Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Geneva Accords – Text and Context

1) Even the most serious detractors of the Geneva Accords (GA) on the left and in the peace movement admit that the political, psychological and diplomatic impact of the initiative has been tremendous. The serious impact stems from the fact that the GA are based on a comprehensive text which represents a serious and honest attempt to balance the interests of both peoples. Of course, the balance is not perfect. The text fails to reverse the effects of many unjust actions committed against the Palestinian people. However, even with this limitation, the GA do create a serious political option that could reverse current trends and plots against the Palestinian people.

2) Though support for the Accords implies a sincere readiness to make peace on their basis, there is no need for a reverential approach to the text. Negotiations will create a basis for trade-offs that can improve the text for both sides and of course the text is always open for mutually accepted changes and amendments. One can also hope that there will be more room for generosity and a sense of rapprochement, especially regarding the suffering of the Palestinian people.

3) Without in any way minimizing the importance of the text of GA text, it is important to realize the decisive importance of the context. At the current point in time, it is the context which imparts so much importance to the GA.

4) Any analysis concerning the struggle for the self-determination of the Palestinian people must start with the examination of the main forces arraigned against them. Indeed, the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination faces an immensely powerful coalition of reactionary forces. Sharon and the settler right are linked up with Bush, and the neo-conservative cabal in Washington where the ‘special relationship’ grants special status to Sharon as a junior partner in the ‘anti-terrorist’ alignment of repression.

5) In the absence of any indication of an imminent revolutionary transformation of international reality, we must, of necessity relate to the actual, very real, contradictions in the anti-Palestinian coalition. We must focus our observations and our actions on every gap and contradiction in the alignment of the forces, which have imposed and are backing the present status quo.

6) The setbacks of the U.S. forces in Iraq, together with a number of social and economic processes on the global level, have created a serious crisis for the U.S. unilateralists. As the U.S. finds itself increasingly isolated, there are increasing possibilities of a serious and important shift in the international political arena that will stem either from a set of retreats by the Bush administration or the possible defeat of Bush in the November 2004 elections.

7) The genuine possibility for such a shift is based on the independent role of Europe, dissent in the few important capitalist countries whose governments still support the United States and the intensified activity of globalist elements in the United States. The massive international peace movement and the movement against globalization both express these processes and accelerate them.

8) These new elements in the international scene create a possibility for a shift in the present relationship of forces. This shift can negate Sharon’s privileged status and create opportunities for a two state solution that is not a mechanical reflection of U.S.-Israel superiority. Whatever the odds on this kind of positive development, they represent the only real option that can bring an end the occupation and the terrible suffering of the Palestinian masses.

9) The Geneva Accords are a reflection of this shift. They were not “made in the U.S.A”, but are a product of the direct and indirect influence of the European countries (mainly, ‘Old Europe’). They represent the refusal of Europe, and the overwhelming majority of the international community, the UN and its Security Council and even to a certain degree Bush’s loyal ally, England, to tail after Bush and Sharon on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In addition, these trends are reflected in almost daily expressions of Washingtonian unease with the total identification between the United States and Sharon.

Real, (often) Messy Politics versus the Pleasures of Utopian Dreaming

10) There is renewed interest and even a certain increase in support for the one-state solution (1SS) as opposed to the two-state solution (2SS), especially in intellectual circles in the West. Of course, support for a 1SS reflects despair over the fact that the rulers in Washington and Israel appear to have sufficient force at their disposal to prevent any pressure on Israel for concessions. This being the case, hopes for the Palestinians are transferred, according to this logic, to long-range processes that would bring into existence a Palestinian majority in the area between the sea and the Jordan. In these circumstances, it is suggested, the path would be open to demand and receive full Palestinian enfranchisement and a democratic state.

11) However, the one state solution is highly Utopian and its adherents can point only to rather hazy long-range processes as the basis for its highly speculative materialization. The increased magnetism of the idea of the 1SS seems to stem less from the idea of any solution, proper, and more from the justified sense that the peaceful demise of Israel would be a just and proper sanction against Israel for its criminal behavior towards the Palestinian people. This sentiment may be totally justified from the ethical and moral point of view. However, it is blind from the political point of view.

12) No one has pointed out how we are going to reach the safe shores of a single democratic state (nor have we any conceptual framework re the mechanisms of single state remotely resembling the detailed blueprint offered by the GA). Time in itself cannot promise the minimum level of generosity and sensitivity required from both national groups for life in a united state. This is, of course, especially true for the Israeli Jews, who have been corrupted with a sense of superiority. At any rate, the time frame for a one state solution is so blurry and so far fetched as to lack any kind of concrete significance. Hence, the 1SS is not a real option or an authentic alternative to the struggle for a reasonable, practical and logical.

