Tag: Palestine

Thoughts (for “both sides”) on the academic boycott

In the wake of the failed attempt at passing a boycott resolution (of Israeli academic institutions) at the recent MLA conference, here are some thoughts. (Readers of the Duck might be aware that last year’s ISA conference saw a modest attempt at bringing a discussion on BDS forward. That proposal was also voted down.)

Let’s talk (past each other)!

The debate over the academic boycott is often frustratingly unproductive.

On one hand, some anti-boycotters accuse boycott proponents of being antisemitic. While some boycotters may be antisemitic (just as some anti-boycotters may be antisemitic!), the accusation is ill-conceived and distracting. One claim I often hear — that since roughly half the world’s Jews live in Israel, then BDS must be antisemitic — simply doesn’t hold up. BDS is a tool to coerce Israel to comply with international law and adhere to human rights imperatives, not a boycott of Judaism or Jews.

On the other side, some boycott proponents accuse boycott opponents of being chained to other allegiances. “The bad conscience of liberal Zionism,” David Lloyd, English professor at UC-Riverside, wrote in Mondoweiss in describing the deliberations at the MLA, “forced to defend the indefensible, was on full display.” This too, is a bad-faith response. While some boycott opponents may be motivated by fealty to the State of Israel or to Zionism, there are enough good arguments against academic boycotts as a tactic to demand a fair consideration of the ethics writ large. More on this, below.

About the MLA deliberations, Lital Levy, a comparative literature professor at Princeton who followed the proceedings and later the responses from colleagues on both sides, says she “felt caught in the middle.” Rather than “digging in our heels,” Levy says, we should “actually talk to each other (and not just at these emotionally laden public hearings at MLA), but throughout the year, directly.” (Levy has more to say about the fraught nature of dialogue, though, below.) Continue reading

If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” Continue reading

Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What’s the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, “The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante — albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn’t want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn’t want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes : Continue reading

The Collapse of the Status Quo in Israel.

Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir — I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues.  We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.

As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation. Continue reading

“Dangerous Neighborhood:” Operation ‘Defensive Pillar’ and its Interpreters

This is a guest post by Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama) and Daniel Bertrand Monk (Colgate University). Daniel J. Levine is author of Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique. Daniel Bertrand Monk  is the co-editor, with Jacob Mundy, of the forthcoming: The Post-Conflict Environment: Intervention and Critique (University of Michigan, 2013). The authors’ names for this essay have been listed alphabetically. 

tl;dr notice: ~2600 words.

“As Ambassador Gillerman has said many times on our show, ‘Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood.” —  Fox News, 16 November 2012

“As he was asking instructions…a man in his early 20’s came up, stuck the point of a knife against his back and ordered him into the lobby of adjacent building….The youth was…ordered to surrender his money. He explained that the only reason he was there at all was that he had no money…. The man closed his knife and said: “Look, this is a very dangerous neighborhood.  You should never come to this part of the city.”  Then he instructed him to his destination via the safest route, patted him on the back and sent him on his way.” — New York Times, Metropolitan Diary, Lawrence Van Gelder

The Arab Middle East may have undergone significant political transformations in the period between Israel’s 2008 ‘Cast Lead’ Operation against Gaza and the recent ‘Defensive Pillar’ campaign, but no one in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv appears to think that a review of Israel’s ‘grand strategy’ is warranted. If anything, seasoned observers suggest, the Arab Spring seems to have driven Israelis to assume out of resignation a position which Zionist nationalists like Vladimir Jabotinsky once held with fervor. Writing in 1923, Jabotinsky evocatively described a metaphorical “iron wall” that would protect Zion from the ire of its neighbors; for their part, contemporary Israelis (we are told) can only imagine a future in which they will be perpetually enclosed within a (quasi-literal) Iron Dome. Hence, Ethan Bronner  reports: Israelis have concluded that “their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous…”’ To them “that means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted” in the region.

