Friday, July 03, 2009

Two states, one state, or "condominial" arrangement?

This Quaker Monthly dispatch (from PIAG, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting) focuses on various ideas for the resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict. Joe Volk, of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, reported in a recent conference call that President Obama is convinced not only that a resolution of the conflict is long overdue, but that U.S. security depends on it.

Obama and many others, including Israelis, Palestinians, U.S. Jews, and leaders of Arab countries in the region, believe that a two-state solution is the most realistic and desireable. The "One Voice Movement," with "over 650,000 signatories in roughly equal numbers both in Israel and in Palestine, and 2,000 highly-trained youth leaders" advocates this approach.

Yet many are convinced that time is running out for a two-state solution. 60 Minutes (Jan. 25, 2009) explains this view in text and video.

Others believe that a one-state solution is more in accord with recognized human rights standards. The reasons this approach is more reasonable and just are laid out by Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah in his visionary book, "One Country" and in an op-ed written by an unlikely, but rather eloquent advocate for peace: Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

But creative, "outside the box" ideas could be even more likely to break the stalemate. One such solution, by political scientist Russell Nieli, advocates a "condominial" arrangement: two ethnically-defined states within one bi-national settlement community. There would be two constitutions, two judicial systems, two sets of laws, two flags, yet anyone, Palestinian or Israeli, would have the right to live anywhere within the territory of either state. Each state would "take care of its own" in terms of their people's econmic, cultural, religious, and welfare needs. Everyone, Israeli and Palestinian, would have a "right of return," including, of course, the Palestinians forced out in al Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (Pictures show the human face of this 1948 tragedy.) Goods and services would move freely across state boundaries. The sharing of water resources would be regulated by the U.N. Palestinian armed forces would be restricted (though Israeli forces would not -- one of the main problems with this arrangement, as I see it). A complete explanation can be found in Nieli's article, "Finally, a New Idea: The Marriage of a One-State and a Two-State Solution," in Tikkun Magazine (July-August, 2009).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

One State?

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: One-State Supporters Make a Comeback
Analysis by Helena Cobban (2009)

WASHINGTON, Apr 10 (IPS) - President Barack Obama has spoken out forcefully - including this week, in Ankara, Turkey - in favour of building an independent Palestinian state alongside a still robust Israel. However, many Palestinians have noted that President George W. Bush also, in recent years, expressed a commitment to Palestinian statehood. But, they note, Bush never took the actions necessary to achieve such a state - and neither, until now, has Obama.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to give very generous support to Israel - where successive governments have built Jewish-only colonies in the occupied West Bank and taken other actions that make a viable Palestinian state increasingly hard to achieve.

Many Palestinians and some important voices in what remains of Israel's now-battered peace camp have concluded that it is now impossible to win the 'two-state solution' envisaged by Bush and Obama. This has led to the re-emergence in both communities of an old idea: that of a single bi- national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which both Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis and Arabic-speaking Palestinians would have equal rights as citizens, and find themselves equally at home.

That goal was advocated most eloquently in the 1930s and early 1940s by Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and other intellectuals at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, most Israelis moved away from it after Israel was established as a specifically Jewish state in 1948.
Later, in 1968, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) articulated a somewhat similar goal: that of building a 'secular democratic state', which comprises both pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank and Gaza - which Israel brought under military occupation in 1967.

However, the PLO leaders could never agree on which of the numerous Jewish immigrants brought into Israel before and after 1948 to include in their project. A few years later, in 1974, most PLO supporters - but not all - moved decisively away from the 'one-state' model. They started working instead for the two-state model: an independent Palestinian state in just the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, alongside the Israel state.

For 26 years after 1974, Israel's governments remained deeply opposed to an independent Palestinian state. All those governments made lavish investments in the project - illegal under international law - of implanting their own citizens as settlers in the occupied West Bank. They annexed East Jerusalem. When pressed on the Palestinians' future, they said they hoped Palestinians could exercise their rights in Egypt or Jordan - just not inside historic Palestine.

This idea has been making a comeback recently - including among advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.In 1993, Israel finally recognized the PLO, and concluded the Oslo Accord with it. Under Oslo, the two sides created a new body called the Palestinian Authority (PA), designed to administer some aspects of daily life in parts of the occupied territories - though not, crucially, in occupied East Jerusalem.

Even after Oslo, Israeli officials made clear that they had not promised the PLO a full Palestinian state. They also said, correctly, that their rights and responsibilities as a military occupying power would remain in place. The final disposition of the occupied areas would await conclusion of a final peace agreement.Oslo specified that that agreement should be completed by 1999.

Ten years later, that deadline has still not been met - a final peace treaty still seems fairly distant. Meanwhile, Israel has used the 16 years since Oslo to increase both the number of settlers it has in the West Bank and the degree of control it exercises over the economies of both Gaza and the West Bank.Palestinian-American political scientist Leila Farsakh describes Israel's policies toward the economies of both areas as "the engineering of pauperisation." She notes that despite the large amounts of international aid poured into the West Bank, poverty rates there have risen. Most West Bank areas outside the territory's glitzy 'capital', Ramallah, are poor and increasingly aid-dependent. Lavish new settlements housing 480,000 settlers crowd much of the West Bank's best land, and guzzle its water, Farsakh explains.

