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

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

by

Howard Adelman

When I posited a set of values central to the Canadian civil religion, I did not define that set as constituting the core culture of Canada as a nation. Further, I dubbed it as a civic religion rather than as a set of cultural values. The differences are important.

Germany is a country that has undergone a radical revolution with respect to the dominant values and practices of the society in the last 72 years. The difference in practices was most evident when Germany agreed to admit and resettle by far the highest number of Syrian refugees in the West. Germany also admitted the most asylum claimants.

“Germany has pledged 30,000 places for Syrian refugees through its humanitarian admission programme; nearly half the global total of resettlement and humanitarian admission programme places for Syrian refugees and 82 per cent of the EU total.” (Amnesty International.)

What a change even from 1979, about the half way point between WWII and the present. In the Fall of 1979, I was a guest of the German government sitting in the balcony of the Bundestag in Bonn (the old capital of West Germany before reunification) when parliament passed a motion to admit 20,000 Indochinese refugees into Germany by a sizable majority, but the vote was very far from unanimous. Afterwards, the Minister in charge met me and, with an enormous smile of self-satisfaction, asked me whether I thought that what had been accomplished had been great.

I did not give him the answer he was expecting. Essentially, I gave his Parliament a C grade. Germany was so much larger, so much wealthier than Canada, I said, and Canada was then admitting 50,000 Indochinese refugees. I said that I did not see why Germany was not admitting 100,000 rather than just 20,000. The Minister was visibly unhappy with my reply. Somehow, I had deflated the great joy he had taken in what had been accomplished. But his reaction was not defensive. We went back to his office to discuss the prospect of Germany taking in more Indochinese refugees.

Germany then had a much more expensive method of resettling refugees. Supported 100% by the government, they were kept in special camps, usually for two years, where they were taught to speak German, learn German ways and otherwise acclimatize themselves to German society. While the young attended school, adults were given training to upgrade their skills to facilitate their entry into the German job market. Of course, this method of resettlement posed challenges. As one example, it is much more difficult to learn a language when you live within your own linguistic community and have relatively little contact with the native German-speaking community. I described the Canadian private sponsorship program and how it might be both more suited to integrating Indochinese refugees as well as permitting Germany to take in many more refugees.

The Minister was skeptical, but he was a very enlightened and open man, indeed eager to try new things. He offered me a car and a translator to travel around Germany for 2-3 weeks and explore the issue with Germans and to return with a report on whether I thought such a program would work and, if so, how it might be implemented. The translator was necessary to facilitate contact with a much wider group of Germans than the many who spoke English. Further, my German skills had so deteriorated that I could not speak as well as an Indochinese refugee, and he wanted me to speak to them as well about their own experiences.

I took up the challenge. I visited only lists of liberal people in human rights and other humanitarian organizations as well as a number of German clerics. My report was completed in 8 days. I concluded that it would be impossible at that time for the German government to introduce a private sponsorship program for refugees. Second, I had come to understand why the decision to take in 20,000 refugees was considered such an accomplishment.

My interviewees were unanimous in declaring that such a program would be impossible to implement at that time. It was not that Germans were ungenerous. Rather, they regarded the Indochinese as never being able to become German. This was not seen as a problem of the Indochinese, but because of the German self-definition of themselves. To be a German was not just to be a citizen – which the Indochinese could certainly become, but it meant being an ethnic German. The liberals I consulted said that a shift away from an ethnic self-definition would not and could not take place in their lifetimes. I would not have predicted from those interviews that the shift came as fast and as extensively as it happened, even though, as I understand it, a majority of Germans still maintain a self-definition of a German primarily in ethnic terms. (Cf. Christian Jopke “Contesting Ethnic Immigration: Germany and Israel Compared,” European Journal of Sociology, 43:3, 301-335, December 2002)

Last month, the German Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière from the Christian Democratic Union, published ten points that he believed were central to the German core culture. This was especially interesting to me because his name indicated that he might have been descended from the Huguenots, the Protestant refugees who fled France and the French Catholic persecution then underway in the seventeenth century. When I first visited Berlin, I remember being surprised to learn that 10% of the names in the Berlin telephone directory were Huguenot ones. I checked and my presumption was correct. The Minister’s family originally came from Maizières-lès-Metz. As Hurguenots, they sought asylum in Prussia and attended French-language schools and Huguenot churches in Berlin until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Minister asked, “Who are we? And who do we want to be? As a society. As a nation.” He initially offered three core characteristics of German constitutional patriotism: “the protection of human dignity,” the reverence for democracy, and linguistic commonality. However, he argued that there was more to it than that. “Democracy, respect for the Constitution and human dignity are honoured in all Western societies. I think there’s more. There is such a thing as a ‘German Core Culture’.”

The Minister offered two components to a core culture. “First is the term culture. This shows what is at issue, namely, not rules of law, but rules of living together. And the word “core” is not about prescription or obligation. It is much more about what is guiding us, what is important to us, what gives us direction. Such a direction-giving guide for living in Germany is what I mean by core culture.”

