Wednesday, October 31

To Attack or Not to Attack Iran – that is the Question

Once again the Bush Administration is at the threshold of decision making. A number of issues are pre-occupying the minds of the US leadership. Sometime in the fall, there will be the Annapolis Peace Summit with its hopes of success not being very high. A final date has not been reached as the parties are unable to come out with a declaration of principles because of problems with opposition in their own ranks. The Palestinian leadership has strong opposition from Hamas and the Israelis have opposition from their own right wing coalition partners who have threatened to bolt the coalition if agreements are reached with the Palestinians at Annapolis.

The emphasis once again has shifted towards Iran’s nuclear activity. According to a report on the Voice of America News, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei said on Sunday 28th October 2007, there was no evidence that Iran was trying to make nuclear bombs and that the country was still years away from having that capability. But the United States and other western countries, such as France, suspect Iran has a weapons program. Iran continues to deny the charge, saying its nuclear program is for energy. Nevertheless, with a certain amount of skepticism, the US is not ruling out military action to get Iran to cease its nuclear activities.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad of Iran is not a very savoury character and his statements are full of bluster, it is not wise to engage in a military operation against Iran. Sanctions and economic boycotts of Iran should be increased to push Iran into economic bankruptcy with the hope that the Iranian people will overthrow the present Iranian leadership. As it is, the US has the gift of creating havoc in countries that do not abide by its will. If the US attacks Iran, even those members of the Iranian opposition will turn against the US resulting in a call to the blood by the notorious Iranian leadership that would create increased support for Ahmadinajad and his ilk.

Opposition to an evil regime and its overthrow can only be instigated by the people who are dissatisfied with the regime that rules them. Outside powers will not succeed in overthrowing an evil regime.

If we examine what had happened in oppressive communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the people overthrew their leaders. The Romanian people overthrew Nicolai Ceausescu, the communist tyrant, and created a democratic regime. All the communist bloc countries fell, not because of the US but because this was the will of the people who were oppressed and the economy was failing. However, when an outside power - the US overthrew dictatorships, the results were anarchy and terror by extremist nationalist groups vying for power. Typical examples of US failure are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. The chances of the US withdrawing its military from Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future are close to zero. The US has failed in these two countries. Bush continues with his paranoia over terror which is achieving nothing to solve the crises in these two countries. This scenario could easily be repeated in Iran. This would also result in oil prices reaching heights that would be prohibitive. The world still has no alternative to oil for energy.

It is up to the Iranian people to get rid of their dictator and not the US or any other power for that matter. The world can only stand on the side lines and ensure that Iran is isolated and that its economy would crash because of boycotts and sanctions. This could enable the Iranian people to revolt and rid themselves of the evil Ahmadinajad regime already weakened by severe sanctions and boycotts. This would be more effective than using an external military option, the results of which could be catastrophic on a world basis. This would also create a refugee problem of great proportions. The US had also created a massive Iraqi refugee problem as a result of its activities there and a severe humanitarian crisis.

Iran is concerned with creating a situation on the ground in the Middle East whereby it supports extremists like Hamas financially and militarily. The goal of Iran is similar to the goal of Hamas. This goal is the destruction of Israel. Ahmadinajad and Hamas have made this clear on numerous occasions. However the Palestinians fail to realize that if Iran achieves nuclear weapon capability, they are under threat of total destruction no less than Israel. It is in the interests of the Palestinians no less than Israel, that nuclear weapon capability of Iran is never realized. Iran is interested in establishing a Shiite-style caliphate in the Middle East by trying to exploit the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to achieve that end. It will be an interesting mental exercise to try and predict how a Sunni extremist group like Hamas would accept this in the future.

Despite the evil of the present Iranian regime under Ahmadinajad and his ilk, a military operation by the US against that regime would be a total disaster and would not contribute anything to solving the various crises in the Middle East. It would contribute to further scorn on the US and it would add another failed campaign to the increasing lexicon of US-failed campaigns and the humanitarian crises caused.

Saturday, October 27

Dialogue or Negotiations

There are many doubts as to whether the Annapolis Summit will be held or not. It is almost certain that Israel and the Palestinians are not ready for these negotiations and it is hard to predict if they will be ready by the so-called scheduled date 26th November, 2007.