Interpreters of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the ‘Anglosphere’ and seasoned Middle East watchers often resort to the same curious euphemism: seeking to make the region’s unique patterns of violence intelligible to American audiences and to themselves, they explain Israel’s impatience with diplomacy, and its reliance on disproportionate use of force, by referring to the “dangerous neighborhood” in which it finds itself. Bolstered by an “ideology of the offensive” that has been present in Israeli strategic/operational thought since the 1950s (see here, here, and here), and by the ostensible ‘lessons’ of the Shoah for Jewish self-defense, this euphemism evokes positions so pragmatically self-explanatory that no further justification is felt to be needed. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit even released a meme (see the opening image) with the intention of rendering this logic visually explicit.

Continue reading

I wonder if he’s got facebook?


A former Israeli soldier posted pictures on facebook of herself with Palestinian prisoners who were tied up and blindfolded. In a photo album called “The Army …The Most Beautiful Time of My Life,” Eden Abergil posted these pictures and responded to friends’ comments.

One is particularly striking: a facebook friend of Abergil’s commented that she looked sexy in the pictures. Abergil responded:

Yeah I know lol honey. What a day it was. Look how he completes my picture. I wonder if he’s got Facebook!

I wonder if he’s got a facebook. I wonder if he’s got a facebook. Really?

Certainly, problems with the mistreatment of prisoners aren’t new. And maybe even the level of detachment from that treatment that is required to consider tying up prisoners sexy, take pictures of yourself doing it, post them on facebook, and wonder if the prisoners you tied up would like to be tagged on facebook can be found in earlier wars and conflicts in different forms. But it feels so cavalier, so base, so debasing reading it in the New York Times that it just seems like something different, something worse, something we should think is an emergency.

I guess, though, in the end, its not about whether this is worse than whatever came before it but instead about what can be done to communicate a message of unacceptability. That seems like a more complicated question, and one that I’ll be doing a lot of thinking about at a couple of conferences on Just War Theory over the next couple of weeks. More on these issues soon.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank


I’m traveling in Israel this week on an academic study tour with a mix of 15 political scientists, economists, and historians. It’s a grueling schedule – 14 to 16 hours of sessions per day – meeting with Israelis, Israeli –Arabs, and Palestinians. I finally have a short break in the schedule so this is the first of several posts.

I’ll post some thoughts on Gaza later, but I’ll start with the West Bank. On Tuesday, we went to Ramallah and met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to talk about state building in the West Bank. Fayyad introduced his two-year plan for Palestinian statehood last August. The strategy has two main efforts: first, he moved to consolidate and gain control of the Palestinian security forces; and second, he has rolled-out a concerted effort to build governing institutions.

On the security side, things seem to be relatively stable. The PA has been able to consolidate the dozen or so security services into three – Fayyad noted/joked that he’s had to campaign hard to convince Palestinians that security pluralism isn’t a particularly healthy form of democratic pluralism.

On the statebuilding side, Fayyad began the plan by promoting1,000 small infrastructure projects. He said that the PA has turned away from large-scale projects because they are too susceptible to corruption and control by patronage systems. The small projects are also designed to demonstrate quick successes and show that the PA can accomplish some things. These include things like new roads and electrical services to rural communities, small business development grants, and small irrigation projects, etc…. In addition, Fayyad is moving to develop new state institutions by consolidating the legal system and introducing new administrative and regulatory structures to encourage market development. The PA Council of Ministers approved a new law on companies the day we arrived.

This strategy has generated some success. We also met with Stanley Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel who told us that the West Bank grew between 8 – 9 percent last year and there is an expectation that the new stability of the PA sector will generate a modest increase in FDI from Arab and European firms. Anecdotally, we noticed quite a bit of new construction in Ramallah and several of the other towns under PA control.

