Palestine

Palestine
by
Howard Adelman

This morning, I was going to continue my survey of Middle East countries, primarily in relationship to Israel, and in continuation of my blogs on Iran, Egypt and Turkey, by writing on Jordan. However, yesterday I received a copy of a resolution that Jordan, as a newly-elected rotating members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), was circulating to existing and newly-elected members of that Council that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had approved on Wednesday. The proposed resolution has been published in this morning’s Haaretz and is appended hereto.

Since October, the PA had been promising to ask the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution requiring Israel’s retreat to the pre-1967 line, but evidently thought there was a better chance of obtaining the required 9 of 15 votes of Council members needed to pass if the resolution was brought to a vote after the new Security Council takes office on 1 January 2015 and when five of the existing members are replaced by five new members. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had been circulating drafts since November. On 29 November 2014, a pan-Arab draft on a Palestinian state had been sent to the Security Council as the United Kingdom, France and, a non-member, Germany, were evidently preparing their own versions. All this was taking place against the background of a number of European states, beginning with Sweden, recognizing Palestine. In October, the British parliament, with an overwhelming majority, passed a non-binding motion recognizing Palestine as a state.

On the 17th of December, almost as soon as the blue-lined (final version) draft resolution had been made available to the Security Council, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced that the US would veto the resolution. The quick promise of a veto was not expected. In fact, it had been uncertain whether the administration would even veto at all. The swift announcement is an indicator that the Obama administration regards the current resolution as an outlier. The USA, especially the Obama administration with its multilateralist approach to international issues, has been wary of using its veto power in the UNSC. On 1 February 2011, the US cast its first veto in the UNSC to block a draft Palestinian resolution declaring Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as both illegal and an obstacle to peace. This was followed by the year-long Kerry initiative that finally collapsed this past spring.

The government of Israel had unequivocally expressed its opposition to the resolution. But so did key leaders of the opposition. On Wednesday, Tzipi Livni urged John Kerry to announce the US intention to veto the resolution. Israel’s announcement of its opposition to the resolution and its intention to try to prevent it from passing may seem redundant given the threat of a US veto, but a vetoed resolution has moral force that a defeated resolution lacks. It is this difference between passing the resolution that is vetoed and failing to even pass the resolution that explains why the resolution is being submitted at this time. The Palestinians think they have the votes in the new year to pass the resolution.

However, Palestinian UN representative Riyad Mansour, on behalf of the PA, announced that it is not seeking a speedy vote, and, further, that it is willing to negotiate the terms of the resolution. In other words, this is an effort to restart peace negotiations under other auspices even if the veto hangs over the whole process. The veteran Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, said that the PA wanted a statement of clear principles of peace.

What did he say they were?
1. A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders;
2. Jerusalem as its capital;
3. The release of all prisoners;
4. A declaration that all settlements are illegal.

As we shall see, they are not quite congruent with the published resolution, especially the third principle above. Nevertheless, given this statement of principles, and given that it took the USA less than 24 hours to promise a veto, why did Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Joudah, accompany the release of the resolution to other member of the UN Security Council with the boast that the Hashemite Kingdom, because of the prestige of the King, was more influential than the State of Israel, not only with the US administration and the State Department, but the US Congress as well?

Before answering the latter question, let’s turn to the version of the resolution that has been published. (See the addendum to this blog.) After the fourteen clauses in the preamble that reiterate past UN resolutions and principles on the matter at hand, and after offering a polite nod to American previous efforts, there are twelve principles set forth in the resolution. The thirteenth clause merely says that the Security Council remains open for discussion. In other words, under the cover first of PA openness to further negotiations, followed, presumably, by UNSC openness to negotiations, the general principles of a peace agreement are intended to be etched in stone, or, at least, in history, as the basic terms for a peace agreement.
Clause 1 reiterates the traditional UN position on a two-state solution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and a final peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians within mutually and internationally recognized borders. It requires that the second sovereign state come into being within one, not two, years, and that the Israeli occupation come to an end, but does not specify that the occupation end at the same time as the State of Palestine comes into being. The clause calls for the Palestinian state to be contiguous (the West Bank and Gaza?) and viable. Unlike earlier informal versions circulated that had not been blue-lined, this formal version did not call for the “founding” of two states as if Israel did not exist and would only come into being coterminous with the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Clause 2 sets forth the basic terms of the peace agreement to be reached by further negotiations: A. The borders will be based on the 4th of June 1967 borders, that is, the borders prior to the Six Day War fought between the 5th and 10th of June 1967 and not the internationally recognized borders of the 1923 Sykes-Picot line agreement, the proposed 1947 partition lines or the 1949 Armistice lines. Between 1949 and 4 June 1967, the borders on the ground became the de facto borders. Further, the new borders envision land swaps, presumably as negotiated in the Oslo process, but specifies that those land swaps are to be both limited and equivalent.

Basing the negotiations on the 4 June 1967 borders would mean that the old city of Jerusalem goes to Palestine, but Jerusalem is dealt with separately in the resolution. Palestine could insist on moving its border back onto the north-east quadrant of Lake Kinneret (Lake Tiberias), contrary to the 1923 historical border, giving Palestine equal rights to the waters of the lake. The Jordan River between Lake Kinneret and Lake Hula becomes the basis for a boundary. At that time, the main issues were riparian rights to the river and lake rather than control of the underground aquifers. (For a very helpful discussion of the 4 June 1967 borders see Frederic C. Hof, “The Line of June 4, 1967” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/67line.html). By implication, the Golan, annexed by Israel, goes back to Syria as well, presumably, including the Jewish settlement of Mishmar Ha-Yarden captured by Syria in the 1948 war.

B. There is a provision for third party peacekeeping and for ensuring that there is no terrorism, but Israel is given a deadline for ending its occupation in phases by the end of 1917.

C. In a phrasing adopted from the peace proposal of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, there will be a just and agreed solution for the Palestinian refugees based on resolution 194(III) without specifying a “right of return”; this implies compensation rather than return as the main route for resolving the Palestinian refugee issue.

D. Jerusalem is to be a common and shared capital for both countries and freedom of worship will be secured, a solution that goes beyond recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with the old city left as a question mark, for a shared capital harks back to the UN resolution that proposed that Jerusalem remain united but internationalized or bi-lateralized in the current resolution. Further, Israel cannot even agree on “freedom of worship” among women, and men and among the various competing divisions within Judaism, so how can “freedom of worship” be guaranteed on the Temple Mount (Heb., Har Habayit; Arabic, Haram esh-Sharif)?

E. The resolution specifically points to water among other outstanding issues that will have to be settled.
Clauses 3 and 4 are both pro forma: 3) The Council agrees that the permanent agreement must immediately lead to an end of occupation and mutual recognition; 4) A timetable establishing the security arrangements through negotiation must be formed.

However, clause 5 is significant in welcoming Palestine as a full UN member. Up until recently, this was expected to be the heart of the resolution brought before the UNSC, a quest for permanent membership and, hence, recognition of Palestine as a state. The PA instead has decided to go for broke and place the UN membership issue within the framework of its position on a peace agreement. Since the US is promising a veto (which the PA had to know when they endorsed the resolution on Wednesday), it means that the Palestinians are going for a moral win beyond UN membership. The PA wants a formal resolution passed by at least 9 of 15 members of the UNSC supporting its position on a peace agreement and, thereby, implicitly legitimizing a position that both the US and Israel would not support. It prefers that moral victory more than full membership in the UN, though passage of this resolution will enhance its possibility of attaining that membership, especially if the timeframe is the end of 1917.

Half of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are re-elected each year. Though non-permanent or rotating members have no veto right, their combined votes can be very effective. Possibly 10 of the 15 members after 1 January 2015, when the vote is expected to take place, can be expected to support the resolution – China and Russia as permanent members and up to 8 of the 10 rotating members: Angola, Chad, Chile (likely), Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria (likely), Spain (even though it beat out Turkey which would have certainly supported the resolution but, as pointed out in yesterday’s blog, has become more and more diplomatically isolated) and Venezuela. Only Japan and Lithuania of the rotating membership are in the “no” camp.

Angola takes its positions based on international law and the fundamental principle of self-determination. Malaysia, which already had wide sympathy because of the Malaysian МН17 Boeing crash, has positioned itself as the leading Muslim state opposed to Islamic State on ideological grounds. It convened a conference of leading experts on Muslim law which defined a Muslim state as one which guaranteed economic, political and social justice while the rights to life, freedom of religion, family, property, dignity and intellect are upheld. Recall further that most of the new members campaigned for their positions, not on simply a management of conflict agenda, but a conflict prevention agenda. On this plank, Spain was a leading proponent and backs up that position by providing peacekeeping troops. Venezuela, which campaigned on a platform of UN reform (President Nicolás Maduro called the charter of the UN high poetry), received unanimous support from Latin America and 182 out of 193 votes for its membership in spite of opposition by the United States. That means the resolution can be expected to get 9 and possibly even 10 votes in the UNSC before it is vetoed by the US.
The rest of the resolutions are expressions of motherhood:

6) The Council urges both sides to engage seriously and act together to guarantee peace and refrain from any act of incitement. Therefore, the council calls on all international states and organizations to support the negotiations with confidence-building measures.

7) The Council calls on all sides to stand behind their commitments to the International humanitarian law.

8) The Council encourages regional efforts to obtain peace in the Middle East, citing the Arab Peace Initiative as a reference.

9) The Council called for a new negotiating framework with the support of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement in a timely way, beginning with holding a new international conference on the issue. The Council proposes assembling an international peace committee to launch negotiations. This has diplomatic significance for it removes the US from the leadership in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and search for peace and shifts it to the UN. Further, other countries are called upon to through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements.

10. Both sides are called on by the Council to refrain from taking one-sided, illegal steps, such as construction in settlements. (Note the indirect method of labeling the settlements as illegal.)

11. The Council urges both sides to immediately begin improving the unstable situation in the Gaza Strip and provide humanitarian aid through the different UN agencies.

12. The Council calls on the UN General Secretary to file a report stating the application of the decision within three months.

Note that there are no clauses calling for the release of prisoners.
Both the motives and strategy of the PA are clear. So is the reason for the US promising to veto the resolution as currently worded. The ground has been set for another negotiating route far more favourable to the Palestinians. But why did Jordan boast that its link with the US administration, with Congress and with the State Department is stronger than that of Israel? In the light of the swift promise of a veto, this seems a gross overreach.

I will try to answer this question in my next blog on Jordan.

Draft Resolution (17 December 2014)

Reaffirming its previous resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967); 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), 1544 (2004), 1850 (2008), 1860 (2009) and the Madrid Principles,

Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

Reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,

Recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,

Reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and recalling its resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980), determining, inter alia, that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,

Affirming the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative,

Underlining that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and calling for a sustainable solution to the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the sustained and regular opening of its border crossings for normal flow of persons and goods, in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Welcoming the important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts recognised by the World Bank and the IMF in 2012 and reiterating its call to all States and international organizations to contribute to the Palestinian institution building programme in preparation for independence,

Reaffirming that a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-State solution, building on previous agreements and obligations and stressing that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement that ends the occupation that began in 1967, resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties, and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties,

Condemning all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism, and reminding all States of their obligations under resolution 1373 (2001),

Recalling the obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and ensure their protection in situations of armed conflict,

Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,

Noting with appreciation the efforts of the United States in 2013/14 to facilitate and advance negotiations between the parties aimed at achieving a final peace settlement,

Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a long-term solution to the conflict,

1. Affirms the urgent need to attain, no later than 12 months after the adoption of this resolution, a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfills the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders;

2. Decides that the negotiated solution will be based on the following parameters:
– borders based on 4 June 1967 lines with mutually agreed limited, equivalent land swaps;
– security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine, including through a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces which will end the occupation that began in 1967 over an agreed transition period in a reasonable timeframe, not to exceed the end of 2017, and that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region.
– A just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (III);
– Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;
– an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water;

3. Recognizes that the final status agreement shall put an end to the occupation and an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition;

4. Affirms that the definition of a plan and schedule for implementing the security arrangements shall be placed at the center of the negotiations within the framework established by this resolution;

5. Looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations within the timeframe defined in the present resolution;

6. Urges both parties to engage seriously in the work of building trust and to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith and refraining from all acts of incitement and provocative acts or statements, and also calls upon all States and international organizations to support the parties in confidence-building measures and to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations;

7. Calls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949;

8. Encourages concurrent efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region, which would unlock the full potential of neighborly relations in the Middle East and reaffirms in this regard the importance of the full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative;

9. Calls for a renewed negotiation framework that ensures the close involvement, alongside the parties, of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement within the established timeframe and implement all aspects of the final status, including through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements, and welcomes the proposition to hold an international conference that would launch the negotiations;

10. Calls upon both parties to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;

11. Calls for immediate efforts to redress the unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip, including through the provision of expanded humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and other United Nations agencies and through serious efforts to address the underlying issues of the crisis, including consolidation of the ceasefire between the parties;

12. Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;

13. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

by

Howard Adelman

From my recent blogs, the two issues that seemed to arouse some need for further discussion were the conclusion about Jerusalem remaining the key obstacle to peace and the implication that the United States and Israel would be at odds over negotiating with a possibly reunited Palestinian entity involving Hamas as well as Fatah. In this morning’s blog I will focus on Jerusalem and, more particularly, on a report on the conference, “The Road to Jerusalem” that took place from Monday to Wednesday of this week in Amman, Jordan.

