Israel/Palestine, an Encyclopedia: Part Two

I confess I became incredibly tired of this topic when, seven months ago, I wrote the first entry. Israel/Palestine always dominates the news to a boring degree, the debate’s participants are all fulsome demagogues, and more important evildoers like the governments Gulf Arabs or the Chinese are routinely ignored for this stupid and aggravating slice of the world. The discourse over Israel/Palestine is so poisoned by divisive rhetoric that it seems a waste of time to try and inject reason into the maelstrom. However, I must confess, I have quite a bit of Schadenfreude over Likud’s flagging poll numbers in this recent election, so in preparation for giving King Bibi the boot, I felt like reviving my plan for a series of posts on Israel/Palestine.

To summarize my last entry, I focused on three topics: the occupation, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, and “pinkwashing.” In this entry, I’m going to switch gears and summarize some arguments used regarding Zionism and the Zionist project, and what I think of them. There are many, and they are all mostly tiresome, so I doubt I will be able to get to them all.

1. Israel has a right to the land/has a right to exist:

This has always struck me as an inherently weird claim. It appropriates the discourse for individuals and applies it to an abstract entity, the state. How can something abstract have rights? We must return to discussing individuals if we are to understand what it means for a state to have such “rights,” as it is the treatment of individuals that legitimates the state. The state of Israel is the geographical entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River from West to East, and the Lebanon and Egypt to the South. It may or may not include Gaza and the West Bank, depending on whether you think the Occupation and the blockades, the complete military control of those territories, and the very real power the Israeli state apparatus wields there constitutes political sovereignty. Within the state of Israel, there are not just Israeli Jews, but foreign-born Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, Africans, and smaller minority groups.

The proper theory of a state is that it somehow acts as a steward to the people that it governs, and in doing so, protects their individual rights. All concepts of a nation-state built on the exploitation of some for the benefit of others must be categorically rejected as wrong. For Israel the state to have a right to the land, it must protect the individual rights of all the people within that land, and only upon fulfilling that criterion is it able to wield power over them with any measure of legitimacy. Under that criterion, Israel does not have a right to exist. It cannot claim to act as a steward for the people that it governs, as it treats many of them much like human chattel, and lashes the rest to a military occupation that forces them to fight, and kill, that chattel for their own “protection.” The dictum “war is the health of the state” is clearly expressed in the total mobilization of Israeli society for warfare, which is inculcated as a sacred duty into the minds of its citizens almost from birth.

The fact that Israel, as it stands, certainly does not have a right to exist is well-stated in this post on al-Akhbar:

“What moves me instead in this post-two-state era, is the sheer audacity of Israel even existing.

What a fantastical idea, this notion that a bunch of rank outsiders from another continent could appropriate an existing, populated nation for themselves – and convince the “global community” that it was the moral thing to do. I’d laugh at the chutzpah if this wasn’t so serious.

Even more brazen is the mass ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population by persecuted Jews, newly arrived from their own experience of being ethnically cleansed.”

Israel, like all states, only has a right to exist insofar as it serves the purposes of the people it purports to govern. Israel is not serving the interests of any of its people, and so this canard of an argument must be thrown out.

2. Jews have a right to the land: This is a fundamentally different argument than (1), for Israel is a political entity, a nation-state that represents Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, the Druze, and other ethnic groups domestically and internationally, and provides various goods and services to those people considered citizens. In (2), however, it is not a state and a precisely defined nation that has a right to the land, but the Jewish people themselves.

There is certainly a conflict between (1) and (2) that most Zionists seem to not have conceived, or which they ignore. If Israel as the nation-state has a right to the land, then this is inclusive of all the citizens of that nation-state, the Jews, Arabs, Druze, and others. However, if it is the Jewish people that has a right to the land, and an exclusive right at that, then this precludes any other group from having a right to it. All the people that were there previously – I will not say originally, for now – do not have a right to it, as they are not Jews.

