When They Attack
We have to do some hard thinking regarding the structure and the circumstances pertaining to several recent international crises. The United States exercises its imperial hegemony by attacking relatively reactionary political forces, which are often enough, with full justification, in considerable disrepute. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are two examples. Recently the Palestinian Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are another case in point.
The first comment regarding this phenomenon is historical. Saddam, the Taliban and Hamas, despite overwhelming disparities in most respects, have the honor of having served U.S. imperial interests in critical battles of the past. Saddam, very far from any kind of religious fundamentalism, was part of the U.S. network against Iran. Islamic fundamentalism became a major force in the Middle East region on the basis of the sponsorship and financial backing from the pro-U.S. rulers of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was, of course, greatly strengthened by super profits accumulated during the oil crisis dating from the early seventies. Osama Bin Laden, presently wanted by the US, began his career as one of the CIA operatives in Afghanistan in the battle to eradicate Soviet influence.
The conflicts in the East are basically battles of the United States against political elements, which served it in the past, in one form or another, in the struggle against the Soviet Union. On the more local level, Islamic fundamentalism played an ideological role against ‘atheistic communism’ and then appeared with fat bankrolls to extend material succor to the poor and suffering masses.
The basic pattern is to turn on former underlings. The ideological cover for aggression is supplied by the disreputable status of the victims.One cannot suggest any serious ideological basis for the clash between the U.S. and the victims of its aggression. The metaphor that suggests itself is the Mafia settling accounts with local or regional operatives who wished to challenge the division of spoils one way or another. The exercise of hegemony by U.S. imperialism is thus facilitated by the fact that it can claim to be acting against a repressive and reactionary regime. The shady character of the object of U.S. aggression is an important factor in creating the difficulty experienced by the democratic forces in trying to mount a political and ideological struggle against U.S. actions.
Thus, we argue, there is a distinction between the form in which U.S. hegemony is exercised and its content. The form suggests a battle between a modern, enlightened society and backward, fundamentalist and or dictatorial regimes. This enables the hegemonic power to claim that it is fighting for democratic values and for a free society. It is highly difficult to develop opposition and protest against an aggressor when the victim appears to be ‘just as bad’ or even worse than the aggressor. The content of the battle is a contest between two reactionary forces in which the strong one exercises global hegemony to enforce its standing as the sole super power maintaining the new world order.
Bush Just Loves Sharon
As the United States moved into confrontation with the Islamic world and the Arab countries as a result of its decision to unleash massive force to depose by military force a ruling government in Afghanistan, it was quite logical that it would re-examine its policies on major issues in this part of the world. The basic U.S. position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Arab) conflict has been that a peaceful solution must be found that would accommodate the just national demands of both Israelis and the Arab side. It is also true that the United States had an open, special relation with Israel as a trusted and dependable ally. The US tried to bridge the contradiction by assuming the role of an honest broker despite its special relation with Israel. The logic for this policy was very strong. The United States wished to prove that its friendship to Israel was not necessarily an impediment to positively developing and deepening its relations with the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. The question was how to make peace and in what conditions.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its current phase involves the violent repression and mass suffering of more than three million Palestinian Arabs. A very good case can be made for the thesis that it is in the clear and manifest U.S. interest to take immediate steps to ensure that the stark reality and the poignant images of the suffering of the Palestinians would not provide its enemies or detractors of clear evidence that the United States was once again flaunting its indifference to Arab-Moslem feelings and sensitivities. If any thought, in this direction, occurred to the Washington thinking, it was blocked by Sharon’s adamant refusal to assist the United States in this endeavor and decimated when the United States decided that terror was the immediate cause and main challenge to the solution of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not one of the results of the long festering, stale-mated peace process. The decision to locate the current obstacle to peace in Arafat’s inability to control Palestinian terror meant that the United States was unreservedly backing Sharon’s policy of applying more and more military pressure against the mainly civilian Palestinian population under occupation.
From a side in the U.S. sponsored peace process, the Palestinian Authority was relegated to Taliban status as a force harboring and encouraging terror. Sharon and Bush were a bit kinder to Arafat in that they gave him a bit more time to surrender his El Kaida.