The conference was opened by HRH Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, Jordan’s King Abdullah II’s Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs. It was not just a conference of Muslims. Christian clerics and scholars as well as politicians from across the Arab world were in attendance. Secondly, the premise of the conference was that Jerusalem was an occupied city. Given that it was occupied, how were both Muslims and Christians to deal with their holy sites when the occupying and controlling authority was neither Muslim nor Christian. The conference was organized by the World Islamic Sciences and Education (WISE) University, the Lower House Palestine Committee and the Muslim World League, a clear indication that the dominant instigation for the conference was a Muslim one. Christians had a token role.

WISE, for example, located in Amman, was only established four years ago. Its purpose from the beginning was primarily political rather than educational since it was established to be the home of the Arabic League and National Identity Conference. The university has nine faculties including Theology, Sharia Law, Humanities and Education, Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture, Information Technology, Business and Finance, Basic Sciences, A Graduate Faculty and an Institute for Quranic Studies and Recitation complete the list. It is, in other words, a traditional religious-based university. Thus, the Faculty of Theology offers a PhD in Faith and Islamic Philosophy as well as bachelors and graduate degrees in “scientific interpretation” of religious texts and ritual. In contrast, its Faculty of Arts and Education only offers a bachelors degree majoring in either English literature or Education. There are no courses in social sciences or history. The applied professional fields of study – information technology and business and finance – are concerned with business management and accounting as well as information systems and technology. The Faculty of Basic Sciences has a program in “Islamic Sciences” not chemistry, physics, etc. It also has a department of English, finance and education. This is not your typical model of a western university.

The focus of the conference was the religious significance of Al Aqsa Mosque as well as other Muslim – and Christians – sites in Jerusalem. Given the special custodial role of King Abdullah II for the Al Asque Mosque, the issue was how “the Arab and Muslim worlds and the international community can come to the aid of the occupied city.” The assumption was that aid was desperately needed because of “Israeli arrogance and violations against the Palestinians in the West Bank” as well as to thwart Israeli schemes vis a vis Islamic holy sites, in particular the expenditure of $4 billion dollars by the Israeli occupation on the Judaization of Jerusalem. The clear thrust of the conference was to document the central importance of Jerusalem and its holy sites in the history of Islam. The explicit goal was to preserve the Arab identity of the “holy city”. There was absolutely no indication that at least 40% of the Jews in Israel came from the Arab world.

Within that core focus was the central theme – how to protect the Haram al-Sharif, the site of the Al-Asqua Mosque and the Dome on the Rock given that Article 9 of the 1994 Jordan-Israeli Peace Agreement assigned Jordan that prime responsibility, an assignment confirmed by an agreement signed between King Abdullah II and Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in March 2013. What is also clear is that this new focus on Haram al Sharif is also fueled by Jewish religious extremist rejection of the Muslim control over the Temple Mount. As stated in the conference, Israel traditionally had respected Islamic control and had agreed that the site was to be protected by unarmed guards paid for by the Jordanian government. However, given Israeli control of the one gate, the Mughrabi Gate, in order to allow access to the Western Wall, unauthorized visits of militant Jews using that gate have significantly increased to the  Haram al-Sharif.

A central theological issue was whether visits to Jerusalem by non-Palestinians were a) acceptable and b) to be encouraged, given that the sites were under the ultimate control of the Israeli authorities. Abbas and Mohammed Hussein, the Mufti of Jerusalem, were promoting such visits. Yehiya Soud, a Palestinian-Jordanian firebrand, recounted how, in spite of his Jordanian diplomatic passport, he was held up for five hours at the king Hussein Bridge before allowed entry. Given an Egyptian theological ruling, Muslims from Turkey, Indonesia and Jordan, countries who recognized Israel and whose passports would allow them to visit, were to be encouraged to visit Haram al-Sharif, but this was a ruling hotly disputed by Islamic scholars from Qatar, Yemen and Morocco who held that, while the holy sites were under Israeli – read Jewish – control, such visits only legitimized Israeli occupation. Further, the Arab Peace Initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation prohibits normalization with Israel until Israel withdraws from Arab areas occupied in 1967. Yusuf Qaradawi, a prominent Egyptian cleric at odds with other Egyptian policies, had issued a fatwa against such visits. However, the trend to not recognize such visits and to view them as beneficial for the fight for Islamic control of the holy city was viewed as on the upswing. In parallel with the conference, Abbas I Ramallah pledged $1million towards an endowment to secure Muslim control of the holy city.

Abbas won. The majority of Islamic scholars in attendance reversed past practice and supported visits by Muslims in addition to Palestinians to Haram al-Sharif. This can be read in two different ways – as progress towards recognition of Israeli de facto control and sovereignty and as a source of further disruption and controversy for Israel as Islamic militants from Egypt or Turkey take to seeking access in large numbers. On the one hand, Islamic tourism could be fostered which could bring about greater understanding even if that was not the motive. On the other hand, the new move could be a source of new tensions

The situation is further complicated by corresponding shifts in attitudes and approaches by religious Jews. Traditionally, since 1967 the two chief Israeli rabbis, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, have concurred and made visits to the Temple Mount off limits for devout Jews lest they trod on what was the Jewish temple. However, militant religious Jews have begun to challenge that ruling. In fact, recently right wing Israelis have begun visiting the area and provoking controversy by seeking to pray on the site. Muslims see this as an initiative to blow up the site – there have been incidents of such efforts in the past – in order to rebuild the Temple.

With the possible increase in both the numbers of Muslims and religious Jews visiting the Islamic holiest site in Jerusalem, the potential for clashes also increases enormously. But the way to sort out the issue of sovereignty also becomes more complicated as emotions get roused on both sides over incidents that are bound to take place. The more Jerusalem becomes the final redoubt in the negotiations between Israel and Palestine, the more the Old City is in danger of serving as a tinder box. The diplomatic issue exacerbates the concern, the concern exacerbates the security issue from both sides and the security issues compound the difficulties in resolving the conflict over Jerusalem and endangers the Israeli traditional stance of acknowledging Islamic religious control while insisting on sovereign control. Thus does the dialectic dance of extremism undermine the search for stability of moderates.

As Ezekial describes it, the road from Babylon split in two, one road going to Amman (then Rabbah in Ammon),  the other to Jerusalem then the capital city of Judah. Islam has always wanted to make the road to Jerusalem the ultimate destiny on that route as a path of Islamic religious expression. Jews have always recited, “Next Year in Jerusalem” and regarded Jerusalem as their one and only holy city, though religious Jews have other holy sites. Ezekial prophesied that the Babylonian king would set Jerusalem as his goal and thereby threaten Jerusalem as a Jewish city. Plus ça change, plus la même chose.

And for Christians and Messianic Jews, “Remove the turban, and take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. A ruin, ruin ruin will I make it; there shall not be even a trace of it until he comes whose right it is; and to him I will give it.”

In such a controversial historical, religious and political quagmire, can anyone expect that proposals for international sovereignty over the city have any more headway and strength than when proposed in 1947. When the UN advance guard came to the city to take over administrative control in 1948, they were totally ignored as irrelevant.

Though I now see that all other aspects of the dispute are in principle resolvable – water, refugee return, security, even borders except for Jerusalem, I have no idea on how to resolve the Jerusalem issue except by divided authority. I think international authority – though international involvement in an advisory or observer role would be welcome – is not acceptable to either side. I do not even think joint control is possible. There will have to be continued divided authority, but Israel remaining the default sovereign control remains unacceptable to both Abbas and Muslims.

So that is why there will be no formal deal in the near future.

The greatest potential for violence has resided in Jewish zealots who are determined to pray on the Temple Mount under the guidance and incitement of the Temple Mount Faithful in defiance of Israeli political prudential decisions. On 7 December 2000, the al Aqsa intifada was instigated by a visit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount and fiery sermons in response from Muslim pulpits. Neither side believes in sharing. Will the historic situation of the Second Civil War in 68CE repeat when moderates lost control of the Temple Mount to both the zealots entering from the West and the Edomites from the east?

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

By fallout, I am not talking about the post-apocalyptic scenario envisioned as a result of a nuclear war that is the backdrop of the videogame of that same name. Fallout need not be so drastic but can initiate a widespread piecemeal catastrophe. I am referring to the fallout Barack Obama predicted that would result if the peace talks failed. At the beginning of March, Obama warned Israel that the United States would have more difficulty defending Israel if the talks faltered let alone failed. Both Barack Obama and John Kerry have warned both sides that the window of opportunity for a deal was closing. “Seize the Day,” was the message. Rephrasing the Jewish sage, Rav Hillel, Obama told Netanyahu directly, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” The negotiating parties did not for some of the reasons I outlined in previous blogs seize the day or the hour.

ALL failures have consequences. Those consequences are now upon us. The peace talks did not result in an agreement. They did not result in a watered down framework agreement. They did not even result in an agreement to continue the talks. Now is the time to observe the fallout.

Economic – Israel

At then end of January, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a strong supporter of the peace negotiations, predicted that Israel was approaching a tipping point in the BDS movement in Europe based on a Finance Ministry study. The Israeli economy was already jittery in response to an anticipated failure. If a European boycott movement expands, not only in the number of parties engaged in the boycott, but in the breadth of the sanctions movement beyond products produced in West Bank settlements and businesses operating in the West Bank, as is expected, the Israeli economy, that sailed through the international downturn of the last few years, will now contract. This downturn will be exacerbated as the BDS movement spreads its tentacles, including to the southern sphere, especially Australia, where a recent court case against BDS was lost. The decision of Dutch asset manager PGGM, which manages 150 billion in euros in investments, to halt investments in Israel’s five banks is but a foretaste. It is but the tip of the iceberg of shifts in patterns of investment that have fuelled Israel’s tremendous growth over the last decade as private investors, pension funds and foundations begin to shift resources away from Israel, even if they do so only in anticipation of the economic effects of others shifting their investment priorities. Thus, Obama’s warning in early March that Israel could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement was totally consistent with results of the Israeli Ministry of Finance own study and may result even though, in the end, Netanyahu ended up saying yes to a framework agreement.

Economic- Palestine

Any dramatic economic turndown in Israel will have even more dire consequences for Palestine since the West Bank is so dependent for its economic health on trade with Israel. Parallel to the Israeli Ministry of Finance study, a separate study by the Palestinian Authority adumbrated the negative economic consequences of failed peace talks. 

The economic consequences for the Palestinian Authority will be even worse than the consequences for Israel.

An IMF study prophesied that a breakthrough in the peace negotiations would result in a 6.5% growth rate in the West Bank, but its failure would result in a significant economic contraction, increasing the already fraught situation and undermining efforts to forge a non-violent political effort. Instead of the projected 4.5% growth, there would be a significant economic contraction. Even if talks just continued, even if inconclusive, the growth rate would be 2.5%. Given the termination of the talks, expect a decline in growth rate of at least 2%.  If Israel resorts to economic pressure tactics against the PA, that decline will be even worse.