Now, if someone has a right to a piece of land, that does not automatically exclude others from having a similar right. A well held in common by the community may be rightfully used by all the members of that community. Pray, however, look at the way the land is administered by the Israeli government. The “Right of Return” is open to all Jewish people everywhere, and so I, a Jew, could hop on a plane to Israel tomorrow morning and receive my citizenship that evening. A Palestinian refugee, who has a greater claim to the land than I do, may not even be allowed to return to that land at all. At the very least, this implies that, even if other groups have rights, I have greater rights, which supersede theirs. This is because Jews, more so than other groups, have a true right to the land of Israel.

The logic rests on two basic premises:
P1. The original possessor of a land is the rightful owner of that land
P2. The land was continuously inhabited by its rightful owners, though their claim to the land was not granted by its de facto rulers

(1) is simply incoherent for the goals of the Zionist, because none other than the Torah itself declares that the Jews were not the original possessors of the historical land of Israel. They conquered it by force from whatever Canaanite tribes lived there, and then were in a perpetual contest with other groups over it until the final expulsion by the Romans. If the Zionist wants to claim that Jews were originally there, he would be historically wrong, and if he wants to claim that this premise is the basis for the rightful possession of the Jews, he would also be wrong. Instead, we ought to track down the remnants of the dispossessed Canaanites and give them back their rightful territory. Israelites were simply conquerors, and as conquest is deemed illegitimate – at least, I assume it is, as most Zionists vehemently deny modern Israel is a conquering nation – then the Israelite possession of the land was also illegitimate, which in turn means that Jewish Israeli possession of the land is illegitimate.

(2) builds off of the authority of one, for if members of the original possessors remain in the land, that gives legitimacy to their claim that the land is truly theirs. “Jews have lived in the land of Israel ever since they moved there” may be true, but does it do any productive work for the argument? If I have a claim to a plot of land, but my neighbor wants it, and so drives me off the land, then the land is still mine by right. If I was forced to leave my child there, and in a benevolent state of mind he decided to raise it in my absence, then the presence of the child is irrelevant to my claim of the land. If I were to die, then the claim would pass on to my heir, as the rightful inheritor of my property. This doesn’t require that my heir even inhabit the property, though, for if we all were to be dispossessed, my heir and I, when I die he would still be the rightful heir of the land itself. If (1) is correct, then (2) does nothing additional to legitimize reoccupation of the land by the descendants of the Israelites. Indeed, this sort of principle is what governs real estate in some of the older settlements in Israel. In Tzvat, for instance, it is nearly impossible to buy a home in the old city, because the rightful owners of the plots are very difficult to track down, and that ownership may be divided between multiple heirs, many of whom do not even know they are heirs to a property at all! Their presence, or lack thereof, is immaterial to determining property rights.

The real purpose of these arguments is to deflect the obvious fact that Israel began as a settler colonialist project, which became a project of conquest after the departure of the British. The principle of conquest has been legally rejected since Nuremberg, but that does not mean it has been practically rejected. Such quibbles have not stopped nation-states from practicing it, such as Russia with the Crimea (notwithstanding the various arguments in favor of the annexation). Nor has it stopped private forces such as ISIS from attempting to conquer Syria and Iraq, and then onward to all of the Muslim world. Law is the muslin veil over the cruel heart of man. It is periodically lifted when groups and individuals cannot, or do not desire to, achieve their goals through the proper legal channels.

Though Zionists attempt to mask this with claims that “Jews have a right to the land,” they are tacitly affirming it as the true guiding principle of the philosophy. Why do Jews have a right to the land? Because they were there first, or at least, before the Palestinians. Why were they there before the Palestinians? Because they conquered the land from the Canaanites. Therefore, Jews have a right to the land because they took it by force, and maintained it by force against others. This has the unsavory effect of legitimizing the conquest of the Jews by the Romans and others, but that is a mere historical matter, as the Jews successfully reconquered the land from the Palestinians after the British departed. It also has the unsavory effect of elevating force to the primary principle of politics – but that is what it has always been, hasn’t it? I would tell my Zionist friends that if they want to defend Israel, they should keep the points about Jews having a right to the land, but drop the nonsense about historical possession, or historical inhabitance, or the divine right nonsense. Simply affirm the basic truth, that they took it by force, and will keep it by force, and that is enough.

3. You haven’t been there (so you can’t comment): This is one of the stupidest of them all, and I think anyone with a sound mind can see the stupidity for himself. The argument goes like this.