There are many reasons for this. The viewpoints of Israel and Palestine are very far apart and the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas are interested in discussing the “core issues” such as the refugees, the status of Jerusalem as well as the final borders in a final settlement while Tzippi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister hopes to reach an understanding rather than a solution. An understanding is not a solution but a delaying tactic to reach an agreement.

This means, in practice, more marking of time in the game of indecisiveness. Apart from that, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership is weak. The proposed Palestinian delegation does not have Hamas representation from Gaza, which de facto has become detached from the West Bank and formed another Palestinian entity whose influence still breathes heavily down the neck of President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has her problem with Shas and Israel Beitenu, the right wing members of PM Olmert’s coalition, has threatened to leave the coalition if concessions or agreements are made with Mahmoud Abbas. Here a strange paradox has occurred. Hamas and the Israeli right wing coalition partners have a common goal – sabotaging the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, each for its own reasons. Hamas continues to fire Qassam rockets into the south of Israel and it hopes to create havoc, not only for the Israelis living there but also to their own families near Beit Hanun where young innocent Palestinian children are the victims of Israeli Army retaliations. It is as if Hamas and Islamic Jihad are using Palestinian children as human shields. This is tragic and criminal!

The “honest broker” who is organizing the summit is the United States whose record for crisis solving is poor. They have won wars but lost the peace and become embroiled in indefinite Vietnam-style scenarios as in Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows who will be next – possibly Iran? Apart from that the US seems to be more concerned about the nuclear capability of Iran and putting a stop to that rather than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which is on the backburner. Can Israel and the Palestinians trust the US as a peacemaker with such a poor record filled with blunders? Wherever the US gets involved in peace making the results are disastrous! If the peace summit could be organized in another country without US interference, maybe the chances of its success would be greater. There is so much against the Annapolis Peace Summit, which looks as if it will be destined to failure before it even starts.

Those who will suffer from the consequences of Annapolis will be the Israeli and Palestinian people because of lack of decisiveness and desire to reach a final solution to the conflict which is more than overdue.

This brings me to discuss the idea of non-governmental dialogue between the two peoples. The difference between negotiations and dialogue is the scale at which they are held. Dialogue can be held between two peoples on a lower non-governmental level between various groups who have problems of reaching an understanding and making peace. Negotiations are between governments of warring countries in order to arrive to a peace agreement. The latter has proved a total failure which means that more emphasis should be placed on relationships between ordinary people amongst Israelis and Palestinians in order to build a bridge of understanding between them. This can be accomplished by dialogue groups not connected with the leaders or the governments of the warring parties.

Much can be done to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The Internet is a very important tool for establishing dialogue. One can find many outreach programmes encouraging dialogue on the web.

There are many problems and stereotype thoughts that both peoples have against each other. The Palestinians view Israelis as occupiers of territory. Many see Israelis as soldiers who man check posts, carry out body searches as well as humiliate and insult Palestinians. They also see Israelis as settlers who have stolen their lands, uprooted their olive trees and agricultural plantations as well as abusing them.

Israelis view Palestinians as terrorists and Islamist fanatics who are potential suicide bombers out to kill them in the hope that they will destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. These two stereotypes of fanatic Palestinians and Israelis on opposite sides of the spectrum is a severe barrier that has to be overcome. In between these two stereotypes demonizing both peoples is the mainstream, silent majority. These are the Palestinians and Israelis who are moderates and seek peace and coexistence as well as an independent viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. These people really should be encouraged to form dialogue groups across the borders. Both moderate Israelis and Palestinians could take the lead in dialogue and if there are enough non political groups whose motivation is peaceful coexistence, they could apply pressure on their respective leaders to start negotiations for peace, coexistence, justice and a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel and having cultural and economic relations for the good of both peoples.

Palestinians and Israelis could join many groups. A few that come to mind are the One Voice Movement, Foundation for Middle East Peace, the latter has a number of peace movements affiliated to it.

Dialogue can succeed if there are enough Palestinians and Israelis engaged in it. They could become a pressure group for peace that their respective governments cannot ignore.