On A Roll
The immediate reason for Bush’s total support to Sharon stems more than anything else, in this stage of affairs, from the tendency of Washington to believe its own Afghanistan born rhetoric. The current thought process in Washington, bordering on some sort of delirious euphoria, is that the U.S. has found a sure-fire formula to run the globe more efficiently. Countries, one and all, are to be put on notice, that they are going to receive an assignment to eliminate some or other inconvenient political force. If they refuse, they will be designated as countries harboring and abetting terror. They will be tora-bora-ized sooner or later.
The concrete expression of the Washingtonian frenzy is this game played in high circles of ‘whose next?’ : The current DC discourse goes something like this: ‘We have unsettled business with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the Iranians have terrorist networks all over the place, Somalia is a haven for all sorts of terror. The Hezballah should be taken out of the equation. Arafat really isn’t trying hard enough. Yemen won’t fool us with symbolic action. The armed Islamic underground in the Philippines is a danger to the region, etc. This is the mood in D.C. It is dangerous. It is a cause for concern. But despite their success so far in Afghanistan, that caper only proves that the United States does not have the resources or the ability to keep up or execute more than one small fraction of its current scheming. This demands an explanation.
Let us suppose that the hawkish conclave in D.C. convinces George W. to hit Iraq. There are immediate, immense problems in building up the case and plotting the move: a) what about the vaunted international coalition against terror? b) What is the local version of the northern alliance? Who will put down the Kurds? And what do we do about the lack of a clear, open provocation, which would convince everyone that we have no choice? Iraq is a bit complicated.
Let’s take care of Hezballah. Beirut is a friendly capital and let us inform them of the danger of harboring terrorists. What, they do not agree that the Hezballah are terrorists? What, they say that they do not have the political or military option of moving against the Hezballah? Why do the experts say that we cannot bomb Beirut, until they understand that they have no choice in the matter?! Perhaps we can use the Israeli’s who have a score to settle with Hezballah. Sharon, already fighting terror, is preparing mass expulsions of Palestinians. Sharon, you say, is hesitant about going back to Lebanon and is busy preparing for our attack on Iraq… So goes the feverish pitch of anti-terror hysterics.
The United States leadership is convinced that it is on a roll like some university football team smashing the defense to pieces. On this roll, sooner or later, and probable sooner, the United States will come to understand that the world is not composed of standard ‘Taliban controlled Afghanistans.’ And, as this dawns on the U.S. administration, it will be have to recognize that all of its allies in the battle against terrorism are running their own terrorist operation on another front. The world is full of ‘Pakistans’, which, aside from helping in Afghanistan to fight terror, are running their own show in Kashmir. This will make it a bit embarrassing for the U.S. to reply to India’s demands for a common front against terror in Kashmir.
We have said nothing of the difficulties of establishing new governments, administrations and stabilizing them, after the United States has disposed of recalcitrant elements which refuse the call up to mobilize their forces in the war against terror! The famous adage that you can do anything with a bayonet except to sit on it applies here.
Despite the relative easiness of the military victory in Afghanistan (where it is rumored that many a ‘defeated’ Taliban and El-Qaida fighter has simply run off so as to fight another day), the military, political and economic effort to win this battle in the war against terror suggests that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain momentum and feed the current frenzy with new ‘glorious’ successes.
The contradictions sketched above, in rudimentary form, are even more complex and intractable in real life. It is in order to at least mention that there other sets of nagging problems at the doorstep of the United States in its role of the hegemonic spearhead of the new world order. The world capitalist system is far from having overcome the pressing signs of global recession. Argentina may not be contagious economically (as it seems, so far). But social and political unrest in a central Latin American nation has all the potential of being very contagious. And so on. The war on terror might have seemed as a panacea which might lighten the burden of Bush, so worthy of respite while he is defending civilization. However, the U.S. unilateral cancellation of the ABM is just another bit of evidence that the world did not change completely on September 11.
Even when it granted Sharon a free hand to destroy Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. stopped short of translating the green light into an official change in its diplomatic position. Enough fine words and nice phrases are still theoretically in place to enable the United States to re-state their position distancing themselves from Sharon’s policies. When the United States discovers (perhaps slowly and with difficulty) the limits of anti-terrorist hysteria, it may well start its long journey back to international political reality in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the U.S. could at least claim that it was unifying the country and democratizing it. If the U.S. continues on this dangerous path with Sharon it will be unable to present any reasonable end product. It will be reduced to receiving ‘credit’ for the success of a rampant Sharon’s ‘campaign against Arab terror’ after he succeeds in turning all of Palestine into a canton of the land of Greater Israel and creating millions of additional refugees. Unlimited U.S. support for Sharon is so improbable and so dangerous for the United States as to suggest that it’s reversal may well serve as a first step in the restoration of some sense to U.S. actions and policy in the region and in general.