P1: First-hand experience is more reliable than second- or third-hand experience
C1. Therefore, one ought to prefer first-hand experience

P2. First-hand experience can only be gained by people who have been physically present in the area they are speaking about.
P3. Because first-hand experience is more reliable, it is more preferable.
P4. Because first-hand experience is more preferable, second- and third-hand experience is useless
P5. Many commentators on Israel/Palestine have not been to either place
C2. Therefore, they do not have first-hand experience
C3. Therefore, their experience is useless

The problem is with P(1) and P(4), as you might see. (1) may be mistaken because first-hand experience, though more raw and visceral, may not be more reliable than second- or third-hand experience. Take, for example, a victim of a bombing and a forensic examiner. The victim experiences the horrific event, and has his own account of what happened: “I saw a man place down a suitcase, and then I went back to my iPhone. Then, *boom*! The suitcase blew up, and I was thrown back twenty feet. I’m fine, but the person in front of me was vaporized!” Then the examiner comes, and based on this account, begins to look for pieces of the bomb to reconstruct its design, and the suitcase to reconstruct its container. First she goes to the surveillance tapes to see what happened and, lo! she sees the man put down the suitcase, and then the explosion. But here’s the kicker: the suitcase didn’t explode, but another package, discretely tucked away from the victim’s view. He had been there to witness the event, but had misconstrued a random person for the bomber, and conflated the true cause with a mistaken cause.

First-hand experience is often plagued with problems, as people misremember, misconstrue, and outright contradict the established facts of a case based on whatever conscious or subconscious mental biases they may have. In such cases, second- and third-hand sources of information, established by latecomers such as the forensic examiner, may yield an account of greater truth than anything a witness might say, in opposition to the claim of (4). The lesser reliability of these sources is due, then, not to their ability to establish truth, but to their proximity to an event. And such proximity  may, instead of heightening the truth, distort it. Another example: in the graphic novel Maus, the author is questioning his father about the famous brass band that played for the workers coming in and leaving from Auschwitz. “There was no such band” his father says. “But the historical records are clear, as are the testimonies of the victims” his son retorts. “Yes, but the band was never there, I never saw it.” Even two direct witnesses to an event may contradict each other. What this suggests is that there must be skepticism regarding sources, both from first-, second-, and third-hand experience.  We must look at each source, and to the best of our ability, determine its proximity to truth. This can be harder to do with sources like news media that do not give us direct access to events, or the places where they happen, but that does not make it impossible.

A more substantive objection, though, is that even if this argument is sound, it completely vitiates the claims that history is able to offer an adequately clear picture of the happenings of the past. If we are required to be first-hand witnesses of events, and to experience life from the very place we are commenting on, how can we say anything about the past? Especially, about the past that no one directly remembers, such as the 19th century? Or, more pressingly, the past conquest of Canaan by the Israelites? Who is to say it isn’t all made up? After all, no one living has ever seen an Israelite, because all the evidence is in archaeological finds, and tattered old documents, and folktales like the Bible. If Zionists wish to hold this line of argument, they cannot also hold the second line of argument, viz. that Jews have a claim to the land, unless they modify it along my lines.

4. American/University of California/whatever money implicates us in Israeli “apartheid”

This isn’t a Zionist argument, but it is equally as stupid, so I will address it now. Let’s say I am the head of a corrupt government, call me Georgios Papandreou. And let’s say you are the head of a fiscally sound government, let’s call you Angela Merkel. Now, I want money to pad my private mansion, oops! to pay civil servants and build my pet infrastructure projects back in Hellas. The times are good and the gravy train is rolling on, so you say, sure, why not? And I receive billions in loans from you. Then, oh no! I go bust because I’m a corrupt idiot, and my people vote me out. You are angry, but at least, still in power. Who is at fault? Me, or my people?

Angela Merkel answers the latter, but its a ridiculous argument. The Greeks are no more implicated in decisions they have no control over than the people of America or the students of the UC system are in the decisions of their administrators. The state, and systems of power, generally run in the same direction regardless of voter indignation or agitation for this or that. The great lie that democracy means power of the people enables us to escape this truth, but the fact of the matter is this: groups and individuals with power, whether it be through money or influence, are the ones who drive policy. Poor and impotent citizens have little oversight over the prerogatives of their governments, and so attempting to morally equate the actions of government with the actions of its citizens is foolhardy.

