False Dichotomous Thinking – peace process.20.03.13

False Dichotomous Thinking 20.03.13


Howard Adelman

What does it mean when journalists report that "expectations are low" concerning Barack Obama’s visit to Israel with respect to the peace process? No one expected him, especially given all the forewarning, to make a new proposal to break through the current impasse. In that sense, ‘expectations are low’ meant simply that no one anticipates a proposal for a breakthrough let alone a breakthrough itself. The expression, however, could mean something else at the other end of the conceptual spectrum. Expectations are so low that absolutely no headway can be expected with respect to negotiations. This is how Foreign Policy Mideast Daily reported it this morning. Or it could mean anything in between – a few openers for further discussions; a definition of the key elements of the impasse with some dialogue procedures set in place to see if they can be overcome; a set of sub-negotiation bilateral or trilateral committees to discuss key elements re the impasse with a range of options for each:

1) settlements

  • No settlement activity at all
  • No new settlements
  • No building in settlements on territory slated for transfer to the Palestinians
  • Settlement activity only to fill in areas in existing East Jerusalem settlements clearly indicated for remaining part of Israel
  • No settlement freeze at all unless Palestinians return to the peace negotiations

2) The Holy Basin

  • Israeli Sovereignty but Islamic administration re their holy sites
  • Shared sovereignty
  • Shared sovereignty with international partners
  • International sovereignty
  • Separate sovereign status a la Vatican

3) Security

  • Israeli further withdrawals and replacement with Palestinian police forces in West Bank
  • Further refinement to past agreements on a demilitarized West Bank
  • Role, make up, responsibilities and accountability of an international peace keeping force in the West Bank

4) Refugees

  • Further discussions on number to be repatriated to Israel under family reunification – no less than 5,000 and no more than 100,000
  • Refinement of compensation proposals
  • Refinement of proposals for compensation to Jews from Arab lands
  • Tweaking of the "right of return" to accommodate this fundamental principle for Palestinians while ensuring that it does not apply to Israel
  • Education program to prepare Palestinians for this result
  • Proposals to integrate UNRWA with respect to areas governed by the Palestinian Authority into the Palestinian administration

5) Mutual recognition

  • Recognition by Israel of a Palestinian state
  • Recognition by Palestine of Israel as a Jewish state

6) Land Swaps

  • Refinement of maps for planned land swaps
  • The outcome re Ariel

On the other hand, pre-negotiations could avoid any discussions about advancing on substantive issues and be confined only to confidence building measures. Dow Marmur dealt with some of these in his discussion of Dennis Ross in his column in the Toronto Star on Monday:

1) a unilateral declaration by Israel to confine new building within settlements and only those that will almost inevitably be involved in the land swap to Israel;

2) unilateral offers by Israel to offer financial incentives for Israelis to abandon settlement outposts;

3) unilateral moves by Israel to further reduce the areas over which it still exercises its security presence;

4) mutual recognition by Israel of a Palestinian state with borders not yet defined in correlation with Palestine recognizing Israel as a Jewish state;

5) Palestinian changing maps to show Israel;

6) Palestinians not only pledging but insuring no further demonization of Israel.

Dow ended his column: "Obama is uniquely positioned to be the catalyst for this process. His visit could become a game changer by helping both sides to take small steps now in preparation for peace later."

But the next day, Dow had switched back from wearing his hat of small hopes to being very pessimistic. (See his blog that I received this morning and that I have included at the end of this blog.) Dow contrasted the pessimistic picture painted by Shlomo Avineri versus the insistence of Naomi Chazan on pushing an optimistic agenda. Shlomo, he wrote, "maintains that neither the Palestinian Authority nor the new Israeli government – the most right-wing in its history, will do much about solving the problem. All that we can hope for is that the situation can be managed better in anticipation of good times, whenever these may come." (Shlomo Avineri’s views are set out in the January issue of Foreign Affairs where he, in fact, sets out his own list of pragmatic and achievable measures that can be taken as interim steps.)

This is the pessimistic picture. Yet confidence building measures proposed by Dennis Ross were merely steps to manage the situation rather than substantive progress, but were treated as a blessing of small hopes rather than a despairing pessimism. But perhaps in the fuller acquaintance with Shlomo’s views, his proposals for maintenance were more restrictive than Dennis Ross’ proposals. But not by much! As Avineri said, "you try to achieve a lot of proactive conflict management measures, some of them partial agreements, some of them unilateral steps, some of them doing things below the radar where people can reach understandings even if they don’t have to sign or even if they don’t want to sign on the dotted line about the final issues."