I was struck by a couple of things on the visit to Ramallah. First, the situation in the West Bank is dramatically different from what we’ve been reading about in Gaza. There were many skeptics last year when Fayyad unveiled his plan. Yet, things do seem to be moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction. New institutions are emerging and there does seem to be some increased capacity for governance. Fayyad meets regularly with Israelis – he keynoted a speech to an Israeli military conference a while back – and he told us he is now moving ahead with a second phase of another wave of small infrastructure projects.

Second, the day before we went to Ramallah, an Israeli police officer was killed and three others were wounded during an attack in the West Bank near Hebron. This was the first incident of the sort in the West Bank in about a year. Given the patterns of escalation in the past decade, I expected the incident would trigger some kind of visible response from Israel. Yet, there was barely a blip. There was no additional Israeli security presence on Rt. 60 or Rt. 70 heading northwest of Jerusalem towards Ramallah. And, Fayyad immediately condemned the attack and stated, “experience has shown that violence harms the Palestinian national cause.” While it’s not clear what will happen a year from now when Fayyad’s two-year timeline for statehood expires, both sides clearly are acting to control escalation.

We’ll see if Fayyad’s experiment will work. We’ve heard a range of views about him and his efforts from the Israelis. But, it does strike me that it’s the only part of this conflict that is moving forward.

Foreign Policy Charade

A few weeks ago, Steve Walt relied upon his own recent experiences writing about the Israeli Lobby to generate “a list of the lessons” he learned from “grabbing the third rail” of foreign policy discourse.

Interestingly, Walt’s somewhat older list of foreign policy taboo positions did not include challenging U.S. foreign policy towards Israel (or Israeli security policy). Had Walt declined to grab the rail this time?

I was reminded of the continued primary importance of these issues recently when reading a short book review in The Nation. Charles Glass, author of the review, used a sizable portion of his piece to quote the author (Emma Williams) quoting an unnamed aid worker in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This is a potent and succinct critique of US policy:

“One day, we will look back on this charade with shame and ask ‘how in hell was this allowed to happen?’ We dress it up in shades of ‘security’–what are we talking about? That’s crap and we all know it. This is not about security. None of this is making anyone secure–the opposite is true, but we’re not going to say so, are we? This is about annexation of territory and slow ethnic cleansing. It’s making Israel less secure and a pariah nation on top of that. And we’re playing along with it, pouring billions of Euros and dollars into keeping the occupied going, keeping their heads above water while they’re boxed in like animals…. Oh, but don’t let anyone hear you say it. My God, we’re in trouble if we say it like it is. No no, we must toe the line, but why?”

I think most of us know why, though some evidence suggests that the discourse may be more open now.

The External Validity of Terrorism Studies on Israel/Palestine

The growing desire to understand both the rationality of suicide terrorism, as well as test theoretical concepts empirically has generated several interesting political economic studies of terrorism. As such, a recent paper in the NBER caught my eye for several reasons. The article, entitled “The Economic Cost of Harboring Terrorism,” adds to this body of work by focusing on an area that has yet to be explored. Very often the question of interest in these studies is, “how do terrorist attacks affect the target economy?” In this paper the authors reverse the question and ponder, “how do terrorist attacks affect the economic conditions of the area from whence the attack came?”

The question is a very good one, and the authors investigate it with a unique data set:

Our analysis overcomes these difficulties by relying on a detailed data set of suicide terror attacks and local economic conditions together with a unique empirical strategy. The available data set covers the universe of suicide Palestinian terrorists during the second Palestinian uprising, combined with quarterly data from the Palestinian Labor Force Survey on districts’ economic and demographic characteristics, and Israeli security measures (curfews and Israeli induced Palestinian fatalities).

The punchline…

…a successful attack causes an immediate increase of 5.3 percent in the unemployment rate of an average Palestinian district (relative to the average unemployment rate), and causes an increase of more than 20 percent in the likelihood that the district’s average wage falls in the quarter following an attack. Finally, a successful attack reduces the number of Palestinians working in Israel by 6.7 percent relative to its mean. Importantly, these economic effects persist for at least two quarters after the attack.