What is the difference between what the Minister wrote about Germany and what I wrote about Canada? Aside from the use of “culture” rather than “religion,” he referred to rules. I had referred to values. His were rules about “living together,” which implied they were obligatory informal rules governing behaviour for all those who lived in Germany even though he declared that “core” did not entail obligation. Later he would specifically declaim such a suggestion by stating that the rules could not be prescribed and were not even obligatory. In contrast, the values I listed were normative aspirations rather than rules, which I do not believe even a majority of Canadians feel are central to who they are. But the implication was that they were the dominant set of values setting standards, not for living together, but for doing good works together.

In both cases of informal rules or aspirational values, they are signifiers as guides, as offering meaning and direction. However, in the German case, we observe an effort to redefine the German nation from an ethno-national approach to a normative frame. But not from a citizen frame. And not from a long term residential frame. All German citizens are automatically part of this nation. But the definition of the nation goes further to include others who live in Germany, speak German and agree to abide by the same rules that facilitate Germans (in this cultural sense) having “trusted and true” norms for living together. They are not the only rules which are trusted and true. Other cultures may have different sets of rules. Nor is it a claim for a superior culture, just one that is different and unique for Germany.

When the Minister spelled out the content of the rules as translated into a set of practices, it was clear that he was enunciating norms more characteristic of the French definition of laicité, what I have dubbed the French secular religion, than the description I offered for the Canadian civic religion, if only at its most basic in avoiding the description of what he was talking about as a religion. I contend that he was offering a secular religion based on rules rather than aspirations, rules which permeated the fabric of the whole society.

He called them customs, expressions of a certain attitude – norms of etiquette for members of German society, such as introducing oneself by name, acknowledging the other by name, and shaking hands upon meeting. But it also included “prohibitions against demonstrators” covering their face. At first, one is invited to think of demonstrators wearing face masks to hide their identity. But it is clear that he is enunciating a form of civic religion, a secular religion unlike Canada’s explicitly rooted in faith groups, a core culture based on rules rather than values, which limit even the clothes worn in public. “We are an open-minded society. We show our face. We are not Burka.” [my italics]

His second statement about the practices of the core culture of German society spoke, not of etiquette, but of a precondition, education, not as techné, not as instrumental, a type of education in which Germans excel, but a claim that, “A well-rounded education has a value in itself.” One is carried back to the debates in North America over general education at universities in contrast to mastery of specific disciplines so characteristic of the transition of the university from a Sanctuary of Method to a Social Service University. Germany came late to this transition in higher education. It is noteworthy that in my definition of the Canadian civil religion there was no inclusion of proselytizing even in the mild form of education.

A third emphasis was on achievement combined with a social safety net. “We require performance. High performance and high quality produce high living standards. Our country was made strong by striving for accomplishment.”

Perhaps the most interesting of the ten norms enunciated was the fourth one regarding accepting the past as present, which in Germany, entails a special provision for Israel. I quote it in full.

We are heirs of our history with all its high and low points. Our past affects our present and our culture. We are heirs of our German history. For us, it means a struggle for German unity in freedom and peace with our neighbours, the maturing of the states together into a federal State, the fight for freedom and for acknowledgment of the lowest lows of our history. This also includes a special relationship with Israel’s right to exist.

Wir sind Erben unserer Geschichte mit all ihren Höhen und Tiefen. Unsere Vergangenheit prägt unsere Gegenwart und unsere Kultur. Wir sind Erben unserer deutschen Geschichte. Für uns ist sie ein Ringen um die Deutsche Einheit in Freiheit und Frieden mit unseren Nachbarn, das Zusammenwachsen der Länder zu einem föderalen Staat, das Ringen um Freiheit und das Bekenntnis zu den tiefsten Tiefen unserer Geschichte. Dazu gehört auch ein besonderes Verhältnis zum Existenzrecht Israels.

In Canada, I did not make the obligation to remember the sins of cultural genocide committed against our aboriginal peoples or making up for those sins by acts of redemption a part of the civic religion, not because this is not entailed by the values of the civic religion I set forth, but because, even if this was the most egregious sin, our past sins are manifold – the imposition of the Chinese head tax, the rejection of Sikhs seeking homes in British Columbia, the “None Is Too Many,” approach to Jewish refugees and the internment and relocation of Japanese Canadians during WWII. More importantly, I believe the Canadian civil religion is more of a social justice than a confessional religion.

A fifth characteristic of the core German culture that he tried to define was the esteem given to poets and philosophers, to musicians and artists. “We have our own understanding of the stellar value of culture in our society.” Is the equivalent in Canada the centrality of hockey in our collective lives and memory? Is this why I did not include the so-called “low” culture as a central feature of the Canadian civic religion? The question is rhetorical only to make the reader think about why I would not include it.

The sixth characteristic directly addresses the issue of the role of religion in German society.

“Germany is characterized by a particular relationship between State and Church. Our State possesses a neutral worldview, but views Churches and religious communities in a friendly way. Church festivals add rhythm to our yearly cycle. Church steeples dominate our landscape. Our country is Christian. Our religious life is peaceful. And the basic prerequisites for this are the absolute priority of the law over all religious rules within our state and communal co-existence.”

