31 May 2007

31 May 2007 - Welcome to Southafristan!

South Africa abstained yesterday from an historic vote on the UN Security Council establishing an international criminal tribunal, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to investigate the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister—and prominent South African investor—Rafik Hariri. And this on the eve of a week of local demonstrations calling for international action against Israel!

It is now clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the South African government, in search of an alternative to a unipolar, American-led world (and describing South Africa’s motives in such terms is describing them charitably), is settling on the jihadist worldview as an acceptable substitute for Soviet Stalinsm. As far as foreign policy is concerned: goodbye human rights & democracy; welcome to Southafristan!

30 May 2007 - Letting Hamas in the back door?

I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but the Mail & Guardian recently reported that the South African Jewish community would agree to drop its objections to a visit from Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh if he came as the head of the Palestinian government and not as the head of the organization. If the facts line up—and I can’t confirm them yet—they would represent an astonishingly supine and indefensible position.

UPDATE: I am now informed that the Board has, in fact, taken no such position and that the M&G has the story wrong.

Meanwhile, the proposed South African boycott of Israel rolls along, getting coverage in Ha’aretz. Apparently the week of Palestinian solidarity events will kick off with Friday sermons in mosques around the country. These are bound to be radical—I have heard some broadcast on local radio, and they can be absolutely awful when it comes to the subject of Israel, or America. So much for moderation…

30 May 2007

29 May 2007 - The ANC targets Israel

South Africa’s ruling party is joining a ludicrous campaign against Israel, which I’ve written about in the latest edition of my substitute Moneyweb column. The first comment responding to my piece is a typical antisemitic rant; the author can’t even spell my name. Anyway, talking to a local prosecutor recently got me thinking about a good way to debunk silly arguments: “To believe this, you have to believe X…”

Over at ynet, the co-authors of It’s Almost Supernatural present a relevant critique of South Africa’s foreign policy and the direction it’s heading. The only possible good that might come out of this madness is that if South Africa does actually support sanctions against Israel, it will could harsher international scrutiny to bear on South Africa’s own government, as well as its hypocritical foreign policy.

29 May 2007

28 May 2007 - Labor's fateful choice

At this moment, Israel’s Labor Party is holding an election for its new leader. The choice is between former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who in 2000-1 offered the Palestinians the most sweeping concessions ever made by an Israeli leader, and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, who co-authored a peace plan with Palestinian moderate Sari Nusseibeh. It is a close race, with Ayalon narrowly leading the polls.

Today’s Ha’aretz features an article endorsing Ayalon, citing Barak’s perceived weaknesses and touting “character” over “experience.” I have limited knowledge of both men, but I met Ayalon last December, and it seemed he was just as headstrong as Barak is perceived to be. He seemed to think that negotiations could be ordered to take effect, just as Barak once seemed to think he could dictate an agreement.

Both men have a strong military background, which increases their appeal as candidates from the left. But both seem to have the same lack of skill in marshaling consensus around vulnerable, if not unpopular, viewpoints. This is a severe weakness, since whoever wins will have to challenge Bibi Netanyahu, who is reclaiming popularity at the polls and has a simple message voters understand: no!

After the election, the new Labor leader will have to decide the fate of the party within Ehud Olmert’s Kadima-led coalition government. Barak has hinted that, contrary to expectations that he would rescue Olmert by taking over as defense minister, he would pull the party out, causing the government to fall and forcing new elections. But given Likud’s resurgence, this might not be Labor’s best option.

Staying in the government, however, has its own risks, and it might be best at this time of crisis to form a viable opposition rather than playing a secondary role in a government that has already fumbled away the confidence of the public. Regardless, sooner or later, Israel will face an Ayalon-Netanyahu contest, or Barak-Netanyahu II (Barak won easily in 1999, but this time the odds seem to be against him).

By the time this blog is posted, the election may be over. It is only an internal party election among the members of Israel’s second- or third-largest political force. But it may direct the future of the country and its negotiations with the Palestinians. Both candidates represent a commitment to peace; both have outstanding military records. But will either of them capture the imagination of the Israeli public?

UPDATE: The election produced a runoff, to be held in two weeks, between Barak and Ayalon. Interestingly, Barak finished first, with 34.2 percent of the vote, while Ayalon came second, with 31.7 percent. But there’s no way of knowing how the remainder will break down between the two candidates. Each candidate must now woo the supporters of Amir Peretz, who came third on a social welfare platform.

28 May 2007

27 May 2007 - The Iran hostage crisis, revisited

I am traveling, in the aftermath of a great year at law school, and thus my entries have been shorter than usual. I’ve also been substituting for James Myburgh at the politics blog over at Moneyweb, so I’ve had my hands full. However, there’s still a lot to read and write about the Middle East, and I’ll try to keep things going on my usual daily basis, with as much detail as I have time to provide, over the next 2 weeks.

At an airport today, I picked up a copy of Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah, a recounting of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. What has struck me, after 150 pages or so, is the belief among many well-meaning embassy officials in the early days that their unique rapport with local culture, or their diplomatic experience, would help smooth things over in the early days. A dangerous miscalculation.

Another interesting feature is the degree to which the Islamist radicals who took over the embassy were inspired by the university occupations on American campuses in the late 1960s. Except in Iran, the leftist rhetoric was used in the service of an essentially fascist religious autocracy—an ultraconservative revolution. Perhaps the radicals of left and right were not so different, in any case.

26 May 2007 - Lebanon and Gaza

There has been surprisingly little international reaction to Israel’s military operations in Gaza over the past week or so. One reason is the continued rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, which the Hamas government refuses to stop or even discourage. Another, however, is the fact that the Lebanese Army is currently engaged in a similar battle against terrorists in Palestinian refugee camps in Tripoli.

All the familiar elements are there: the civilians caught in the crossfire; the UN vehicles prevented from entering, then attacked when they do; the suicide attacks and the refugees and everything else. These features are familiar from Israel’s confrontation with Palestinian terrorists--except in this case, the Arab states are offering military aid, not condemnation, to Lebanon.

25 May 2007

24 May 2007 - U.S. gives the nod to Israel-Syria talks

A recent edition of Ha’aretz reported that the U.S. has given the nod to Israel to pursue negotiations with Syria. The Americans are denying that they ever held Israel back in the first place, but Condoleeza Rice’s statement is on the record:

During a recent visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded forcefully when the issue of Assad's call for a resumption of negotiations with Israel was raised. 

"It is best that you avoid even exploring this possibility," she said.

Now, however, the Bush administration has changed its approach. My guess is that the U.S. and Israel spent the last few weeks coordinating their negotiation strategy, because the U.S. doesn’t want Syria to reach a separate peace with Israel, on its western border, without getting a firm commitment from Syria to stop jihadis from crossing into Iraq, on Syria’s eastern frontier. A deal may just be a matter of time.

The Ha’aretz article is worth reading in full, because it hints at all the complex maneuverings that went on behind the scenes—between allies, no less. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at those talks—what an education that would have been!

21 May 2007

21 May 2007 - David Duke supports Harvard Halutz-hunters

In retrospect, it was just a matter of time, but white supremacist David Duke has now backed the wacky group of Harvard students who are hunting for former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz at the Business School. Perhaps the so-called Alliance for Justice in the Middle East didn’t anticipate getting support from racists, neo-Nazis and such, but incite a lynch mob to look for a Jew and it’s bound to happen.

I saw the original story at Little Green Footballs; I’m not going to link to the Duke site directly because I don’t feel like boosting his traffic. It’s pretty easy to find, anyway. Interestingly, Duke has actually posted the Harvard group’s “Wanted” poster directly on his own website. I would warn the Harvard vigilantes, but—darn!—they don’t allow comments on their website.

A few years ago, when I was living in a Muslim community in Cape Town, I encountered Duke’s propaganda as it circulated among my Muslim friends, who had no clue what Duke actually stands for. Some time later, I penned the article below for the Cape Times. By the way, I should add that “coloured” has a peculiar meaning in South Africa and is not, as in America, a derogatory term.

Islamic world's tradition of tolerance and learning holds key to its future

By Joel Pollak

I was nervous as I arrived for my first Arabic class at a madrasah in one of Cape Town's former coloured townships.

I had grown up thousands of miles away, in a family of Jewish ex-South Africans in suburban Chicago. I had always wanted to study Arabic - to master the poetic inflections of the language that had once been the lingua franca of Jews, Muslims and Christians alike in the Middle East.

In the aftermath of September 11, that desire acquired a new urgency. I had moved back to South Africa the year before, and found accommodation with a Muslim family in a working-class neighbourhood in Cape Town near where my Jewish grandmother had been born 80 years ago.