As can be seen from his Foreign Affairs article, those views of Avineri were not that much more restrictive than those of Dennis Ross. In Avineri’s participation in the Israel Policy Forum on "The Future of the Peace Process", he anticipated Obama’s address to the Israeli public through his talk to the students as being at the heart of his visit to at least convey that Obama hears what worries Israelis and understands those fears. On the core issues of settlements, borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees, the gap between the current more right wing government versus the previous moderate government engaged in the last negotiations is even wider than the considerable chasm still left when moderates were negotiating with moderates. "To try to reopen those kinds of negotiations now is probably doomed to failure." That is certainly the generally universal pessimism, even of Naomi Chazan.

Yet Naomi Chazan argued vehemently against the notion that nothing could be done and insisted that "survival demands that those in power don’t wait for ‘the right time’ for peace negotiations but create them now" by instead of "lowering expectations" about the Obama visit, pushing Obama to press both sides to resume negotiations.’ However, the overwhelming view of most observers and specialists in conflict management and peace negotiations is that a push towards direct negotiations at this time would be counter-productive. Naomi Chazan’s push is not idealism or optimism but the despair of hope and the guarantee that hope will turn into greater despair.

Subjective reactions to proposals as instilling pessimism or optimism are one thing. But positing a false and misleading dichotomy of proposals as pessimistic or optimistic may be far more misleading than helpful.

Part of the equation is also knowing the American administration and, in particular, Barack Obama’s mindset as well as that of the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. Avineri has advised that, "the president shouldn’t really put his life on the line on this issue because he has already failed in the past," and has suggested an emphasis on back channels or Track II diplomacy. I think Obama has already incorporated that view. This is why when Gerald Steinberg in his article in the National Post this morning, "Natanyahu is from Mars, Obama is from Venus" is so misleading with his false dichotomy. Steinberg correctly calls Netanyahu a hard-core realist. However, he argues that Obama has a very opposite perception of international politics who takes "an idealist (or optimist) approach" and "believes that disputes generally can be overcome through dialogue and compromise. For Obama, the use of military force is an undesirable last resort." The portrait of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban as outliers would perhaps explain his use of drones to assassinate them. [I am
being sarcastic!]

The portrait is so wrong and so distorting that one despairs at correcting it. For example, the difference between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran is on whether to draw a line in the sand before hand of after you have given diplomacy and talk the best chance that can be afforded. The argument for drawing the line in the sand early is that the other side knows very early on when their actions will trigger a military response and this will prevent escalation creep. The argument for not drawing a line in the sand early is that it psychologically blackmails the negotiation process and limits the saving of face. There are arguments for both positions. (Listen to American National Public Radio today on "The Value and Risk of Drawing a Red Line" with Aaron David Miller from the Woodrow Wilson Center whom I have cited before with respect to Obama and Israel.)

Both Netanyahu and Obama are variations of realism and not a realist versus an idealist. There is an abundance of evidence that Netanyahu is a hard-core realist and that Obama is what may be termed a softer realist, but it is very clear that he is not a Kantian idealist. Painting him as one may be considered a credit or a demerit, depending on your point of view, but, whatever its normative value, it is descriptively false. False either/or dichotomies in international politics, however convenient they are in explaining issues, much more often mislead.

The issue of red lines is not only applicable to Iran but also North Korea and Syria. Ignore North Korea for the moment, however difficult it is to bracket the self-aggrandizing and advertisements for himself of Kim Jong-Un. Last year, intelligence reports informed the president that the Assad regime was weaponizing missiles with nerve gas. Obama and the USA drew a definite line in the sand for Syria. As Foreign Policy reported, "In August, President Barack Obama first asserted that Syria’s use, or movement, of chemical or biological weapons (CBW) would be a ‘red line’ that would result in ‘enormous consequences’." (5 December 2012) Presumably, the rationale would be humanitarian rather than siding with one side. Intervention was required to protect civilians under the universally accepted doctrine of the responsibility to protect that Canadians pioneered in forging. After all, the international community to its everlasting shame did nothing when Saddam Hussein used Sarin and VX in 1988 on the Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5,000, injuring over 10,000 others and leaving a legacy of birth defects. In 1982, Bashar al-Assad’s father massacred between 10,000 and 20,000 in Hama to repress a rebellion so mass murder by this regime would not be a total surprise.