Note, neutrality rather than impartiality with respect to religion. Note the state support for and celebration of religion. Note the definition: “Our country is Christian.” And it is evidently out of that Christian religion that the rule of law trumps and sets boundaries to any religious rules. Does de Maizière not recall when the ravings of Martin Luther “to connect” Germans included screeds against Jews? In the desire “to connect,” there must be a self-consciousness of what is disconnected in the process. A reading of E.M. Forster’s Passage to India would teach one that.

Note as well with respect to the Minister’s seventh point about the German “civilized ways to regulate conflict,” based on compromise and consensus (presumably as illustrated in the industrial-union accords so characteristic of German economic life), currently expanded to dealing with and tolerance of minorities and rejection of violence as a principal way for resolving conflicts. The seventh point includes this odd sentence: “We accept diverse ways of living, and those who reject this will find themselves outside the majority consensus.” Besides the construction as a tautology, the “majority” consensus dictates tolerance, but anyone who refuses to participate in this consensus is effectively ostracized from the core culture of Germany.

The eighth point insists that Germans are no longer to be defined ethnically, but are also no longer to be defined in terms of nationalism. “Enlightened patriotism” is the new designation to celebrate unity, justice and freedom. Note the difference with my depiction of the Canadian civil religion. There was no mention of unity there. Instead of justice, which is a result, the stress was on impartiality and fairness, both of which are procedural. And freedom was very clearly articulated as a goal rather than a given.

While my depiction of the Canadian Civil Religion was small “l” liberal, but otherwise apolitical, the Minister’s depiction of the core culture of Germany included a clear political position.

“We are part of the Western world: culturally, spiritually and politically, and the NATO protects our freedom. It links us to the USA, our most important foreign friend and partner. As Germans, we are always also Europeans. German interests are often best represented and fulfilled through Europe. Conversely, Europa will not flourish without a strong Germany. We are perhaps the most European country in Europe – no country has more neighbours than Germany. Our geographic location has formed our relationship with our neighbours over the course of centuries that used to be problematic, but is currently good. This fact influences our thinking and our politics.”

Wow! It is one thing to describe this as a current reality about Germany. It is another to depict it as a core feature of German culture. Partnership with the U.S. Primacy of Europe. Centrality of a strong Germany.  Compare this claim of partnership with my own negative contrast with the values and norms of those who rule America at present, the implicit depiction of the economically and militarily weak Canada relative to the U.S., but with its moral superiority. Further, Canada has an outlier status, not just in North America, but with respect to the rest of the Western world. That politics may have influenced the creation of the Canadian civil religion, but does not define it.

Finally, and most descriptive of all, there is at the heart of the German culture, nostalgia, memories and attachments to place and time that did not play any part of my depiction of the civil religion of Canada, except in the claim that the different memories of groups, such as religious communities, helped understand the differential responses to refugees by different religious and other communities. Therefore, the core of memory was not nostalgia, but a concrete memory of the failure to live up to the values and virtues listed as central to the Canadian civic religion.

Look at how the Minster described those who do not share in the norms of the core German culture. First, they seem to be only newcomers. Secondly, there are those who 1) do not absorb those values; 2) ones indifferent to them; and 3) those who reject them. The result will be a failure in integration. Canadians who do not share the values of the Canadian civil religion are not depicted as failing to integrate, if only because the core civic religion does not require a majority status. In a subsequent blog, I will outline the problems that emerge when identifiable groups do not identify with the predominant Canadian civic religion. There will be differences in the values of the emerging generation as well as the values of various groups of immigrants from those of the Canadian civic religion.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Silence of Smell

The Silence of Smell

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday I began to probe the question about an appropriate or the appropriate way to deal with the loss of a loved one or with a mourner who suffered such a loss. In particular, I was concerned with silence as a response, a focus stimulated by my Torah study group that zeroed in on Aaron’s silence in the face of God’s murder of his two eldest sons for their error in using incense and lighting the fire in the holy of holies. Though the link to this passage was provided by Yom HaShoah, the Day of Holocaust Remembrance that begins this evening, almost everyone in that study session focused on the issue of individual responses to death rather than to a historic and unprecedented community loss.

Perhaps that is because the answer is simple in the latter case. A common trope in Holocaust literature is the inability of language or any individual emotional response to deal with the enormity and incomparibility of the disaster. In the face of the Holocaust, silence may possibly be the only appropriate response. This is true to Jewish religious tradition. In Lamentations 2:13, in the face of the destruction of the Temple, the Israelite asks, “what can I liken you, oh fair Jerusalem? What can I match with you to console you, oh fair maiden of Zion?” When disaster is overwhelming, when there is no pain like it, no response, not even silence, seems appropriate.

However, in reality, silence may not simply be inadequate. It may be wrong. It may be an inappropriate response. To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 27th of January, Donald Trump issued a statement that did not mention the Jewish people. Admittedly, this is not exactly comparable, for it is the response of a sympathizer rather than the mourner. Further, it was not as if the White House remained silent. It issued a response that simply omitted any mention of Jews. It then doubled down on its error by attempting to explain in terms of an effort at inclusiveness for there were many other victims of the Nazi murder machine than Jews – Roma, homosexuals, liberals, trade union leaders, the victims of the Nazi euthanasia program of the disabled. The collective furor from the Jewish community, however, was understandable.

