nationalists. Many, if not most, commentators on the tragedy in Charlottesville tended not to zero in on the canary in the coal mine. Anti-Semitism was pushed to the side as the focus became primarily racism and gender rights. The liberal-left media readily concluded that coddling of the alt-right by allegedly conservative parties, parties permeated with an uncoded racism, was mainly responsible for the rise of the alt-right. On the other hand, the view of the Jewish right that the world is made up of us versus them, that the world has always hated Jews, was reinforced by the efforts of the alt-right. However, if we liberal-leftists do not recognize that we are also infected, then our failure to be accountable, indeed our intellectual dishonesty, will doom liberalism as well as true “conservatism”.
Eric K. Ward, a Black activist civil rights worker, who studied the alt-right and worked to document its character since 1990, recently reaffirmed that, “American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.” (my italics) Antisemitism is the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. Jews are blamed for the globalist forces that put nationalist zealotry on the defensive. Sigmund Freud was incorrect about many things, but not when he insisted that the roots of anti-Semitism can be found in resentment of Jewish existence, and, to go further, in resentment that the roots of their own nationalist and extremist zealotry itself can be traced in part back to Judaism in the narrative of the nationalist zealot, Pinchas or Phineas (Numbers 25:10 – 30:1).
Friedrich Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals traced the roots of hatred to powerlessness that grows into something “enormous and uncanny,” “something most spiritual and most poisonous.” The expression of that hatred is “the spirit of revenge” that grows out of a slave revolt. When the country one lives in is not the one described, it becomes very difficult to identify the one that does. Denied fulfillment, blocked from realizing a vision, the loss of an ideal, however false and misplaced, means that losses can only be compensated for through revenge, revenge of the alt-right on Jews and resentment of the alt-left on Zionism and Israel as the religious caricature of the Jew first morphed into a racial one and, more currently, into a political one. Nay-saying supersedes yea-saying as extremists dedicate themselves “to go to the ends of the earth to hunt down the last of Satan’s spawns.” (The Turner Diaries)
Over the last fifty years, multiculturalism had displaced the monochromatic ideal, feminists and LGBTQ activists have almost buried misogyny, globalization continues to win even as economic nationalism has reasserted itself. For the right, there must be a cabal, a mythological secret conspiracy, a fantasy of an invisible power, to have won so much and so fast, to emerge and become so influential in the media and the establishment political class in Washington, whether Republican or Democrat. Jews are not simply convenient scapegoats. They are at the core.
But anti-Semitism had declined. Jews have been accepted like never before in history. In just over fifty years, anti-Semitism, already having diminished, was cut by almost a further 50%. However, over the last two years there has been a dramatic spike upwards. This is not simply because the alt-right has been given permission by authorities in power to act out its heinous ideology. That is simply the surface explanation. The deeper roots are to be found in the politics of resentment, not simply in resentment that the core figure in their own Christian belief system was a practicing Jew, but that the core of their nationalist zealotry can be traced back to Judaism. One should not be surprised that Richard Kelly Hoskins Vigilantes of Christendom takes as its hero the Phineas who, as a Hebrew zealot, stabbed an intermarried couple through with a single spear to prevent idolatry and intermarriage with the Midianites.
The politics of ressentiment, the conclusion that society has failed us, that we live in a time when the promise not simply remains unfulfilled but cannot be fulfilled, is not simply a belief deeply embedded in the right. The liberal-left have also been deeply disappointed. Efforts to create a world government answerable to a higher standard have failed. The dream of Jews and Palestinians creating a united federated state or a two-state solution in which they live side-by-side in peace, is proving daily to be a chimera, a chimera that can be blamed on the right, but also must and should be placed at the feet of the darlings of the left. If anti-Semitism is represented by White Nationalists on the right, it is also at work in the new form of anti-Israel double standards and activism on the liberal left. Anti-Semitism is at the core of the alt-right. The failure of both the conservative right coddlers and the liberal-left critics to zero in on that central finding is cause for great concern.
I focus, not on those who express outright antisemitism and call the pre-Trump governments in Washington the Zionist Occupied Government or ZOG, nor on Kevin MacDonald, who rails against multiculturalism while longing for a “white” civilization and opposing Jewish influence and identity. The 1488er neo-Nazis with its 14 word credo to secure the White Race and its promotion of the eighth letter of the alphabet repeated, that is, HH for Heil Hitler, The (((echo))) which claims that, “all Jewish surnames echo throughout history,” David Duke as the born-again Ku-Klux-Klaner who focuses on “Jewish supremacism,” and the neo-Nazi group, The Order, that bombed synagogues in Washington state and murdered Alan Berg, a radio talk show host, are all set aside. So are the so-called “more moderate” alt-right leaders, Richard Spencer, Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor. I focus on those who support the alt-right who are Jews or, like Stephen Bannon, philo-Jews.
Many leaders of the alt-right have made outreach to Jews a priority – sometimes just tactical, at other times strategic, but often enough substantive. Yet the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) labeled Breitbart as “the premier website of the alt-right” with its “white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.” How does one reconcile the overt anti-antisemitism of a significant part of the alt-right while its semi-establishment leaders so frequently overtly coddle the movement? In November 2016, Bannon boasted to The Washington Post that “Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right”. The overt support and not just coddling was most recently evident in Bannon’s vocal support for former Alabama Chief Justice, Roy Moore.
Breitbart News, that Bannon runs, was started by Jews, the late Andrew Breitbart and his co-founder and successor, Larry Solov. The news organization routinely plays up lies with a built-in racism (Obama was not born in the U.S.) and promotes conspiracy theories allegedly originating on the left. Aaron Klein, a Jew, is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and its senior investigative reporter in the Middle East. He also has his own New York radio show with a weekly audience of about a million. Author of a best-seller, The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists, he makes Trump’s assault on Obama look benign.
Aaron Klein might reply to accusations that he, and Breitbart News more generally, coddles extremism by insisting (correctly) that he has done more work interviewing terrorists (Islamic ones mind you), than any reporter in America; Klein interviewed both Ahmed Yousef, Hamas’ chief political advisor, and Mahmoud al-Zahar, the chief of Hamas. Klein insists that he recognizes extremism and the left-liberals who coddle Islamicists. The issue is not simply a credo. Klein authored The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don’t Want You to Know. He uniquely made Libya an important issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Before the third presidential debate, Aaron Klein painted Hilary Clinton with Bill Clinton’s infidelities (and lies) by bringing one of Clinton’s accusers, Leslie Millwee, a former Arkansas TV reporter, on his radio show.
What is Aaron Klein, a “good” Jewish boy who grew up in a tight-knit orthodox Jewish community, attended the Torah Academy Boys High School in Philadelphia and went onto study English at Yeshiva University, doing in an organization that supports sympathizers of the alt-right?
Aaron Klein, Andrew Breitbart and Steve Bannon all openly declared that they reject the “ethno-nationalism” of the alt-right and certainly any manifestations of its anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, Bannon champions the alt-right more generally even as Breitbart disassociated himself by defining its white-nationalism. (At the same time, leaked emails suggested that Breitbart News was marketing neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.) Why Jews?
