Sociable

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Blair’s Descent into ‘Poodledom’

Tony Blair had spoken quite a bit about the need for something to be done about the “other” crisis in the Middle East, the festering crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. For some time, and especially during the run up to the attack on Iraq, it seemed that Blair was demanding real action on the subject. Blair had seized on this issue to ward off criticism to the effect that British foreign policy had forfeited any semblance of independence. Of course, the disastrous Iraq adventure demonstrated Blair was unable to resist even the most unreasonable and irresponsible actions taken by the United States on the tortuous road to disaster. However, Blair did still have the Israeli-Palestinian issue up his sleeve for proving that there was such a thing as a British policy in the Middle East. Every few months, Blair came out with a statement on the pressing need to do something to end the tension between Israel and the Palestinians, implying that he was pushing his U.S. partner to stop ignoring this issue. Somehow, Blair managed to convey the message that he was going to put an end to George Bush’s infatuation with Sharon and his policies. He talked about sponsoring a serious British diplomatic initiative on the Middle East, which might also contribute to the improvement of relations with Europe. Thus, it became known that Blair was sponsoring a major diplomatic initiative centered on a sweeping discussion of the Middle East issues among heads of states.

Sharon Cannot be Disturbed

It is an open secret that Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan is a transparent scheme to avoid serious negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon admitted the same publicly last May and his lawyer emissary, Dov Weissglass, has recently clearly articulated the same justification.

If Yasser Arafat’s death has created a window of opportunity, it is a window of opportunity for one of the most shameful actors on the international stage, Tony Blair, to prove that he does not have a shred of integrity. He proved this beyond any shadow of a doubt when during his visit this week to Jerusalem he granted full support and unconditional support to Sharon. Blair was grinning from ear to ear when Sharon told him that Israel is uninterested in his ‘meeting’. Blair hurried to tell him that he was right because the ‘meeting’ was really only an educational opportunity for the Palestinians.

Sharon has hung up a sign: “do not disturb - disengaging.” Accordingly, Bush and Blair have agreed to clam up until after Sharon pulls off the Gaza pullout. Thus, any genuine commitment by Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, even in the future, was removed from the agenda. Sharon’s strategy in promoting his unilateral Gaza disengagement plan was to give his friends an excuse, even a poor one, for avoiding and postponing meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. Bush bought into the maneuver and paid for it with Palestinian land (U.S. agreement to disregard the 1967 borders in a final settlement) and Palestinian refugee rights (U.S. holds that there will be no return to Israel).

The Palestinians, say Bush, Blair and Sharon, just do not understand that they are simply not ready for negotiations. Bush Blair and Sharon are going to give them enormous assistance in preparing themselves. First of all, the Palestinians will have to eliminate terror and institute democratic reforms. Since it was not enough that Sharon and Bush told them this, Tony Blair is going to meet with them in London to tell them this. Which all goes to prove that if you start as George Bush’s poodle, you will end up by also being Ariel Sharon’s poodle.

Just to set the record straight: It was the occupation that fed and fostered Palestinian armed resistance. It is a misfortune that in the main, this resistance was not mounted by Marxist-Leninists or liberal-humanists who understood that it was politically counter-productive and morally wrong to kill or maim innocent Israeli civilians. But this misfortune does not change the basic facts. There is no way to reduce or remove Palestinian armed resistance without proving to the Palestinian masses that there is a credible international initiative for a just peace backed by potential international sanctions against Israel. There will be no progress in pacification without real progress towards peace. There will be no real reform or authentic democracy without freedom and self-determination.

Pity Poor Peres

Sometimes it is not easy to achieve the lap dog role. Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan deception was designed inter alia to defuse and disarm any semblance of internal opposition from the majority of Israelis, who began to understand that it was becoming impossible to reach peace while holding on to territories and settlements. Sharon knows his ‘customers’ and it turned out that the Labor Party was his for next to nothing. A few jobs and honors and Labor joined his cabinet on the basis of the disengagement plan, without any other demands whatsoever regarding the overall program of the government. The only hitch so far is that there are legal and parliamentary problems in creating a honorary title for Peres as the ‘second deputy prime minister.’ The Likud had refused to surrender any of the important cabinet positions. Peres had the unenviable task of explaining the vital historical importance of his being appointed the second deputy prime minister. Labor and Peres crawled into Sharon’s cabinet, begging to be permitted to support Sharon’s plans, his time table, his interpretation of the implications of the disengagement plan..

Angry Settlers Prepare Putsch

The some 7,000 settlers in the Gaza strip do not want to be the pawns sacrificed in the Sharon gambit. However, Sharon is sophisticated enough to understand the need to buck and weave in order to defuse the accumulation of pressure against the occupation. This is the purpose of the d the disengagement scheme and Sharon’s final status proposal providing for the creation of three or four cantons which George W. Bush will recognize, conditionally as it were, as the Palestinian state.

The settlers are archetypal Zionists, who have recycled Zionist myths into a strange concoction of Jewish religious fundamentalism. God put them where they are and any attempt to move them is simply sacrilegious and defined as an act of brutal transfer (despite a generous resettlement premium of between $500-750,000 per family). Their militant wing pictured the late Yishak Rabin as a Gestapo officer for much less than the plan to resettle the Gaza strip settlers. The settler world-outlook defies any challenge to their absolute and unconditional right to settle the entire country from the sea to the Jordan. The frustration of their messianic impulses has the effect of turning them into dangerous madmen. If this sounds exaggerated, please bear with us.

The settlers association has endorsed the call of one of its leading figures, Pinchas Wallerstein, to break the law and go to prison in order to prevent the evacuation. Prominent leaders of the settler movement have spoken of a justified use of violence against the approaching forced evacuation. Hundreds of rabbis have signed declarations to the effect that the government decisions for evacuation are ‘null and void’. Activists among the settlers claim to have signed thousands of soldiers on a declaration that they would refuse to follow orders to participate in the evacuation of the strip. Settlers explain the virtues of rising up against unjust laws and cite the example of Martin Luther King (!!). The settlers inspired by a vision that led to the expropriation of millions of Palestinians from their homes and their homeland claim that the government would not even dare to consider the expulsion of Arabs. The high point of the frenzy was reached this week when settlers began wearing an orange (instead of yellow) star of David. The message is rather direct: we are being thrown out of our homes, just as the Nazis threw Jews out of their homes during the Holocaust. This level of incitement is occurring out in the open. You do not have to be a political scientist to imagine the mentality and the operational planning at the settler base, where almost everyone is armed to the teeth. Indeed, Israel will have to go through some form of civil war to decide whether the settlers continue to exert absolute veto power over Israeli politics. This civil war might take the form of a battle of nerves for a few hours, or even involve a clash for a number of days, or even for months. Though they are a small minority in Israel and relatively isolated from the Israeli public, the settlers exert a deep psychological and spiritual influence on significant sections of the Israeli establishment. They claim to be the vanguard and the faithful harbingers of the Zionist dream for a pure and purified Jewish state. This is, to our great sorrow, still a hope that springs eternal in many chauvinist hearts. The settlers hope that they will be able to force Sharon to back down, since after all is said and done, he is, in the last resort, one of them.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Comments on Dr. Uri Davis’ Article, “Naming the Colonizer in Geographical Palestine”

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the personal courage and the intellectual integrity of Dr. Uri Davis. If the reader suspects that this sincere comment is the preface for a severe critique of the contents of Davis’ current article, Naming the Colonizer in Geographical Palestine (NTCGP), which is to serve as the focus of our discussion next week, he or she will be absolutely right.

Davis certainly has the right to choose his own subject and to define the limits of the discussion that he prefers. Even so, this is no reason to be swept along with the rather arbitrary demand that he sets before us. Davis opens his paper by stating:

“Assuming the characterization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an inter-communal conflict, to be distinguished from an inter-state conflict, namely, a colonial conflict between the colonized native people and the colonial people originating from the Zionist immigration to Palestine..”

Now, any serious discussion of central problems connected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can and should involve at the least a number of central assumptions regarding its characterization. Surely enough, an additional characterization of the conflict is that the conflict, in its present stage, is one between two national entities. An equally interesting characterization of the conflict holds that that the Jewish community in Israel is so atypical of conventional colonizer attributes, that it prevents categorization of the conflict as a conflict between colonized and colonizers. The Israeli Jews have no other homeland except for Israel. They are not envoys of a metropolitan center. Certainly these facts are sufficient to discard any facile attempt to compress them into the orthodox colonizer category. After all, when dealing with typical colonizers isn’t the main solution to make life miserable enough for them so that they bugger off and leave the indigenous population to work out its own national life. And if they do not understand that it is for the best that they go home, it is the job of the oppressed to make life difficult enough for them, so that they understand that this is the best step for all concerned. This is hardly a viable option in present circumstance,

Moreover, the social and class structure of Israeli society is basically different from that of almost all colonial formations. The colonized-colonizer schema also avoids dealing with the sensitive area of national self determination and the national passions of both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. It is rather manifest that it is national self determination and the establishment of an independent state that interests the mass of both peoples. Even those who deny any legitimacy to the current state of Israeli may well find it necessary to discuss the problem of the self determination of the Israelis after they are stripped of their empire in the occupied Palestinian territories (an event to be anticipated with joy by any decent thinking and feeling person).