But they might have been thankful for small favours. Trump did not engage in an even more inappropriate response by shifting the focus to America’s sacrifices in the conquest of Nazi Germany. If silence becomes an excuse for ignoring the specificity of suffering, recollecting one’s countries positive efforts is surely an inappropriate response.

Contrary to my belief that Donald Trump never seems to learn from his daily errors, this time the White House responded very differently to Yom HaShoah. Trump sent out a video tape in which he said the following:

“On Yom HaShoah we look back at the darkest chapter of human history. We mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again. The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe and that the human heart cannot bear. On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we tell the stories of the fathers, mothers and children, whose lives were extinguished and whose love was torn from this earth. We also tell the stories of courage in the face of death, humanity in the face of barbarity, and the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.”

While the sentiments expressed were now appropriate, Trump still erred, this time by commission rather than omission, by going on to repeat another myth, one most frequently perpetrated by Jews themselves. The birth of Israel was a response to the Holocaust and testimony to Jewish perseverance. The latter may be true, but Israel would have come into existence without the Holocaust. There is no evidence that the passage of the UN motion on partition took place because of worldwide guilt over the Holocaust. Silence in the face of the Holocaust was the usual response at the time and is now generally perceived as “inappropriate.”

Further, an outpouring of grief is the usual response of young people when they come face to face with the Holocaust. In response to yesterday’s blog, a reader described a documentary I have never seen about Israeli youth visiting the crematoria and internment camps in Poland. Each young person is given the name of a specific victim and asked to research their lives, their history. The effort is painful. The youth do the work and cry and wail. They are not silent.

What a contrast with the depiction of visitors by Alex Cocotas in his article in Tablet entitled, “BLOW UP THE MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE.” The memorial is located in Berlin’s central government district near the Brandenburg Gate. If a visitor is not cavorting among the 2,711 stelae, he or she is bewildered and struck silent, not by the enormity of the deed, but by the disorientation of the maze that results. Quiet contemplation, as he has observed, is rare. Play and selfie photos are the norm. As he writes, “It is, for them, an Event, spreading from Instagram to Instagram, an item on the itinerary, somewhere between currywurst and the East Side Gallery, tethered to intention by a geotag.”

I have had only one very direct experience in encountering the mass deaths of victims of a genocide. In my study with Astri Suhrke of the role of bystanders in the genocide of 800,000 to one million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, we visited the disinterred bodies of a mass grave that held over 16,000 victims. The skeletons of children, of women with rods thrust up their vaginas, of body after body laid out on the school benches in each of the classrooms at the technical school where they were killed, was overwhelming. We were all struck dumb, but not exactly silent. We had to talk because our visit had a functional component – confirming the accuracy of the figures of the total number of victims. We counted and compared counts.

The bodies had been disinterred only weeks before. The mass grave had been so packed, that there was very little decomposition of the flesh. It hung on the skeletons like the rags left of their clothes. If the picture never leaves me of that scene, the most powerful experience was the horrific smell. I need only mention the incident and the smell comes back as if I was still there. The immediacy of the confrontation with mass death comes primarily from my nostrils, not my voice. My mind goes into overdrive, racing from one portrait to another, one reflection to another.

Nothing is as evocative as the sense of smell, more so even than any picture. Auditory and visual records, words formed to convey experiences – none of these seems to compete with smell. Therefore, I entitled this blog the Silence of Smell. I could have called it the Smell of Suffering but that would have ignored my major theme – the appropriateness or inappropriateness to giving voice to the suffering of others and one’s own suffering at the memory. At that time, giving voice was not the issue. Olfactory nausea and unfathomable emotional disturbance was the order of the day and was the source of the most recurring and disturbing memories.

We know our sense of smell is located in the centre of the brain. So perhaps smell, rather than debates over giving voice to the enormity of the crime, may be a more appropriate way of memorializing mass murder and death. After all, smell is central to many happy memories as well. That is how I best remember my children when they were infants. I can still smell the sweet scent of their poop and fragrance of the powder applied to prevent any rash from forming.

There may be another reason for stressing the silence of smell as a route to memorializing. Scent is associated with nostrils. And nostrils are associated with being nosy, with sticking your nose into affairs ostensibly not of your making or your concern. When it comes to genocide, the dictum of minding your own business, of remaining silent, is inappropriate. And the issue is not simply that you could have been the victim, that we ought to engage in humanitarian intervention because of our shared humanity. An abstract common identification as humans has not proven to be very effective in motivating risk and involvement.

In any case, the identification is a false one. I live a life of privilege in a land that not only guarantees freedom, but delivers on the promise, in a land that not only ensures my well-being, but goes a long way to delivering on that promise as well. But not all the way. Not for everyone. And if the promise proved false for me, it is possible that I might focus my attention exclusively on my and my family’s deprivation rather than the general deprivation of others.

But perhaps that is not the purpose of silence, not the purpose of the silence of smell or the smell of suffering. The issue is really not my identification with the victim. The issue is not whether, but for the grace of God, that could have been me. As I counted bodies disinterred from that mass grave dug three weeks before Juvénal Habyarimana was killed and three weeks before the Rwanda genocide began, the issue was not my identification with those killed, but with those who perpetrated the crime. But most of all with those who abetted the crime by their silence, by their indifference.

