The Right to Leave – Exodus 9:13 – 11:10

The Right to Leave – Exodus 9:13 – 11:10

by

Howard Adelman

There are four plagues more, the three cosmological plagues (hail, locusts and darkness) and then the plague of the first born. The last three follow the rhythmic pattern of the first six in a 2:1 ratio – two plagues with warnings and a third without any prior announcement. And what plagues! What drama! For the battle now centres so much more clearly on a determined God with an outstretched arm and a powerful hand versus a stubborn Pharaoh unwilling to give way to God’s will, even if, by then, it is clear that he and the gods behind him are no match for YHWH. Resistance now becomes clearly an act of self-destruction.

Recall what this and the past parshah are all about. They are about the right to leave – not to stay, not to return, but to leave. The right to stay is about security. The right to return is about identity. But the right to leave is truly about freedom. The battle between the God of the Israelites and the gods of Egypt had now become a cosmic battle for the whole world to observe, the battle for freedom, the battle over the right to leave, the battle to leave one sovereign realm and live under another. The fight is over the right to emigrate.

I quoted the first verse of the American Black spiritual last time. I begin with the second verse this time.

“Thus spake the Lord,” bold Moses said:

Let my people go.

If not I’ll smite your first-born dead,

Let my people go.

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt land,

Tell ole Pharaoh to let my people go.

O let my people go.”

If the issue was the freedom to leave, why was it cast as a “request”? Why did the Israelites need Pharaoh’s permission? Or was this not about Pharaoh’s permission at all, but about Pharaoh’s action. “Get out of my way,” saith the Lord. “Get out of our way.” Stop intervening. It was “let,” not in the sense of permission, but in the sense of stop being an obstacle. Further, it was not about gaining freedom after one left. For the point of God insisting that the Israelites be let go, was so that they could worship God (9:13) It was exchanging one form of bondage to the Pharaoh to a new form of bondage to God. How can bondage in one sphere be slavery but in another sphere be freedom?

God says to Pharaoh, I could have committed genocide. I could have wiped all the Egyptians off the face of the earth with a disease. (9:15) But if you are eliminated, you would not be around to extoll my name, to extoll me as the One, the most powerful God. It was not enough to have the Israelites bound to me by a covenant, but I need the Egyptians to give me recognition though not obeisance, “so my fame can resound throughout the world.” ((9:16) And God warns Pharaoh. Get everyone inside, all your people and all your animals. For if they remain outside, they will surely die from the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen upon Egypt.

So a distinction was made between those Egyptians who feared God and went inside and took their animals with them and those who scoffed at and ignored the threat only to die in a hail of hail the next day along with thunder and lightning. One cannot read the words but imagine how spectacular a storm it had to have been. This was a battle between the god of thunder of the Egyptians, the god that symbolized force of arms and the ability to exercise that coercive power. God was taking on the equivalent of Indras (Hinduism), Zeus in Greek mythology, Jupiter in Rome, Perun in Eastern Europe, the son of Odin among the Norse of the north. The god this time was the head of all the armed forces, the commander-in-chief of the might of a nation. This was the god of weather, the god of storms.

In Egypt, God was now challenging Montu (mntw), the Egyptian war-god, the falcon-headed being with a human body but also with a head of a bull as well as of a falcon, for Montu was headstrong and bullheaded. Montu did not strategize. Montu simply plunged forth when a red flag was waved before him. He charged before he thought. Montu knew nothing about strategic thinking let alone diplomacy. When Montu was falcon-headed topped by a sun disc, tall abstract plumes of gold rose straight up from above the disc. This was not a symbol of thought or reflection, but of a burning sun and the rays given off. This was a symbol of certainty, of conviction. But when Montu was a bull, his face was black rather than red with rage even though he had a white body. He was indeed, as Egyptian generals were known, a Mighty Bull, something even more ominous than a mad-dog.