In an Israeli population of just 7.2 million, those settlers now form a formidable voting bloc. Attempts to move them out look almost impossible. In the latest round of peace negotiations that Israel and the PA/PLO pursued from 2000 until recently, participants discussed ways to reduce the number of settlers required to move by annexing the big settlement areas to Israel in return for a land exchange. But those boundary modifications look complex, and quite possibly unworkable.

Meanwhile, the negotiation over a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has sidelined the concerns and rights of three important Palestinian constituencies. The 1.2 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel would remain as an embattled minority within an Israeli state still ideologically committed to the immigration of additional Jews. The 270,000 Palestinians of Jerusalem might also still be surrounded and vulnerable. And the five million Palestinians who still - 61 years after they and their forbearers fled homes in what became Israel in 1948 - would have their long-pursued right to return laid down forever.

From 1982 - the year the PLO's leaders and guerrilla forces were expelled from Lebanon - until recently, the main dynamo of Palestinian nationalism has been located in the Palestinian communities of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But in recent years, those communities have been severely weakened. They are administratively atomised, politically divided, and live under a palpable sense of physical threat.

Many 'occupied' Palestinians are returning to the key defensive ideas of steadfastness and "just hanging on" to their land. But new energy for leadership is now emerging between two other key groups of Palestinians: those in the diaspora, and those who are citizens of Israel. The contribution those groups can make to nationwide organising has been considerably strengthened by new technologies - and crucially, neither of them has much interest in a two-state outcome. Not surprisingly, therefore, discussions about the nature of a one-state outcome - and how to achieve it - have become more frequent, and much richer in intellectual content, in recent years.

Palestinian-Israeli professor Nadim Rouhanna, now teaching at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is a leader in the new thinking. "The challenge is how to achieve the liberation of both societies from being oppressed and being oppressors," he told a recent conference in Washington, DC. "Palestinians have toŠ reassure the Israeli Jews that their culture and vitality will remain. We need to go further than seeing them only as 'Jews-by- religion' in a future Palestinian society."Like many advocates of the one-state outcome, Rouhanna referred enthusiastically to the exuberant multiculturalism and full political equality that have been embraced by post-apartheid South Africa.Progressive Jewish Israelis like Ben Gurion

University geographer Oren Yiftachel are also part of the new movement. Yiftachel's most recent work has examined at the Israeli authorities' decades-long campaign to expropriate the lands of the ethnically Palestinian Bedouin who live in southern Israel - and are citizens of Israel. "The expropriation continues - there and inside the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem," Yiftachel said, explaining that he did not see the existence of "the Green Line" that supposedly separates Israel from the occupied territory as an analytically or politically relevant concept.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Israel's Trauma Psychology and the Attack on Gaza

By Avigail Abarbanel
Sunday 4th January 2009

One of the things that is not being discussed much in the media is how much talk there is in Israel about attacking Iran. Word on the (Israeli) street is that an air attack on Iran's nuclear reactors is imminent.Israel has been itching for a 'good war' for a while now. The botched attack on Lebanon in 2006 was a psychological disappointment that did not fulfil its purpose, and only led to a deepening chasm between the political and military arms in Israel. An Israeli friend told me in disgust the other day, that there is an atmosphere of 'national orgasm' in Israel about the prospect of attacking Iran. While people are being bombed in Gaza, all Israelis can talk about is the coming attack on Iran.

But there is a link between the two.Israel's social problems have grown exponentially over the past 15 years. It's a very different Israel now than the one I grew up in. There is more violent and organised crime than ever before, and more domestic violence and abuse of children than ever. There are more drugs and drug use, and they have drink-driving, something I have never encountered while I was still living there. This is reflected in official reports as well as in the daily newspapers. My brother who lives in Israel described to me how soldiers who spend their military service in the Occupied Palestinian territories implementing Israel's brutal occupation, come home on weekends only to get involved in drunken armed brawls and murders. This was unheard of in my time.

Israelis have never been particularly kind to each other. It's one of the reasons I left actually. In my late twenties I started to grow weary of the unkind, harsh and unforgiving atmosphere around me. It was a tough place to live in not because of our 'enemies' but because of how people treated one another. You would believe that we were all enemies rather than people who have some kind of a shared heritage. The only thing that could unite people and temporarily brought out more kindness and a sense of cooperation was a feeling of being under collective threat, and in particular a 'good wholesome war'. I lived through the war of 1967 and the national euphoria it generated, and the 1973 'Yom Kippur' war and the attrition war that followed. During the time of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 I was a soldier myself. My last war in Israel was the 1991 Gulf war, when an Iraqi Scud missile landed only a few metres from my apartment building in Ramat-Gan near Tel-Aviv.