Tuesday, December 25, 2001
When They Attack
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Today, November 7th is election day in the United States One almost hesitates to mention that November 7th is a red-letter day for another more momentous reason. On this date, 83 years ago, the workers, peasants and soldiers of Czarist Russia set out on a long and arduous journey to change the face of their society, and ultimately, the very nature of human society. The twists and turns, the successes and failures of the specific path taken in the Soviet Union are, of course, part and parcel of this ‘century of extremes.’
For a brief period the received wisdom was that the return to capitalism in Soviet Russia and its allies would guarantee the joys of middle class existence to the people. After ten years of social decay, criminalization of the economy, and rising mortality rates we learn, according to the Western press, that fifty million children may not survive the hardships of the coming winter. We were earlier informed that the fall of the Soviet system would permit a flowering of the Russian economy by breaking down the artificial barriers to the action of human nature. Now the standard explanation is that it is a question of the right “culture” which it appears is lacking in Moscow, Kiev, Bucharest and other ‘backward’ countries.
At the same time, the lessons of capitalist globalization suggest that suffering and deprivation borne by the vast majority of the people on this planet are not accidental. The phenomena associated with super exploitation, sweatshop labor, uneven exchange, the debt crisis, the rape of the environment and the other international mechanisms that ensure the sway of capital pose the very same question that the people of Russia faced back in 1917. The liberation of society depends on a basic change in the relations of production. In the final analysis it is a question of the ruling system and the interests of the ruling classes.
As we struggle for justice for the Palestinian people and a just peace in the ME, it may be of some use to remember that we are dealing with one of the more stubborn remnants of the colonial system. It is certainly of importance to understand that Israeli military and economic superiority delve from a regional status quo designed to protest the interests of capital and the exploitation of the region for its own selfish needs. These considerations would suggest, that despite current fashion, it is still quite a good idea to reflect on the October revolution and its significance.
Friday, October 19, 2001
The United States recently issued a new list of terrorist organizations. One can assume that this is an initiative of the Candaleezza Rice- Paul Wolkowitz group which does not want to let Bush forget that he has lots and lots of enemies in the Middle East. The cold-war right in the United States remains primarily interested in diverting the war against terror to Iraq in order to settle some old debts and probably to incur some new ones…
It is rather quaint but the Kahana organizations in Israel also appear on the U.S.list which designates them officially as terrorists. If the Kahana (or Kach, as they are presently known) groups are terrorists, why do they openly operate in Israel? They publicly and openly utilize every chance to incite against the Arabs and demand their expulsion from all of Eretz-Yisrael (Palestine). In stickers and signs all over the country they spew their fascist and racist filth. They are also active in settlement centers, expecially Hebron, where spearhead provocations against the local Arab population. The Kach people most probably have links with underground forces that have been murdering local Palestinians, supposedly in reprisal for Palestinian attacks. There have been tens of ‘underground’ attacks by the Jewish ‘underground’ marauders and not a single arrest. One can envisage see the brilliant Israeli anti-terrorist operatives scratching their scalps in despair for not having any leads on the settlement based marauders…”who might be doing all this?.” The only reason that we cannot be 100% certain that these are pure Kach operations is the fact that there so many Jewish, racist settlement-based groupings which are all out to teach the Palestinians a lesson in preparation for the final solution of the Palestinian question.
In video shots on the life and times of (the newly declared) Saint Ghandi, the affectionate army pet name for Mr. Zeevi, we were treated to a collections of shots of the late minister touring the Jewish settlement in Hebron. Every single frame showed Hebron resident Baruch Marzel, one of the more notarious Kach thugs, showing Zeevi around the place.
If you are a terrorist group and you want to know how to live comfortably and avoid the wrath of the government or even signs of its official dispeasure, contact the Kach group and they will tell you how to do it. They are highly visible and apparently totally untouchable, despite the U.S. listing.