Political – Israel

With all her experience in leading the negotiations under Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzip Livni has been the widely respected chief negotiator for the Israeli side who has been clearly and unequivocally committed to a two-state solution. Though she was undercut by a number of decisions: 1)  the decision to postpone the release of the 26 Israeli Arabs from prison until the Palestinians agreed to continue the talks beyond the end of April deadline, a decision contrary to the agreement on entering the negotiations; 2) Livni was then undercut by the decision of the PA to apply for membership in 15 of 63 international organizations by becoming a signatory to those international conventions, but explicitly excluding the International Criminal Court, though Mustafa Barghouti held out the promise that this graduated approach will end with joining the ICC as the final step. The move to join fifteen rather innocuous conventions was, in itself, a move contrary to the agreement about the negotiating process, all on top of the decision Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party to announce the building of 700 more housing units in Gilo in Jerusalem, a move, though not contrary to what was formally agreed in the conduct of the negotiations, but was a de facto understanding in  proceeding with those negotiations. Livni’s political wisdom is now undermined. Setting aside her rival within the party, Shaul Mofaz, who had his own plan for advancing the peace negotiations but was ignored even though he was the initiator of the previous interim security agreement, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who backed her controversial move to join the Netanyahu government even with the strong presence of right wing parties, may now enact their calls for their Hatnua party quitting the coalition. The party is in danger of splitting. If it does not leave the coalition, a move unlikely since Livni has been adamant in placing the bulk of the blame on the Palestinians and has defended Netanyahu as having backed her fully in the negotiations in spite of twice being sideswiped by her cabinet colleagues. 

Political – Fatah/Hamas Reconciliation

If Livni blamed the Palestinians, Saeb Ekrat blamed the Israelis. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” Ekrat  explicity labelled the Netanyahu government an apartheid regime. Abbas went out of his way to insist that East Jerusalem is an Islamic and Christian Arab city and will be the capital of a Palestinian state, a capital that will include ALL of Arab East Jerusalem including at the very least the Arab arts of the old city.

Contrary to many, I think the PA/Hamas negotiations will come to an agreement to set up a technical government and to schedule elections. It is in the interest of both parties to do so and instigates an end run around Israel’s complaints that Abbas was not a spokesman for all Palestinians while, at the same time, solidifying Abbas’ position against his rivals. Whether the two parties will be able to go further and unify their competing administrative organizations, given the radically different culture that inform both, is a very different question. But political unity does not require administrative unity. The latter can be postponed.

In the meanwhile, Abbas has stacked up credits by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the twentieth century in direct refutation of the way he downplayed the Holocaust in his PhD thesis written in Moscow years ago. Israelis may dismiss the comment as empty rhetoric, but you cannot call his other denials of the extent of the Holocaust themselves heinous and be unwilling to offer credit when he reverses himself. All this positive payoff is in spite of Abbas’ explicit unwillingness to go ahead with a framework agreement, when Netanyahu approved it, Abbas timing the announcement to sign fifteen international conventions, contrary to the terms of the peace negotiations, on the precise day before the prisoner release was to go ahead in return for America’s release of Jonathan Pollard. Abbas further undermined the initiative to cede control of part of Area C to the Palestinians for building homes in areas slated to be part of Palestine according to previous negotiations, an initiative that in turn was blown up by the announcement of the PLO-Hamas agreement.

One important fallout of the PLO/Hamas reconciliation is an emerging split between the USA and Israel. After all, the USA deals with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah characterized as a terrorist organization. As long as the merged government adheres to the three principles of not resorting to violence, accepting a two state solution and recognizing Israel, America sees no obstacle to negotiations with the new government any more than America refusing to negotiate with Israel because its cabinet includes a few from the hard right who still reject Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Israel, thus far, has rejected such a possibility, but as in the case of negotiations with Iran, Israel’s resistance may simply drift into the byways of history as once did its refusal to negotiate with the PLO.

Political – Israeli Unilateralism

In spite of the negative lessons of the past critical of unilateral moves, it is more rather than less likely that Israel will not sit back passively as the PLO pursues broadening its international recognition and status and consolidates unification. Israel is already on the road to consolidation of its settlements. Whether Israel will actually annex the settlements scheduled for the swap, move the 100,000 or so settlers outside the consolidation areas or, at the very least, offer them compensation to relocate at a cost of up to $US10 billion, and, more problematically, whether it will enact the swap and transfer jurisdiction to the PA over the territory scheduled to be swapped, would require a bold conjecture. Michael Oren, Dan Meridor and Amos Yadlin have been advocating bold moves along these lines. Even bolder still, would it be for Israel to offer Palestinians within the annexed territories – an estimated 150,000 – citizenship in Israel, or offer them the houses of the settlers evacuated from the rest of the West Bank? Naftali Bennet, of all people, has proffered such an offer.

But there are moves underway in that direction. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the termination of the negotiations, Netanyahu scheduled a cabinet meeting to discuss future Israeli unilateral moves.  There are even more solid moves to transfer more control over Area B to the Palestinians that could be used as a trade off for Palestine slowing down its own moves towards self-determination. One does not necessarily need a peace agreement to advance the two-state solution and avoid the “apartheid” state Kerry anticipated as one possible outcome. Abbas has been asking for a firm delineation of borders. Israel is free to create them – excluding Jerusalem – thus saving both Abbas and Netanyahu the embarrassment of coming to an agreement on Jerusalem that, depending on its contours, would hurt either or even both parties.

Political – USA

The flak over Kerry’s expression of fear that Israel might in future become an apartheid state, a prediction engaged in freely by Israeli politicians on the left, is only a glimpse of the squabbles sure to erupt as America approaches its mid-term elections in November. of what actually happened. But emerge they will. Kerry may launch a grenade himself by publishing the framework agreement he offered both sides. Martin Indyk is going to go back to the United States and will resume his post in Brookings, putting the final stamp and seal on the failed process. I am unable to imagine what will emerge about the process of negotiations that will shift our perceptions.

Military

Will some of that fallout include increased militancy by Palestinians? We have already witnessed an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount with a resumption of rock throwing by the Palestinians and provocative moves by Jewish zealots who dream of rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. The root of the militancy is not likely to come from Hamas in the immediate future given both the pressures upon it and its agreement with the PLO, but from other more militant outliers. How much leeway they will be given by the PA or Hamas is a matter of debate, but given Abbas’ international approach and his need to shore up his peaceful modus operandi, it is likely he will continue to cooperate with Israeli security in squelching such developments. Similarly, Hamas, if it is to secure a place at the table given its current weakened state largely as a result of what is happening in Egypt, is also unlikely “to stir the kasha”. So I do not believe that Kerry was correct, at least in the immediately foreseeable future that there will be a significant upsurge in violence. This, in itself, will favour the Palestinians and undercut the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government.

Parallel Tracks

It is here that I betray the hoots of my Owl of Minerva still sitting on the branch of my front tree and engage in prophecy. The Palestinian Authority and Israel will both operate now on unilateral tracks, cooperating when it is in their common interest to do so, and working to undermine one another when that is in each party’s interest. But both sides will be moving towards a de facto two state solution since no other solution is feasible for either side. Each will both help strengthen its rival while trying to undermine the rival in the realm of world public opinion. My suspicion, given that Palestine is the weaker party, it will win this public relations war but Israel will advance and solidify its position on the ground. Israel, in contrast to its previous initiative in Gaza, has had lots of time to work out the logistics of these unilateral moves with careful planning and coordination with not only the USA, Egypt and Jordan but with the PA as well. These moves will be both pressure tactics but also de facto additional moves to instigate Israeli separation from occupation and Palestinian self-determination towards full statehood.

Kerry was right. The status quo is unsustainable. But the alternative is not necessarily the two options he adumbrated. Obama’s prediction that if Israel did not support the framework agreement – which Netanyahu actually eventually did and Abbas did not – then the US would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel, is a threat rather than a prediction. Obama, in particular, cited the Israeli settlement construction efforts. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama went onto claim that, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Very true! But Israel and Palestine will now have to manage the pursuit of a two-state solution now on parallel tracks rather than through mediation. The consequences of the loss of American leadership could be terrible. But it could also be beneficial. Recall that the Oslo process got its start when America had dropped into the background and other avenues opened up in the pursuit of peace. The USA was a Johnny-come-lately in the Oslo process. 

So there is hope even though Hope is Barack Obama’s middle name and even if he has given up hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Bethelehem

Bethlehem

by

Howard Adelman

I finally got to see Bethlehem, the Israeli movie on the Shin Bet, yesterday evening. There are very few spoilera today since this is a review of a review of the film not primarily of the film itself.

Though not exclusively a philologist, David Shulman is a renowned and prodigious scholar and the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Comparative Religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. A poet himself, he is an expert in the history of religion in South India and a specialist in Tamil, Telegu and Sanskrit poetry as well as Tamil Islam, Dravidian linguistics and Carnatic music. His latest book, More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India,is part of an enormous scholarly output. But he is also a peace activist. In 2007, he published Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine.The latter documents his role as a promoter of Arab-Jewish cooperation through Ta’ayush, “Life-in-Common”. He has been active in protests against Israeli efforts to evict Palestinians, particularly from Silwan.  

In the current 24 April 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, Shulman reviewed two films, Omar, directed by the Palestinian, Hany Abu-Assad, and Bethlehem, directed by the Israeli, Yuval Adler, a former member of an Israeli intelligence unit and a new and powerful director from a country that is now producing a plethora of excellent films. Both films focus on the relationship developed between a handler and his informant in the activities of the Israeli intelligence service, Shin Bet, during an intifada. This blog is a review of that review focused on the Israeli film, Bethlehem. Omar is better known because it was in the running for an academy award this year for best foreign film but I just missed seeing it during its theatre release. Last night I was determined to see Bethlehem before it too disappeared from the theatres.

In his review, Shulman writes, “Both Omar and Bethlehem are strongly teleological; their natural, lethal conclusion is the default of both Israeli and Palestinian consciousness. There is, it seems, only one way out of the trap where the informer is forced to live; and it takes only a tiny movement of the imagination to see the informer’s predicament as embodying and focusing the reality that all Israelis and Palestinians inhabit day be day. At bottom, all of us feel trapped.” Shulman then uses his review to offer a screed on the failure of Israel “which holds nearly all the cards” to resolve the conflict. For Shulman, it may take two to tango, but only one can be the leader and it is the leader who holds the overwhelming responsibility for how the dance develops. Instead of directing its efforts towards peace, for Shulman, Israel “terrorizes an entire people by torture, blackmail, and other instruments of coercion far into the unknown future.” In response, the Palestinians are developing the practice of non-violence, though Shulman acknowledges “there are still those in  Palestine committed to armed resistance.”

There will be many supporters of Israel who will be appalled by such a judgment, but my concern is whether and how that judgment effects his review of the film. In general, though both films dealt with the same subject matter, Shulman found that Bethlehem lacked the humanistic lens of Omar. In the latter, Rami, the Shin Bet handler, is portrayed as “a real person, with wife and children, not some cut-out monster”. But, in Bethlehem, Razi, the parallel role to Rami in the Palestinian film, is acted by Tsahi Halevi, but when he is portrayed as a human being, the movie becomes an “Israeli propaganda film. Its Shin Bet hero, when not on duty, goes to the zoo with his wife and daughters and, in general, is a prototypically nice guy.” Though these are the words of the Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, Shulman endorses that assessment. How can he do so? Isn’t that judging the two films by a double standard?

The answer is yes. When a Palestinian director portrays a Shin Bet operator as a human being, the approach is a universalist and humanitarian one. When an Israeli director does so, the approach is propaganda. This is true even though the Israeli script was authored not only by the director but by a Palestinian as well, Ali Waked, a Palestinian journalist who covers the political scene in Palestine. Where is “the evil, torture, blackmail and lies” inherent in the whole system of occupation, Levy asks with Shulman’s approval. For neutrality is not allowed for the Israeli who bears the moral responsibility for the whole mess according to him. Israelis are obligated to take a stand opposed to the occupation. An Israeli film shot through a neutral lens is an abomination.

Shulman finds that Abu-Assad’s film, Omar, errs in the other direction. “It’s a generous – perhaps too generous- view.” Why? Because Abu-Assad views the Israeli political leadership as at fault. The ordinary soldier is just doing his duty. As Shulman writes, “The problem is that these ordinary Israelis, the ‘common people who are just people, have mostly, for decades now, elected governments of the extreme right, like the present settler regime run by Benjamin Netanyahu. Moreover, these same ordinary people continue to demonstrate, day after day, a shocking, willful indifference to the fate of their Palestinian neighbors.” The movie, Jerusalem, thus feeds this “malignant and consequential” pillar of the occupation. But in its humanity and generosity, indeed fairness, doesn’t Omar do the same?