I wanted to help, in a small way, to bridge the volatile cultural divide that seemed to be widening between Islam and the world, and between Jews and Muslims in particular. Learning Arabic seemed a good place to start.

With the help of a friend in the community, I soon found a teacher. I told him that I was Jewish, and explained why I wanted to study Arabic. He said I would be welcome as a student, and gave me directions to the madrasah.

The first class was somewhat tense. The teacher, a young but venerable sheikh, sat at his cluttered desk at the head of the small classroom. I pulled up an old chair and joined the other two students, young men in white robes who eyed me curiously.

The sheikh gave me a primer and taught me the first line of letters from the Arabic alphabet. When I had finished reciting, the sheikh and his students gave vent to their political curiosity.

What did I think of the ongoing US war in Afghanistan? Was there any oil there? What did the US really want? And so on.

I tried to answer: "I don't think there's any oil there. I think that the US is primarily concerned with the oil in the Caucasus regions, and securing a pipeline route through Turkey."

"Yeah," one of the students interrupted with a derisive snicker. "Turkey is controlled by the Jews."

The sheikh looked alarmed, almost embarrassed on my behalf. Apparently the other students didn't know I was Jewish. I cleared my throat and answered softly. "Yes, well, I don't think that's true, but Turkey has very repressive laws when it comes to religion. It's easier to be a Muslim in France than in Turkey." At this they all laughed and nodded.

Later, the sheikh informed them: "Actually, you know, Joel is Jewish. He comes from a Jewish family."

To my surprise, this provoked no reaction whatsoever from my classmates.

There seemed to be almost no connection, in their minds, between the voracious world-domineering Jews of their nightmare fantasies and the real-life, Arabic-reciting Jew sitting next to them at the sheikh's desk in the madrasah.

A few months later, one of the students sent me an article he had found on the Internet. It was called "How Israeli terrorism and American treason caused the September 11 attacks". He felt that this article proved that Jews and the Jewish state, instead of Islamic terrorists, were responsible, and he had shared it with many of his friends.

What my friend did not know was that the author of the article, David Duke, is one of the most notorious white supremacists in the US and a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. He and his supporters hate Muslims almost as much as they hate Jews, and in fact neo-Nazis in the US have debated which group they should eliminate first.

Once, the Muslim world offered Jews a degree of tolerance that was often denied to us in Christian Europe.

Today, much of the Muslim world has imbibed the anti-Jewish beliefs that ultimately led to the murder of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed addressed leaders from 57 Islamic nations last week at the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, he told them that "Jews rule the world by proxy".

Repeating the century-old myth of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, he added: "They get others to fight and die for them ... they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power."

Mohamed made the bizarre claim that Jews "invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others".

By implication, all of these supposedly Jewish inventions are evil, and persecuting Jews and denying us equal rights are acceptable and desirable actions.

The response to Mohamed's speech was overwhelming: he received a standing ovation. When Yemen's foreign minister was asked about Mohamed's comments about Jews, he replied: "I don't think they were anti-Semitic at all. I think he was basically stating the fact to the Muslim world."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid tried to justify Mohamed's anti-Jewish statements by linking them to criticism of Israel.

But in doing so, he merely illustrated further how the use of scapegoats - in this case the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has allowed many leaders in the Muslim world to avoid responsibility for their own failures.

The irony was that the rest of Mohamed's speech was truly constructive. He called for Muslim nations to embrace science and technology, to transcend petty religious differences, and to abandon support for political violence.

But the anti-Jewish messages cancelled out the positive ideas in the speech - not simply because those messages offended Jews, but because any society that views democracy, equality and human rights as malicious and foreign is unlikely to fulfil its potential.

There are, of course, many Muslims who reject anti-Semitism as completely as some others choose to embrace it.

A distant relative of the Muslim family I moved in with objected vehemently to my presence, saying that they "ought to be burned for harbouring a Jew", as if my religion made me some kind of fugitive. But my hosts stood up to this intimidation, and we enjoyed many happy months together.

If I may, as a non-Muslim, offer some advice, it is this: the Islamic world will gain nothing from the destructive, racist ideologies of anti-Semitism.

Rather, it is the Islamic tradition of tolerance and learning - which I have been so fortunate to experience firsthand - that holds the key to the future.

20 May 2007 - Silver medal for the Guide!

The winners in the Third Annual 2007 Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards have been announced, and Guide to the Perplexed has won a Silver Medal in the “Best Left-Wing Political Blog” category! Thank you to everyone who voted for this blog. It’s amazing to have achieved this award after just over three months of blogging. It’s also been great to see the number of visitors increase as a result of the competition.

The Gold medal went to jspot, and the Bronze to DovBear—two somewhat more conventionally left-wing blogs. In the Best New Blog category, I got blown away—as did everybody else—by the foodie blog The Jew and The Carrot. But I had a rather decent showing there, too. So thank you again—and I promise to do my best to make this blog well worth the read in the exciting weeks and months ahead!

20 May 2007

19 May 2007 - Ronnie Kasrils mocks the Terrorism Act

South Africa’s Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (33 of 2004) is a strange piece of legislation. The Act affirms South Africa’s commitment to a variety of tough-sounding international conventions, like the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, and so on.

But there is a little disclaimer at the beginning, a bizarre exclusion for “action during an armed struggle, in the exercise or furtherance of . . . legitimate right to national liberation.” That enormous loophole, wide enough to drive a truck bomb through, invalidates the rest of the law. Effectively, it allows the government to apply the law to some and not to others, based on its ideological preferences.

Yet a loophole can only stretch so wide, and perhaps not wide enough for Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, whose recent visit to, support of, and invitation to the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority may be a violation of the Act he is duty-bound to uphold. Hamas, of course, continues to launch rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and to threaten and attempt kidnappings and suicide bombings.

Kasrils continues to write really abominable stuff about Israel—complete lies, fed to him by the Holocaust deniers at the jihadist Media Review Network, whom Kasrils acknowledges as his source of information: “I wish to place on my record my appreciation of the Media Review Network for providing me with much of the material referred to,” he said in a speech in Johannesburg back in 2002.

In any other country—certainly one about to host a massive world event such as the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup—Kasrils would have been fired. He has also personally endorsed tyrants like Castro in Cuba, Ahmedinejad in Iran and Mugabe in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, Kasrils tried (and failed) to overthrow the apartheid government by force even after Mandela had been released and talks were starting.

Now, it seems, he may have flouted one of the laws he is meant to be enforcing. A prosecution would be unlikely—but it is interesting that the government, through the SABC, recently emphasized the potential union between Hamas and the PLO. The latter is recognized as an official liberation movement; the former is not. Perhaps the government is waking up to the legal and diplomatic consequences of Ronnie’s radicalism.

17 May 2007

17 May 2007 - Why appeasement doesn't work

South Africa is busy extending an official invitation to Hamas to visit the country, and it has emerged that Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool has already met with Hamas officials to discuss the visit. Rasool is often described as a “moderate”—and certainly he gets his share of flak from Islamist radicals—but he is prepared to mouth the extremist line when he finds it politically expedient to do so.

The leaders of South Africa’s Jewish community, represented by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, have been touting Rasool as a beacon of tolerance. They even sponsored his visit to the United States a year ago to address the American Jewish Committee. The argument in favor of this cozy relationship has been that it will help influence Rasool in some positive way. The evidence suggests otherwise.

I wrote about the Board’s relationship with Rasool in my thesis last year:

On 21 March 2004, a rally of 1000 mostly Muslim protestors was held at the Watsonia sports ground in Athlone, Cape Town to protest against Israel’s “targeted killing” of Yassin. One of the featured speakers was Ebrahim Rasool, at that time the finance minister for the Western Cape and the provincial leader of the ANC in the province. Rasool’s speech was surprisingly militant. He described Yassin as “one of the greatest inspirations” to Muslims and quoted with approval Yassin’s teaching that “whoever dies, without having fought in the way of Allah or even having desire to fight in the way of Allah, dies on a twing of hypocrisy”. He also prayed that Palestinians “stand up to these enemies and never succumb, that they fight and they fight under a flag of Islam”, and he called on his audience to “face the enemies—they are all over the world”. [1]

Nothing in Rasool’s speech was explicitly antisemitic. Several of the speakers that followed Rasool, however, made remarks that were clearly and explicitly antisemitic. One Muslim cleric, for example, claimed that Jews had “murdered and killed most of the prophets of God”. Citing the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he claimed that Jews had established “cinemas, bioscopes around the world to corrupt the gentiles”. Another speaker referred to Israel as “the filthy Jewish nation” and instructed his audience: “Do not go into any agreements with Jews, they are a filthy people”. [2]

The Board did not respond immediately. Instead it raised the matter in a private meeting with Rasool. It had done the same during the controversy surrounding the “A vote for the DA is a vote for Israel” posters [which were linked to Rasool’s brother], as well as after the inflammatory April 2002 rally at Athlone stadium, where Rasool had shared the stage with Kasrils. In this instance, as in previous cases, the Board accepted Rasool’s assurances and took no public action. Most media outlets had failed to report the event in any case, save for the Islamic community radio station that had broadcast the proceedings.