Israel/Palestine: An Encyclopedia, Part One

This will be the first entry into what I shall call “Israel/Palestine: An Encyclopedia,” a list of terms that provoke constant bickering as to their meaning, purpose, et cetera. I hope in writing this that I am able to clear some up rather nebulous concepts. Nota bene: Although I hope to clarify these things, do understand that this is only my own, limited take, guaranteed to please few and anger many. If your interest is peaked, I suggest you continue researching this topic on your own and come to your own conclusions.

Israel vs. the Israeli government/military/judiciary/und so weiter: it is important to keep nomenclature sound to avoid disputes. In all of my writing about the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cleave to the following rule: “Israel” refers to the geographical and national entity contained east of Suez, west of Jordan and Syria, and south of Lebanon, but not including the occupied West Bank region nor the Gaza Strip. It may also refer to the people that live in the land of Israel, viz. Israelis. The “Israeli government” refers to the current governing coalition that wields political power over the land of Israel. Why does this matter? When a man says “Israel” and begins to criticize it, he is immediately putting into the minds of his opponents the notion that he is personally attacking the integrity of the nation and its people. “Israel does X and it’s bad!” may be true in some sense, but it threatens charges of anti-Semitism which obscures the message our interlocutor is likely trying to convey. By saying “the Israeli government does X and it’s bad!” our interlocutor is on much firmer footing: he is criticizing a discrete body of people and their actions, rather than an entire nation of 7+ million people; he cannot be charged with anti-Semitism, because his attack is leveled at a certain political echelon as opposed to all of am Yisrael; he cannot be misconstrued as anti-Israel, and thus a deligitimizer and again an anti-Semite, because he is not attacking Israel itself but the policies of its leaders.

Note: one can still attack the Zionist premises that Israel was founded on and not be an anti-Semite, for Zionism is not equivalent with Jews as people or as a religion. However, criticizing Israel as a nation-state is treading far different ground, and one must be careful to maintain legitimacy in an argument.

Occupation: What is the occupation, and what is it about? The occupation is the military and settler presence in the West Bank, and the military blockade of the Gaza Strip. From Jewish Voice for Peace: “The rest of the West Bank has been under a military occupation ever since [1967]. This means that the Israeli army has complete control over these areas. Palestinians in these regions have no guarantee of civil rights. They have no government of their own other than what Israel will allow. Israel can impose total curfews on any part or all of the territory. This prevents people from traveling to work, to market or to see family members. It can prevent medical care from reaching people, and people from reaching hospitals.” (source)

What is it about? Some might say “security,” some might say “religion,” and while these factors certainly are very important in creating an idea of what the occupation is, the most pressing factor is certainly land. One may see this when certain supporters of the Israeli government line say that the West Bank can’t ever, really, be given up because that would leave Israel far too slim at the waist; Mother Israel needs that extra buffer zone so in the inevitable next invasion from the Jordanians, Israel will have more time to respond. Indeed, this is security playing the lie so that a blatant land grab might be legitimized.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS): BDS stands for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, a rather self-explanatory acronym. The movement seeks to boycott Israeli companies, seek out foreign companies that invest in Israel and persuade them to divest, and international sanctions on the Israeli state. All of this is to peacefully persuade the Israeli government and society to disengage from the occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip. What is controversial is exactly what these broad policy goals entail.

To offer an insight into what the anti-BDS movement believes BDS is, I will quote from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech last year to AIPAC (source). In said speech, he said of the BDS movement that it should be “vigorously opposed… because [it is] bad for peace and because BDS is just plain wrong.” Netanyahu concludes this is so for the following reasons:

  • The BDS movement does not seek a two-state solution, because they “openly admit that they seek the dissolution of the only state for the Jewish people.”
  • BDS “sets back peace because it hardens Palestinian positions and it makes mutual compromise less likely.”
  • BDS is “morally wrong… it is about making Israel illegitimate.” Why? According to Mr. Netanyahu, only in Israel can Middle Eastern academics openly speak their minds, Christians openly practice their religion, journalists can write, gays can be gay, women can have equality. Not only that, it is an anti-Semitic movement: “today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state… the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.”
  • Finally, BDS movements really should be targeting worse offenders, such as Syria or Iran, and not the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