I remember well the atmosphere before, during and after wars. These were the best times. You could feel a change in the air. People seemed to have a renewed sense of purpose. Even long-standing family or neighbourly feuds were put aside, and everyone helped everyone. There was more patience and we children were picked on a lot less. Although I was scared of wars I remember also feeling excited. It helped that we all believed the myth that all of our wars were of the 'milchemet ein breira' type - 'no choice wars'. The kind that was imposed on us and that we 'reluctantly' had to get involved in, and only in self defence. We also believed in 'tohar ha'neshek' - 'purity of arms', that is the myth that our soldiers always act honourably and only kill when they have no choice and never unarmed civilians. We were always the 'good guys' in all our collective stories, which of course added to the general fuzzy patriotic feeling.

Israel and perhaps the rest of the world too, refuse to see that Israel's problems are a direct result of deep-seated Jewish trauma and its consequences. Israel's response to trauma was to arm itself to the teeth, and to become an incredibly aggressive country while perpetuating inside and out the myth of victimhood and goodness. As a psychotherapist I recognise this reaction to trauma. Some people who have been traumatised respond to it by becoming very powerful and very frightening. This is a reaction to having been hurt, and a response to the desire to never be hurt again.

Unfortunately this isn't a good or wholesome way to live. This is a way of life that perpetuates inner conflicts, leads to isolation and invites animosity from others. It's hard to spread good will and kindness in the world when one's inner world is based on an adversarial foundation. What is true for individuals can also be true for whole societies. Israel had a chance to heal its traumatised Jewish past but instead chose to perpetuate the trauma and pass it on to subsequent generations. The very creation of the state of Israel is a reaction to trauma. If you understand the dynamic of trauma and the solutions people try to find to it you can understand why Israel's existence has always been fraught with trouble. The fact that Israel has never used its education system and national institutions to facilitate healing from trauma is sad but not unusual. Trauma becomes so much a part of the sufferer's identity, that to heal means to change the very foundation of who you are, something most people, let alone entire cultures are rarely prepared to do.

Many Israelis who have left, have done so for the same reason I did. We were all searching for a calmer, kinder way of life, where people could be friendly and helpful to one another rather than nasty and suspicious. It's hard to leave one's home but if home is so harmful you just have to do it because the personal cost of staying is higher than the cost of the grief over losing your home.

This latest vicious war crime that is unfolding in Gaza and the increasing talk about attacking Iran are a response to yet another turn in the cycle of Israel's collective trauma. Trauma always follows a cyclical dynamic. It's hard to live with it, with the constant fear and mistrust. It's exhausting and demoralising and it can take up every bit of energy you have to just get up in the morning and get on with your daily tasks. People can go on for a while like this, somehow coping from day to day. But things inevitably come to a head and life becomes unmanageable. This is usually a familiar enough point in the cycle and the sufferer would often think 'Oh, no, not again!'

At those times people desperately search for something, some kind of temporary solution to relieve the suffering, a new diet perhaps, a new job, renovations, or a war. This is often accompanied by a desperate belief that this time they will find the ultimate solution to everything, and all will be well after that. I think Israelis really believe that if they can crush Hamas in Gaza, all their problems will be solved and they will live happily ever after free from Qassam rockets or any kind of Palestinian resistance. The question of the future of the Palestinians doesn't even come into it. When one suffers trauma, one's thinking is always short-term and self-centred. The focus is always on one's own short-term survival.

Trauma is often accompanied by denial and people spend their lives looking for solutions outside themselves. In aggressive and violent responses to trauma people will believe that it is 'that person' or 'that group' that is causing their problem, and will try to do something to hurt or eliminate them. People eventually come to therapy when they have tried everything and realise that outside measures cannot solve their problem, that there may be something about themselves that they have to fix. Unfortunately not many of the aggressive types come to therapy. Many of them end up in jail instead. People with unhealed trauma can be destructive to others but ultimately they are living an unsustainable life and are self-destructive. Many of the measures that they will adopt throughout their lifetime will be counter-productive and will end up hurting them just as much as they hurt others.

Israel has kept the Palestinians as an ongoing 'problem' so that they have someone to blame each time their trauma reaches its cyclical unmanageable point. If Israel wanted to solve its problem with the Palestinians it could have done so a long time ago. It could start by acknowledging the ethnic cleansing of 1948, then offering a right of return and compensation to the refugees in compliance with UN resolution 194 from December 1948, and that would be it. But to do that Israel would have to compromise its racist and undemocratic dream of being an exclusively Jewish state. And being an exclusively Jewish state is in itself a reaction to Jewish trauma. It is based on the simple idea that Jews are not safe with non-Jews and therefore need a state of their own where they can live separately and therefore safely. But to give up on this dream would require a complete re-evaluation of Jewish and Israeli identity and belief system. People would have to stop believing that the world is bad for Jews and Jews are only safe with one another. This means questioning some of the most fundamental principles of Jewish faith and culture. Such a process of questioning will inevitably start Israel on a path of healing and will also mean that Israel will have to find another way of being that does not involve an adversarial view of the world and perpetual war. I don't think Israel is ready for that. Healing is something that sadly, few people are prepared to do and I guess the same goes for entire societies.

