Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

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

Saudi Arabia

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

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

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

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

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

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

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

  1. Donald’s Ethos

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

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

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

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

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

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

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

Israel and the Palestinians

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

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

The Vatican

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

Brussels

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

The G7

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

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

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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A Corrupt History of Israel – Beginnings

A Corrupt History of Israel – Beginnings

by

Howard Adelman

Gregory Baum began chapter 20 of his memoir, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway, with the following: “After the Holocaust, Christian churches were prompted by their historical guilt for the contempt they have shown to Jews and Judaism to support the State of Israel and to refrain from criticizing its treatment of Palestinians. After the Second World War, yet a second historical guilt, their approval of the colonial conquests of the European empires, moved the churches to offer moral support to the anti-colonial struggles of peoples in Asia and Africa, eventually including the Palestinian people. The churches then affirmed their twofold solidarity, with the Jewish State and with the Palestinian people.” (149)

Ignoring the historical conflation of decades of history, immediately after WWII, did the churches express guilt over the Holocaust? Did that lead those churches to support the creation of the State of Israel? Did they refrain from criticizing the treatment of Palestinians then because of this guilt? I can only refer to this last question very tangentially. I will have to ignore the question of whether the churches felt guilty about colonialism at that time.

The theology in the declaration could not have bothered them because the declaration is notably devoid of any theological references. The Torah is significantly not cited to support the declaration of independence. Rather, the following foundational elements are cited:

  • The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people
  • That land shaped their spiritual, religious and political identity
  • On that land, Jews first enjoyed statehood
  • On that land, Jews developed their national cultural values
  • From that land, Jews contributed to world civilization both universal values and, more specifically, the Bible
  • When dispersed, Jews never lost faith in the quest for return over two millennia
  • Further, over those years, Jews not only prayed for return but strove in every generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland
  • More recently, tens of, hundreds of thousands did return and the population of Jews had reached 600,000
  • In that return, they made deserts bloom and created a vibrant community
  • In that return, they revived the Hebrew language

The declaration then went on to detail both its practical and ethical aspirations: financial independence, cultural enrichment, peace, justice, self-defence, progress. Did the churches in general, whether driven by guilt over the Holocaust or not, celebrate the revival of statehood for Jews or even one or more of the accomplishments of the revived Yishuv? Did they express their strong opposition to the plans and moves of the Arab armies to invade the nascent state the very next day? Did they acknowledge the legal right to establish a Jewish state by the United Nations that had taken back Mandatory Palestine from the British, who had served as a trustee? Did they support partition and the creation of an independent Jewish state? More specifically, ignoring some of the hyperbole and exaggerations in the Declaration, was there any reference to guilt over the Holocaust, the European catastrophe in which six million Jews were massacred, as motivating any possible support? In the light of this unprecedented event, did the churches by and large support the natural right of the Jewish people “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state” even if many nations did not then enjoy such a right?

It took the Catholic Church twenty years afterwards to even repudiate antisemitism in Nostra Aetate. But even then, the official Churches and even the major dissidents remained silent concerning the right of Jews to have their own state – a silence that was only confronted just before the Cold War ended. In its 1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations distinguished between theological and political considerations. Christians, they advised, should understand the deep religious significance of the land of Israel to Jews and Judaism. Though international law was increasingly used to challenge Israel’s occupation of majoritarian Arab areas after 1967, the principles of international law (later cited as the basis for dealing with the occupation) as distinct from religious attachments, were not used to acknowledge the right of creation of a Jewish state. Certainly, the birth of Judaism in Israel many centuries ago conferred no right. Neither did the development of their ancient nation-state, the continuing attachment of Jews to the land when they were dispersed, or the miracles of their return, revival of the Hebrew language and initial economic development suggested as justifications.

The church had its own political interests and it objected to either a Jewish or a Palestinian monopoly over Jerusalem. Winning this point was a trade off by some Catholic countries that was used to push UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, to recommend that Jerusalem remain an international city independent of both an Arab and a Jewish state with rights established for all three religions. Rather than guilt propelling the Catholic Church to support the nascent Jewish state, the Church was intimately involved in the messy business of politics in a flawed and failed effort to retain a strong political foothold in Jerusalem, a political foothold lost many centuries earlier when the Crusaders were defeated after an occupancy of two centuries.

It also took the Protestant churches decades after the state was declared to recognize both the importance of the land of Israel for Jews as well as the principle that Jews were entitled to self-determination. For the first time in 1980, the Rhineland-Synod stated that, “the continuing existence of the Jewish people, its return to the promised land, and the establishment of the state of Israel are a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people.” Theology, not guilt, seemed to provide both the rationale and the motive.