Official negotiations for peace without the support of the people are doomed to failure. In South Africa, the transition from apartheid to a multi racial government succeeded because all the peoples of South Africa supported it. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this conflict.

Wednesday, October 24

The 12th Anniversary of P.M. Yitzchak Rabin’s Assassination

As the years pass and the anniversary approaches, one is reminded of that tragic evening. As one of many who attended the Peace Gathering that fateful Saturday night 5th November, 1995 and witnessed the tragedy as we left to return home, the scene of what happened can never be dulled in one’s memory. This Peace Gathering had started on such an optimistic note and ended so tragically.

Some weeks before the tragedy, there were rumblings on the right. There were right wing protests against the Oslo Accords. The demonization of PM Rabin had begun. There were hideous anti-Rabin posters displayed by demonstrators at many main road junctions. Posters of Rabin wearing an Arafat-style keffiyeh with drops of blood scattered all over. Montages of Rabin in Nazi style SS uniform were also displayed. Most of the demonstrators were kippa-cladded right wing supporters of the settlers in the occupied territories. The extreme right wing had used every trick in their lexicon to brand Rabin as a traitor who was selling out Israel to the Palestinians. Many right wing rabbis joined the bandwagon of hate for Rabin and gave legitimacy to his removal. These rabbis had followers who believed that all methods to get rid of Rabin must be employed.

Yigal Amir, a fanatic, right wing orthodox Jew, an adherent of this extreme right wing ideology, and a follower of these radical right wing rabbis took it upon himself with the aid of his brother, to pull the trigger thus ending Rabin’s life on the 5th November 1995.

Now 12 years later, the situation has changed. He is still in prison and married. His wife Larisa Trimbobler is expecting his child. How macabre! How could the authorities allow this monster to marry and unite with his wife and have a child? Something is not right here. We are now witnessing a frightening scenario whereby this murderer will gain more sympathy which will result in him being discharged sooner rather than later. He still shows no remorse for the evil deed that he committed. He remains steadfast in his fanaticism. More voices are being heard clamoring for his release! If there was support for his marriage and for him being given the privilege of fathering a child, it follows that once his child is born, he will gain support for his release for the good of his child. After all, a child conceived in prison is not kosher.

While most feel that more emphasis should be place on remembering Rabin on his memorial day rather than giving publicity to that disgusting Amir-Trimbobler union which will continue to haunt us for many years to come. The only reason to bring up this notorious union is to remind the public that Amir should serve his sentence until his dying breath, irrespective of whether his ideologically twisted wife miscarries or not. His life sentence should be his death sentence when his lifespan is over.

Saturday, October 20

The Annapolis Summit

We are on the eve of the Annapolis Summit. It is due to take place on 26th November in Annapolis, Maryland, US. It seems that before this summit begins, there will be much hype as to its impending failure. The Israelis and Palestinians, under US arm twisting, must come out with a common declaration of principles. This in itself will involve phrasing, paraphrasing and rephrasing verbiage that will be lost in heavy polemics, the bottom line of which says nothing. If the verbiage is full of riddles then Israel will not see the declaration of principles as binding nor will the Palestinians. The leadership of both Palestine and Israel show skepticism as to the success of this US attempt to bring the parties to the conflict together.

Both Palestinians and Israelis have a weak leadership. President Mahmoud Abbas is the president of a divided Palestine which does not include Gaza (ruled by Hamas). His position in the West Bank is also shaky with Hamas cells breathing down his neck and waiting in the shadows to take over by a coup de etat as occurred in Gaza. PM Ehud Olmert also is weak and is under police investigation for possible criminal activity. He has lost his credibility and does not have much support. According to a report in Haaretz 21st October 2007, the right wing members of his coalition (Yisrael Beitenu under Avigdor Lieberman and Shas under Eli Yishai) have threatened to leave the government if core issues are discussed at the summit. What is the point of holding a summit when core issues that are the root of the conflict are not discussed? Surely this is another indication of Israel’s hands being tied resulting in the summit being doomed before it even starts.