I am unsure where Netanyahu gets the idea that the BDS movement is about the dissolution of Israel as a state. Perhaps he believes that justice for the Palestinian people constitutes the dissolution of Israel as a state? Perhaps he is referring to the right of return, or of the proposed return to 1967 borders? I have no idea, but the stated purpose of members of the BDS movement, and their actions, seem far more constrained in their scope. From the website for Jewish Voice for Peace: “we support divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation” (source). Nowhere does this imply support for the dissolution of the Israeli state, but rather non-violent civil disobedience and non-violent divestment from companies that profit off of the occupation.

From the mission statement of the Free Gaza Movement: “We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine’s right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise. We have not and will not ask for Israel’s permission. It is our intent to overcome this brutal siege through civil resistance and non-violent direct action, and establish a permanent sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world” (source). Again, non-violence and awareness (NB: I am unsure whether the widely-publicized violence, involving the injury of several and the death of one of the protestors, on one of the Gaza Flotilla boats, originated from the Israeli commandos or the activists themselves – perhaps it is moot, perhaps we will never know?)

If a large part of the West Bank occupation is due to economic reasons (I have read as much, at least), then making it economically unfeasible for settlements to exist there seems like a good strategy – this of course doesn’t take into account religious reasons.

The anti-Semitic one is pretty easy to refute: boycotts and divestment don’t target Jews but companies that profit from occupation. A recent divestment bill that passed at my alma mater, University of California Santa Cruz, had the following text for its resolution:

“Let it be resolved, that SUA [Student Union Assembly] should further examine UC assets for funds being invested in companies that directly profit from or support a) military support for, or weaponry to, support the Israeli occupation; b) the building or maintenance of the illegal Separation Wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, farms, or orchards; or c) the building, maintenance, or economic development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; … if it is found that UCSC or UC funds are being invested in any of the above-mentioned companies we call upon or University… to divest their holdings from these aforementioned companies.” (source)

As anti-Semitism is an attack on a person’s being (or perceived being, perhaps, if you take Sartre’s analysis in Anti-Semite and Jew to heart), while the above is an attack on illegal actions taken by the Israeli government, it seems hard to argue that the BDS movement is inherently against the Jewish people.

However, it becomes all too easy when a man like Netanyahu conflates the Israeli state with all of am Yisrael. Because of this, in his mind any attack on the legitimacy of the actions of the Israeli government, or the territorial incursions of the Israeli state, is ipso facto an attack on the Jewish people themselves. This is problematic for multiple reasons: one, it essentializes all Jews, regardless of their level of observance, their nationality, or their political positions, into de facto citizens of the state of Israel, so that any attack on Israel is also an attack on them; two, it marginalizes Israel’s substantial Arab, small Druze, and smaller minority populations, effectively telling them that the country they are citizens of and which they call home is not really theirs; three, it shows as barren Netanyahu’s claim that “that Israel, like all states, is not beyond criticism,” because by equating the Israeli state with the Jewish people, any criticism of Israel can be construed rightly or wrongly as anti-Semitic; fourth, it has the odd outcome that criticism of the Jewish people is also criticism of the Israeli state – does the anti-circumcision movement in Europe equate to being anti-Israel, because it has elements of anti-Semitism? Perhaps, but not necessarily; fifth, if BDS is about the dissolution of the Israeli state as Netanyahu suggests, then it is necessarily also about the dissolution of the Jewish people, which on its face makes his claim even more absurd. Regardless, the charge of being anti-Israel rings hollow anyway: no boycott or divestment bill I have seen wants anyone to divest or boycott Israel itself, only companies that profit off illegal Israeli activity. Netanyahu’s conflation is unjustified and duplicitous.