Foreign Minister, Jihad Makdissi of Syria has repeatedly stated that the Assad regime would only use chemical weapons against invaders and not against Syrians. If the Assad regime does resort to the use of chemical (or biological) weapons in Syria, the Syrian regime could expect to invite some type of military response from the USA without specifying whether that meant arming the opposition, imposing a no fly zone or bombing certain facilities. The possible use of poison gas in Syria against civilians in Aleppo needs first to be verified. Little noticed in today’s news reports about possible chemical warfare in Syria, is that the report itself may be a way for the Iranians to test run how seriously to take red lines by the USA if ever they were to be drawn. Iran has repeatedly used Syria as a proxy.

Dichotomies that apply to subjective states and attitudes – such as pessimism and optimism – may be very misleading when applied to characterizing positions held on peace negotiations. False mutually exclusive categorization is often misleading and sometimes even dangerous when misapplied to the positions of world leaders. Dichotomies posed as polar opposites with many intermediate positions between can also be misleading as well; it may be useful to distinguish realists along a range between an extreme hard-core group and realists who soften that realism with moral considerations with many variations between. But posing realists and idealists as polar opposites on a spectrum of variations does not work very well.

Both/and thinking analyses may often be better suited to an issue than either/or positioning.

[Tags: dichotomous thought; Israel, Obama,
Netanyahu, peace process]


The day after the swearing in of Israel’s new government and the day before the arrival of President Obama, a symposium was held in Jerusalem under the title, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Where to?” on the occasion of the publication of The Routledge Handbook on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, edited by Joel Peers and David Newman.

The four panelists were on the centre-left of the political spectrum, i.e., in favour of the two-state solution. Nevertheless, there were differences, particularly between the realism of Shlomo Avineri’s analysis and the idealism of Naomi Chazan’s vision.

I was both heartened and depressed by Avineri’s presentation. Heartened, because what he said as an expert I’ve been saying as an amateur: though the Arab Awakening is likely to lead to the balkanization of the region and complicate life for Israel, the two-state solution is still the only viable response to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Depressed because much of what I’ve written from Israel has been along Avineri’s line. It depresses me and, alas, my readers. He maintains that neither the Palestinian Authority nor the new Israeli government – the most right-wing in its history, he said – will do much about solving the problem. All that we can hope for is that the situation can be managed better in anticipation of good times, whenever these may come.

Naomi Chazan differed sharply. She argued vehemently against the notion that nothing could be done about peace at present and, therefore, containment is all that’s possible. I understood her to say that in the same way as Avineri’s skepticism is self-fulfilling prophecy, so can the belief that peace can happen now. It’s essential for Israel’s survival and, therefore, requires the same kind of idealism that brought it into existence.

Chazan maintained that this fight for survival demands that those in power don’t wait for “the right time” for peace negotiations but create them now. For example, much could have been achieved towards it, she argued, if Israel had been the first to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations. Similarly, instead of joining in the chorus that tells everybody not to expect much from Obama’s visit, his being here can and must greatly stimulate the process by pushing the two sides to negotiate.

I left the meeting wishing that Chazan were right but believing that Avineri got it right. Instead of hoping for the ideal we should settle for the real and make it less difficult than it is now and much less difficult than it’ll become if we do nothing at all. That’s why prudent management is the best possible interim measure to be taken now.

I understand this also to be behind Dennis Ross’s idea about what each side could do independently of the other to create confidence building measures that would ease the tension and prepare for the future. (Thus my latest column in The Toronto Star.)

The third speaker, Professor Arie Arnon of Ben Gurion University, pointed to the vital importance of the many Track Two encounters between experts who’re preparing the ground for peace whenever it comes by dealing with specific aspects of it. I understood him to say that these encounters blend realism with idealism.

The last speaker was Professor David Newman, also of Ben Gurion and co- editor of The Handbook. He reminded us that little of the left’s message, whether realistic or idealistic, is now touching the Israelis. The new government of the right reflects it. The citizens, indeed the world at large, have to learn to grin and bear it. Advantage: Avineri.