Did those Zionists who issued that Declaration of Independence even appeal to guilt over the Holocaust as a reason to support Israel? Not at all. The Shoah is mentioned to show why it was urgent to take action concerning the 250,000 refugees left as a residue of that catastrophe and the plan to solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates of Israel wide to Jews needing as well as wanting to immigrate. The problem of the homeless refugees that no country then wanted motivated some Churches to support the State of Israel.

By the end of the century, the Evangelical Church in Germany conceded supporting the State of Israel with “just borders,” but the context suggests that even this belated statement was not heart-felt, but was offered to balance the Church’s concern with Palestinian refugees. However, we are here concerned with the late forties and not the post-1967 period so it might be helpful to look, not at official church doctrine and proclamations, but at Protestant dissident theologians who led the movement of reconciliation between Christianity and the Jewish community. To that end, to end this blog, I will summarily examine the views of Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth.

Whatever the many versions, Martin Niemöller became most famous for the following famous poem that he wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

In some versions, incurables and Jehovah Witnesses were included alongside Jews. The general interpretation is that it is incumbent upon us all to defend those whose rights are initially attacked because, eventually, I too will find myself a victim of an oppressive regime. Unwillingness to take risks was not an excuse.

However, there is a more cynical interpretation, not based on Niemöller’s intent but on his behaviour, namely always ensure that the minority group next to you (Jews) is protected because otherwise you will be next. This black humour was suggested by Niemöller’s own history as a dissident in Nazi Germany who spent seven years in a concentration camp under a protective detention order which permitted his access to books and writing material, a period in which he requested release to serve in the German navy.

Niemöller was sent there, not because he defended socialism – he was a supporter of national socialism, voted for Hitler in 1933 and initially enthusiastically supported the Nazis coming to power,– not because he defended trade unionism, because he initially supported the Nazi coup and the destruction of the trade unions for he had always criticized Weimar Germany for its softness on communism, and not even because he opposed the Nazi persecution of the Jews, for he only opposed that persecution when it came to Jews baptised by the Lutheran Church. As he himself wrote in 1933 when he organized the pastors’ emergency federation (Pfarrernotbund), which became the foundation of the Confessional Church that stood in opposition to the official church when in 1934 it endorsed Nazi racist persecution of Jews, the fourth point in the founding charter objected to the Nazi ousting of ministers as ministers when they weere of Jewish lineage (Judenstämmlinge). Antisemitism became objectionable only when it was racial and affected the principle of baptism and conversion. Throughout the thirties, Niemöller continued to insist that Jews were guilty of killing Jesus and, without subjecting themselves to baptism, were deservedly being punished.

When he was released from prison after the war to eventually become president of the Hessen-Nasau Lutheran Church in 1947 and an extremely popular preacher in America, his revised theology was then stated most clearly in the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt (Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis) published months after his release. Did he express any guilt about the Shoah? Did he express any support for Zionism as an expression of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination? No. The collective guilt for which he insisted Germans accept collective responsibility was for the destruction in Europe generally and Germany more specifically. His criticisms of Nazi Germany remained restricted to the objections to interference in Church affairs. He insisted that he, and most Germans, were NOT guilty about the Shoah since he along with most Germans were ignorant of the scale of the atrocities and shocked by the event. Because of that ignorance, Germans had no cause to feel guilty about the Shoah.

Niemöller in his speeches around the United States made no reference to the Shoah, made no reference to any support for the creation of the State of Israel that I could find, but rather highlighted the resistance by the Confessing Church, a minority of Lutherans, to the Nazis. That resistance was based on his insistence on the absolute sovereignty of Christ as the backbone of the Confessing Church to which he had given witness. Non-converted Jews could be murdered, but “the Word of God can’t be bound and can’t be murdered.” His emphasis was on Christian brotherhood and not reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism.

These observations are not new. Eleanor Roosevelt made them at the time. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of The Temple in Cleveland, Ohio did so as well. Silver criticized Niemöller because he had not opposed Nazi racism, only Nazi persecution of the church. Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress at the time, noted that Niemöller never once objected to the Shoah let alone felt any remorse or guilt for what had taken place. And Niemöller was a dissident.

Karl Barth, another founder of the Confessing Church, and acknowledged as one of the most significant pioneers in attempting to reconcile Christian theology with Jewish beliefs, is another matter. In Stephen Hayes book, Prospects for Post-Holocaust Theology (1991) he claimed that, “it is not an exaggeration to say that Barth’s understanding of Israel had had the kind of influence on Protestant theology that Nostra Aetate has had on Catholic thinking about Israel.”