The core is Israel. Breitbart started his far-right news network in 2007 with “the aim of starting a site that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel. We were sick of the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media and J-Street.” Steven Bannon was one of the strongest advocates for moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Trump’s insistence that the decision does not pre-empt any determination of borders appears to have originated in the State Department and/or his security advisers.) Though Breitbart and its allies mainly target the establishment in the Republican Party, all aspects of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media (including Hollywood), the core concern has been Israel and the mistreatment of Israel by these three main targets. They are accused of being pusillanimous and prejudiced against Israel.
A pro-Israel policy and anti-Semitism can possibly be reconciled. If Israel were defeated, Jewish refugees from Israel would flee to the U.S. This is the inverse of the belief that evangelical Christians only support Israel because they believe the restoration of Israel is a necessary prerequisite to the second coming of Christ. However, the excuse does not hold up. Most supporters and promoters of the alt-right (not alt-right members) are both pro-Israel and pro-Jewish. The leading propaganda forum is controlled and largely managed by Jews. Aaron Klein for the last 12 years has called Tel Aviv home. They support Israel, not only for its dynamism and creativity, not only because it is a haven for Jews, but because it is an outpost in the Islamic world of western democracy and European cultural values, and mostly because of the alleged unfair treatment of Israel by the liberal-left.
The core conundrum is that anti-Semitism lies at the theoretical core of the alt-right, yet the main publicists and umbrellas are supplied by organizations run mainly by Jews with philo-Jews playing a major role. If we understand the roots of that conundrum, we will also be in a better place to understand why its anti-Semitic outrages quickly became peripheral in the accounts of the mainstream press repeatedly critical of Trump and Bannon. If the new establishment coddles the alt-right and ignores the anti-Semitism at its core, the left-liberal press rejects the alt-right, but also relegates its own core anti-Semitism to the periphery. The coddlers ignore the anti-Semitism and the liberal-left minimize its significance in themselves.
I attribute the rise of the alt-right first and foremost to our failure to understand that the alt-right at its centre is anti-Semitic, that both the non-alt-right coddlers and the anti-alt-right critics tend to deny this reality. In this essay, I have not developed three additional propositions: our failure to see that the roots of nationalist zealotry itself can be found in Judaism; that somehow and for some reasons, Canada has mostly escaped that blight; and, finally, but not entirely, anti-Semitism continues to lurk in the reeds of the swamp of anti-Zionism in the public policies that continue to be adopted towards Israel. But these are all arguments for another day.
Part V: An Assessment of Trump’s Disruptive Diplomacy using Jerusalem
The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, leaving the borders to be defined through mutual negotiations, is likely neither to serve as a stimulus to put the negotiations back on track nor lead to widespread violence and the breakout of a Third Intifada. Why? Because there is no real peace process to disrupt. The recognition is symbolic and changes virtually nothing on the ground. It may bury the false idea that America has been neutral, but since the prospect for a two-state solution at this time has been highly unlikely, what had been squandered by Trump’s pronouncement?
Only noble purposes and noble intentions.
How do I explain and evaluate the Trump initiative? I believe rationalism, whether in a realist or a constructivist format, provides the foundation for the structure and wording of the initiative that was fundamentally irrational, founded on both the madness and stupidity of the individual making the announcement while being masked by sentiment and a patina of rationality.
Because of the lack of specificity, many ordinary Palestinians are sure to interpret the U.S. announcement as dismissing their historical, political, and cultural ties to Jerusalem and disputing their right to independence and self-determination. In their eyes, it condones Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and implies that the city is solely Israeli.
“Palestinians, especially of the younger generation, have been questioning the feasibility of a two-state solution for some time. This is a generation that came of age during the second intifada and watched its land swallowed up by settlements and the separation wall as the years slipped by. Young men and women witnessed their own policemen arrest fellow countrymen at the behest of their occupier, while leaders placated them with empty words and slogans. They’re done playing this game.” But will they rise up or become more resigned to their fate or respond with a mixture of both?
“If there is a silver lining to Trump’s announcement, it does provide clarity and a unifying objective for Palestinians. Last summer, a wave of civil disobedience by Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line forced Israel to give up on its unilateral measures regarding Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif compound (also known as the Temple Mount), which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque. The PA had no say in the matter; religious leaders took their cues from ordinary Palestinians when they rallied for support. These events showed ordinary Palestinians that they have some power to change what’s happening on the ground: they can rally, strategize, and mobilize. And with a vision for a one-state solution unimpeded by a sham peace process, that goal may finally gain traction to make a new reality seems possible.”
However, will that even be a greater illusion than fixating on the corpse of a dead peace process? One of the effects of disruptive diplomacy, whatever the interpretation of the underlying motives, is that it fosters other illusions. Anything seems possible – unification of the land of Israel under Israeli hegemony or driving the Jews into the sea and establishing a Palestinian state that excludes Jews.
Given the differences in explaining and justifying disruptive diplomacy, different and opposite outcomes are envisioned. I, on the other hand, am a terrible prophet. I sometimes slip into prognosticating about the future, but I am usually more wrong than I am right. Disruptive diplomacy makes prediction even more difficult. I do not know what the short term or eventual outcome will be. I have neither a crystal ball nor is my ear tuned to God’s will. I can only offer analysis that perhaps confuses as much as it clarifies.
Let me summarize that analysis. Supporters of realist diplomacy, constructivist diplomacy or some combination thereof have been mildly supportive or mildly critical and hoped to shape Trump’s disruptive diplomacy into a realistic form. This began with the creative nuancing of the announcement, but one which readily revealed its contradictions and inadequacies.
There are a number of givens:
- When Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiated the process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, he severed seven decades of American policy.
- On the other hand, he recognized a reality – that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, a recognition of a capital denied no other country, a recognition that destroyed a long-held fiction that the city might not be Israel’s capital even though the Knesset, the Supreme Court, government ministries, including the foreign ministry, were all located in that capital.
- However, in refusing to define the borders of the city that Trump recognized as that capital, in the name of absolute clarity he left open the possibility that those borders were subject to negotiation just as he seemed to foreclose the possibility of the U.S. acting as a neutral mediator in such negotiations, signaled by omitting to reference any Palestinian claims to the city.
- While Trump claimed that the initiative reflected “the best interests of the United States of America,” this seemed to be part of the camouflage imposed by his realist sycophants but lacked any substance since there was no evident national interest served in giving that recognition at this time; at the same time, the move alienated virtually all of America’s allies and partners, and sent America’s enemies on a chest-pounding victory dance since the pronouncement demonstrably omitted any reference to Palestinian claims and revealed gross incompetence.
“Populism thrives when politics become about symbols rather than substance.” Ivan Krastev
- When the domestic political interests were so apparent behind the initiative – offering a quid quo pro to wealthy Jewish supporters of a right persuasion, catering to his evangelical Christian base, fulfilling a promise, seeking an initiative with a built-in legacy, providing a distraction from the Mueller inquiry and counterbalancing Obama’s failure to veto a UN resolution which provided a new, retrograde and realistically irrelevant reference point for negotiations – the disconnect and incongruence between realism in international affairs and catering to a political domestic constituency has never been more apparent.
