Thursday, June 28, 2012

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Permanently Off the Agenda

The plain fact of the matter is that the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace has been permanently removed from the historical agenda. There are many honest and highly motivated activists, who are still devoting time and energy to the cause of  Israeli-Palestinian peace, and who, naturally enough, will bitterly challenge this assertion.  With all due respect, I shall do my best to explain.

There are three main developments which have effectively removed the Palestinian issue from the international diplomatic and political arena: a) The hardening structure of Israeli politics; b) The weakened state of US hegemony in the Middle East; 3) The growing turmoil in the Arab world.

Before going on to analyze these developments and their role in eliminating the Palestinian issue from current consideration, I must offer a sad commentary on the role of the discussion of the issue – and not the issue itself, in current discourse. Many friends of peace are involved in long, complex, even convoluted discussions as to the comparative benefits and disadvantages of the two apparently possible solutions; I am referring of course to the long standing debate between the two-state and the one-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A tremendous amount of sincerity and emotion, deep thought and ingenuity have been marshaled by both sides to the debate. I myself was quite active in this sense, having been for years a strong devotee of the 2-state solution. The sad fact is that the discussion has become increasingly meaningless in that there is no real connection between the debate and any existing political perspective. The periodic news items on this or that meeting devoted to the resuscitation of the "peace process" only serve to stress that we are dealing with a mockery and that, effectively, it is Israel which is calling the shots. For better or for worse, this debate about the relative virtues of either "solution" has become meaningless, passé, i.e. totally irrelevant to real life of Palestinians and Israelis.

The historical elements which created diplomatic space for the  possible for the settlement of the conflict have more or less withered away. Not all of the new relevant elements concerning the future of the Jews in the Middle East have come into play, but there are clear signs of their emergence. Nowhere, now or in the new future, are we able to discern the outlines of an agreement for peace in Palestine.  The old structures in the region will die, sooner than later.  Let us return here to the three main causes for this development.

Bibidom and Israel as a Regional Hegemonic Power

The broadest coalition in Israeli history now rules the country.
Ninety four members of 120 in the Knesset (Parliament) compose an unassailable coalition. All polls indicate that Netanyahu’s policies, especially those on Palestinian and security issues, enjoy widespread support in the public.

Since there are absolutely no serious challenges to the status quo, both the US and Europe see Israel led by Netanyahu as an irreversible and reliable fact of political reality. This reality is not at all bad for the US and its allies. It means that the Palestinians are, for all practical purposes, "pacified," and there are a lot of useful things that can be done in the management of the region with the co-operation of an unencumbered Israel. 

The saddest thing here is that the current leadership is the freely chosen product of Israeli democracy.  The great majority of the Israeli Jews want to maintain the status quo and genuinely fear any compromise.  Much of this sentiment is a result of manipulation, but most is the direct product of the very political structure. Israel has moved on from successful management of the conflict with the Palestinians and is more and more dedicated to maintaining and expanding its regional hegemony.  Life is bearable for the colonial masters of the region. But any real change or advance towards justice and equality is seen by the Jewish masses in the country as an unacceptable threat.

The US in Retreat  

The facts and figures of the US global retreat are well known. It is not only a question of the ongoing financial and economic crisis.  It is impossible to exaggerate the fall in intellectual and moral prestige that has made the US an embarrassment to many of its most loyal supporters. By its own admission, the US is strapped for cash, cannot fund its most essential international commitments, not to speak of a perennial inability to put required troops on the ground. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the US must be ever so cautious in employing its tremendous superiority in military technology, because it is clearly unable to convert even the most successful military successes, in the relevant arenas of contention, into sustainable political and diplomatic assets. The growing political limitations of US influence, even on the background of its military ascendency are the clearest indicator that the US has not the wherewithal to maintain its empire. It’s the old saw about bayonets. The US cannot get anyone to sit on them for it.

The Middle East in Turmoil

The historical possibility in the past for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was generated in a situation characterized by the almost complete regional hegemony of the US. Peace was to come as a fruition of Western values. Thinking revolved around the "liberal" idea of peace, symbolized by US spiritual auspices. ("Why can't you guys just make up?"). One could argue that if the US could not engineer a settlement between the two national movements, it would eventually have to give everyone the vote, in a single secular entity. This was a theoretically achievable goal when the region was under tight US control. But for years now, neither the US, nor any of its allies show any real discomfort with the slightly embarrassing realities on the ground. "Israeli settlement is not helpful,'' goes the mantra.