Shulman openly and unequivocally adopts a different standard for judging Israeli behaviour and Israeli movies than for Palestinian behaviour and Palestinian movies. As he writes in his book on his political activism, he decries the loss of an Israel once led by utopian idealist and humanists (the same idealists and humanists who sometimes forcefully expelled Palestinian civilians in the 1948 war). He denounces the murderous and suicidal messianism of the settlers riddled with dark forces and a predatory approach to the Palestinians rather than the “humane heart of Jewish tradition”. Shulman sees himself as the embodiment of that tradition while the settlers are the embodiment of “pure, rarefied, unadulterated, unreasoning, uncontainable human evil’. As Shulman has written, “I feel responsible for the atrocities committed in my name, by the Israeli half of the story.” So there can be no neutrality from the Israeli side, only strident self-condemnation.

My friend and fellow philosopher, Avishai Margalit, in a review of Shulman’s book in a past issue of The New York Review of Books (6 December 2007) entitled, “A Moral Witness to the ‘Intricate Machine”” appraised Shulman’s book as follows: “One of the most fascinating and moving accounts of Israeli-Palestinian attempts to help, indeed to save, human beings suffering under the burden of occupation and terror. Anyone who is pained and troubled by what is happening in the Holy Land should read this human document, which indeed offers a certain dark hope.” (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/dec/06/a-moral-witness-to-the-intricate-machine/

Avishai quotes from the book: “Israel, like any other society, has violent, sociopathic elements. What is unusual about the last four decades in Israel is that many destructive individuals have found a haven, complete with ideological legitimation, within the settlement enterprise” [with] “unfettered freedom to terrorize the local Palestinian population: to attack, shoot, injure, sometimes kill – all in the name of the alleged sanctity of the land and of the Jews’ exclusive right to it.”

Ignore whether Shulman has correctly characterized the settler movement whether you adamantly oppose it on moral or even just political grounds and certainly even if you support the settlers not on grounds of exclusive rights to the land but on grounds of shared rights. My concern is whether such a moral point of view as Shulman puts forth can ever offer a fair analysis of an aesthetic product like a movie. Clearly, the only Israeli film that would have satisfied a righteous moralist like Shulman is a propaganda film that condemns not only the Israeli political leadership, but its Shin Bet agents ostensibly working to protect Israelis from terror attacks and even the Israeli public that elects those politicians and turns its moral back on the fate of the Palestinians.

Shulman wrtites: “It is in conjuring up an intelligible setting that Bethlehem mostly disappoints. In depicting the occupation, Bethlehem shows Israelis as they like to see themselves, functioning heroically, against all odds, in a dire situation that has, it would seem been thrust upon them from the outside. What is worse, Bethlehem seems to be driven by the standard version of Israeli politics: set at the height of the second intifada, with suicide bombers a constant threat, the film doesn’t even hint at the possibility that Israeli acts and decisions might have had something to do with the outburst of Palestinian violence that began in the autumn of 2000.” In other words, Bethlehem is a failure of a film because it is not the film that Shulman thinks should be produced or that his moral portrait of the world demands.   

 For Shulman, Abu-Assad is allowed to make a film that was widely appreciated by Israelis when it is about “love, friendship and trust” rather than politics, but an Israeli director is permitted no such leeway. So Shulman is blind to the subtleties of the Israeli film, especially in the quiet and underplayed interactions between Razi and Sanfur or in the discreet and understated play of love and betrayal between Razi and his own wife, Einat, played by Michal Shtamler.

Shulman is also deaf to its resonant irony. First, the movie is not simply called Bethlehem because that is where most of the action is located and where Ibrahim, played superbly by Hisham Suliman with a  mixture of steely bravado and deep terror as the leader of an al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, is trapped by the Israeli army. Ibrahim has double-crossed his own sponsors and colleagues by coming into the pay of Hamas and setting of a bomb in Jerusalem that killed and maimed many Israelis.

Bethlehem, the centre of terrorist activity, of violence, disloyalty and distrust in the film, is where Matthew (2:6), echoing the prophet Micah, predicts that it will be the city from which “One will go forth for me to be the ruler In Israel.” Bethlehem is the home of Elimelech in the Book of Ruth who is driven out by a famine to seek refuge among the Moabites where his sons marry Moabite women, Oprah and Ruth. Ruth, in absolute loyalty, accompanies her widowed mother-in-law to return to Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Ruth, also a widow, meets and marries Boaz and their son, Obed, will give birth to Jesse, the father of King David who unites the tribes of Israel. So Bethlehem, in Christian sacred text even more so, is not only the city of love but, in Jewish sacred texts, is the city of paradigmatic loyalty. Bethlehem is also the birthplace of Jesus where love for the other was to be the source of reconciliation and resolution of conflicts and hatred but is, in the film, a centre of the very opposite traits and where not only trust but love is betrayed.

It is this city that is chosen in the film to portray the difficulties of trust and loyalty, of love and respect, in an atmosphere of violence, mutual suspicion and, ultimately, betrayal. Shulman in his commitment to a pacifist ideology seems totally blind to this fundamental irony that is the foundation of the movie. For the centre of the film is the love that develops between the Israeli agent, Razi, and the adolescent brother of Ibrahim, Sanfur, played with great confusion and an inner troubled soul by Shadi Mar’i. Razi is Sanfur’s handler who betrays his own side because he loses his neutrality and develops a deep affection for the boy – an affection that will eventually be an even greater blinder as it determines his actions. Just likes the terrorists, he wears a metaphorical balaclava to cover his soul much like the cloth put over the head of a horse when it is being trained and mounted. Razi is blind to the boy’s needs for a father who will believe in him and protect him, as Sanfur does for his own father who does not return that love and loyalty so caught up is the father in the glories of his older son.

Sanfur is an informant, but Razi makes his first error and goes down to slippery slope of betraying his own Shin Bet colleagues and even his own wife and children in protecting Sanfur; at the same time as he uses him, his ultimate love for the boy clouds his judgment and he betrays himself.  Inform means literally to impart knowledge, but in a context of mutual hostility, to inform the other side is to be a Judas, a traitor, and has the very opposite connotation of providing information for it suggests betrayal, selling out to the enemy. To be an informant is NOT to be an agent of transparency but is a pejorative term for the information is supplied without the permission or authority of the person the information is about. “Informant” connotes moral turpitude not the height of morality in serving to foster knowledge and wisdom.

Secrecy and betrayal are at the heart of the film. On the Palestinian side, there are multiple betrayals – the PLO leadership of their militant brigades when they are determined in their own interest to make a deal with the Israelis. Ibrahim betrays his own followers, especially Badawi, the Bedouin who serves under him played brilliantly by Hitham Omari. He in turn kills the leader of his own squad because he was working against him. Sanfur betrays both his brother, his father and ultimately Razi as well. Similarly, when Levi, Razi’s superior demands that Razi hold to the highest standard of complete honesty in a realm that makes as demanding a claim on complete trust as it does on betrayal, Razi lies. But no one in the film acts simply out of self-gain, including Badawi, for there are always mixtures of psychological and social forces as well as both self-interest and principles. It is the interplay of all of them that makes this such a rich and moving film, a subtlety that Shulman in his righteous anger seems to totally miss.

Ultimately, Shulman in his double standard and moral righteousness betrays his own calling as a humanist and a scholar. Bethlehem is not (nor, I suspect, is Omar) “strongly teleological”. No determination is made that this distrust within and between the two communities will be the ultimate fault line. The movie is imbued with too much humanity and too much very basic inter-personal trust to become such a caricature. It is Shulman in his lofty moral self-righteous inflexibility who reads it into the film a predetermined lethal conclusion to the conflict. The situation and circumstances may be lethal, but the humanity of the film shines through with great brilliance and provides hope in spite of the horrific and lethal conclusion. If Shulman is trapped, it is by his purist moralism not by the situation in Israel/Palestine or by the portrayal of the situation in the movie.

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

by

Howard Adelman

 

After every important political act, at significant political junctions, one of the first responses is who gets credit and who gets blamed. The peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians may be drawing its last breaths and the corpse of the process is not yet on the coroner’s gurney, yet pundits and ordinary folk alike are already weighing in and assessing blame. The dissection of the Québec election began almost as soon as the election was called.

Seventeen minutes after the results of the Québec election, a chorus that began a week before the end of the Québec election, now began its steep rise to a crescendo over the next three hours. On 9 March 2014, Pauline Marois was to blame for going off message by allowing her new star candidate, media mogul, billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, to upstage her, thrust his fist in the air and, like a Black Power revolutionary, shout the equivalent of, “Vive le Québec libre!”. Marois compounded the error when a video caught her shoving Péladeau aside as she once again took centre stage alone before the mike and then further compounded this double message by blabbering at length over the next week about precisely when a referendum would be held with weasel phrases such as “when Québeckers want it” or “when they are ready for it,” and then speculating at length on the currency Québeckers would use afterwards, border controls, etc.

Others blamed the introduction of the Charter of Values for being so divisive, for bringing bigotry out of the woodwork and for misrepresenting what Québeckers stood for. On 10 September 2013, when Bernard Drainville, as the ironically named Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, introduced the Charter of Values to save secularism from the threat of religion infiltrating state institutions, this imitation of France’s doctrine of laicité and its method of contemporary enforcement did not fit the behaviour and attitude of most Québeckers who came into contact on a daily basis with members of religious minorities who wore the professions of their religion proudly on their heads or around their necks when they came to work in Québec hospitals, schools and government offices

In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled i that such decisions should be determined by the principle of reasonable accommodation. The Bouchard Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in its hearings around the province had already demonstrated the enormous amount of latent bigotry around the province when the issue of reasonable accommodation was raised. The Commission also concretely documented that most Québeckers in their daily intercourse with minorities were very accommodating and exemplars of tolerance. The Commission recommended against playing into the sentiments of bigots and for allowing reasonable accommodation to be worked out in practice. The Marois government chose not to follow the lead of the Commission. Their divisive policy to ban the wearing of religious symbols, either as a political ploy to help get re-elected with a majority or as an expression of their own deepest prejudices and fears or a mixture of both, backfired

Further, as the debate on the Charter of Values unfurled, instead of retreating to some degree to deal with the criticism, the exponents dug in their heels and tightened the restrictions. The recent election only permitted the unreasonable nature of the fears to be pronounced by some of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Province from the Francophones (le rattrapage) while, in practice, many Québeckers began to realize it would mean the flight from their province of highly regarded professionals whom the province needed if the economy was to complete its path to modernization and renewed economic growth.

For the first time Marois faced an opposition leader who proudly wore a Maple Leaf pin, who even dared to suggest that all Québeckers should be bilingual, who trusted and supported the strength of the French fact and reality in the province, and who echoed the sentiment of most younger voters who were tired of divisiveness in politics. However, the articulation of this set of competing values threatened the very raison d’être of the PQ party. In reality, the election was a great success, bringing forth in an open manner a fundamental choice for the people of Québec, whether in the future they were to face a series of debates over how to protect the unique character of the French fact in Canada and in North America, a renewed use of the device of a referendum on sovereignty that had become anathema to most Québeckers, a belief that Québeckers were under constant and continuing cultural threat and could not and did not feel secure enough and strong enough to go out into the world and face the competition. Marois may have been very wrong in reading the mood of her constituency but she should perhaps be praised for, even if reluctantly and contradictorily, putting the choice clearly before Québec voters.

In the case of John Kerry, the problem is quite different. He had repeatedly said that, in the end, the choice was up to the Palestinians and the Israelis. “We can’t want peace more than they do” had been his mantra which he repeated once again on 5 April when it was evident that the negotiations were in deep trouble. Further, Kerry had made it known that the prospects for a deal were not high when the latest effort began, but he could not accept evading making a strenuous effort. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that he owed that as an obligation to the world community, to Americans and especially the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who generally desired an end to the conflict between the two peoples. Nevertheless, he was blamed for giving rise to unachievable expectations, for the inevitable aftermath of disappointment and depression, for the high costs of a diplomatic initiative that ends in failure and for the possible (inevitable?) violence that was likely or sure to arise as a result of that failure and the further erosion of trust between the two parties. Further, if past failures had seriously wounded the peace parties on both sides, this failure would mortally wound them.

It is true that risks have consequences, that the effort does not leave the situation at the status quo ante, that new layers of cynicism and despondency are piled upon a long history of failure. However, failures also bring about clarity, just as the Québec election did. Are negotiations and a peace agreement to be based on the 1967 cease fire lines with reasonable adjustments and equal trade offs from both sides as Kerry had declared? (“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”) Or does the resolution have to go back to the 1948 deal with respect to borders, rights and mutual recognition? Or is there a third option?