While I think this paper introduces a very important research paradigm, I have a concerns with some of the technical assumptions built into their analysis, and the overarching reliability of research focusing exclusively on terrorism in the Israel/Palestine conflict. With respect to the technical assumptions there is one line in the paper that struck me as very problematic: “Our empirical strategy exploits the inherit randomness in the success or failure of suicide terror attacks as a source of exogenous variation to investigate the effects of terrorism on the perpetrators economic conditions.”

I find it very difficult to accept the notion that success and failure is random across suicide attacks—especially within this particular conflict. There is clearly no support for a theory that selection of suicide attack sites is random; therefore, it follows that the success of an attack would also be a function of both the selected target as well as the learning process occurring by both the attackers and defenders. There is, therefore, an expectation of high autocorrelation across success for attacks happening within a relatively small geographic area. Such difficulties highlight the general problem of external validity for terrorism studies that focus solely on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

It is not surprising that researchers often default to data on terrorist attacks from this conflict. Given the relative openness of Israel’s democratic government, the media attention on Palestine, and the—unfortunate—frequency of attacks there exists are large amount of data from this conflict. As I have mentioned before, however, it is very difficult to infer causality from this data given the natural interconnectedness of the conflict dynamics. As I mentioned, there any large-N study of terrorism in this context has enormous selection problems, as terrorists learn innovate to evade the defensive tactics of the ISF, and the Israelis create new policies that may provoke and dissuade the terrorist activities. There are no other ongoing low-intensity conflicts that have issues at this level, making it difficult to draw parallels between findings from research focusing and Israel and Palestine and another other conflict.

I am curious as to others’ thoughts on this issue of external validity, and welcome your comments.

Photo: Norman G. Finkelstein

Condoleezation

Almost live Panel Blogging:

I’m sitting (or at least was, when I started this post) in a rather interesting panel that’s running at AU right now: The Obama Administration and the Palestinian / Israeli Conflict. It’s a pretty intense, thoughtful, and insightful discussion, featuring Aaron Miller, Yoram Peri, Amjad Atallah, and moderated by our own Boaz Atzili. On the schedule but not able to make it today was Joshua Muravchick.

Aaron Miller has quite a lot on his mind and is very talkative and is quite passionate about his points. Its clear that he has a lot that he wants to say—not just here, but in his recent writings, his book, and his other recent commentary. Its the I worked at this for 24 years and got nowhere because you crazy people can’t get over your inane mythology and appreciate the world as it is, not how you want it to be (he didn’t actually say the crazy people part, but he did drop the realism line at one point in his remarks).

Two-plus points, reacting to what I heard.

1. Both Atallah and Miller prefaced their remarks: “Speaking as an American…” Aside from the obvious use of this rhetorical device to preface remarks about the status of the negotiations, the frame also allows them to raise a very critical issue that has been absent from the recent dialogue of US involvement in the Middle East Peace Process. Both noted that the US has very vital National Interests at stake in resolving this conflict. The Obama administration has some major items on its plate: withdraw from Iraq, deal with Iran, the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan, and terrorist networks who might seek to attack the US directly. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is connect to all of these and as it degrades, it further complicates the US’s ability to resolve its most vital interests in the region. Resolving the Israeli – Palestinian issue, beyond any Israeli or Palestinian interests, beyond any alliance with Israel, is important to the US achieving key goals on its own. Atallah recalled the way the US dealt with Bosnia—for a while, it was a horrible problem but one where the deep, ancient hatred and longstanding conflict rendered it impossible for the US to do anything. Then, at a certain point, the Clinton Administration decided that resolving the conflict was in the US interest, and they got involved and pushed a resolution (not that the Balkans is the Middle East, his point being that when the US decides its in its interest to act, it can and will take action).