Arabs in Turmoil

The Arab people of the region are in rebellion. It is most unlikely that the peace agreements with Israel will survive the storm. But whatever happens to these political artifacts of the past, it is difficult, and even impossible to imagine the emergence, in this long period of storm and stress, of a major Arab formation that would allow itself to become an open or official partner in the collusion against the Palestinians.

Israel and the US have indeed pushed Palestine off the current international agenda. As for the near future, an unstable Arab world in crisis would not dare and could not afford to be seen as exploiting Palestinian weakness.  On the other hand, a stable Arab constellation, when it emerges, would not be willing to turn its back on Palestine. Its minimal program on Palestine, when enunciated, would be an Israeli nightmare.

The momentous changes occurring in the region and beyond it have rendered the old way of thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict obsolete. Though, we cannot in this and other important matters chart a clear alternative path forward, we can and should realize that the old game is over. The difficult and challenges of a new reality are no reason to cling to old, outmoded perceptions.

This rendering of Palestinian-Israeli realities on the ground may seem a bit somber. But let us remind ourselves that history in the Middle East is far from over. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Justice in Jerusalem

My readers appreciate the fact that the law is incredibly complicated. Therefore, I am volunteering, here and now, to simplify a very thorny issue – presently at the heart of Israeli politics, an issue which threatened to make life rather difficult for King Bibi, the First.

In an Israeli settlement on stolen land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), it turns out that there is a small parcel of privately owned land (by an Arab) upon which some thirty apartments have been built and occupied by settler families. After tons of legal battles, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that construction on this bit of privately owned (Palestinian) land was illegal from the beginning to the end and ordered the demolition of the buildings.

The settlers and their allies demanded that King Bibi do something.  This was no simple matter even for B1 who did not want to antagonize every decent liberal in the country by deliberately flaunting the honor and the prestige of the HCJ. King or not, the settlers were preparing to roast his royal highness’s dignity by passing a law to legalize the robbery of that small parcel of land in the settlement.

Now it may seem complicated, but Israel and most of the body politic therein, including the HCJ consider that the Israeli robbery of the entire land of Palestine is totally legal and justified.
Accordingly, within the June 1967 borders, the government and courts express Israeli sovereignty. Within the OPT, the IDF and the Government of Israeli exercise sovereign rights and powers either by virtue of Military Emergency orders or by virtue of the ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that, get this, Israel is the acting sovereign instead of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Thus, in the eyes of Israel, and its vaunted court system, the executor and the arbiter of Israel’s liberal soul and conscience, it is perfectly legal to steal an entire country, in this instance, Palestine.
So what’s the problem with these thirty apartments? It is this. Along with the rest of civilized peoples, Israel has provisions defending the rights of private property. You can steal an entire country, but you cannot steal a parcel of land.

Bibi’s party and coalition was up in arms against the scheduled demolition operation a few weeks off. Their move was the introduction of a special bill legalizing the illegal acquisition of that troublesome parcel. Now this bit of threatened legalization threatened to convert the distinguished jurists of the HCJ into a gaggle of clowns. Moreover, the HCJ could, if they dared, strike down the law as unconstitutional. (This can be done, despite the fact that Israel does not have a constitution - I told you that the law is complicated - but we will leave this side issue for another time).

The settlers and the settler lobby were frothing at the mouth. They demanded that Bibi support the legalization bill.
As abhorrent as it sounds, the King was in a minority. But King Bibi is not a king for any old reason So, the King cracked the whip and threatened to expel rebellious ministers from the cabinet and suggested a “compromise” to his followers. This compromise was a “beut.” The apartments would be “sawed up” and rebuilt a few kilometers down the road. And King Bibi has a real pacifier for the settler tantrum. Israel will commence construction, starting now, of another 1,000 housing units be built in the OPT. Homes, streets, utilities, commercial areas in honor of the compromise.  Why should Israeli Jews fight other Israeli Jews when they can amicably decide to rob some more Palestinian territory? You tell me. Hallowed be the name of the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem. Hallow be the principle of private ownership in an expropriated land. The Knesset rejected the legalization bill.  Bibi does not need a Knesset approval for bigger and better annexations.