In the wake of the incident, the Board continued to cultivate a close relationship with Rasool. He was invited to give an address at the Cape Council’s centenary celebrations in August 2004 in his new capacity as Premier of the Western Cape. No opposition politicians were present or invited. On that occasion, Rasool gave a speech advocating religious tolerance. “All of us”, he argued, “have to resolve to defeat and isolate fundamentalism as the worst expression of the uncertain among us as they strive to oppose us with violent methods and actions”. [3] No mention was made of the intolerant rally that Rasool had participated in exactly five months earlier.

In September 2004, an article by the author of this thesis appeared in the
South African Jewish Report taking the Board to task for its decision not to criticise Rasool in public: “It is entirely appropriate that the Board should seek to cultivate a close relationship with Rasool, not just because he governs the Western Cape but also because of his prominence within the Muslim community. Yet the price of that relationship should not be that the community forfeits its right to speak out openly against antisemitism or in favour of Zionism, which most South African Jews hold dear.” The article also referred to the behaviour of the Board during the apartheid era, and opined that “one cannot help but wonder whether the Board is playing the same game of former years, awed by the ANC’s apparently unassailable political strength and fearful of being listed among its domestic opponents. If so, then the Board is squandering the very freedom that the advent of a democratic South Africa has provided it, and to all South Africans”. [4]

The Board responded in an article of its own, signed by Bagraim, that ran on the same page. Bagraim did not attempt to defend Rasool, but argued that “the SAJBD is not a political party or body” and that “confrontation” was not always the best response to the government’s behaviour. “Had the Board chosen…to publicly confront Rasool regarding his participation at an anti-Semitic rally,” wrote Bagraim, “we might have scored a few short-term publicity points, but it would have been at the long-term expense of the good working relationship we need to be building with him.” [5]

I think it is clear what the end result of this “good working relationship” has been. Rasool has now lent his name and his office to the effort to welcome one of the world’s most notorious terrorist organizations to South Africa. He probably hopes to boost his own flagging political profile—he is essentially a lame duck, serving at the whim of a rival faction in his party—but appeasement won’t work for him, either.

Standing up for what you believe can be extremely difficult, especially in emerging democracies such as South Africa, where free speech in theory is not yet entirely free speech in practice. However, it is time for the Jewish community—and other communities and interest groups—to start learning to put their mouths and their votes where their hearts and their minds are. Appeasement simply doesn’t work.

[1] Rasool, Ebrahim. Speech at Watsonia Sports Ground, Athlone, Cape Town (21 Mar 2004). Voice of the Cape Radio broadcast. Unpublished transcript.
[2] Abrahams, Ebrahim. Speech at Watsonia Sports Ground, Athlone, Cape Town (21 Mar 2004). Voice of the Cape Radio broadcast. Unpublished transcript.
[3] Rasool, Ebrahim. Quoted in Bagraim, Michael. “Above Board: United in fighting fundamentalism.” South African Jewish Report (27 Aug 2004): 2.
[4] Pollak, Joel. “Confronting contradictions”. South African Jewish Report (3 Sep 2004): 10.
[5] Bagraim, Michael. “SAJBD’s difficult tightrope”. South African Jewish Report (3 Sep 2004): 10.

16 May 2007

16 May 2006 - The Halutz-hunting hypocrites

A group of Harvard students calling itself the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (AJME) has set about “hunting” former Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff General Dan Halutz, who is apparently finishing up an eight-week executive training course at Harvard Business School. General Halutz led the IDF during last summer’s Lebanon War and, rightly or wrongly, has taken the fall for its failures.

The students have issued “Wanted” posters, accusing Halutz of “war crimes.” They have vowed to hound him wherever they can find him, and are convening search posses (lynch mobs?) this week for the purpose. They have also set up a group on the popular Facebook.com student networking site and started a blog. As is typical of extreme-left groups, their sites do not allow readers to post comments or reactions. The reaction from state-run Iranian television has been laudatory.

AJME’s blatant assault on academic freedom is being led—surprise, surprise—among others, by a disgruntled Israeli graduate student in anthropology, Noah Ben-Yehoyadah. Ben-Yehoyadah’s tedious extremism has been exposed in an ongoing debate on the Harvard Hillel’s e-mail list, in which he has blamed Israeli Jews for the Iranian threat and claimed, erroneously, that American Jews are politically right-wing.

Ben-Yehoyadah has mobilized Harvard’s hard-core anti-Israel crowd, including several others whom I could “name and shame” here. But I won’t stoop to the level of targeting people for their political opinions. Instead, in my capacity as president of the Harvard Law School Alliance For Israel, I have fired off a letter to the Harvard administration, which is considering disciplinary action against AJME.

The group has violated several university policies, including using the Harvard Business School logo on their propaganda without permission. Beyond that, however, the AJME vigilantes have violated the basic principles of freedom of speech and inquiry, as well as the right of every person to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (and no charges against Halutz have been laid).

I make the point in my letter that I have been publicly critical—on this website, and elsewhere—of aspects of Israel’s military strategy in the war. I have, for example, criticized the use of cluster munitions. I also know plenty of Israelis who have lots of complaints about Halutz. But what the hard-core radicals of AJME are doing goes far beyond what is acceptable protest, and comes dangerously close to incitement.

Harvard has hosted some very controversial figures from the Arab and Muslim world, including some with blood on their hands. I was here when Yasser Arafat spoke at the Institute of Politics in 1995; former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami spoke there this past fall. Lots of people were upset about these appearances, but no one threatened to hunt either of the two leaders down.

AJME is contributing directly to a growing climate of fear on campus that has prevented people from expressing their views—and the worst victims, interestingly enough, are not pro-Israel voices but critics of Iran. Harvard’s new Middle East journal, New Society, has approached several Iranians on campus with reformist or dissident views, but each of them has declined to write, citing the political danger.

Already in the past several weeks, the Iranian government has quietly detained Iranian academics who work in the U.S. and Canada, some of whom have quite anodyne views, on visits home. And western academia is appeasing this madness. Armenian studies professor James R. Russell was recently “dis-invited” from a Harvard exhibition of Iranian poster art because of his criticisms of the regime.

The radicals of AJME are the fellow-travelers of this sort of repression. Instead of using demonstrations, appeals to administrators and all the wonderfully open avenues that are available to them to express their views, they have adopted the tactics of the Tehran mobs besieging the British embassy during the hostage crisis, going for macho, hyper-adrenalized hooliganism that is polarizing the campus.

It’s amazing to me that so many people still believe that the “pro-Israel lobby” stifles debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when that conflict is the most hotly debated issue on campus. The real repression is exercised against those who hold pro-Israel or pro-American views, particularly those who are citizens of Iran or Arab countries, who live in fear of the long reach of their dictatorial governments.

I doubt that AJME shall ever find its quarry, both because Harvard is determined to protect its students and guests from harassment, and because Halutz’s course is basically over in any case. AJME has, however, poisoned the atmosphere here and I hope Harvard stands firm in defense of academic freedom. If you’d like to support action against AJME, write to President Derek Bok: derek_bok[at]harvard.edu.

15 May 2007

15 May 2007 - The Doha debates

A quick reminder to please vote for this blog before the deadline strikes in less than 48 hours—I need 9 votes to reach the medals in “Best New Blog” and only 2 to reach first place in “Best Jewish Left-Wing Blog”! So please vote, and vote soon!

The little Persian Gulf emirate that brought you Al-Jazeera now brings you the Doha debates, a series of Oxford Union-style debates sponsored by the semi-private Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and hosted by the provocative Tim Sebastian of the BBC’s Hardtalk program. The audiences have fairly predictable sympathies but the panels are fun to watch in action.

An entire page of video podcasts is available at the RSS site for the debates, and the last two debates are really worth watching. The most recent tests the motion: “This House believes the pro-Israel lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel’s actions.” The motion passes by a two-thirds majority, but in the process former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and journalist David Aaronovitch absolutely destroy professional Israel-haters Norman Finkelstein and Alexander Cockburn, exposing their self-serving, conspiratorial buffoonery as the sham it is.