The victims of the Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide and the Armenian genocide and all the other enormous crimes against particular peoples, were victims because they were not responsible for taking their fate into their own hands. The genocide was perpetrated because that responsibility was removed from their hands. If we identify with that victimhood, we identify with our incapacity in some circumstances to take action when we need to be reminded that we are in a position of responsibility to intervene.

Further, it is almost impossible for us who live in privileged circumstances and enjoy the responsibility of guiding the course of our own lives to identify with victims who were denied that privilege. And if we had been so denied, at the time our response might just as likely have been the responsibility to protect ourselves, not other victims of the crime of cancelling that responsibility. Identification with victimhood has a tendency to inculcate either self-pity or passivity and not our sense of responsibility. The task of memorializing and of mourning is to remember, not that we or those who died were ineffectual and passive victims of the laws of nature or the realism of international political affairs, but that they lived lives of wonder and discovery and to discover how and why we betrayed them. For ordinary people allow the perpetuation of such atrocities by the few.

I was and remain a citizen of one such country that failed in its responsibility – not the main one, for General Roméo Dallaire somewhat redeemed a streak of Canadian honour. Canada did not live up to the responsibility to protect. The issue was not identification with the victim or identification with victimhood, but identification with perpetrators. In that, there can be and should not be any silence as the silence of smell always reminds me. The smell of mass death is universal. But memory must bring to life those who lived and became victims, individuals who had parents and children or were children themselves. Yom HaShoah for me is both the silent smell of mass murder and the need to talk about the personal lives of those who lived and died.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, Donald Trump may have been the one to have secretly released the first two pages of his 2005 tax returns to Rachel Maddow, host of a liberal political U.S. TV show, by mailing Trump chronicler and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston in the proverbial brown envelope with no return address his simplified Alternative Minimum Tax form. Why? Because it shows The Donald in a relatively favourable light – he evidently earned $150 million that year and paid 25% in taxes – $38 million. He had done nothing either illegal or improper. No wonder the White House quickly confirmed the accuracy of the figures while insisting that the “illegal” disclosure be investigated. “You know you are desperate for ratings when are you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.”

What a way for the master deflector and magician of all time to take the public’s eye off the scandal swirling around his head about his tweets accusing Barack Obama of taping him in the Trump Tower. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic1] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” All efforts to deflect from that insane accusation by his surrogates – he did not mean his personal phone but the campaign phones; he did not literally even mean wiretapping; he did not literally mean Barack Obama – have been laughed out of the ball park.

The release of the 2005 tax returns may be a substitute for his failed early Saturday morning tweets to distract from the investigations launched from a myriad of directions into the possibility of Trump campaigners’ collusion with Putin’s KGB government. What a chance to steer the inquiries away from the possibility that Trump is in the process of setting up the first Western kleptocracy to compete with Putin’s. What a way for the scandal of firing all the Democratic Party-appointed prosecuting attorneys in one fell swoop – that was what was unprecedented – this past Friday, including one, Preet Bharara, whom he promised could stay on in the Southern District of New York, but who turned out to be the prime investigator into white-collar criminality, including dirty money laundering, swirling around Wall Street. Of the 46 prosecuting attorneys asked to resign immediately and without notice, Bharara was the only one who refused and was fired Saturday, but that gave him an extra day. To do what? – is the question.

The two cover pages of Donald Trump’s tax returns show him earning a very large annual income, reminding Americans of what an astute businessman he is and that he may be as rich as he claims to be. He is seen to be paying a considerable tax bill, but without disclosing his charitable contributions and, more importantly, without disclosing his possible indebtedness to the Deutsche Bank which became a clearing house for laundering billions in Russian money. Unlike the mid-nineties tax return that was leaked during the campaign that showed him not only paying no taxes, but declaring a write off that could have him paying no taxes for 18 years, this so-called explosive revelation displayed Trump as having paid taxes after only ten years, not 18. But why not all the tax returns before 2008 that had already been audited? Why not the full return?

Such speculations may only be the efforts of a liberal observer trying disrespectfully to throw more mud at a president attempting to model himself on President Andrew Jackson, an authentic rather than penthouse populist as the analysis by the Republican-led Congressional Budget Office of the new Ryan health bill reveals – cover far fewer people and allegedly save the government billions. On the other hand, Jackson was the master media manipulator of his time. Jackson, like Trump, did clear the swamp, but only to replace the occupants with his own much more mendacious crew of loyalists. Jackson also was the supreme ethnic cleanser, removing millions of aboriginal people from east of the Mississippi just as Trump now aims to remove those “bad hombres” back to Mexico and to prevent the “lawless savages” who believe in Islam from entering the U.S.

So why discuss Donald Trump’s connection with antisemitism now? The issue seems so tangential. If, in fact, there has been an upsurge in antisemitic incidents since Donald Trump took the reins of power in America. All one hundred U.S. senators signed an open letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James B. Comey demanding swift action against the upsurge in antisemitic activity. “We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”

Is Donald Trump in any way responsible for the upsurge or for the allegedly inadequate response? Any accusation that Donald Trump himself is antisemitic appears far-fetched. However, in the current maelstrom swirling around Trump from so many directions, a step back into what appears to be a peripheral issue re Donald Trump, though not for Jews, may be instructive.