Instead of ‘assuming’ the characterization of the conflict in a way suggesting that its sole solution is the establishment of a single democratic secular state, as Davis suggests, we must of necessity to deal with two main constructs simultaneously: the two state solution because of the considerable political and diplomatic support the project enjoys and the one state alternative that looms on the horizon if the occupation and the Israeli expansionism close off the alternative for national self determination in part of Palestine.

Justice is an important factor in the evaluation of these alternatives, but it is certainly not the main or dominant consideration. It would seem to this writer that a major reduction in the suffering of the Palestinian people is the major consideration, though I certainly agree that the Palestinians have the moral right to hold out until they determine that they are being offered an alternative that meets their minimal requirements, as determined by them as an organized community.

The ‘justice’ factor which is often mobilized around this issue has very elastic qualities. The appearance of militant anarchists in our midst, many of whom have performed tremendous work against the Wall, suggest that in addition to the two-state and the one-state solution, we will have to discuss the no-state solution. Even if we come to believe that such a social form of organization, i.e., a society without any state power, would be qualitatively more just than any other solution, we will simply and gently discard it, as impracticable. Practicality is a factor in the discussion of even the most theoretical and ideological spheres of activity. As a matter of fact, any serious discussion of justice in a political framework, really refers to attainable justice.Playing by Davis’ Rules

From this point on we will stop being unruly and accept as graciously as possible Davis’s assumption that, on our way to the elimination of colonialism in Palestine, we have encountered a serious problem in the definition of the colonizers.

The path to the elimination of colonialism is presented as a rather simple affair. We will establish a constitutional system based on a number of clear principles. The state formation will be secular and based on a complete separation of religion and the state. The state will be democratic and outlaw any form of discrimination based on national, ethnic, religious or gender status. Citizenship is the core of the relationship between the individual and the state. All the citizens are equal, and this promises formal equality and this formal equality promises real equality, i.e., the negation of colonialism and colonialist domination.

As a matter of fact it is quite easy to recognize Davis’ utopia. It is the modern, Western European - United States liberal democratic republic.

Davis seems rather intent on suggesting this model to the Palestinians and the other Arab countries. He is quite certain that Western [bourgeois] democracy is the next step forward for all societies.

There are a number of serious problems with this model.

One of the more striking remarks by an important Indian post colonialist intellectual about the analysis of Indian society is that this subcontinent of one billion people is presented as something that is ‘not yet’ (Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe). The reference is of course to that extreme form of Euro-centrism which assumes, right from the start, that all societies are tending to develop in this, its own, direction and it is only a matter of time before they reach this point. Then assuming that this is ‘where we are going’ it remains for the ‘enlightened’ Euro-trained intellectuals to point out the right path. This is, of course, what I would call justified criticism of historicism. (Historical materialism would, I hope, refuse to anticipate any historical process without specific data and evidence.)

Now, the first and most striking characteristic of these free, democratic, republican and secular societies is that they enjoy a relatively high standard of living based on their historical role as colonizers. Inadvertently, we have found the really serious colonizers, the ’secular democrats’ who murder, rape, conquer, cheat and enslave whole continents. On the basis of this pillage and the wealth accrued by it, an organized deal is worked out with broad sections of the aristocrats of labor and a social contract is produced based on democracy, secularism, universal citizenship, one man one vote and all the rest.

We do have a problem. The historical foundations of liberal democracy are such that they block the path, historically and currently, to their repetition as the only sure path to the promised land. Davis has shown us the promised land, but it is not anywhere near.

Things are not going too well either in the metropolitan center. The existence of universal citizenship in modern society hints at the very devaluation of the actual role of citizenship in conditions of advanced capitalism. The real process is the concentration of sufficient power in the ruling class as to allow it to use, misuse and abuse democratic processes so as to empty them of their intended content and role.
[See in this respect “Democracy Against Capitalism,” Ellem Meiksins Wood, Chapter 7).

Davis’ liberal democracy will be truly liberal and truly democratic because it is an a-historical utopia. Only as such can it enable Davis to propose a new political and academic narrative to the Palestinians and other oppressed people.

Ironing Out A Wrinkle in Davis’ Utopia

The problem that concerns Davis in this paper is the fact that he feels that we must have, in order to promote a new narrative concerning the conflict and its solution, a better definition of the colonizers in Palestine. Davis, working on the new narrative seems to believe that, in accordance with current fashion, the main problem is lining up the signifier and the signified.

Our Palestinian friends must at some point learn that this problem has been debated by the Jewish entity in Palestine ad nausea. The consensus both on the left and the right seems to be that Israeli Jewish community, national grouping, entity, ethnic group or for short the ‘Israeli Jews’ is a perfectly adequate way to define this group which is problematic in almost every other sense than this simple statement of fact. The fact is the Jews are also defined in different and parallel circumstances as those who practice the Jewish religion creates absolutely no problem, because it is the secular connotations that are in effect regarding the major elements of the relationships between Jews and Arabs. It is also of little or no importance, for the purposes of this definition that the Israeli government employs racist policies – based on anti-Jewish legislation under fascism in order to discriminate against Palestinian Arabs in Israel, unless one wishes to argue, and Davis certainly does not claim this, that calling Israeli Jews, Israeli Jews is the root of Israeli racism.

Now comes the strange part. Davis thinks that it would be quite helpful if we convinced the Jews to stop considering themselves Jews and define themselves as Hebrews. Davis seems to think that building up narratives and formulating them for specific purposes is essentially a subjective project, and he is quite wrong about this, but this is not the main problem with this suggestion.

Been There Done That

A tiny ideological, intellectual and cultural movement in the Israeli Jewish community has been promoting the idea that the Jews in Israel are Hebrews for decades. Their argument is simple: the true nature of this people evolved in direct contact with the Land of Israel. But alas, their Hebrew essence distilled in direct contact with the soil of their homeland was disfigured and distorted over the long agony of the Diaspora. (See Ron Kuzar, Two Brief Introductions to Hebrew Canaanism, www.geocities.com/alabasters_archive/kuzar_intros.html).

Now the Canaanite movement which advanced these ideas, never had any success against the Jewish-Zionist establishment because it tried to build a regional power base, based on the non-Arab peoples of the region, to restore the Hebrew empire.

Identifying the Jews who came to Israel in modern times with the ancient tribe of Hebrews is a Zionist ploy, par excellent of mythic proportions. Almost 50% of all the propaganda garbage about the renewal of the Jewish people in its ancient homeland is based on this myth. The Zionist and the Canaanites did meet one bit of common ground. The both declared in a style bordering on classic anti-Semitism that little or nothing of value emerged from the Jews in the Diaspora and their contribution to civilization depended first and foremost on the conquest and control of the Land of Israel – Palestine.

The current potential popularity of ‘Hebrew’ over ‘Jewish’ is that many Zionists consider the Hebrew designation as superior. However, the Jewish community already has a distorted sense of superiority. Why try and cultivate it?

The Political Significance of this Discussion at this Time

I felt it a point of honor to debate with Davis, as best I could, regarding the issues that he raised. However, I cannot leave this subject without expressing my deepest concern as to the real significance of this slogan advocating a ’secular democratic state’. Noam Chomsky had this to say in an interview held last spring:

Q. What do you think of a single-state solution, in the form of a democratic, secular state? Do you think such a solution is desirable today? Is it realistic today?

“There has never been a legitimate proposal for a democratic secular state from any significant Palestinian (or of course Israeli) group. One can debate, abstractly, whether it is “desirable.” But it is completely unrealistic. There is no meaningful international support for it, and within Israel, opposition to it is close to universal. It is understood that this would soon become a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, and with no guarantee for either democracy or secularism (even if the minority status would be accepted, which it would not). Those who are now calling for a democratic secular state are, in my opinion, in effect providing weapons to the most extreme and violent elements in Israel and the US.”

[Interview with Noam Chomsky; Znet; March 30, 2004. Questions by Stephen R. Shalom and Justin Podur]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Unholy Alliance in the Holy Land

George W. Bush made another feeble attempt to show some sort of ‘even handedness’ between Israel and the Palestinians in his recent address to the United Nations. However, the very hard facts on the ground give daily evidence that Israel’s hard line policy of intransigence towards the international community and international law is funded, sponsored and politically supported by the United States.

