20 June 2007

20 June 2007 - Returning to action

It’s been more than a week since I last updated this blog, and even longer since I posted my usual op-ed length essays. I’ve been on a “working holiday” for the past three weeks in California and South Africa, and now I’m en route to Jerusalem via Johannesburg to begin a legal internship with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), one of Israel’s foremost legal advocacy organizations.

Much has happened in the past several days that will change the future of the Middle East. Hamas has staged a coup-d’état in Gaza, splitting the Palestinian proto-state into two, with Fatah controlling the West Bank. The mask has now fallen; Hamas can no longer be described as a “democratically-elected” government, and no one can deny that the Palestinians are responsible for their own misery.

Of course, it is only a matter of time before the anti-Israel crazies start to claim that Israel is to blame. They will resort to the tedious argument that everything that happens in the conflict is Israel’s fault. Or—as many conspiracy theorists did after 9/11—they will argue that since only Israel could have benefited from such events, Israel must have been responsible. “Divide and rule,” they will shout.

But even some hardened anti-Israel commentators, like the Business Day’s resident cartoonist, have begun to realize that Israel was right to claim that there is no real negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. And Hamas apologists like South African “intelligence” minister Ronnie Kasrils—who gets annihilated by Benny Morris in today’s Cape Times—have been left with egg on their faces.

Yet the Hamas coup is far from good news. First of all, the violence may not be over. There will be more Palestinian bloodshed as the two sides try to wipe each other out in their respective strongholds. Israel or Egypt (or both) may be forced to intervene in Gaza to secure the border posts that Hamas has seized, in order to prevent Iran and other troublemakers from supplying it with further weapons and cash.

Second, the dream of a Palestinian state may be dying. It is hard to see how an independent Palestinian polity incorporating both the West Bank and Gaza is going to come into being any time in the near future. The most viable option on the table, in fact, may be a confederation between the West Bank and Jordan, which is an idea that even some Arab leaders are beginning to take seriously.

The consequences for peacemaking are profound. There is no hope of a deal with Hamas; any notion that it would become more moderate after taking power has now been thoroughly debunked. There may, however, be hope for a deal with Fatah in the West Bank, which might be freer to negotiate an agreement with Israel now that it is free of the albatross of Hamas.

There are also, already, dire human rights consequences. The Hamas regime in Gaza has already begun executing its opponents; Fatah is also carrying out death sentences in the West Bank. As bad as Israeli occupation was and is, Palestinian rule is turning out to be far worse. And unlike Israel, the Palestinians do not have the human rights activists or the legal system to protect the most vulnerable.

Over the next ten weeks or so, I will be blogging from Israel, reporting on my experiences as a human rights litigator-in-training in Jerusalem. In addition to my work with ACRI, I will be traveling around Israel and meeting with local and international dignitaries to discuss the latest developments with them. I’ll be updating this page six days a week with my observations and reflections.

I’ll also be working on two other projects. One is a research paper that I’m preparing with Harvard post-doc Sapir Handelman for a conference at the University of Utah in September. The paper is going to explore different options for peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, focusing on successful models of negotiations in other conflicts and how they can be implemented in the Middle East.

The other project is research for a seminar that’s going to be taught by Professor Duncan Kennedy at Harvard Law School on the legal aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kennedy is a pro-Palestinian radical, and I was planning on taking his class anyway just to debate him when he asked me if I would help prepare the Israeli side of the argument. Cautiously, I accepted the challenge.

I’ll be using this blog to explore and expand ideas over the course of the summer. As always, comments and contributions are greatly appreciated. It’s long been a dream of mine to work in the human rights field in Israel, to learn firsthand about what is going on in the occupied territories and the Israeli justice system, and to engage in debates about the future of the region as history unfolds all around.

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