- Though Trump used the rhetoric that the initiative would “advance the peace process,” those were now empty words which simply drove a stake into an already dead or, at the very least, comatose peace effort while significantly widening the chasm between the initiative and the supposed goal of giving new momentum to the peace process.
- If the dispute was merely up to the parties involved, why was Trump acting as a pyromaniac at this time?
- The move was symbolic only, and this was both its great importance as well as revealing its inability to affect facts on the ground, except possibly to encourage Israel to create more facts on the ground given the gross disparity in power between the contending parties.
The potential impact of this disruptive diplomacy could portend radical change, but the change could add to the chaos, for disruptive diplomacy radically breaks with a tradition of predictability. Only one thing is clear to me – there is now a widespread recognition that the two-state solution needs to be buried while we wait, holding our breath, to watch what alternative will emerge from the ashes of that burnt offering, even while traditional realists continue to worship the conception as a living, viable option that for them is too important to cast aside though it no longer has any potency. Which is better – that idolatry or Trump’s smashing of idols?
Varieties of Disruptive Diplomacy – Part IV Responses to Trump
I have considered both critical and defensive analytical reactions to Trump’s initiative in previous blogs. The gist of the latter was that the initiative was a realistic but disruptive move to shake up the peace process. Trump’s disposition, motivated by domestic reasons, had been shaped into a well-crafted and plausible move, with the possible scenario that it could free up the sclerotic process and remove the clots preventing any movement. Now I want to consider other explanatory accounts.
Did the initiative express a preference for disruption and thereby risk all as American diplomacy in the Middle East and the rest of the world – Iraq, Syria, Somalia and North Korea – may appear to indicate?
In the end, was the pronouncement an expression of irrationality, the mad impulsive move of a narcissistic and unthinking leader, or was it based simply on stupidity? A third irrational foundation might be sentiment, namely the 18th century belief that all beliefs, if they can be ascribed any moral value, serve to enhance a harmonious cosmic order even as they appear to be disruptive. Or the resort to disruptive diplomacy, perhaps an oxymoron, may be an amalgam of all three. Certainly, both the rational comprehensive constructivist as well as realist approaches to international relations have been questionable since George W. Bush instigated an absolutely dumb war in Iraq and Barack Obama began the American retreat from global involvement leaving vacuums in its wake.
However, constructivist realism, combining moral goals with realist policies, has been under stress everywhere in the world. Have the UN and UNESCO, as well as peace operations, such as UNIFIL, verified John Mearsheimer’s 1995 thesis on the “False Promise of International Institutions,” the bankruptcy of liberal institutionalism intended to deter destructiveness and protect victims? Has the inability of peacekeeping to deal with such complex conflicts as the Rwandan-Congo security impasse put a nail in the coffin of traditional methods? Has the rise of the internet and the prominent role of social movements totally altered the international landscape and introduced populism to international relations as well as domestic national politics? Has Robert D. Kaplan’s prognostications in his 1994 thesis on “The Coming Anarchy” reinforced a conviction that the continuing destruction of our environment, tribalism, the emergence of new diseases, the official endorsement of white crime and the theft by the rich of a grossly disproportionate share of surpluses produced by innovation, simply worked together to destroy the social and institutional fabric of the planet, creating room for disruptive efforts in the international arena? Have international power politics married to our contemporary political culture not only failed to prevent the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power, but enhanced that outcome in defiance of conventional wisdom?
Before exploring disruptive diplomacy based on various types of irrationality, I want to reiterate the positive case for rational disruptive diplomacy in the context of a reduced respect for law and traditional rational diplomacy. According to that thesis, President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is good news. Partially, this is because it recognizes the long-evident facts on the ground: Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the people of Israel for thousands of years, has finally been declared capital of the modern state of Israel, though this has been the actual case for seventy years. It is undeniable that some configuration of the city will remain so forever regardless of future negotiations concerning the city’s eastern side. There’s no serious question of that, except in the minds of fanatics who truly believe the population of a (putatively) nuclear-armed state will one day be driven into the sea.
Yet the world’s political and diplomatic elites have indulged in the delusion that Palestinian leaders mean to be equal partners in pursuit of a better, more peaceful life, and that a deal was always tantalizingly close at hand. Surely no one genuinely believes that any longer. But that fiction was, at least for mandarins and diplomats, for political scientists and philosophers, too polite and convenient to abandon. The illusion that there is some progressing peace process in the Middle East has itself ironically become the latest impediment to peace. Smashing that illusion carries risks. But, as the last five decades of violence between Palestinians and Israel make clear, so does indulging that belief.
According to this thesis, the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an inspired move; the Canadian government’s decision to respond judiciously is also considered to be very commendable. Nothing useful in the Middle East peace process has occurred since Rabin’s assassination, but the correlation of forces in the region and the ambitions of the Arab powers have evolved. For decades, Israel’s most fanatical enemies were Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The first two countries disintegrated. Not so secretly, Saudi Arabia is now an Israeli ally with Egypt against Iran.
Yet columnists, such as Doug Sanders in The Globe and Mail, echoed Tom Friedman and insisted that Trump threw away Israel’s last hope for peace when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In contrast, Conrad Black in an 8 December op-ed in The National Post argued that the goal of reducing violence would be brought about by means of four other r’s of realistic rational international diplomacy:
- Responding Proportionately and in a Timely Fashion (sequencing)
- Restoring the Use of Quiet Diplomacy
Before I review that thesis, I want to examine three versions offering a non-rational basis for disruption as the new foundation for international diplomacy – madness, stupidity and sentiment.
The madness thesis seems to be the most prevalent one. It is certainly widespread. Elizabeth Drew made this point in an article entitled, “The Madness of King Donald” for the Project Syndicate (4 December 2017) where she opined that Trump’s increasingly bizarre behaviour in various spheres as well as the Israeli-Palestinian case had been evident, such as at the ceremony honouring the Native American heroes of World War II where he once again used the racist term “Pocahontas” to describe a Democratic Congresswoman, his re-tweets of a British neo-fascist’s anti-Muslim rant, his revival of the calumny re Barack Obama’s birthplace, and his sudden denial that the tape record of his grabbing women by their genitals was fake even though he had admitted making the remark and apologized for it. All those provided a portrait of Donald Trump as a president detached from reality and a great danger when it came to North Korea and the Middle East.