Israel is maintaining and even intensifying its policy of targeted assassinations from the air. Every few days we are informed by the Israeli army that it has ‘eliminated’ such and such ‘terrorists’. Both Israeli and Palestinian sources then confirm that additional Palestinians, including women and children, were killed or injured for just being in the vicinity. Targeted assassination has become a routine affair and the fact that Israel had ‘progressed’ to the use on different occasions of smarter and smarter bombs and even unmanned aircraft missiles for this purpose hardly evoked comment. This extra-judicial means of execution, whereby the Israeli army can kill almost any Palestinian any time and any place, has not caused a ripple in the U.S.-Israeli relationship - though there might have been a negative comment about this sort of activity filed away somewhere in the U.S. Department of State.

Sunday night, September 19, 2004, an Israeli army helicopter missile killed a ‘Hamas militant’ from the Shati refugee camp. Hospital sources reported that they treated six wounded bystanders who were returning from a mosque. (Ha’aretz, September 20, 2004) A rather routine affair: no need for all the complications related to identification and accusation, no need for a court, a judge or any trial. No prosecution, no deliberation, just plain execution. The technical basis for this sort of thing is the possession of an arsenal of smart bombs, since it would be impossible to maintain that an individual had actually been targeted unless Israel was using one of the high-precision smart bombs.

Just a day later, Ha’aretz correspondent, Aluf Benn reported (Ha’aretz, September 21, 2004) that the U.S. is selling 5,000 smart bombs to Israel. Benn lists the bomb sizes, including, “500 one-ton bunker busters, 2,500 ‘regular’ one-ton bombs, 1,000 half ‘tonners’ and 500 quarter ‘tonners’… [Israeli] government sources said that the deal did not face any difficulties, despite the use Israel made of U.S. made F-16’s in some of the assassinations…the IDF used a one ton bomb to kill a senior Hamas officer, Salah Shehada, in July 2002 an assassination that also took the lives of fifteen Palestinian civilians, including children.”

This morning on Israeli radio, Ariel Sharon reiterated Israel’s thinly veiled threats to assassinate Yasser Arafat ‘at a time and a place that is convenient to us’. The U.S. President, for his part, preferred a more diplomatic approach and called on the world to stop supporting Arafat. The justification for the ‘targeted elimination’ of terrorists who were originally defined as ‘ticking time bombs’ now covers any and all Israeli enemies and opponents. This policy is conducted with the technical ordnance supplied to Israel by the United States. Sharon says that he has the right to assassinate Arafat whenever he sees fit. Sharon doesn’t care if the international community will conclude that his threats are actually Washington’s real policy towards the elected leader of the Palestinian people.

For Whom These Bunker Busters?

Washington is pushing the United Nations to take action against the Iranian plans to create nuclear fuel. The U.S. is trying to prevent Iran from developing its capacity to produce atomic energy for civilian purposes by arguing that the relevant scientific processes can also then be used to create atomic weapons. However, the Iranian steps seem to be well within the country’s rights under the relevant international agreements. The U.S. and other countries refuse to be bothered by ‘formalities’, which support the Iranian position. But if the U.S. and its Western partners really wanted to speak to the heart of this matter, it would require them to address the very serious challenge of banning nuclear bombs from the entire Middle East. This involves, of course, the ‘little problem’ of the existence of a serious atomic stockpile of nuclear weapons in Israel. All eyes focus on the Israeli role, but not in the way that one would assume. The United States, instead of opposing the Israeli atomic arsenal, grants total and unqualified protection to Israel’s atomic status, directly encouraging the atomic arms race in the region. The U.S. is now playing a new and very dangerous game. It is threatening Iran by proxy and considering a strike against it by surrogate.

After Iraq, the United States appetite for another land war in the region has been greatly diminished. But, the Bushites don’t like to admit failure. “Some American analysts warn that the international community has only a year or two to stop the Iranian program from achieving self-sufficiency.” So what can be done? “One concern is that Israel, a member of the International Atomic Energy that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is presumed to have nuclear weapons, may decide to take the matter into its own hands, if diplomacy fails from deterring Iran from becoming a nuclear power.” The information is from an article, by International Herald Tribune correspondent, Graig S. Smith, who goes on to comment on the bunker busters supplied to Israel: “Those bombs could be used to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.” (IHT, September 22, 2004) Israel ‘may take matters into its own hands.’ But the Israeli hands are not empty – they hold United States bunker busters. It is just plain convenient for the United States to have in Israel an ally (an “enforcer”) which operates beyond the borders of international legality. This is the essence of the ’special relationship’ between the two countries

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Rejectionism

In a cyclical mode, almost as constant as the movement of the heavenly bodies, members of the Israeli left, frustrated with the knowledge that the battle for Israeli-Palestinian peace is a difficult and complex matter, rack their brains for an alternative strategy. This phenomenon The parliamentary defeat of MERETZ in the last elections and the continued weakness of HADASH in the Jewish sector are two recent factors that encourage despair over the possibilities of a settlement. Of course, the dominant factor over the recent period has been the intensive U.S.>in the apparent retreat mthe

The practical possibilities for a solution in the foreseeable future are linked, of course, to the two state solution. No less an expert than Ariel Sharon (in an interview with Yedioth Ahronot, April 5, 2004) pointed out that there are any number of versions of this proposal: The European plan, the Saudi Plan, the Arab League Plan, the Geneva Accords, the National Registration. Sharon revealed that there was even a Yoske Fisher plan in the works. Sharon explained that precisely to prevent a political vacuum that would encourage the prospects of any of these plans, he unveiled his Gaza disengagement plan.

There are many sincere and peace-loving Palestinians who reject, apriori, this kind of compromise. If the Palestinian case were to be considered at the bar of historical justice and equity, the rejectionist tendency would be able to file a most impressive brief. The essence of the brief would stress that the given circumstances are a product of one sided international decisions and, even more important, reflect a basic inequality in the relation of forces between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Even so, the mainstream of the Palestinian movement of national liberation, basing itself on the resurgence of the struggle of the Palestinians under occupation, especially, the first intifada, opted for a historical compromise based on the bare minimum of the historical requirements for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This difficult choice was based on historical realism and deep insight into the limitations on the struggle for Palestinian rights.

Naturally enough, there was opposition. The main theoretical bulwark of the rejectionists as they were called was that given the existence of revolutionary currents in the region and the balance of forces in the world – the Soviet presence in the area and the Soviet veto in international diplomacy, the Palestinian liberation movement could look forward to better days and the ability to negotiate on the basis of a semblance of equality of forces. In order to answer the pressing questions on the rights of the Jews in Palestine, the rejectionists, inspired by the Marxist rhetoric of the Popular and the Democratic front suggested the establishment of a single unitarian and secular state in Palestine. However, the demise of the Soviet Union and the crushing defeat (or the abject degeneration) of the progressive and anti-imperialist Arab regimes negated the chances for a radical change in the relation of forces and any strategy based on it.

For any number of reasons, all of them anchored in cruel international realities, the secular negation of the two state strategy of historical compromise became more and more peripheral in Palestinian politics. Sadly enough, the continued presence of maximalist Palestinian political figures who insisted on muttering slogans about Arafat’s betrayal, was part of the old game of Arab politics. In this game Palestinian dignitaries pushed to the margins of the PLO link up with different Arab countries and use the support of rather conservative Arab regimes (Syria, for example) to mount ultra-militant challenges to the mainstream leadership of the PLO.

In addition to their marginlization, something, even more unpleasant happened to those who wanted to hold high the flag of rejectionism. The rising Islamic political forces inscribed the rejection to any form of compromise in Palestine on their banner and they alone constitute today, the main challenge to Arafat and the Palestinian mainstream.

Israeli Obstructionism

As a matter of fact, the Palestinians extended an olive branch to Israel as early as the meeting of the Palestinian National Council in 1988. And indeed, from then on we witnessed a long series of diplomatic and political steps to convert the Palestinian readiness to compromise into a viable peace agreement with Israel. Over the years Israel insisted on gradualism, on guarantees, on security arrangements, while constantly undermining the chances for peace by one settlement drive after another. The Israeli establishment maneuvered between two goals: the obstruction of an overall agreement by demands for unreasonable concessions on the ground and the active pursuit of territorial gains – lnad grabs and settlement that would restrict the scope of a Palestinian state if Israel were forced to agree to its establishment.

New Strategy or Antiquated Sectarianism for the Left?

On the left, opponents of the two state solution on the left tended to direct their anger at the current frameworks for negotiations: Madrid we learn failed, Oslo was a catastrophe, Camp David a farce, Taba a etc. The real story of all these negotiations is not the fault of the principle on which they were based but the ability of Israel to rely on superior military force and its international connections with the United States to prevent any agreement on the ground.

Blaming the process or exposing the real content.

Motivated by a burning desire to renounce Palestinian readiness for compromise, critics on the left vented all their vehemence on the inadequacies of the framework of the negotiations. Thus Oslo, and its inherent weakness, were to blame for the failure of negotiations. Israel’s refusal to negotiate in good faith and the refusal of international forces to insert serious pressure were either ignored or considered quite natural. It is a fact that more and more sincere people on the left are increasingly alienated from the peace process, which drags on unendingly, and provides a sort of camouflage for settlement drives and creeping transfer. In fact, the dominant source of despair is the political and military role of the United States. which has decided recast.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Lawyers will hold conventions

Lawyers will hold conventions and Eilat, before the summer heat arrives in full force is a lovely location. Of course, you cannot have a convention if you do not have invited speakers and what could be more appropriate than to have the newly appointed Attorney General Meni Mazuz, among the distinguished guests.