Last night on Steve Paikin’s, “The Agenda” on TVO, Steve had as one guest, Diana Buttu, an Israeli-born Palestinian-Canadian lawyer who, in the past, has served as a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor on international law with respect to the peace negotiations, but who has been outspokenly critical of Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator. His other guest was Emmanuel Adler a political scientist at U. of T.’s Munk Centre. The two discussed with Steve Paikin the negotiations and their likely immanent failure.

While Emmanuel Adler wanted to cling to a faint hope for the receding prospect of a two-state solution, it seemed clear that Diana wanted to go back and override the original decision on division to resurrect a one state solution with the ideal of Jews and Palestinians as equal citizens in a single state rather than the principle of national self-determination being the basis of the political order in former Palestine, but without acknowledging this would mean the end of the Zionist dream of national self-determination for the Jewish people and that this was a resolution totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Jews in Israel. Supporting her position was the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had not agreed to recognition of the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks with Israel renewed last July.

What seems clear is that who gets blamed depends, in part, on the outcome wanted or expected. If the goal is a single state in which Israel is eliminated, the failure of the talks is simply a proof that the two-state solution is and has always been doomed. Then the blame goes to Kerry for convening the talks and misleading international public opinion, to Israel which refuses to grant Palestinian demands even for the two-state solution, and perhaps a little to Abbas for allowing himself to be drawn once again into such a fruitless process, though he is somewhat excused because he is operating from such a relatively weak position. If the goal is a two-state solution, then the blame could go to Netanyahu a) for not being flexible enough, b) for provocatively approving the building of 700 housing units in Gilo even though discussions had already determined that Gilo in Jerusalem would be part of Israel, and even though Israel had made clear at the beginning of the negotiations that the building freeze would only apply to the West Bank, and c) for a tactical error in not releasing the prisoners at the time originally agreed, even though by that stage of the negotiations Israel had become convinced that the talks could not have any positive results. Or blame could go to Abbas for also lacking flexibility and for taking a step of initiating an application to join various international bodies even before the talks ended.

Who gets blames also depends on the integrity of the person casting blame. Diana Buttu has a record of distorting facts and even outright lying to support arguments and allegations she makes against Israel and to advance the goal of a one state solution, while Emmanuel Adler is a renowned scholar of great integrity and a well-known dove who despairs at Netanyahu’s leadership. So the politics of blame were not balanced.

Notice that, unlike the Québec elections, there is no winner. So the blame largely overlaps with responsibility and is totally congruent with the responsibility allocated to the loser. Explaining why something happened (allocating responsibility) and then blaming someone for that responsibility – that is, adding a negative morally critical judgment to the one responsible – are related but different acts. In the case of the Québec election, the loser comes in for blame for the loss. In the peace talks, everyone loses when talks break down, including the mediator and both sides, except those who wanted the talks to break down because they deplored the two-state solution. The argument then involves how to allocate, spread or diffuse the blame. But if the moral or political reprehensibility is to be added to the judgment, it may be totally inappropriate when applied to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, or, at least, only of use in revealing the position of the person casting judgment rather than whether any of the agents involved deserve to be characterized as morally or politically to be hung out in disgrace.

My own conviction is that understanding the reasons for the breakdown and the responsibility of the different parties is important, but when everyone is a loser, casting blame is not only useless but counter-productive. Instead, the breakdown allows one to recast the problem. A peace agreement based on a two-state solution is NOT possible, at least for the foreseeable future, no more possible than a successful secessionist referendum in Québec. Does that mean you should support a one state solution? Not at all, for that is far more impossible than a two-state solution and, in effect, would doom the victors on the ground to being losers.

So what position should one take as each party takes up positions that will best advance its cause. The Palestinians will attempt to shore up its position as the victim, to shore up its position under international law, to shore up its position in the world of public opinion by working harder on the BDS effort, and the efforts to denigrate and delegitimate Israel. For the only grounds on which the weaker party can advance its cause is through the use of moral arguments, legal arguments and through sentiment. Israel as the stronger party will have to defend itself as best it can on all these fronts, and be limited in any aggressive actions it can take lest its position significantly worsen under international law, dominant international norms and, most of all, public sentiment. At the same time, Israel can try to use its position to both pressure the Palestinians – generally counter-productive – to create partnerships with Palestinians on the ground – generally positive – to get the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution. The dilemma is that using economic pressure and the prerogatives of the powerful, such a real economic sanctions, congruently fits right into the international campaign of the Palestinians. Further, the result can run counter to any Israeli interests. For example, cutting off the rebate of taxes to the Palestinian Authority could cripple it economically, but the result may be the rise of Hamas to power in the West Bank, the initiation of the third intifada, and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

My own position is to advise a fourth strategy. The pursuit of the two-state solution through peace negotiations is as dead for now as the pursuit of self-determination for Québec. The pursuit of a one-state solution is a fraudulent illusion and a mask to cover up the pursuit of the death of Zionism and Israel. The resort by Israel to economic pressure and tightening the screws of oppression are both counter-productive and will only lead to strengthening the Palestinian cause in the long run.

The only position, that I think is viable, is to use only the minimal level of economic and military coercion necessary to defend the state of Israel and its people while pursuing a two-state solution and de facto boundaries on the basis of the agreements that have already been negotiated and agreed upon while enhancing economic, intellectual and political partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Just as the pursuit of sovereignty has to be aufgehoben in Québec, preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for an unknown and far off future, so too must the goal of reaching an agreement on a two-state solution be preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for the foreseeable future while taking steps on the ground to advance such a goal. The PQ failed because they were impatient while the rest of Canada remained patient with Québec. The Israeli government must act with patience, generosity and forbearance using the behaviour of Ottawa as an example.

Postscript on Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Future Scenarios

Postscript on the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Future Scenarios

by

Howard Adelman

 

Akiva Eldar, co-author of the best seller Lords of the Land on the Jewish settlements, is now a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For years he was the senior political columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz. He also served as its US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. We spoke on the phone yesterday in a communal telephone call courtesy of Americans for Peace Now. (http://peacenow.org/audio/Akiva_briefing_9-Dec-2013.mp3)

Akiva opened the conversation with a comment on Bibi Netanyahu’s statement at  the Saban Forum in Washington this past Saturday linking the Israeli-Palestinian talks with what happens on the Iranian front. This linkage could be interpreted in at least two opposite ways. First, it could mean that if progress could be made on the Iran front, then it would encourage progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks. However, Netanyahu posed the opposite linkage and threatened that the I-P talks will come to nothing if the Geneva agreement stays in place and proves itself the great historical mistake he prophesied and Iran is given a license to build a bomb.

Netanyahu often cites the Islamic republic’s repeated talk of Israel’s destruction as a reason to be more cautious in peacemaking with the Palestinians. “Our aspiration for peace is liable to be severely affected if Iran succeeds” in winning a relaxation of penalties that have devastated its economy, he said in an Oct. 23 Twitter message. The linkage is then negative, not positive. (See the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News – mobile.bloomberg.com/…/palestinian-peace-talksiranian-accord.html, 2013-11-25 and http://www.newsmaxworld.com/GlobalTalk/iran-deal-israel-palestinian-talks/…· Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may suffer collateral damage from the accord world powers reached with Iran. With the weekend agreement in Geneva, “Netanyahu probably won’t feel a strong commitment anymore to negotiating with the Palestinians under American supervision,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the ChaimHerzogCenter for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-GurionUniversity in Beersheba, Israel. “He’s not going to announce this publicly, but he’s never shown much enthusiasm for the talks.”

As an aside, Akiva was asked about the denial by Dan Shapiro, the US  Ambassador to Israel, whether he insisted that there was no linkage. (Cf. “US ambassador rejects talk of Iran-Palestinian ‘linkage’: “While some Israeli officials endorse the connection, Dan Shapiro says peace process has no bearing on efforts to deny Iran the bomb.”

http://www.timesofisrael.com/us-ambassador-rejects-talk-of-iran-palestinian-linkage/), Akiva remonstrated Dan Shapiro for not being in closer touch with the State Department and the White House where he insisted that both Kerry and Obama made such a linkage, even though an unnamed State Department official insisted that Kerry saw no linkage between the two sets of talks. Further, the Israeli papers insisted that Obama made a linkage (www.israelherald.com/index.php/sid/217311686/scat/f81a4d9d561822ee), but, in fact, Obama was simply stating that there was a commonality in both talks since both were concerned with reducing the level of violence in the middle east. He was NOT linking the two causally in any way. (www.israel.com/news/…linkage-of-iran-andisraelipalestinian-peace)

Why is the issue of a linkage important? Because if the linkage is negative, it means that Netanyahu is more determined than ever to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, the linkage is not between the talks per se but in the reactions of various parties to the success or failure of each set of talks. However, this is not the linkage that Akiva suggested.

While applauding the fact that Netanyahu now acceded to a linkage that he had previously denied, Akiva interpreted Netanyahu’s actions as an attempt to throw a wrench into the peace talks but in a different way than suggested above. Bibi’s red line on the Iranian talks was too demanding and could never produce an agreement through diplomatic means acceptable to his Israeli government since it would mean Iran giving up both its nuclear and enrichment program altogether. Netanyahu wants Iran to surrender and to be humiliated to boot. The linkage was an intention to sabotage and undercut BOTH sets of talks.

Akiva suggested that the dependency between the two sets of talks went the other way, that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks would facilitate a rapprochement with Iran. Further, as Akiva interpreted Bibi’s position on the peace talks, Bibi was still determined that the talks go nowhere and remained wedded to a stalling and obstructionist participation. The Iran talks are dependent on the Israeli-Palestinian talks because the latter are not just about security for the Jewish state but are intended to alter the relations between Israel and the Palestinians and put an end to Iranian support of terrorism in the Middle East. The nuclear talks with Iran are the entry point to a wider campaign for peace in the whole Middle East.

Akiva and I agree on the following:

1. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are at a new stage as they approach the final trimester of the nine month schedule (to end by the end of April), and that John Kerry and Barack Obama will not be content with saying they gave it their best efforts and walk away; they are determined to succeed.

2. These talks are intended to end the conflict, end the occupation, the expansion of the settlements, settle the division of Jerusalem, the return of refugees and define the borders; there is to be a final agreement even if the agreement is intended to be implemented in stages; As David Markovsky, who recently joined Kerry’s negotiating team on the Israeli-Palestinian talks has written, “The only way to deal with the settlement issue is to render it moot by widening it to peacemaking and heading straight into the final negotiations on territory.”

3. The new security proposals that the Americans put on the table (but only after previous discussions with both Abbas and Netanyahu) accepted the Jordan River as the border of Palestine, therefore eliminating the possibility of an Israeli presence if Palestinian sovereignty was to be respected.

4. In the third phase of the talks, 26 more Palestinians of the original 4,446 held in detention are due to be released; Kerry and Obama do not want blood on their hands if those released resume their previous militancy; therefore, with the prisoner releases, the stakes in a successful outcome have been raised enormously.  

For Akiva, Netanyahu has been in such a big and noisy row with the United States over the Iran talks because his red line means that the talks would be doomed to failure for no Iranian regime would accept total destruction of its nuclear enrichment program and loss of all its centrifuges. Bibi was counting on the divisions between the White House and Congress to allow him to exploit those differences and sabotage the Iranian talks. It has not worked. this time.

On the Palestinian peace front, to succeed a deal needs to be struck soon with the last few months used to tweak the details. Further, this is a last chance since Abbas is 76 years old. If Netanyahu refuses to go along with the deal and surrenders to or agrees with the pressures from his right wing partners in the government. Livni and Lapid will leave the government and a new government will have to be formed. Since the Israeli partnership with the USA is not simply a foundation for Israeli foreign policy but an existential condition of Israel’s continued existence, a political war between the Israeli government and Israel would be a disaster for Israel and might propel Israel to move away and reject the right drift. 

Here is where I disagree with Akiva while granting that Akiva knows much more about Netanyahu’s personality and motives than I will ever know. He sees Netanyahu as a staunch and determined old Likudnik unwilling to surrender control of the West Bank. Any optimism about Netanyahu ignores the main goal of this enterprise as Akiva has written — “to entrench Israeli control over the territory while damaging the collective and individual rights of Palestinians.” For Akiva, “The time has come for Makovsky and his colleagues on the American peace team to understand that the settlement policy is not ‘foolishness.’ It is an intentional, clear and winning policy.”