The question of whether Donald Trump is antisemitic is easier to answer than the question of whether he bears any responsibility for the upsurge in antisemitism. First, he is clearly not guilty of antisemitism Type C, that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. He has a history of close connections with the Jewish people and Israel. In 1983, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) awarded Donald Trump the Tree of Life Award, a “humanitarian award presented to individuals for their outstanding community involvement [and] their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship.” He was honoured in 2004 by serving as the Grand Marshall in the 2004 Israel Day Parade. He has received many other awards and acknowledgements from the Jewish community, such as the Liberty Award in 2015 from the publication, Algemeiner.

Though in the campaign for the nomination just over a year ago in Charleston, South Carolina, he insisted that he would be “a sort of neutral guy” vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has been anything but. He is unequivocally pro-Israel. Donald Trump does not know what it means to be impartial. In fact, he is the most pro-Israel president America has ever had, if pro-Israel is equated with support for the policies of the current coalition that John Kerry dubbed “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme element.”

Trump supports a united Jerusalem. He promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in his presentation to the AIPAC conference when he was a candidate for the leadership of the Republican Party. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” He has not rejected the building of settlements across the Green Line. He was critical of Barack Obama for not using the veto to kill the UNSC Resolution this past 28 December 2016 condemning Israeli settlement activity, including the suburbs throughout Jerusalem, as illegal, the first successful UNSC resolution critical of settlements in forty years and one which declares the settlements not simply an obstacle to peace. The resolution even implied support for BDS. Donald Trump had intervened to try to sideline the vote by getting the mover of the resolution, Egypt, to withdraw as its mover one day earlier after Trump phoned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, only to see the resolution reintroduced the next day by the other four non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Trump and Israel are linked in other ways. Instead of being critical of the “separation” wall dividing parts of the West Bank from Israel, Trump has lauded it and cited the “separation barrier” as an example of his planned wall along the border with Mexico. It would secure America against both drug smugglers and terrorists just as the separation barrier in Israel has been an effective tool for reducing terrorist attacks. He has favoured “defensible borders” rather than the green line as a reference point in peace negotiations. And he has insisted that the U.S. would support any deal arrived at between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but “advised” the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He is an old and chummy friend of Bibi’s and once said in a video made for the 2013 Israeli elections, “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all. Vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.” In fact, he has said that he would go further than Bibi and not just demolish the homes of the families of terrorists, but “take out the families.”

He joined Bibi in denouncing the deal with Iran as the “worst deal ever.” Since achieving office, Trump has appointed two of his lawyers, one his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman and a financial supporter of West Bank settlement activity, as ambassador to Israel, and another real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as his special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump appointed Nikki Haley (née Randhawa), in spite of her call for him to release his tax returns, as the American ambassador to the UN. Haley, when she was Governor of South Carolina for six years, initiated legislation in 2016 to prevent boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) efforts in South Carolina, the first state-wide effort to do so.

No sooner was Nikki Haley appointed UN Ambassador than she excoriated the UN, justly, for its bias “in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of Israel.” She moved to block the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who had an excellent reputation as an honest technocrat, from serving to lead the UN mission to Libya to stop the use of Libya as a launching pad for refugee claimants to reach Europe. Haley did not want the appointment of Fayyad to signal a willingness to recognize Palestine as a state.

Nor does Trump seem guilty of racist antisemitism Type B, since he has an observant Orthodox Jewish daughter and two gorgeous Jewish grandchildren and his son-in-law, David Kushner, is a chief political adviser. Tomorrow, I will inquire into the question of Trump‘s possible anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-Black American racism and its connection with antisemitism, but it seems absolutely clear that Trump is not a racist antisemite even though he occasionally engages in antisemitic Jewish stereotyping. The latter seems to be a problem that results from his sloppy thinking processes and terrible articulation rather than from any antisemitism.

Trump is also very clearly not an anti-Jewish antisemite, first because he does not seem to be imbued with any Christian values, including its negative history of Christian persecution of Jews. Nor is he an Enlightenment antisemite like Voltaire since he possesses even fewer traces of Enlightenment values, especially of tolerance, than of Christian values. Besides he is reason-challenged. Is he an antisemite in the original Type A along the lines depicted in the Book of Esther charging Jews with  suffering from dual loyalty and adhering to a set of rules at odds with the American government? Since no one in my memory or studies has been more at odds with the rules of political discourse in the U.S., that would certainly be like the pot calling the kettle black. Further, there seems virtually nothing in common between him and Haman. Donald Trump would never play second fiddle to King Ahasuerus.

But perhaps there are some similarities between himself and King Ahasuerus. For the latter allowed antisemitism to flourish under his watch and seemed oblivious. I will wait until tomorrow’s blog to explore this question when I try to discern the connection between Donald Trump and the upsurge of antisemitic incidents.

Global Consequences of UNSC Resolution 2344

The Global Consequences of UNSC Resolution 2344

by

Howard Adelman

UNSC Resolution 2334 did not pass by a vote of 14-0 with the American’s abstaining in a vacuum. Context is crucial. So are military troops on the ground. The Resolution may have endorsed once again the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, but as I have shown with respect to other areas – Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Turkey in Cyprus, Morocco in the Western Sahara, North Vietnam in South Vietnam – the list is long with respect to the non-application of the principle. There were some exceptions – Kuwait and East Timor – but the general disposition has been to look the other way or pay only superficial and short-term attention when territory is acquired by force. In most cases, and contrary to the Israeli position, the conqueror had little justification for any territorial claims.