This was a battle of true titans for all peoples to record and hear and witness. How does Pharaoh react after the hailstorm? He pleads guilty. He confesses he has been in the wrong. ((9:27) I and my people have been in the wrong. So Moses replied that he would stop the hail storm, stop the thunder and the lightning and clearly establish that Montu was all temporary flash but was now impotent. Moses also said that he would do this even though he knew full well that deep in his heart Pharaoh still did not stand in fear of the Lord, that his courtiers too did not accept God’s awesome power. “So Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he would not let the Israelites go, just as God had foretold through Moses.” (9:35) Both God and Moses knew that Pharaoh was acting in bad faith.

Moses once again went to Pharaoh and conveyed God’s message: “Let my people go so that they might worship Me,” (10:3) and he could have added, and, “not you and your gods.” This was a battle not simply for survival, but for recognition. It is not enough that God remove you as an obstacle, but you, Pharaoh, must remove yourself; you must recognize the Lord as the most powerful God.

The eighth plague sent was of locusts –  – in Egyptian hieroglyphics. These were not the lice or sandflies, symbols of tenacity and courage sent in the first set of plagues. Locusts filled the sky, and, unlike the hail, invaded all the houses, got into the clothing of all the Egyptians, quite aside from destroying all the crops that remained. Locusts took over heaven and earth. Ramses II depicted the armies of Hittites as locusts, for they “covered the mountains and valleys and were like locusts in their multitude.” Locusts were the only insects using the power of numbers that could block the all-powerful sun. “Someone flies up, I fly up from you, O! men; I am not for the earth, I am for the sky. O! you local god of mine, my double is beside you, for I have soared to the sky as a heron, I have kissed the sky as a falcon, I have reached the sky as a locust which hides the sun.” (Ancient Pyramid Text) The falcon, Montu, could reach the sky, but locusts could block the sun.

You, Pharaoh, are blocking the way of my people, are preventing the Israelites from going forth and worshipping Me. Montu was represented as a nomad. The full story of Exodus was being adumbrated. For though the Israelites would spend forty years in the wilderness as nomads, that was not their destiny. They would build cities and become the centre of a civilization. Divine power would rule on earth and not just shine forth from heaven above.

The Pharaoh’s courtiers had now become convinced. But not Pharaoh. He would concede to let some go. Moses and Aaron were asked to choose. (10:8) But Moses replied, “We will all go.” We all must go to worship out Lord. The action of the entire community was a precondition of exit. But once again Pharaoh grew stubborn. The men could go, all the men, but the women and children must remain. Without warning came the ninth plague, no longer just hail accompanied by thunder and lightning, no longer locusts that would block the sun while invading every crevice on earth, The ninth plague was darkness, not simply blocking the sun, but total blackness, God had taken the Egyptians back to Genesis when darkness covered the face of the earth, before God said, “Let there be light.” For there was no light, no light at all, not the sun nor the moon nor the stars. Only all-encompassing blackness, a darkness so black it could not be seen but only felt and touched. “But the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.” (10:23)

How was this possible? Why was the light that shone in Goshen not reflected even faintly in the night sky as when we look towards a city in the far distance and see how it has somewhat lightened the heavens to a small degree? Pharaoh in the face of this darkness once again conceded. He would not simply let some of the men go. He would not simply let all of the men go. He would let all the people go, but not their flocks and their herds. The domestic animals of the Israelites had to be left behind. Pharaoh still had not learned his lesson. Pharaoh still wanted to bargain, still wanted to make a deal, when the whole issue was that God had made a covenant with the Israelites and that is the only covenant that counted. Pharaoh, enraged when Moses would not negotiate, took the part of God. “Take care not to see me again, for the moment you look upon my face you shall die.” (10:28)

Pharaoh was not the Lord. Moses did not die. But Moses never saw Pharaoh again. The all powerful war over recognition was about to be won. Only God would be recognized as the supreme ruler over the Israelites. The Israelites would freely choose to be in bondage to God and grant no ultimate and absolute fealty to any sovereign on earth, would grant fealty, but only when the covenant that the Israelites had with their God was recognized. Israelites would always live in the diaspora with a dual loyalty.