In Summary

It is the special responsibility of those among us on the left who are ideologically and philosophically committed to the traditions and the aspirations linked with revolutionary thinking to define the present period without embellishment. Our current epoch is not revolutionary, and it is characterized by a war of positions. This being the case (despite our hopes for an early reversal of the dominant non-revolutionary trends) our efforts and intentions must be riveted to intervention at specific points in international politics. The most important of these is to stall, frustrate and defeat the machinations of the Bush-Cheney cabal. This gang would have us live in a perpetual state of war and reactionary intervention in the name of the holy war against ‘terrorism.’ They would like to define the politics of the struggle for the freedom of Palestine as just another arena in the battle against terrorism. In countering their schemes, we have, on a global scale, serious allies and a broad coalition of forces, which oppose the Bush-Sharon politics of repression, expropriation and expulsion. In this vital sense, the GA are an excellent tool to activate our forces and to isolate Bush and Cheney’s Enron-Halliburton clan.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

At the District Military Court in Jaffa

The trials of the pacifist, Yoni Ben Artzi and the other five conscientious objectors – Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Shimri Tsameret and Adam Maor, who refuse to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces as long as it is an army of occupation, turned into a long and protracted affair.

Court martial proceedings began in March 2003. On October 20, 2003 a packed courtroom heard the detailed cross examination of Shimri Tsameret, Noam Bahat and Adam Maor – Haggai Matar and Matan Kaminer were cross examined at the previous session. The evening before, 150 demonstrators rallied at the gates of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv to demand the immediate release of the refusenicks. The last session of the trial of the five took place on November 4, 2003, to hear the summaries of the prosecution and on November 11, 2003 the court will hear the summaries of the defense attorney, Adv. Dov Khanin.

We were recently informed that the court’s verdict in the Yoni Ben Artzi trial will be given on November 12, 2003. The proceedings against Ben Artzi are a clear and gross miscarriage of justice and stem from a decision by the IDF bureaucracy to make it very hard, if not impossible, for a young conscript to convince the IDF authorities that he is a bona fide pacifist. In Yoni Ben Artzi’s case the army claims that he is a ‘political objector’ and not a pacifist. Ben Artzi has testified that his objection to the occupation as a brutal military act which violates human rights derives from his general pacifist beliefs. Technically speaking, the offence for which Ben Artzi is on trial is refusing to carry out a legal order, an offence which he presumably committed when he refused to comply with orders to complete steps that were a part of his induction.

After all is said and done, we must remind ourselves that we are talking about a military court. The Judge, Lieutenant General, B. Levy, has been congenial and the legal atmosphere is similar to a normal criminal proceeding. However, there is a tremendous distinction that has to be remembered. Neither the judge nor the court can free the defendants and send them home. Even in the case of an acquittal, the defendants are sent back to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Induction and Classification Base for further processing. The Judge may make a recommendation, but it is not binding on the IDF.

As a matter of act, on August 10, 2003 the Judge did send Ben Artzi back to the Conscience Committee with a request that it reexamine his case. This was a clear recommendation by the court that it felt that the decision to refuse to classify Ben Artzi as a pacifist was incorrect ab initio or at the least, the decision should be reviewed in the light of further revelations and evidence in the court case. But the general who heads the Manpower Division of the General Staff, General Gil Regev, simply refused the court’s request and threw the case back into the lap of the Jaffa Military Court.

This is not to say that the verdict is unimportant. The defendants have raised, through their statements in court and by the efforts of our competent and devoted attorneys, Michael Sfard and Dov Khenin, a host of important issues. If there are any recommendations favoring the defendants, they will have moral and public importance, even though they are not mandatory for the IDF apparatus. This is the name of the game in a military court: even if you win, you can still lose.

If you lose, you can be sentenced to military prison for any length of time up to three years. This would be a particularly vicious and brutal act for the following reason. When soldiers are sentenced in disciplinary proceedings, the maximum sentence is 35 days in prison. The refusenick can serve his time in a battalion composed of short term prisoners. The court martial presently trying the refusenicks can sentence defendants for up to three years in prison. Since inmates in military prisons are sorted and housed according to the length of their sentence, any lengthy sentence would involve grouping prisoners of conscience with criminals convicted of crimes of violence and drug trafficking.