Jerusalem 20.3.13 Dow Marmur

False Dichotomous Thinking.doc

Obama’s Visit to Israel and the Peace Process14.03.13

Obama’s Visit to Israel and the Peace Process 14.03.13


Howard Adelman

In Jonathan Spyer’s lunch discussion on Monday, he took one of the two dominant positions towards the peace process that I discussed previously. He essentially dismissed efforts at reviving the peace process at the present time as a dead end useless exercise, stressing that the Palestinian side is deeply divided between a rejectionist Islamist Hamas and a Fatah-led Palestinian Authoirity that is too frightened to make any move that will further undermine its precarious perch in the West Bank. That fear was exemplified when Mahmoud Abbas appeared on Israel’s Channel 2 and reiterated his support for the two-state solution with Palestine having the 1967 borders (presumably with adjustments for land swaps) and with East Jerusalem as its capital. When asked about Safed from which his family fled in 1948, he said, "I want to see Safed, It’s my right to see it, but not to live there." Of course, that remark met a fury of reproaches because it seemed to signal a Palestinian retreat from the "right of return". Noticeably, Abbas backed away from that implication and insisted that it was just a statement about his personal situation.

Ignoring for the moment the problem of the Holy Basin in Jerusalem, does not the above story alone seem to indicate that Jonathan Spyer is correct in his pessimism about the utility of any discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? On the other hand, Ben Birnbaum wrote a piece in the current New Republic entitled "The End of the Two-State Solution" (11 March 2013) suggesting once again that time is running out and that it is imperative that the log jam on Israeli-Palestine peace needs to be broken during Obama’s second term of office. As Birnbaum correctly argued, the two sides in the last quarter of a century have come a long way towards a deal. The PLO which once rejected Israel’s right to exist has come to full acceptance of Israel. Most traditional right wing Israelis by and large have given up the plans to annex the West Bank and have accepted the need for a two state solution. However, Likud hardliners and the far right Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home Party, which won 10% of the seats in the Knesset, hold an "unswerving conviction that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state." (David Remick, "The Party Faithful: The settlers move to annex the West Bank – and Israeli politics," The New Yorker, 21 January 2013)

If you look at the rejectionists, there is certainly no chance for a deal. But as Birnbaum points out, a large majority of Israelis and a majority of Palestinians both support a two-state solution. In fact, two-thirds of Israelis (and a majority of Likudniks) support the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. While on the political front there has been a drift to the right, on the peace front the drift has been distinctively to the left. Further, there are precedents for progress even if one accepts that no formal deal is possible at this time. Sharon showed progress with the withdrawal from Gaza, though many jump on that as proof that unilateral initiatives are counter-productive. However, Sharon envisioned further moves on the West Bank which would also avoid the mistakes re security with respect to the withdrawal from Gaza. Hence, the stress on security which Obama has repeatedly echoed!

For Birnbaum, a narrow window of opportunity is now available when the desire for peace in Israel can be mobilized to support a far-reaching deal with the Palestinians while Abbas is still in office. As Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Birnbaum, the current situation is not only unsustainable, but unlikely ever to be replicated: “This is your dream leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. This is a dream team! Do you think Palestinians will agree to another leadership like this in the next six hundred years?” However, the sticky point is still the settlement of Ariel which is thrust right into the northern centre of and bisecting the West Bank; it has 20,000 settlers and a university with an additional 13,000 students.

Then there are the Jerusalem neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem as well, specifically Hamaotos. On October 11, Plan no. 14295 for Hamatos was deposited for public review for the construction of 2,610 housing units east of Beit Safafa that will complete the isolation between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, and cut Beit Safafa and Shurafat off from East Jerusalem. Given that younger Israelis are more hard line than their elders, both because of a demographic and ideological shift, a future in which Israel will be more accommodating cannot be envisioned. On the other side, at the present time, never mind the future, Hamas has an effective veto on any deal. As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a 2009 address to J Street, “No peace will be possible nor sustainable as long as the Palestinians remain a house divided.” So if this is the last chance, the indicators are that it is a chance with virtually little likelihood of success. Spyer seems to be vindicated in his pessimism.

On the other hand, the other alternatives are even worse and harder to imagine – unilaterally creating a Palestinian state on the other side of the fence/barrier but without the security protection built into an agreement. Annexing the Israeli populated West Bank and turning the balance into autonomous bantustans would incur world-wide wrath against Israel. Other solutions – a unified state with or without Palestinian voting rights – are even more impossible to contemplate. Alternatively, Israel will come face-to-face with militant Islam for not just decades but for generations. And the Israeli nation facing militant Islam will be a largely religious and determined Jewish dominated Israel.