God had one more plague up his sleeve, a plague that would convert the Egyptians, temporarily at least, from an obstacle blocking the right to leave into a driving force of ethnic cleansing to expunge the Israelites from Egypt’s land. The very instrument of stoppage would become the means of setting forth the Israelites as a flood heading into the desert. Not only will you leave with your herds and your flocks, but each Israelite will be instructed to maximize their credit limits, to borrow all the silver and gold they could but renege on any responsibility to repay. The Egyptians would be left bankrupt.

Pharaoh’s order to kill the first-born of every Israelite had been thwarted, had been sabotaged by two of his own, by two midwives who subverted his orders. Now that order would come full circle and the first-born of the Egyptians would be the target. It was not sufficient that the Israelites escaped. Pharaoh had to pursue them in their escape, to at least recover the wealth that the Israelites took with them, and be drowned in the effort to recover that wealth.

But that is for another parshah. This parshah is ultimately about the defeat and death of primogeniture among the Israelites. The tales of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been about second-born sons winning over first-borns. This defeat marked the death of the principle of primogeniture altogether. For henceforth, merit and aptitude would count in leadership and not the order of birth. And in doing so, the Israelites would inherit the double portion, the wealth of the Egyptians as well as their own wealth. Jacob’s tricking Esau out of his birthright was but a sign of what was to come. Thus, an upstart nation would henceforth steal the birthright of a civilization that had already lasted several millennia. Israel, God’s later-born, would take the place as God’s firstborn. And the Israelites would move from bondage to a human-god to a God who would gradually become humanized, a God of wrath and coercive power who would become a God of mercy and influence.

To live under the sovereignty of influence rather than coercive power would be the route to full freedom for the Israelites and for all of humanity. And it is a route that is not established between one individual dedicated to service to the authority of influence rather than coercion, but of a whole community, a whole society. For without that collective commitment to this process of revelation, there is no individual freedom. I cannot be free, you cannot be free, we cannot be free unless we worship the same God, a God that in the days of the Israelites in Egypt who was a God of coercive power but over time revealed Himself to be a God of influence, a God of dialogue and discourse rather than commandments from on high.

But it was through coercion that the community came to be in the first place. The freedom of the individual, the freedom to think and choose and believe and express oneself, are all dependent and conditional upon the prior existence of such a collective covenant. The freedom of the autonomous self is not a condition of democracy, of the modern enlightenment world. Rather the modern enlightenment world, the world of a nation-state that grants freedom to the individual, is the primary precondition.

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VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

by

Howard Adelman

When Samantha was appointed to chair President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up to actually prevent mass atrocities and genocide as a core U.S. national security interest and foreign affairs responsibility, the cheerleaders for R2P jumped with joy, “At last,” they screamed, “Something will be done about preventing, or, at the very least, mitigating mass atrocities.” Indeed, Samantha Power credited the administration with “an unprecedented record of actions taken to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable.” In reality, the false claim of credit and the inability to mitigate let alone prevent atrocities are two sides of the same coin.

What were these claimed unprecedented actions and accomplishments? And did they have anything to do with the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)?

In the next series of blogs, I will take up a number of specific issues on which Samantha Power at one time or another claimed credit was due to the administration for “an unprecedented record of accomplishment”. I will see what if any connection there is to R2P and briefly deal with the claims made and whether any credit is warranted in a number of specific cases. Of necessity, I will have to be very brief and succinct on each crisis. Before undertaking the specific case study analysis, including Darfur, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Myanmar, I want to raise a number of general faults with R2P and then offer two individual cases – of accountability rather than prevention or intervention as illustrations.