Influence in High Places
The current Israeli Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, has trampled every vestige of the democratic principle that holds that the military must stay out of politics and be subservient to the civilian, political arms of the regime. Mofaz, know as the most political CoS that Israeli has ever had, was officially censured just last week by the Minister of Defence, Ben Eliezer, for bucking an explicit cabinet decision to retreat from several recently occupied Hebron hills. The static behind this blow up revealed that Mofaz is in cahoots with former prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and is slated to become Netanyahu’s candidate for Minister of Defence as part of the Netanyahu comeback campaign, based on an attack against Sharon from the right!. All the leaked information – and that’s more reliable than official output here in Israel - shows how Mofaz outhawks the hawks in demands for an all out war to eliminate Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Ha’aretz journalist, Uzi Benziman, reports in his column today that ‘Shimon Peres was heard remarking to one of his aides that the Chief of Staff holds views similar to those of the Kach movement.”
Sunday, July 29, 2001
There are different ways to analyze any political message and event. You can apply a rigorous textual analyses and show how the text or the event reflects the text producers and their production – and if they have a shady past, you will not have any difficulty finding its traces in the text. This is what Yehudit Harel has done and almost everything she says about the document and its Israeli initiators is true. Another method is to look at the event – the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Declaration of Principles (IPJD) in its general and overall political context. Here, we have to ask if the movement is forward, backward, and in short, are we better off if the event had not occurred. I prefer the analysis via the political context.…
The Joint Declaration is a positive event that reflects the weaknesses and the hesitations of the Israeli Zionist doves as a political formation, but at the same time expresses a welcome tendency for that community to come out of a stage of total shock into which it sank after Camp David, the Intifada, the electoral defeat of their leader Ehud Barak. Ehud Barak [and Clinton] did fool them, but now a year after Camp David they are back to square one – returning, shamefacedly and a bit subdued – to the understanding that Israel does have a partner for peace. There are a lot of elements that went into this return to their senses and a lot could be said about how this formation has a tendency to dismiss and delegitimize the Palestinian people and their representatives whenever the going gets tough.
However, Beilin, for example, is an establishment politician who plays a progressive role in Israeli politics today in that he has resisted the right wing groundswell represented by Peres (national unity government under Sharon) and Ben Ami (Arafat is to blame). The IPJD is a product of Beilin’s leadership of the dove formation and the willingness of that formation to recognize its own contribution to the general disorientation after the Barak fiasco. As weak and pale as the IPJD, it signifies forward movement for the dove section of the Israeli establishment.
On the day-to-day political level, I do not want and am unwilling to attack the Palestinian leadership for its efforts to prove to the Israeli public and world opinion that they have not turned their back on peace. The slanders and the libel of the hegemonic Western media have made every effort to portray them in this role for their crime of saying no to Clinton – so as to prove that nobody gets off easy for that kind of transgression. If, as Yehudit Harel senses quite acutely, the Palestinian leadership has renewed a dialog with the moderate sections of the Israeli establishment in an effort to make war a bit more difficult for Shaorn – this is basically an ‘internal’ Palestinian matter of tactics. I do have a few questions of my own for the Palestinian leadership, but they will have to wait. Life is complicated and demands compromises. Peace Now, one of the favorite boogey men of the ultra-militants is holding a demonstration next Saturday in Tel Aviv, under the main slogan: No to an unnecessary war! In the given circumstances, the turn out might be far from what we could hope for. We can boycott the demo, we sure do have a ‘thick file’ on Peace Now. But any responsible activist on the Israeli scene knows that she or he should be there.
Tuesday, June 12, 2001
Dear friends at the English edition of Ha’aretz
You may publish this as an op-ed piece or a letter to the editor. The writer, Reuven Kaminer, is a peace activist in Jerusalem and the author of “The Politics of Protest – the Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada.”
Procedure Must Give Way to Substance
Though seemingly reasonable, diplomatic efforts aimed at getting the sides back to the negotiating table, are doomed to failure. Sharon at the negotiating table would be forced to divest his carefully crafted image as a moderate. It is also highly questionable that any Palestinian leadership could agree to an extended cease-fire and a long cooling off period simply in order to create an opportunity to hear from Sharon directly that Israel is unwilling to return more than 40% of the territories, that it intends to keep all of Jerusalem and more of the same.
It is time for a radically different approach by international diplomacy. The United States, Europe, the UN and other interested parties must work out the contours of a final status solution and the steps that must be taken to reach it. This is less difficult than it sounds since the main contours of any reasonable solution to the conflict have been clear to the international community for quite a while. These include return to the 1967 borders, with a possible exchange of territory to allow Israel to annex many of its settlements over the 1967 border, division of Jerusalem on a demographic basis and a serious effort to solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees, including a degree of repatriation that would not seriously impair the demographic character of Israel as a Jewish state.