Unlike Niemöller, Barth had always opposed the general antisemitism of the Nazi regime and not only its effects on the autonomy of the church. “He who is a radical enemy of the Jews, were he in every other regard an angel of light, shows himself, as such, to be a radical enemy of Jesus Christ. Anti-Semitism is sin against the Holy Ghost. For anti-Semitism means rejection of the grace of God.” Barth went further. He saw in Israel [note, not the state but the people, Am Israel rather than Eretz Israel] “a new sign of God’s presence in Jewish history.” However, his support for Israel as a people was, for him, a sign of God’s revelation, not out of any guilt for the Shoah. His support for Israel fitted within his pioneering work in reconceiving the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in terms of a “double covenant” and celebration of the Jewishness of Jesus, but this should not detract from the fact that he still believed that Jews had been divinely punished for their rejection of Jesus and he remained critical of rabbinic Judaism.

I need not go into any detail into the theological presumptions behind his views. For Barth, man and God were not involved in a dialectical relationship whereby God as well as humans changed because of the encounter for the preservation of the covenant, Christianity depended on God alone and his embodiment in the person of Jesus as his “eternal mode of being” whereby Jesus takes on the burden of human sinfulness. “It is incontestable that this people as such is the holy people of God: the people with whom God has dealt in His grace and in His wrath; in the midst of whom He has blessed and judged, enlightened and hardened, accepted and rejected; whose cause either way He has made his own, and has not ceased to make His own, and will not cease to make His own.”

This acceptance of Jews as having an independent covenantal relationship with God was extremely enlightened thinking at the time, but in his conception even that relationship remained a matter of grace rather than a legal and ethical contract between two parties. Further, God’s relationship to the Jews was but a precursor and precondition for the realization of God’s historic promise to all humanity. This proposition became a foundation for the subsequent Christian strong support for the State of Israel as a precondition for the Second Coming. But not for Karl Barth himself. In Karl Barth, a respect for differences emerges, but no real understanding of or sympathy for either Torah Judaism or political Judaism in the form of Zionism. This will, in turn, subsequently lead to the position of the World Council of Churches which finds in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank but one more case of Jewish obduracy and its continuing rejection of Jesus as divine. Israel remains the disobedient servant of God responsible not only for the oppression of the Palestinians, but for the continuing schism among humans preventing the Second Coming.

The end of WWII and the revelations of the Shoah did not in general produce in Christian churches guilt for its occurrence or a commandment to support the nascent state of Israel, but rather the recognition of the profundity of radical evil which struck Jews more extensively than any other group, but for which Jews were ultimately responsible because, as elected witnesses to God’s revelation, they still rejected the sacrifice of Jesus. Thus, champions of Christian-Jewish dialogue, of Christian acceptance of Jews having an independent relationship with God, such as Rosemary and Herman Reuther, could, in 1989, publish The Wrath of Jonah which sympathized and supported the State of Israel, but detailed the oppression of Palestinians.

In sum, in the aftermath of WWII there was no demonstrable guilt for the Shoah even among the minority of Christians in continental Europe who opposed Hitler, and no support for Israel based on that guilt. Christian Zionists were the exception; they dated back to a period before the emergence of Jewish political Zionism in the late nineteenth century and continued to support Israel as a state up to, during and after the creation of Israel. But both the mainline Catholic and Protestant churches, and even the reforming dissidents, including some within that group who recognized the Shoah as an expression of radical evil (das Nichtige) in our time, did not express any guilt for the Shoah or any support for Israel based on that guilt or even mention the Shoah, though the Shoah would subsequently have an enormous impact on Christian theology, especially in post-Holocaust theology.

But not when the State of Israel was declared.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis Resolution 2334

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

by

Howard Adelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Samantha Power and John Kerry – Resolution 2334

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

by

Howard Adelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs

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Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

Counting and Miscounting Palestinian Refugees – Part I

Counting and Miscounting Palestinian Refugees – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Counting is one of the most basic things we learn to do. No sooner does a child learn to recognize mom and dad and to understand he or she has only one of each, than that child learns to count siblings and then cousins. ‘Well the new baby means you now have two brothers.’ ‘Three!‘ ‘No, not three brothers. Anna is your sister. You have two brothers and one sister.’ ‘No, momma has four children, not three. You have to count yourself. I have three boys and one girl.’ And so it continues.

As we grow, we learn to aggregate and differentiate. And we also learn our first lessons in lying and cheating. ‘I told you that you could have three M&Ms, not five.’ ‘But two were broken. They don’t count.’ And when we are mature, we learn to become sloppy in our counting and even deliberately mislead for entertainment or supposedly humanitarian and political purposes. In 1982, just after the Israelis invaded Lebanon, OXFAM Britain published full page ads that claimed 600,000 had been made homeless in southern Lebanon by the Israeli invasion. Israel responded and issued a press release insisting that only 27,000 had been made homeless. The Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University, then called the Refugee Studies Project, earned its initial international reputation in part by proving its thesis that, even in the midst of conflict, reasonably accurate counts of refugees can be carried out. Based on this and other research, CRS was dubbed a Centre of Excellence and received research funding of $5,600,000 over five years.