The new “reality”* of the situation might now be an American National Interest in ending the conflict—not solving it to the liking of any one side, but ending it so that it is no longer a problem to the US advancing its other key interests in the region. At this point, the US decides what it needs, and what its worth, in terms of willingness to invest / pay, to get these needs, and makes it happen. Now this is not to capitulate to the inane Walt argument that Israel is somehow dragging down the US in the region (interestingly, Miller referenced the Walt / Mearshiemer book, trashed it, and then called for a more realistic understanding of the US – Israeli relationship, both by the general public and by American Jews that moves beyond some sort of mythology of fear.)

The difference here is that the subtle change of role for the US that they suggest—no longer protector of any one side, no longer “honest broker” but rather concerned great power able to see a workable solution that is good for the US and apply appropriate pressure to both sides to get there.

2. Its very interesting to hear the different analyses of what the barriers are to peace. On the one hand, Miller says the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is large, while Atallah and Peri say that these gaps are less substantive and more process-oriented. The one thing that is clear from this (and, honestly, any discussion you ever listen to by anyone with any familiarity with the issue) is that the basic issues are still the same basic issues, the general terms of an agreement have a straight genealogy from the Roadmap to the Mitchell Plan, to Camp David, to Oslo, to Madrid, to Camp David. Its essentially the same plan, the same issues. So where’s the problem? Miller says that nothing will happen until there is a unified Palestinian political order, one organization controlling violence over its territory. Now, that’s a state (cue Weber), and as Atallah points out, they aren’t a state yet. Peri says the problem is a lack of trust and leadership on both sides. Miller also faults poor leadership. Peri notes the interesting dynamic in Israeli public opinion: he references surveys that show the Israeli public as more supportive of trading land for peace and closing settlements, but also shifting to the right politically, with Likud expected to win the upcoming elections. No trust in the leadership to actually deliver these long term goals.

Other interesting tidbits:

Atzili noted a new word making its way around Israeli slang: Condoleezation, to work long and hard and accomplish nothing.

There was general consensus that the idea that the Bush Administration was in any way good for this region or this conflict, or any of the parties, is mythology. To say you support a 2 state solution and then do nothing about it is no help to the Palestinians. To say you support Israel and then disengage from the peace process is no help to the Israelis. No one had much nice to say about the Bush Administration. Muravchik might have altered that dynamic, but he was apparently sick or something.

There was also general consensus that a peace deal with Syria was perhaps more likely than anything else. Its doable, its easy—no existential issues, it has support from the Israeli military (Peri reported), and it would actually help a bit with the other tracks.

Atallah noted that Arab leaders now feel they can engage the US again. The Bush Administration, with Iraq, Abu Gharib, Gitmo, and the like, was impossible to talk to. Obama offers a fresh chance. This holds out the promise that the Obama administration could engage and bring about the regional support necessary for an Israeli – Palestinian process.

Overall, a very interesting panel. There was audio and video taken, I’m told there might be a podcast, and if there is, I’ll try to link to it.

*MEPP commentators always like to talk about “realities” the changing realities, the new realities, the realities on the ground. Sorta makes you wonder how “real” they are, and if they are so real, how they keep changing all the time.

How much for an entire world?

It seems to me that, in the lands of Israel and Palestine, the going rate is far too cheap for such a dear commodity.

War and punishment

Ethics and pragmatism sometimes align in matters of war and peace, and other times they work at cross purposes. Two recent examples illustrate this rather banal point:

1. Brian Ulrich calls attention to what might be charitably described as a misguided Israeli tactic for dealing with Hamas in the West Bank:

It’s long been said that Hamas is popular because of its social services. Israel’s defense establishment is now on the case:

“Israeli military officials have identified Hamas’s civilian infrastructure in the West Bank as a major source of the Islamic group’s popularity, and have begun raiding and shutting down these institutions in cities like Hebron, Nablus and Qalqilyah.