There is also the stupidity thesis. This was articulated by Leil Leibowitz in Tablet (“Trump’s Embassy Statement”). “Instead of his [Trump’s] statement the other day, he could’ve simply refused to sign the waiver that delays the embassy’s mandated move to Jerusalem, in accordance with the 1995 law. He didn’t do that. Nor did he gut Obama’s disastrous Iran deal, another one of his campaign’s promises. Instead, he left untouched a Middle East in which Teheran continues its march towards regional hegemony, gleefully threatening to wipe Israel off the map, failing to prevent Iran from establishing bases inside Syria and completing its takeover of Lebanon while shamefully continuing to fund the Lebanese army, which Iran and its proxies now control. He has also failed to take any significant action to protect the Kurds or to provide Israel with anything more substantial than loud proclamations.” In sum, Trump was all rhetorical excess with little policy depth.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reacted to Trump’s move on Israel and echoed the assessment of stupidity, but for very different reasons. “Their announcement of Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Occupied Palestine [Israel] proves the incompetence and failure [of the U.S.]. In regard to Palestine, they are helpless and unable to achieve their goals. Victory is for the Islamic nation. Palestine will be free, and the Palestinian people will be victorious.” Hannah Ashrawi echoed this sentiment, though with far less aggressive threats. “This decision will be interpreted by Palestinians, Arabs and the rest of the world as a major provocation. It will cause irreparable harm to Mr. Trump’s own plans to make peace in the Middle East, and to any future administration’s efforts as well. It will also undermine the United States’ own national security.” Why? Because the recognition was not just symbolic but sent a signal that the U.S. would no longer set up roadblocks over Israel’s efforts to cement its control over the whole city. Trump had legitimized Israeli actions and its policy of creeping annexation.
Then there is the sentimental thesis that has its modern roots in the Scottish leaders of the Enlightenment, David Hume, Adam Smith (the author of The Wealth of Nations), Francis Hutcheson and Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury). The sentimental thesis is based on a teleological belief that all events serve to enhance a harmonious cosmic order even as they appear to be disruptive. That is because, in the end, all human behaviour, if it is moral at all, is rooted in a universal moral sensibility. Human behaviour is not governed by self-interest, with the possible exception of the pursuit of material goods. Correct moral judgments are always based on sentiment.
Less concerned with either the motivation, the rationale or the geopolitical significance, Rabbi Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, is an example of someone who praised the Trump initiative and greeted the pronouncement as a song to Jewish hearts. He articulated what the historic recognition meant for Jews for whom Jerusalem had been at the centre of their prayers for two thousand years. He also believed that the message sent to the rest of the world was a message of peace, for Jerusalem was the city of peace, of shalom, even though it had been ravaged by wars over the centuries. The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a manifestation of divine design as well as of virtue.
While the madness and the stupidity theses accounts of disruption predict disaster and chaos, the rational and sentimental justifications envision an emerging harmony.
Tony Berman in the Toronto Star argued that the “unilateral decision by the Trump administration to favour Israel, defy the world and recognize the fiercely divided city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” sabotaged any lingering hope of peace and that the conflict can be resolved through negotiating a two-state solution setting a dangerous new stage for the conflict. Like the PA, Berman predicted that the result would be a one-state solution with Israel put at risk in the process. Whatever the possibility of that outcome, it was not based on the destruction of a peace process which has been in a state of rigor mortis for years.
|Hezbollah’s Nasrallah called on the world to support a new Palestinian intifada, and stories of violence in response to the announcement seemed to initially verify the prognostication that this would be the result: riots in the West Bank and Gaza, a Molotov cocktail thrown at a synagogue in Goteborg, the demonstration in front of the American embassy in Lebanon breaking out into violence, an Israeli citizen killed in a stabbing attack, a 9-year-old girl slightly injured by a Palestinian rock thrower, two Palestinians killed as police attempt to control protesters. However, journalists had also been interviewed who had been called to witness staged events with “more journalists than protesters.”
Even in the protests at Rachel’s tomb, only 450 protesters appeared. Whether these were the exception, the general consensus was that the three days of rage were relatively mild and would not be a portent of a Third Intifada. The best clue was the speed with which the story had been relegated to the inside pages of newspapers. The violence and protests seemed far less than predicted, though, as could be expected, Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Israel of responding excessively at the Damascus Gate but has not, as yet, broken off relations with Israel as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had promised.
While civil war has raged in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, while the relations between Hezbollah and the Sunnis in Lebanon remain tense, while Hamas throws a few rockets at Israel and Israel responds with bombs, Joshua Sharf asked why, after recognizing a three thousand-year-old truth, was Trump going to set the region aflame?
Tomorrow in Part V My own summary and assessment.
With the help of Alex Zisman
Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to the his Jerusalem Pronouncement
Obviously, if the “deep” international diplomatic strategy outlined in the last blog lay behind the move, the U.S. was signalling that the Israelis were being given the benefit of the doubt rather than the Palestinians. The Palestinians were being considered the more intransigent side with less ability to back up that intransigence with actual force and now with an obvious threat that their situation would deteriorate even further in the future. America was clearly signalling, even if only symbolically at the present, that it had greater confidence in Israel in protecting the accessibility of all three faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – than the Palestinian regime, especially given what had happened when Hamas came to power in Gaza.
The U.S. was, at the same time, signalling to the rest of the world that hypocrisy and the huge gulf between real power on the ground and policy would no longer prevail. The move had global ramifications, even though at this time it was largely symbolic. The Palestinians had been sent a clear message – come to the negotiation table, but without an intractable position that made progress impossible. Come with no preconditions.
Signals will bounce back to indicate whether a disruptive process might succeed where traditional methods failed. Will the demonstrations of the Palestinians stop short of becoming an all-out intifada? Will other countries travel the same path and reinforce the American signal? Though scotched by the Prime Minister, the President of the Czech Republic signalled a willingness to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Philippines may be ready to do so. In fulfillment of the King of Bahrain’s promise restrictions on his subjects traveling to Israel would be lifted, a Bahraini delegation of 25, though not consisting of government officials but representing all faiths, will still be visiting Israel to discuss peace and coexistence as a step in normalizing relations, despite the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Will the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, signal they are willing to take a new course by restricting any protests to rhetorical ones only? The signal had to be one that, while leaving the door wide open to negotiating anything and everything, also sends the message that if there was no movement, America would be prepared to up the ante to the disadvantage of the Palestinians.
If Trump’s pronouncement had been an expression of the ancient art of international diplomacy, it had to conform to certain general rules. Sun Tzu in The Art of War, published about 2,500 years ago in China, offered the first basic rational foundation for an art of international diplomacy and military strategy. The use of the military was to be a last resort. Before the military was deployed, a long period of military preparation was required based on a combination of deceit and diplomacy to forestall war if possible and seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict. Sun Tzu offered the prototype for “balance of power politics” that formed the foundation of international relations for the previous two centuries in our time. The goal: to minimize the disruption, economic and social costs of increasingly bloody wars. The issue was how to subdue an enemy without fighting at all. Using the manipulation of both allies and enemies, rational international policy was viewed as an effort to end the prospect of war, minimize its effects if avoidance was not possible, and create a stronger foundation for peace following a war.
However, as part of the theory of a balance of power, the formula insisted that it was best first to attack strategies, then alliances and finally armies. But what if the very strategy of a balance of power approach to international diplomacy was itself attacked by disruption as a new means of conducting international relations? After all, disruption of communications has always been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes domestically. Such regimes have extended its use to the international sphere. Putin proved its effectiveness in attacking America during the last election. This was complemented by Trump’s tweets used for domestic distraction.