So it is no wonder that Rashid Khalidi asks rhetorically, "Is Any Hope Left for Mideast Peace?" The peace process made possible the expansion of the settlers from 200,000 to over 400,000 since Madrid in 1991. Obama, for Khalidi, has only one real choice if he wants to be effective – oppose the settlements and the occupation with deeds and not just words. Otherwise, back off!

Tzipi Livni is scheduled to be the new Justice Minister and will be charged with negotiations with the Palestinians. Livni regards the Obama visit as a new opportunity "to create a dialogue on a matter of principles". But Palestinians are tired of road maps, framework agreements and principles which simply allow Israel to create more facts on the ground and more barriers to a solution.

As I write, the Annual Herziliya Conference is winding up. Tzipi Livni addressed the conference but did not say anything unexpected. Rob Danin, Mike Herzog, Shlomo Avineri, Yoaz Hendel, Nati Sharoni and Danny Dayan appeared on a panel to discuss, what else, the viability of a two-state solution. And the by now very familiar themes were struck on direct talks and American re-engagement, on incremental and possibly unilateral steps and on a final agreement. Shlomo Avineri may have echoed Spyer`s pessimism about the prospects of a final status deal, but he was very positive about the advantage of pragmatic and incremental initiatives. Everyone agreed that the window was still open and no one would predict when it would close. The implication, however, was that date was not that far off.

As Ami Ayalon wrote in an op-ed in the LA Times on 8 March, the situation demands clear and unambiguous answers not more creative ambiguity. But Ayalon too offers only clear principles and generalities:

· Two states for the two peoples with mutual recognition;

· borders based on the 1967 lines with equitable swaps to enable the settlement blocks to remain under Israeli sovereignty;

· a demilitarized Palestine with international guarantees of its security;

· Palestinian refugees returning only to the Palestinian state or resettling in third countries with compensation; declaration of end of conflict by all sides;

· Jerusalem should remain an open city, capital of two states, with Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighbourhoods, Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighbourhoods and a special shared regime for the administration and guardianship of the holy sites.

The last is both a security and diplomatic nightmare, but if the other problems are taken care of, living with a nightmarish peace may be the better option to living in blissful denial until the next intifada. Israelis have a real choice – a real peace agreement or facing an abyss. To push that choice, "Obama should adopt a new approach: constructive and coordinated unilateralism." Ayalon does not ask Obama to impose a solution but to act as an Anansi and present American demands in their own interests that will lure the two sides into entering into an agreement with each other.

Obama, as we all know, is coming to Israel to discuss three issues: Iran, Syria and an agreement with the Palestinians. We know what he will say about Iran – he is determined that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons but is also insistent on giving Iran more room to back down diplomatically. As Vice-President Joe Biden told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, "The president of the United States cannot and does not bluff." On Syria, American special forces are already secretly active in training the Syrian rebels. Syria will be a matter of coordinating Israeli and American policy to make sure the Iranian-Syrian axis is totally severed. Most commentators are guessing about what he will do about the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

What will he actually be doing and will that provide any clues? Herb Kleinon suggested yesterday that the itinerary does supply some clues since every site visited will have been weighed for its symbolic value. Obama has repeatedly stressed that Israel’s security must be guaranteed. His first stop at the airport itself will be visiting an Iron Dome anti-missile battery – a product of a joint Israeli-US venture and signifying the ironclad partnership of the US and Israel.

After being formally received by President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Obama will then settle into his five and a half hour talk with Netanyahu next Wednesday evening. Next Thursday, Obama will visit the Israeli Museum, in particular the Museum’s Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the in depth literary evidence of the Jews’ ancient connection to the Land of Israel, thereby also avoiding any controversial visit to the Wailing Wall while sending the same message. He will also visit a special exhibit of Israeli technology and innovation thereby highlighting Israel as the start-up nation. Israel will get the best advertising for its efforts at self-branding totally as a freebie. Then Obama will visit Abbas in Ramallah for an equal five and a half hours. Obama will then address students in the Jerusalem International Center; it is possible that in this direct talk to the youth of the nation he will drop some clues as to what he said to both Netanyahu and Abbas. That will be followed by a state dinner at which Obama will have a chance to fill Netanyahu in on his talk with Abbas. Finally, on Friday, Obama will lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, the latter as a bow both to the peace process and a critique of militant extremism. Then a return to Palestine, but this time Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity to now assert the deep Christian connection with the Holy Land but in an area slated to be part of the Palestinian state.