Finally, Netanyahu’s last objection is just a tu quoque fallacy – other nations, such as Iran and the Sudan, are targeted by sanctions. Israel is also not equivalent with other nations policy-wise: Israel receives more military aid than any other nation, and our “special relationship” with the Israeli state merits equally special scrutiny. Big ticket offenders like China are left alone for various geopolitical and economic reasons, so mentioning them is more of a red herring – we have to focus on what is feasible to solve.

Pinkwashing: a term coined by academics to denounce Israeli efforts, and the apologetics of their supporters, to point to purportedly positive and/or progressive policies held by the Israeli government, or attitudes held by the Israeli people, as merely a red herring distracting from their human rights abuses of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. While it is true that Israeli actions in one area do not impinge on Israeli actions in another – the liberal policy towards the LGBT community in Israel, though arguably the most open in the Middle East, has little to do with the draconian policy on Palestinian movement of people, for example – it is precisely because of this that the charge of “pinkwashing” carries no weight. If it is true that certain Israelis and their supporters attempt to distract from a poor human rights record in one place by holding up their stellar human rights record in another, it is equally true that their detractors do the exact opposite: detract from their stellar human rights record in one place, by holding up their appalling human rights record in another. It is a red herring in any event, and each policy should be examined on its merits before we take an account of the whole Israeli political apparatus. We ought not to proceed from a negative assessment of the system and then judge its parts, but begin with its parts, and from there form an image of the whole.

To be clear, pinkwashing can refer to any sort of apologetics for Israel that follows these lines: “We have a great policy on X, don’t you agree? So why do you keep hammering us on policy Y?” Such an example can be found in the above-quoted speech Mr. Netanyahu gave to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). I quote: “I visited an Israeli army field hospital in the Golan Heights. Now, that field hospital wasn’t set up for Israelis. It was set up for Syrians. Israelis treated nearly a thousand wounded Syrians — men, women and a lot of children. They come to our border fence bleeding and desperate. Often they’re near death. And on my visit I met two such Syrians, a shellshocked father and his badly wounded 5-year-old boy. A few days earlier the man’s wife and baby daughter were blown to bits by Iranian bombs dropped by Assad’s air force. Now the grieving father was holding his little boy in his arms, and Israeli doctors were struggling to save the boy’s life.”

It seems clear that such lines are expressly designed to deflect charges that Israel terror bombs civilians in Gaza – which it most certainly does. Be that as it may, charging this as pinkwashing ignores the fact that, even if it does have rather nefarious intentions, nonetheless it has a good result.

Re: How to Achieve Peace in Gaza

As the latest Gaza War rages on, several members of our consortium have taken up their pens to figure out a solution for this endless debacle. This post is in reference to an earlier post by Dr. Foldvary, which may be found here, as well as some comments by Brandon.

What is to be done for Israel/Palestine? How will the warring neighbors – perhaps neighbors is too generous a word, as it implies equality – ever come to terms? Should we care anyway? As the Germans say, das ist nicht mein Bier! The third question has a rather self-evident answer: if you at all care about what the US government does with American taxpayer money, you should be concerned that the taxpayers contribute roughly $6 billion per year to the Israeli government. Whether this is given in currency or kind I am unsure, but the dominance of American military technology in Israel seems to point more to the latter.

For the first two questions, Brandon and Dr. Foldvary argue one way, and I another.

Brandon’s proposal is essentially as follows:

Once the two sides are brought together (but not really, and the ‘not really‘ is key) under a federal umbrella – one that is endlessly interested in preserving itself at the expense of member states (and therefore willing to provide better services than either Israel, the PA, the Great Powers, or the IGOs of Great Powers) – peace and understanding (and economic prosperity!) can ensue.

Honestly, I have nothing negative to say about this idea. Confederating the two areas into one state, Israel/Palestine (an ugly name as of now; perhaps we can return to Canaan?), is probably where things are heading regardless of the specific proposal. Israeli and Palestinian intransigence at the political level will, barring some revolutionary change in the collective consciousness of their respective populations, will likely smooth over the other pertinent issues until: wham! One state! When did that happen? Where I disagree is over the practical validity of Dr. Foldvary’s and Brandon’s proposals.