Apart from that, the Israeli and Palestinian positions are poles apart about bridging the gap between the two sides with a common declaration of principles. Neither side trusts the other. Trust is a very important ingredient in formulating a common declaration of principles. Those attending, apart from the Israeli and the PLO negotiation teams, are expected to include representatives from Egypt, Jordan and possibly neighboring Arab countries as well as from the G-8 countries and permanent members of the UN Security Council. The success of such a conference is dependent more on the moderate Arab States than on the Palestinians. The possibility that Hamas will try to derail the conference by sending suicide bombers into Israel cannot be ruled out either.

According to a report in the Editorial of Al Ahram Weekly, 18 - 24 October 2007,

The US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, is not something to which Arabs should be looking forward. Judging by the recent discourse of the parties concerned the conference -- should it finally be held -- will achieve no progress. So much was made clear in several revealing statements issued during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region this week.

Rice made her statements following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on 14 October. The next day she met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after which she told a press conference that US president George W Bush is "committed" to "ending" what she called the "Palestinian problem". She then headed to Cairo where her Egyptian counterpart expressed concern over the vagueness and purpose of the Annapolis conference and suggested it be delayed. Rice replied there was no set date to be delayed.

So what exactly is Rice telling us? She's saying the conference will be held, even though it has no agenda and despite the fact she thinks the Palestinian and Israeli governments are incapable of moving forward towards resolving the decades-old conflict. Indeed, she describes 59 years of Israeli occupation, apartheid, and violation of international law, the demolition of Palestinian homes and five million Palestinian refugees as "the Palestinian problem". Rice is not alone in cautioning against any expectations that the conference will have positive results. Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will head Israel's negotiating team in Annapolis, has already warned the Arabs not to go to the conference with too many hopes.

There is no feeling of optimism, in neither the Israeli camp nor the Palestinian camp. The US under President Bush is not the ideal example of a peace broker. We only have to look at the tragic mess that the US has made in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US got rid of Saddam Hussein, replacing his regime with total anarchy and bloodshed. In Afghanistan the US tried to capture Osama bin Laden, the arch terrorist, and failed. They tried to destroy the Taliban – an extremist Islamist movement and they did not succeed entirely. They propped up a puppet regime under President Hamid Kazai. His grassroots support is very shaky. The Taliban are showing signs of rebirth. Is the US able to be an honest broker, organizing peace summits between Israelis and Palestinians with a “peace record” like that?

Both Palestinians and Israelis are fully aware that the chances of this summit succeeding remains very slim indeed. President Mahmoud Abbas favours

a Palestinian State comprising 6205 sq. k. in the West Bank and Gaza and he wishes to discuss key issues of the Permanent Status Agreement such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, water and security.

Mahmoud Abbas is trying to maneuver Israel back into the sequence of the Oslo negotiations through an 'all-or-nothing' approach - in other words, combining all the separate issues into one package. However, in light of the visible gaps between the parties on the Outstanding Issues, this approach narrows the chances of reaching any achievement in the political process. Israel will find this unacceptable. Israel is adopting a policy of maneuver. Israel does not intend to even negotiate seriously but rather mark time and come out with further statements that will not be helpful in getting the peace process on track. This emphasizes the fact that the agenda of the Palestinians is clearer than the Israeli agenda which remains hazy.

It is difficult to find any basis for a common declaration of principles between the two sides when both sides have priorities that are so diametrically opposed one from the other. Apart from that, Abbas also has a problem with Gaza which is ruled by Hamas. Both Olmert and Abbas cannot overlook that. This problem of Hamas ruling Gaza will have to be solved. Now, there are two states - Hamas-ruled Gaza and Fatah-ruled West Bank. How this will be incorporated into one state remains to be seen. How will the Annapolis Summit relate to this? Hamas is opposed to the summit which they view as a sell-out to the US and Israel. They will do all they can to destroy Mahmoud Abbas if he signs an agreement with Israel. They have hinted that.

The Israelis wish to come out with a general document that is not binding because of the inability to draw up a common declaration of principles.

The idea of coming to the summit with the lowest common denominator between Israelis and Palestinians is an exercise in futility. Even Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, with her American baggage of failures in peace making, is not going to succeed in bringing the sides together.