In Iraq and Syria, satraps were used to acquire control over the territory. In Iraq, the Obama doctrine entailed following the path forged by Henry Kissinger in Vietnam – declare victory while withdrawing from the field. But the Obama administration never managed to pull it off. It was too half-hearted. America did not pursue that goal with persistence and clarity. Declarations may require equivocation. Actions may demand a feint. But intent must be unfailing. Barack Obama, with his many great virtues, was too often a fence-sitter. Not counting “military contractors” involved in the privatization and transference of military responsibilities to mercenaries, the U.S. still has over 10,000 troops and personnel in Iraq.

It is not as if the U.S. did not want to get out of Iraq. America clearly did. But the U.S. also wanted to protect its vision of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state (really, a multi-Islamic religious state). When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched its offensive in mid-2014 in Iraq, it made quick gains that are only now being completely nullified. Barack Obama sent in American troops and supplied the Kurdish Peshmerga with both military and humanitarian aid when the Kurds were directly attacked by ISIL. By 2015, the direction of the war was reversed and the final steps to clean out ISIL forces are well underway. With the end of open warfare imminent, will the U.S. leave in the face of greater need when ISIL reverts to insurgency warfare?

At the same time, Russia accomplished the same feat in Syria, only this also entailed defeating anti-Assad rebels who had been supported by the Americans. Further, the war was fought at a far greater cost in lives, a vastly greater destruction of property and an unprecedented number of refugees and internally displaced that even made the Indochinese exodus in the late 1970s and 1980s look relatively small. Yet the Americans still have 500 mainly special operations forces in Syria serving as advisers and explosive ordinance disposal experts. With the U.S. as a silent partner to Russia, a partnership which Donald Trump wants to declare openly, where once Syria had been under French tutelage, it has now become a Russian protectorate. Where once Iraq was under British protection, a century later it has become a protectorate of the U.S.

General James (Mad Dog) Mattis, Trump’s new Defense Secretary, is thoroughly familiar with these two theatres of war, and Afghanistan as well, where large numbers of American troops are also deployed. But he left the theatre and retired in 2013 before the geography of war in the region changed. He understands the principle of holding and controlling territory by force. However, Mattis is completely unsympathetic to the Zionist enterprise. After his retirement, he said, “I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that meant all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us…they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.” Like John Kerry, he has argued that the Israeli settlements will lead to apartheid, not exactly the message coming from Donald Trump.

On the other hand, Mattis shares Israel’s belief that not only is Iran a mortal and existential threat to Israel, but is the main destabilizing force in the Middle East. But he also shares the traditional view of both the old State Department and a good part of the military establishment that America’s main allies in the region are Arab and they must be appeased. That includes, most specifically, Saudi Arabia. Mattis supports America’s backing of the Saudis with military equipment as that government continues its ruthless assault on the Houthi population of Yemen. Whether in Yemen or in Iraq, Mattis insists on clear policy objectives and a military fully resourced to achieve those objectives. He believes in being ruthless in the will to sustain the battle based on a sound strategy. He is totally dismissive of half measures.

The real question is how the American imperium will deport itself in the Middle East. Though superficially like Trump in his bluntness, Mattis is unlike The Donald in so many other ways. He is consistent and a hard-nosed realist who recognizes the value of allies. Mattis steeps his strategy in hard data rather than in the subconscious outflows of rhetoric of an unstable mind. Mattis reads books; Trump reads twitter feeds. Mattis believes in “continuing American engagement” in the world. Trump wants to complete Obama’s half-measures of withdrawal and press ahead at full speed – but with exceptions. The question is on what side of those exceptions will Israel fall?

That is the central question – where will Israel stand in the revised American imperium? UN Resolution 2334 would relegate Israel to a pariah status as long as it not only continues its settlement activities, but even as long as it maintains those settlements. Resolution 2334 raised the stakes by making the armistice lines of 1949 the reference border as well as declaring that all lands on the other side of the Green Line were Palestinian. It was as if Jews never lived in Hebron or the Old City. The UN was now competing with other regimes in the Middle East to eradicate ancient cultures and ethnic groups and their rights. The statement did not say “residents of Palestine,” for Jews had once been Palestinian in that sense. The reference was to Palestinians as a political group.

However, the innovations have not only been in principles but in practices to realize those principles. Lawfare has been raised to a central ingredient of international diplomacy. With the passage of Res. 2334, recourse to the The Hague Court will become de rigueur. Any Israeli – civilian, politician, military officer or settler – is now subject to being charged under the Geneva Convention – a long term goal of those opposed to any Israeli settlements. Fatou Bensouda, the The Hague prosecutor, has finally been given a license to correlate settlement activity of any kind with war crimes.