In contrast, I see Netanyahu more as a pragmatist coming from the right but unwilling to sacrifice his political future and his legacy for dated and no longer realizable right wing expansionist ideals. Further, Kerry and Obama can both count. They need a number on the right to support the deal if it is not to blow up in their faces. So if Lapid and Livni leave the government and the government falls, Netanyahu will lose both his political future and his legacy. I agree that Lapid and Livni will not stay in the government if Netanyahu sabotages the peace talks. That is why I suggest that Netanyahu will support the results of the talks.

The Forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement

The Forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian Agreement

by

Howard Adelman

When Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister, was in Ottawa at the end of September, he said that, although there are peace talks, he had little confidence that they would lead to a breakthrough. In saying that, he probably expressed the vast majority of both Israeli and world public opinion. And guess what? Look who agreed with the Palestinian Foreign Minister. On Saturday, Israeli Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are unlikely to bear fruit. But he added two telling phrases: “within the envisioned nine-month timeframe” and, further, that, “dialogue should continue”. Lieberman now supports the talks and expects them to go beyond the nine-month framework. He went onto say, “I don’t believe it is possible in the next year… to achieve a comprehensive solution to achieve some breakthrough, but I think it is crucial to keep our dialogue…because, even if you are not able to resolve the conflict, it’s very important to manage this conflict.” Lieberman did not explicitly state it, but he has clearly and unequivocally backed away from his oft-repeated axiomatic belief that there was NO chance for ANY agreement EVER.

What has changed?

The day before, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, said, “I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve.” Further, look at what Obama said to Haim Saban at the same Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday. (The interview is well worth hearing; half of it and all the questions from Israelis afterwards dealt with the Iranian talks – http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/316685-1 indicating what is foremost in Israeli minds.)

After Saban thanked Obama for his efforts and discussed the Geneva Agreement with Iran, he asked Obama about the possibility of an American-imposed agreement. Obama repeated his old refrain that the Palestinians and Israelis had to make the peace and the USA could only be a facilitator. He congratulated Abbas and Netanyahu for engaging in very serious talks on the substantive issues. He also said that everyone knows about the outline of the deal. Will each side be able to meet and make a deal that respects each party’s bottom line? Then he made this declaration: “I believe that in the next few months that we will be in a position that will provide a framework agreement for a two-state solution. The Americans had spent a lot of time to understand Israel’s security requirements and that the US could understand it and make provision for those security concerns.”

At the end of November, Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister who heads the talks, was interviewed by the Turkish Press. She said that substantial progress is being made and, in reiterating this view to Esti Perez on Israel Radio’s program “Midday”, she said that successful completion of the negotiations will require “experience and expertise” while ensuring Israel’s best interests. While the Palestinians sought to dampen expectations, the conditions were clearly signalled: the central question was sovereignty for the Palestinians and, that, in resolving the security question for Israel, dignity of Palestinians had to be respected.

An important shift had been signaled. The return of the refugees and the jurisdiction over Jerusalem were no longer the breaking issues. In the Saban Forum, President Obama said that he had assigned General Johm Allen, a retired United States Marine Corps four-star general whose final assignment had been commander of the International Security Assistance and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) (Afghanistan) to determine whether it was possible to square the circle and create a two-state solution that can also provide for Israel’s security. It was crucial that Israel not be faced with a replica of Gaza. Allen reported back in the affirmative.

There was one clearly pronounced negative note at the Saban Forum. Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, on Sunday took issue with the critical comments of Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni made at the Saban Forum about the government’s recent decision to approve 3,000 new units in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but that was it. No fireworks! When Netanyahu addressed the Forum via a pre-recorded address but in a mannner that was firm and unsmiling, both the content and the mode were experienced as at odds with the informality and open exchanges encouraged among all participants at the Forum, even among most Likudniks.

The deal is being written as I write. It will consist of the following:

1. It will be another interim deal but it will not be called interim but will be characterized as a Framework Agreement (FA) which will entail mutual recognition of both a Jewish and a Palestinian homeland;

2) Thus, the FA will entail recognition of Palestinian sovereignty;

3) It will make provision for Israeli security involving a US military presence along the Jordanian border and a clear and unequivocal guarantee of Israel’s security as a Jewish state will be ensured by the USA;

4) It will involve an exchange of territory which will see the Palestinian side getting the equivalent of 100% of the territory Israel captured in 1967;  

5) the issue of sovereignty over Gaza will be settled in principle but postponed in practice in the recognition that Abbas will not make a deal that does not include Gaza but that Abbas does not control Gaza, so, although the deal will be restricted to the West Bank, the settlement of the West Bank will offer a model for Gazans;

6) Although the final status questions will be settled in the Framework Agreement, the deal will proceed in stages with fixed deadlines;

7) The framework agreement will not address every single detai, on the premise that it is  better to move forward than to move backward, but the arrangements on refugees, Jerusalem and the settlements will be dealt with in principle and left for future negotiations to spell out in detail;

8) On settlements, the Agreement will provide for a freeze on Israeli settlement building in areas under discussion for possible trade with Palestine;

9) The agreement on water has long ago been settled and will simply be reinstated and updated;

10) The Agreement on refugees will be settled in principle with the rate of return to a Palestinian state settled in further negotiations and the mode of settling compensation claims also determined in those negotiations;

11) The Palestinian parts of Jerusalem will fall under the jurisdiction of a sovereign Palestine;

12) The religious sites of the OldCity will involve an international authority in partnership with both Israel and Palestine.

The messiah always is coming but never manages to come. Peace Agreements, as much as we have come to believe that they belong in the same category, are, however, like Santa Clause; they do come. A year ago who would have believed that we would have a working agreement on chemical weapons in Syria or an interim agreement with Iran. It is a horrible experience when all the beliefs we hold dear are being shattered. Further, I must be mad to crawl out in such a limb, engage in prophecy, not because I will fall off, the limb, but because my prognosticating on outcomes of talks may jinx them. It is a sign that I have given up my belief in my magical powers to undermine peace negotiations by predicting their outcome. 

Academic Boycotts and Israel

Academic Boycotts and Israel

by

Howard Adelman

 

Introduction

There is no rest for the wicked, so the saying goes. If had not studied and taught logic, I might conclude that I must be wicked since I cannot get my planned rest. I had decided to take yesterday off after publishing a fairly heavy blog the day before – more philosophical than my usual fare. The temperature was 13 degrees and I went out to clean up the last of the leaves. That really exhausted me even though there were not many leaves and not much work and I only took on a very small area. I took a long nap after lunch.

When I got up and went to my computer, there was a note that informed me that the day before the National Council of the American Studies Association (ASA) had voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The note also interpreted this resolution as endorsing boycotting individual Israeli academics. From my peripheral knowledge and a quick check, I was sure the latter interpretation was incorrect. But I wanted to double-check and probe the reasoning, mechanics and intent of the resolution. I was going to the theatre last night and had considered possibly writing a review on the play, The Valley (Tarragon Theatre) this morning. However, I knew then and there that my blog this morning would be on the boycott resolution.

Then the announcement came through on the six o’clock news that Nelson Mandela had died. So after the theatre, I wrote a short reflection on the great man to add to the tens of thousands of accolades he will receive. This morning I turned to the boycott issue.

Background to the Boycott

The resolution itself was simple. It honoured and endorsed the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that is an integral part of the Boycott and Divestment (BDS) campaign. Unlike an original proposed resolution, it explicitly did not endorse the boycott of individual Israeli academics, but included in the boycott representatives of Israeli academic institutions – Deans, Presidents, etc. “The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication except if they are viewed as part of the propaganda machinery of Israel.” Further, the resolution was not binding on any individual member of the ASA. Finally, the resolution was subject to the confirmation by an electronic vote of at least 50% of its 3884 members. Voting was to be completed by 15 December.

In its official statement, the Council also said that it “voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.” The ethical argument was not elaborated. Nor were the material implications made clear. There was an added rationale: “A boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.”

The BDS movement to which the resolution paid homage has a website that begins with a quote from Desmond Tutu who addressed the University of Johannesburg which subsequently joined the boycott by severing its ties with BenGurionUniversity.

“It can never be business as usual. Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. [Ben Gurion University] is no exception. By maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is a part of the overall Palestinian Civil Society BDS Campaign established in 2005, though it began separately by Palestinian academics in Ramallah in April of 2004. and remains a key part of the Palestinian-led, global BDS movement. The campaign is explicitly part of a much larger campaign for a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

The resolution passed by the ASA applies only to Israeli academic institutions. The boycott does not apply to institutions which retain official links with Israeli institutions, including many of the academic schools to which many of the members of the ASA belong. It does not apply to Palestinian institutions either even though, for example, in May 2005, in response to the BDS campaign, Hebrew University of Jerusalem President Prof. Menachem Magidor and Al-Quds University President Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, signed a formal agreement of cooperation affirming the continuing academic cooperation between the two universities.

Cognizant of the moral leadership universities should provide, especially in already turbulent political contexts, we, the President of Al-Quds University and the President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have agreed to insist on continuing to work together in the pursuit of knowledge, for the benefit of our peoples and the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.

Cooperation based on mutual respect, rather than boycotts or discrimination, bridging political gulfs rather than widening them further, requiring exchange and dialogue rather than confrontation and antagonism, were their watchwords. The action was explicitly “predicated on the principles of academic freedom, human rights, and equality between nations and among individuals”. In spite of such arrangements, the boycott movement advertises itself as an expression of Palestinian civil society.

Background to the Resolution at the ASA

For the last four years, dozens of American studies scholars in the ASA have been actively recruited and joined in a campaign to support the academic dimensions of the worldwide boycott campaign. They were self-confessed “activist” scholars. Last year, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the ASA asked the Executive Committee (EC) to consider a resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israel.

One year later, from 21-24 November, the ASA held its annual meeting in WashingtonDC. It was attended by 1970 members.

Learned society meetings are strange rituals for any outsider to comprehend. They are massive, with a conference this size running about twenty parallel sessions, most for the presentation of academic papers on the topics advertised, but others for business, caucus and organizational meetings. I attend the International Studies Association which is about twice the size of the ASA, but the concurrent sessions are almost all academic sessions and there is nothing close to the number of caucus sessions held at the ASA.

In the whole academic program of perhaps 1000 academic papers at about 250 topical sessions, I was only able to spot one purely academic session that dealt with Palestine, and it seemed to be a stretch. Keep in mind that the overall theme of the conference was, “Beyond the Logic of Debt, Towards an Ethics of Collective Dissent,” a topic which in itself suggests the ideological orientation of the ASA. The one academic session was called: “Debt and ‘The Palestine Question’ in Latin America: Colonization, Zionism, Imperialism and Dissent” scheduled for the morning of the Saturday on which the caucus was scheduled to meet for an open discussion at 5:00 p.m. on the topic: “The Israeli Occupation of Palestine,” not exactly the most objective and neutral title. However, after all, this was a caucus about activism, not a scholarly discussion.

There was a prime time session on Friday entitled, “The Crisis of Palestine” with an open forum with a panel that addressed the plight of Palestinian universities and academics, and, as advertised, discussed “the profound pressures on teaching and research contexts in the U.S. and Palestine where education and intellectual freedom [allegedly] were under attack.” The Saturday session before the debate was entitled “Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine.” The panel focused on the boycott consisted of the president of ASA, Curtis Munez, Angela Davis, Ahmad Saadi (an anti-Zionist sociologist teaching at Ben Gurion University), Jasbir Puar (Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University currently finishing her third book, Inhumanist Occupation: Sex, Affect, and Palestine/Israel), J. Kehaulani Kauanui (a longtime activist promoting the boycott) and Alex Lubin (co-founder of the ASA’s caucus on academic and community activism), all advocates of an anti-Israel and pro-Palestine ideological line. One would not be surprised to learn that no one on the panel was critical of the boycott.   