All this hype about the upcoming summit proves that it will be another impotent attempt at peace making between Israel and the Palestinians. The most that can be expected is another photo opportunity of handshakes all round.

Saturday, October 13

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Israel and Anti-Semitism

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, has incurred the wroth of many uninformed members of the Jewish Community in Minnesota. The attacks on this great humanitarian and patron of the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town is unjustified. He was one of the great leaders in the war against apartheid and racism of all forms in South Africa. He was active in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – whose purpose was to bring all the races of South Africa together by admitting their crimes towards each other and asking for forgiveness. He described the people of South Africa as the “Rainbow Nation” because of their diversity. He had played an incredible role for uniting this diversity of peoples into a united South African patriotism.
He won the Noble Peace Prize for his activities in 1984 and justly so. What is it that causes many Zionists in the US to oppose Archbishop Tutu’s visit to the Minnesota University of St Thomas to give a lecture? Tutu had been slated to visit the University of St. Thomas next spring as part of a program that brings Nobel laureates to teach youth about peace and justice. But university administrators, after consulting with Minnesota Jewish leaders, concluded that Tutu has made hurtful comments about Israel and the Jewish people that rendered him inappropriate as a speaker. "Desmond Tutu is an anti-Semite who hates Jews and is obsessed with demeaning and smearing the Jewish state," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
The time has come for many Zionists to realize that Israel is no “paragon of virtue” and is not beyond criticism for human rights violations of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Apart from that, Morton Klein has made a statement about Desmond Tutu that is a total lie and proves that he (Morton Klein) belongs to a group of paranoiac Zionists who views criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. How pathetic! Has Morton Klein ever lived in Israel? Those who live in Israel and experience Israel’s policies not only towards the Palestinians, but also to its own citizens, are in a better position to judge Israel’s behaviour than a Diaspora Zionist whose na├»ve sentiments are a fool’s paradise and totally devoid of reality.
This ridiculous storm in a tea cup arose when Julie Swiler, the public affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, discovered a speech he delivered in Boston in 2002 in which he compared the power of the "Jewish lobby" to Hitler, and Israeli policies to those of the South African apartheid regime. This is inaccurate. She was quoting an article that appeared in The Guardian on Monday, April 29th 2002 called “Apartheid in the Holy Land”, where Tutu said, People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.”
Only in the wildest stretch of the paranoiac imagination, could one view this statement as being anti-Semitic. If one were to read this article in its entirety rather than quoting out of context then the conclusion that this article is anti-Semitic would be seen to be untrue. How could Archbishop Desmond Tutu be viewed as an anti-Semite when he is the patron of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre? It is not even a paradox! The idea of this humanitarian being anti-Semitic is ridiculous just because he criticized Israel’s occupation policies.
In the same article he stated the following: “In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders.
What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about”.
Are these words the words of an anti-Semite? Of course the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is different to that in apartheid South Africa; there are some parallels because of the security situation. This has resulted in the suffering of many innocent Palestinians. It may be argued that Desmond Tutu may not be aware of the extent of the suicide bombings and Palestinian violence directed against Israelis which has resulted in Israel taking such drastic measures to protect its citizens. Every country has the right to protect its citizens from terrorist organizations, including Israel. It is an unfortunate fact that the innocent suffer with the guilty.
One must remember that Israel’s greatest mistake after the Six Day War of June 1967 was colonizing the occupied territories. Do I sense raised eyebrows at this statement? Israel had encouraged Jewish settlement beyond the 1967 borders after the Six Day War. This very act in itself is indicative of colonization despite Israel’s claim to the contrary. Israel was not prepared to keep the territories on hold as a bargaining chip for an agreement with the Palestinians to end hostilities and sign a peace agreement. Perhaps the famous Khartoum Resolution of 1st September 1967 gave Israel “the green light” in its own eyes to proceed with colonization of the occupied territories and all that it entailed. This was because there was no desire for the Arab states to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. It was not Israel’s intention to remove settlements from the occupied territories once established. No country settles people if it intends to uproot them again in an agreement. This would be self-defeating. Settlements are established permanently. What has been achieved today in peace negotiations with the Palestinians? Delaying tactics and beating about the bush is Israel’s method of negotiating. It is unlikely that there would be a unilateral disengagement of the West Bank as was the case in Gaza. This tactic will result in failure of the Peace Conference due to be held in Annapolis in November 2007.
When Israel colonized the occupied territories, many Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The land for Jewish settlement comes from Palestinian lands. These settlers are very often religious zealots who have come to colonize with the Torah as their guide. Their desire for “ethnic cleansing” of the land they occupied by displacing the Palestinians cannot be denied. The weak has to pay the price for the strong. These religious zealots are not angels.
This is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu meant in his article. For this he was accused of being an anti-Semite!
Fortunately, reason won the day for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On Tuesday, 9th October 2007, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, sent the university's president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, a letter urging the school to reissue its invitation to Tutu. The next day, Dease announced he was reversing himself after he decided to cancel the invitation because of pressure from Zionist Jewish groups who felt that Tutu made anti-Semitic statements.
"I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop," Dease said in a statement. "Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do."
News of the university's initial decision to drop Tutu prompted uproar and revived claims that some Jewish groups seek to quash public criticism of Israel.
University officials did not say whether Foxman's letter affected Dease's decision, but they said he had received a steady stream of phone calls and e-mails when the story broke last week.
In an interview with JTA on Tuesday 9th October 2007, Foxman explained his thinking.
"Tutu has certainly been an outspoken, sometimes very harsh critic of Israel and Israeli policies, and has sometimes also used examples which may cross the line," the ADL leader said. But, he added, Tutu "certainly is not an anti-Semite and should not be so characterized and therefore refused a platform."