Whatever the reasons for the present impasse, people of good will, including Palestinians and Israelis, would accept the logic that the time has come to talk about peace, that is about the final status of the relations between Israel and Palestine. Those international forces engaged once again in an attempt to revive the peace process would be well advised, if they are sincere in their efforts, that the procedural approach which is aimed at getting the two sides to negotiate - has exhausted its potential. The international community, if it seeks and end to the conflict and the tensions in the region, can and must come up with the reasonable and fair solution to the conflict. Certainly, there will be room for diplomacy and tact in implementing the will of the international community and allowing the sides to reposition themselves. But then, and only then, will we be on the path that can avert further violence and an eventual full-scale war in the region.
Wednesday, June 6, 2001
It is hard, almost impossible to exaggerate the role of media gloss in public discourse. In Israel, the media usually pick up on a specific assertion by the government or the establishment and convert it from just another assertion in the daily coverage of events into a statement of fact. The assertion, which has been converted into a virtual article of faith becomes a pivot of public discourse. If there are some poor souls out there who have not interiorized this nugget of truth and hope to participate in the public discourse on the basis of any other interpretation of the recent past, the priests of the media temple have the full right, or even duty, to discontinued any dialogue with the misinformed right then and there. Thus, we are all supposed to know the simple truth that Arafat is to blame for the failure of the peace process, and hence, for the ensuing violence.
Of course the ‘assertion turned axiom’ is steeped in accuracy and built on the sands of baseless assumptions. But the examination of the assumption turned axiom’ takes place, if at all, on the periphery of the more academically inclined observers. Life has a kind tendency to turn many of these ‘articles of faith’ into some sort of sad commentary on the period of their gestation. Remember if you will the assertion/objective truth that Israel’s conquest of the territories after the June 1967 War was the beginning of the most liberal occupation. And the ‘Six-Day War’ is still going on now after 34 years, isn’t it.
There happens to be no dearth of material, accumulating all over the place, that tends to undermine the ‘Arafat is to blame’ dogma. However, going all the way back to the year 2000 to deconstruct and reconstruct the realities of the failures of the Clinton mediation – something that can and must be done – demands too much time and effort from your correspondent who is forever looking for the convenient short cut to his destination. For the purposes of charting a path to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and designating the rather serious obstacles on the way, one does not necessarily have to resort to the historical dimension. Going back, we seem to encounter quite a few narratives, and it appears that we have no shortage in this department at the moment.
Assuming that either Arafat is guilty, or even that there is no simple answer to this kind of question, one must analyze the current political positions of the sides to the conflict to find out where we are.
Negotiate Before, During or After More Death and Destruction
The Palestinian Intifada has shown stunning energy and enthusiasm and even gathered quite a few compliments from their greatest enemies (Sharon: The Palestinians do not ask ‘for how long.’). This kind of staying power has proven that one cannot simply mechanically translate the military and economic relations of power into a diplomatic settlement. The strength of the Palestinian cause stems from the fact that short of a major holocaust (or even after one) the world will have to sit down and listen to Palestinian demands for viable statehood. There are indeed complexities in working out a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But the continuation of the status quo is even less tenable, from any point of view. It is hard to solve the Palestinian problem but it is even harder to continue to hold the idiotic and anachronistic view assumption that the existing arrangement of direct colonial rule, direct military and economic subjugation , can go on for much longer.
Saturday, February 3, 2001
Note to the careful reader: D. tells me that not everyone is capable of understanding the irony or sarcasm in some of my messages. However, if I state that what I am going to say is not simple and straightforward, I will lose most of the effect. Anyway, the following is ironic or sarcastic or something like that. RK
Press item: Fifty percent of Israeli Arab voters will boycott the coming elections. Another twenty five percent are expected to cast a blank ballot. This same public granted Ehud Barak 96% of its votes in the May 1999 elections.
Ethnic Rationalism and Ethnic Emotionalism
I guess that I am sort of lucky. No one in my family or in the family of any of my friends was killed during the Intifada. No one became a permanent invalid. No one was even injured. No one was stopped at a check post. No one suffered from the blockade, the curfew. It’s amazing, isn’t it. Even here, on this side of the Green Line, none of my friends or none of their families were killed or wounded or jailed.Maybe it is because I am a middle-class Israeli Jew.