Next on the list is a remarkable debate about the Palestinian right of return, which brings out a number of Palestinians who favor giving it up entirely, including panelist Bassem Eid. Eid rails against the way Arab states treat Palestinian refugees, and lays into a flustered Ali Abunimah, who makes the usual contrived references to South Africa. (Really, that takes chutzpah—to talk about “one person, one vote” in Israel when you are sitting in a country run by a hereditary absolutist monarchy!) Yossi Beilin, teamed up with Eid, is at once tongue-tied and self-promoting; Ilan Pappe is crude but effective, getting in a good line (or lie) wherever he can. The mainstream Israeli view is not represented at all, save by a religious Muslim student in the audience who asks why Jews should be expected to give up their state. Still, the debate is an interesting glimpse into the complexity of Arab opinion, still struggling to find its full expression in a “liberal” Arab autocracy.

14 May 2007

14 May 2007 - UNSC 242 and the parol evidence rule

I’ve just finished my law exams. For one of them, in contract law, we had to choose a doctrine or rule we disagreed with and explain how we would change it, and why. I chose to propose a change to the rules of interpretation regarding the ambiguity exception to the parol evidence rule, allowing the courts to enforce a deliberately vague agreement and direct the parties to continue their negotiations. My inspiration was U.N Security Council Resolution 242; I’ve provided my answer below and hope it is more interesting than opaque!

On November 22, 1967, in the wake of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 242, which called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.” [Danielle R. Sassoon, The Unmaking of U.N. Resolution 242, 1 New Society 51 (2007).] The resolution was immediately accepted by Israel, and rejected by her Arab neighbors, but in 1988 it was finally accepted by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a basis for negotiations. Yet a problem immediately arose: what did “territories” mean? Israel and the U.S. believed it meant some, but not all, of the territories captured—perhaps most, with minor border adjustments. But the USSR and the Arab bloc insisted that it meant all of the territories, a withdrawal to the pre-war borders. The dispute continues: the recent Saudi peace plan, for example, is conditioned on the Arab reading of 242. Adding to the ambiguity is the fact that the French text of 242 refers to “des territoires,” which could be construed as “[all] the territories.” Though the English text is the official text, the French version—endorsed as “equally authentic” by the French UN representative, supports the Arab reading. The only way to resolve the dispute would be to refer to earlier discussions of what the parties actually meant.

UNSC 242 is not a sales contract, and was not drafted under U.S. law, but it is a good illustration of how a strict application of the parol evidence rule can be an obstacle to the implementation of agreements. The rule limits the admission of evidence of prior discussions or writings that might contradict—or support, in some cases—the terms of a final, integrated, written agreement between the parties. There is an exception to the parol evidence rule that allows for such evidence to be introduced in the case of “ambiguity”—where a term in the contract is unclear. The judge must decide whether a term is ambiguous, and then let the jury decide what it means. But what if the parties intended the term to remain ambiguous? The parol evidence rule and its exceptions do not provide sufficient guidance in this regard.

Were it a sales contract under U.S. law, 242 would be governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) § 2-201, according to which a contract for goods valued at $5,000 or more is “not enforceable by way of action or defense unless there is some record sufficient to indicate that a contract has been made.” Critically, it adds that a record “is not insufficient because it omits or incorrectly states a term agreed upon.” That opens the door to interpretation, but strict rules apply. UCC § 2-202, which codifies the parol evidence rule, states that terms in a final contract “. . . may not be contradicted by evidence of any prior agreement or of a contemporaneous oral agreement.” Evidence from a “course of performance, course of dealing, or usage of trade” may be used, but such evidence would be irrelevant in the case of UNSC 242.

Much depends on whether a contract is “integrated.” According to the Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 209, an “integrated” agreement is “a writing or writings constituting a final expression of one or more terms of an agreement.” In other words, an integrated agreement includes and replaces all prior oral and written understandings. It is left to the judge to decide if a contract is “integrated” or not. There are also two different kinds of integrated agreements. Restatement (Second) § 210(1) defines a “completely integrated” agreement as one “adopted by the parties as a complete and exclusive statement of the terms of the agreement,” and § 210(2) defines a “partially integrated” agreement as one “other than a completely integrated agreement,” with the court left to decide the difference in § 210(3). Whether an agreement is partially or completely integrated, the parol evidence rule excludes evidence of prior or contemporaneous agreements or negotiations if it would contradict the final agreement, according to § 215. Evidence to supplement the final contract is admissible, according to § 216, but only if the agreement is partially integrated; if it is completely integrated, such evidence must be excluded.

However, a number of exceptions to the parol evidence rule have been adopted. For example, evidence that would normally be excluded may be admitted, according to § 214, to show that the agreement is integrated—and, if so, whether partially or completely; to prove “illegality, fraud, duress, mistake, lack of consideration, or other invalidating cause”; or to show that a contract is void. Another key exception, provided for in § 214(c), allows evidence to be admitted to establish “the meaning of the writing, whether or not integrated.” This “ambiguity” exception applies to all contracts. But there are different ways to determine whether a term is ambiguous, and whether courts will allow evidence of the parties’ prior negotiations, as well as “extrinsic” or contextual evidence, to clarify terms that are capable of more than one meaning.

One is the “four corners” rule, according to which the judge is limited to the contract itself and extrinsic evidence must be excluded. That was the approach followed by the New York Court of Appeals in Bethlehem Steel Co. v. Turner Constr. Co., 2 N.Y.2d 456 (1957), in a dispute over a price clause in a contract. The court granted the plaintiff summary judgment, over the dissent’s claim that the clause demanded “full opportunity for inquiry into the context in which the words . . . were used.” Another approach is the “plain meaning” rule, which allows evidence of “facts and circumstances” surrounding a contract, though not evidence of the actual intent of the parties, in order to determine whether terms in a contract are ambiguous. That was the method applied in Robert Indus. v. Spence, 362 Mass. 751 (1973), where Justice Braucher decided “all the circumstances of the parties” might be considered. Braucher insisted, however, that “the words themselves remain the most important evidence of intention,” thereby limiting extrinsic evidence to that which established the context in which the disputed terms was used. Finally, the “liberal” or so-called “Corbin Lite” approach allows the court to consider the prior and contemporaneous oral and written statements during their negotiations to determine ambiguity. Justice Traynor of the Supreme Court of California applied this approach in Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. G.W. Thomas Drayage & Rigging Co., 69 Cal.2d 33 (1969), ruling that “rational interpretation requires at least a preliminary consideration of all credible evidence offered to prove the interpretation of the parties.”

But none of these approaches is of much use if the parties intended there to be ambiguity. According to some accounts, vague and contradictory language may have been intentionally adopted in UNSC 242 simply to gain unanimous passage, or to facilitate future negotiations. Sassoon, supra. There are sales contracts with such built-in ambiguities, and here the above approaches fail. Other approaches, outside the ambiguity exception to the parol evidence rule, would not solve the problem, either. A court could decide a contract is a partial integration according to § 214(b), but this would not, in itself resolve the ambiguity. The Restatement (Second) § 204 allows courts to supply terms, but that rule generally applies to omitted terms. The contract could be voided under § 214(e), as in the case of Raffles v. Wickelhaus, 2 Hurlstone & Coltman 906 (U.K. 1864), but that might not be in the public interest. On the other hand, the “knock-out rule” of UCC § 2-207 might find that a contract existed despite the disputed terms—but only if both parties behave as if there were a contract, which they barely do.

What would be most helpful in such cases is a specific provision that would allow the court to hear evidence of prior written or oral negotiations and agreements in order to determine whether ambiguous terms are deliberately ambiguous—and, upon so finding, to direct the parties to re-negotiate those terms while upholding those parts of the agreement about which there is no ambiguity or dispute, much as the court did in the case of Joseph Martin, Jr. Delicatessen v. Schumacher, 52 N.Y.2d (1981). In the case of UNSC 242, this would uphold the agreed principle of “land for peace,” while directing the parties to continue negotiations toward a final agreement.

13 May 2007

13 May 2007 - Ali Abunimah's One Country

A few days ago, in response to my post about Jeb Koogler’s review of Ali Abunimah’s One Country, I received an e-mail from the author himself, challenging me to read the book before commenting on it. Fair enough. I went to a local bookstore, but they did not have it (in fairness, it may have been sold out). I found it in Harvard’s library, where I was the first person to check it out. (Ironically, it’s the gift of the Alperin-Epstein Book Fund for Judaica.)

The first page really symbolizes the book itself, and the fundamental problem in the conflict:

What will it take to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Some say we must forget the past. I think we have to start by remembering it. My first memory of Palestine is from a supermarket in London. Before I was old enough to go to school, I remember regularly accompanying my mother to the Safeway in Ealing Broadway. One day we were buying oranges and I pointed at some big, beautiful-looking ones. “No, not those,” my mother said, “they are from Jaffa, they are our oranges.” This made no sense to my five-year-old mind. If they were our oranges, why couldn’t we have them? My mother explained to me that the citrus groves of Jaffa belonged to Palestinians, to people like us, until Israelis took them over.