The accurate number made homeless by the invasion in South Lebanon was 40,000. That figure was subsequently used by all sides in the conflict. The credibility was earned in the following ways:

·         Demonstrating that the 600,000 figure originated in an ICRC report that 600,000 had been affected, not made homeless, by the invasion

·         That the research on the ground by a highly reputable Israeli academic erred by 10,000 as a result of one unintended addition error and by 3,000 because several pockets of refugees had been missed

·         That the twelve counts on the ground carried out by Palestinian elementary teachers, municipal authorities, the Society for Engineers in Lebanon, and nine other institutions in Lebanon, including the International Red Cross, though varied somewhat, could all be reconciled if the same definition of a refugee was used (not Palestinian homes in camps but Palestinian homes occupied by ethnic Palestinians – many homes had been rented out to itinerant workers in Lebanon from South Asia primarily –that were destroyed by the invasion), the same territory covered and corrections plus allowances taken into account for errors easily made when counting in such difficult circumstances

·         By showing that the International Committee of the Red Cross count, which ICRC only shamefacedly owned up to because the method of counting lacked any rigour, was simply based on its years of experience using only a simple rule of thumb rather than actual counting; ironically, that estimate turned out to be the most accurate – simply count the number of kitchen kits distributed and multiply by three.

One might think that, unlike Lebanon where refugees were simply scattered among the local population, counts of refugees in camps would be easy. The people are all supposedly contained in a given area. When, as part of one study, the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University went to verify the numbers of Somali and a few other types of refugees in Dadaab Camp in Northern Kenya, well before the camp numbers were enormously increased by the most recent continuing conflicts in Southern Somalia, on census day conducted by the UNHCR, over 100 buses and many other vehicles, mostly from Nairobi, had arrived to allow refugees to return so they could be included in the count and ensure their families had adequate rations, which then consisted of only 1,600 calories a day per adult. We could find no accurate method to differentiate between local Northern Kenyan ethnic Somali citizens who had joined the camp population to get cards entitling them to rations, but estimates were arrived at through small samples of very defined areas. From reviews of such counts, we began to adopt a rule of thumb for camps administered and controlled by UNHCR. Discount published census figures by 10% to gain a more accurate estimate of the number of actual refugees living in a camp.

Sometimes miscounting can have horrible consequences. We learned that when the actual control of camps was in the hands of militants, and even worse, defeated soldiers, then the numbers were inflated far more because the militants used ration cards to acquire foodstuffs and sell them on the black market. The monies were used to purchase arms as well as to pay themselves. Then we used as a guide a 25% inflation figure.

For an example of the abuse of refugee figures for both humanitarian and political purposes, the Hutus who fled to Eastern Congo then called Zaire provide an excellent example. Ignore for a moment the large numbers of Rwandan refugees that fled to Tanzania (500,000) and Burundi (200,000). In the Eastern Congo to which the defeated army in Rwanda had fled in the summer of 1994 along with hundreds of thousands of additional Hutu refugees following the genocide of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda, the reported number of refugees in camps in the Eastern Congo (Zaire) mostly controlled by the ex-FAR (Forces Armée Rwandaises) as well as the interahamwe and impuzamugambi militias, was said to be 1,400,000 out of a total Hutu refugee population of 2.1 million. The definition of refugees excluded soldiers and militants estimated at 50,000. If Hutu civilians who participated in the killing are counted among the genocidaires as well as members of ex-FAR families who accompanied the soldiers into exile, then these along with the soldiers and militia members totaled about 200,000.

Were the over 100,000 Hutu civilians who had participated in the massive slaughter of innocents to be counted as civilians or as militants? What about the members of the families of the soldiers? After all, they were civilians so they should definitely be counted as refugees.

When the camps were broken up by an invasion of Zaire in 1996 by Kagame’s forces, an estimated 800,000 Hutu refugees returned from Zaire to Rwanda. 600,000 Hutu were reported as having fled deeper into Zaire. These included members of the ex-FAR (Forces Armée Rwandaises), their families, the interahamwe and impuzamugambi and other civilians who participated in the killing. The number 600,000 was obtained by subtracting the 800,000 who returned from the estimated number of 1,400,000 in the Zaire camps. But if those numbers were inflated by at least 25% given the military control over the camps, then the figure of the number that fled was inflated by 350,000. Though up to 50,000 of those who fled were estimated to have been killed by Rwandan armed forces under Kagame, including a large number who were civilians, the charge that a second genocide had been committed because the 350,000 phantom refugees were “missing” and presumed dead. So a figure began to be distributed that Kagame’s forces had killed 400,000 to 600,000 in a second genocide rather than the estimated up to 50,000 who had died.