Part of the context for the re-emergence of disruptive versus so-called rational international diplomacy has been the existence of irresolvable paradoxes in other international crisis areas. To cite one such paradox, after our studies of the Rwanda genocide and our attack on the complacency of bystanders, it became clear that the greater the righteousness with which the problem was approached, the greater the number of casualties. The loftier the rhetoric, the less likely there was to be any action. This was true of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). That Canadian initiative was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations, but the initiative only received that unanimity by gutting its central foundation, the limitation of national power and legislating the right to international intervention in cases of genocide. RtoP gained universal support only by requiring national consent for an intervention. The greater the support, the weaker the application of the principle! Hence the tension between humanitarian intervention and sovereignty re the ethnic cleansing in Darfur as it played itself out clearly in favour of the superior status of sovereignty. (Cf. Alan Seelinger (2009 Does the International Community Have a Legal Responsibility to Protect? An Analysis of Norms Regarding Humanitarian Intervention in Africa since 1990)
Further, in traditional diplomacy, negotiations were conducted with the perpetrators of the crimes to mitigate the loss of life. When that door was increasingly closed, slaughters became more wanton in places such as Darfur, the DRC and Kenya. When Jan Egeland could not follow through in his negotiations with Joseph Kony for a deal to mitigate the slaughter; the murders continued. One could almost formulate a principle: the greater the degree that righteousness enters into international diplomacy, the less effective that diplomacy will be and the loftier the moral rhetoric will become, accompanied by reduced action rather than increased military intervention.
Thus, an alternative method of dealing with international diplomacy emerged in the face of the hypocrisy and impotence of traditional so-called rational diplomacy. The policy was one of disruption rather than a rational and systematic use of diplomacy to reduce the threat of war and the misuse of children. The gamble was introducing a controlled wildfire rather than continue the stalemate of a growing cold war between enemies, such as the Israelis and the Palestinians. For that was the source of the real danger, not the fulminations of Iran nor the resort to violence of Hamas.
Hamas was on the verge of being domesticated. The risk had to be taken to bring even Hamas under the auspices of the PA back to the negotiation table without Hamas retaining a veto. Advantage had to be taken of the new willingness of Saudi Arabia to use power and not just financial influence to gain traction in its competition with Iran. Advantage had to be taken of the new security needs of Egypt for Israeli support to stop the extremists in the Sinai. Advantage had to be taken of the declining power of Turkey in the region even as the Turkish voice had grown ever louder and shriller in its denunciations of Israel. Advantage had to be taken of the continuing decline of the status of a PA controlled by the PLO rather than the newly-born extremists.
World, get off your butts. The stalemate up to now only promised future disaster. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was indeed a keg waiting to explode. That was all the more reason to light a controlled fire to divert the path of the flames away from such a potential explosion. After an initial controlled fire, after a cooling off period, after secret support and actions now by key Arab countries, after America sent a clear message that the status quo and complacency were no longer tolerable, after the U.S. had once again assumed real leadership on the peace issue and gave up on the illusion that international cooperation was a prerequisite to a breakthrough, the latter stance favouring the Palestinians and disadvantaging the Israelis, and only after the 1947 UN partition resolution decisions had been buried as a reference point, only then could the problem of Jerusalem be settled.
America was indeed signalling that the problem would be resolved in favour of the Israelis even as it reiterated that all parties had to come to the table without preconditions. The context on the ground had changed. Tiny Israel had emerged as a world economic power and as a regional military power. More and more, Israel was being accepted for what it had become. The participation of the IDF in military cooperation in Cyprus was simply an indicator of this change. Traditional diplomatic ambiguity and equivocation, that had always been the order of the day internationally, had to be buried alongside Palestinian dreams that it could and would inherit the Old City. Israeli expansionism had to be stopped, but the international benediction of mythical reversibility had to be buried as well.
Did the Trump initiative offer clarity based on a deep strategy or was it a toss of the dice when rationality has proven to be impotent? In traditional diplomacy, equivocation rather than clarity is highly valued. But equivocation in this situation would mean a clear signal (that the Palestinians could not eventually win the day) could not be sent to the Palestinians, for such a message would likely trigger escalating initiatives in the same direction. However, the gamble also meant that if Palestinian intransigence was deemed counter-productive, this would just reinforce it and thereby create more of a long-term concern for Israel.
Rather than refocusing on the two-state solution, disruption might force the Palestinians, as Saeb Erekat prophesied, to give up on the two-state solution and now push for equal rights for all Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By sending the sham of a peace process and the vision of a two-state solution to the ash heap of history, the one-state solution might gain real traction even if the U.S. finally formally adopted the two-state solution as the preferred outcome. Would the game then be worth it if that was a likely or even possible outcome?
However, if Donald Trump’s mode of acting was aberrant, was intentionally non-rational, was driven by instinct rather than a rational and deliberative approach, was a belief resting on years of experience in defying conventional wisdom, then disruption as a mode of diplomacy could become the order of the day. If the Trump administration has deliberately abandoned cautious regional and international diplomacy, is the above then the rationale for the employment of irrationality?
What I believe has occurred is that James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, all openly opposed Trump fulfilling his promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Jared Kushner himself had urged caution. Tillerson, Mattis and Pompeo privately urged Trump to reconsider recognition of Jerusalem’s capital while Kushner and even Jason Greenblatt asked to delay the embassy move.
But no one can stop Donald Trump when he is on a tear. The use of disruptive international diplomacy had the added advantage of serving as a distraction from the Mueller inquiry. Tillerson, the Director of the CIA, Trump’s Defence Secretary and even his son-in-law went to work to massage an irrational initiative and cover it with a patina of rationality. Hence the well-crafted and nuanced policy statement. Hence the reading from the monitors. The principles behind the rational approach to international diplomacy were married to disruptive methods. What an unholy marriage! How could the two methods work together on the operational level when the premises were so disparate?
Rational Diplomacy Disruptive Diplomacy
The Primacy of National Interests Personal Preferences Prevail
Emphasis on Diplomacy Emphasis on Pronouncements from
Foundation in Strategic Analysis Ignorance and Thoughtlessness
Equivocation to Disguise Differences Absolute Clarity
The Importance of Credibility Introduction of the Incredible
Confidence-building Emphasizing the Unexpected
Caution and Indecision High Risk Diplomacy – Recklessness
The new disruptive methodology has not been restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international area offers a plethora of paradoxes that have not been resolved by rational diplomacy. No one knows how Trump will handle the consensus on dealing with other paradoxes in the international sphere: stopping nuclear proliferation while basing ultimate strategies on nuclear deterrence; an emphasis on economic sanctions that may run counter to national interests. The list goes on. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability may have been the last great victory of rational diplomacy even as Trump pronounced it the worst deal in history. As much as I supported it, in one sense it was a weak deal. For it favoured nuclear deterrence, but allowed Iran to grow as a regional power and expand its use of proxies to engage in ideological warfare. Iran became a more dangerous state when denuded of its nuclear capabilities.
If diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiating to maintain peaceful relations between and among states while reducing animosity through the use of confidence-building measures, quiet diplomacy, and engendering goodwill and mutual trust, Trump has thrown all these practices into the fires raging in southern California and, instead of stressing communication between different parties to reach agreement on issues of fundamental disagreement, he has pronounced. He has announced, all the while paying lip service, but only lip service, to negotiations between the parties.