But fighting the Palestinians has become very ugly over the years. The world is making a fuss about it, the Palestinians are fighting back and this ongoing war against civilians is demoralising and breaking the spirit of Israeli soldiers and having a negative effect on their entire society. This 'solution' or way of coping with the trauma (i.e. keeping the Palestinians as an enemy) is backfiring. So instead of solving the problem, Israel is looking for another bigger and more 'legitimate' war that is far less complicated. A war that all Israelis can agree on and be excited about, and that will once again unite the people and offer an uplifting relief from the daily effort of Israeli existence.

From a military perspective Israeli leaders always follow the principle of trying to 'kill two birds with one stone'. I believe that the attack on Gaza is serving two purposes. It is trying to break Palestinian resistance but it is also an attempt to provoke Iran into doing something, anything that can be used as a pretext for attacking the nuclear plants there, and who knows what else. Israel cannot afford to just go to Iran and attack with no real 'excuse', and Bush's tired rhetoric about Iran's nuclear capabilities and potential threat is wearing thin as Bush is on his way out. Obama is yet an unknown quality to Israel so they think they have to find a way to do it themselves with or without the US. That's why Israel has refused the call for a ceasefire in Gaza. They have a clear plan that they are intent on following no matter what the human cost is, and this is just as much about psychological warfare as it is about guns and bombs. It is a horrible thought but the Palestinians are and always have been just pawns in the vicious dynamic of Israeli/Jewish trauma. They don't otherwise really matter to Israelis. Most Israelis have always had trouble seeing the Palestinians as human beings like them and I believe that they do not care about the suffering they are causing them. If they did they would behave differently.

The longer they drag the air attacks on Gaza, the more furious the world and the Arab world in particular is going to be, and this is exactly what Israel is trying to achieve. Drag it on until everyone is completely exasperated and then start a ground attack that might just be the tipping point for Iran. Then Israel could attack Iran, something it has been planning to do for years, and say that it is exercising its 'right for self-defence'. The world can't stand up to that argument even when we are dealing with a few rockets from Gaza that hardly dent Israel, let alone when it comes to a properly organised country with its own armed forces like Iran. Israel's claim for self-defence will appear completely plausible.

The psychology of trauma is treacherous and filled with inner contradictions. It is precisely why the world must intervene decisively in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: to save the Palestinians from Israel and the Israelis from themselves, and possibly spare us all a much bigger war. Without mature, assertive and clear-thinking intervention this cycle of trauma and the violence it breeds will continue until one day it will exhaust itself because enough people will have died, or a final blow will have been cast somewhere by someone, from which there will be no return

Monday, February 16, 2009

An Open Letter from Daniel Bar-Tal

from the Occupation Magazine
Daniel Bar-Tal
Open Letter
January 31, 2009

Dear Friends
This is probably one of the most difficult periods in my political life as a Jew living in the State of Israel. The events of the war in Gaza hit hard my foundations of hope that a peaceful conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved in the near future. Moreover, my trust in humanity has been weakened seeing the ease with which human beings rally for a war, exercise blind patriotism, express desire for vengeance, delegitimize the opponent, and develop insensitivity to human life, denial of responsibility, self-righteousness and moral entitlement.

This is in contrast to the great difficulty that human beings have in mobilization for peace. We see over and over again that it takes many years and many efforts to persuade people in the importance of peace, but it takes an extremely short time to convince people in the need of war. It is even more difficult to establish moral considerations.

I have been agonizing for weeks whether to write an open letter. I could not bring myself to the paper and pencil or to the keyboard, feeling despair and helplessness. But only a responsibility to voice another opinion as an alternative to the officially presented views that are supported by the great majority of the Israeli Jews brought me to write this letter.

It is important that you will know that there is a minority of us, Jews in Israel, who care about moral considerations and opposed this war. What can I say when I know that about 1300 Palestinians killed, at least half of them innocent civilians, including children, women, and old people, over 4000 were injured, thousands of homes were destroyed and dozens of thousands became homeless. Also on the Israeli side 13 Israelis were killed, including 3 civilians, hundreds were wounded, and thousands had to escape from the hundreds of rockets that were fired on Israel.

I could repeat the arguments of the Israeli government that through the years many hundreds of rockets were fired on the Israeli land west of Gaza, including populated settlements; that no government would allow that their citizens will be hurt; that after eight years of restraint, Israel has decided to act against the terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli restraint, [they say], was misinterpreted as weakness by Hamas and members of the vertical axis of extremism led by Iran; that Israel had given a mutual agreement to preserve peace its final chance when it agreed to the Egyptian brokered Period of Calm agreement in June 2008, whose terms were repeatedly transgressed by Hamas.

It is just natural that those who sent the soldiers to the war have to defend it and rationalize it. This is a human principle. But these arguments do not tell the whole story. Even if we take the Israeli arguments without the background and complexity, they cannot account for the scope of civilian losses and the destruction on the Palestinian side. The brutality and scope of the Israeli actions testify to deeper roots that are founded in the darker side of human beings.