The actual numbers in Zaire were as follows:

Estimated number of refugees (not soldiers or militia members) in camps 1,400,000

Less inflation factors of 25% (-350,000)                                                        1,050,000

Numbers who Hutu refugees who returned to Rwanda from Zaire                 800,000

Numbers of civilians, including civilian genocidaires   100,000

plus family members of militants                        100,000

others                                                                       50,000

Total of Civilians who fled deeper into the Congo                                         250,000

Actual Total Number of Hutu Refugees in Zaire                                     1,050,000

This figure of 600,000 refugees who fled deeper into Zaire included 350,000 phantom refugees. The large number was used to accuse the Rwandan government of committing another genocide of 400,000 to 600,000 Hutu refugees. Thus are inflated imaginary figures used to conduct propaganda wars.

What has this to do with counting Palestinian refugees?

In the next two days, the answer.

Egypt, Palestine and Jordan

This blog is dedicated to Abdul Aziz Muhammad Hegazi who passed away today, but I have used the spelling “Abdul” that I believe he gave me at the time rather than the spelling as it appears in his obituary, Abd El Aziz Muhammad Hegazi.

Egypt, Palestinians and Jordan

by

Howard Adelman

I will focus on Jordan alone in my next blog, but I first want to provide some background, more on the shaping of my own views on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, than on an objective analysis of the current prospects for peace. Since this blog relies a great deal on my memory, which has never been very good, and has certainly deteriorated as I have aged, it may contain many mistakes in names and dates. I believe, however, that the overall impressions that I absorbed remained with me and influenced my outlook until today.

I have been in Jordan on three different occasions, first when I attended a Track II meeting in Amman, Jordan on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the early eighties, then again in the early nineties when I was a guest of Crown Prince Hassan to discuss, not the Middle East, but a proposed new convention on international migration that he was promoting as a complement to the refugee convention, and then in the late nineties when my friend
Mike Molloy was the Canadian ambassador to Jordan between 1996 and 2000.

Mike and I had met when he was responsible for implementing the new provisions of Canada’s 1976 Immigration Act, which came into force in 1978, and when he was responsible for coordinating the 1979-1980 Indochinese Refugee Movement. I had visited him later when he was stationed in Geneva representing Canada at the Law of Sea discussions, and then worked with him again when he was a key diplomat when Canada accepted the role of gaveling the Multilateral Working Group on Refugees during the Middle East Peace Process in the nineties and I, as the Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and a scholar who has written on Palestinian refugees, served as an advisor to that group. Mike also served as Co-Director of the Jerusalem Old City Initiative at the University of Windsor, but I was never involved in that. Most recently, this year, he, I and Naomi Alboim wrote a joint paper proposing a renewal of private sponsorship in Canada.

However, this blog is not based on my experience with Mike nor his views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, nor with the time when I was the guest of Crown Prince Hassan, brother of the late King Hussein, for that trip had only a peripheral relationship with the Middle East, let alone Israeli-Palestinian peace, though I did learn how the Canadian government and the Jordanian government could be very flexible when they wanted to be. Those two governments cooperated in facilitating my entry into Jordan when I had a number of entry stamps to Israel in my passport, something which prohibited my entry into Jordan at that time.

As a total aside, as a guest of the crown prince, I learned that “enough of too much” at Passover seders bore absolutely no comparison to the meal table of Middle Eastern royalty. I thought that the initial huge sumptuous table offerings, more than enough to feed all of the participants in the meeting in Amman ten times over, was the main meal. I soon learned, after I had stuffed myself, that those delicious morsels had only been the appetizers. Then I had to be very polite in dealing with the meal subsequently offered.

I gained a sketchy knowledge of the northern string of cities in Jordan and of Jordanian politics, an insight into Egyptian views of the Palestinians, and an in-depth immersion course into the politics of Egypt during the volatile 1970s when I went with Dr. Abdul Aziz Hegazi on a car excursion exploring the region north of Amman. We had been together at a Track II meeting in Jordan in the early eighties to discuss the potential of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. It was a Muslim holiday and we had a day off. Petra, we agreed, was too far away for a day excursion, especially when we had to return to Amman for a reception that evening. As a skeptic about the possibilities of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Abdul had evidently decided to give me a lesson in realpolitik to counter my peacenik propensities.