“Last week, troops focused their efforts in Nablus, raiding the city hall and confiscating computers. They also stormed into a shopping mall and posted closure notices on the shop windows. A girls’ school and a medical centre were shut down in the city, and a charitable association had its computers impounded and documents seized.

And:

In recent months, the army has also closed down an orphanage, a bakery and other institutions in Hebron, which Israel believes are associated with Hamas. In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel and the Islamic group are observing a truce, but this does not pertain to the West Bank where the Israeli military operates freely.”

Are they serious? Having Israel attack Hamas orphanages and medical centers is supposed to make Palestinians turn against Hamas?

Robert Farley lodges an additional objection:

The motivating concept behind strategic bombing in World War II was that enemy morale would be crushed by the destruction of the infrastructure of civilian life; the Japanese, it was thought, would stop supporting their government when the United States Army Air Force destroyed the ability of that government to supply civilian services. Essentially, the point is to make the people blame their own government for their hardships.”

Rob contines

The Israelis aren’t actually blowing anything up, but the concept seems to be the same — close an orphanage, and hope that the Palestinians blame Hamas instead of Israel. Good luck with that…

I think Rob misses the point. The Israeli campaign isn’t designed to make the Palestinians blame Hamas for a loss of social services, but to deny Hamas the ability to provide social services. Now Rob is right that a major problem with the strategy is that it risks creating more of a rally-around Hamas effect; another is that it further undermines Fatah.

Writing in the daily Haaretz newspaper this week, columnist Gideon Levy calls the move against Hamas-related institutions “ludicrous.” Residents of the West Bank, he concludes, “cannot be simultaneously imprisoned, prohibited from earning a living and offered no social welfare assistance while we strike at those who are trying to do so, whatever their motives. If Israel wants to fight the charitable associations, it must at least offer alternative services. On whose back are we fighting terror? Widows? Orphans? It’s shameful.”

By moving against Hamas institutions, Israel runs the risk of increasing the popularity of the Islamic movement and, at the same time, undermining that of Abbas and his Fatah party, who are perceived, correctly or not, as the intended beneficiaries — even if unwitting and unwilling ones — of this policy.

What’s more, Hamas’s popularity does not derive only from its network of schools and charities, but is also very much a direct function of the deep disillusionment among the Palestinian people with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and its inability to deliver on its key promises, the central one being an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Some in Israel argue that the best way for Israel to block Hamas and bolster Abbas would be to halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, ease travel restrictions there and, most importantly, ensure there is progress in negotiations with the Palestinian leader.

To be blunt, the Israelis need to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the peace process–and those advocating peace–will bring material improvement to their lives. Israeli counter-terrorism strategy, however, often does just the opposite.

The frustrating thing is how little anyone interested in peace has learned since the breakdown of Oslo, when the Israeli far right Palestinian extremists de facto conspired to torpedo the peace process. They did so not only by polarizing the environment, but by forcing policies that destroyed the hope of material benefit from the peace process.

So this is a case where moral action–responding to the plight of the Palestinian people–is also pragmatic action.

2. The opposite, unfortunately, is true in Sudan. Recall that the ICC has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide. China, an increasingly close ally of Sudan, is part of an effort to suspend the ICC indictment.

But the indictment should be suspended, as it complicates already struggling attempts to deal with the situation in Darfur. Proceeding with the indictment backs Bashir into a corner, reduces whatever incentive he has to sign onto any future agreement, and renders such negotiations even more difficult. The African Union is basically right that:

“hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan” could be jeopardised.

Foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU’s Peace and Security Council are expected to meet in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where the AU is based, next week.

The charges against President Bashir put African countries in an acutely difficult position, says the BBC’s Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.

They supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are also the countries most likely to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant, she says.

It also threatens to undermine the ICC itself, as it can’t do much of anything to enforce its writ.