They express the wish to erase the feeling of failure in the Second Lebanese War during the summer of 2006; they reflect a deep sense of collective victimhood because of the continuous firing of rockets on civilian settlements in the south by the Hamas military organ-- this sense of victimhood led to the urge to revenge in order to punish for the harm done and prevent further firing. In addition, they are derived from the continuous dehumanization of the Hamas organization. Finally, they are based on the conviction that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, allowing Palestinians to live their lives and they instead engage in terror.

But, the reality is much more complex than the narrative perpetuated by the Israeli political and military establishments, which successfully constructed the beliefs of the Jewish public in Israel. This is a kind of irony because one of the objectives of the war was to carve the consciousness of the Palestinians so they will recognize the harm that Hamas is causing to the Palestinian cause and Palestinian life. This objective was not achieved and instead the war strengthened the hatred and mistrust of both sides towards each other, reinforced the support of hawkish opinions on both sides, and as a result, the peaceful process is further greatly damaged.

Moreover, it is hard to detect any meaningful political gains of Israel in the balance of this war. We are back to the same lines that were before the war ---with terrible losses and destruction. The psychological analysis of the situation illustrates the selective, biasing and distorting transmission and dissemination of information by the Israeli channels of communication. It does not mean that the alternative information does not exist in Israel but very few are interested in knowing what is really happening.

Thus, most of the Israeli Jews do not know what Israel perpetrated through the decades of occupying Gaza;

most of the Israeli Jews do not know that originally Hamas was founded by the Israeli authorities to provide an alternative to the national movement of PLO;

most of the Israeli Jews do not know that Hamas is a religious–fundamental movement that also provides welfare, health and educational services to the Palestinian people;

most of the Israeli Jews do not know that Hamas was elected democratically (with the insistence of USA) to lead the government of the Palestinian authority because of Fatah corruption, and mostly because of the fruitless negotiations with Israel which did not provide any political solution of the conflict;

most of the Israeli Jews do not know that the policy of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about ‘No Palestinian Partner’ led to unilateral disengagement from Gaza without negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. This act was done in order to delegitimize Palestinian Authority and in attempt to keep control over the West Bank.

Moreover, the disengagement did not free Gaza but turned it into one big prison. Israel controls the entrances to Gaza and controls every aspect of human life in Gaza. It decided to change the support of Gazans in Hamas by carrying out a siege that allowed minimal living and brought Gaza to economic disaster.

Israeli Jews know that even after disengagement, Hamas continues to fire rockets on the Israeli civil settlements but few know that during 2005– 2008, hundreds of Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces.

Few know that the tunnels were built mainly to smuggle civil goods that could not be brought to Gaza and not only weapons as the great majority believe.

Few know that there is a relationship between Israeli violence and Palestinian violence, preferring to see the latter as irrational, fanatic, and immoral while the former as defensive, moral and well justified.

Few of the Israeli Jews recognize that Israel during two years had at least two alternative strategies to prevent further escalation: either to talk with Hamas which is possible and negotiate long-term cease-fire, or take decisive actions of peace (for example, to ease conditions of life of the Palestinians by removing many of the checkpoints and to remove illegal settlements as required by the Israeli promise to U.S.) vis a vis President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to show the Palestinians that process yields tangible fruits that lead to prosperity and security.

Even when we shift to the period before the war, most of the Israeli Jews do not know that it was possible to negotiate continuation of the cease fire with Hamas and do not remember that it was Israel who broke the ceasefire of November 4, 2008, killing 6 Palestinians.

Hamas is not my cup of tea as it is a fundamentalist religious organization that practices also terrorism, but it is a social movement with wide support in the Palestinian society because it provides an alternative to humiliated Palestinian national identity. This movement is not homogenous and it is possible to hear in it different voices including ones that support negotiation with Israel and acceptance of the two state solution.

All these omissions are not surprising in view of the fact that the involved sides in conflict have been deeply embedded in the culture of conflict. They systematically try to construct the views of society members in a direction of presenting own society as being moral, just, peace loving, or moderate and the rival as being immoral, intransigent, violent, irrational, or extreme.

In addition each side views itself as the victim of this conflict. This process goes on for decades. Only during few years during Rabin time it looked as the peace process is gaining momentum. But since the year 2000, when the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided on the policy of `no partner`, the peace process is dying.

It is true that Palestinians have their share in the failure of the Oslo process. But the tremendous asymmetry of power puts the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict mostly on the Israeli side. It is Israel that has almost all the cards to solve the conflict; it occupies the land, holds Eastern Jerusalem, controls the life of the Palestinians, controls the resources of the West Bank, expands constantly the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, exercises preventive and punishing violent acts according to own will and has (at least had until now) almost unconditional backing of the superpower.

The contours of the potential settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more or less clear: If it will happen, it will be in accordance to Clinton proposal, Taba understandings, Geneva agreement, and Arab league proposal: Israel will have to return to 1967 borders with some swaps of land in order to hold the most populated clusters of Jewish settlements just beyond the green line of 1967, Jerusalem will be divided, most of the Jewish settlements inside the territories will be dismantled, and the refuges problem will have to be solved via common agreement with their compensation and settlement mostly in the future Palestinian state.