And so began a young lad’s indoctrination. His natural instinct was to eat the orange, but he had to be taught to defer and deny the most fundamental delights—the sweetness of a delicious fruit, even the sentimental swoon of vicarious nostalgia—for the sake of a distant national grudge.

This is clearly a diaspora book, written from a diaspora perspective, by an author whose second-hand grievances have been cultivated at the expense of first-hand pleasures. Abunimah is a gifted writer—his prose is spare and concise, free from some of the overwrought outrage that makes so much writing on the Middle East unreadable. But his ideas strike me as a mixture of sense and nonsense.

I feel a bit uneasy dismissing this book, because I feel some sense of common interest with Abunimah. I, too, am interested in the lessons of Northern Ireland—and, yes, of South Africa, though the lessons he draws seem to be taken from a fictitious version of the country whose political development I have been privileged to witness. I, too would like to see Israelis and Palestinians work together.

But this book, as I had suspected from its title and from Koogler’s review, offers nothing new. Despite its occasionally gentle tone, all the usual elements of the anti-Israel demonology are there. There is an extended attack on U.S. President George W. Bush in the first chapter, for example, that makes no mention of the fact that he was the first U.S. President to make a Palestinian state a matter of national policy.

And there are the excuses for Palestinian terror, which the author condemns but with this familiar qualification: “. . . one cannot discount the truth that Palestinian violence occurs within the context of much greater and more pervasive Israeli violence.” These are followed up by the predictable—but always regrettable—attacks on the Israeli peace camp for allegedly undermining the Palestinian cause.

The worst elements of Israeli society are emphasized, such as a deplorable racist article in a Russian-language newspaper, which is used to back up claims that some kind of genocide against Israeli Arabs is a serious possibility. To this dystopian vision, the author then proposes “a united, democratic state in Palestine-Israel” as an alternative “based on reconciliation and universal human rights.”

Abunimah acknowledges that this idea is, in fact, Zionist in its origins, beginning with the Ihud (Union) Association of Arendt, Buber, Magnes and others—and even acknowledges that Palestinians viewed the idea with suspicion. By the time Palestinians came around to the idea, they had wedded it to a program of systematic violence and terror perpetrated against Israelis and Jews worldwide.

I am reminded of a classic quote from Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country—a warning to South Africa’s then-white establishment: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.” The latter-day embrace of binationalism that has flourished recently among some diaspora intellectuals (Jewish and Arab) comes far too late.

The delegitimization of Israel, and the demonization of Jews—which is still ongoing, and takes such absurd forms as Hamas’s crazy Mickey Mouse, who teaches children to blame the Jews when they get caught cheating in school—has reached such depths on the Palestinian side, and has caused (or been accompanied by, whatever you prefer) such fear and mistrust on the Israeli side, that the long-dead utopia has been reburied again.

Abunimah argues that a single-state solution will, in fact, be easier than a two-state solution—that the major obstacle is outstanding property claims. That is not just wildly naïve but actually disingenuous. It would certainly be easier for Palestinians, since they would only suffer a few lost land disputes. It would be a disaster for Israelis and for Jews, who are treated in this book with only superficial empathy.

Then there is the chapter on South Africa. Abunimah has learned about the country through the accounts of others, including not only selective readings of the memoirs of Mandela and De Klerk, but choice quotes from left-wing Israelis who have made rhetorical use of the supposed parallels between Zionism and Afrikaner nationalism, and gleanings from Mahmoud Mamdani, who once criticized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because it wasn’t punitive enough.

The practice of “necklacing” in the black townships—a practice which Abunimah might be surprised to know still continues, despite his claims to the contrary—is in no way equivalent to Palestinian suicide bombings. A possible parallel might be the Palestinian execution of suspected collaborators—but the point is that such violence corrupts a struggle from within, something Abunimah seems to have overlooked.

I agree absolutely with Abunimah’s assertion that “. . . Palestinians need to articulate a vision of the future in which Israelis can see themselves.” That as true of a two-state solution as it is of a single-state solution. More importantly, however, and more urgently, Palestinians need to articulate a realistic vision of the future in which they can see themselves, and this is something they have not really done.

Abunimah misses the essential, moral core of the South African struggle—that, while violent, it was grounded in non-violent origins and aspirations. He also seems not to notice that while Northern Ireland’s struggle ended in power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics, it also affirmed the partition of the island and ended the Republican dream of a united Ireland. A unitary state is not a universal solution.

Has the two-state solution really failed? Perhaps. I don’t think so, but perhaps it has. If so, however, it is likely that the solution will not be a unitary state in Israel-Palestine but Palestinian union with another state, probably Jordan (which the Jordanian monarchy desperately wants to avoid). Ultimately the responsibility for the success or failure of Palestinian aspirations has little to do with Israel.

It has everything to do with Palestinians themselves. And all the boycotts, divestment campaigns, and anti-Israel blogs in the world—which Abunimah praises extensively in his conclusion—are not going to change that. I, too, would like to see a peace built on human rights, on equality, on mutual recognition and respect. I would like to see Israelis and Palestinians share many institutions together.

But as Gandhi said: “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” If the Palestinians want a democratic state that respects the rights of all who live in it—whether for ideological or strategic reasons—there is nothing to stop them. Nothing, that is, but the absence of forward-looking Palestinian leadership—which this book, for all its well-rehearsed arguments, does not address or resolve.

The problem in the Middle East, it seems, is that too many people hold out for lost oranges instead of eating the ones in their hands. I think the young Abunimah should have taken the orange and run away to a distant corner of the supermarket to savor its delights. He has challenged me (I think) to debate him—a challenge I accept, though I would be prepared to have an ordinary dialogue. Over oranges.

12 May 2007 - Toward a positive Palestinian nationalism

The voting continues at the Third Annual 2007 Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards. Thank you to those who have voted for this blog—and if you haven’t yet, please do so in both categories, here and here. There are also many other outstanding blogs up for awards, including one of my favorites, It’s Almost Supernatural, which you can vote for here and here, and which you can read and read and read here.

This week saw the launch of New Society, a new student journal on Middle Eastern affairs, here at Harvard University. The journal was founded by Julia Bertelsmann with support from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and from the Harvard Hillel. I have a piece in it, excerpts of which appeared on this blog a couple months ago. New Society will have its own website soon, but for now here’s the full article, below.

Toward a Positive Palestinian Nationalism

11 May 2007

10 May 2007 – Property law and the peace process

A few weeks ago, I considered the implications of American contract law for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Today, with a property exam looming in the morning, I’m going to try applying some ideas from U.S. property law. Of course, Israel has a different legal system—one incorporating elements of Ottoman law, English common law, and religious laws—but it’s a neat way to look at the issues.

Take, for example, the question of where to put the new boundary. Property cases typically look first at the relevant statute, which in this case would be U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, the statute is unclear: the English version requires Israel to withdraw from “territories,” while the French version calls for withdrawal from “des territoires,” which could be construed as “[all] the territories.”

This would invite an examination of the legislative intent behind the resolution, which seems to weight in favor of the English version, allowing Israel to withdraw from some of the land, but there might be a expectation that “some” means “almost all.” (There is considerable dispute about whether the Fourth Geneva Convention, governing occupied territory, should apply as well—I deal with this issue below.)

Another factor courts consider in property disputes is the weight of precedent and the role of the judiciary in resolving such disputes. Interestingly, while the International Court of Justice has ruled on Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank, it has never been asked to rule on the Israeli-Palestinian border. This would suggest it is up to the parties to negotiate themselves, without legal intervention.

Then there is the issue of rights or fairness. Even with full withdrawal, Israel will have the dominant share of what was once Mandatory Palestine. That did not, and does not, match demographic patterns, but the Palestinian leadership rejected more favorable partitions. So fairness, here, will not be synonymous with an equal division of land—but perhaps it must be squared with an equal protection of rights.

The question is: rights to what? There are two answers: first, the right to viable statehood, with security and the potential for prosperity for both sides; and second, the right to property for individuals within each state. This would imply that the border must aim to achieve contiguity, and that departures from the 1967 lines, whether for Israeli public or private property, must be offset by land swaps.

There are also lingering questions about the property rights of refugees—both Arab refugees who left what is now Israel, and Jewish refugees who left their homes in Arab countries. The claims might be thought to offset each other, and compensation in the form of damages could be determined to settle remaining claims; perhaps some injunctive relief, in a limited “right of return,” would also be possible.

Courts also consider questions of social utility or efficiency in property disputes. It is hard to imagine Israeli enclaves within a Palestinian state as an efficient outcome; it is also hard to imagine the original 1967 boundaries as efficient, since they left Israel extremely vulnerable. It might well be that border adjustments and land swaps would be more efficient than simply returning to the 1967 lines.