Coming just weeks after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia University, the controversy over Tutu, an icon of the peaceful struggle against apartheid, has become the latest point of contention in what is shaping up to be a fierce season of Middle East controversy on campus.
Tutu has condemned suicide terrorism against Israel and recognized the Jewish state's right to secure boundaries. He has spoken admiringly about the Jewish role in fighting apartheid, though he has also noted Israel's alliance with the apartheid South African government. He was even honored in 2003 by Yeshiva University's law school with an award for promoting world peace.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League deserves praise for his balanced approach and returned reason to this ridiculous accusation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as an anti-Semite.

Thursday, October 4

Is a Binational State for Two Peoples a Solution to the Conflict?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a smoldering problem in the Middle East and remains a threat to the stability of the region. The world today has become a smaller place – a global village. The ramifications of what happens in this region affect the stability of the world. There are still no signs that a solution to this conflict is at hand. The US has decided to hold a peace conference in November with the participation of Israel and Palestine as well as invitations to the moderate Arab states in the region. There does not seem to be any enthusiasm or any hint of a breakthrough. There are attempts between Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a working paper to turn the conference into a success in deeds rather than rhetoric.

There has been much discussion over the years on the issue of a binational state for Israelis and Palestinians as well as a two state solution for both peoples. The trend today, (this has overwhelming support by the US, EU, UN and Russia) is support for the latter.

Despite this, it would be worthwhile discussing both possibilities openly and objectively considering the pros and cons of both the binational state and two state solutions.

While there is frustration on both sides of the great divide because of lack of progress and the cycle of terror between the two sides resulting in lack of trust between them. However, the situation between Israelis and Palestinians, if it does not improve, will slide into further violence which could inflame the whole Middle East and further beyond. Another important factor which has been mentioned many times and remains the crux of the conflict is the failure of many Arab states including elements in the Palestinian camp such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their allies to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The conflict, unfortunately is not only about Israeli occupation, but also about the legitimacy of a non-Moslem state (Israel) existing in the Middle East amongst its Arab neighbours.

It is well known that the establishment of Israel in 1948 resulted in rejoicing for the Jewish people after centuries of suffering heartless anti-Semitism in the Diaspora culminating in the Holocaust of the Nazi Period under Hitler. For the indigenous inhabitants of the area – the Palestinians – this was Al Naqba – the “catastrophe” or “great tragedy”. Because of the War of Independence an Arab refugee problem was created as many Palestinians fled their homes and has remained a problem until this day. These people have been housed in refugee camps under conditions of extreme poverty beyond Israel’s borders and no solution has been found. Three generations of refugees have grown up in this squalor and their hatred for Israel has increased as a result. There had been no attempt to solve this problem and it has remained a political football since Israel’s establishment.

