01 May 2007

01 May 2007 - A tribute to Anatoly Delm

It’s May Day, and since this is a left-wing blog now, I can get away with trashing communism. My first lessons in the weaknesses of this ideology came, quite naturally, from someone who actually grew up under Soviet communism: my high school classmate Anatoly Delm. Today, ironically, is his 30th birthday. I have tried to find his contact details, to no avail. So, ‘Toly, wherever you are—here’s to you.

Several conservative thinkers and writers have pointed out the links between socialism and antisemitism, none perhaps more stridently than Irving Kristol, who wondered why Israelis remained so wedded to an ideology that he felt was hostile to the future success of their society. He even referred to the Israeli and American Jewish embrace of the left as “the political stupidity of Jews.”

But let me not dwell on that now. I actually want to write about a book I came across in Harvard’s International Legal Studies library last week entitled Human Rights & Conflict: Exploring the Links between Rights, Law and Peacebuilding. The book, which touches on many of the themes I have explored in this blog, dwells on the apparent tension between human rights advocacy and conflict resolution.

The editors, Julie Mertus and Jeffrey W. Helsing, suggest that there may be a middle ground in the field of international humanitarian law: “The increased focus on the protection of civilians in all stages of conflict blurs the lines between human rights, humanitarian law, and conflict resolution, bringing actors from all three approaches together in a common cause.” But the tensions, they say, are still there.

There is a chapter by Mohammed Abu-Nimer of American University and Edward (Edy) Kaufman of the University of Maryland and Hebrew University that focuses on human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—not only the tensions between the two approaches, but also the possibilities for finding common ground. They suggest, in passing, that the democratization of both societies may provide a link.

There’s much else besides this argument in the chapter—such as the argument that human rights were largely absent from the Oslo process, and the observation that Israelis and Palestinians may emphasize different themes (conflict resolution and “peace” for Israelis, collective rights and “justice” for Palestinians), though the rights of people on both sides are being violated in the course of events.

I’m not really moved by Abu-Nimer and Kaufman’s discussion of the ways in which human rights have been present or absent at various stages of the conflict and the peace process. I also find some of their recommendations (e.g. “nonviolent sanctions”) silly. What I do find interesting is their observation that both societies seem, at least on the surface, to share a concern for human rights and democracy.

Here, perhaps, is where there is progress to be made. In his book The Case For Democracy, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky suggests that free societies cannot make peace with unfree ones, because the leaders of unfree societies depend on the persistence of the conflict to stay in power. And as Tom Friedman often points out, democracies rarely, if ever, go to war against each other.

This leads the reader—though not the authors, at least not here—to the question of domestic reform, or what my friend Sapir and I call the “indirect” model of conflict resolution. By affirming the importance of human rights and tolerance within each society, both could begin to reach out to each other. Here the importance of human rights is their emphasis on equal dignity (which the authors do mention).

Unfortunately, as is the case with so much academic writing on the conflict, Abu-Nimer and Kaufman provide little in the way of practical guidance, other than vague prescriptions: “Stimulate consensus building”; “Focus . . . attention . . . on . . . human needs and rights”; “. . . institutionalize coordination networks”; “Encourage . . . nonviolent sanctions”; “. . . focus on agendas with issues of current relevance.”

Hidden in these mutterings are the shadows, perhaps of good ideas. But the authors do not probe the actual content of these ideas too often—and when they do, they are inclined to fill the vacuum with politically correct banalities such as protest against the security barrier and targeted killings of terrorist leaders.(These measures, though ugly, may in fact help push the peace process forward by disabling terror.)

In tomorrow’s blog entry, I shall explore a book whose sole topic is practical solutions—Galia Golan’s Israel and Palestine: Peace Plans from Oslo to Disengagement, which has been well received by critics and which describes a dozen proposals that have crossed the table since the Oslo peace process began falling apart seven years ago. I’m not sure ‘Toly likes any of them, but they’re worth a look.

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