Finally, courts examine the question of formal realizability or administrability—whether a rule or a flexible standard would be more appropriate. The rule approach—“the territories”—would create greater certainty. An alternative rule is also being created by the path of the security barrier. Both of these “rules” are really based on military outcomes at particular stages of the conflict.

It might be that the flexible standard that is implied in a negotiated, adjusted boundary might actually be less arbitrary. And a successful negotiation over boundaries could lead to successful negotiations in other areas—refugees, Jerusalem, and beyond—that could strengthen the overall relationship between the two parties and create greater scope for international law to apply to the region.

So property law would seem to suggest that a negotiated boundary, departing from the 1967 lines but adjusted with land swaps and aiming at mutual viability, would be the best approach to the border issue. But there are a number of other issues that inevitably arise in complex, intractable conflicts over land such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And these, too, must be identified and addressed.

One is the question of aboriginal title. Who is the original rightful owner of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean? Does their title still exist? What difference does it make? Both sides claim a form of aboriginal title; both claim occupancy going back thousands of years; both point to their own religious texts as title deeds. These are irreconcilable claims, which might simply have to cancel out.

The rule of perpetuities—which prevents a property owner from creating a property interest that will not vest within one generation (twenty-one years, under the common law) would suggest that past promises or claims that have not yet vested should be disregarded. Land disputes in the conflict should not be settled on the basis of history, but on the basis of the varied property interests that exist today.

That might tend to favor Israel—certainly if the doctrine of adverse possession is considered. Adverse possession allows a property owner who does not hold title to claim a piece of land if she possesses it in a way that is open, notorious and visible; if her possession is “hostile”—that is, without consent; if her possession is continuous; and if her possession has lasted a specified, statutory amount of time.

It might be argued that Israel has a claim to the West Bank, or that Israelis have a claim to lands there (even private land owned by Palestinians) on this basis. The Palestinian leadership did wait more than twenty years (the typical statute of limitations) before asserting a claim to statehood in the West Bank and Gaza (which Arafat only announced in 1988, twenty-one years after the 1967 war).

However, the doctrine also includes an allowance for disability: if the owner is somehow prevented from asserting his claim—as the Palestinians arguably were by the Israeli occupation—then the period should only be counted from the moment that disability ends. Perhaps the tolling should have started in 1988, or with the Oslo accords in 1993—in any event, the adverse possession claim is precluded.

One way to resolve border issues, as well as competing public and private property claims, among others, might be to invoke the concepts of servitude, easement and covenant. A servitude is a right to use a piece of land without possession of it; an easement is such a right, defined for a specific purpose. A covenant is a contract that may “run with the land” and impose certain burdens or obligations on owners.

Here are a few examples of how these concepts could be applied. Sovereignty over holy sites could be held internationally, but both Israel and Palestine could be granted equal easements. The rights of Israeli settlers could be preserved, but with easements for Palestinians or restrictive covenants against further expansion. Palestinian easements could be granted in Israel proper, in lieu of a right of return.

Whether easements and covenants are used, or whether the final peace agreements involve a Gaza disengagement-style pullout of all Israeli soldiers and civilians, there will be takings of property on both sides. A taking occurs when the state acquires private property, actually or effectively, by removing the owner, destroying the property or severely disturbing the owner’s use and enjoyment of it.

There are, generally, two kinds of takings—both of which involve a taking by the government for public use without just compensation. Per se takings involve “permanent physical invasions” of property, or regulations that “completely deprive an owner of all economically viable use of her property.” Zoning laws are not per se takings, but other forms of government action may be, if severe enough.

Then there are ad hoc takings that measure government against a test of “fairness and justice” according to several factors that weigh the relative public and private interests. These factors are usually the economic impact of the regulation; the degree to which the government action interferes with reasonable investment backed expectations; and the character of the government action involved.

There is no doubt that the Israeli occupation and settlement policy involves various kinds of takings, without just compensation, from Palestinians; it is equally true that removing Israeli settlers who have invested in private property also involves takings (although perhaps a somewhat lesser one, since the settlements are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government). What is fair and just in this context?

Here there may also be statutory guidelines to follow, in the form of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with the protection of civilians in wartime and in occupied territories. In 2004, for the first, time, the Israeli High Court applied the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank in issuing a ruling requiring the government to move the security barrier from its original route.

The court referred to Articles 27 and 53 of the Convention, which protect people and property, respectively. Article 53 in particular prohibits any taking or destruction of property except where absolutely necessary for military purposes. The court interpreted this to mean that any such taking must also be compensated, and that the rights of the occupants must be weighed against the security needs at stake.

This provides some direction in determining how to approach the takings involved in occupation and withdrawal. It might be said that full withdrawal is a form of injunctive relief; however, there would still be claims remaining, especially if the withdrawal is not to the 1967 borders, and also in the unlikely but possible event that some settlers decide to remain as Palestinian citizens (in Hebron, for example).

Some of the Israeli takings would be deemed justified by military necessity; others would not; and there would also be the question of how much compensation, if any, would be due after the occupation officially ends. There are two factors that might need to be balanced: on the one hand, the fundamental principles of fairness and justice; on the other, the need to deter Palestinians from using terrorism in future.

Professor Alan M. Dershowitz argues that the steady reduction of the Palestinian share of the land over time has been justified by the repeated choice of violent tactics. If this argument holds, then it might be better to treat Palestinian claims for compensation or land swaps more circumspectly. However, compensation that is seen as unfair may only stoke future resentment. Both factors must be considered.

That is about as far as I can see into the conflict using my fairly limited—and still unpracticed—property lens. It is unlikely that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved through judicial processes. But the peace process, and the agreements it will one day yield, will be judged by the court of public opinion in each nation and in the world at large. Justice, as well as peace, must be seen to be done.

09 May 2007

09 May 2007 - Koogler finds Abunimah's gap

I subscribe to a monthly e-mail update from the Middle East Review of International Affairs, which is run by Professor Barry Rubin, a seasoned analyst of Palestinian politics. The update lists the latest articles across a variety of academic periodicals about the Middle East. The amount of new research that appears every month is simply staggering—there’s no time to read even a small portion of it.

There are also thousands of blogs about the Middle East, and probably hundreds (if not more) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few offer their own thought and analysis; most just point to other sources. One of the original ones, however, is an interesting blog called Foreign Policy Watch, run by Jeb Koogler, a student at Brown University, who writes very well about current issues in U.S. foreign policy.

One post that caught my attention was a report on an appearance by Electronic Intifada co-founder Abu Animah, who is traveling the country to hawk his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. The book’s self-proclaimed “boldness” is really just shameless oversell: all Abunimah really does is hype the one-state solution, the oldest, bluntest and worst approach.

Koogler went to hear Abunimah defend his thesis that a single state is “is both desirable and inevitable.” Koogler was prepared: “I actually read Abunimah's book about three months ago because I was interested in the idea he was putting forth. By the end of it, however, I was disappointed. There were major flaws in his reasoning, I felt, and the conclusions he came to just didn't follow logically for me.”

Abunimah’s talk did nothing, Koogler says, to dispel this impression:

In the question-and-answer session, I followed up with him on the points that didn't make sense to me in his book, nor in speech. I pointed out to him that although I wanted to believe that the argument he put forth was true (since the establishment of a peaceful, binational state sounds a lot better than an uneasy two-state solution), I couldn't understand how he would think that Israeli Jews would ever except such a solution. He responded by saying that in South Africa, the white minority changed their minds once they realized that there was no alternative solution. Like in South Africa, in the next few decades in Israel, he said, Jews will become a clear minority and they will be forced to realize that they no longer live in a Jewish state. Short of genocide or mass expulsion, they will conclude that the only solution is a binational state that includes the Palestinian population, Abunimah suggested. I responded by pointing out that the Israeli leadership on both sides of the aisle have no intention of ever letting it get to this. To think that Israeli leaders will just wait around for another few decades until the Palestinian population overwhelms the Jewish population is highly unlikely, I argued.

It is clear that Abunimah not only fails to understand (or distorts) Israel but South Africa as well. His argument that “the white minority changed their minds once they realized that there was no alternative solution” disregards the fact that the anti-apartheid movement proposed a reasonable alternative from day one of the struggle, whereas the Palestinian leadership has long resisted such solutions.

Abunimah apparently takes this point up in his book, and argues that the Afrikaner establishment would have continued to ignore the Freedom Charter and other proposals were it not for the presence of a “struggle.” But what was the character of that struggle? Was it aimed at terrorizing white civilians, or at winning their support? Abunimah talks about “necklacing,” but that was directed against blacks.