Abdul, as a highly regarded economist, had been made Treasury Minister of Egypt by President Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1968. He had been made Minster of Finance and Foreign Trade when the Ministry of Finance, Treasury and the Ministry of Foreign Trade were merged by Anwar Sadat in March 1973, a unification that was unpacked when Abdul was “promoted” to Prime Minister in September 1974 and Mohammed Abdul Fattah Ibrahim was made Minister of Finance. Abdul told me that he regarded that move at the time as a demotion because he had less real power than he ever had as Finance Minister, and that was very limited. Abdul was forced out of the Egyptian government in 1975. That day we traveled around Jordan together, Abdul gave me an education in Egyptian politics, particularly for the period he served until 1975 when his ouster was demanded by students rioting in demonstrations against him, demonstrations he said were organized by his cabinet colleague, the Minister of the Interior.

When he was appointed by Nasser as Finance Minister, Egypt was in shock from the economic tsunami resulting from the Six Day War. Abdul had the responsibility of holding the economy together in the face of enormous losses of both tourist revenues and tolls from the then closed Suez Canal. When Anwar Sadat came to power and then determined to prepare the Egyptian military for war, Abdul was faced with covering those costs, but only after he learned about them, for he had not been informed of the military build-up or the plans to go to war with Israel.

As background, as you will certainly recall, at least those of you old enough to do so, Anwar Sadat’s peace overtures to Israel to sign a peace agreement entailing recognition of Israel had been rebuffed in 1971, not only by Israel, but by both the USA and Egypt’s prime supporter at the time, the Soviet Union. Even though Egypt was then considered a client of the USSR, Sadat expelled the 15,000 Soviet advisers in July of 1972. As we now know, free of the Soviet overwhelming presence, Sadat created his three man war committee at the end of December 1972 consisting of only himself, his Foreign Minister, Mohammed Hassan el-Zayyat, and Mamdouh Muhammad Salem, his Interior Minister who had succeeded Sharawy Gomaa, who had until then controlled the then all-powerful Egyptian secret police and opposed any reconciliation with Israel. Salem succeeded Abdul as Prime Minister.

The role of the Interior Ministry and the national security police forty years ago should be familiar to readers today, first, because of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and then only last October, on the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War commemorations, the real beginning of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s war against the Muslim Brotherhood when 53 demonstrators were killed and many more injured all over Egypt in protests on 6 October 2013 against the Egyptian army and the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in the military coup of 3 July 2013. Those security police had fired live rounds at the demonstrators, though, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, they had only used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. The Muslim Brotherhood had called on its supporters to commemorate that fortieth anniversary by staging demonstrations against the government.

Abdul Hegazi was never included in that three man war triumvirate formed by Sadat at the end of 1972 to conduct the planned war against Israel in October 1973. In fact, the day before the Yom Kippur War began, he had been in Great Britain at his wife’s bedside as his wife was about to be operated on in a London hospital. In spite of that, he was summoned back to Cairo on urgent business, but only learned of the attack across the Suez Canal from the media after it had been initiated. Abdul, however, as Finance Minister, had been tasked by Sadat with introducing the badly needed reforms, the so-called Intifah Economic Policy, introducing privatization and the cutting of subsidies while increasing the charges for welfare, health and transport services, changes necessary if Egypt, once again, was to be in a reasonable financial position to go to war against Israel.

Even though appointed Prime Minister, Abdul had not been part of the cease-fire agreement or the disengagement agreements of 1974 and 1975, though he supported all three. He was out of office when Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem and when the Egyptian Israeli Peace Treaty was negotiated that led to Egypt’s suspension from the Arab League from 1979 to 1989 and Sadat’s own assassination in 1981. Abdul when I met him had become a confectionary importer. Nevertheless, my most important lessons about Egypt, and, perhaps, even indirectly about Jordan and the Palestinians, were absorbed in that all day seminar of discussions, though those lessons may have been deformed because I only had Abdul’s perspective on the events of the seventies and, as I said above, have a very poor memory.

What were those lessons?

First, I learned about the role of the Egyptian army. The one day “seminar” provided a foundation for my understanding of the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, and his role in the coup against former President Mohamed Morsi. The army is a very entrenched conservative organization. Even when Sadat became president, Abdul told me, and though Sadat had issued a decree to study the diseconomies and problems caused by the Aswan High Dam, and whether the building of the dam and the reclamation of vast new agricultural land in Egypt’s western desert, had offset any negative effects, Sadat’s fellow officers forced Sadat to suspend the decree to launch a study. All powerful military leaders in military coups, at least in Egypt, are not all powerful. Abdul, a lover of Shakespeare, told me that the bard had more to teach about politics and intrigue that most political texts.

Second, in Egypt, ever since the military coup in 1952, the Egyptian army, though it has a prime role as a highly disciplined institution in the defence of the state, has an even more pronounced role in the acculturation of men in Egyptian society. Within its hierarchical organization, one in eight males in Egyptian society were then trained in disciplined behaviour, in loyalty to the state and in the development of a new sense of belonging divorced from their rural families and clans. The Egyptian army, compared to Egyptian civil society, has three key strengths: a sense of esprit de corps, a well-working internal communication system, and some degree of self-sufficiency that no other institution in Egypt possesses.