That’s just sick, or “we haven’t had a good Israel-Palestine flamewar here yet… let’s hope I don’t start one”

I don’t post a great deal on Israel-Palestine issues. I basically want to see a peace deal that involves an equitable variant of the two-state solution and that empowers moderates on both sides. I don’t have much sympathy for those who want to paint the conflict in black-and-white terms, and I get sick of the way that advocates of one side or the other spotlight the various infractions of their opponents.

But f*ck it, this is just sick:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently visiting Malta, welcomed the prisoner exchange and sent his greetings to Kuntar upon his release from Israeli prison.

Abbas’s Fatah party organized a rally in Ramallah to celebrate the release of Kuntar and the return of the remains of Mughrabi. “This is an historic victory over Israeli arrogance,” said Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top Fatah official and advisor to Abbas.

He described Kuntar as a “big struggler” and Mughrabi as a “martyr who led one of the greatest freedom fighters’ operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

He added that on this “important” day, Fatah “salutes Hizbullah and its leaders and fighters.”

Fahmi Za’arir, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said his party was proud of all those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Palestinian “revolution and people.” He
described the attack carried out by Mughrabi and Kuntar as heroic and legendary.

Kuntar was among those given a hero’s welcome by the Lebanese state.

To understand what’s wrong with this picture, read this and this–but only the latter if you can deal with the sadistic murder of a preschooler.

The Israeli government should never have agreed to this swap. No matter what the Jewish religion holds about the remains of its adherents, they’ve taken another step towards empowering Hezbollah and demonstrating that violence is the best way to extract concessions from them.

And yes, both sides have bloody hands concerning children. That’s not the point.

UPDATE: better posts, better commentary available at the usual suspects’.

“Kosovo is no better than us….”

The fallout continues:

“If things are not going in the direction of actually halting settlement activities, if things are not going in the direction of continuous and serious negotiations, then we should take the step and announce our independence unilaterally,” Mr Abed Rabbo told Reuters.

Palestinian leader Abbas and Israeli PM Olmert in Jerusalem 19 February
Abbas and Olmert met but there is no news of progress

“Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence,” he added.

Mr. Olmert, tear down this wall!

It was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this photo on the NYT site. Provocative (or maybe just dark humor), but potentially not that far off the mark.

My short take on this is that I don’t think its good for the Olmert government and their Gaza policy at all, and its a big win for Hamas. If nothing else, it hands Hamas a major legitimacy claim as the one group who cares about the regular person enough to blow open a wall to Egypt so people can bring back to Gaza much needed food, tires, cigarettes, and cases of Coke.

First runner up for the headline: “Follow me! Follow me to freedom!”

MEPP take 2

A US President, needing a signature policy victory, faced with a hostile Congress controlled by the opposing party, nearing the end of his term, seeks ensure his legacy and make a major foreign affairs statement by brokering a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. He brings them together for a big meeting here in the US, hoping to put together the structure of a deal to bring peace to the region.

Sounds familiar. It could be George Bush, presiding over the Mid East Peace conference in Annapolis that starts today. Or, it could be Bill Clinton, making one last push for peace at Camp David back in 2000. You could even argue that it might apply to the senior George Bush and his Madrid conference in 1991. In short, we’ve seen this show before, and I’m not convinced that the current production will have an ending that is in any way markedly different.

Granted, there are a few thing new about Bush’s current conference that make it substantively different than previous peace process attempts. The first is that this is Bush’s first real foray into personal diplomacy for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Entering office in 2001, the administration disengaged from the Mid-East Peace Process that the Clinton Administration was so heavily invested in. Instead, the Bush Administration offered its ‘Roadmap’ for peace, largely removing the US from the daily push for peace talks. The current summit marks the most significant US foray into the issue in over 7 years. A lot has happened in that time.

First and foremost, there is different leadership leading different nations. Yassir Arafat, long the face of the Palestinians, has passed from the scene. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, presides over half a quasi-state, significantly weaker than his predecessor, having essentially lost Gaza to Hamas. Ehud Olmert comes from a secular, pragmatic centrist coalition that broke from the right and picked up some of the left, having up-ended Israeli politics and reduced the influence of certain right-wing religious factions.