The present Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert outlined openly these principles to the Israeli public but did not take any concrete steps to implement them.

Israeli public, while recognizing the need in two state solution (because of the demographic fear), objects to the outlined principles. The majority of the Israeli Jews object to divide Jerusalem, to withdraw to 1967 borders and to dismantle most of the Jewish settlements the West Bank. In fact I must admit that I do not see any Israeli government evacuating about 60,000 Jewish settlers from the West Bank.

Israeli Jewish public after the destruction of the peace camp in 2000 is moving steadily towards hawkish-nationalistic views. The present war provided additional blow to the peace camp. It is almost certainly that the next Israeli government will be very hawkish after the February 10 elections. The rest will be written in the history books.

The war did not erupt spontaneously but was well prepared, including its scope, the type of weapons to be used, and so on. Also it was consciously decided to use a disproportional might in order to save lives of Israeli soldiers and to teach the Palestinians a lesson.

The results of the war are tragic for both nations. It provided unequivocal evidence to each side that the other side is evil and immoral. Now few of us here and there can only evaluate the tragedy, explain the events and pray for a miracle from outside forces that will come and save us from the worst human instincts.

Sincerely Daniel Bar-Tal

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ideas for the New Administration

A New Mideast Approach
By Yousef Munayyer
Washington Post
Saturday, January 24, 2009; A13

The Obama administration appointed former senator George Mitchell as its special envoy to the Middle East this week in a positive step toward resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a fragile cease-fire has brought a temporary halt to the recent bloodshed in Gaza, the outburst of violence at the end of the Bush administration was the culmination of eight more years of failed U.S. policy. The new administration will need to break with that policy if it is to make progress toward ending the conflict.

The Bush policy can be divided into two periods. Initially, the administration sought to marginalize Yasser Arafat and pushed for the democratization of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush supported the Palestinian presidential election of 2005 and supported the Palestinian parliamentary elections early the next year -- until he saw the outcome of the vote.

The election of Hamas in January 2006, and the faltering of the longest-ruling party in Palestinian politics, was a wake-up call. The administration, understanding the pressure that Islamic movements were putting on regimes in the Middle East, shifted to "bolstering the moderates." The goal became marginalizing Hamas through economic sanctions and siege, while funding and supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But this tactic of backing "our guy in the fight" achieved results much like those of the Cold War-era tactics it resembled. Ideology-driven civil conflict has raged on. Neither side has moved toward peace or security.

To make real progress toward a lasting peace, a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is needed. Simply put, a divided Palestinian partner can never make serious concessions to arrive at a lasting agreement when it is viewed as legitimate by only half of its population.

The United States must work to forge a unified Palestinian partner and must be wary of the dynamics of legitimacy in domestic Palestinian politics. Attempts to continue aligning Mahmoud Abbas with Israel against Hamas only serve to erode Abbas's legitimacy among his people. And Abbas's Fatah party members will continue to be targeted by domestic opposition as "sellouts." This appearance of submission contributed to their defeat in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Rather than seeking to bolster the moderates in this conflict, the Obama administration should focus on moderating the extremists. The idea of eliminating Hamas could not be seriously proposed by anyone with any knowledge of domestic Palestinian politics. The notion that Hamas is a primarily militant organization based in Gaza ignores the movement's vast support in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Dealing with Hamas and groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad in arenas of legitimacy, such as elections, negates the possibility that outside parties will spoil peace negotiations.

Those who would resolve the conflict must understand that such parties and groups, often labeled rejectionist, are not primarily ideologically based and are not monolithic. They, like most political parties, are beholden to a constituency.
Yet while their politics are not always the same, the political alliances between them are far stronger than any ideological divisions. For example, consider the image of the Islamist Khaled Meshal of Hamas seated next to communist George Habash at rejectionist party conferences.

Yes, Hamas and other groups must stop the violence. But the process cannot begin by demanding that they recognize Israel.

The support for rejectionist parties in Palestinian politics, Islamist or otherwise, comes straight out of the refugee camps. Gaza has the highest concentration of refugees; nearly half of the population shares in the personal experience of dispossession.

Asking rejectionist parties to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby justifying the displacement of the majority of their constituents, is not something that could be agreed to under today's circumstances. Most Palestinians owe their tragedies to the very genesis of Israel.

The key to real progress in resolving the conflict is, and has always been, providing a just resolution to the refugee issue. While a resolution will not be easy or immediate, a significant step in the right direction would be an acknowledgment from the state of Israel of at least partial responsibility for creating the refugee problem.

Such a statement, made in a serious and genuine tone and supported by American mediation, would destroy the perception held among many in the Middle East that Israel does not want peace. This, in turn, would begin to moderate the extremists.