Today there are signs of pragmatism amongst moderate Arab states towards recognizing Israel’s right to exist, but this is dependent on solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the refugee problem, including the right of return of refugees to their original homes prior to Israel’s establishment. Failure to achieve this could result in Islamist extremism to take further hold of the poverty stricken people in the region and would result in Iran gaining more influence by financing extremist Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Al Qaeda could also become more dangerous by establishing terror cells in the area as well as in many countries of the world.

These frustrations could spur the warring parties to find a solution or it could result in further conflagrations and continuing spirals of violence.

There are three possible solutions:

1. A binational state for both Israelis and Palestinians

2. A binational confederation concerning a three-state network.

3. A two state solution - each people living in its own state.

Let us examine the binational state solution. This is the establishment of a common state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This would comprise one democratic state whereby the Palestinian Arabs will be given citizenship and an equal status with the Jewish and Arab citizens of present-day Israel. This state should be secular being neither Jewish nor Moslem. There would be no ruling by Sharia (Moslem law) or Halacha (Jewish law) in this state. In order to achieve this, both Palestinians and Israelis will have to change their basic ideas and be prepared to have total separation of religion and state. This does not mean that there will be no religion at all. Each religious group will be responsible for running its own religious affairs and will be given government support in this. However, safeguards must be introduced for preventing the domination of one religious group by another. All religions will have equal status and have their interest represented under one cabinet minister – the Minister of Religion, who will attend to the necessities of the various religious groups. The Minister of Religion could serve on a rotation basis between Jews, Moslems and Christians.

The idea of a binational state has been discussed as early as the 1920’s.

In 1925, Martin Buber in Germany and Judah Magnes in Palestine established Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) to promote Jewish-Arab understanding in Palestine. Brit Shalom, which functioned until 1933, stood on a platform of creating "a binational state in which the two peoples will enjoy equal rights as befits the two elements shaping the country's destiny, irrespective of which of the two is numerically superior at any given time" (from their first publication Our Aspirations, 1927). It had a few hundred members, mostly European-born intellectuals like Buber and the journalist Robert Weltsch. Albert Einstein was sympathetic to its vision. The general concept of binationalism was to be adopted by other minority Zionist groups, like Hashomer Hatzair and Mapam, Kedmah Mizracha, the Ichud and the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement. (From Wikipedia)

The binational state theory in today’s context could solve many problems between Israel and the Palestinians. The refugee problem would be easier to solve as the refugees would have the right of return to the binational democratic state.

The nature of the binational state could be a federation called “The Federation of Israel and Palestine”.

Professor Lama Abu-Odeh of Georgetown University, in her article “The Case for Binationalism”,states thatthe two-state solution has already lost a great deal of its historic appeal. The political events and institutions subsequent to the Oslo Accords of 1993—all the painful renegotiation and implementation leading to the second intifada—are to my mind responsible for the shifting enthusiasm.1 The period since Oslo has revealed the "unrepresentativeness" of the Palestinian Authority; it has not generated meaningful territorial gains; and it has not resulted in any progress on the crucial question of the return of refugees. Moreover, developments since Oslo have raised serious questions about the attractions of a separate state as a vehicle for expressing Palestinian aspirations and advancing Palestinian interests. Thus we have seen the development of social and economic "structural dependency" between Israel and the Palestinian regions; the emergence of "overlapping domains of national consciousness" due to factors such as daily labor movement to and from Israel; and the emergence of a new Palestinian national elite that shares economic interests with the Israeli state apparatus”.

She also states that the failure of the Oslo Accords makes it worthwhile to reconsider the idea of binationalism. .

