04 July 2007

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.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

In an undergraduate seminar on ethical philosophy I once shared with a leading Moral Philosopher decades ago, the Professor pointed out the concept of turning an argument around. She likened it to a tug of war where an entire team suddenly shifts its weight in the opposite direction which leads to everyone on both teams falling down and having to pick themselves up and starting over again. Joel's visit to this symposium shows how the Israeli intellectual elite is about as far from this approach as can possibly be. Everyone is simply trying to see how the recent change which is a substantial one in the internal Palestinian scene, reinforces their previous stances; hence the lack of satisfaction at the proceedings. For a time like this is one where Israel could completely turn the tables on the Palestinians and the world. How so? By making sure to include an olive branch to Hamas in enouraging them to constructive governance of the population in Gaza and creation of viable economic life. The message needs to be that at this time where there is prima facie political coherence in the West Bank around Fatah and in Gaza around Hamas, we want both groups to succeed in providing better lives for the Palestinian people under their respective administrations. Seeing that both groups are clearly identified now as the agents for doing just that for their peoples, Israel is putting them into a do or die posture in front of their own constiuencies and the world, and by making the challenge to both Gaza and the West Bank, they will put the political ball right into where it needs to be played.
But the Palestinian who advocated this at the Symposium is really not being listened to.

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Joel said...

I agree to a large extent, though I think Israel should adhere to its basic principle of not dealing with Hamas until it is willing to suspend or renounce violence. I am pessimistic about "reunifying" Gaza and the West Bank but that does not seem to me to preclude their further development as self-governing and eventually sovereign entities--they are, in fact, quite different from each other as well as from Israel. Then again, that, too, would not preclude a perhaps necessary (and perhaps inevitable) military steps to remove Hamas (and Iran) from Gaza as a threat to Israel's citizens.


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