In spite of his antipathy to Israel as a threat to American-Arab relations, General Mattis is the last to uphold the Geneva Convention. In the Bush II Iraq War that toppled Saddam Husseini, Mattis, as commander of the First Marine Division, engaged in mass slaughter, arbitrary arrests and rough treatment of civilians to extract information he needed in the prosecution of a war he later labeled a major mistake. He would deny access to humanitarian aid – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention – to the civilian population to make them comply with his fulfilling his strategic objectives. Just look at his leadership in the battle for Fallujah in 2003. His modus operandi in Iraq makes the Israeli military look like gentleman soldiers, especially since they are so constrained by Israeli law itself.

For Mattis, in global strategic terms, Israel is an outlier and an unnecessary burden. If Israel is torn between an adherence to the rule of law, including international law, and its own security needs, Mattis has no similar compunctions or restraints. Further, he agrees with Israel about Iran. Like the Republican hawks and unlike The Donald, he has no use for Putin. One can predict Mattis and Trump will be at loggerheads, but it will be difficult to see how Israel will emerge from the battle. Given that both Trump and Mattis far outflank Netanyahu and his right-wing government’s disdain for international law and sometimes even domestic law governing war and humanitarianism, Israel can count on the new Trump administration, when it engages in war against the UN, to undermine the use of international humanitarian law and the efforts to use courts to reinforce one side of a political struggle.

Resolution 2334 not only greatly enhances the role of lawfare in the field of international conflict, but the long arm of international law will creep into such relatively esoteric areas as sports and culture. Res. 2334 provides FIFA, the international governing body for soccer (THE major international sport), authority to intervene in a dispute with six Israeli soccer clubs. If the territories on the other side of the 1949 Armistice Line are designated as Palestinian territory by the UNSC, Israeli teams as part of the Israeli soccer league playing at the settlement clubs now become likely violators of international law. The monitoring team on this spat, led by Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa, which had been dithering on the issue, is now in motion, guided by a directive along these lines from Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor on sport to the UN Secretary-General.

Culture is another field that will be affected by the new level of lawfare. Ownership of the Dead Sea Scrolls is set to become another issue that will be tested given UN Res. 2334. For the scrolls were found on Palestinian territory, at least according to the UNSC authoritative pronouncement and the change from Res. 242 and 338. The scrolls were found in caves near Qumram in the West Bank. Even if purchased from Bedouin, the question was whether the Bedouin had any legal right to even sell the documents. You can count on a suit coming from the Palestinians on this issue, perhaps using a European country as its front to protect the PA from economic reprisals from Israel.

The major internationalization of the conflict will take place on the economic level. BDS, which had been battling and losing in the trenches, just won a major victory in the UNSC. The UN has been given a clear sanction to develop the administrative mechanisms for an organized boycott of Israeli goods and services. Those boycotts may not significantly undermine Israel as a modern economic miracle, but they will cause some distress and even broader annoyances. What they will not do is bring Israel kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. For Israel has expressed a continuing willingness to do so without any pressures, but also without any preconditions. Israel will no longer freeze settlement activity as a precondition of peace talks.

Many are predicting an increase in violence as a result of Resolution 2334. I doubt it – at least on any significant level. Based on this enormous diplomatic coup by Abbas with both the passage of Resolution 2334 and even the Paris Summit, and, further and perhaps even more importantly based on the current weakness of Hamas under threat from the population of Gaza dissatisfied with Hamas rule, Abbas (Abu Mazen) was able to forge a unified government with Hamas. Abbas will boast that he can now exercise with even greater authority restrictions to the resort to violence of Hamas. However, at the same time, the Palestinians will continue to celebrate their “martyrs” who are killed in violent attacks against Israelis. The week before the Paris Peace talks, 4 Israelis were killed and many more wounded, a few quite seriously. Abbas refused to even condemn the terror attack. The PA government, subsidized to a great extent by Europe, will pay the “martyr’s wife 2900 NIS per month (about $CAN1,000) for the rest of her life.

On the diplomatic front, positions are hardening on both sides, though for very different reasons. The passage of the Resolution may have made it very self-satisfying for those who support the Palestinian cause without qualification, but it will not advance that cause one iota. The conflict will only become more contentious, spread into more international arenas, but highly unlikely to bring both parties to the negotiating table.

What about initiatives by Donald Trump who stands unequivocally against Resolution 2334? Trump’s son-in-law, 34-year-old Jared Kushner, has been named the point person on this effort? According to the Donald, “You know what? Jared is such a good lad, he will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top, he is a natural talent. You know what I’m talking about – a natural talent. He has an innate ability to make deals, everyone likes him.” Ignoring Jared’s lack of diplomatic experience, given such an endorsement, would you have any optimism about the possibilities of negotiations?

In fact, based on either the European initiatives or the Trump initiatives from a radically different angle, would you expect any successes on either front? When Saeb Erekat after the Paris Peace Summit issued the following statement urging France to, “immediately recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” and when Netanyahu’s increasingly defiant government, at the other extreme, promotes the expansion of settlements, attempts in its “formalization law” to retroactively legalize over 100 outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land and deemed illegal according to Israeli law, and when his government even flirts with the idea that the two-State solution has had its day, neither international diplomacy, nor lawfare nor economic pressure are going to bring the disputants to the negotiating table.

The Palestinians grow bolder. The right in Israel grows more recalcitrant and more inclined to ignore the international community. And some believe that the results of Resolution 2334 are beneficial as a move towards peace!

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