Professor Abu-Odeh continues: Binationalism in this context expresses the idea that the land of Mandate Palestine should be transformed into a secular state—a constitutional-liberal state, with Arabs and Jews as its national citizens. Its famous maxim is "One Land for Two Peoples" and its most famous proponents are the Palestinian American writer Edward Said and Azmi Bishara, (a Palestinian-Israeli member of the Israeli Knesset at the time this article was written). The advocates of binationalism typically distinguish it from the more familiar two-state solution, according to which two states, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, are imagined to coexist next to each other. It is also, of course, sharply distinguished from the current situation, in which a recognizable Israeli state coexists with disparate, partially autonomous, Palestinian areas within the West Bank and Gaza strip, while the remainder of the latter areas remains under the control of the Israeli army, whether its inhabitants are Palestinians, or Jews living in the largely isolated colonies commonly known as settlements”.

The decision to move towards a binational state depends on the desire of both parties to the conflict to achieve that goal. It is highly unlikely that it would be acceptable to the Israelis because mainstream Israel sees it as a threat to Jewish aspirations for a homeland for the Jewish People where the Jews are in the majority. Also there is no trust between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians when one considers the bitter history between the two peoples which is full of violence, terror and hate.

Mainstream Palestinians would not accept this either as it would be a threat to Moslem hegemony and their identity as Palestinians. For binationalism to survive or gain support there must be trust between the two peoples so that there could be a lower common denominator of desire to make it work. Both sides would have to work towards a single nation status that is secular in character with both sides striving for the same aspirations of a common statehood. At present there is no such desire from either side each having their own reasons not to support this binational concept.

Jerome M. Segal (a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies, and the president of The Jewish Peace Lobby), suggests a binational confederation as opposed to a binational state as proposed by Professor Abu-Odeh. He talks about a three-state framework which at the same time preserves the Jewish character of the State of Israel. It seeks to use the idea of a binational state and a confederation to give Israelis and Palestinians who wish to be citizens of a binational state an opportunity to do so. It offers a way for some refugees to return to lands within current Israel without threatening the demographic balance among Israeli citizens. It further offers a way of circumventing the problem of Israelis' and Palestinians' sovereign claims to the Old City and its religious sites. And it may provide a way of dealing with the long-term demographic challenges facing a Jewish state that aspires to the values of democracy. This idea has the same problems as Abu-Odeh’s idea. For any of these ideas to be accepted there must be total trust between the two sides as well as a desire to recognize each others right to exist and all that it entails.

While the basis for this kind of arrangement is non-existent between both sides, the alternative of a two state solution remains the only viable alternative. Even this alternative does not have the total support of both Israelis and Palestinians. The former talks about giving op territory but does not give any concrete ideas of how to achieve this because there is no leadership in Israel or in the Palestinian camp who are serious about true negotiations. Both sides are beating about the bush and getting nowhere fast. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, has Hamas breathing down his neck preventing any progress in peace negotiations while Ehud Olmert has his right wing coalition partners breathing down his neck preventing Olmert from making any real concessions to the Palestinians apart from a few cosmetic gestures such as limited prisoner releases of prisoners “without blood on their hands”. Both parties are in a “Catch 22” situation with both the Palestinians and Israelis being impotent bystanders.

Uri Avnery, a veteran left wing peacenik and a great supporter of peace, coexistence, and a Palestinian State alongside Israel in a thought-provoking article The Bi-national State: The Wolf Shall Dwell With The Lamb , disagrees with the binational idea. He sees the dismemberment of the communist bloc into sovereign nationalistic states where the indigenous peoples are rediscovering their national heritage and their religion that goes with it. This he views as a world-wide trend. The molding of nationalist groups seeking their identity into a binational state with a common heritage is doomed to failure.

He states: “The immediate roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more than a hundred years. A fifth generation has been born into it and its mental world has been shaped by it. It is a clash between the Zionist movement and the Arab-Palestinian national movement. After a hundred years, the force of Zionism is far from exhausted. Its main thrust – expansion, occupation and settlement – is in full, offensive swing. On the Palestinian side, nationalism (including the Islamic version) is deepening and growing from martyr to martyr. It takes real faith to believe that these two nationalistic peoples will give up the essence of their hopes and turn from total enmity to total peace, giving up their national narratives and being ready to live together as supra-national citizens”.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have national aspirations. These aspirations of identity cannot be viewed as a common identity. The Palestinians wish to have a viable state where they can realize their aims of patriotism no less than the Israelis. Both sides do not have anything in common or desire that would move the two peoples together towards a binational state.