Fortunately, being a member of this particular socio-economic category and this particular ethnic group helps me to maintain a cool, analytical outlook. We are a highly educated group with a large percentage of academics and as a group we have done pretty well during this last decade of economic expansion. Our children grow and prosper and we are relieved if they are not totally infected by the prevailing chauvinist hysteria. We do not have many friends who have seen their children run, day after day, into the maw of death to throw a stone at heavily armed soldiers..
Since we are in full possession of our analytical and rational faculties we can also understand the emotions of Israeli Palestinians and the reasons that they are unable to vote rationally. We, a bit above the fray, can weigh, analyze, differentiate, calculate, and on the basis of all this, conclude that we must vote for Barak, even though he is immediately and directly responsible for launching and conducting a ‘low-intensity’ war against the Palestinian people. We can also see that this choice is unaffected by our [social economic and ethnic] status, but is a result of the application of pure wisdom.
Therefore, we are going to act rationally and go and vote for the man who is responsible for the descent of our society into racism and chauvinism, we are going tovote for the very same man who has succeeded in disgracing the name of peace, who pushed the two peoples even further apart. We won’t actually say this to the Palestinian citizens in Israel, but we hope that they will ‘get the message:’ Please, be so kind as to overcome your emotions and act as we do with sharp and incisive logic.
* * * *
End of Irony – No more Sarcasm
Sharon is going to win and I am not to blame!
Sharon and Barak are two stages of a single disease. Sharon may represent the worse stage. However once you are infected with the Barak virus, you are going to get the Sharon reaction. You must be careful and alert. The Sharon phase, inevitable after the Barak infection, is dangerous and demands vigilant response. In order to render proper treatment, you must understand the source of the disease and that any attempt to counter it with more Barak is senseless if not dangerous. The chances of an organism to survive and overcome the Sharon stage depends on the number of anti-bodies it has developed in the Barak stage. We must be vigilant and concerned. The dangers are real. However, irrational fear is like, trying to put out a fire with kerosene. Blind fear is the worst of all counselors. Start fighting Sharon and building a united front for peace today.
Who Is Really Concerned About Sharon
The Labor Party doesn’t fear Sharon. Otherwise they would have dumped Barak.Meretz doesn’t fear Sharon, otherwise they would have chosen Peres.Meretz was Barak’s only loyal supporter after the Labor Party had for all practical purposes disappeared from the election battle. Sarid and Co. could have pressured Barak to resign, but they did not fear Sharon that much.Barak doesn’t fear Sharon. He could have reduced Sharon’s chancing of winning. But he refused to resign.
The Left Must Criticize Itself
Meretz and most of the left extended unconditional support to Ehud Barak before and after he was elected. If Meretz had refused to agree to the inclusion of the MAFDAL (the settlers party) unless Barak disbanded a few notorious settlements such as Netzerim, Itamar, Hebron, we might have blocked his abject surrender to the right. Our sad contribution to the present crisis is really our unconditional support. Barak had every right to believe that whatever he did, the peace movement would have to vote for him, for lack of any viable alternative. Once again, we are asked to render unconditional support….
Back to Sarcasm
In summary, rational middle-class Israeli Jews will vote en masse for Barak.Irrational, emotional, childish Israeli Palestinians will give vent to their frustrations and boycott the elections or vote with a blank ballot. There will be a few Jews who will betray their class interests and social obligations and vote as if they were Arabs.
Sunday, January 7, 2001
A number of prominent figures in the Israeli peace movement, many of them prominent leaders in MERETZ and Peace Now, published an appeal to the Palestinian leadership on January 2, 2001. These leaders of the Zionist left considered it urgent to stress that “we shall never be able to agree to the return of the refugees to within the borders of Israel, for the meaning of such a return would be the elimination of the state of Israel.” Furthermore, they declared in the same vein that “the massive return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel would conflict with the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.” (Ha’aretz, January 2, 2001)
The issue of the Palestinian refugee’s right to return on the basis of UN Resolution 194 and the intense current political debate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the subject are seen by many in the peace movement as the stumbling block to the successful conclusion of the current negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The truth is that the intensity of the current diplomatic struggle around the refugee issue and the resulting polarization are the result and not the cause of the demise of the U.S. sponsored peace process. We shall see how this stalemate was engineered.