It helps also to understand the ASA. It is called the American Studies Association, but many of the best known scholars of American studies do not belong. Many who still belong feel a nostalgic loyalty to the Association. Thus, of the small minority who signed the petition opposing the boycott, seven were former presidents of the ASA. The list of papers at the conference might suggest why. I ran through the program and stopped arbitrarily at one set of sessions set for noon on the last day. The titles of the nineteen concurrent sessions were as follows:

Indebtedness To and For the Nation of Immigrants … 316

The Urban Turn?: A Roundtable on the City (at the) Center of American Studies … 317

File Under “Labor” … 318

Ethical Confrontations with Antiblackness: To Whom is the Human Indebted? … 319

ASA Site Resources Committee: Activist Responses to the Policing of Sex in DC … 320

Confronting Carceral America: Activist Responses to the Punitive Logics of Debt … 321

White Supremacist Cultures … 322

Movement Debts in the Age of Neoliberalism … 323

Mobilizing Against Settler Colonialism: Idle No More and Allied Dissent … 324

Producing Play: Labor and Leisure in Early Video Game Culture … 325

Slavery, Trafficking, and Criminalization: Using Historical Metaphors to Assess Interlocking Systems of Oppression … 326

American Modern Design: A Question of Cultural Indebtedness … 327

Specters of Du Bois: Dissent as Decolonization … 328

Muckraking, Dissent, and Social Change: Writing in the Public Interest … 329

Genealogies of Neoliberalism … 330

Queer Reorientations of the Good Life … 331

Neo/Colonial Pedagogies and the Creation of Indebted Knowledges in the American Century … 332

Refugee Archival Memory: Disrupting the U.S. Logics of Freedom and Debt in Hmong/Laotian History … 333

The orientation of the ASA currently has a fundamental commitment to the study and critique of racism. US imperialism and settler colonialism. The primary mode of discourse is rooted in a post-colonial orientation to scholarship, an approach not used by the vast majority of scholars in America. These scholars approach the world of learning through a fixed lens with an emphasis on what they call settler-colonial studies that provides the intellectual scaffolding connecting liberal nation-states with exploitation and the role of universities in perpetuating inequality.

The traditional presidential address of this learned society was delivered by Curtis Marez, who has a PhD in English and is an Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department of UC San Diego and who lists his main academic interests as Latino, migration and technology studies, more particularly, race and political economy in popular culture and media. He published Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics in 2004 which compared the official media representations of the drug culture with that of and by the media of immigrants and minorities.

Marez’ address began with a reference to Michael Rogin’s excellent 1996 book, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot that largely dealt with the story of Al Jolson, and, more particularly, the first movie talkie, The Jazz Singer, later remade as The Jolson Story, my personal favourite since Al Jolson was my favourite singer when I was a kid. Merez shows little interest in the book and the general thesis of one culture using another minority culture as a form of mediating and disguising a process of assimilation. He certainly ignored the critics of Rogin who argued that the process was not simply one way but itself was critical to transforming the culture of America,

Marez instead concentrates on the other side of that thesis, the white supremicist culture and the exploitation of the labour of blacks and the theft of “red” Indian lands on which the white supremicist culture was built. So the use of blackface is reduced simply to racism. Current revivals of blackface he sees as perhaps the result of a student need to distance themselves from poor people of colour in order to ignore and transcend the regime of educational debt into which they have been thrust. More positively, “students have been central to creative, collective actions against higher tuition and regimes of debt…[and] have also struggled to take some control over what student debt in effect finances by, for example, demanding that universities disinvest from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.”

There, in a nutshell, like a shell game played with three thimbles and a pea, the pea of exploitation/racism is moved from the racism of white America to the role of universities as perpetrators of that racism and colonialism through putting debt for education on the backs of students, and then, to everyone’s surprise except the fraudster and the shills that surround him, to the third thimble the American economic and cultural oppression by Israel of Palestine. Of course, in an expert hand, you cannot follow the pea or see how it has disappeared up the arm of the player. Only a critical close examination reveals the whole game as an absolute fraud.

The Vote on the Resolution

The result of the vote of the forum was virtually inevitable, as likely will be the result of the electronic vote. Though concurrent with the forum there were two competing receptions, one by the University of Southern California and the other by Harvard American Studies, receptions which, according to the rituals of learned societies, informally grade the sponsor on the quality and quantity of free food available, the caucus meeting on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. was unusually very well attended by 745 members – a very impressive figure representing about 35% of the attendees at the conference. To provide the appearance of fairness, 44 speakers were chosen at random from those who expressed an interest in speaking and were given two minutes each to either express their approval or disapproval of the motion. Of the 44 chosen, 37 supported the resolution, each to immense applause, and 7 opposed who received only scattered clapping. For anyone who opposes mob pressure, the meeting was a travesty and an exercise in intellectually bullying, though conducted in a respectful manner all the more painful given the underlying structure and dynamic. There was no attempt to ensure dissident voices had a fair and adequate time to present a case – not that I believe it would have mattered in the end. The pro-resolution speakers echoed a common theme – Israel was a settler colonial state, the US was complicit in fostering this state and in its own history of settler colonialism, and the ASA commitment to anti-racist and anti-colonial scholarship required support of the boycott.

The Arguments

The proponents of the resolution argue that the resolution supports academic freedom by NOT targeting individual scholars but only institutions that are covert partners of a repressive state and by fostering academic freedom of Palestinians. There was no discussion about how the alleged repression by Israel of Palestinian scholars was congruent with the fact that a vocal anti-Zionist such as Ahmad Saadi could be hired by Ben Gurion University and permitted to travel to the United States to appear on a panel advocating a boycott of Israeli universities or how they could brand America as a racist colonial imperial state yet boast of its academic freedom. The contradictions were just too plentiful to point out, but in the dialectics of post colonial studies could always be dismissed or explained away. For faculty of this persuasion who express solidarity with the oppressed and constantly complain of intimidation and retaliation by “liberal” institutions,  there was little self-critical consciousness that the process in which they were involved was profoundly intimidating. To be a post-colonial scholar logically meant joining the boycott campaign, at the every least in its truncated anti-institutional sanitized version. 

The ASA has demonstrated that it is indeed an academic body of shared intellectual values and commitments but not the traditional shared intellectual values of the liberal university. They accuse Zionists of refusing to debate but from my own experience, the atmosphere of these halls do not welcome debate but ideological posturing including by those who oppose their perspective. Being dispassionate is not seen as a virtue. Being objective, comprehensive, logically consistent and using evidence to support one’s position are not put forth as virtues but ideological commitment is. They insist their arguments are both moral and reasoned. I do not find them to be so. They see themselves as victims of the powerful and wealthy Zionist lobby using its power and material resources to attack and intimidate them. But one finds little evidence of any of that, and in the few cases where academics have not achieved tenure who hold positions like these, other factors are often at work, though I do not deny that in some cases, and I myself have documented some, that donor interference and threats have affected a judicious consideration of issues.

These proponents construct the world into a manichaean cosmos of anti-colonialists and anti-racists versus the neo-con oppressive and inegalitarian state. Small “l” liberals are squeezed out of the debate for they do not fit into their cosmology except as patsies of the oppressive colonial settler state.

Make no mistake. Any reading of the movement and the thinking behind these resolutions is based on an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist ideology that fundamentally opposes even the existence of Israel. When the proponents of the boycott say such charges are ludicrous and , for example, Cary Nelson’s claim that the academic boycott movement aims at the “abolition of the Israeli state” is an outright lie, what else can one conclude if one opposes Israel as an imperial colonial state and claim Zionism is rooted in racism. Though they say they oppose the boycott of individual scholars, they make the argument for selective boycott of those scholars because they are cultural ambassadors for Israel and, in effect, support Palestinian dispossession and occupation. Liberal arguments for academic freedom are just excuses for inaction.

I recall years ago when I gave a guest lecture at Bir Zeit University and suggested to Sari Nusseibeh that he invite me to teach their for a term. He replied that he could not envision the possibility of a Jew teaching at a Palestinian university for a century. Times have changed,. Now anti-Zionist scholars, including Israeli scholars, are welcomed to lecture at Palestinian universities, but what about middle-roaders and even right-wingers? After all, anti-Zionist Palestinians teach at Israeli universities. But these contradictions are side-stepped rather than considered and debated. Certainly Palestinian scholars and researchers have struggled – given the governments under which they work and the shortage of funds, but any objective analysis would show that these institutions were born under Israeli occupation and grew up under it with all its horrible characteristics and restrictions from both sides and more usually from their own side.

The fact is that the underlying thesis that the academic freedom of Israeli academics depends on the moral eviction of the Palestinians is a distortion. Palestinian (and Jewish) anti-Zionists teaching at Israeli institutions do not depend on the moral eviction of Palestinians. Nor do other scholars. Nor do critics of the United States as an imperial colonialist state depend on the eviction of native Americans from their land or the racist suppression of blacks.

In the 2012 report entitled a “Crisis of Competence: the Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California,” the authors on behalf of the California Association of Scholars document how the infusion of political ideology into all discourse and debate negatively impacts on the quality of both teaching and research, politicizing the curricula and promoting a culture of hostility and disruption on campus hostile to the free expression of ideas. As a young student activist, I never envisioned activism challenging the liberal presumptions of the university, or the effects of such a challenge on research, scholarship and teaching. Part of the reason is the asymmetry of the debate in which one side openly supports open exchanges from many points of view while the other side believes that any scholarship that is not wedded to the anti-colonial struggle against racism and inequality is just scholarship in the service of oppression. The terms of the debate ensure liberals lose simply if there are enough anti-colonial scholars present. 

Defenders of the boycott rebut the charge that they are hypocritical because they focus on Israel and ignore the denial of academic freedoms in Arab states, Turkey, Russia and China, not by denying that Israel is less repressive. Rather, they argue that Israel’s infringement of Palestinian academic freedoms is more objectionable because Israel claims to be democratic while oppressing the freedoms among Palestinians by denying the free movement, free communication and free circulation of ideas to Palestinians, asserted as if these were givens rather than conclusions needing empirical support. Further, unlike repressive states like China, the proponents of a boycott argue that, only Israel is a large receiver of US military and other aid. So the asymmetry on criticism matches the asymmetry of American support. So why not target Egypt? and why repeatedly state that historically, it has been very difficult to criticize Israel in the USA?

The Implications

If you support the boycott, the contrasting and conflicting rationales can be ignored and the first positive vote by a large American learned society after the Asian Scholars voted to support a boycott resolution will be cheered and applauded. The opponents will cry foul and argue that the stance conflicts with the principles of academic freedom. They will argue that the resolutions are hypocritical in their application and based on complete distortions of the state of academic freedom in Palestinian academic institutions and greatly exaggerates the role of the Israeli state in the inhibitions that do take place. I myself agree with the advocates of the boycott, that the position is indeed a logical outcome of post-colonial premises.

That is the real problem!

Fumbles and Stumbles in Academe: Hate Speech and Hate Conduct

Fumbles and Stumbles in Academe: Hate Speech and Hate Conduct

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

The day before yesterday when I returned from the hospital in the evening after having my pacemaker implanted (it went well), I found in my email a note from Professor Louis Greenspan asking whether Brandeis had overreacted in its response to the events at Al Quds University on 5 November 2013, more particularly, to the response of Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al Quds University for the last twenty years, to the request of President Fred Lawrence of Brandeis that Sari denounce the events on his campus on 5 November 2013. Though a very minor incident in the scheme of things, the question deserves a considered and perhaps too long reply in order to provide some perspective.

 

Before I respond, let me state on the record that I consider Sari Nusseibeh a friend, that we got to know each other when he was a professor of Philosophy and then chair of the philosophy department at BirZeitUniversity where I have spoken at his invitation. I met Sari most recently at Al Quds University at a conference a few years back. I got to know Sari best when we were both involved in the eighties in Track II diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, I do not know and have never met Fred Lawrence who is President of Brandeis University though I have read some of his writings.

 

Further, though I have many intellectual and political disagreements with Sari, I consider him to be sincerely devoted to peace between Israel and Palestine. My differences with Sari are similar to those levelled by Shlomo Avineri. Sari Nusseibeh, though a thorough peacenik, is NOT a Zionist. He is a Palestinian nationalist, but one who accepts Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority (see his 2008 biography, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life). He is made in the mould of Arabs who once supported the positions of that tiny minority of Zionists in favour of a bi-national state led by Judah Magnes and Martin Buber. He published a long article two years ago (“Why Israel Can’t Be A Jewish State”) in Al Jazeera. While recognizing Sari as a moderate and acknowledging his opposition to terrorism for which Sari was beaten badly, the well-known Israeli political scientist and former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Shlomo Avineri, took Sari to task for opposing any official designation of Israel as a Jewish state. (“We are a people: a response to Sari Nusseibeh,” 12 October 2011) 

 

Avineri criticized Nusseibeh for failing to recognize the original historical version of a Jewish state or the Jews as a people and not just a religion, that the UN 1947 partition resolution called for a Jewish and Arab state. Sari’s denial complements his cosmopolitan rejection of ethnicity or religion as the basis of a state which also denies the reality of most states in the world. Defining Israel as a Jewish state does not make it a theocracy, deny equal political and civil rights for secular Jews or non-Jews, or privilege the Jewish religion any more than Christianity or Islam is privileged in the way the way the work-week is organized where Christianity or Islam is the predominant religion of a country. Most basically, Avineri criticizes Sari for his failure to recognize Jews as a nation. Holding my or Shlomo’s position does not mean that either of us would make recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a condition of peace with Palestine. With that background, let me recapitulate the incident that set off the firestorm for readers who have not followed the controversy.