Will Obama condition U.S. military and diplomatic support and guarantees of Israeli security in return for Israeli commitments to freeze ongoing expansion of settlements particularly in areas where an independent contiguous Palestinian state will be compromised? Will Obama make continuing financial support for the Palestinian Authority conditional upon the PA returning to negotiations without Hamas? Will those conditions also require in return very specific compromises from both leaders? Will continuing the life-support system for peace be made conditional on the two parties agreeing to a timetable to arrive at a solution?

In sum, the conditions are not propitious for a two state solution but they are unlikely to become more propitious. Obama has downplayed any efforts to provide a higher profile for the process, but dampening expectations under the circumstances is par for the course. I am betting that Obama has opted for a high risk but very carefully choreographed small step implemental process rather than allow the two=state solution to expire on his watch.

[Tags  Obama, Palestine-Israel peace, visit, Jerusalem, settlements,


Obama 23: Religion and the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process. 08.03.13

Obama 23: Religion and the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process 08.03.13


Howard Adelman

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is located on what Israelis call the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as al-Haram al-Sharif. It is the site of the first and second temples. The Mosque is a gorgeous structure. Muslims revere the site as the one from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. The whole site, not just the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock also located on the Temple Mount, is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf under the auspices of Jordan, a trust that has governed the site since the 12th century.

Responding to unfounded rumours that Barack Obama plans to visit the site, and that in his 2008 Presidential campaign in his June 2008 speech to AIPAC, Obama supported an undivided Jerusalem, and Hamas warnings against such a visit, on 23 February 2013 Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the High Islamic Council in Jerusalem, welcomed Obama`s visit but under the same conditions as previous VIP visits since 1967 and in accordance with a protocol drafted by the Waqf in 1967:

1) The visitor must enter through any of 10 gates not administered by Israel, preferably the Al-Asbat gate, and, thus, excluding the Mughrabi Gate connected to the Western Wall plaza by a bridge, for the IDF allegedly stole the keys to that gate from the Islamic Waqf; the High Islamic Council of Jerusalem does not want to explicitly or implicitly recognize Israeli sovereignty over any of the gates; only Muslims have sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

2) No Israeli official may accompany the president onto the mount.

3) The visit must be non-political and for sight-seeing only.

4) Permission must be extended by the Palestinians delivered to the American consulate in East Jerusalem.

In other words, the visit must be perceived, not as politically neutral, but as explicitly denying recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and implicitly acknowledging Muslim and Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem, at least the Old City. So although the claim is made that the visit must only be for sight-seeing and not be political, the process of arranging the visit is explicitly political. Further, since the White House has given no indication of any plans to visit the site, the rumour itself and the warnings are themselves political — to send a message that America should make no misstep that might implicitly recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The wider ramifications of sovereignty disputes were reinforced when, at the press conference where Sabri set out these conditions, Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in the 1948 occupied lands, was the other spokesperson at the news conference. He was quoted as saying: "It is known that we have our constants as Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians regarding the issue of Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque, and we confirm that Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque are under occupation; the occupier has no sovereignty or legitimacy over them and this occupation will inevitably end."

Obama was not singled out for such treatment. Similar conditions were put in place for Papal visits and when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited in June 2008. But all such visits are political. This was particularly true of Sarkozy`s for, in addressing Israeli legislators, he said, "There cannot be peace without an immediate and complete halt to settlement. There cannot be peace without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the guarantee of free access to the holy places for all religions." Obama has never come close to expressing support for a re-divided Jerusalem or suggesting that Israel does not protect the access of all religious groups to their holy sites or. The latter assertion by Sarkozy was particularly insulting to Israelis who, since 1967, contend they have enforced such guarantees in contrast to pre-1967 practices.