Tomorrow in a subsequent blog I will examine other versions of the disruptive thesis than the unholy alliance between rational and disruptive international diplomacy over the endgame with respect to holy sites.
With the help of Alex Zisman
Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II
“Whether motivated by the importance of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a concern for Israel’s and America’s relationships with key Arab partners, or a desire to cut ‘the ultimate deal,’ the new administration shows signs of investing heavily in Middle East peace negotiations. The president even assigned his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a potential peacemaker.” In such an interpretation, Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without predetermined borders had rational strategic goals: strengthening Israel, strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties and advancing the peace process towards an ultimate deal. Tomorrow I will consider the last goal and the technique seen as a method of achieving it – disruption. In this blog I want to analyze the positions of those who applaud the move as reasonable and strategic, and offer a rationale for its beneficence.
However, I begin this blog with other criticisms and caveats that, like the initiative, offered a more nuanced critical response, but without declaring the Trump initiative as stupid or rash or uncalled for or biased or as destroying the possibility of peace. American diplomats with a long history of engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, such as Dennis Ross, who served the Bush administration as Director of Policy Planning in the State Department and as a special Middle East coordinator for Bill Clinton’s government, offered a mixture of approval and reservations about the initiative.
The reference point was always the passage by Congress in 1995 of legislation obligating a transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, legislation with large bipartisan support, but with the inclusion of the waiver allowing the president to delay the move for six months at a time if needed to secure American interests. Up until Trump’s announcement, all presidents, including Trump six months ago, had signed the waiver. This time, however, Trump signed the waiver with two caveats: a) practical measures were now to be initiated to arrange the move; and b) Jerusalem was being recognized as Israel’s capital, but with the important caveat that this in no way preempted the determination of borders or the control over holy sites.
Previously, the waiver had been signed “to prevent damage to ongoing efforts to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Would such an initiative serve the pursuit of peace in the Middle East or undermine it? The signing of the waiver never meant that there was no recognition of “the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city.” The resolution of Congress sent a clear signal to those who wanted to delegitimize Jewish claims in Palestine more generally. However, there had also always existed practical administrative and security reasons for moving the embassy – convenience to American diplomats who must travel back and forth to Jerusalem all the time, the inadequate security in the existing Tel Aviv embassy, and the general perception that the U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The issue was when to take the initiative not whether, and under what qualifications. Would such an initiative be neutral or would it undermine America’s role as a useful arbitrator? Would it advance or impede the prospects for negotiations and peace? How would such a move fit in within this larger strategic goal? Would it enhance Israel’s willingness to make concessions or set back that possibility? Would it drive more Palestinians into a rejectionist corner or send a message that the U.S. tolerance for Palestinian procrastination was near its end? More specifically, would it give greater strength to Jared Kushner’s leadership on the question, propel it forward by signaling the possibility of further additional moves that would reinforce the Israeli government position, or drive the Palestinians and their supporters to distraction making them both unwilling to participate and/or accept America’s mediation efforts?
Supporters of the move asked for even more nuance and more statements of clarification. For supporters who approached the new position with qualms and qualifications, an embassy move must demonstrate that such an initiative would not prevent a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem from emerging through negotiations. It must explicitly and repeatedly be linked with an insistence that the initiative does not change the status quo at the city’s holy sites. U.S. statements should make even more explicit that the policy decision to move the embassy is not an endorsement of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city. These additional statements must make absolutely clear that the U.S. is committed to the status quo of the holy sites. Only when the initiative is followed by such reassurances can Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) be assuaged while Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall are reassured.
Even if the prime message still lacked substance and was only symbolic, it had to state clearly and unequivocally that the negotiations could not have as a starting point the cease fire lines of 1967. Those were not borders. It had also to signal that a one state solution was not in the offing and that only a two-state solution was and would be on the table, but one which offered the prospect of a continuing diminution in that state, its power and geographical reach. At the same time, Israel had to be sent a message that it too could not envision a one state solution including all of historic Israel and Palestine and, thus, that there was no alternative to continuing to substitute facts on the ground as an alternative to negotiations in that direction. The direction being pushed in UNESCO, in the absence of an American veto on a core issue, had to be reversed and done so loudly, clearly and backed up by the will and might of the world’s most powerful nation.
Further, Trump must further clarify the character of recognition without defining borders. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949. That is a fact and not a matter of negotiation. Negotiations are needed to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly without outside interference. Does the new initiative reinforce this route or undermine it by expressing a bias in favour of the Israeli position and, thereby, ruling out the American role as a supposed “neutral” intervenor?
There is a logic to the duality of recognition, on the one hand, and declaring that this still left the borders undefined. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested. There is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, a fiction which has gone on for 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, the ability of the parties to determine the boundaries of the city must be respected. The possibility even that Jerusalem will become the capital of two states must be left open.
Of course, those who are anti-Zionist and deny Israel’s legitimacy will never be satisfied by such nuances and elaborations. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has already called for an uprising. In the violent riots thus far, several Palestinians have already been killed. The president’s declaration can be exploited further. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas never went as far as the Hamas leader. He merely declared that the U.S. could no longer assume the mediator’s role.
Jerusalem is an emotional issue. Any initiative will be misrepresented. That misrepresentation can help encourage violence or accompany the violence instigated by extremists. That, in turn, will strengthen the hand of the rejectionists and undermine the more moderate elements in both the PA and in Jordan. According to these modest plaudits, the initiative must be followed by a diplomatic offensive which repeats as a mantra that the two initiatives – moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – do not, repeat, do not preempt any final decision on borders. How this will be accomplished without diplomats in place in critical centres is, of course, a related question, especially when this failure was accompanied by the appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, an individual who openly opposes a two-state solution. The Trump administration has not named an ambassador to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar or a replacement of Barbara Leaf as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; this has already been considered a sign of disrespect by the countries in the region.
Beinart in opposing the initiative, even with the nuances and proposed elaborations, never wanted “to detract from the primary moral responsibility of those Palestinians who detonate bombs or shoot guns or stab with knives. Palestinian terrorism is inexcusable. It always has been. It always will be.” However, he drew an equivalence between those who commit acts of violence and those who trigger a violent response because of their insensitive and unrealistic politics, however much they did not intend to do so. In answer to the criticism that this gave Palestinians a veto over policy since they need merely hold out the threat of an uprising to get those who initiated policies not to their liking to back off, critics of Beinart and defenders of the initiative claimed that Beinart’s stance was akin to blaming the victim, such as a raped woman, for the violence of the man who assaults her.
Peter Breinart, however, made the following distinction. The violence of a male rapist is a product of male pathology. The cause of Palestinian violence, however pathological, is a response to a genuine grievance. This is the nub of his position. He accuses Israel of being the primary reason that the peace process has not advanced. Israel has been guilty of creeping annexation.