As I will try to show in the case studies, when R2P is actually applied to protect populations in peril, such as the Yazidis in Iraq, the motivation has little to do with protecting that very endangered population. And when protecting an actual population as the real aim, as in Libya, the course of events set in motion by the intervention seems to make the situation go awry leading seemingly to many more deaths and atrocities than might otherwise have been the case. When protection or mitigation actually seem possible and could be effective, as in repressing and even eliminating Boko Haram in Nigeria, the conditions for its application are undermined. All of this will emerge in the case study analysis. In this blog, I offer some theoretical reasons why R2P is inherently bankrupt and why this will always be the case. R2P was not only stillborn when the UN endorsed the doctrine universally by effectively gutting its core premise of making sovereignty conditional instead of absolute, but was sterile at its conceptual birth. The genetics of the doctrine doomed it to crashing.

If the dialectics of the analysis of the theory bothers or deters you, wait until you can read the case study analysis. Alternatively, you can skip this blog and go to a second I will write this morning, a brief review of the movie, The Foxcatcher, a movie that presents, but does not go into the mind of a sociopath who could commit mass atrocities.

Part of the problem with R2P is the difficulty of application – the greater the challenges in figuring how to apply the doctrine, the more worthless it appears to become. For its credit depends upon use, but without a proper line of credit, it turns out to be useless, hence contributing to its increasing loss of credibility. And the more it is not used, the more worthless it appears to be. However, these are but the manifestations of the root conceptual flaws in the doctrine. Let’s start with the central premise of the relationship between the sovereign state and its citizens.

In liberal democratic theory, the governors of a state are responsible for its citizenry and accountable to that citizenry for carrying out a state’s responsibilities. ‘Responsibility for’ and ‘accountability to’ are the two intertwined dialectical links between a population and its government. But in R2P, if a state fails in its prime responsibility of protecting its citizens, that responsibility function shifts to the international community which substitutes its own authority for that of the state. State authority is no longer absolute but conditional upon its exercise and removable with failure. The state is reduced to a trustee of the international community. And that international authority that takes over the responsibility for the citizenry is not responsible to that citizenry. So R2P only works if it undermines the principle of democracy. More importantly, when it does not work – which as I will show is the norm – then responsibility itself becomes emptied of any meaning, thereby even more fundamentally undermining the doctrine of responsibility for and to the people.

If we approach the conceptual issue, not from the nature of a democratic state, that is, the collectivity, but from the other pole of the equation in R2P, the rights of a citizen to protection, we get into another dilemma. Citizens not only have rights of free speech, rights of assembly and the other traditional rights necessary for the preservation and enhancement of a democratic polity, but they have a right not to be subject to mass atrocities. This is not just a right not to be tortured or a right to a fair trial or a right to legal representation. The latter are all rights that belong to the individual in a democratic polity. What we have in this case is a collective right, that is, a right of a community within a polity to continue its existence as a community; if the state denies that right by either trying to evict the community to which an individual belongs (ethnic cleansing) or goes even further and tries assiduously to exterminate that group in whole or in part (genocide), then the only way prevention or mitigation can be effected is by granting a group rights. Inherently, however, this puts limitations on individual rights rather than enhancing them.

If an individual has all of the liberal rights, why does he need to be recognized as a member of a group with collective rights? Where is the added value of the collective right to the individual qua individual? Further, one of the paradoxes at the root of the conception of the nation-state is that when a collection of individuals contract among themselves as individuals to transfer all coercive power to the state on condition that their rights are protected, those rights do not include group rights.