No Grounds for Despair, No Grounds for Fear
I hope that many of my friends who have recently expressed deep fears and anxiety regarding the refugee issue will be able to understand, in the not too distant future, that the Palestinian authority and any self respecting Palestinian body would have to defend the letter and the spirit of Resolution 194 in the circumstances that developed in the wake of Camp David 2000 and Intifada II. The assumption that the defense of UN Resolution 194 by the Palestinian Authority means that the Palestinians are unwilling to make peace with Israel unless Israel relinquishes it policy and ability to maintain the Jewish nature of the country is fallacious for the following reasons.
Even on the declarative level, responsible Palestinian leaders have always made the distinction between the recognition of the rights of the refugees and the specific mechanisms involved in the implementation of this right. Implementation, as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, would involve a lengthy process based on a mix of international political and financial commitments, repatriation, resettlement, compensation and various checks and balances reflecting Israeli sovereignty. There is no reason to believe that any other process is envisaged by the Palestinian Authority.. This being the case, the morbid fear of many Israeli doves that recognition of UN 194 means that Israel would be inundated and swamped by millions of Palestinian refugees – turning Israel into an additional Arab state - has no basis in reality. The fear is unfounded and its cultivation can only help the enemies of peace to maintain the occupation. There is a neurotic component in this fear that reminds one of the racist anxieties in the West over the impending deluge of the ‘yellow hordes.’ In case you haven’t figured out the scenario of this horror film, here it is: tens of thousands of refugees return to Israel, living in peace with its neighbors. The repatriated refugees are successfully absorbed economically and politically. Then, hundreds of thousands return to Israel and are likewise absorbed in Israel. The former refugees are living in peace with their Israel neighbors, just as Israel is living in peace with the Arab world. And then, all of a sudden (!), the (former) refugees and all the Arab countries, headed by the Palestinian state suddenly declare, gotcha – we fooled you, and unless Israel becomes an Arab state (or a colony of Palestine) and a member of the Arab League, we will declare war and destroy you! In short, the declaration by the leaders of the Zionist left is founded on fear, neurosis, panic - the refugees are coming!!
The Current Impasse
Aside from the rights and the wrongs of the conflict that should never be forgotten, public figures should equip themselves with some understanding of the diplomatic process. In cool and calm scenes that are based on trust and allow for some progress, negotiations work around and through differences of principle in an attempt to create solutions that involve serious amelioration for all concerned. In times of diplomatic crises (when the chances for an agreement narrow) both sides become more ‘principled’ and explain to their constituencies the bad faith of the other side. Since there is, for the time being, no real progress towards peace, Barak seeks to neutralize criticism from the peace movement by pretending that a settlement hinges on unconditional and unqualified Israeli acceptance of UN Resolution 194.
Barak finds it easy to manipulate Israeli public opinion because many in the peace movement hold the belief that the there were informal understandings with the Palestinian leadership that it would be helpful in ‘going easy’ on the refugee issue when and if all other issues had been settled satisfactorily. Even if this view has some foundation in contacts between key Palestinian leaders and sections of the Israeli peace movement, it is clear that these understandings do not apply, and could not apply to the circumstances pertaining to the present stage in negotiations with the Palestinians.
After Barak declared in the wake of the failure to reach an agreement at Camp David that Israeli has no partner for peace, after the brutal, bloody and unsuccessful attempts to suppress the Intifada, after Barak has reaffirmed again and again that he would never give in on sovereignty over the Temple Mount, he proceeded to openly challenge the Palestinians to give in on UN 194 in order to advance agreement on all the other issues. Palestinian refusal of this kind of deal was inevitable. This is so clear as to almost make the following comments superfluous. But, just in case it is necessary, let us explain why.
Firstly, the assumption by Barak’s supporters that all the other major issues were already settled is simply without foundation. At this point there is no dearth of reliable information to the effect that there are still tremendous difficulties regarding the division of Jerusalem, the allocation of territory to the Palestinian state and the removal of settlements. It is painful to see how many in the peace camp insist on playing into the hands of every Barak twist and turn. The latest kite sent up in the air by Barak is this big exchange: we give you the Temple Mount and you give us 194. Is there anyone with a minimum of political savvy in the Israel who believes that the Palestinian Authority could start working out the details of a deal on such principles. Isn’t it quite clear to any informed observer (and this should include some highly intelligent left-Zionists) that this gambit is a non-starter and so crude in its intent and its timing that it must be seen inevitably as a provocation against any serious negotiations.