It is on this that we disagree. For I hold both parties responsible at the same time as I hold neither responsible for their key difference – the final disposition of Jerusalem. The bottom lines of both parties are incompatible so there is no possibility of peace unless one side or the other budges from its position. Beinart is not simply concerned with the optics of Trump’s announcement; he finds Palestinians to be the lesser responsible party, even though they resort to initiating violence. He takes that stance because he holds that the responsibility for the violence ultimately rests in the hands of the Israeli government and its supporters. I try to bracket my evaluations about responsibility, however, when I undertake an analysis to try as best I can to minimize the effect of my own value priorities and dispositions.
It should be clear that Beinart’s evaluation is not a product of detached analysis but of a moral framework which stimulates within Peter a Cassandra perspective, not simply a very pessimistic outlook concerning political outcomes, but an absolute conviction that he has the power to prophecy accurately even if many or most do not buy into his prognostications. Hence his support for boycotting products produced in settlements in the West Bank.
Different critics of Beinart who support Trump’s initiative offer some of the following arguments; I put them forth as an amalgam:
- The Trump initiative was indeed lacking in substance, and this was its merit; the pronouncement simply recognized the reality on the ground but there was not any there, there, that changed anything;
- The move actually made the U.S. more of an honest broker, in Israeli eyes at least, providing more leverage over the Israelis, but without diminishing American neutrality as well as U.S. influence among Muslims and Arabs, quite aside from the current theatrics;
- In openly and formally endorsing a two-state solution, the U.S., in fact, had made a step forward;
- The absence of a clear strategic vision can be read as a failure, but it could be an intentional step in keeping a mediator’s cards close to one’s chest;
- Though the action failed to spell out either the needs or demands of either side, this again was better in reifying America’s role as a neutral party;
- In answer to the claim that the initiative had given a green light to Israel to expand its settlement efforts, those were already well underway;
- Other initiatives, such as a temporary stop to settlement building, had not been sufficient in the past to drive the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but combining that with the signal of an even possible greater initiative, might do the trick;
- In any case, what was there to lose since there was widespread agreement that the so-called peace process had reached a dead end;
- Though lacking in substance, though consisting of only a move with great symbolic significance, this initiative was the only one available when the differences over Jerusalem had remained so intractable for far too long;
- When such a move had been preceded by envoys from the business world rather than the traditional diplomatic core, it offered the Palestinians an opportunity to signal back under the cover of street demonstrations by keeping those demonstrations confined and also restricted largely to the symbolic level.
- Finally, it was urgent that the Obama non-veto in the dying days of that administration, that had given encouragement and a greater rationale for the Palestinians becoming even more intransigent, be reversed if any breakthrough could be expected.
- The above points indicate, not a missing U.S. strategy for the Middle East and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, but may have also signalled a non-rational and radically new disruptive approach rather than being content with the so-called tried and true methods of international diplomacy [this will be the subject of my analysis in tomorrow’s blog].
As I will explore tomorrow, disruption rather than going-along-with-the-flow has emerged as the new mechanism to replace the old one of “trying harder,” of banging one’s head against an insurmountable wall of resistance whereby each side saw time on its side. At least one of the parties had to come to the realization that time was not on their side. That of necessity had to be the weaker party. Besides, hypocrisy had to come to an end, not only hypocrisy about the discrepancy between reality on the ground and the frozen postures of outside countries, but the hypocrisy whereby Arabs building on conquered land had never been branded illegal by the international community, but moves by Israel, including those in places such as French Hill and Gilo, were so branded in a way that ran completely contrary not only to the facts on the ground, but what could realistically be expected in the future given Israel’s real power and given Israel’s real control of the ground game.
Tomorrow: Disruption as a Foundation for International Diplomacy
Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I
I was proud to see that my analysis of Trump’s announcement to move the American embassy in the foreseeable future and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as distributed Wednesday afternoon, generally held up very well with other analyses, with one clear exception. Though I accepted that the policy statement was nuanced, that it was impelled by domestic realities, I was out of synch with some commentators who thought the move was reasonable and realistic internationally as well as domestically. I was on the side of those who believed that Trump’s initiative in setting in motion steps to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and, more importantly, immediately recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, would add to the difficulty of advancing progress on the peace front.
This blog will primarily focus upon commentators who agreed with me with respect to the lack of realism internationally regarding the announcement. Usually, they went further and made the judgement that the move was ill-advised or considered it a clear setback to negotiations. Subsequently, not even counting the leadership of all the major political parties in Israel, I will deal with analysts who viewed the initiative as a reasonable one and generally welcome at this time.
In beginning with critics, I will not include any analysis of those who saw the move as part of Zionist and colonialist efforts to deny Palestinians their rights to self-determination and their rightful ownership of Palestine or other more moderate stances of countries in the Middle East who were outraged but still supported a two-state solution. In dealing with those who agreed with me on the international repercussions, I will say very little about those who were unequivocally apoplectic and loudly denounced and demonstrated against the new policy because they found it indecent and contrary to international law.
For example, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) organized a petition and a series of demonstrations declaring their shock and outrage. CJPME opposed any initiatives of countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. They declared that, Trump ignored “all previous UN resolutions and an international consensus on Jerusalem.” Trump did not ignore previous resolutions. His statement was made in opposition to such resolutions, and specifically the one in December in the Security Council which President Obama did not veto which weighed in on the negotiations and declared ALL settlements on the other side of the old Green Line to be illegal. As I had analyzed the initiative, Trump’s move was intended to counter Barack Obama’s failure or refusal to use the veto.
Nor did I contend that Trump’s decision undermined all Middle East peace efforts calling for a negotiated settlement on the status of Jerusalem. Trump specifically qualified his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by insisting that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the embassy did not address the issue of Jerusalem’s borders but that such a decision must result from negotiations between the two parties. I was interested in critics on the left who were more analytical, though a few were also clearly very upset.
I distinguish between analyses and appraisals. For although I might have agreed with some critics’ analyses with respect to the international dimensions, I disagreed on their ultimate evaluation. For whether one agreed or disagreed with Trump, whether one has a very low regard for Trump as I do, I thought the policy statement was well crafted and nuanced.
Let me begin with some of the very bright lights among the critics. I start with Peter Beinart who is very sharp analytically but seemed to be almost as apoplectic and hysterical about Trump’s announcement when I watched him on CNN as anti-Zionists. He had expressed his extreme displeasure in the past with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to build 2,500 more new housing units in parts of Jerusalem that were once on the other side of the Green Line as well as with Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Beinart repeatedly insisted that these moves were incendiary and would cost Israeli lives.
In contrast, Alan Dershowitz, who has a liberal pedigree but in the last few years has sounded like he was more on the right, argued that, “Violence should not determine policy.” Any instigated violence should be met by counter-measures by the police and the military. “The reason violence – whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism – is used because it works… as a way to extort concessions from the world. And it works because policy makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions.”
For Dershowitz, unlike Beinart, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was not unreasonable nor was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to Dershowitz, Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. It is a fact and not a matter for debate. When such moves explicitly insist that this in no way predetermines the boundaries of Jerusalem or who should have sovereignty over the Old City, for Dershowitz that is not only a reasonable move, but a prudent one.