Mazuz, is still a relatively new face in the media, but his speech became front page news. When speaking at a discussion on “The Limits of Obedience to the Law” he evoked an enormous public response, when he declared, “I have a lot of understanding and sympathy for each conscientious refusenik – in every respect. It is a positive thing that people follow the dictates of their conscience. This could be a positive phenomenon representing social involvement and concern.” Mazuz added that “Freeedom of conscience can be seen as one of the attributes of human dignity.” Mazuz, in the context of an analysis of the relevant court decisions regarding refusal to serve, was cautious enough to qualify his statement with comments to the effect that the balance between freedom of conscience and refusal (”sarbanut”) must be reached in accordance with the circumstances of time and place.

According to Ma’ariv (May 11, 2004), Advocate Shlomo Cohen, head of the Israeli Bar Association, stated that the punishment against the refuseniks was totally unacceptable since the legal basis for the blanket deferment of religious yeshiva students was still vague.

The IDF Chief Judge Advocate, General Menakhem Finklestein was on hand to vigorously disagree: “Violation of the law in a democratic society is immoral, in and of itself. If we accept that morals permit non-compliance with the law – this would entail enormous jeopardy …what we have experienced recently is not a question of individual conscience but a matter of civil revolt.” (Ha’aretz, May 11, 2004).

Mazuz’s comments and the response by the military reflect differences of opinion among high ranking government legal circles over the IDF policy. The IDF has initiated a get tough campaign resulting in the victimization of five leading refuseniks currently in prison, Haggai Matar, Noam Bahat, Shimri Tsameret, Adam Maor and Matan Kaminer - in order to fight the growing influence of the draft resistance movement. It appears that there is an intense, ongoing discussion in government circles regarding the legality and the wisdom of the draconic sentences against the five, now serving their second year in prison. We will have occasion to return to the Mazuz statements and other aspects of this issue. However, at this point, we can state conclusively that the IDF initiated a change of policy in the spring of 2003 designed to deter draft resisters by putting them on trial – and prosecuting them – in practice if not formally - for ‘fomenting a civil revolt.’ The formal charge of ‘refusing to obey an order’ was no more than a ruse to get an easy conviction.

The Lack of Proportionality

Many liberal circles in the country are concerned over the punishment being inflicted on the five (and their families). The very same day that the Mazuz story was front page news in the country, thirty professors and teachers of law at Israeli universities issued a statement directed to the Attorney General, Mazuz, Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon,the Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz and the Minister of Justice, Yosef Lapid declaring that “we the undersigned, who have different opinions regarding the various types of ‘refusal’ (”sarbanut”) hereby express our opposition to the sentence issued by the IDF Military Court against Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tsameret, Adam Maor and Noam Bahat. The signers noted that the court did not question the sincerity of the five and characterized the sentence as unduly harsh, and particularly unfair considering the expressed readiness of the five to do various forms of community service and concluded with the call for the immediate release of the five. Among the signatories: Professors Gad Barzalai, Miri Gur Aryeh, Haim Ganz, Alon Harel, Meir Teichman, Uriel Procaccia, Francis Radai, David Enoch and others. The ad was published in Ha’aretz, May 11, 2004.

The Next Step: the Battle for Parole

It is customary for prisoners held by the IDF to be considered for parole after one half or two thirds of the sentence. Last January, the IDF had the five transferred to two separate civilian prisons because keeping them in a military prison would ‘constitute a security threat.’ However, the IDF is still in charge of the five. It will be rather difficult for the authorities to deny the fact that the five are model prisoners who deserve parole for the simple reason that the five have all devoted, on a voluntary basis, a lot of time and effort to act as teachers and educators for other prisoners. This has included teaching Hebrew to illiterates, teaching music and a class in guitar, and responsibility for extending assistance to young prisoners with difficult personal problems. However, it is to be feared that the IDF will try and continue its campaign of vilification and defamation and insist on denying parole to the five because of the ‘terrible nature of the crime’ they have committed – the fact that they said no to the occupation and refused to be a part of it.!!

It is, of course, particularly important to intensify the campaign for the release of the five towards the meeting of the parole committee on June 15, 2004. The refusal to extend parole to the five would be justly considered as an additional act of flagrant discrimination and judicial persecution.

It is our duty to inform our readers that parole, if and when achieved does not end the struggle. The IDF prosecution has publicly announced that it will insist on the remobilization of the five after they serve out their sentence. It has become a major aim of the Israeli military bureaucracy to break the spirit of these young men and it is the responsibility of defenders of human rights, partisans of peace and genuine friends of a different and better Israel to make every effort to prevent this from happening. The five, the Parents’ Forum and its allies in Israel and around the world are determined to do everything in their power to free the five!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Fatuous Credulity in DC

A cold chill goes down our spine when we are forced, in the absence of any other rational explanation, to realize that George Bush and most of his advisors actually and really believe their own anti-terrorist rhetoric. There can be no other explanation for Bush’s blatant political stupidity in complying with Sharon’s request for a major shift in United States official policy in exchange for the Gaza evacuation plan.

Faced with a major crisis of U.S. policy in Iraq and all over the Arab world, growingly isolated among the very strata and sectors of the Arab world that he presumably is trying to win over, George Bush has crudely affronted the sensitivities of any who care in the least about the suffering of the Palestinian people and about the chances for peace in the region. Anyone with a minimum of knowledge of the area could have told him that this is about the worst possible thing that he could have done at this time. Have all the advisors finally and irrevocably learned the lesson that the boss must be told only things that he wants to hear? Bush allows himself to be so ill-advised, because the issues are so clear and simple to him. It is after all a simple question of who are the terrorists, who is really fighting them and who isn’t really doing the job. It is just one more example of the Bushites in power believing what they want to believe.

Let’s try and look into their head. The terrorists are Palestinians. Sharon is very experienced in the fight against terror. Sharon is our point man because we are fighting terror and need all the help we can get. Arafat may not be exactly a terrorist, but he doesn’t really help us against terror. Sharon has requested this from him again and again and he simply doesn’t deliver. Sharon must be rewarded for his courage in fighting terror and this will cause others to emulate him. Clear?

As a rule, one should be able to take comfort when our Bushite opponents act like total imbeciles. Sooner than later, people who make policy without any basis in reality are going to suffer reverses and get into big trouble. This has and is happening to the United States under the leadership of George Bush.

So why is this all so scary? Because the United States enjoys an unchallenged monopoly of brute force in international relations and it will tend to compensate itself for inevitable reverses by the use of more and more disproportional force. By its policy of repeating its diktat to all parties to either join its anti-terrorist coalition or suffer the consequences, the United States achieves the exact opposite. Bush’s policies swell the ranks of the real terrorists, augment their prestige and improve their standing in their own communities. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to suggest that this is the intended result of Bush’s policy. However, one thing is sure: Bush and his administration will continue to point to increased terrorist activity and influence, which stem from their very own policies, as conclusive proof of the correctness of their policy, in the first place.

Not only Sharon is hard at work. Israel’s Chief-of-Staff sent along this bit of wisdom last week. “The Chief-in-Command, MosheYa’alon, still thinks that it will be a surprise if weapons of mass destruction will not be found in Iraq. – Ha’aretz, April 11, 2004 p.3). Does he know something that we don’t? We, on our part, think that it will be a surprise if the increased reports of Israeli presence in Iraq will not be found absolutely reliable.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Sharon’s crisis

Crisis is writ large over current Israel politics. Sharon has announced that Israel is to pull out of the Gaza strip and disband the 20 settlements populated by 7,500 settlers. He is presently working out the details of his plan with the United States government and the finished project is to emerge from Sharon’s meeting with Bush in less than two weeks. The ‘new reality’ will, it appears, be consecrated in an exchange of letters between the two leaders.

Sharon’s intentions are both simple and clear. Israel must shorten its lines and solidify U.S. support for a new status quo which will include tacit, if not explicit U.S. approval for permanent Israeli control of most of the West Bank. . Inaction, according to Sharon, is dangerous in that it invites new diplomatic initiatives that would center on plans similar to the Road Map and the Geneva Accords.

Sharon has a slight problem. He, his own party and large segments of his coalition have been telling the people all along that any pull back is tantamount to a retreat in the face of terror. It is, therefore, not surprising that more than half his coalition and his own Likud parliamentary faction are against the pull back. His opponents on the right can simply quote his own recent statements and slogans against leaving the Gaza region.