The territorial outline for a two-state solution is largely agreed upon, even by some rejectionists. What remains outstanding is a just resolution for the refugee issue. The Obama administration should begin by tackling this necessary step toward comprehensive and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

The writer is a policy analyst with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Monday, January 12, 2009

An Open Letter from UK Attorneys and Academics

From The Sunday Times of London
January 11, 2009

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers
Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London
Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University
Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago
Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE
Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University
Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University
Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College
Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University
Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo
Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University
Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University
John Strawson, University of East London
Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Dr Michael Kearney, University of York
Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews
Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer
Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario
Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers

Thursday, January 08, 2009

10 Ideas for Taking Action

Ideas and thoughtful analysis from Anna Baltzer, young Jewish American, Fullbright scholar writer and lecturer []

What Most US Media Isn't Telling You

Four days ago, Israel invaded Gaza on the ground to compliment its aerial bombardment. The Palestinian death toll has reached 660. The official Israeli death toll is up to 5, of whom 4 were civilians. Attacks on civilians, no matter who they are, is criminal. Yet the US government, public relations officials, and mainstream media—unlike those of almost every other country in the world—continue to criminalize Palestinian violence while absolving Israel (the undisputed party in power) of almost any responsibility of its own.

The official position seems clear: Israel can do as it likes until Hamas stops all violence. The underlying assumption here is that Palestinians' human rights depend on the actions of their leaders. This is false. Palestinians do not have to earn the human rights inalienable to every person on Earth. Human rights are non-negotiable. Likewise, Israelis do not have to earn their human rights. Israeli state terror not withstanding, it would be criminal to bombard the entire population of Israel (in which, as in Gaza, fighters live alongside their families in civilian areas) for the crimes of its government. But this is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza with US weapons before a seemingly impotent international community.

Every day the carnage unfolds on CNN-International (different from CNN-US—the United States is the only country in the world with domestically customized international news coverage): a mother and her 4 kids killed instantly; a 7-year-old shot twice in the chest (I'm not sure how that happens accidentally, but does that even matter?); more than 40 policemen in training obliterated (even Israel does not claim the Palestinian police orchestrates rocket attacks); TV stations and places of worship successfully destroyed; a mortuary out of room for bodies.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "sewage water is pouring into the streets in Beit Hanoun, following damage to the main pipeline between Beit Hanoun and the Beit Lahiya wastewater treatment plant." Save The Children reports that newborn baby Gazans are battling hypothermia due to power cuts and freezing winter winds. Some of the worst news comes from the doctors. Can you imagine a hospital functioning without electricity? According to the mainstream British newspaper The Guardian, medics are working around the clock and running out of anesthesia. There is no more gauze so doctors are using cotton, which sticks to wounds. Nurses are forced to draw blood with the wrong sized syringes and without alcohol. The Guardian article was entitled, "The injured were lying there asking God to let them die." Many have gotten their last wish, dying as they wait in the emergency rooms.Medical workers themselves have also been under fire, with at least 4 killed as they tried to reach victims.

Ambulances are not safe, nor are the schools: When I woke up yesterday a UN school had just been bombed, killing 3 of the civilians who had come to the school seeking shelter. Watching the news later in the evening, I learned the same UN school had beenbombed again (twice in one day), killing 40 more. The British director of the school, having lost his usual calm, was irate and imploring the world to understand that nowhere in Gaza is safe anymore—there is nowhere left to go. Yet reading the Washington Post and watching the nightly news you might believe that Israel's is in fact the most virtuous army in the world, going as far as sending text messages to and dropping leaflets in Palestinian areas explaining that unless civilians leave, they will be attacked. Reported alone, this might sound reasonable, but quickly becomes absurd if you know that Gazans have no place to go to! Nowhere inside the strip of land is safe and there is no way to leave it, since the borders are sealed.

The bombing and invasion have clearly heightened the threat against Gazans' lives, but they did not start it. For the 18 months preceding the invasion, the average Gazan could not reliably go to school, make a living, contact the outside world, divert their sewage, heat their homes, drink clean water, or eat. This was due to the enclosure summed up in the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights: "Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key." This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire. "The closure pushed Gaza's humanitarian crisis to a new low, with poverty reaching 80%. Any attempt to counter poverty was thwarted. Gaza students dependent on transportation could not reach their schools, and those accepted at foreign universities in America, Europe, and the West Bank were denied permits to leave. Without enough fuel, industrial businesses were either shut down or running below 20% capacity, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Contrary to Israeli court order, the Israeli army allowed just 15% of fuel needed for generators, wells, and transportation, resulting in garbage piled high in the streets while up to 15,000,000 gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage flowed into the sea every day. This was the reality of Israel's "ceasefire."

On November 4th and 5th, Israel broke the "ceasefire" by killing at least 6 Palestinians in Gaza, reported on CNN-International but unlikely by CNN-US. Of course, there was no ceasefire to begin with, since the main requirement on Israel was to sufficiently unseal Gaza's borders, a requirement that was consistently ignored. By the end of the "ceasefire," 262 had Gazans died due to lack of access to proper medical care during the blockade. Hamas should be condemned for its attacks on civilians, but it is naïve to expect that they would renew a truce that Israel had never adhered to. Whether or not it would cease cross-border attacks in exchange for Israeli reciprocity—as Hamas continues to offer—is something we cannot know, since Israel has never given the offer a chance.