Abunimah acknowledges that convincing Israelis to accept his “bold proposal” will be a challenge. He seems to believe that international pressure will force Israelis to change their minds. This is a common argument among activists of Abunimah’s ilk—some of whom do not much care about the character of that pressure, whether it comes from human rights organizations or Islamist/right-wing antisemitism.

I was once told over breakfast by a Palestinian official that it was important for American Jews to push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because “a new Holocaust is always possible.” He was not worried about the effects of the ongoing antisemitism that tends to rise when the conflict flares up; he was, in a way, reveling in it, using it as a strategic weapon in the hope of gaining concessions.

Ironically, the ultimate argument against the single-state solution in the form that Abunimah is presenting it—binational, secular, democratic—is that the Palestinians have rejected this formula in the past and continue to do so today in their own society. If they cannot govern themelves as a secular democracy that respects human rights, why should they be expected to do so with Israel?

That is not to say there cannot be some kind of shared institutions established between Israel and a future Palestinian state. But the two nations, as they now stand, practice different and irreconcilable forms of politics. Abunimah would say the Palestinian situation as the result of occupation, but that excuse didn’t fly in South Africa and it won’t fly here. The weaker party, too, bears a moral burden.

I haven’t even addressed the issue of Abunimah’s constant apologies for Palestinian terror, and his ongoing campaign of misinformation about Israel and the region’s history. He seems to be one of a cohort of dulcet-toned radicals who project a moderate image—he claims to have once supported a two-state solution; I’ve yet to find proof—but evade questions that point to their fundamentally extreme beliefs.

I’ve not seen many people who have the courage, knowledge and restraint to debate Abunimah. Ron Kampeas, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, gave Abunimah a lamentably easy ride on C-SPAN, weaving and feinting around the real issues and questions, never really challenging his guest. Koogler, sincere in his desire to learn more, caught on rather quickly—and commendably.

08 May 2007

08 May 2007 - The new Bush plan

Some good news from blogland: my blog has made the finals of the Third Annual 2007 Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards in both of the categories in was nominated—Best New Blog and Best Left Wing Blog! Thank you to all who voted for Guide to the Perplexed. Now it’s time to vote once again—this time, for the prize. Voting opens May 9 and ends May 16. Click the image below or follow this link to the site!

No sooner had I written about Galia Golan’s summary of Israeli-Palestinian peace plans last week than a new one appeared: the “Acceleration Benchmarks for Agreement on Movement and Access as well as on the Gaza Security Situation.” It is a highly technical plan, and is being pushed by the U.S. with the goal of easing travel restrictions for Palestinians and improving security in the territories.

The plan has not been well-received. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel could accept elements of the plan and had already complied with parts of it, but would find other parts hard to implement. The Palestinian Authority welcomed it but Hamas and other violent extremists rejected it outright, and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal used it as an occasion to call for continued attacks on Israelis.

Like many American interventions in recent years, this one is both narrow and naïve. It is focused on achieving security goals that only Israel has the ability to implement, and that the Palestinians do not have the will to achieve in any case. And it is being presented to two weak and divided governments—one facing the possibility of collapse and new elections, the other facing the prospect of civil war. (Indeed, Condoleezza Rice had to cancel her trip to Israel next week due to the political uncertainty surrounding the Israeli government at the moment.)

This plan, in other words, is not going to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process out of its present “saddle point.” Something more ambitious is needed, a plan that includes a political dimension as well as a security component and that does not have to be imposed on both sides. One wonders what the Bush administration is up to. The State Department has a new “Middle East Digest,” but few answers so far.

07 May 2007

07 May 2007 - Syria, the U.S., and Israel

Ha’aretz reports that Israel is preparing to renew talks with Syria. If so, that would indicate that the U.S. has probably given the green light to Israel to talk to Syria, on the heels of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s interaction with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Iraq last week. This would represent a reversal of America’s earlier stance against Israeli talks with the Assad regime.

It would be really fascinating to know exactly what is going on between the U.S., Israel and Syria at the moment. I don’t for a moment believe that Nancy Pelosi’s visit last month led to a thaw; on the contrary, the Assad regime seems to be exploiting her trip to defend its hard-line stance, as well as manipulating the event for maximum propaganda value in brainwashing the Syrian people.

But something serious is in the works, and I think students of international relations would gain more insight into the U.S.-Israel relationship from studying the Syria track than they would from looking at America’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or at American domestic politics (which unfortunately seem to be the common, conspiratorial terms of reference in foreign policy analysis lately).

Let’s look at the interests at stake. Israel’s fundamental interest is in containing Syria along its western border with Israel and Lebanon. By contrast, America’s fundamental interest is in securing Syria’s eastern boundary with Iraq. And the Assad regime’s fundamental interest is to stay in power, whether by cooperating with the Iranian regime, the Americans, the Israelis and whomever else it needs to.

When the U.S. first told Israel not to negotiate with Syria, I wondered why. It now seems that the Bush administration may have been worried that the U.S. would have less bargaining power if Israel cut a deal on the western boundary before it could arrange an agreement on the eastern side. That danger exists because once Assad has a bargain in the bag he might feel secure enough not to negotiate further.

So it would appear that the U.S. was not against talks with Syria as such, but that it wanted to lead those talks to make sure its own interests were protected first and foremost. The disagreement between the U.S. and Syria in recent months has not been a clash over principles but a classic wrangle between allies over priorities. And in the end, the more powerful partner won—as, invariably, it always does.

But there is something else going on here. I think that the Bush administration is not just asserting America’s leadership on the Syrian track, but in Israeli-Arab issues more generally. And I think this has been Bush’s goal since the beginning. The younger Bush is certainly more pro-Israel than his father was, for various reasons. But he is as determined to exert control over the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Bush is frequently attacked for adopting a “hands-off” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the opposite of Bill Clinton’s energetic involvement. But that criticism misses the mark. Bush was the first U.S. president to call for a Palestinian state; he has also produced a number of peace plans aimed at ending the conflict. His lack of direct involvement is the result of Palestinian terror, not pro-Israel bias.

In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that Bush wants to undermine the so-called “Israel lobby” while courting its public support. Some have suggested that the Bush administration deliberately outed Pentagon officials who were considered too close to AIPAC; indeed, the prosecutions in the Pentagon-AIPAC cases seem to be proceeding with unusual zeal. Bush wants an “Israel lobby” that knows its place.

And so the canard that American foreign policy is dictated by Israel is, once again, shown to be false. It is true that the U.S. and Israel share a close relationship, one based on shared values and interests. But far from kowtowing to Israel or its U.S. supporters, Bush has set out to control America’s relations with Israel more tightly than ever before. He has succeeded precisely because of the perception that he is more pro-Israel than any of his predecessors. But he is pro-America above all.

06 May 2007

06 May 2007 - Against Kasrils and the kleptocrats

Today’s blog is in honor of new Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who was elected today to the highest post in South Africa’s largest opposition party. Zille, who is a champion of human rights and good governance, is a leader with great potential. She will continue Tony Leon’s legacy of strong and principled opposition and challenge the ruling party for power after her own fashion: leading by example.

One area in which Zille could begin is South Africa’s foreign policy, which reached new lows last week when Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils invited Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to South Africa. Apart from the question of why the intelligence minister is handling foreign affairs, there is the question of why South Africa thinks it should meet Hamas on home soil, or at all.

Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction, to ghastly antisemitic beliefs and to a strategy of killing innocent Israeli civilians. There is only one set of conditions in which a Hamas visit to South Africa could possibly be justified, and that is if it involves a pre-planned announcement to renounce the use of violence. Gerry Adams of the IRA previously used a visit to Nelson Mandela in 2001 for that purpose.

Somehow, I doubt that is what Hamas and the African National Congress (ANC) government are up to. I think this is yet another in a series of attempts by President Mbeki and the ANC to play both sides of the international divide. Only a few weeks ago, the President attended Israel Independence Day celebrations in Durban; now he will embrace someone committed to destroying Israel.

Tony Leon recently described South Africa’s foreign policy as “schizophrenic,” and indeed it is that. Only the ANC’s propagandists, or their willing dupes, could see any logical coherence in a policy that claims to stand for human rights and conflict resolution yet protects Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, that cavorts with North Korea and tries to shield Iran and Myanmar from international scrutiny.

Yet schizophrenia is a mental disorder, and I don’t think South Africa’s foreign policy is the result of madness, or even incompetence (though there is certainly a some of the latter around, in generous proportions). Rather, I think it is the result of a rational calculation of self-interest—not the self-interest of South Africa as a whole, but the self-interest of the ANC and its elite leadership.