Secondly, even if there indeed existed this ‘informal understanding’ that the Palestinians would not block an agreement because of the refugee issue, this understanding might have been plausible in the context of a new set of interim accords. It was and still is totally implausible and totally inconceivable that the Palestinians would ignore the refugee issue within the framework of a final status agreement putting ‘an end to the conflict’. There was no basis whatsoever for anyone in the Israeli peace camp to believe, on the basis of this informal understanding, that the Palestinian Authority would forfeit the rights of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 within the framework of an interim agreement and in order to reach such an agreement. This distinction between a major step forward wherein the Palestinians could agree to less than full and complete acceptance by Israel of 194 and a final agreement, under which Palestinians forfeit all further claims, including the human, civil, and political rights of 3-4 million refugees is clear to every Palestinian. One would hope that this distinction should be clear to leaders of the Zionist left.
Thirdly, in the hard world of realpolitik there is still another consideration. Supposing you were a serious Palestinian leader and willing, for fear that you could do no better, to ‘forget’ about the refugees and sign their rights away for a decent deal on borders and Jerusalem, are you certain that you have a partner? Can anyone on the Zionist left guarantee that Barak is willing to follow through on such an agreement (witness his ability to declare again and again that he will never surrender Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians). Would you suggest to the Palestinian leadership that it renounce its obligation to the refugees for a mere chance that Barak might honor a commitment? Moreover, here in the real world, we hear that Mr. Barak is a rather temporary figure on the Israeli scene, without a parliamentary majority, without a cabinet, without advisors, without a party and without even a long chance of being prime minister in less than a month.
Finally, the leaders of the Zionist left seemed to have lost their international bearings. Usually sensitive to the positions of the international community and especially the United States, the Zionist left finds itself at odds with almost every segment of that community which refuses to accept its version to the effect that implementation of 194 means the elimination of Israel. Why is it clear to all people and political forces that want peace that Palestinian insistence on UN 194 is, to say the least, legitimate? Why do so many genuine friends of Israel in the international community refuse to accept the argument that one must choose between the existence of Israel and a fair solution for the refugees?Trailing Behind Events
The Zionist left has often played important roles in pushing for concrete steps for Israeli-Arab peace. It has also been, in different circumstances, a brake on the political and the ideological development of the peace camp. All too often it has tailed after the more consistent, internationalist component of the Israel peace movement. After the 1967 War, the Zionist left insisted on its orientation on Jordan and the “good king” as the partner for peace, long after it had become clear that it was the PLO, which represented the Palestinian people. The Zionist left insisted that the PLO was a ‘terrorist organization’ long after important Israeli and international groups had demonstrated PLO willingness to negotiate with Israel. The Zionist peace camp was until very recently quite unclear regarding the need to base any settlement on the pre-June 1967 borders. Just recently, (and after Barak) it began supporting Palestinian rights and sovereignty in Jerusalem. Lastly, it echoed Clinton and Barak in claiming that Arafat had done irrevocable harm to the chances for peace by not buying Barak’s ‘far-reaching concessions’ at Camp David. To its credit, it should be noted that the Zionist left calmed down and developed a deeper understanding of the issues within several months, rejecting Barak’s argument that Israel has no partner for peace.Unfortunately, many other instances of ‘delayed reactions’ can be cited. On the other hand, it is also quite important to point out that invariably there are many sincere activists associated with the Zionist left (usually those quite distant from the power centers of the establishment) who are free of the leadership’s inhibitions and open to a balanced, internationalist approach.
The reason for this inherently sluggish thought process stems from the basically empirical approach of the Zionist left. The Zionist left is a progressive force because it understands the value of peace and that Israel is strong enough to make important concessions for peace. But these concessions are seen in a purely instrumental fashion. The Zionist left, obsessed with Jewish suffering and Jewish homelessness and Jewish traumas, has neither the inclination nor the theoretical tools to analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an objective, non partisan manner. For the Zionist left, any peace is a just peace if it assures functional stability. For humanists and democrats, peace is important in and of itself, but it can bear genuine fruit only to the degree that it is just, i.e., that it meets elementary standards of universal justice. A peace that would turn its back on the fate of three to four million refugees, and refuse to transform their situation, would hardly meet such standards.