Then, there’s the small matter of the Us invasion of Iraq. On the one hand, this makes the US a much bigger player in the Middle East, as it occupies an enormous country in the middle of the map, with hundreds of thousands of troops in the region engaged in active combat. On the other hand, it has significantly weakened and skewed US policy in the region, as everything has been filtered through the lens of Iraq, leaving the core Israeli-Palestinian issues on the sidelines until now. It has also reshaped the role and identity of the US in the region, providing new burdens to public legitimation of any US-brokered deal.

And, there’s the shift in regional power to Iran. Iran’s rise and growing influence (aided in part by the US invasion of Iraq) has troubled both the Israelis as well as some Arab states suspicious of Iran’s bid for regional hegemony. Shi’ia Iran’s ability to appeal to Islamisist groups potentially threatens the secular and Sunni regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, there are another 7 years of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces and people. Its been a long 7 years, with many on both sides tired of the fighting and eager for some sort of settlement.

So, you might think that these changes would make the conditions ripe for a peace agreement. Perhaps. But, I remain skeptical that this summit and the Bush Administration’s current push will achieve any significant and tangibile results (other than the obligatory joint statement and promise of future negotiations).

Part of the problem lies with the Bush Administration itself. To date, it hasn’t shown itself to be all that concerned with policy implementation and follow-through. It, has succumbed to the classic liberal fallacy that once compromises are made, interests satisfied, and an agreement is reached, the deal is done. The fallacy is that such agreements don’t implement themselves–someone has to take a compromise and legitimize the new set of interests it represents to the group required to make the deal work. The Administration thought that if it simply removed Saddam that the Iraqis would suddenly emerge from their shells, a civil society and market economy would spring up from the people, and everyone would realize that they are all better off in a democracy. Except that it didn’t happen that way–the removal of Saddam’s government removed what little order there was in Iraq, and with no alternative legitimate social order, chaos followed. The terms of the deal that Olmert and Abbas will strike are rather obvious to anyone who has followed this issue over the years. They, and their advisers know what that eventual compromise is. The issue isn’t reaching that compromise, the issue is politically legitimating that compromise to the respective societies in a way that both Olmert and Abbas can be seen as having achieved a victory and not having sold out their people. I haven’t seen any of that rhetorical groundwork in any major form. For such a deal to work, the Administration will need to sell it, legitimize it, and implement it with a concerted Presidential effort far more strenuous than that which was given to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Someone will need to take ownership of this process, in the way Chris Hill has taken responsibility for sheparding the North Korean nuclear deal to fruition.

And, part of the problem lies with the participants. As I mentioned above, the real key to any peace deal is the legitimation of a compromise to both societies. Each group has, over the years, incorporated into its national identity indivisible items that must be cut up in any deal. Israelis hold Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish state in which they live. Palestinians hold as central the right to return to their former homes. In practice, both must be compromised to reach a deal. But woe is the leader who sells out his people’s core identity. What Palestinian leader can go back to his people, having sold out the right to return? What Israeli leader can go back to his people having given away half of Jerusalem? Under the current conditions, its a political death sentence, and why there will be no real progress on a peace deal. (And not just these 2 issues–there are clearly more, but those serve to illustrate the point sufficiently).

What is needed is a reshaping of the rhetorical-identity topography. Someone, perhaps a US president (though perhaps not), needs to offer the Israelis a vision of an Israeli identity with a shared Jerusalem. Someone needs to offer the Palestinians a vision of a Palestinian identity without a right of return. Someone on each side needs to enact such an identity, producing the interests that support a peace deal. Then, and only then, is the potential for compromise possible.

Reflection of the day

The Israel-Palestine controversy in the academy parallels, in one respect, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Both involve a polarizing action-reaction cycle in which everyone loses.

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