Every week brings new expressions of additional crises in Israel directly related to the dreadful nature of the occupation. A month back, 27 pilots publicly requested that their commanders cease and desist from sending them on illegal and immoral missions. This was a real scandal, with the establishment claiming that the pilots had stabbed the country in the back Last week, the IDF Chief of Staff, Ya’alon (!), convened an off the record press briefing in order to accuse the Israeli government, and specifically Sharon and Moffat, of ignoring a pending human rights catastrophe in the territories. Of course, we will be hearing more about this little ‘tiff’ between Chief of Staff and between Sharon and his Minister of Defense, Moffat.

Six young men are on trial because they are trying to prevent a complete moral breakdown in their country. The occupation has put them on trial, but in the eyes of the whole world, it is the occupation which is on trial.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Barak unilateral

The Geneva Accords have registered a unique success. The very idea of a full, detailed blueprint for peace and coexistence that settles all outstanding issues has captured the minds of a significant segment of the Israeli public, the same public which is increasingly aware that Sharon doesn’t have any real strategy for ending the conflict. Indeed, more and more Israelis are taking notice that Sharon’s policies are increasingly costly for Israelis, as well as the Palestinians.

It was that old consummate opportunist, Shimon Peres, who realized that the Accords were important. Answering Sharon in the Israeli Knesset, Peres explained that the Accords had proven that there was a potential Palestinian partner for negotiations, and that a reasonable solution was very much a possibility. This announcement by Peres that Israel has a potential partner with whom to discuss peace may not appear particularly startling for those uninitiated in current Israeli political discourse. The true importance of Peres’ intervention lies in the fact that it contradicts a well known article of faith in Israeli politics to the effect that Arafat’s leadership means that meaningful negotiations for peace are simply impossible.

The article of faith to the effect that Israel lacks any potential partner for negotiations was the personal contribution of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, in explaining the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000, informed the Israeli public that he had achieved a major success in that he had torn the mask off Arafat’s face. The post-Camp David mess for which Barak was mainly responsible helped to catapult Sharon and the settlers to power while it simultaneously bewildered and disoriented large sections of the dove constituency.Of course, there was no objective basis regarding Arafat’s obstructionism.He wasn’t an easy partner for the Isrealis, but that wasn’t exactly Arafat’s job description. As a matter of fact serious negotiations were still going on in the fall and winter of 2000-2001. It was Barak and not Arafat that rendered them useless by first making overtures to Sharon to join his government and then resigning (on the advice of his wife, Naavah) and forcing the new elections which brought Sharon to power.

One lasting result of Barak’s treachery was to convince many Israelis who wanted peace that this goal could not be reached through negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under Arafat. Many of those who refused to accept Sharon’s leadership, but accepted Barak’s verdict against Arafat worked out an alternative conception: Israel would somehow make peace through a unilateral retreat from Palestinian territory. If we could not negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians, we would separate ourselves from the Palestinians (We are here! They are there!) and impose arrangements on the Palestinians imposing separation and walling off one society from the other. The idea was and is still ridiculous (Israeli-Palestinian peace without Palestinian). Tens of different formulae for unilateral withdrawal were in the air, all kinds of fences were to go up according to Israel’s needs for security. Paradoxically, many Israelis who detested the occupation accepted this alternative as the only way out of the predicament. The details of the proposals never congealed into a serious plan or program.

For more than three years, Sharon has been using Barak’s anti-Arafat line to justify his annexationist and militaristic policies. The Geneva Accords have exposed the false premises and the weird thinking involved in plans for a unilateral withdrawal. The idea was still born from the beginning. But there are still many conscious or unconscious Barakists in and around the peace movement who are uncomfortable with the idea that they will have to negotiate a peace plan with Palestinians as an equal partner. They would like to keep the ‘unilateral withdrawal’ in play, especially as Barak opposes the Geneva Accords and the neo-cons in Washington are still influencing U.S. policy against ‘unreformed Palestinians.’

Given the tremendous impact of the Geneva Accords and the prestige of the leaders of the Israeli initiative, there will few direct and open attacks on the Geneva Accords in the peace movement. On the other hand, we will witness indirect attacks and reservations. First, there are the super-realists who will explain that the GA are not so special, or not so different from Oslo. They will defend ‘pluralism’ so that they can still support different approaches (including unilateral withdrawal) and not put all our eggs in one basket. They will pretend to be more radical by talking about ‘leaving the territories’ or one-sided retreat from them. In short, unable to contest the message of the GA, they will try to minimize their impact and importance. This tendency must be overcome in open debate and in a broad collective effort to analyze new dimensions in the struggle for peace. This is the reason why we need clear decisions and a clear mandate to mobilize our activists on behalf of the GA breakthrough.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Say Yes to Bush

Isn’t this interesting? Bush is supposed to be diving head first into the swirling waters of the ME on a heroic mission for peace. So, supposedly, the pressure is on both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinians, to start performing. Still there is this ‘minor’ problem: Israel has still not endorsed the Road Map. If Bush is sincere (and believe it or not there are peace people in Israeli who entertain such a notion) then he simply has to tell Abu Mazen to take a breather while he works on Sharon. But no, Bush wants both sides to perform.