The compact between the individuals and the state goes further. The rights to determine who belongs to the state, that is, who can be its members, is transferred to the state. So if a state wants to abrogate the rights of a group, the only way to protect those rights is to insist they belong to every individual member of the state. But group rights only belong to a group and its members within the state, not to all members of the state itself. So if groups within a state are to have specific group rights – such as aboriginal peoples within Canada concerning the rights of a community to exclude non-aboriginal members or revoke the rights of individuals in that group when they marry non-aboriginals – then it is the group, not the state who defines who is a member of that group. If the state assumes responsibility for that decision – as was done in the Holocaust, in the Rwanda genocide and in some cases of aboriginal rights -, then the very idea of a self-perpetuating collectivity with rights within the state is undermined. The fact is, the issue of collective rights is the Achilles heel of a democratic liberal state. Insisting that a state cannot mistreat any of its minorities and, if it does, the collectivity of all states will take over the responsibility, means only that the irresponsibility only gets writ large and exposed for what it is.

So what has actually happened? The Obama regime has sincerely bought into the principle that the U.S. does have a responsibility when minorities are persecuted. And, unlike the United Nations, it is not just a rhetorical buy-in. As stated above, Obama issued a directive that “the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest of the United States.” But then the most powerful state in the world showed that it could not possibly implement that responsibility – not only for all the minorities being afflicted with atrocities, but surprisingly, not one single one – except when the real and deep motivation is the old fashioned self-interest of the state.

So the issue is not even which group, among all those persecuted, a state should protect. Nor is the issue simply when to apply the doctrine of protection, let alone adopt the last resort of coercive intervention. The inherent incapacity of the most powerful state to protect any group outside its own jurisdiction based on R2P, which requires collective authorization via the United Nations before any action based on R2P is legitimized, undermines both the sovereignty of the state as well as the potency of that sovereignty. Does the endorsement by the UN authorizing military force help, as when the U.N. Security Council authorized military force to protect “civilians and civilian-populated areas” in Libya? R2P does offer permission to a state to act on behalf of the international community, which may provide temporary protection and which can prevent some murders from proceeding, but what happens next? Unless the intervening state or group of states is willing to assume full responsibility for those endangered citizens and not simply provide protection in an acute crisis, then the violence simply recurs in a different form.

Further, if a country decides to become involved, the intervener has to either take full control (unlikely) or to support one side in the struggle, presumably representing those persecuted. Then the persecuted are empowered to destroy their enemies – which inherently means the other side, the persecutors. They take control and sometimes even become the persecutors. Those states which have an interest against that group that have gained power become highly critical of the intervening state as behaving like an imperial power, not as a saviour of minorities. The intervener is no longer the representative of the world community, but only a section of it intent on victory. R2P just becomes a cover for an exercise in imperial power. At the same time, the intervener becomes a producer of victims as well as a protector of victims.

One result is that altruism is depreciated and devalued. Force in the service of altruism is an oxymoron. What is more, the altruism only seems to work when it is intermixed with the self-interest of the intervening state that drives the intervener to assume the full responsibility required to complete the task at hand. Of course, that only further undermines the moral status of R2P. Since the ostensible success, protecting civilians, is difficult to assess and measure, but the body counts, the civilians killed, those wounded as “collateral damage,” are quantifiable – the empirical evidence seems evident for all to see. The cure may be worse than the disease.

What is more, when a state assumes the responsibility for its members, for its citizens, this is an ongoing and continuing duty, not one that ever ends. But intervention inherently demands and requires an exit. Yet there never is an appropriate time to leave by the very nature of the problem. In reality, an intervener leaves when the government of the state within which the intervention takes place insists once again on assuming responsibility, thereby both undermining the R2P doctrine, which is based on the presumption that the will of an individual state is trumped by that of the international community.

Further, the resentment and internal discord within the intervening state are enhanced. A state assumes responsibility for its own citizens, not in gratitude for the “international” community acting as a temporary protector, but because the country has become tired and even resentful of the so-called protector. On the other side, the citizens of the intervener sooner rather than later grow tired of the burden and resentful in turn of the lack of appreciation of those who they sacrificed to protect. Alternatively, the situation gets worse, and the intervener is required to increase its commitment, the self-sacrifice of its citizens and the cost of its project, which in turn enhances the resentment of at least part of the citizenry of the intervening state and exacerbates the divisions and schisms within.