Sharon was forced to agree to a poll of the Likud membership on the approval of the pull-out, as this was the only way he might show that he was speaking for the majority of his constituency. It is a very tight time table. Sharon meets with Bush on April 14, 2004 and 200,000 Likud members go to the polls two-three weeks later to decide the fate of the initiative. Spearheaded by the settlers (in the Gaza region) and the entire settler movement, the religious fundamentalists and their secular allies are mounting a do or die campaign against the planned evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements. The intense media coverage of the battles in the right convey a sense that we all have ring side seats for the greatest fight since the one between Gog and Magog.The media, and many naïve souls being lured into seeing this as a battle between a legally constituted government and its elected prime-minister, enjoying majority support in public opinion, on one hand, and the forces of the messianic fundamentalist radical right, on the other hand. In the looming battle, the settlers intend to exploit every conceivable legal and illegal option to thwart the pull-out. Could this be the great fissure in Israeli society? Are we approaching a new stage wherein hegemony passes from the annexationist right to a centrist government ready for a compromise with the Palestinians. Is Arik Sharon the DeGaulle, for whom many have hoped and dreamed?

Naturally enough, the main story in the media for the last two weeks has been Sharon and Co. versus the settler-based coalition. Tension is high between the factions. The settler right has even embraced the “rule of law” lobby in Israel, which is calling for Sharon’s indictment on graft and bribery charges. The settlers would like very much to see the pull-out initiative buried at Sharon’s political funeral. Sharon, it is assumed would have to resign if Israel’ s Attorney General, Mazoz decides to support an indictment, in line with the current consensus in the Prosecutor’s Office. Any way you look at the present situation, crisis is writ large over the face of the Israeli political system. Even without the corruption cloud hanging over his head - he might be forced to resign over the scandals, at any time over the next several months - it is far from certain that Sharon, or anyone else on the right for that matter, would deign to violate the sanctity of the settlement project. Media coverage to the contrary, it is still unclear whether Sharon, himself, is really willing to take on the settlers, or whether he can survive their determination to push the country to the edge of rebellion and even, civil war.

Even though it is assumed that Sharon and his challengers will hold this ‘democratic’ contest for the hearts of the Likud voters, after Sharon returns from his meeting with Bush , it is very far from certain that this 200,000 party member vote will ever take place. The full scale party referendum, for which there are no procedural guidelines, is a product of a last-minute face saving maneuver to hide Sharon’s weakness. Thus, both sides, locked in battle, will have ample opportunities to challenge the legality of the procedures involved. Even so, the battle for the votes of the Likud membership has begun and it is a dirty affair indeed. The settler-based faction is accusing Sharon of giving in to terror. In ‘reply’, Sharon’s campaign is being fueled with the blood of Palestinian leaders and activists and with threats for bigger and more atrocious acts against the Palestinians. As we write, his latest threat to assassinate Arafat and Hizballah leader, Nasrallah, is headline news of the day.

Sharon’s strategy is guided by his fear and hatred of the Palestinians and his goal of avoiding any meaningful negotiations. As much as he will chafe over his inability to maneuver the country as he sees fit, as much as he takes pride in his own political wisdom as distinct from the political blindness of the settler-based coalition of fundamentalists, it is questionable that he can meet their challenge head on and demonstrate real control of the country. As long as Sharon continues to spew anti-Palestinian hatred into the country’s body politic, he strengthens the credibility of his opponents on the right. If there is, according to Sharon, no chance of an agreement with the Palestinians and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, why let Bush and his advisors contemplate any restrictions, looking forward or backward, on the settlement project. The settlers are probably right in arguing that Sharon’s scheme will not and cannot alter the basic contours of the conflict and the positions of the major international players.

The Labor Party and Peres hope for a showdown between Sharon and the settlers and are eager for a crisis that would catapult them into the coalition. It is not enough for them to promise parliamentary support to Sharon for the pull back. Indeed, given the possibility of a straightforward Knesset vote for or against a pull-back- without annexationist riders - all the center and even the left (including Yahad, Hadash and the Arab parties), would probably raise their hands to prevent Sharon from losing the vote on the specific issue of the pull out of Gaza.

Unfortunately, there are political forces associated with the Labor Party and some influential people in the Yahad Party (formerly MERETZ) who feel the need to give either open or tacit support to Sharon’s overall policy by backing a unilateral retreat as the only solution to the current confrontation with the Palestinians. It is to be understood that backing for some sort (or any sort) of a unilateral pull-back has become the escape route out of the peace movement ever since Ehud Barak’s ignominious impact on the mainstream doves. Barak, it will be recalled, summed up the lesson of the Camp David fiasco by claiming that he had saved Israel by proving that there is ‘no partner’ for negotiations . For weak-willed and opportunistic doves, it is not really important whether or not it is true that there is no partner for negotiations. It is enough for them that it just too difficult, in the present stage of hostility and suspicion to try and convince the public otherwise. Sharon is against negotiations with the Palestinians in principle, while the weaker links in the center and the left follow his unilateral withdrawal scheme because they find it difficult to tell the truth to the public that there is a partner for peace and that any attempt to bypass the Palestinians is fated to fail.

For a while, immediately after the launching of the Geneva Accords, it had become rather difficult for Israel’s mainstream doves to tail after Sharon and his schemes. The Geneva success went a long way in overcoming the official mantra about Israel not having anyone with whom to negotiate. However, if there is ‘no partner’ (or, if it is unpopular to insist that there really is such a partner), then support for unilateral withdrawal seems more “in” than tolerating the status quo, especially, if one is tempted, despite all historical experience, into accepting Sharon’s credibility. Thus, we witness the unsavory spectacle of some ‘leaders’ in the Zionist center-left who find it convenient to turn their backs on the Geneva initiative.

It was especially unpleasant to see those in control Peace Now, slip and slide into the unilateral retreat trap. Peace Now, still traumatized by Barak’s line of making peace without the Palestinians, has been in a long-standing political and organizational identity crisis. It gave lip service to the Geneva Accords at the height of their popularity, but started a quick retreat when it turned out that Peres and the Labor Party were not interested in Geneva. Peres prefers, for the time being, to exploit Sharon’s troubles in order to pave Labor’s road back into the government. Peace Now’s announced a campaign this week aimed ‘against settlements’ – dropping its opposition to ‘the settlements’, and abandoning its previous more radical demand to leave all the territories. As there was not a word about Geneva or an agreement with the Palestinians in it, the campaign, was correctly interpreted in the media and political circles as thinly disguised support for unilateral withdrawal, and Sharon. It was clear to all concerned that the traditional leadership, to the dismay of many of its activists, had lurched to the right and turned its back on their own comrades in the Geneva formation.

Admittedly, it is rather convenient, for the moment, here in Israel, to turn one’s back on peace and the Palestinians, and to try and ignore international realities. It is simpler to line up along the momentary consensus in the broad public for Sharon against the settler-based fanatics. But, since there is really, after all is said and done, a Palestinian partner for meaningful negotiations and peace, Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal ploy is a phony alternative sabotaging the real possibilities for moving forward towards a settlement.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Murder Plain and Simple

The real intent of the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin is identical with Sharon’s disengagement ploy: to block any significant opportunity for the resumption of efforts towards genuine negotiations. The fixed goal is the targeted assassination of any chance for peace.

The policy of targeted assassinations was immoral and illegal in the first place. It really had little to do with the prevention of terror. The real intent of targeted assassination was to legitimize the employment of political murder as an instrument in the execution of crimes against the Palestinian people, from collective punishment up to politicide – the denial of their national rights. In the present context, these are also crimes against peace and the people of Israel.

Sharon has opted to include political assassination as a weapon to defend his crumbling authority. His coalition is falling apart, his ministers openly defy him, his party is in disarray. Even more important: his prestige with the broad public is in a state of disintegration. Just weeks ago he had massive support from the public who believed that he was trying to get us out of the current mess. But he has also squandered this last vestige of prestige by bumbling inconsistency and refusing to tell anyone what he is exactly trying to do. Adventurism always came naturally to Sharon, he still feels more comfortable in battle dress. So we learn that the aging general, frustrated and more isolated by the hour, personally directs the ‘heroic’ helicopter raid on a civilian convoy of a religious leader on his way back from worship.

There is method in this madness. If ever an act was designed to deepen the hostility of the Arab and Moslem world against Israel, its people and its friend, this was it. Sharon is betting the future of Israel on the clash between civilizations. His hope for Israel’s survival is pinned to the banners of George Bush’s kind of Christendom and its battle against the Arab and Moslem world.

The Bush-Sharon alliance will weather the present storm. The two need each other in their hour of adversity. Even so, Sharon’s present infatuation with political murder, may cause problems in Washington, where things like this are farmed out to proper departments of dirty tricks. In the capitals of this world, leaders do not usually brag about killing other leaders.