Nor are the conditions for visiting the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque just applicable to non-Muslims. Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country’s top Islamic cleric, visited the alAqsa Mosque last year and stirred up a hornet`s nest. His visit to Jerusalem broke with decades of opposition by Muslim leaders to traveling to areas under Israeli control. The head of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, called the visit “very strange” and said it violated the position the majority of Muslim clerics have taken “that there is no visiting to Jerusalem with continued Israeli occupation.” Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian, issued a religious fatwa a month prior to his visit insisting that Muslims should not visit Jerusalem “because it requires dealing with Zionist embassies to obtain visas.”

Gomaa’s visit was expressly described as non-official even though he explicitly also said that his visit was in solidarity with the Palestinians’ claim to the eastern part of the disputed city under Israel’s control. Gomaa went to Jerusalem under the auspices of the Jordanian royal family and in the company of Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohamed, president of the Al-Bayt Foundation, to inaugurate the Imam al-Ghazali Chair of Islamic Studies at the Jerusalem Islamic research center of which Gomaa is a Trustee. Gomaa entered from Jordan without visas or stamps in his passport from Israel.

Not all were critical. Azzam Khatib, the director of the Palestinian Islamic clerical body which administers the Al-Aqsa compound, praised the visit for sending out a message that it is an Islamic, Arab site. Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, the mufti of Jerusalem and the preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Abdel Azim Sahlab, chairman of the Board of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem, and Azzam al-Khatib, director of Jerusalem’s Religious Endowments (Waqf) Foundation, all accompanied him on the visit. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas “called on Muslims everywhere to visit Al-Aqsa and revitalize it by filling it with worshippers and pilgrims.”

So even religious Muslim visits become political.

Strictly political reports almost inevitably go the other way and broach religious issues. The report of EU diplomats in East Jerusalem to the European Union (Nonbinding Heads of Mission report for 2012) largely focused on settlements and recommendation that the EU endorse the boycott and divestment campaign aimed at products and services from Jewish settlements across the old Green Line. However, a significant portion of the report charged Israel with imposing restrictions on Muslim and Christian religious practice in Jerusalem and attempting to change the character of Jerusalem as a city sacred to all three faiths by enforcing “legal and policy restrictions on religious freedoms and on access in particular for Christian and Muslim worshippers to their holy sites in Jerusalem/Old City.”

This conclusion was widely reported by many organizations such as Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and Dump Veolia Information Group in the UK. Further, the Report accused the Israel Antiquities Authority of being in league with right-wing extremists to promote “a partisan historical narrative, placing emphasis on the biblical and Jewish connotations of the area while neglecting the Christian/Muslim claims of historic-archaeological ties to the same place.” In addition to denouncing the creation of this “exclusively Jewish narrative on Jerusalem,” Israeli authorities were accused of permitting a sharp increase in “the frequency and visibility of visits by Jewish radical political and religious groups, often in a provocative manner.” Most incendiary of all was the implicit endorsement of Palestinian fears that Israel is trying to “Hebronize” and change the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Now it is true that MK Moshe Feiglin of the Likud Party has an absolute disdain for Palestinians and refuses even to use the word. He is an ardent advocate for Jewish control of the Temple Mount and aspires to "expel the Moslem wakf from the Temple Mount and restore exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the Mount.” Feiglin is committed to continue to pray at the Muslim holy site of the Noble Sanctuary, and for which he has been arrested many times. Because of the sensitive nature of the religious site, Israeli authorities prohibit Jews from praying in the area. (Cf. Alex Kane "‘We’ll take over the Likud, we’ll take over the country’: Far-right Israeli MK Moshe Feiglin honored in New York City," Mondoweiss, 26 February 2013) If there is any evidence of Israeli official efforts to discriminate, it is against the right of fanatics like Feiglin to use religion to stir up trouble.

However, fanatics on one side feed fanaticism on the other side. Unfortunately, the Al-Aqsa services on Friday have often been the occasion for doing just that and today provided a case in point. Given the rumours surrounding the Obama visit, some Palestinian leaders used Friday services that are meant for prayer and reflection to, as the saying goes, "stir the kasha" and work the flock into a frenzy of hate and violence. As Reuters reported this morning, "Clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank and at a holy site in Jerusalem on Friday as tensions rose just weeks before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama." This followed the funeral of a Palestinian who was shot by the IDF in a confrontation two weeks ago and died yesterday. Of the 5,000 mourners, 100 broke away after Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and started pelting IDF soldiers with stones. The soldiers responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets. No one died, but 35 protesters and some soldiers were injured, none seriously.