For what it’s worth, here is my response to the original article:

Your plan is far too rational to work, unfortunately. There will be no apologies, no reconciliation; at least in this generation. The Israelis have a colonial contempt for their subjects that will not see them scrape and bow, and the Palestinians will not compromise on their core demands. Past peace negotiations have failed partly because of Palestinian intransigence on the right of return and on just how much land will be incorporated into a future Palestinian state.

When the two sides begin to think rationally perhaps they will implement some of your plan. But, they do not think solely with reason. Magical and religious thinking, racism, historical trauma, and other such mental detritus dominate the mind in that region. Better to leave it alone.

And some further reading:

…you assume a government can exist that will protect individual rather than group rights, but the current political status quo shows this to be an impossibility. Right-wing groups like Shas, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu are small but their influence is disproportionate, because they are necessary to form a coalition. The Arab parties are allowed to exist but have never been part of a government, and the pro-peace parties are similarly shafted. Has Kadima made a peep since Sharon had his stroke? Yesh Atid is supposedly the centrist party but has been in a coalition with Likud and other rightists since the last Knesset election. Thinking Israeli society will shift in any way, shape, or form to a position favoring individual rather than group advantage is a pipe dream.

Even if it were not, there is too much pushing in the opposite direction to effect any sort of mental shift in the collective Israeli consciousness. The existence of perpetual warfare in Israel/Palestine has created three parties roughly analogous on both sides: the extreme right who wants war, the extreme left who wants peace, and the vast majority of both populations, who want to survive.

The problem is, the survival instincts of the majority are much more easily manipulated by the hardliners on the right wing, who preach intransigence, racism, and further warfare. The doves on the left, a far smaller force than the hawks on the right, preach peace which falls on deaf ears with each additional attack. What is worrisome is that large swaths of Israeli society are becoming hardened to the realities of war and treat it almost like entertainment. Re: the Hamas Rocket Drinking Game (drink each time you hear a siren!) and the theatre on a hill in Sderot for watching the bombardment of Gaza (you can find pictures online).

The best case scenario is that both sides get sick of spilling each other’s blood and, for the sake of their groups, hash out a peace deal that will probably be unfair to the Palestinians, but just unpalatable enough that they wont cast it in the teeth of the Israelis. I have no idea what this will look like exactly, but imagine that the right of return will be denied or severely limited, Israel will retain the majority of settlements or visiting rights in certain places (religious sites in Hebron, say), and the Palestinians will lose East Jerusalem and have to station their capital elsewhere, such as Ramallah. I also imagine some form of ethnic cleansing, like population exchange, will take place.

That is my assumption, unless there are systemic changes in Israeli and Palestinian society. The vast majority of them are sick of fighting, but continue to yoke themselves to racist, violent nationalist movements. When they decide on a better course of action for making peace, then we will see something interesting; until then, zilch.

In responding to Brandon’s thoughts, I find nothing substantial to change in my thinking on this matter. Although a Confederated Canaan, one built on individual rather than group rights and respecting the human dignity of all the subjects therein, would be a splendid idea, we still have to get there in reality. My main contention is that this is probably impossible. There is too much holding everything back for a rational and fair final peace. What will likely happen, as I noted earlier, is a grudging peace between Israel and Palestine with the dominant party (Israel) coming out better off than the weaker (Palestine). Palestinians will probably lose control of East Jerusalem and have a heavy security blanket draped over them for decades, while as has been done in the past, religious rights will be respected for holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock or, for the Jews, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Perhaps some sort of Palestinian-only corridor to sites in Israel, and an Israeli-only corridor for sites in the West Bank. More interior settlements like those in Hebron or in the middle of the West Bank will be dismantled or the settlers abandoned, while those closer to the Green Line will be incorporated into the new Israel. The only substantial difference I can imagine is that, unlike now, the Israeli military apparatus will have the full, not just the grudging, support of the new Palestinian state in implementing the peace.

Over time, people will acclimate to this semi-normalized situation – and maybe at that point, a truly reconciliatory peace can be achieved. But until then, I think a Confederated Canaan is not going to happen on equitable lines.

How to Achieve Peace in Gaza

Israel’s bombing of Gaza has not stopped its rocket attacks, so it is counterproductive. Instead, Israel should help the people of Gaza establish a communitarian democracy.