Monday, March 8, 2004

Sharon’s Disengagement: Pre-empting the ‘Growing Danger’ of Peace

Never a day goes by without a flood of commentaries on Sharon’s disengagement plans. Sharon insists on a major pull out from the Gaza area, the removal of some 7,500 Jewish settlers, with most of their settlements. Sharon talks about also dismantling several settlements in the West Bank and gives everyone to understand that all this is going to be coordinated with the U.S. administration, down to the last detail. The new arrangements in the Gaza region, the timing of the withdrawal, and some sort of financial assistance from the U.S. government are already the subject of intensive negotiations between the Israeli and U.S. governments. Naturally enough, the super hawks in his coalition and in his own party are fuming with indignation over the fact that the boss himself is going to grant, heaven forbid, a colossal ‘prize to terror’.But there is nothing mysterious about Sharon’s intentions. He wants very much to create a new status quo in which Israel will retain 50 per cent of the West Bank, and 90% of the settlements there, Israel will continue to have complete, undivided control of Jerusalem. And, of course, Israel will continue to look the other way whenever the refugee problem is mentioned. Sharon hopes to pacify international pressure by agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the area that is to remain in Palestinian hands after Sharon puts his disengagement program into effect. There is, of course, not the remotest possibility that the Palestinians might accept his ridiculous offer for a Palestinian state in 10% of Palestine. The sole purpose of the offer is to allow Sharon to appear as an ‘advocate of Palestinian statehood.’

Sharon may be a reactionary militarist but unlike the settler leadership, he is not a religious fundamentalist. He sees himself as a man of the world, a statesman with international standing. And as such, he never forgets that the main component in Israeli strength is the alliance with the United States and a high level of understanding and cooperation with the administration in Washington, D.C.

Sharon’s Problems

The settlers, for their part, claim to derive their politics from reading Torah. Sharon, on the other hand, reads military and political maps and tries to anticipate the effect of short and long range processes. He has arrived at the conclusion that despite Israel’s tremendous military superiority, the given status quo is tenuous and inherently unstable. And if change is inevitable, it is the task of the leader, to make every effort to shape future events. Religious fanatics don’t accept compromises. But even the most chauvinist of politicians, especially those with rich military experience, understand that there are times when you simply have to shorten your lines, so as to better defend your main positions. Sharon has announced that the time has come for Israel to carry out this kind of exercise.

Sharon fears that any sort of negotiations, even with a tremendously enervated Palestinian leadership, might propel Israel in the direction of a settlement acceptable to the international community. The contours of such a settlement, if and when genuine negotiations get underway remain clear. It is no accident that when Sharon started to talk seriously about ’separation’, his advisers informed the public that Sharon’s plan was necessary to head off other initiatives such as the Geneva Accords. Just last week, in an attempt to gain support from the Likud MK back benchers, he told them out and out that Israel must either adopt his plan or ‘lose it all’. Sharon teaches his colleagues the facts of life. A partial unilateral withdrawal is preferable to the danger of genuine negotiations for peace

Hoisted by his Own Petard

Sharon has serious problems in his government and in his party. He cannot get his plan through the cabinet without a major coalition crisis and he cannot reconstruct a new coalition without a crisis in his own party.

Interestingly enough, Sharon seems, according to the polls, to have a clear majority of Israeli public opinion behind his suggestion for a partial pull out. But most of the ministers and the local bosses in the party’s central bodies, accept the settlers’ secular arguments to the effect that any kind of pull out is a prize to the terrorists. For years, Sharon and his political allies have been arguing that Israel can ignore international public opinion and diplomatic realities and the opponents of the withdrawal are having a field day quoting relatively recent statements by Sharon such as the one that claimed that Netzarim – an isolated Israeli settlement on the southern tip the Gaza Strip- is as important as Tel Aviv. How interesting to watch Ariel Sharon being condemned by more and more of his political and ideological kinsmen of being soft on terror.

There are two main problems with Sharon’s proposed major pull out from Gaza and a few relatively isolated settlements in the WB. The first is the difficulty converting broad support in the public for a pull out into a broad coalition of support in Israeli politics for a man whose credibility was always very low. A lot of smart money is on Sharon’s retreat being more likely than any retreat by the IDF. He can always change his mind and blame parties to his left for not giving him unqualified and unconditional support. But such support may be lacking precisely because very few people believe that Sharon is really a man of principle willing to go down fighting for his beliefs. It is very hard for the forces of peace and political realism to extend any support to Sharon, who has contributed so much over so many years to the horrible predicament in which Israel finds itself.

Pre-empting Peace

But this is not the only problem. Sharon’s plans to ‘pre-empt’ peace suffer from their narrow and provincial conceptions. If Israel is already in a concessionary mood, many observers ask why not use this opportunity for some constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. Up till now, Bush and company justified their hands-off policy by the rather lame rational that nothing could be done without first meeting the need to eradicate terror. But if there is going to be an Israel pull back, without any perceptible change in the intensity of terrorist actions, isn’t it simply logical to use the opportunity to restart serious negotiations?

There are some strange mutterings coming out of DC. Bush’s advisers must be saying something like this: Here we are here in Washington, justifying our inaction by the intractability of the situation, which turns out to be highly tractable. Doesn’t our trusted ally know that this is an election year and we have plenty of our own problems? Or is it possible that Sharon could try and use the U.S. election to wring pro-Israeli policy statements, funds and other concessions from us in the administration precisely in this election year. Perhaps Sharon believes that it is better to do business with George W. while he is still around.

Momentarily, Sharon and the United States are not on the same page. But have no fear, Sharon will go nowhere without the blessings of George W., even if you promise him 80% of the votes in the Israeli parliament. He won’t move an inch, without all the damage control mechanisms, in Washington DC, in place. At the moment, it appears that Sharon doesn’t intend to move a single settler before November 2004, but he does want to use the year to clear the way for decisive action afterwards. He wants to package his separation plan this year in order to deliver it in 2005. And he wants clear policy commitments from the United States for his plans.

Sharon knows that he cannot stabilize the current situation. He is telling Bush that Israel needs to make serious changes to maintain the occupation and a lot of ‘help from its friends’ to rearrange things in order to create some hope of relative stability. What is certain is this: despite the military weakness of the Palestinians and the disarray of the Palestinian leadership, and because of the horrendous suffering of three and a half million Palestinians under conditions of brutal occupation, the Palestinian issue continues to haunt the halls of power and the consciences of decent people everywhere. The status quo, one might say, is a ‘non-starter’.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Yes, Refusal Is In The Air

Four separate Refusal-centered events are currently occurring these days in the country. In Tel Aviv, a high level IDF committee discussed at length a demand from the IDF prison authorities to ‘relocate’ the five anti-occupation conscientious objectors, Hagai Matar, Noam Bahat, Adam Maor, Matan Kaminer and Shimri Tsameret to the civilian prison system.

The infamous IDF Conscience Commission turned down for the fourth time, Yoni Ben Artzi’s demand that he be exempted from service on the basis of his clear pacifist convictions, but did redirect him to the Incompatibility Commission with a recommendation that he be released from the IDF.

Amid Zahad from the town of Dalyat El-Karmel belongs to that section of Israeli Druze who have opted for military service. Therefore, his decision to join the Israeli refusal group, Courage to Refuse, was newsworthy and led to his designation as the first Druze refusenik. Zahad told the media that his action met with general approval in his community.

Laura Miloh will not be alone this Sunday morning, February 22, 2004 when she presents herself to the IDF mobilization base in order to be jailed. Laura wrote to the “Conscience Commision’ that she refuses to participate in the crimes perpetrated by Israel through the IDF. I am not a pacifist. My refusal is motivated by my opposition to the occupation.” And the Commision wrote back that her request was rejected because her position was not related to a question of conscience. Laura, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, has recently completed a year of community service in the Yeruham development town. She will receive deep expressions of solidarity from members of the High school seniors group (the ’shministim’), New Profile and members of the Refusers Parents’ Forum. If indeed jailed, Laura will join Inbal Gilbart, serving her third sentence in jail after her right to follow the dictates of here conscience was rejected by the Conscience Commission.

The Dangerous, Disruptive Five Subversives

Pity the poor military prison system. Just a few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, the chief wardens sounded the alarm by requesting that an internal high-level IDF relocation commission send the five to civilian prisons. Colonel Major O. told the committee that “ever since they arrived the five, their presence is completely undermining discipline and order in the prison…the chief warden and the entire staff are mainly busy with them and do not have any time and energy left for the other five hundred prisoners.” The clincher came when the IDF official explained that as a group the five were quite problematic, by this example: If we would send the prisoners to work on the Wall isn’t it clear that they would refuse?

When asked to detail the sins of the five, O. demanded that the courtroom be cleared of the public before he would indulge the secret information.” Certain members of the commission asked the five, almost enticingly, that since you do not want to be in army, wouldn’t you be better off without the troublesome yoke of military discipline. The prisoners replied that if they are considered unfit for military service, then they should be released and sent home and not shoved off to serve time with hardened criminals. After it became clear to the five and their counsel that the IDF was going to do everything to make life miserable for them, including attempts to force them to do prisoner assignments in the occupied territories, the five withdrew their opposition to the transfer.