 

On 5 November 2013, Al Quds or Jerusalem Day for Palestinians, a demonstration took place on the main Jerusalem campus of Al Quds University, the leading university in Palestine, in which demonstrators purportedly marched in black military-style uniforms, offered the traditional stiff-armed Nazi salute, carried banners glorifying suicide bombers and portrayed dead Israeli soldiers. Al Quds Day is a creation of the anti-Israel Iran regime in 1979 on the last day of Ramadan to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in opposition to both Israel and Zionism. This style of demonstration is fairly typical around the world. For example, in the demonstration in Toronto, largely ignored, demonstrators carried fake coffins, cried out “Death to America and Israel”, called for the end of the Jewish state, called Israelis Nazis while imitating Nazi behaviour. Elias Hazineh, a former head of Palestine House, according to Honest Reporting, said the following from the podium of the rally: “We have to give them an ultimatum. You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine… When somebody tries to rob a bank the police get in, they don’t negotiate and we have been negotiating with them for 65 years. We say get out or you are dead. We give them two minutes and then we start shooting and that’s the only way they’ll understand.” The demonstrations wherever they are held are equally repugnant.

 

Al Quds University is not a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism; Bir Zeit is closer to that characterization. Nevertheless, many offensive demonstrations, incidents and faculty actions have been consistent with supporting extremism, such as a poster I saw when I was there. The poster honoured Sami Salim Hammad, a former Al-Quds student, who killed eleven people in Tel Aviv when he blew himself up. As Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote, “Al-Quds offered a ‘human rights and democracy’ course named in honor of Wafa Idriss, the first Arab Palestinian female homicide bomber. And Al-Quds is home to the AbuJihadMuseum. The museum is named for Khalil Al-Wazir, whose ‘nom de guerre’, abu Jihad, means ‘father of the holy war’. Abu Jihad is linked to several of the most horrific incidents of Jewish terror in modern memory, including the Munich Olympics (11 murdered) and the Coastal Road Massacre (38 dead, including 13 children).” At the same time, at the conference I attended, the head of the Al Fatah student group and a third year law student, argued for allowing any Jewish settlers to remain in a Palestinian state if that settler chose to continue living in peace. This is a position not generally advocated even by Israeli peaceniks..

However, the issue was not the rally itself at Al Quds University, but Sari Nusseibeh’s response to Fred Lawrence’s request for a clear and unequivocal condemnation in both English and Arabic. Lawrence considered Nusseibeh’s response to be inadequate and suspended the academic links between Brandeis and Al Quds (as did SyracuseUniversity but not BardCollege). President Botstein of Bard wrote: “Suggestions that the university administration condoned the actions of a very small group of students within a university of 12,000 are simply inaccurate,” noting that, “the incident and the ensuing controversy demonstrate that it is more important than ever to maintain our educational partnership with Al-Quds.”

Lawrence subsequently dismissed Sari Nusseibeh from his official role at Brandeis as a member of the international advisory board of The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. Sari had been the first distinguished Visiting Professor at the Center. What was Sari’s response to the original request for a condemnation, why did Lawrence consider it not only inadequate but that it added insult to injury, and was Lawrence’s suspension of the relationship between the two universities and Sari’s role at Brandeis “over the top” and disproportionate to the stimulus? After all, contrast Sari’s response with that of Professor Mohammed Dajan Daoudi who wrote that the demonstration was a sign of, “disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, all combined together in a militaristic march protesting the dire present Palestinian political and economic conditions” and that, “I did not see anything Nazi about that salute.”

First, some background on the Center at Brandeis and then on Fred Lawrence is necessary for context. I got to know the Center at Brandeis when I was myself a research professor for three years at the Centre for Ethics, Justice, Law and Governance at GriffithUniversity in Australia. The two centres had similar mandates, to foster through scholarship, intellectual exchanges and activities projects focused on ethics and justice. Brandeis focused more on coexistence between ethnic groups in conflict, most significantly, Israelis and Palestinians, that is, community-based efforts at coexistence, while the Griffith Centre was more focused on governance issues. Both were interested in the role of the International Court of Justice. We overlapped but very much differed because the chair of the BrandeisCenter was Justice Richard J. Goldstone whose 2009 report on the Gaza invasion of Israel (The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone Report) I severely criticized in my writings on just war theory.    

 

On 1 January 2011, Fred Lawrence succeeded Jehuda Reinharz as President of Brandeis where Reinharz had presided for 17 years. Reinharz, who was born in Israel, was renowned, and acknowledged by Lawrence, for his tremendous work in raising US$1.2 billion over the years, endowing chairs and establishing new research centres, one of which was the BrandeisInternationalCenter for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which Reinharz personally helped establish in 1998. It was that Center that in the 2008-09 academic year sponsored a joint project of Brandeis and Al Quds students in Istanbul as part of the Brandeis-Al-Quds Summer Institute to discuss the presuppositions and practices of a ‘good society’ as expressed through written works, both in literature proper and in popular utility documents such as travel guides. It was that Center that sponsored the infamous debate in 2009 between Dore Gold, a former Israeli diplomat and head of the JerusalemCenter for Public Affairs, and Richard Goldstone. The debate on the Goldstone Report was held on the very day that the UN General Assembly voted 114-18 calling on Israel and the Palestinians both to conduct credible investigations of the allegations in the Goldstone report. Reinharz was a much closer friend of Sari’s than I am and that friendship may have been part of the problem as Lawrence seeks to stamp Brandeis with his own personal brand distinct from the long shadow of Reiharz.

 

While Reinharz had been a noted historian specializing in Jewish history, Lawrence is a legal scholar who writes on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes. He had been dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at GeorgeWashingtonUniversityLawSchool prior to moving to Brandeis where his wife is a professor of English literature. One of his famous distinctions was between hate conduct and hate speech and his analysis of the difficulty of distinguishing between the two. Lawrence in his speech earlier this year to the Anti-Defamation League defended allowing a broad swath for free speech in the belief that the only real answer to hate speech is more and better speech. Thus, while personally critical of President Carter on Israel, he criticized the decision of YeshivaUniversity cancelling the invitation to Carter to speak on campus. While condemning Stephen Hawking for joining in on the academic boycott of Israel, an action he called not only immoral but shrouded in anti-Semitism, it is clear that Lawrence would defend Hawking’s right to speak on campus. However, when it comes to actions that instill fear, Lawrence drew a red line. Such actions must be prevented from happening and strongly condemned if they do happen.

 

The demonstration at Al Quds University on 5 November crossed that red line for Fred Lawrence. The intellectual attitude of Lawrence as well as past and current difficulties with the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, may go some way to explaining why Lawrence greeted Sari Nusseibeh’s response to the demonstration on the Al Quds campus as “unacceptable and inflammatory.” Further, according to Fred Lawrence, Sari refused to take responsibility for the offensive demonstration but he certainly did distance both himself and Al-QudsUniversity from it contrary to Lawrence’s interpretation. What had Sari written in response to Lawrence’s request to unequivocally condemn the 5 November demonstration in both Arabic and English?

 

From the tone and content of Sari’s response, it would appear that Sari regarded the Brandeis request as condescending and insulting, though nowhere in the response does Sari say this. But if another university in another country with whom your university enjoyed joint projects wrote and demanded a public condemnation for a demonstration on one’s campus, such a request would be deemed unusual at the very least.  Sari wrote back and insisted that that the university had not endorsed the demonstration but also that the demonstration, in particular, trampling on the Israeli flag, was  “inconsistent with the human values we try to teach” at the university and “misrepresented who we are and what we stand for”. Sari personally and unequivocally condemned the Nazi-style demonstration by students (or outsiders) affiliated with Islamic Jihad. The demonstration was “led from people outside the university and this was an unauthorized demonstration”.

Why did Lawrence not consider this sufficient? Was it because the condemnation itself was only made in an interview with David Horovitz of the Times of Israel and not publicly in both English and Arabic? Was it because Sari implicitly did not accept responsibility for allowing the demonstration to take place? “Needless to say, the event on the campus by this small group — trampling on Israeli flags and behaving as though sympathizing with Nazi or fascist ideology — in no way represents our university values, and we are constantly trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening.” Possibly. But Sari went on to write something which seemed to really offend Fred Lawrence. First, Sari blamed “extremist Jews” and “Jewish opportunists”, presumably The Jewish Press who had written to Lawrence requesting a response to the Al Quds demonstration and then, to Sari’s “inadequate” response. Sari accused those extremists and opportunists for using the demonstration to start a vilification campaign against Al Quds University.

More significantly, in Sari’s account, the real evil of the Nazis, even more than the horrific genocide of six million Jews, appeared to be transporting the “Jewish problem” in Europe to the Middle East that logically led to Al Nakba, the disaster that befell Palestinians with the creation of Israel – an historically and ethically unjustified position, but one characterizing many peaceniks. Without Nazism “there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.” This logical and causal sequencing was understandably repugnant to Lawrence as well as being historically inaccurate. But many more Jewish historians and Jewish organizations make the mistake of viewing the creation of Israel as a consequence of the Holocaust, though there is little evidence to back such an interpretation. Finally, Sari seemed to remonstrate Lawrence not for making the request in the first place requesting an open denunciation, though that is implied, but in surrendering to the pressures of Jewish extremists who push confrontation rather than reconciliation. Nusseibeh told David Horovitz that, “Hopes for peace rest on people from both sides who try to hold the reins and steer the whole situation toward ultimate reconciliation, and not allow extremist actions on both sides to blow up the whole thing.”

Further, Sari suggested that Lawrence’s response only fed those on the Palestinian side who denigrated dialogue and called for boycotts of Israeli universities. Lawrence’s position “only strengthens those on the other side who call for boycotts of Israeli universities. It will be picked up by the people who say there is no future in these cooperations. We have been trying to say it is possible. Yes, there are obstacles but we try to overcome them. We can only overcome them by working together.” Further, “these opportunists are quick to describe the Palestinians as a people undeserving of freedom and independence, and as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation. They cite these events as evidence justifying their efforts to muster broad Jewish and western opinion to support their position. This public opinion, in turn, sustains the occupation, the extension of settlements and the confiscation of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom.” In other words, Lawrence in giving into the pressures of zealots was undermining the whole prospect of reconciliation and reinforcing the settler movement and those in Israel and abroad who would deny Palestinians an independent state.

So, what do I think?

1. President Fred Lawrence was wrong writing Sari requesting he publicly denounce the demonstration in both English and Arabic. It was insulting, failed to recognize Sari’s strenuous efforts against militarism and terrorism and was hypocritical since Fred Lawrence never wrote the heads of universities with which Brandeis enjoys partnerships to request they condemn Al Quds demonstrations on their campuses;

2.. Quite aside from my own view that Sari is incorrect on his political and historical interpretations and may be wrong or insightful about why Fred Lawrence wrote to him making the request in the first place, Sari was impolitic in bringing into play his own political views and virtually asserting that Lawrence had given into the pressures of Zionist expansionists;

3. Lawrence might have recommended an academic reconsideration of the relationship between Al Quds and Brandeis but I would consider that he set aside academic procedures and prerogatives in suspending the relationship without academic due process even though he wrote that the decision “was taken deliberatively and with broad input” Dan Terris, the Director of the Center, was on the spot at Al Quds as it happens, and fed back information to Lawrence on the demonstration, but neither requested nor endorsed and implicitly criticized both Lawrence’s process and decision — “nothing that we have learned during this period has changed our conviction – built over many years of experience – that Sari Nusseibeh and the Al-Quds University leadership are genuinely committed to peace and mutual respect”;

4. This is even truer of Lawrence’s cancellation of Sari’s membership on the advisory board of the Centre.

Though this dust-up in a puddle in the whole sea of Israeli-Palestinian relationships, it is an indicator that even institutions dedicated to learning and objective analysis, and, more particularly, to enhancing dialogue between Jews and Palestinians, should so fumble a simple occasion such as the response to extremist Al Quds demonstrations.