As we shall see, none of these paradoxes and dilemmas has even touched the problem that neither the strongest state in the world and certainly not the international community can possibly assume the responsibility for even a small portion of the atrocities taking place in various parts of the world. So the international community and the intervening state(s) come across as hypocrites incapable of living up to the promises they have ostensibly made.

One of the results of all these inherent failures is a propensity to boast about relatively tiny and insignificant accomplishments, even when one had hardly anything to do with responsibility for them. Before I begin the series of case study analyses, let me offer an example of one case that is neither about prevention nor intervention, but about accountability. The Obama administration supported the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić and boasted about it. What did that support amount to?

Samantha claimed this credit among a long list justifying her successes as the chair of President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up in 2011. It is true that the R2P doctrine is not only about prevention, but also includes punishment of those guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide. But that is not what is novel about R2P. As President Obama said himself on 2 April 2013 upon learning of the arrest of the Butcher of Bosnia, Ratko Mladić: “Fifteen years ago, Ratko Mladić ordered the systematic execution of some 8,000 unarmed men and boys in Srebrenica. Today, he is behind bars. I applaud President Tadic and the Government of Serbia on their determined efforts to ensure that Mladić was found and that he faces justice. We look forward to his expeditious transfer to The Hague…From Nuremberg to the present, the United States has long viewed justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as both a moral imperative and an essential element of stability and peace. In Bosnia, the United States – our troops and our diplomats – led the international effort to end ethnic cleansing and bring a lasting peace. On this important day, we recommit ourselves to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and to working to prevent future atrocities. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide will not escape judgment.”

That is a fair and judicious statement. Obama gave credit where credit was due for the arrest – to President Tadic and the Government of Serbia that first gradually asserted control over the Serbian military. The effort was helped both by EU pressure requiring the arrest of the wanted war criminals as a condition for the entry of Serbia into the EU and the British military and British politicians, particularly Paddy Ashdown when United Nations High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004. Obama did not link the arrest with R2P, but with a long American bipartisan tradition going back to the Nuremberg trials after WWII. He also gave credit to the Clinton administration for its leading role in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia and for forging the peace agreement. The only credit he gave his own administration was for a recommitment to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and his government’s work to prevent future atrocities. None of this had anything to do with the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić.

Even the rewards offered for information leading to his arrest, initially €1 million by the Serbian government, upped in 2010 to €10 million, and $5 million dollars offered by the American government, subsequently supplemented by an offer of €1 million by the U.S. embassy in Belgrade just for information on his location, had nothing to do with those arrests. Initially Mladić was protected by the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska, then after 2002 by the Serbian army and the army of Republika Srpska, then by paramilitary extremist organizations similar to the ones that helped Nazi war criminals escape Germany after WWII, and finally only by members of his own family. Neither strenuous UN and NATO efforts nor offers of bounties led to his arrest – just good police work and serendipity.

Goran Hadžić was the last fugitive war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and he was arrested by Serbian police just over a month after Ratko Mladić near the village of Krušedol, where he had been hiding since his indictment by the ICTY. He had tried to sell a stolen Modigliani painting and police tracked him down. America had no more to do with this arrest than with the capture of Ratko Mladić. President Obama’s statement on Goran Hadžić’s arrest was in the same vein as the previous one, with one exception. “Over the course of its 18-year history, the United States has been and remains a steadfast supporter of the ICTY and its critically important work.” A smidgeon of credit was taken for supporting the ICTY. Was this what Samantha Power was declaring as an example of an “unprecedented action”?

My country may have been the sponsor and midwife of R2P. I continue to believe in military intervention – when possible and when needed. But the overarching doctrine supposedly providing a rationale for such actions is a far greater hindrance than help. It is much better to establish practices than to proceed from an abstract principle, especially one so terribly flawed.

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

by

Howard Adelman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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