04 July 2007 - The consequences of the coup
Happy Birthday, U.S.A.!
Today I attended an academic symposium here in Jersusalem hosted by the Shalem Center’s Institute for Strategic Studies on “the implications of recent events in Gaza for the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the Middle East.” There were three panel discussions, each hosted by ex-Soviet dissident and oftime Israeli cabinet member Natan Sharansky. I declined the translation in favor of listening in Hebrew.
The first panel focused on the Israeli perspective. Lieutenant General (Res.) Moshe Ya’alon spoke about the decline of the two-state solution, and how Israel’s best option might be to introduce Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank without relinquishing control. Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland disagreed somewhat, arguing that Hamas’s victory offered Israel the chance to disengage even further.
The second panel considered the Palestinian prospects. Human rights activist Bassem Eid attacked Palestinian leaders, and said statehood was secondary to basic survival, but said Palestinians should be given a chance to mange things on their own, even if they failed. I asked him whether Palestinians might offer citizenship to Israeli settlers; he said no, since Palestinians could not yet even govern themselves.
Professor Rafael Yisraeli said Israel’s recognition of Hashemite Jordan was a mistake, and proposed that Arabs in Israel and the territories be given Jordanian-Palestinian citizenship. I asked him what the difference was between his proposal and the policy of apartheid South Africa. He misunderstood and launched into an (unnecessary) list of the differences between Israel and apartheid South Africa.
The third panel looked at American policy. Dr. Martin Kramer said that the Jordanian (or Egyption) option was a non-starter, and that the significance of the Hamas “principality” for regional policy could not be evaded. Colonel (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman predicted that the U.S. would make Hamas failure in Gaza a priority, and said Israel should go for firm strategy instead of always seeking new solutions.
Dr. Lerman’s knowledge of U.S. policy was impressive, and he suggested America had too much invested in the two-state solution to let it die, even after Palestinian incapacity had been so brutally exposed. He also said that despite the paralysis of debate in Washington—driven, he said, by divisions on the Republican side between neo-cons and realists—the U.S. would not go wobbly on Islamic extremistm
There was a bit more to the discussions than that, but that was the general gist of things. The most substantial disagreements were on the question of Jordan’s role in resolving the Palestinian issue. There was broad agreement that Israel had made serious strategic errors in the past, including assuming sole responsibility for the fate of Palestinian aspirations. No one thought Israeli occupation was the obstacle.
I didn’t find the questions from the audience terribly illuminating, and I must admit I was rather troubled by the enthusiasm shown for Dr. Israeli’s proposal of separate citizenship, which was presented as a cut-and-dry solution to the problem. People were attracted to its seeming simplicity and seemed not to understand what it meant in terms of its historical precedents and its likely political consequences.
Some people seemed to think that the Palestinian issue could somehow be made into Someone Else’s Problem. Others, including Eid, seemed to believe that Israel could and should continue the status quo for now. Iran and Syria were only mentioned tangentially; overcoming the Iranian threat, someone said, would help Israeli-Palestinian prospects but peace with Syria would have no positive spin-offs.
There was no talk about internal Israeli reforms, save from one person in our row who wanted to know whether greater Jewish adherence to the Torah would have any positive impact on the situation. This was an analytical discussion, with little to offer in the way of idealism or romanticism or creative pragmatism. Most of us left more confused than we were before—though I suppose that’s a good thing.
Sharansky summed up by referring to Bassem Eid’s presentation, arguing that the West often overlooks its potential allies among the human rights activists and civil society groups that manage to survive under authoritarian regimes (though often in exile). Rather than hoping for the next autocrat to emerge—what Eid called “another Abu”—the West should listen to and support those sharing its values.
Outside, I spoke with Eid, who used to work for B’Tselem but now runs the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. He puts political goals after bread-and-butter issues: “Arafat wanted a state. He’s gone now, and we have other things to deal with.” In contrast, the Israeli rights groups I’ve encountered want to put politics first by internationalizing opposition to the occupation. Same city, worlds apart.