Analysis and sympathy have no value if they do not result in any action. There are enough action ideas below that every single person has the power to do at least one, ideally many more.
1. Monitor and contact local media to inform others and counter misinformation. Write letters to the editor (usually 100-150 words) or op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. Also contact radio talk shows and television news departments, especially in response to biased coverage. You can find all local media at: The US Campaign to End the Occupation compiled a fact sheet about US direct contributions to the war on Gaza, which you can use for facts:
2. Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli embassies or (if that's not doable) in front of the offices of elected officials or other visible place. Inform the media beforehand. Here is a list of the many demonstrations happening around the country (For example, St. Louis, where I live, usually has one a month, but this month there are demonstrations every day):
3. Join local activist groups organizing local actions. If there aren't any, start your own. Now is an excellent time to rally support.
4. Initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions to nonviolently pressure Israeli compliance with international law, as was effective in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Now is an excellent time to rally support and begin a campaign. More info and resources at
5. Send direct aid to Gaza through one of the following organizations:- United Nations Relief and Works Agency: United Palestinian Appeal: Islamic Relief: Canadian Red Cross: American Near East Refugee Aid: Physicians for Human Rights: Other groups: You can also support solidarity activists on the ground at Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. Find your representatives and their contact info at Call the Obama/Biden Transition Office at 202-540-3000, press 2 to speak to a staff member. Tell them the U.S. needs a new Middle East policy, which holds Israel accountable to international law and UN resolutions and human rights. Tell them the U.S. should not support Israel with billions of dollars every year and should not be arming Israel with U.S. made weapons. Add your own suggestions. The time is right for President-elect Obama to hear from the peace community.
7. Sign petitions for Gaza, for example:
8. Put a Palestinian flag at your window. Wear a Palestinian headscarf (keffiya). Wear black arm bands (this helps start conversations with people).
9. Do a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place.
10. Inform others in your community with flyers, vigils, and conversations. At the very least, forward this on.
This list was based on a call from the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and Friends of Sabeel.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

There is no military solution

Israeli action against Gaza will make matters worse
By Yousef Munayyer
January 2, 2009

There is great grief around the globe for the people in Gaza but there should also be a genuine fear for the safety of Israeli citizens as well. As a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship I have many friends and family members who are in range of Hamas rockets in the south and of Hezbollah rockets in the north.

While at first glance the Israeli actions against Hamas in Gaza may seem like a legitimate response to rocket fire, in the long run, the actions of the Israeli government have put more Israeli and Palestinian lives in jeopardy and may possibly have ruined the hopes of ever reaching a two-state solution.

Some may find it difficult to believe but it's important to think about the events of last week not only in the present but also in the context of the past and future. A poll from Israel last week indicated only 39 percent of respondents thought that the massive attacks against Hamas in Gaza would lead to an end of rocket fire. Perhaps this is because the Israeli government had already found a way to practically end rocket fire before abandoning it for belligerency.

During the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Hamas rocket fire from Gaza dropped dramatically. However, instead of nurturing what could have been the beginning of a much longer cease-fire, the Israeli government took a calculated step on Nov. 4 by killing four Hamas members they accused of smuggling weapons. Immediately afterwards Hamas responded by sending rockets, and Israel tightened its siege on Gaza.

Every step taken by the Israeli Cabinet is thought about carefully. They hope now, with this war that they brought on, to "change the equation" and break the stalemate in the peace process that has existed since Hamas was elected in 2006.

But does this really change the equation?

Even if the entire leadership of Hamas, a designated terror organization, is wiped out by Israeli raids, does that in anyway change the rejectionist sentiment among the population that elected it? Of course not. In fact, it will probably make the situation worse.

At the foundation of Hamas is the principle of rejecting negotiations with Israel because Israel cannot be viewed as a negotiating partner in good faith. Though Hamas' methods, like attacks on civilians, can never be morally justified, its opposition to Israel is based on legitimate grievances like illegal occupation, political imprisonment and siege. How are these brutal attacks on Gaza, following its slow and steady starvation, supposed to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians who previously supported Hamas?

The problem with dealing with Hamas the way Israel has is that Hamas is not merely an organization, it is a movement, and it is a movement that more and more people in the Arab and Muslim world grow sympathetic to each time it is attacked. With looped images of mangled bodies strewn across burnt pavement pervading the Arab news networks, there is outrage from Morocco to Manila.

In 2006, Israel used the same logic to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah, another designated terror organization, is today more popular than it was before the war both among the Shiites in Lebanon and the Arab and Muslim world in general.

Throughout the first and second Palestinian uprising, Israel targeted Hamas' leadership time after time. After nearly two decades of this policy, Hamas was able to win the first national Palestinian election it participated in, even taking a number of Palestinian Christian votes.

Each and every time Israel strikes Hamas the organization, Hamas the movement grows. Why then did Israel choose to employ failed tactics once again despite the success of the recent cease-fire?

The Israeli government owes answers to the international community, to Palestinians, and most of all to its own public.

Yousef Munayyer, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Washington.