Vicious, Savage Character Assassination by an Official IDF Panel

The lengthy 9 month proceedings in the case of the IDF v. Yoni Ben Artzi propelled the IDF Conscience Commission into the public limelight. The Commission became the object of justified media criticism and public ridicule. Nobody could accept that it was reasonable that Army officers with no previous training or minimal understanding of the problem, and who never bothered with small matters like rules of procedure or criteria regarding the nature and the definition of pacifism, should be the ones to decide the fate of conscientious young men and women. A while back, a panel of military judges expressed their belief that Ben Artzi was indeed a pacifist and with this in mind sent Ben Artzi back to the Conscious Commission instead of sentencing him for refusing to obey orders.

It wasn’t a complete surprise when the CC stuck by its previous decision. However, in a fit of vengeance and anger, the CC proceeded to release a flood of vilification against Ben Artzi, accusing him of ‘ego-centricism’, inconsistency and indifference to the welfare of fellow soldiers. In an action probably unparalleled in the annals of military bureaucracy in this country, an official IDF panel defended its crude behavior by an act of totally uncalled for character assassination against a young Israeli who had been in confinement for over a year struggling to make his totally honest case before them. The IDF prosecutor chimed in trying to convince the public that Ben Artzi was devious and dangerous because he expressed on one occasion that dangerous idea that the state should not force people to act against their will.An official government bodies seized on partial and distorted quotes from hundreds of pages of testimony to defend themselves, at the expense of an honest young person, from the justified suspicion that they really had no understanding of the subject and just enjoyed setting themselves up as all powerful and all knowing.

Divide and Conquer

The manipulation of the Druze community in Israel is one of the stellar achievements of the government policy to set Arab against Arab by extending preferential treatment to candidates for co-option. Thus, most young Druze, at the insistence of their elders become regular and often professional soldiers in the IDF. The idea that a young member of the community can set up his own ideals and feelings as the only guide to his behavior can, in unchecked, spoil the deal that is based on the strange idea, promoted by Israeli quasi-intelligence ‘academic’ experts that Druze are not Arabs. A Druze soldier has declared that he will not serve in the occupied territories. What a lack of gratitude for all the Israeli government has done for the Druze by separating them from their Arab brethren.

A Matter of Slight Lack of Proportion

I have little chance of being appointed an advisor to the PR division of the IDF. But here is a bit of free advice for them. Be very careful about throwing women into military prison because they have a conscience and refuse to participate in the crimes of the occupation. We have witnessed a surge of solidarity here and abroad with the anti-occupation five serving their second year in jail. If you insist on imprisoning all the young women who openly and clearly tell you that they refuse to serve the occupation, you are going to get into a very serious battle, indeed.

The glare of publicity on the Conscious Commision may be indirectly responsible for the current wave of arrests against young women. During the Ben Artzi proceedings, it was revealed that 97% of male requests for exemption are rejected while 97% of requests from women are accepted. Two things have to be said here. The first is that the reason for the discrepancy is obvious: men are cannon fodder in demand and women are less suitable in this respect. The second is that the only ‘logical’ explanation of the discrepancy is that the women are all devoted pacifists and the men are just a bunch of fakers. The problem with this explanation is that no one will believe that it is true. It may be that the CC is trying to even up the numbers by jailing more female conscientious objectors. If this is true, boy, are they making a mistake.

(Special thanks to Adam Keller of Gush Shalom)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Dr. Ilan Peppe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

This is the text of my reply to an article by Dr. Ilan Pappe, The Geneva Bubble, which appeared in the London Review of Books, Volume 26 Number 1, (January 8, 2004).

Dr. Ilan Pappe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

The historian, Ilan Pappe totally rejects that Geneva Accords and determines that they are an abortive initiative, or a ‘bubble.’ Pappe, it appears, is absolutely opposed to any negotiations for peace which are not based on sincere remorse by Israel for its responsibility for the conflict and its intensification. By insisting on this seemingly well-meaning, but rather naïve precondition, Pappe is actually rejecting outright any chance in the foreseeable future to reach a compromise based on the two-state solution. With the flick of his pen Ilan Pappe postpones the fight for peace to another era. Meanwhile, he is busy proving that not only is there no chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but that no such chance ever existed. The 1947 Partition Plan, the Oslo Framework, the Road Map and the Geneva Accords – were all merely diplomatic bait designed to lure the Palestinian people to forfeit their rights. As a historian, he has no difficult in weaving a narrative that fits his central thesis.

The Approach to Texts

It is not easy to argue with Pappe, who is completely at ease in ignoring the actual content of important documents and presenting his own interpretation of them without even relating to the text itself. He simply submits his own conclusion as if it were the text itself. Here is a typical example. In explaining his opposition to the Road Map, he states that it is just one of the three Israeli initiatives which appeared after three years of Intifada. The three we learn were all designed to please Israeli public opinion and included United States support in the form of an ‘honest broker.’ That, according to Pappe is the background of the Road Map. And the content? Pappe tells us:

"At the end of the Map: 10% of Palestine will be divided into two giant detention camps – in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – without any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem and with complete Israeli control of Jerusalem.”

The reader is invited to compare Pappe’s statement with the relevant text of the Road Map. In the third stage: “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement…through a settlement based on UNSCR 242, 338, 1397 that ends the occupation tht began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides..and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

I assume that Pappe is really ‘helping’ us understand that the Road Map is just another of Sharon’s schemes, but he fails to tell us that this is an interpretation, unsupported by the text.. Pappe doesn’t even bother telling us how he reached his conclusion regarding the text in question. Of course, Pappe has the right to interpret the Road Map as he sees fit, but why present his interpretation as if there was no difference between it and the text itself. Pappe’s interpretation of the Road Map is built on the charge that it is just another Israeli initiative. In fact there is no basis for the charge. Anyone who makes it will have to explain that not only the United States, but also the European Community, the United Nations and Russia are all involved in the Israeli plot. Israel which ‘accepted’ the Road Map with fourteen unilateral reservations has done everything possible to sabotage it. To this very day, Israel makes a clear distinction between the Road Map which was imposed on it and President Bush’s ‘vision’ from June 2002, which it considers an endorsement of Israel policy. According to Pappe, Israel can wrap the entire world around Sharon’s chubby finger. The Palestinian leaders, for their part, are mere candidates for the job of chief wardens in an Israeli prison, the Palestinian Authority we are given to understand are nothing but a gang of despicable collaborators.

Defining the Geneva Accords as a “Bubble” Means Evading any Real Debate

After categorizing the GA as just one more initiative by Israel and obscuring its oppositional role in Israeli politics, Pappe launches an attack on the content of the initiative, without quoting any part of its text. Another example of Pappe’s unique interpretations is his statement that the Accords provide “for a mini-state built on 15% percent of what used to be Palestine, with a capital near Jerusalem and no army.” But the Accords based on the June 1967 borders provide for a full pull out from all the occupied territories, i.e., 22% of Western Palestine. The Palestinians would receive full territorial (dunam for dunam) compensation for any area retained by Israel for some of the settlements.

Pappe’s statement about a ‘capital near Jerusalem’ is just another example of his cavalier treatment of the Accords which state clearly (Article 6 (2): The parties shall have mutually recognized capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.” The Accords call for the division of Jerusalem with all the Arab neighborhoods under full Palestinian sovereignty, including Palestinian control of the Temple Mount. Can anyone familiar with Israeli politics fail to acknowledge the deep significance of the fact that 220,000 Palestinian residents of the city, will live in their own capital of the state of Palestine?

I assume, knowing Ilan Pappe’s wide knowledge of the Palestinian issue, that he must have some sort of evidence for his interpretations of the Accords up his sleeve. Meanwhile, he is satisfied with a description of the Accords which is clear contradiction to the provisions of the Accords. But, again, he doesn’t bother to adduce the missing evidence. He really doesn’t want to get bogged down in an argument about ‘details’, because his sole concern is ‘positioning’ himself on the side of justice, which is for him the Palestinian side of the conflict.

This conscious act of ‘positioning’ has produced a historiographical methodology concocted by Ilan Pappe from elements of post-modernist relativism and vulgar Marxism. A sense of wrath (completely understandable in and of itself) over the injustices against the Palestinians, which he is protesting, has lead him to create his own narrative, wherein interpretations of facts are judged by their conformance with the need to censure the terrible crimes Israel is committing against the Palestinian people (and its own hope for a normal existence in the region).

Pappe even faults the Geneva Accords for not reshaping the internal relations between Israel and its Palestinian Arab citizens. This noble demand from the Accord is at variance with the thinking of almost every organized political group of Israeli Arabs. The clear position of all the major parties and the Israeli Arab population as a whole is that achieving a reasonable version of a peaceful solution, more or less like the Geneva Accords, based on the minimum demands of the Palestinian leadership and public opinion, would be a major contribution in advancing their fight for equality and democracy. This is a mature and reasonable way to look at their problem. The chances to improve their own standing as Israeli citizens will improve to the degree that current Israeli reality, bedeviled by acute chauvinism and insecurity, can be transformed by a serious reduction in the tensions that come with daily armed confrontations.