For Dershowitz, it does not matter whether the threat of violence comes from Palestinians, from Islamic demonstrators in Malaysia or from settlers on the West Bank. Policy should not be determined by such threats. As an example, Dershowitz cites the threats and the actual violence that resulted when, in 2000-2001, President Bill Clinton and then Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, put forth what was for Israel an extremely generous set of concessions. The threat – and the response: the Second Intifada! Dershowitz was even critical of the Israeli government for backing down under the threat of violence to its initiative in installing security cameras on what Jews call the Temple Mount (Har HaBáyit) and Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif. Dershowitz is fond of quoting Yitzhak Rabin. “We will pursue the peace process as if there no terrorism, and respond to terrorism as if there were no peace process.”
Other commentators supporting the Dershowitz position cite opposite moves that were far more widespread than recognizing the central site as special to Muslims as well as Jews. The UN General Assembly went further in the other direction in October of last year when it recognized the central holy site in Jerusalem as Muslim, supported Muslim claims and ignored Jewish ones.
The Dershowitz position could be questioned because it did not go far enough but also because it went too far in declaring Trump’s rationale to be reasonable. Was the diplomatic initiative reasonable? The peace offer of Barak was reasonable – whether or not one agreed with it. The installation of cameras on the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), however, broke an agreement between the Israeli authorities and the Muslims who administered the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome. Israel had concurred that any changes with respect to the Temple Mount would take place as a product of consultations and joint initiatives. Unilateral actions on the part of Israelis, even those that on the surface seemed very reasonable, were read and interpreted as additional steps reducing Islamic authority on a site which they considered very holy.
Was the initiative to move the American embassy and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without prejudging the boundaries of that capital, unreasonable in breaking with previous agreements and seemingly both symbolically and on the ground advancing Israeli claims of sovereignty at the expense of Palestinian claims? That is the nub of the issue. America’s allies by and large took that position. At this time, such an initiative was “unhelpful”. The Czech Republic initially followed the Russian example of recognizing West Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital which, for many Israelis, seemed implicitly to deny Israeli claims on other parts of Jerusalem, even when qualified by assertions that the move did not signal any assessment on the ultimate boundaries of the capital of the Jewish state. In any case, the next day the Prime Minister rescinded the statement of the president of The Czech Republic.
Dershowitz’s argument in defence of the move and his rant against threats of violence, and Beinart’s apoplectic responses to the initiative and fears for “Jewish” lives, both depended on the assessment of a prior issue – was the initiative reasonable? More importantly, was it reasonable now? Canada was not agnostic on this question, even though the Canadian government refrained from criticizing the American initiative. Canada simply reiterated its position that any unilateral initiatives at this time would further complicate the difficulties in advancing the peace process and that our country would refrain from taking any unilateral steps.
The moderate and experienced negotiator on the Palestinian side, Saeb Erekat, backed up by Abbas, did not threaten violence and at least rhetorically called only for peaceful demonstrations. He did pronounce not only the peace process, but even the prospect of a two-state solution, dead. The only possibility, he insisted was now fostering a one state solution with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians in the whole territory. However, he spoiled his threat by getting the facts wrong in asserting that Donald Trump had recognized a “united” Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump did no such thing.
Dershowitz asked all bystanders not to “be fooled by those who say that the two-state solution is dead or that it is time to adopt a one-state solution.” Why? Because under any resolution, “Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel and its holiest places would remain under Israeli control.” That may be a realist prophecy. That may even be a realistic policy. But since it was at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem, it would be all the more reason not to signal a pre-emptive outcome at this time. Even Donald Trump never went that far in putting forth his position. If Donald Trump had done so, if he had kept his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without qualifying that initiative as not preempting any outcome on the borders of Jerusalem that could result from an agreement, then a Palestinian rejection should be viewed as reasonable and not just “the latest excuse by Palestinian leaders to refuse to sit down, negotiate and make the painful compromises necessary for a complete resolution of the outstanding issues.”
However, Dershowitz offered another argument why an initiative, without the qualification of not predetermining the sovereignty over the holy sites, was the reasonable one. It goes back to the point I made at the beginning of this blog that Trump was indeed attentive to previous UN resolutions. “President Trump’s decision merely restores the balance that was undone by President Obama’s decision to engineer a one-sided Security Council Resolution that changed the status quo.” That is, of course, why I criticized the failure of the US, when Obama was already a lame-duck president, to veto the Security Council resolution that Israeli settlements were illegal. The motions of the Security Council, unlike those of the UN General Assembly, do have legal status. With the U.S. landmark decision not to join the other 14 votes in favour of declaring all settlements illegal but to abstain, an initiative was permitted to take place which did preempt declarations on the outcome of the negotiations.
The Obama White House had rationalized its abstention which had far more significance than Donald Trump’s moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, again without predetermining the borders of Jerusalem. For one, it was accompanied by a press release explaining the American failure to veto the resolution was determined by “the absence of any meaningful peace process.” That meant that the US was declaring Israel to be the main culprit in sabotaging the peace process. But if one defended the Obama initiative and, thereby, its rationale that the peace process had reached a dead end, then Donald Trump’s initiative should have posed no problem since, unlike the UN resolution, there was no presumptions about a final outcome.
Of course there was a presumption in both moves. Both the Obama and the Trump initiatives signaled an understanding of who was to blame for the stalled peace process. The UN resolution went even further in weighing in, not only on the agent to blame, but on the substance of negotiations, for that resolution declared that areas of West Jerusalem, such as French Hill, illegal as well. The resolution stated that Israel’s settlements had been placed “on Palestinian territory,” that the area captured in the 1967 war and occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was Palestinian, and the occupation had “no legal validity.” Though the resolution only demanded a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities” as “essential for salvaging the two-state solution,” and did not demand a roll-back of previous actions, it made the quest for a two-state solution even more difficult. For the process was now under an international determination that the settlements were illegal and Israel, whichever party formed the government, would resist participating in negotiations that, in advance, undermined the Israel position that the settlements were not illegal.
There was another voice on the left that criticized Trump’s initiative, not for its content, but for failing to demand any quid pro quo from the Israeli government for what is broadly considered to be a bold American move. Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for The New York Times, seemed to criticize the initiative, not for its substantive content, but for the failure to link the American concession to a demand that Israel halt its settlement activities. For Friedman, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been understood as a concession that would be offered in return for Israeli concessions on other issues, such as settlements. Trump had awarded Israel a prize a) at a time when Israel did not deserve it; b) without extracting balancing concessions; and c) while offering Palestinians nothing of consequence in exchange.
In fact, the Trump initiative had been accompanied by a number of prior moves in the opposite direction – the expansion of Israel building more housing units on territory on the other side of the Green Line, such as in Gilo, which, under any peace agreement, was expected by all parties to remain part of Israel. There were other moves – the downgrading of the PLO “embassy” in Washington, the withdrawal of financial support by Congress to the Palestinian Authority because of its implicit support for terrorism in awarding recognition and providing the families of these “martyrs” with pensions. This was seen as a move towards defining the PA as a supporter of terror. The ground was being laid for subjecting the PA to US sanctions.
To be continued – Those Who Applaud Trump’s Initiative
Tomorrow: to be continued – Plaudits for Trump’s Initiative