In contrast to the discussion of settlement activities, the EU Heads of Mission Report based its findings of Israeli discrimination against other religions on expressions of fear, rumours and misinterpretation, though it is valid to say that most archeological work before the Common Era does focus on Jewish sites for there were then no Christian or Muslim sites. None of the many leaks of the report that I tracked down provided evidence to back up those fears, rumours and interpretations.

When we touch matters that seem to be overwhelmingly political, we find they are not. Anti-Zionism, that is opposition to an ideology that fosters national self determination for the Jewish people, was a position once taken by a majority of Jews. Since the Holocaust, and certainly since the creation of the State of Israel, but especially after 1967, Zionism has become a central tenet for the vast majority of Jews, central to their Jewish identity and their beliefs as Jews. Nevertheless, a minority, like Tony Judt, an ex-Zionist, could be critical of Zionism per se. But this is very different than when the United Nations once declared that Zionism was racism, a resolution later rescinded. This year in Vienna at a UN conference on 28 February 2013 dedicated to dialogue between Islam and the West, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Errdogan insisted that Islamophobia should be, like Zionism, fascism and anti-semitism, declared a crime against humanity. He did not just say that he did not regard Jewish beliefs in self-determination to be unacceptable and akin to calls for Armenian or Kurdish calls for self-determination, but dubbed it a crime to be a Zionist, and this in the name of tolerance for Islam. In that context, anti-Zionism can be equated with anti-Semitism.

Contrast Obama’s speech with Erdogan’s when Obama addressed a conference of Muslims in Cairo on 4 June 2009. His opening words are worth quoting in full.

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress… We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam. Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust. So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end. I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Within this framework, Obama directly addressed the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied… Denying that fact [the death of six
million in the Holocaust] is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."

Obama then went on to address the situation of the Palestinians.

The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own… the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires…Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society…America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Barack Obama has been clear and unequivocal all along. He supports a two state solution. He opposes settlements. He supports a united Jerusalem. In his 12 May interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic, Obama went further. Obama as a kid who never felt rooted expressed a visceral identification with the Zionism taught to him at camp by a Jewish-American – of return to a homeland, of preserving a culture and the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, that gave him an "enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves." In addition to the great resonance the Jewish story had with the African-American experience. Obama clearly identified with "the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure. is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world…I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions."

Sometimes I’m attacked in the press for maybe being too deliberative. My staff teases me sometimes about anguishing over moral questions. I think I learned that partly from Jewish thought, that your actions have consequences and that they matter and that we have moral imperatives. The point is, if you look at my writings and my history, my commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is more than skin-deep and it’s more than political expediency. When it comes to the gut issue, I have such ardent defenders among my Jewish friends in Chicago. I don’t think people have noticed how fiercely they defend me, and how central they are to my success, because they’ve interacted with me long enough to know that I’ve got it in my gut…I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious…"My commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” Injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe. I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically. I want to solve the problem, and so my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we’re going to be stuck in the same status quo that we’ve been stuck in for decades now.

So when Daniel Pipes on 22 January 2013 writes about Barack Obama’s long held anti-Zionist views in The National Review Online, it is simply incredulous. The fact that Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor, who endorsed Obama for re-election "thought that there would come a time when [Obama] would renege on . . . his support of Israel," does not undermine my incredulity but enlarges it. Suggesting that Obama is reverting to his early anti-Zionist views when there is no evidence that he held such views because he listened to a talk by Edward Said (I had had lunch with Edward Said after I became a Zionist) or because he consorted with Rashid Khalidi with whom I myself worked on his reformulation of the "right of return" to Palestine rather their original homes, is simply a fraud.

Andrew Preston in his 2012 book, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy, correctly locates Obama’s views in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realism in which faith provides the moral core of foreign policy and a moral compass for a foreign policy rooted in realism and a recognition that serious evil exists in the world but that it must be challenged and counter-acted by just war in pursuit of a just peace. Expect Obama to do that, but as a facilitator and not one who will impose a solution on either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and as someone who will put America’s interests first and foremost, but interests guided by his moral compass of support for the security of Israel and for self-determination by the Palestinian people.

Monday The Blackness of Obama


Obama, Palestine, Israel, settlements, Jerusalem, Zionism, Islam]

Obama 23.Religion.Politics.07.03.13.doc