The government of Israel would announce on radio, television, web sites, and leaflets, that it will be sending in troops, not to fight against the people of Gaza, but to empower their communities.

The Israeli government would also apologize for its misguided policies of the past, and for the suffering and humiliation it caused for the Gaza Palestinians. Of course the Israelis have suffered also, but if one demands a counter apology, one is not really repenting and regretting.

The Israeli administration would designate neighborhood boundaries for communities of about 1000 residents and also enterprise owners. Residents would volunteer to serve on the community council. The Israeli troops would defend the community from any extremist opponents of the new democracy. The communities would set up their own protective elements, and the Israeli troops would withdraw.

Israel should have democratized Gaza in 1967 rather then let the area fester. Then in 2005, Israel removed its settlements without negotiating with the Palestinian rulers. Now Israel should do what occupiers world-wide have failed to do, lay down an infrastructure of democracy.

The community councils of Gaza would elect representatives to regional associations, and the regions would elect representatives to a Gaza parliament. The Palestinians of the West Bank should also elect their own parliament. Then the two parliaments would elect a Palestinian federation of two provinces, Gaza and the West Bank (perhaps renamed East Palestine). It would be best to leave local matters to the two provinces.

Israel should then stop imposing tax policy on the Palestinians and let them set up their own public finances. But advisers should encourage the Palestinian councils to collect the land rent and use that for public revenue rather than tax their wages and goods.

Unfortunately the Palestinian governors have focused their resources on fighting Israel rather than economic development. But after the communities in Gaza have become empowered, Gaza will no longer be occupied territory. Israel would remove the barriers around Gaza gradually, since there will still be extremists who seek destruction. But Israel should facilitate the greatest possible mobility for the Palestinians under the constraint of protection, rather than treat the Palestinians with the arrogance that has been practiced in the past. “No more humiliation” should be the stated slogan.

A similar policy should be pursued in the West Bank. The Palestinian authority chiefs will resist transferring power to the people and their local councils, but a democratic Gaza (or West Palestine) will cause the East Palestinians to demand genuine democracy. A bottom-up governance in the West Bank would then result in a federation of West and East Palestine that would then negotiate a lasting peace with Israel.

There have been some peace gatherings among Israelis and Palestinians to humanize their relations and to see that individuals are people much like themselves. But such personal interactions are no substitute for confronting the essential issue of who shall own the land.

The solution that is both just and politically feasible is to recognize the pre-1967 boundaries and then convert the Israeli settlements as leaseholds that pay rent to the Palestinian government.

Ideally all landowners in Israel and Palestine should pay the market rent of their land possessions. Land rent would serve as the best public revenue for a Confederation of Israel and Palestine. Palestine would be a state within the Confederation and would itself also be a federation of West and East Palestine.

The other contentious issue has been the return of displaced Palestinians to their pre-1948 lands. A peace treaty should allow a limited return of Palestinians to Israel, with some compensation for lands that have become homes for others. So long as justice is sought, the maximalists will usually be in the minority.

If justice is not established, time will be an enemy of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as extremists and nuclear perils are on the rise. The choice is either justice now or destruction later.
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Note: this article is also at http://www.progress.org/views/editorials/democracy-and-justice-for-gaza/

The Israeli-Palestinian Mess: Some Historical Context

I just finished up an anthropology course on the Middle East as a culture area, and for reasons beyond my explanatory power, I got to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a bit more in depth. A brief narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows.

The historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can best be understood by breaking it up into three separate but interrelated segments: the collapse of cosmopolitan empires, the emergence of nation-states, and seismic shifts in demography that accompanied collapse and rebirth.

The post-World War I era can be defined largely in terms of the collapse of the cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The spectacular collapse of these centuries-old empires has been attributed to the policies of democrats in western Europe and the President of the United States at the time, Woodrow Wilson, by a number of historians. The underlying idea being promoted by Western elites for central and eastern Europe was that of national self-determination, a belief that each ethnic and linguistic group should have the right to govern itself within a free and democratic state. The movement was intended to break the back of “despotism” in eastern and central Europe (as well as the Near East), but the policies unleashed instead a hotheaded nationalism amidst pockets of power vacuums prevalent throughout the now-dead empires. Continue reading