After Sadat’s army reforms, which undercut the network of personal loyalties rooted in elites and personal connections, the army retained one exceptional virtue, promoting recruits based on merit rather than background or who they knew. The downside was that the myth of the army as the egalitarian guarantor, of promoting social mobility and the provision of opportunity, prevented the development of an equivalent rags to riches American Horatio Alger myth as an inspiration in Egyptian civil society. Further, the norms within the military had not become deeply enough institutionalized by the time Sadat was assassinated and the army once again became more inward-looking at the officer level under Hosni Mubarak. In my current interpretation, Morsi’s overthrow was not just because of the deep historical antipathy between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, but because Morsi wanted to obtain the traditional all-powerful role in Egypt as the truly titular leader. Abdul, like Morsi, had not served in the army; he too learned his lessons about the centralization of power by the Egyptian army in the seventies the hard way.

I learned a third lesson, the limited power of that all-powerful army. With respect to that self-sufficiency, the Egyptian army was the most powerful factor in the Egyptian economy. When Abdul was Finance Minister, he introduced reforms that utilized the army’s huge share of public resources to make the military responsible in the last six months of military service for a soldier acquiring a skill which he could use when rejoining civil society. On the other hand, because those approximately 600,000 troops at the time were overwhelmingly stationed at or near Al Nasr City between Cairo and the Suez Canal in preponderant military municipalities, the army was not well equipped nor trained to keep internal order within Egypt. Hence the need for the Central Security Forces. He who controlled those forces, not the army, he told me, controlled Egypt, though the head of those forces always came from the army.

Fourth, when Abdul became Finance Minister, the army consumed about 25% of public state revenues. His economic reforms were intended to reduce that proportion and free the economy both from the overwhelming weight of the army as well as centralized Soviet-style planning and control. Instead, because of preparations and expenditures for the war against Israel, expenditures over which he had absolutely no control, that percentage increased to as much as 70% at one point, creating the huge financial crisis which was eventually used to get rid of him.

Fifth, the military was not just an army but a way of life that instilled civic identity, loyalty, a sense of responsibility, a familiarity with new technology and skills to make a success in civil society. It was thus the only real competitor on the national level to the Islamic religion which, however, lacked the modernizing abilities of the army. The army’s first priority had always been to defend and enhance that role.
Sixth, I learned how the army always made civilians the carriers of responsibility for failure. Sadat, an army man through and through, always reverted to army control in the face of a crisis, but took credit for successes even when initiated by civilians. Even though Sadat, after he came to power, had tried to civilianize his cabinet even more than Nasser had after the debacle of the Six Day War, and even subsequently to reintroduce political parties, whenever a great initiative was taken, civilian members of the cabinet were excluded. Whenever a crisis occurred, civilian member in the cabinet were put on a sacrificial pyre. After Abdul left office as Prime Minister, on the groundwork he had laid, Egypt joined with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to develop a weapons manufacturing self-sufficiency using both Gulf wealth – a billion dollars a year – and Egyptian manpower. However, that move had the unintended effect of further entrenching the army as the economic engine of the state, even after the Gulf States threw Egypt out of the Arab League following Sadat’s peace with Israel. The Gulf States canceled the military cooperation arrangements.

Only in the late 1970s did the reforms Abdul set in place reduce the enormous parasitical role of the army on Egyptian civil society, at least until Sadat was assassinated, after which Mubarak worked to restore the army’s pre-eminent place in the economic life of Egyptians through the appointment of Abu Ghazala as the dominant Defence Minister. In spite of the army’s voracious appetite for the profits of civil society – Abu Ghazala had sold off the army’s ownership of public lands to enhance the army’s role in the economy – and the personal kleptocratic interests of army officers, by then it was too late to close the barn doors. A foundation for a thriving civil society had been created of which Abdul felt very proud.

Seventh, the army’s power was limited in two other ways, by the power of the street and the power of the paramilitary Central Security Forces. Because of the tensions between the army’s cut of the economy and the need for financial reforms, Sadat, on Abdul’s recommendation, had removed food subsidies. They were then reinstated in 1974 in the face of popular protests. Further, when people on the street demonstrated, the army did not intervene because it was not in a position to do so. The Central Security Forces (CSF) were. That is why it is the control and use of that force, rather than the army itself, that is so critical to understanding Egypt. The CSF is also used to control ordinary soldiers if they dare challenge their senior officers, even though the army is upheld as the ultimate safeguard for order and good government in the nation and controls the economy. Unless that dynamic between the army as an economic behemoth as well as a cultural icon, and the CSF as an internal security apparatus, is understood, one cannot understand Egypt or the contradiction between a constitution which, on the books, guarantees civilian control of the political life of Egypt, and the reality of the course of Egyptian history since WWII and the overthrow of King Farouk by the free officers. All change in Egypt comes from above. It just depends on who the “Above” is which shifts from time to time. Or so I was instructed.