The ANC plays to the sentimental sensibilities of the liberal democracies, and at the same time to the radical agenda of the Islamists and the communists. It does so because there are direct benefits to be had—trade and recognition from the former, private contracts and inside deals from the latter. And the ANC gets away with it because of its unchallenged economic and political leadership in Africa.

This sort of double-dealing does not help the country as a whole, because it chases away potential investors from the liberal democracies, and all the Islamists and the communists are interested in are a narrow range of commodities and weapons technologies. The only beneficiaries are the leaders of the ANC itself, and more and more evidence is emerging that this is the guiding logic behind the erratic policy.

This past weekend, ANC crony Sandi Majali threatened to “spill the beans” on a series of shady oil transactions that put millions of rands in public money into the ANC’s campaign coffers. Majali was also part of the ANC’s effort to raise potential billions for the ruling party by doing oil deals with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. There are other deals we don’t know the details of—with Iran, for example, and others.

There is no link between Kasrils and these shady deals, but whipping up anti-Israel sentiment in South Africa and around the world has obviously raised his personal profile. He is no longer just a domestic player; he is now helping to lead an international effort to encourage violent extremism and to isolate Israel. He has forgotten his earlier condemnations of terrorism, and the ANC's earlier support for Arafat's Fatah against Hamas, and is now Hamas’s good friend.

Kasrils’s invitation would not and could not have happened without official approval. Perhaps South Africa has simply seen a gap in the diplomatic arena and is rushing to take advantage of the opportunity to play the mediator. More likely, the ANC is trying to atone for its ultimate vote against Iran in the Security Council (after heavy western pressure) and to re-establish its radical credentials.

This zigzag is not being performed solely for reasons of ideology, or even vanity. There is very likely a cash cost to the ANC, in terms of rands and cents, for being seen to be too far to one side or the other. So it has to alternate stances—first protecting the Myanmar regime, then condemning it; first aiding Iran, then isolating it; first celebrating Israel, then siding with its mortal adversaries.

There can be no other rational explanation for the stance the ANC has taken. There is a line of thinking that maintains the ANC is simply trying to export South Africa’s model of conflict resolution, but I disagree. I think the ANC befriends rogue regimes because it hopes to cash in on their need for friends. Otherwise, Kasrils—whose job, let us remember, is to stop terror—would have been fired immediately. But this game cannot last long. South Africa is in overdraft at the bank of international credibility. Someone, sometime, is bound to call its bluff.

05 May 2007 - The need for strong opposition

This blog entry is dedicated to South Africa’s Leader of the Opposition, Tony Leon MP, who stepped down from his post and from the leadership of his party, the Democratic Alliance, after eight years and thirteen years, respectively. Leon stood for the principle and practice of opposition politics in post-apartheid South Africa. His contribution was great and will be missed. His farewell speech is here; the video coverage by SABC News is here.

The Israeli government is on the verge of collapse. The preliminary report of the Winograd Commission prompted 100,000 Israelis to rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to demand the prime minister’s resignation. Deputy PM Tzipi Livni’s has challenges for power, but has been stalled by loyalist members of the Kadima ruling party; now, the Labor party is considering walking out of the government.

Back in January 2003, with Israeli elections looming, the Labor Party announced that it would not serve in a government of national unity with Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party. (Two years later, the Labor Party did, in fact, join Sharon’s cabinet in order to save the government from collapse as a result of internal opposition to the Gaza disengagement, which saw thirteen Likud “rebels” vote against the Prime Minister.)

In a stirring op-ed article in Ha’aretz entitled “Tough opposition is vital to democracy,” Hillel Schocken supported Labor’s decision, and explained his reasons:

The Labor Party's decision to declare outright that it will not join a national unity government with the Likud is a correct one, despite being unfortunately late in coming. The Israeli political system has nurtured the notion of "national unity government" in such a way as to turn it into an original Israeli product, of a type not commonly found in Western democracies. Here the opinion has taken root that in times of crisis - political, military or economic - we must unite under such a government. The argument is that in times like these, there is no room for petty political differences and we must all make a common effort to overcome the causes of the crisis. There is an urgent need to state that a national unity government is undesirable, since it is in essence opposed to democracy. A true democracy draws its strength from the permanent existence of a government and an opposition. While the ruling coalition runs the affairs of state, the opposition criticizes its actions and proposes alternative ways of doing things. There is a good reason for the concept of "shadow government" in Britain - this is a parallel administration that at all times offers the public an alternative to the policies of the government in power. We must distinguish between the concept of "national unity" and a national unity government. A national unity government is no guarantee of national unity. It is difficult to imagine a time when we were further from national unity than during the term of the outgoing Sharon-led government. On the other hand, the permanent existence of a government and opposition does not eliminate the possibility of national unity in times of crisis. An opposition is not automatically obliged to oppose every action taken by the government. A responsible opposition is more likely to find itself supporting the government at a time when war or an economic crisis threaten the state. A credible government and opposition, based on clear ideological systems, present the public with different standpoints, and facilitates practical public discussion.

Tony Leon once referred to this article in a speech in Israel in 2003, adding a few additional reflections:

In South Africa, we have creeping one-partyism. The ruling party today, the African National Congress, is a dominant organisation that seeks to extend its reach to every institution and every sphere of society.

In Israel, by contrast, there seems to be a kind of “no-partyism”—a stalemate in which no political party can secure a majority by itself. Governments must be cobbled together in coalitions between parties that often have radical differences with one another on critical issues.

It might be said that while South Africa suffers from too little political opposition, Israel suffers from too much.

Both countries have informal ways of dealing with these political problems.

In South Africa, there is the notion of “opposition from within.” The [ruling] ANC [African National Congress], after all, has many different factions. The labour unions, for example, are part of the ruling party but disagree with the party leadership about the privatization of state assets, AIDS policy, and other issues. Some observers argue that these internal factions perform the same function that a larger political opposition normally performs in most other democratic systems.

A related notion is the idea of “constructive opposition.” This has been embraced by certain small parties, such as the New National Party, which has entered a coalition with the ANC. They argue that by cooperating with the ruling party on most issues, they can gain political leverage to oppose the government on others, presumably those issues that matter most to the smaller party’s constituents.

Yet both “opposition from within” and “constructive opposition” have proved to be failures. The ANC has clamped down on internal dissent through an effective political campaign against what is derisively called the “ultra-left” within the party. And those parties that have cooperated with the ANC have failed to win any real concessions. The NNP [New National Party], for example, utterly failed to prevent the destruction of the commando units, the community policing forces that up to now have helped to keep the peace in rural areas.

In Israel, the problem of “no-partyism” has often been dealt with through the formation of a “national unity government.” The idea here is that in times of crisis, it is far better to bring all the major parties together than to have them on opposite sides of the political floor. In South Africa, this idea also still has a certain currency.

However, as Hillel Schocken of Ha’aretz observed in January of this year, “[a] national unity government is no guarantee of national unity.” He also warns that we must distinguish between the concept of national unity on the one hand, and the institution of a national unity government on the other.

It is difficult for new ideas and alternative approaches to emerge when the opposition is smothered in the close embrace of the ruling party. There can be national unity, Schocken argues, without a national unity government. When the nation is threatened, a party of “responsible opposition” can support the government in good faith without having to abandon its political autonomy.

“A true democracy,” Schocken declares, “draws its strength from the permanent existence of a government and an opposition. While the ruling coalition runs the affairs of state, the opposition criticizes its actions and proposes alternative ways of doing things.”

To Schocken’s conclusion, I would add only one thing: that the permanent existence of a government and an opposition should not mean that the relative positions of the parties are also permanent. A healthy democracy is one in which the opposition has a reasonable hope of changing places with the government. . . .

A stronger opposition is not just good for us as a party, but good for South Africa as a whole. A strong opposition can hold the government to account and—critically—serve as the vehicle for new ideas and creative approaches to pressing social problems.

Leon and Schocken’s support for strong opposition is relevant today as Israel struggles to deal with the implications and consequences of the Winograd report. It may be time once again for Labor to withdraw from the government and join the opposition—even if that might bring Bibi Netanyahu and Likud back to power—because the country needs clear ideas and alternatives for the way forward.

Instead, on all sides, Israel seems a country plagued by political opportunism and its close relative, cowardice. Olmert won’t take responsibility for the failure in Lebanon. Livni chose not to resign before challenging the prime minister. And Netanyahu waited until the last moment to quit Sharon’s government—unlike Sharansky, who left months earlier. Peres, too, is waiting.

Tony Leon has left his post in South Africa, even after more than a decade of success, in order to make way for new leaders who might be able to take his party even further in its mission. When was the last time an Israeli politician stepped down for the sake of his party, or for the sake of his ideals? Israel desperately needs new leaders, as well as a new understanding of what leadership is all about.