At the present, it seems that Bush has decided to take a detour around Sharon. Israeli radio has been blaring for the last day hours that Sharon is going to suggest to the government that Israel accept, not the RM, but the clauses of the RM. Now, any normal and fair broker would ask, at this point: what the hell is Sharon trying to do? Does he or does he not accept the RM? But instead of insisting on a clear and unequivocal answer, we hear U.S. sources explain that Sharon’s statement expresses important progress on the issue.

At the same time, the United States announces that it recognizes the vital importance in Israel’s reservations regarding the RM and that these will be addressed, at an appropriate stage. Bush negotiates with Sharon behind the back of the Palestinians and in total disregard for his partners in the quartet. Bush is coddling Sharon, just as he did when Sharon refused his request to retreat from Palestinian centers at the beginning of the last Palestinian Intifada. Even after Sharon had made a joke out of Bush’s request to pull back, Bush called him ‘a man of peace.’

Even so, hope does spring eternal within the human breast. Let us wait and see. If…after Eitam and Lieberman do indeed leave the government and Sharon really takes down 20-30 occupied illegal settlements, things might get interesting. However, we have seen enough of this play to know that almost any outcome is more likely than real, genuine, progress towards peace. As we say…I really hope that I am wrong.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Who’s on Trial, What’s on Trial?

Three young Israelis have been remanded to ‘camp confinement’ until the end of the court martial proceedings against them for refusing as a matter of conscience to serve in the IDF. The immediate background for these proceedings is a growing concern here and abroad that Israel has lost forfeited any vestige of legitimacy in the present phase of military operations in the Palestinian territories. The military actions involved in the continued occupation of these territories have become increasingly fierce and brutal. The rational for all this is startlingly simple. There is any number of terrorists in the territories. The security of Israeli citizens depends on apprehending the terrorists and rendering them ineffective. Well, we have no way of knowing how many so called terrorists there are, but it seems that we are talking about many, many thousands. This dangerous element is embedded in the population and enjoys its support.

In the absence of any political horizon that could reduce tension, the Israeli government has decided to go after the terrorists. In practical terms this means greater restrictions on the general population, incessant night raids, nightly shoot outs (between Israeli armored troops and Palestinian irregulars) and a regular quota of dead and wounded – mainly Palestinians. Palestinian resistance to the armored incursion (tanks and lots of them) takes some toll among the Israelis. This, if nothing else, is a convincing reason to indulge in collective punishment. One example is to blow up a multi-story apartment building because a sniper fired from it. The scale of death and destruction rises dramatically if the raid goes wrong and there is a need to retreat under pressure. In this instance any precautions that may have been involved in the planning to prevent innocent civilian casualties is discarded and any amount of fire power may be employed to save the lives of the Israeli soldiers who might be in danger. Almost every night we are encouraged to hear that this or that terrorist who was responsible for this or that attack has been killed (usually) or captured. Another ten or twenty men on the wanted list are also rounded it up.

From time to time we learn that labs for creating explosives or metal shops making shells are discovered and blown to bits. You know that you can do a lot of things with a lathe. But not after it has been destroyed.

There is a certain eerie open-endedness in the present campaign by the IDF to annihilate the terrorist presence in the territories. There cannot be any doubt that the fighting capacity and potential of the Islamic groups and the Fatah ‘tanzim’ is suffering from the search and destroy missions of the IDF. But three and half million people under occupation seem to create an endless supply of new candidates for the armed underground groups. In a costly selection process, the terrorists will develop new methods to cope with the incessant attacks and raids. Enjoying greater support and admiration for standing up against the IDF onslaught, the armed bands will attract more and more devoted and capable people to their ranks. The IDF military machine manages to produce new terrorists at the very moment that it engages the veterans so as to render them ineffective.

Now the name of this process is called fighting terror. This is, in modern discourse, a vital necessity and something all enlightened societies should be doing, if they are not already in the thick of the battle.The real questions are, of course, ignored. Why are these people engaged in terror? What are the basic issues confronting their society and how are these being addressed, if at all.

One should direct a number of hard questions to those who consider the war on terror a justified affair. Just how much death, destruction, and human suffering are you willing to impose on the Palestinians under occupation in this mad hunt for the enemy, who multiplies, as you crush his leadership and his organization.