Of course, the Geneva Accords could have done more for the Palestinian refugees. However, everyone knows that this is the issue where passions and suspicions dominate the discourse. For most Israelis, massive and unrestricted realization of the right of return by millions of refugees spells the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, the basically humanitarian demand for the refugees right of repatriation, is also the program of a multitude of Arab nationalists who support it mainly because it is the only path to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state.

However, it is simply untrue that the Geneva Accords “leave the refugees in the camps,” as Pappe claims. The refugees would have a number of options, including the return of tens of thousands to Israel, proper, repatriation to the newly established Palestinian state, remaining in the host countries, relocation to other states – all based on a serious compensation package from the international community.

Peace then, for Pappe, depends on the de-Zionization of Israel and its agreement for the unlimited repatriation of the Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. This perspective is tantamount to an orientation on some sort of cataclysmic upheaval in Israel and the area. Without going into the moral and practical complexities of this perspective (Would it really be a good thing? What are the chances of it happening during the present century) one thing is sure. This perspective advances a ‘program’ which is today, here and now, grist for the propaganda mill of the Israeli government and assists it in falsely claiming that the peace process means that Israel is being asked to make concessions that would change the very nature of the state. The orientation on a hoped-for cataclysm will do absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of three and a half million Palestinians under occupation and the millions of refugees scattered in the region.

Insulting the Palestinian Leadership

I do not want to get into a historical debate with Ilan Pappe, but I cannot desist from commenting on the insulting language employs against the Arab leadership since 1948. The Geneva Accords were only launched, according to Pappe, after the Israeli side succeeded in ’scaring the Palestinians’. All through the years, the Arab leadership was either faint-hearted or just plain scared out of its wits. According to Pappe, the Palestinians behaved in such a fashion at every pivotal crossroad, such as 1947-1948, Oslo and Camp David. Pappe is in a sharp ideological dispute with the dominant currents in the Palestinian national movement which have opted for a two-state solution. Sadly, instead of discussing the differences of opinion openly with a minimum of respect for his adversaries, he accuses the leadership of the largest, mass-based Palestinian groups and organizations of being psychologically defective.

As against Pappe’s opposition to any concession regarding all Palestinian rights, the Palestinian leadership realized, after serious deliberation, that it must strive for a painful compromise and that unrealistic rejectionism was actually helping Israel and the enemies of the Palestinian people. For this, the present Palestinian leadership is humiliated by Pappe and branded as traitors and cowards . Pappe believes that he knows the Arab world much than better than the overwhelming majority of secular Palestinian leaders; he ‘knows’ that the Arab world will never accept an unrepentant Israel that doesn’t acknowledge its responsibility for the conflict’. Isn’t it in the realm of possibility that the Palestinian leaders may know a few things about the Arab world that Ilan Pappe does not.

The Bubble that Didn’t Burst

Sharon’s top advisers, explaining his recent unilateral withdrawal ploy, leaked the information that it was intended to head off alternative proposals such as the Geneva Accords. Recently, the entire Bundestag and Spanish Socialist Party endorsed the Accords. These are just some of the events that prove that the Accords have become an influential factor wherever and whenever serious thinking is directed to realistic chances to improve the situation in the Middle East.

Likewise important is the possibility that the Accords can play a role in weakening the prestige of both Bush and Sharon, who are both, along with Blair, under serious public pressure for their culpability for the daily outrages against the Palestinian people. Sharon and Bush can be isolated politically for turning their back on a genuine opportunity for peace and an end to the occupation.

I have no doubts about Ilan Pappe’s sincerity and devotion to justice for both Jews and Palestinians, and I am more than willing to recognize his extreme courage and selflessness in defending his ideas. Even so, I fear that a sense of despair has led him to exaggerate the strength of Sharon and the weakness of the Palestinian side. It is this sense that has led him to turn his back on genuine, practical political efforts that can make a big difference. Such efforts are necessary to convert the growing awareness that something terrible is happening in Palestine into an effective force for change.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Five Families and the Five Who Refuse to Serve this Occupation

Public interest around the battle of the five young Israelis who decided to stand up and tell their own society that it is on the path to disaster in the most effective way that they could do so naturally centered on the young men themselves, their background and their opinions and the path that each of them traversed on his way to jail.

The story of the five is being told and will undoubtedly be retold again and again. One very important aspect of that story deserves special mention, the story of the parents group which spearheaded and actually organized much of the protest activity. It has done so in close, uninterrupted consultation with the five, mediating between them, their legal representatives, the press and the wider community of friends and supporters. This was no simple matter. It must be clearly stated that the five were never members of a single organization and that they made their way to confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces on an individual basis. Though, without exception, belonging to the dove constituency, most of them were not political activists in any sense. There was no way that they could have forseen that the actions of their sons would throw them together and load on their soldiers a tremendous burden of social and collective responsibility. A minority were involved in the peace movement and had a rich background of struggle. But for the most part, the parents were thrown into a cauldron of tensions, concerns and pressures both as individual parents, seized with deep concern for the suffering of their children and as activists in the parents group carrying the main responsibility for the success of a tremendously complex, totally unprecedented and publicly critical campaign in their defense. They have maintained for over a year an intensive level of cooperation and effectiveness in assisting the development of a local and a world wide campaign.

This kind of battle is not easy for any parent. In addition to all the difficulties there is cloud of uncertainty as to the outcome of every battle in the courts and the extent of the price that the sons will have to pay until this struggle is over. Every parents asks himself and herself, every day and every minute, have I done enough to prevent my son from putting himself in harm’s way? Every parent asks himself as to whether he or she is doing enough to increase and broaden the campaign in their defense. Every parent is amazed at the courage of the five and hopes that it will not be taxed to further limits. And above everything, each parent must keep on reminding himself or herself that this is a battle for the soul of this country, that their children are sacrificing their freedom to send a message to their friends, to other young people, to their entire society. It is of some comfort that the content of this message is in accord with the basic views and understanding of millions of honest and fair people all over the world. But every parent would like to see his child studying, loving, working, developing and military prison is no place for these activities.

I must confess that the motivation to sit down and write about the parents is a result of some sort of crisis. The difficulty arose out of serious differences of opinion regarding an important problem of strategy. A few days after the five entered Military Prison #6, they were informed that the IDF had initiated proceedings to transfer them to the civilian criminal prison system. This move surprised the five and their families.The proceedings revealed that it was the IDF Military Police which runs the army prison system demanded the switch. Their argument centered on the fact that the five were a walking incitement for disturbances and that they were ill equipped to handle this kind of rebel. It seems that in order to bolster their case, their people in IDF Prison # 6 were busy convincing the five that life would be better in the civilian prison since the IDF has it in for them and will do everything to make them miserable if they remain there. In these circumstances, both the parents and the five had to decide on whether to take public and legal initiatives against the transfer. There were serious differences of opinion about the impending transfer among the five.

There are long list of reasons pro and con on the issue. There were good reasons to resist the switch and good reason to see in it certain advantages. Almost instinctively, the parents, the minute they learned about the IDF scheme, started to organize against it. On the other hand, the parents could not ignore the different opinions among the five. A complicated process of comparing positions and working on a consensus ensued, with different positions emerging in both groups. Consultations among the five were complicated by the fact that they were unable to meet without the intervention and presence of one of the lawyers assisting the parents. During the entire process and in anticipation of an important hearing scheduled for February 17, 2000 the parents were making immense efforts to gather information, especially about the regular prison system, its workings and the chances of the five with the system’s problems and apparatus. Admittedly, though not always, there was a very understandable and completely human tendency for the parent to see the strength of the argument presented by their son and to feel the need to stress that it was the five who had the full right to make the decisions that would influence them, first and foremost.

A lawyer, present at a recent consultation of the five wrote in a report to the parents: “I have to emphasize that the way that they conducted the discussion and handled the differences of opinion between them was so impressive and mature, that I was simply inspired and educated, again and again. If only I were able to conduct a discussion of such differences of opinion in such a manner.”

But the circumstances, despite the efforts of all the parents were incredibly difficult. Parents felt that the wishes of their son, had to be the guide for their own position and for the response of the group especially as the consensus of the five was less militant regarding the transfer out of IDF Prison #6. It is not the purpose of this letter to present my or any other position regarding the complex issue of the impending transfer. It is the purpose to stress the painful nobility and the exasperations that the fight to defend the five involve.There is however, a new emerging consensus among the parents and the five.. Whatever the fate of the IDF move to relocate the five, the main thrust of our efforts and those of all who realize the importance of this battle for freedom of conscience and against the occupation, must continue, without any let up, to be for the immediate release of the five.

Free the anti-occupation refuseniks now!