Eighth, I learned about Abdul’s perspective on the Palestinians. Sadat had been at war with the Palestinians as well as the army officers who opposed him and his policies. When Arafat became leader, first of Fatah and then of the PLO, Sadat saw him merely as another Egyptian upstart searching for a political base of his own over which he could become a Pharaoh. After all, Arafat was born in Cairo and only went to Palestine to live with his mother’s brother from the age of four to eight after his mother died. Arafat’s father, Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, was an Egyptian who had lived in Gaza when he met Arafat’s mother. Arafat went to live with his father again at the age of eight, but he evidently hated his step-mother and his father even more.
Arafat decided very early, Abdul told me, to make another al-Husseini his true spiritual father, an ardent anti-Zionist, Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem who had stridently opposed the settlement of Jews in Palestine from the twenties to the forties. Arafat became active in the Palestinian cause as an arms smuggler when he was seventeen, but an Egyptian army officer confiscated his weapons at one point in 1948. The enmity between himself and Egypt, especially the Egyptian army, never abated when he left Egypt for Eastern Europe to get a higher education and an engineering degree.

Arafat co-founded Fatah and then became chair of the PLO in 1964 with the aim of eliminating Israel. Egypt did not allow him to use Egyptian soil to raid Israel so he established his political base in Syria and Jordan and achieved notoriety when, in March 1968, his guerilla force had a frontal confrontation with Israeli army units and managed to kill as many as thirty Israeli soldiers even though it was at the cost of 150 Palestinian guerilla lives. Abdul told me that it was important to understand Arafat’s roots and the path of his career to comprehend the pan-Arab sense of his mission, of which Palestinian nationalism was only a part, and the PLO covenant seeking total liberation of Palestine that only allowed Jews born in or descended from Jews living in Palestine before 1896 to remain in a free Palestine. That justified the series of terrorist attacks by Palestinians against civilians. The return of all refugees to Israel and the creation of a Palestinian secular and democratic state became the twin mantra of the PLO but, according to Abdul, Arafat would never make a deal if that agreement was not just an interim step in the quest to eliminate Israel. For me, that is the only explanation in understanding why Arafat rejected Barak’s most generous offer at Taba for peace. Hence, although I disagree with the right in Israel and their intention to deny Palestinians a state of their own, their deep suspicions of Palestinian leadership intentions may be warranted.

After the battle with the Israeli army in 1968 and the increasing use of Jordan as a base for raids against Israel, when a state within a state was being created in Jordan, King Hussein launched Black September on the sixth of that month in 1970, expelling the militant Palestinians to Lebanon. That action was backed up by both Israel and Egypt but not Syria. The Palestinians tried to repeat their successes and eventually drew Israel into the 1982 Lebanon invasion.

Success followed success for the PLO to the horror of Egypt at that time. Nevertheless, in 1973, Arab states, including both Jordan and Egypt, recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. In 1974, Arafat was the first non-state representative to address the United nations General Assembly, and he did so with a gun in his waistband. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution with the support of Eastern bloc, Islamic and non-aligned states, a resolution that was not rescinded until 1991. Egypt and Jordan supported the PLO rhetorically as both countries tried to control that polity lest the threat become focused on them instead of Israel. At the same time, Egypt was determined to make peace with Israel after the Yom Kippur War and regain its lost territories. But it adamantly refused to re-establish its administration over the Gaza Strip.

So my final lesson from Abdul was that you should not confuse public rhetoric and words in the Arab world with beliefs. The two may be totally at odds unlike the West, which he deeply admired, where the governing rule was that you should say what you mean and mean what you say, even when Western politicians often fail to follow that norm. In the world of business and economics, to which he really belonged, a man’s word was a pledge, entirely to be trusted. In the world of power, however, a man’s word was just a gesture and often a disguise to hide true intentions.

As a current example of such disinformation, in early December of this year, during the Presidential Palace trial in which Morsi and 14 other prominent Islamist leaders are accused of inciting the murder of protesters during clashes outside the Itihadeya Palace in December 2012, evidently, according to the pro-Morsi satellite channel, Mekamelin, Morsi is being held in a maximum security navy prison in Abu Qir and not in a civilian detention facility, contrary to both the law and the information given out by the army about Morsi’s detention.

Abdul Hegazi was a wise and wonderful man. He was a memorable teacher and any false lessons learned are a result of my poor memory, not his analysis.