Sunday, September 25, 2011

Israel-Palestine: Some observations.

Two speeches at the UN, one by each leader. Netanyahu gets 14,500 views on YouTube, Abbas gets 32,000.

Netanyahu is a politician. Those who share his presumptions will love his speech, those, like some of my friends, who don't, will hate it - especially the reference to biblical lands. I like him because, in spite of the transparent shtick, what he says has truth to it - not all of it, but enough. (And he understands how markets work a whole lot better than Bozama does.) The skeptics and the hostiles should look past the shtick and listen to the details of what he says about Israeli security. The speech is remarkable for the detail, the substance that he provides, along with the slogans. Attention to the security needs suggests that some sort of agreement is not impossible if the Abbas faction really wanted it.

His dramatic and impassioned appeals to Abbas to negotiate now, genuinely, will be seen by most as a PR attempt - but, in truth, I believe he would do it if Abbas took him up on it. He must know that there is no chance of that. There is no chance of genuine negotiations on the basis of "you look at me and tell me what you really want, and I will do the same," because what Abbas really wants, what his faction has always wanted is to undo what was done in 1948 when Israel was established. How can you negotiate about that?

If there is any hope it lies not with this ossified Palestinian leadership, but with younger, more pragmatic, leaders who reject the role that the Arab world has condemned the Palestinians to play. Apparently prime minister Fayyad is one such leader (see the link below); and it lies in the quiet business and social connections and partnerships that are developing between private Israelis and Palestinians. Let's hope that the Abbas faction (and their noxious patrons) fail in their attempt to squash such initiatives.

Salam Fayyad (Arabic: سلام فياض, Salām Fayāḍ; born 1952) is a Palestinian politician and one of two disputed Prime Ministers of the Palestinian National Authority, the matter being under political and legal dispute. His first appointment, on 15 June 2007, which was justified by President Mahmoud Ab…
Binyamin Netanyahu addresses UNGA "Palestinians want a state without peace," PM tells UN General Assembly after Palestinians submit UN request to become members ...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Palestinian state? What kind of state?

I support the creation of a Palestinian state in a comprehensive two-state solution. More than 70% of Israelis do so as well. Not that I put much faith or value in the bureaucratic machinery of the political entity we call the nation-state for the achievement of human rights and prosperity; but given the realities of the world today, a two-state solution may be a substantial improvement.

So, what would a comprehensive two-state solution look like? There are some key ingredients that the new state of Palestine should have if it is to have a chance of peaceful coexistence with Israel. The most essential is that it should be a liberal democracy; by which I mean a state (a society) in which the rule of law prevails and not the rule of thugs and corrupt bureaucrats. This is a huge leap from where Palestinian society is now, but one senses it is one that would be welcomed by many, especially the incipient Palestinian business community. Perhaps if we turned negotiations over to the businesspeople on both sides we would have a practical solution in short-order.

Such a state would necessarily entail the acceptance of the existence of the Jewish state of Israel as legitimate. In an ideal world there would not be Muslim states, Jewish states or Christian states. In fact, in an ideal world there would probably not be states. We would all be free "citizens" of a peaceful world, free to practice whatever religion or lack thereof we chose as long as we allowed the same to all others. In a substantially less ideal world, but one better than we have, states would all be officially secular and religion would be a private matter. But this is not the reality of the Middle East today (nor has it ever been). In fact the "Jewish" state of Israel is probably the closest to a secular liberal democracy existing in the region. The "Jewish" aspect is an ill-defined cultural and ethnic aspect of Israeli society that comes from the history of its peoples and is essential in defining their individual identities, their values, their literature, their language, the tacit presuppositions by which they live their lives. The same dynamic is at work in the "Muslim" countries. The tension that this presents for Israel as a liberal society is real, and it is a tension that is continually been confronted and resolved in different ways. But the Jewish character of the society is not-negotiable. To demand that Israel give up its "religious" identity in favor of a secular state encompassing all peoples of the region (Muslim and Christian) is a disingenuous demand for cultural and most probably physical suicide.

So, if we are taking about a two-state solution, in the current context, we are talking about a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one (in which predictably Muslim culture and values and laws will be prominent) - two states coexisting with mutual acceptance and respect.

Is this what the current initiative to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in some forum of the United Nations portends? Not even its most ardent and charitable supporters would claim this. I confess I don't know exactly what the motivation for this high-profile initiative is, but I know it is certainly not about establishing the kind of co-existence described above. It certainly contains no change in the official and de facto position on Israel as an illegitimate occupier of Arab land. (I am not talking about the so-called occupied territories, I am talking about the whole of Israel.) It is clearly not about peace, co-existence and co-operation. It is not really about power to the Palestinian people either. Their miserable lot will not change. It seems to be about leverage of some kind. It is most probably about political leverage for the cynical and corrupt Palestinian leadership. They, in uneasy partnership with the principle jihadi groups, like Hamas, would most probably use such state recognition to try to further isolate Israel and in the process obtain international aid and support for their corrupt (or extremist) organizations. In other words it is really a strategic step in the 63 year old war to undo what happened in 1948.

I have blogged before about the sorry state of the Palestinians and how they have been used as pawns by their leaders and other leaders in the region - condemned to inter-generational refugee-status in a poverty-stricken, terror-sponsoring, welfare-state in which any economic initiative is stifled and any constructive cooperation with Israelis discouraged (for example here). Changing the official status of this territory to a "state" will not improve their situation. It could conceivably make it worse if it leads to an escalation of hostilities.

So, should the U.S. veto the initiative in the UN? As bad as this will look, I would still probably say yes, it should. But my purpose is not so much to urge this, as to confront the ill-considered rush of support for the initiative (including by many American Jews). This is yet another example of how Israel is struggling in the public relations war. After all, why should we deny the Palestinians a state when Israel has one? What well-meaning thoughtful person could be against that?

But, of course, as I am trying to show, things are not what they seem. Not all "states" are alike. What if we added the qualifier "terrorist" to the state that the Palestinians are seeking? We would no doubt be accused of shameless provocation. OK, but can we use the qualifier "peaceful" instead? How about "all-inclusive"? Are there no conditions to be demanded for support? Whether or not the U.S. vetoes the proposal is ultimately less important than establishing an accurate realization of what is really going on here.